Broody – Epilogue

My husband thought the foreboding ending of my last post implied that I’d killed off Broody. No! That is a step more hard-hearted than I can bring myself to be. I did take away all her eggs and have made the decision to no longer let her sit on the nest, which I’d assumed would be a big loss to her.

Contrary to my expectations, this morning Broody had joined the whole flock for the first time in over a month, and was peacefully scratching the floor for grain with all her sisters. So, psychoanalyzing my chicken, perhaps she felt relief not having to babysit anymore instead of grief over losing her (potential) children. I still may have to use my shovel to push her off the nest every afternoon to take away the eggs, but at least for now she has changed her behavior and seems quite happy to be free of the burden. Who would have thought?

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Time’s Up for Broody

20190813_085534My experiment with my hen who was determined to hatch a brood has ended. I did all I could for her, but it just wasn’t working out for me and she wasn’t getting anywhere. She had learned to move over to another nest long enough for some other hens to add to her clutch of eggs, then switch back over and guard them. So much for letting her have her three marked eggs. I got her off the nest tonight, and the pile had grown to fifteen!

I don’t know if it is safe to eat eggs she has sat on for several days, so I took them all and cracked them open one by one into a bowl. It seems the older ones have yolks that don’t hold together as tightly as the freshest eggs. The ones I’d marked were nasty, not smelling like sulfur, but not a pleasant experience. There was only one that was beginning to develop into a chick, but it was quite early days.

In the end, I threw all the eggs away – the new and the old. I’d lost my appetite for them. I cleaned out the coop and got a spade that I will keep handy to push Broody out of the way when I collect the eggs until she gives up on her quest altogether.  I feel a little sad for her. She wanted so badly to be a mother, but it was not to be. This is a farm, though, and we count on eggs to eat and to share. I can’t be worrying over which ones are safe to eat anymore. I’ve learned farmers have to be a little hard-hearted to do what needs to be done.

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Waiting for Chicks to Hatch

Remember Broody, my hen who was determined to sit on her eggs until they hatched? She has sat for at least three weeks now, glowering at anyone who dares to come close, and viciously darting her beak out to stab any threat.

I’ve tried many different methods to extract the newer eggs that wind up in her nest, leaving the three I had marked with “X”. I wore thick leather gloves, held her at bay with a broom, but she still managed to scare me such that I have dropped eggs several times with nervous butter-finger moves when I see her preparing to attack.

Finally, I came up with something that calmed her down. I nailed a bit of yoga mat to the outside wall of the nest box so that she isn’t exposed when I open the door to fetch eggs. She has since flattened down to provide maximum warmth to the brood and as far as I can tell she hasn’t moved. I don’t dare lift the yellow mat to look inside and see if there are three eggs or twenty.

According to my calculations, the first egg should have hatched on September 3, two days ago. I haven’t heard any peeping and Broody won’t move out of the way for me to look. For all I know, these eggs are rotting away under her, or perhaps there are live babies maturing under her body. I’ve never experienced this before and don’t know what to do next, so if any of you out there have advice, I’d be happy to read it.

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Butterfly Weed Works!

20190831_165332We have scattered plantings of butterfly weed, (different from Butterfly Bush), in the fields, but one nice plant in our backyard perennial garden.  Walking by it last night I saw this weird growth that I stopped to examine. It turned out to be a big orgy of orange beetles clustered on the pods. The sticky pods must have a very enticing scent.

While I  was watching, I looked up to find a gorgeous Monarch caterpillar. I’m kind of excited to see proof that we are helping the butterfly population.

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Mickey’s Back!

Technically, we have two barn cats, Emmie and Mickey.  Emmie is the sleek black one who visits with me about a third of the time that I go out to the barn. Mickey is a lot friendlier, but has gone missing for several months. Recently, though, he has reappeared and is very eager to be held and cuddled.

This leads me to the question, where do they go when they vanish? Are they living with another family? Are they roaming the wild all day? And my biggest fear, have they suffered an accident or been eaten by a predator? At least my fear is eliminated because in the three years or so we have had them, they always come back some time.

Mickey has thick ermine-like fur and huge feet with an extra toe on each. When I pick him up, he rotates to rest his chest against mine and tucks his nose under my arm. Very endearing little guy. I guess the thing with cats is that you take what they give you and learn not to expect much. So different from dogs!

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Work To Be Done

It looks like the harvesting season  is kicking into high gear. I did the spinach in May, strawberries in June, asparagus in June and July, and now all the summer stuff is coming ripe. I really do love feeling like we can subsist on our own tended garden, but it is no small task to preserve it all for use through the rest of the year.

Yesterday I tackled the first big haul of tomatoes. I skinned and canned seven quarts and then filled my dehydrator with sliced Roma tomatoes for the “sun-dried” option. I lost track of the zucchinis for a few days and now have some baseball bats to make into quick breads for the freezer. We harvested our first of three batches of red potatoes, and it was fun to see how it worked. My husband tried out a new way to grow them that doesn’t require digging them out of the ground and it worked like a charm.

I’m amazed at how the Chinese eggplants just keep producing. I’m starting to get bored with them, which is pretty silly because they are a special treat this year. It’s interesting how even a wonderful thing gets mundane when you get it too frequently.  I’m missing the green beans and corn we did not plant this year, but I do have a vine garden of cantaloupe, sugar baby watermelon, and pumpkins that is doing well under the fruit trees.

This just goes to show you how much bounty you can get if you give the garden its due attention, as we did this year. Lesson learned.

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Beezee

We have two Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers, an Irish breed that meets the bottom line requirement for my husband — no allergic reaction.  Beezee has the “Irish coat”, a silky wavy variety that does not grow very fast and thus does not require much grooming. When she has been bathed, her hair is soft, sweet, and flowing like angel robes. She can hardly wait to go outside and roll in something smelly.

We adopted Beezee when she was four years old, having been returned to the breeder because she couldn’t live with the man of the house.  We got forewarning that large, loud men would stress her out. We said we’d give it a try. She adapted really well to our little family and cuddled up to my husband and me immediately. She is smart, sweet, and gets along with Fionn, who is technically her brother-in-law, as she had borne a litter fathered by Fionn’s brother.

Beezee has springs in her muscles – think Tigger. She can be sleeping peacefully on the bed and the faint crunch of gravel down the driveway will snap her to attention as she flies through the air to the window, shouting in alarm. I guess you can say she is a good protector. It causes us some trouble when we have visitors, especially men. She can tolerate male company until they rise from their chairs to leave. That is her cue to whip around behind them to snap at their hand or calf, not biting down hard, but making her point known. We tried everything in our bag of tricks to train her out of it but now we just lock her up when company comes.

Beezee is motherly with canine company. She will play goodheartedly with Addie and let her climb all over her without complaint. Perhaps it is because she has had children of her own. She will stand up for herself when she is getting a bit more sniffing than she cares for, lifting her lip and showing some teeth. Dogs understand that signal quite easily.

She and Fionn have their little routines and forms of communication. Beezee will be chewing on a toy and Fionn will give a faint growl from the sofa. She’ll politely walk away and he’ll pounce triumphantly on the toy. It all seems to be good-natured play between them. Beezee can tolerate just about everything except Fionn being louder than she is at the window. That will bring a snarl and a snap of correction from her. They don’t cuddle or groom each other but they do trot around the yard together as a team. Even if they aren’t soul mates they still belong to the same pack.

 

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Murray

My friend’s second dog, Murray, is a real sweetheart. He is male, but I think of him as a girl because he is so affectionate and gentle. Murray follows me around the house everywhere I go, pushing his nose into the crack in the bathroom door so he won’t be left out. He goes nuts when he sees me grab my purse and head for the door because he wants very badly to go along. Going nuts, for Murray, means yowling and bouncing on his front feet as he turns in circles. It makes me feel very bad if I am unable to take him with me.

When I am dog-sitting I don’t leave the house much, but each morning I pile the spaniels into the car with me to go to my friend’s house to feed her horses and cat. They are thrilled to be taken somewhere and this is an opportunity for them to run in their own yard, but they tend to hang close to where they last saw me and howl when I go out of sight. It makes me feel very important.

Murray is tolerant of his brother’s barking habit and doesn’t often join in. However, periodically in the middle of the night he will wake up and start yowling like a child in pain. It worried me at first and I’d run to check on him, till I figured out that if I wait for a couple minutes he would go back to sleep and forget all about it. He probably woke up from a bad dream and forgot where he was.

I think what happens is that we get used to our own dogs’ unusual habits and we work around them, but experiencing a visiting dog’s peculiarities is surprising and strange. I really enjoy getting to know each little personality and loving them for who they are.

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Dash

My friend’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel, named “Dash” after Queen Victoria’s favorite of the same breed, is staying with us for a while with his brother Murray. Dash has a regal profile, often tipping his chin up and looking at me with sad eyes and drooping jowls.

My experience with this breed is that they are slow and steady, plodding with feet pointed slightly outward and not in too big a hurry most of the time. They do run and play like all dogs, but in comparison to my high-strung terriers they are relatively calm and mild mannered.

Dash is comfortable visiting in our home and has staked out his spot to lay quietly most of the time, snoring heavily in peace. I believe most of his hearing is gone because to get his attention I have to touch him to get eye contact and then use hand signals such as tapping my thigh for him to come.

He has been adapting to our household routines. For instance, we all file upstairs to watch TV for a while before bedtime and Dash was adamant that he was unable to climb the stairs. One night I put him on a leash and pulled him up with us and pulled him back down when it was time for bed. After that experience, he realized he was fully capable and now he follows us all up and down on the stairs on his own volition. He just needed to find out he could do it.

Dash also loves his meals. Who doesn’t? But if Dash feels it is time to be fed, no matter if it is several hours early or the middle of the night, he begins barking insistently and pushing his dish around the floor. He is beginning to catch on that all the dogs get breakfast and dinner at the same time and barking doesn’t change that.

Last night I was sitting in the room, knitting, and Dash woke up and started wagging his tail and looking at the wall. Strange. Then he jumped up and swiped at something and I realized that as my wrist moved, the reflection off my watch was making a light spot move across the room. He can’t hear much but he was hyper alert about a mysterious moving light. What a character!

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Taco

My daughter’s other little dog is a Chihuahua-Yorkie mix named Taco. His Yorkshire Terrier heritage gives him a shed-free silky brown coat and the Chihuahua side gives him the wide-set  round eyes, fierce temper, and tendency to tremble when stressed. DNA testing revealed a touch of Brussels Griffin which would explain his charming little snubbed nose and bristly beard.

Taco has a personality that far out-spans his size. When he is visiting at our house, he trembles with the desire to join in to play or be petted but his defenses hold him back out of reach much of the time. With the larger dogs it often comes out as snarling, snapping teeth, especially if he has secured a lap and doesn’t want any competition. You can tell how badly he wants to be involved and I know if we patiently wait a day or two we will be gifted with a more relaxed pup coming to us for affection.

I am always surprised to see how, among dogs, the size of the animal has little bearing on how the others relate to him.  A little 5 lb. squirt can hold a 40 lb. adult at bay, cautiously giving him a wide berth. It seems to be the personality that matters, not the muscle mass.

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Addie

My daughter’s little rescue mutt is named Addie. She is part schnauzer which gives her a gray shed-free coat with black ears flopping forward and a soft white beard. Her eyes are almond-shaped with black eyeliner giving the impression of little arrow points on the sides. She came with way too many teeth and had a goofy snaggle-toothed grin until one day the veterinarian pulled out several in her front lower jaw to make it “healthier.” My daughter was devastated to see Addie’s new gappy smile. They are gradually evening out over time, but she will never lose that comical expression.

A rescue dog is always a gamble because you don’t know what incidents in their past may have given them personality traits that are not ideal. But don’t all dogs – and all people – have these even if you know every aspect of their past? Addie seems to have been an excellent gamble. She has a sunny, bouncy, enthusiastic view of her life. When you come in the door she greets you by spinning in dizzy circles and standing on her hind legs and rapidly churning the air with her two front paws together.  Her long, skinny body twists and turns like a ferret and it is hard to keep your eye on her.

When Addie came to join the pack for a vacation sleep-over, she couldn’t believe her luck to see all these new faces trotting towards her. Her immediate priority was to figure out where she fit in. The spaniels froze when they encountered her dizzying movement, and she took that as a cue that perhaps she might be higher in the pack hierarchy than these bigger dogs.  Her pattern with Fionn and Beezee is to reach up for their heads and jump up and down to play until they either give in or turn their faces to the side and walk away. With the new two characters, she decided to play the tough guy and stare them down until they backed away, cowering. As the day wore on, however, they began to realize she was more of an annoyance than a threat and they went back to sleeping on their cushions and running to the door with the rest of the pack.

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Living With The Pack

We are blessed for a couple weeks this summer to have temporarily expanded the dog population at the farm. My friend brought over her two Cavalier King Charles spaniels while traveling overseas, and then my daughter asked if we could watch her two little guys for a few days as well. That makes six dogs in the house and, call me crazy, but I love it.

We set up a temporary fence in the yard, with access to the front porch so that we can open the front door and swoosh out the whole pack at once without having to put on shoes and snap on leashes. Even our own dogs want in on these trips out the door even though they can roam freely with their electric fence collars. Being enclosed meant nothing to our agile Beezee when she saw a rabbit across the yard. With a single bound, she leapt off the wall of the front porch and raced away. She was quite dismayed when she returned and found she couldn’t jump back up from down on the ground and was separated from the pack.

We rearrange our sleeping situation when we have visiting animals. My husband takes our two up to the bedroom and I sleep downstairs near the others just in case something unexpected happens. The visitors are confined to crates at night or when we both have to leave the house and can’t keep an eye on them, but most of the time we all share the main floor and I am surrounded by content, snoring creatures.  I’ve decided to do a little article on each dog, so watch for stories and pictures over the next few days.

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Summer Harvest

We are joyously in the middle of the zucchini and cucumber deluge, along with the new addition of slim little Chinese eggplants. Hubby pulled the onions yesterday and we need to find a good place to store them so that they don’t rot before we get a chance to use them. I finally got down to staking up the tomato vines that had crisscrossed the garden floor in a tangled heap. We mustn’t let it go that long without attention next year!

Now, with the green tomatoes tied up to their individual towers and the yellowing leaf stalks trimmed off, I see that we will have quite a large harvest in the coming weeks. At least now most of them are off the ground. I missed having jars of tomatoes on the shelf last year because I had chosen to take the easier route and cook them all down into sauce. I keep forgetting to actually use the sauce, so I’ll have to consciously add that to my kitchen repertoire.

This year my husband got around to planting a fall crop of spinach, lettuce and carrots, something we always talk about doing but seldom get to on time. We really have focused our attention on the garden for once, probably due to not traveling much in the spring or summer. It feels good to have a flourishing garden although that meant giving up other ways to spend our time. You can’t have everything.

We’ve got pretty flowers in the vegetable garden, in the beds by the house and barn, and of course all over the fields. It’s almost too much beauty to take in. I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by this happy farm at this point in my life.

When we retired, we put a lot of thought into what would make us happy to have in our lives if we could choose. Bit by bit, we made those choices and built the world we wanted. Now, we can curate our lives with additional projects and dreams as they present themselves. As Mary Oliver said, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

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Feeling Broody

hen on nest

The glare.

This is a first for me. I have a “broody hen.” One of my black hens has taken to spending most of the day sitting in a nest box. I had assumed she was feeling defensive because she was molting and tired of having her bare back pecked by her sisters, or maybe she is just sick and tired of the rooster’s attentions.

Anyway, when I opened the door to fetch the eggs, she hopped out of the nest but turned right around and pecked me when I reached in to get them. That is not normal behavior. This happened two days in a row, so I have decided to leave her a couple eggs to hatch if that is what she wants to do. I really don’t need any more chickens but this could be an interesting experience.

One problem I haven’t figured out is how to keep the eggs of the same age so that they hatch at the same time. I marked the two that were there this morning while Broody was out pecking up her morning scratch grains. One was from yesterday and one was new today. Neither came from this hen, as her eggs are brown, but I guess it doesn’t really matter.  I think what I’ll do is remove any eggs appearing in the nest that don’t have an “X” on them and leave her these two to care for. It would be nice to see little babies running around with a mother watching out for them. Up until now, I’ve had to be their protector and it hasn’t always worked well. I’ll have to wait three weeks, so perhaps around September 3 we will have a big birthday!

 

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What To Do With Excess

chickens eating a cucumber

Cucumber feast!

Our garden is producing very well this year. My husband has been making pickles galore, sampling lots of different recipes. I think he is tiring of the task and really, how many pickles can one eat? I found some big cucumbers that had escaped our view long enough to plump out with big seeds, so I cut them into pieces and set them down for the chickens to nibble. They were very pleased.

goats ramming each other

I don’t want it but you can’t have it!

I’ve fed cucumber to Eddy before but his black-faced brother did not seem interested. Goats have front teeth only on the bottom and sometimes have trouble chewing up items so I have learned to cut them into thinner slices. This time, Ely thought they looked good too and started sniffing them over. Eddy did not like the idea of sharing so he started a ramming fight. They spend most of the day lazing around so I think it was good exercise and mostly play so I am not concerned.

I have about a dozen little “sugar baby” watermelons ripening on the vine. I am not sure I’ll know when they are ready for picking but I will probably end up passing on some of those to the livestock in a few weeks. I feel good knowing they are getting variety in their diets. In the mean time, we eat well in the summer and have overflowing baskets of zucchini, cukes, tomatoes, and eggplant in August. In June and July we feasted on all the asparagus, strawberries, and peas we could eat and put up the rest in the freezer. We normally are over-run with green beans by now, but they all got eaten through the fence by the plethora of rabbits that have flourished this year under the protection of the prairie grasses and wildflowers. I don’t know what is special about the conditions this year, but we have friends who have also noticed more rabbits than usual. I feel like we are in Australia!

 

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My Goat Sweater

I finished my sweater with the picture of Eddy and Ely on the front! It is very soft and fuzzy, as well as pretty heavy. Of course, it is made from the boys’ mohair, mostly from year two. I plan to wear it to the Trailing of the Sheep festival in October. For once, I did not leave it to the last minute to finish, so I just had to share it with my knitting friends!

 

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A Labor of Love

Angora GoatFarm animals can be a messy, dirty chore and you have to love them to keep up with it. My goats require attention once a month for their worm and lice prevention meds and hoof trimming. I read something recently about trimming hooves twice a year but these guys get the edges growing out and curling under or splitting apart and getting clotted up with filth that needs to be scraped away. Appetized yet? Read on if you have a strong stomach or a sincere love of goats.

Eddy and Ely are perfectly charming, but they have never learned to wipe. When they have to pee, they just let loose and it dribbles down right through their dense curly hair. It gets so cruddy and tough I can’t get a scissors through it so it just accumulates. After three years of this, I finally took action today.

Their grooming tool is a gigantic, heavy, and loud creature that they don’t like anywhere near them, much less close to their private parts. I have never dared use it for this purpose. Their undercarriage had gotten so disgusting though, that I ordered myself an old fashioned hand shearer. Interestingly, it is light and designed to require minimal hand pressure for some real torque. I discovered that the blades only come together in the tip, so you have to nip gently in little bites but it does work. This means as soon as I could bring myself to gingerly pull down a matted lock of cruddy hair, snip snip, off it fell. Now, both goats have neat shapes with no black horrors hanging down below. (See the picture at the top.) Yay!

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Vine Control

Poison ivy vineI’ve been spending some time with my friend, “The Lopper” this week, relentlessly slicing through the many invasive vines and bushes along the fence row. Then, I enjoyed the satisfying feeling of pulling grapevines down from the trees. I was careful because I know poison ivy is part of the mix. Would you recognize the danger when you see this growing up the fence post?

I grew up with a woods behind my house and spent many hours playing there, so I recognize this evil culprit with no hesitation at all. I know that sometimes it is just a thick hairy vine growing up a tree but if you carelessly brush against it you may be in for an unpleasant surprise over the next week. So, even Poison Ivythough I gleefully put my weight into pulling down the grapevine ropes winding up the trees I always watch what I am stepping in and double check the leaves on each vine I grab.  Here’s another healthy growth I carefully avoided.

I remember my father battling the poison ivy in the woods every summer with a pump sprayer that always intimidated me. He must have warned me that I had to keep away. I am just now beginning to get comfortable with using it myself and plan to go back to all those poison ivy leaves I spotted and shoot them with Round-Up. If I leave them alone they will spread through the trees and the fields until there will be no place safe for humankind.

Internet photo of Oriental Bittersweet

I ran into an unfamiliar vine with little oval leaves, bright red berries and thorns on the stem. It was aggressively winding up the trees just like the grapevines but I knew it was not grape or poison ivy. I thought maybe it was the Kudzu I keep hearing about, but I looked it up and I believe it is “Oriental Bittersweet.” Yet another predator trying to pull down the trees. After I kill off the poison ivy, I will venture into the woods and try to chop the base of these vines but no way will I do it until the coast is clear.

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Wildflowers for All

A few years ago, we invested in a wildflower planting in the acre of land along the highway out front of our farm. The first year, it was infested with a weed called “mare’s tail” and I spent hours exhaustively pulling each one out by the roots. While working on that task, someone pulled up on the side of the road and started snipping armfuls of daisies. I approached and questioned her and she sheepishly said she was having a wedding and was so taken with the flowers she decided to take them to decorate the church.

Each year, strangers stop to tell us how much pleasure the field gives them as they drive by. This year, I think the yellow daisy varieties are striking. The first flowers to bloom were white bladder flowers, but the daisies have taken over and some blue Bergamot has begun blooming. The last will be the little white asters in August, and then the field loses its luster and looks like weeds once again. About then we usually mow it down. The deep roots of these prairie plants do a great deal of good to eliminate erosion and filter the water supply.

When my husband suggested planting this field, it seemed like an extravagant use of our money and (his) effort. Now, I think we did a service for humankind and that includes ourselves.

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Excited About a Sheep Festival

trailing of the sheep

Photo from the Festival Gallery

We’ve got a cool trip planned this summer. Somewhere, I saw an article about the Trailing of the Sheep festival in Idaho in October. It takes place across three towns, one focused on food, one on sheep and dogs, and one on fiber arts. Three categories that really interest me!

This is our big trip for the year and I’m really excited. Today I signed up for a class in card weaving, a primitive method for weaving narrow bands of fabric with interesting geometric designs. It was kind of expensive, but includes all the materials for an afternoon of hands-on training.

card weavingI’m not sure what I’d do with the band I’d create through card weaving, but it sounds like a fun creative endeavor. Here’s how it looks. I have had some training in loom weaving, and this seems to be an innovative  miniature version of the same process. I was a computer programmer at one point in my career, and logical mechanical processes like this intrigue me. It looks like you turn some of the cards before each new row of weft to move the warp colors up or down to be above or below the face of the band.

We also have a nice fiber festival right here in western Michigan that I have attended several times. Last year, that is where I took the class in rug hooking. It might be the place for me to buy a whole fleece that is from a sheep, not a goat. This would be an alternative to help fend off my impulse to add a couple sheep on the farm. I really love the animals, but do I really want to commit myself to to twice the chores and expense? Hold me back!

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