• Cara Van Leuven

Royal Petting Zoo

Last week we discovered livestock farmers we are not. The muscovy drake born on our farm on National Best Friend’s Day was humanely killed, gangster style. He never knew it was coming. He served as a handsome meal described to as similar to an “exotic sirloin steak.”

It was a poetic ending for a jackass of a duck.

My grandparents raised cattle and I spent eight years of my life as a vegetarian. Tom and I have a petting zoo that consists now of two unruly border collies, one chestnut mare, one fluffy kitten, three ducks and three geese.

It’s an entertaining sort here — the dynamics between the animals is comical. During our never-ending cold spell I stopped cleaning Penny’s stall despite my fingers burning and snot flowing. Jackie Kuhl, one of the female geese, had become smitten with Penny. Those two spent a solid ten minutes caressing each other. This love affair continues every morning.

And speaking of female geese … you may ask how we are sure. As self-described Google Farmers, we researched sexing tutorials. The first option is called venting, a process of holding the goose upside-down, locating said vent, opening the vent and searching for a corkscrew-shaped penis. No thanks.

One of the most telling characteristics is through their voice. A male will have a squeaky, high-pitched voice whereas the ganders have that low femme fatale voice I’ve always pined for. Sure enough, Johnny Bravo sounds like a people girl and Mona and Jackie sound like people dudes. We actually hit the mark on naming them.

But how to be sure? This morning was proof positive. Johnny is coming into his manhood. The courtship between geese is a little more romantic than the ducks. Less violent, more grooming. But the poor guy was turned around. Mounting a head won’t result in fertilized eggs, folks.

Peace has been restored with the ducks. Joey Boots is very proud to call two hens his own and Marmalade isn’t bullied as much. Sugar is allowed in the house as long as she wears her diaper.

Our kitten is the ultimate fail. I was adamant about two things — a barn cat that’s a good mouser AND lets me pet it. I had two perfectly good feral cats lined up, but then this sickly orange kitten made its way into my life. That barn cat enjoys life … in our house. She is a damn house cat that occasionally strolls outside for fresh air.

I have no shame in admitting Penny eats ¾ to 1 bale of hay a day. I’m sure during our last hay delivery eyes were scanning the property for a second horse, cattle, sheep, anything that would explain drastic forage consumption. We are lucky to have an old cement foundation where a barn once stood so Penny is able to walk off her belly. We’re not exactly in fighting shape.

And then the dogs. Put them in a show ring and they are all business. At home they are banshees, covered in mud and running with reckless abandon. Buck is the lover; Shiloh is the aloof one who makes you work for his affection.

We are so far from perfect, but our buddies who add so much character and energy to this land surrounding a 150-year-old farmhouse love us like royalty.