Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Practically Living with Animals at the Desteni Farm

Today I walked through a series of events where actual and possible animal-attacks kept on following each-other.

Okay – let me first explain to you the lay-out of the farm in terms of who lives where, as the housing area of the farm is divided into two parts.

You have the front part of the farm, which includes the gate where you enter, the 'main house', the pool, the car-port, the 4 wooden rooms on the one side, with 'the music studio' (Cerise and Fidelis's house) behind that and the other two wooden rooms on the other side of the main house.

The second part consists of 'the second house' (Rozelle, Andrea and Robert) and the new building at the back, which is where I, LJ, Gian and Leila live.
The two parts of the farm are separated by a fence and the music studio. The reason for the split is because some animals require a 'safe refuge' from the pack of dogs that sometimes chases after birds or cats. And also because Baru and the other big dogs don't do well together.
So, this afternoon – I go outside because Bumi (one of my and lj's new pups) was crying by a gate, and what has happened before is that the big dogs in the 'first/front part' of the farm saw her crying by a gate and they ran up to her barking an growling, because they still see our new pups as 'intruders on their terrain.' So – I go out and see Bumi by the gate, but the big dogs are all running around in front, not taking notice of her. As I look at the dogs, I suddenly see a Hadeda (http://www.sa-venues.com/wildlife/birds_hadeda_ibis.htm) flying up in the sky from in between the dogs and realise that's what the dogs are 'entertaining' themselves with. So, I yell at them to stop and at the same time I see Cerise and Fidelis running down to chase the dogs away from the bird. 
The hadeda wasn't closing her one wing, so Cerise, Fidelis and later LJ investigated where she got hurt. The damage wasn't too serious, so we took her in the house to take care of the wound and have her rest a bit. 
I used 'purple spray' to disinfect the wound after cleaning it, which is an anti-septic spray that we use specifically for animals. I had fetched the purple from the main house, so, after I was done, I go down to the main house to bring the purple spray back. As I leave, Bumi follows me to the gate and starts crying again. In the meantime, Sunette and Fidelis had started treating the dogs against maggots, because the hadeda (that they had been chasing) was covered in it. This treating of dogs is usually done in the garden behind the main house, from where all the dogs could easily notice Bumi's cry. (Bumi in picture on the right)
So – as I am walking down to the main house, I see the dogs go into 'alert mode' as they hear Bumi crying. Gracy had been the 'most ferocious' in the previous confrontations, so I try to grab her as she passes by me, but she pulls loose and goes straight for the gate. Even though Bumi now sees this pack of crazy dogs running at her, barking and growling, she still tries to get through the gate, instead of running away. So, I run and yell at the dogs and chase them away to make sure Bumi doesn't get hurt. Because, what happened before, as well, is that Bumi pushed her head through the gate and then got stuck – so if that'd happened while the dogs were trying to attack, she would've gotten hurt.
I take Bumi to the house and when I go back out into the garden, I see Timelines wants to come for a visit. Timeless lives in the 'first part' of the farm, but enjoys coming for visits to the 'second part' because she is friends with most of the dogs here. The problem is that she is often the one to start barking at Baru (who lives in the second part), which can lead to a fight. So, if Timeless comes for a visit in the back, we always make sure that Baru either isn't in the garden, or we take her immediately into the house to prevent a confrontation between the two dogs.
So, I bring her up to the house and she says hi to all the dogs here. Then, suddenly, I see Leila and Gian's parrot walking out of their room, into the kitchen-area. Usually, either the parrot is locked up in his cage when their door is open, or is free to move around in the room, but then the door is closed – or Leila or Gian are with the parrot in the kitchen or lounge area to make sure no accidents happen.
But this time, I was alone with the dogs in the house and there comes the parrot walking out of Leila and Gian's room. Timeless and the parrot haven't spent much time together – so it's possible that Timeless will attack the parrot – or that the parrot attacks Timeless, because, yes, birds are very territorial as well.
So – I go 'oh crap!' and try to get Timeless' attention so she doesn't notice the parrot and try to get her out of the house as quickly as I can. As I open the door of the house, Timeless hears something in the 'first part' of the farm and runs straight down to the second house. Usually Timeless always stays by us when we bring her back to the 'first part' of the farm through a gate close-by our house, to avoid coming near the entrance of the second house, where Baru likes to hang out. But, as I said, this time she ran straight down to the second house because she heard something going on there. Gian, who was also out in the garden, and I try to call Timeless back, but she doesn't want to come back. As I go down to the second house, I see that luckily Rozelle was there and she was holding Baru back with a chair. Esteni was already on her way to Timeless back into the first part of the house. 
I was pretty shaken up with how these events had followed each-other so closely, each time having to intervene asap to make sure no-one gets hurt. First the dogs and the hadeda, then the dogs and Bumi, then Timeless and the parrot and then Timeless and Baru!
Living together with animals is always seen as something 'idyllic' – as though, because you live with a lot of animals in the same place, everyone lives in peace with one another all the time. Yes, there are moments where different animals are able to live with each other, enjoying each other's presence – but, just as with humans, there is also conflict. And the more animals live together in one area, the more conflict there is – just as with humans. If it hadn't been for all the fences and gates and Bernard being the 'alpha dog' – we wouldn't have been able to live with so many animals on one farm.
Even just in our house, we spend a lot of time on 'animal-management' as we live with a parrot, a duck, two hens and 6 dogs. There used to be 3 chickens: the two hens and one rooster – but we had to find another solution for the rooster, because, as his 'roosterness' developped, he became more and more aggressive towards Chimera (small dog) and started attacking her, pecking at/pulling on her eye-lids. We had just set up a new chick's house in the back of the garden, so we decided to place Tweeter (the rooster) in with the chicks. 
That was quite a tough decision and experience, because Tweeter had been with Lj and myself from the day he was born. His mother wasn't taking care of him to be able to take care of his sisters who were a bit older and already able to walk. So, we took Tweeter in and trained him to be able to live with humans and dogs. He even learned how to bark! When the dogs were barking, he'd blare out this horrible sound, which was his bark, lol. 
So far the hens haven't caused any problems, nor do the dogs have issues with them – so we will see how this develops. At the moment, the hens actually seem more relaxed with Tweeter being gone. We also haven't yet gotten to the state where the hens are laying eggs, they're still too young. So that will be another point that will require consideration and direction. The 'shitting-problem' was solved through making diapers for the chickens. It's like a harness that I sewed up, that's got a pouch where we place in paper towel. And every few hours, we change their diapers, meaning: throw out the old paper towel and place in fresh one. We cannot let them live in the garden, because of Baru, and because they might escape through the fences. And we tried to train them to shit on newspaper, but it just wouldn't take. So, now they have to wear diapers.
When things 'go well' where various animals and humans are able to live together, it's not because of everyone just 'liking each other' and simply 'getting along'. It requires planning, consideration, training, management, awareness, attention and… trial and error. It's not something that 'just is' or 'just happens', it is a 'work in progress'. And sometimes you can want to make it work as much as you can, but you have to consider practicality. Like we had to do for Tweeter. We wouldn't practically be able to 'get Tweeter to a point' where he would be able to 'peacefully' co-exist with the other animals in the house. Because his programming as a rooster of dominating those 'under him' is so ingrained as himself, that it'll require a lot more time than we practically have available, to get him to that stable point of being able to co-exist with others without trying to dominate them and cause shit. So, we re-homed him. He currently seems to be quite satisfied as being the rooster in the midst of hens and chicks. We 'hope' he'll also share with them his story and experience of living with us, so that, in turn, he can assist the other chickens. 
So, here just sharing my experience of today as well as some observations within working and living with the animals on the farm, which is where I am currently exploring and enjoying myself a lot!
Thank you for reading. 

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