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DOMESTIC ANIMALS AND THEIR PART IN LEGENDARY HUMOR
ONE of the strongest potential arguments in favor of the so-called "back to the farm" movement, is seldom appreciated by city dwellers, viz., the opportunity thus afforded for companionship with the domestic animals.
To the average person there are horses, cattle, dogs and cats; but those, especially farm people, who are in intimate daily contact with these animals, realize that every horse, cow, dog and cat has a separate individuality. Children brought up in such associations soon recognize all these distinctive traits and thereby acquire a much more broad understanding of the general manifestations of nature than is possible to the children brought up to look upon such animals with contempt, if not with dread.
People of average attainments in business, or socially, seldom appreciate how much contact with domestic animals has to do with the development of practical common sense and self-reliance among those who have been fortunate enough to spend their early days in an agricultural environment.
On every farm of any importance, the daily routine must to a certain degree take into account the varying individual traits and capacities of the farm animals. The boy who has grown up in these surroundings and who has been taught to restrain his impatience, to exercise forbearance and to help induce the sense of felicity and general comfort among the domestic animals on a farm, which is essential to their well-being, has incidentally laid the foundations for the development of that good judgment which usually determines the difference between success and failure.
Story of a Wandering Sheep
The sheep is generally regarded as a very uninteresting animal, but occasionally there is an exception.
A man who had a small farm, stocked mostly with cattle, had a few sheep which he kept in a small pasture by themselves. Among this flock was a young masculine who had gradually acquired the opinion that he was an unusually brilliant and promising sheep. In order to exhibit the good opinion he had of himself he developed a pugnacious tendency and a disposition to wander about. Escaping from the pasture, he was reported one day as being a trespasser on the farm of a near neighbor.
The following evening the owner of the young sheep proceeded to the neighbor's farm to reclaim the wanderer and put him back where he belonged. It had been a showery day and everything was saturated with rain. Approaching the farmyard where the strayed sheep was reported to be, the owner saw the wife of the farmer engaged in milking a cow. Incidentally, he saw the sheep on the other side of the cow from the matron. And almost immediately he saw other developments. The sheep had been regarded with strong disfavor by the strange cows with which he was surrounded and with a spirit of resentment he suddenly started head down at the cow being milked. Although the lady who was busily engaged in the milking process was totally unconscious of what was happening, it was not so with the cow. Just at the psychological moment, the cow sprang forward and the sheep came in violent contact with the lady and the milk pail. The impact was so great that the woman was thrown over backward in the soft mud of the barnyard, the contents of the pail being liberally distributed about her robust person.
Although the physical injury was not serious, the damage to the lady's dignity was such that the owner of the sheep decided that it was a very inappropriate time to claim his missing property and hastily beat his retreat to make his reappearance when the lady's wrath had somewhat subsided.
While the lady sheep is a model of amiability under practically all circumstances, as before suggested, the male of the species develops egotism at a very early date; he also develops a tendency to resent anything and everything that reflects upon his dignity. So, while it is entirely appropriate to emphasize the educational advantages of farm life to growing boys and girls as calculated to develop many desirable qualities, it is easily possible for such contact to result disastrously to the young male sheep as evidenced by the following depressing incident.
Young and "Self-Centered" Ram
Another young and somewhat self-centered male sheep had been tantalized by small boys until his dignity was deeply wounded. He was one of two or three that followed a herd of cows around a large pasture on a dairy farm. In a certain portion of this enclosure there were some wild raspberry bushes, and a certain estimable scrub woman of the neighborhood went to the pasture one day to pick some berries. There was something about this woman that didn't meet with the approval of the young sheep and he made a sudden attack which resulted in the loss of the berries and incidentally produced a few bruises. The woman escaped from the pasture and went to the farmhouse and expressed her indignation that any such wild beast should be allowed to be at large to commit assaults on the neighbors. The owner of the sheep, a very amiable man, apologized profusely and directed that the animal be kept in confinement, at least until the berry season was over. He was therefore confined in a ramshackle stable, tied behind a loose board.
Enter the villains of this tragedy! four small boys, each armed with a small, harmless, but otherwise objectionable birch stick. The prisoner glared at them, whereupon one after another they advanced and tapped the young ram playfully on the nose with their sticks. In violent resentment he would lunge forward against the loose board, making a tremendous racket. Although this enterprise only lasted a few minutes before it became tiresome to the gamins in question, it was sufficient to completely wreck whatever might have been previously left of this sheep's amiability. He became an anarchist then and there.
The next morning was rainy and there was no probability that any berry pickers would visit the pasture, so the sheep which had expressed his dissatisfaction by many loud protests during the previous days, was gladly released to be allowed to go at large. It was here that Grim Tragedy stalked forth. The farmyard was a quagmire as a result of the rain and as one of the older "boys" started to carefully pick his way through the mud with two brimming milk pails, the sheep caught sight of him and decided that this was the time to avenge some of those insults of the day before. Just as the young man was crossing the deepest portion of the bog, he was made the victim of a rear attack. The result can easily be imagined. In his great wrath, extricating himself, he cornered the pugnacious sheep and changed him into mutton in a very few seconds.
It has been stated before that contact with the various animal inhabitants of a well equipped farm is in itself an educational process of no small value; it may be added that there is often as much diversion as education in these experiences.
Sudden Enlightenment of the Young Pup
Much has been written of geese and their superior mental qualities as compared with other fowl. It is true that they are wise in certain ways and that the average hen is very stupid by comparison. But the hen is a never-ending source of amusement to many people, especially when zealously engaged in bringing up a brood. It might be almost assumed that the hen has reasoning power at times, as for example:
A collie puppy was added to the equipment of a certain farm and after a few days he began to make a general tour of investigation. He seemed to find the young chickens about as interesting as anything and while doing them no injury he would nose them about to the terror of the chickens and the great indignation of the mother hens. At a time of emergency some noble figure should always step forward and this emergency was no exception. Early one morning the pup was seen flying across the yard, uttering the most agonizing cries, one of the maternal hens standing squarely in the middle of his back, incidentally giving him her opinion of dogs in general and himself in particular. The hen hopped off and went back to the chickens and the puppy was absolutely cured. He had no further curiosity in that direction.
Another true instance of hen wisdom deals with an ancient female of that species, who had lived to ripe old age because of her extraordinarily good judgment in bringing up chickens. One day the owner heard a great outcry. Looking out she saw the hen engaged in a vigorous battle with a crow. It may be incidentally mentioned that while the crow does not ordinarily molest young chickens, there are exceptions and this was a very bold marauder indeed. However, he reckoned without his host, as the old hen had lived long enough and had acquired sufficient knowledge of crow depravity to meet the emergency in a business-like way. She viciously attacked and continued to fight the crow, who was unable to get in a position to fly away, until help arrived and the crow was promptly dispatched. No young fowl, a year or two old, would have had the requisite courage, but this hen, who had long since passed the stage of edibility as poultry, had gradually developed the intelligence and pluck to fight the crow with his own weapons.
It is often pathetic to see how difficult it is for a normal small boy who lives in the crowded sections of a big city to find any legitimate outlet for his energies. He grows up with relatively few opportunities to develop any sense of personal responsibility. Not so the boy on the New England farm. If it is a real farm and conducted as a means of livelihood for the family, responsibility is constantly camping on his trail.
Story of the "Lolling" Horse
Two farm boys about ten years of age who lived in a period when there were no automobiles, had early been accustomed to the care of farm animals and had incidentally had some casual experiences in driving horses.
One day they were given permission to visit a married cousin of one of the boys at her home some miles away. For the first time in their young lives they were allowed to start out alone with a horse and buggy. It was a great occasion and they began their journey with much anticipation, but before they had gone a mile Dull Care had settled upon them and attended them continuously until their return in the early evening.
Only a short time before, one of the boys heard a distressing story relating to an ox that had died from being overheated. A premonitory symptom of the approaching demise of the ox had been that he "lolled." This had made a deep impression on the boy who heard the story.
It would hardly seem to be necessary to explain that of all domestic animals, the horse is the only one which perspires freely. This affords relief to the horse when hard at work on a warm day. And it of course provides a clue to his condition. The teamster will not push his overheated team horses too hard. With the ox team it is different. Heat exhaustion may be near and still there will be little or no evidence of such condition, the most characteristic symptom, however, being the tendency of the ox to "loll" or allow his tongue to protrude from his mouth in his panting efforts to perform his task.
Therefore with this bovine tragedy fresh in mind it is easy to imagine the consternation of these two holiday seekers, when, after jogging along at a comfortable pace for a mile or two, the horse, beginning to show some evidence of perspiration, and turning his head to snap at a pestiferous fly, disclosed the fact that his tongue was protruding. The boys looked at each Other with horror. What had they done? The none too reluctant animal was restrained to a slow walk and after a time the boys saw with great relief that he had his tongue back in his mouth where a horse's tongue ought to be. They slowly made their way to the home of their hostess and, not wishing to disclose the fact that they had been overdriving their horse, they carefully refrained from speaking of the heavy weight of anxiety with which they were oppressed. They made an early start for home and after a slow, tedious journey in the hottest part of the day, they arrived and turned over their horse apparently as sound as when they had taken him in charge. Their mysterious manner, however, caused interest and when the facts were made clear, it afforded much amusement to the two families who could not refrain from making subsequent allusions to "the lolling horse." It may be said in explanation that the horse in question merely had a little habit of occasionally protruding his tongue, which the boys had never happened to notice before. It may be taken for granted, however, that the sense of responsibility thus displayed by the boys, was not lost sight of by their elders. And it may also be assumed that the next time that horse was driven by those boys, he was not permitted to lag on his journey.
The common exchange of farm implements, wagons, or sleds, in rural New England, does not generally include the loaning of team horses. The average farm horse, as before suggested, has his special individuality, and it is not a difficult thing for a work horse to get demoralized in the hands of a strange driver. In such cases, he may become very reluctant to take hold and pull a heavy load.
Farmer Who Borrowed the Blind Horse
A certain fanner, however, had a horse which he was always ready to turn over to any responsible borrower. The horse was blind and his age had long been a matter of conjecture. One day a neighbor, unaware of the extraordinary docility of this poor, blind beast, asked if he could have the horse to drive eight or ten miles on a necessary errand. Permission was readily granted and he led the horse home, harnessed him, and started out. He succeeded in getting back home in the middle of the night. The next morning he led the horse back to the owner.
"It is my custom," said he, "to pay for a borrowed horse in praising, but this time I want to pay some other way."
Just how much blindness had to do with the total lack of courage of this borrowed horse would be hard to say, but it was probably a contributing factor.
It is sometimes hinted that people who have retained health and comparative youthfulness to an advanced age, have reason to thank themselves for the excellent judgment they have manifested in avoiding undue exertion rather than for any unusual inherited vigor. There are, however, other factors besides the avoidance of physical labor to be considered, as for example, cheerful temperament and an active, alert mind. This latter quality seems to hold good with the animal creation as shown by the following example.
Lame Horse That Was Suddenly Cured
A young couple, who had arrived at a state of mind in which there was considerable mutual interest, found it very desirable one day to take a little drive. Their parents lived on two adjoining farms and it was a busy season. Spare horses were scarce. Finally an agreement was reached. The young lady agreed to furnish horse and harness if her companion would furnish the buggy. This seemed to be a practical arrangement and they started gayly out on their trip. After lunch in town, there seemed to be nothing else to do but start for home, but they were in no great hurry to arrive there, so at a certain turn in the road they decided to make a detour.
The little Morgan mare of quite advanced age, contributed by the young lady as her quota of the team, had very peculiar ideas. She thoroughly disapproved of the trip in the first place, and secondly the young man's driving was also entirely different from anything she was accustomed to. At the prospect of returning home, however, she seemed to cheer up amazingly until she found herself being turned off on the side road. She moped along for a few yards and then began to be very lame.
"This is a nice prospect!" said the driver. "I think we had better turn straight around and get home, if we can."
The young lady was quite well acquainted with the little white mare.
"Let me take those reins," said she.
She took over the reins and gave the poor, lame horse a couple of slashes with the whip and a miracle was performed. The lameness was cured in an instant.
One of the most frequent tragedies of agricultural life is where some farmer allows himself to feel that he has somehow lost a considerable part of the pleasures of life by living remote from town. In such a case the farmer, if well to do, may dispose of his farm and move to a nearby village. And then, far too often, physical and even mental degeneration will soon be in evidence. Lack of occupation is no doubt a considerable factor, but the loss of the interest and congenial companionship associated with domestic animals is probably no small item in this disintegration.
In the consideration of animal life and its influence upon farm environment, the wild birds should not be overlooked. As with the human race, these birds present the varying characteristics of those who are helpful and popular and those who constitute a problem.
The crow is both a pest and a useful citizen. He is not nearly as popular with the average farmer as he ought to be. It is the old story of the roughneck's total contempt for the opinion of his neighbors, human or otherwise. The crow's attitude is in general stated as follows: "You can't put anything over on me." He is an ardent believer in "collective bargaining" and when it is desirable to raid a field of ripe corn, the entire crow colony is carefully organized for the purpose. Pickets will be established to warn of the approach of any man with a gun.
But, however sardonic may be the attitude of Mr. Crow toward the poor, plodding human farmers, he is quick to recognize his master, the kingbird.
In a certain farmyard the crows and hawks had established a reign of terror among the hens and chickens. Broods of chickens would be depleted one by one until there were few survivors and the women of the household became thoroughly exasperated. This went on to a greater or less extent for several years. One bright June morning a certain Mr. and Mrs. Kingbird arrived from a more southern clime and looked the premises over. They decided that there was an excellent opportunity to establish a home in one of the shade trees. They had hardly got at work, however, before the male bird found it necessary to take up a certain line of police duties. He discovered that the crows and hawks had been making themselves very much at home in that immediate neighborhood.
Within twenty-four hours the word had gone around to all the marauders, and for years thereafter they never came near those premises again. Each season the kingbird and his wife would come back. That was sufficient protection for the young chickens who could scratch about within the limits of their enclosure with perfect safety. It can be taken for granted that everything was done by the owners of the farm to make it pleasant for the bird policeman, who by his extraordinary activities and fearlessness strikes terror to the heart of the swiftest hawk, lest he be blinded by one of the lightning dashes of the kingbird who always aims for the eyes.
At the same farm some swallows had established a system of commodious mud dwellings under the eaves of the south and east side of the barn. They occupied these premises year after year with apparent satisfaction. One spring they were abruptly and summarily dispossessed, although allowed to re-establish themselves on the other side of the building. This is but a mere detail in bird life. The warm southeastern exposure looked good to some bluebirds and they promptly evicted those who had apparently secured the right of possession by a long lease.
Proprietary Attitude of the Robins
Robins, to most people, are merely robins. It would surprise the average city inhabitant however, perhaps, to know that even the robin may be individualized by farm dwellers, so that a certain old cock robin who has been coming back, presumably with the same wife, year after year, is promptly recognized on his arrival. In advanced years the cock robin sometimes seems to develop obesity or at least great abdominal extension, which may quite naturally be due to gradual indisposition to labor but with no compensating tendency to reduce rations. This is, however, so frequently observed in other male bipeds that it should not occasion surprise.
The robin is perhaps the most popular of birds in the rural districts. It is an unwritten law among native New Englanders that they shall not be harassed or molested. The house cat which has been detected catching a robin is in great disfavor immediately.
About the first sure indication of actual spring in this section is the appearance of these welcome birds whose cheerfulness seems to be contagious. They seem to be socially inclined toward humans and are quite apt to locate their nests in close proximity to some farmhouse. Indeed at times they seem to assume a rather proprietary attitude toward the farm owners themselves, as shown by the following typical incident.
One sultry day in July, it was noted at a certain farmhouse, that there seemed to be considerable excitement among the robins. They were unusually vociferous and someone wise to their habits suggested that probably the young birds were about ready to make their first trial flights. On the Sunday morning in question, most of the family had gone to church when a certain slacker, who was left behind, took his comfortable seat on the porch facing the lawn. The house dog was lying on the grass nearby and all was quiet among the robins with one exception. The exception was expressing high disapproval of something. Suddenly there was the chatter of a squirrel in a clump of trees a short distance away, and the dog arose to his feet and started leisurely down to investigate. When he had gone about fifty feet there suddenly developed a perfect din of protest, several robins joining in the chorus to explain to the dog how unwelcome he was and no doubt including various other uncomplimentary comments.
It was plainly depressing to the dog; he had had no quarrel with the robins and saw no reason why they should talk to him in such abusive terms. He came dejectedly back to his original location and lay down. The chorus of disfavor stopped. Meantime, however, the robin in the tree directly in front of the porch continued his tirade. Finally the dog again arose and went around the corner, the man on the porch decided to go in the house, and immediately all clamour ceased.
At another farmhouse there were two well fed and properly cared for cats actively engaged in the ever necessary warfare against mice. A colony of swallows had built their nests under the eaves of a large barn. So far as the human inhabitants of the farm could know there was no essential difference in the moral characters of the two cats. But while one of these cats could circulate around the buildings and no swallow would seem to take any interest in the matter, as soon as the other cat made her appearance in the space between the house and barn, various active members of the swallow colony would immediately issue forth from their retreat and proceed to swoop around and around the cat a few feet from the ground, to her great discomfiture and embarrassment. It became practically impossible for the cat to go out of doors without undergoing this ordeal. She became a nervous wreck and finally had to avoid this open area and take her promenades in another direction.
It would be interesting to know just why the swallows made such a discrimination between the two cats. Possibly the object of their resentment had some time succeeded in capturing one of the birds, but such an achievement by a cat is not very common, as the swallows are extremely agile and capable of keeping out of reach. And if one cat had become unpopular for this cause, why should not the swallows have adopted aggressive and protective tactics toward the other cat who might naturally be expected to follow the same predatory instinct if given the opportunity?
To people who have spent their entire lifetime in the city, these incidents of animal life might easily seem to be mostly imaginary, but to those who are of receptive mind and keep a watchful eye upon the various activities of the animal creation as revealed to them by residence in the open country, there is presented a panorama of individual traits, numerous and delightfully varied.