1 June

Animal Negotiations: Chicken Reprieve. Pets And Animals. Poor Maria.

by Jon Katz
Chicken Talks
Chicken Talks

The animal negotiations at the farm got intense about a week ago and have gone on all week. There is the usual gender stereotyping online about what Maria is like and what I am like – we share a common revulsion at people who tell us what we are like – and another revealing chapter that tells us how some people have pets and some people have animals and the two cultures see the world in very different ways.

People who live with animals on farms are always figuring and reconfiguring their animals lives, animals are always coming and going, depending on weather, the price of hay, the cost of a water-free pump, the cost of fencing, the cost of veterinary visits, temperament, feed and the amount of time in busy people’s lives. People who have pets buy or rescue them and expect the animal to be with them for the rest of the animal’s lives, anything else is heresy. The idea that you would send an animal somewhere else to live, or even to slaughter is almost incomprehensible, as the line between pets and children has increasingly blurred in our culture.

When we decided to lamb – something Maria and I wanted to experience together – we agreed that we would keep two of the new lambs, the others would go back to the farmer for breeding or to market. When Maria and I pulled some lambs out of their mothers wombs and saved their lives and gave them names, that changed of course. Maria said she would absolutely not countenance sending any of the lambs away, no matter what we had thought before.

Gender stereotyping works both ways, there are sexist women as well as men, many people assume that because I am the man who puts up sweet photos of Maria and the animals that I am a hard-ass who puts his foot down and makes decisions for his gentle and nurturing wife. This is not only sexist, but hilarious to anyone who knows Maria, a fiercely independent artist of Sicilian and German extraction. I rarely try and tell Maria what to do, and on the rare occasions when I have tried, it did not turn out well for me. If you want to guarantee that she will do something, tell her to do the opposite. Even that doesn’t usually work.

So this week we went back and forth. I believe strongly that the people who love farms and wish to keep them have to make hard decisions about them every day. Sheep are not pets, they are not furbabies, one does not keep them around because they are cute. Maria sells the wool and Red herds them, two important uses for us, but we do not need to feed and care for twice as many sheep as we need to do those things. If you emotionalize animals on a farm, you will not have a farm for long.

So after some intense negotiations – believe me, it is no fun to try and persuade Maria to part with animals – we settled on a very good compromise. Kim, a Karaluk ewe with charming face and Ted, the ram, would go. For Maria, it was not much of a compromise, as Ted was always going after lambing and Maria ended up giving up no lambs and one ewe.

I announced this, prompting the now-familiar outbreak of hysteria and outrage on Facebook and other social media. “Kim has done nothing wrong,” one person messaged me angrily. “She deserves to spend her life on the farm.” It is true, Kim has done nothing wrong. Sheep do not make moral decisions.

Maria surprised me yesterday by saying she thought the two new chicks should be returned. We don’t need them, she said, and the two we have are fine. I agreed, I am always looking for a way to reduce the number of animals here, they seem to always be increasing, although slowly. This morning, this decision bothered me. I realized I had been taken, snookered in a negotiating ploy.

Two hens cost nothing and are no bother. Chickens have a habit of not living too long, everything on earth eats them. Having four hens looks right to me, and means we will probably get at least one fresh egg a day among them. The roost can accommodate many more, and how much corn mash do two hens eat? Maria had just thrown the chicks in to throw me off the scent. It worked too.

This morning, I wondered if we needed to give the chicks back. “Okay, so you want to keep them?,” she said, a bit too quickly. “It’s okay with me.” So the chicks are staying, and one of our sheep is leaving. We have four new ones. You can do the math for yourself. Poor Maria, it must be difficult dealing with another of those heartless and willful men.

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