Friday, March 31, 2006

The realities of keeping animals

Most of us have had pets, or at least have been to a petting zoo.

It's very easy to become attached to our animal friends. Cats and dogs, particularly, have been bred to be companions for a very long time. They have instincts and personalities that mesh very well with our human instincts and personalities. In addition, they seem to genuinely love us. There has been much debate about that, but I'm convinced that our cats and dogs see us as more than a source of food and shelter. The debate about whether it is really love, or if it is simply behavior that simulates it is really a moot point. They have mammal brains, just like us, so the specific parts of the brain that cause that behavior should be similar. In any case, I choose to believe that my kitty loves me.

Farm animals are a different story. They were bred as sources of food, not as companions. Still, some seem to get attached to us. Goats, in particular, are very personable. I suspect that horses can gain the same kind of attachment that cats and dogs can. Time will tell.

A lot of that ability to form attachments comes from the herd instinct. I really can't think of any domestic animal that isn't a herd animal. Even our domestic cats are social -- though they don't seem to have the need to have an alpha male or herd queen around. Those of us who are owned by cats know that they don't really understand the concept of a boss or leader the way that dogs do.

But that's mammals. Birds are a different story.

Cats, dogs, and horses will get depressed if they are deprived of human companionship. Chickens could care less. Give them feed and water, and they're happy. A lone chicken will form an attachment to a human, but in general, most of them just consider us to be a part of their environment. They come when we call them because we throw goodies out to them.

That doesn't mean that a chicken can't be tamed. I tamed the smallest of those bantie roosters that adopted us. He still doesn't necessarily want me to catch him, but he doesn't get whacked out when I do, and he'll eat out of my hand.

Can a chicken really get attached to a human? I don't know for sure, but I know a few chicken fanciers who swear that they can and do. Some breeds are better at that than others. Silkies, in particular, are well known for being non-aggressive. On the other hand, there are plenty of Rhode Island Red combat roosters out there. Don't turn your back on that bad boy. I'm serious. He has spurs, and he knows how to use them.

We had a rooster that started to become aggressive. He attacked Mary a few times, and even went after our four year old boy. I managed to tame him a bit, but not enough to make us feel safe. We renamed him "Soupy". He would have ended up as soup, except a friend of ours lost a rooster and wanted a protective rooster for his flock. We took him over and introduced him to the flock. The current flock rooster, a Rhode Island Red, was less than welcoming. I'm sure that they eventually came to some kind of an accomidation.

This post was originally going to be titled "The harsh reality of keeping animals" because I was going to discuss the fact that the critters often just up and die. Also, we raise a lot of them for food. When we do that, we need to make the kids understand that those cute little chicks are destined for the table. Luckily, they are less than cute by the time they are ready to be processed.

The rule is, though, that you should never name a food animal. If you want to love on a farm animal, go hug the dairy goats or the laying hens. The goats will appreciate it, but the hens probably won't. That's OK too, because loving something that doesn't love you back is a Godly thing to do. Jesus certainly loves even those of us who hate him in return.

But, even though an animal is destined for the table, we need to take good care of it. We want it to live a good life. After all, we all are born, and we all die. The part in between is called 'life'. We need to make that life as good as possible for our animals. It's our responsibility to do so. It's part of good stewardship.

Alas, the life of a meat animal on a factory farm is less than pleasant. I'm glad that we have the opportunity to raise our food humanely.

Well... this is getting longer than I intended, and I have chores to do. I need to go to the feed mill and get our critters some food. The stock watering tough has been soaking overnight, so it needs to be put into the pen with the horse. Maybe I'll get around to pruning the apple trees, too.


Blogger hisdearheart said...

So, what kind of apple pie will you be making come fall (assuming you get the pruning done!)? Will you write a program for making a pie and teach the cat to make it for you? If he REALLY loves you, he'll will, you know! (grin!)

5:09 PM  
Blogger Nerd in the Country said...

I don't know what you would call the apple pie that we make. We just add flour, sugar, and cinnamon to the apples. Sometimes, we also add nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and the like. Mary likes to add cranberries or blueberries.

We actually canned several quarts of pie filling. A quart isn't enough for a pie, so we add apple sauce. We canned about sixty quarts of that because the kids love it so much.

Writing a program to make a pie would be interesting. I guess I would have to build a good robot arm first, though. Some pattern recognition software and a web cam would be needed to keep from putting seeds or skin into the pie.

As for getting the cat to do it... well, he's a really good cat, but he tends to get hair in the food.

9:53 PM  
Blogger hisdearheart said...

Even with the hair (that's extra protein anyway, isn't it?), wouldn't it be useful to teach your cat to make apple pie? Then he could just generalize the skills and make shepherd's pie, too. Just think, you wouldn't ever have to cook again! And when someone asked what's for supper, you could say "Talk to the cat!"

1:46 AM  
Blogger jojo said...

LOL... we are all crazy animal owners... like you i can't stop writing about my animal antics either...grin.

from the chicken 101 forum...:)

9:43 PM  

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