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I have been away from my blog for so long.
First, I will ask you to excuse any typos or strange wording, as my computer is kaput and I am posting by phone. Hopefully, my posts are understandable.
There is a lot to catch up on. Too much, actually. Our “family” grew larger this year with the addition of three more dogs that quickly became ten total when the abandoned stray we took in gave birth. We also have heritage turkeys, laying hens, and more cattle. Of course, that also means a lot of mouths to feed, vet bills to pay, and mucho muck in all sorts of vintages!
I started raising chickens last February in the house, where our wood stove could keep them and us warm during what we thought was winter’s last hurrah. Yes, the chicks were in the house caged, litter changed frequently, and in my estimation no difference from parakeets, parrots, and cockatoos. When the little balls of fuzz grew their real feathers in, they got a place of honor in the cow shed. By July ten beautiful little red and gold hens began laying elegant brown eggs and the two roosters, Dot and Not (named for the
Dot on top of their heads as tiny black Barred Rock chicks) split the flock between them. Nearly the size of the Royal Palm toms, they easily kept a tight rein on their respective portion.
Two nights ago, however, something made dinner out of two of Not’s girls and broke his neck in the melee. Mike found him, barely alive, in the middle of the pasture. There was no hope to save him. (Spoiler alert! Skip the next few paragraphs if you get queasy.)
Such is life on a farm with animals. You take care of them, treat them well, and give them the best possible life, but eventually a decision must be made regarding their welfare. Not (I now call him Naught) was doomed and we will enjoy our chicken and dumplings for tonight’s dinner.
He will also be part of dinner for the dogs for the next few days, either as protein or broth poured over their dry food. We will all be thankful for that brave little roo that saved the lives of most of his flock. Even traumatized, the girls all laid beautiful eggs this morning and were fed ground up shells from yesterday’s egg gathering. I deliberately marked and left two in the nest… Maybe there will be a Not, Jr.
I think everyone is aware of the awful heat the country experienced over the last several days. We are now told it will likely continue into next week and resemble the conditions that produced the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Uh-huh. That is precisely NOT what a farmer wants to hear as he or she looks out upon stunted soybean plants, crunchy brown pasture, dwarfed feed corn, droopy sweet corn, and wilted garden produce. It might be different if we grew cacti for market.
Mike had to open-up one pasture this week that he originally intended for winter hay. The other pastures are so dry there is little for the cattle to eat. We noticed a large increase in cattle sales reported at a nearby stockyard, so we are obviously not the only ones hit by the drought. He found some hay for sale and bought about 80 rolls at a bargain price…only about $1200 out of pocket…and he jumped at the chance because if the drought continues, he expects the price to sky rocket. We are also considering selling off some of the lesser valued cattle to cut food consumption. That means Spot, Brahma Mama, Pip and the Painted Ladies may be moving on to (hopefully) greener pastures. Of course, Pip and the Painteds will not bring much due to their small size and large appetites.
We had to feed the young calves hay, along with their feed, rather than the nice green clover they were becoming accustomed to. They are not thrilled with it and gladly come to me in a near-stampede to get any small morsels of clover I find and pass across the electric fence. They do not even mind the 105F temperatures baking down on them while they munch. Mike noticed that the Charolais seem not to care about the heat, while the Angus tend to gather in the shade of the run in. He has been refilling water tanks three or four times per day, when normally he refills them every couple of days, so clearly the heat is dehydrating them a little.
Like the cattle, the three dogs seem to prefer the shade…the one inside with the air conditioning. It is hard to get them outside for potty breaks until evening when the sun begins to go down. Yep, we have the dog days of summer about two months early. The city girl in me would love, love, love a swimming pool right about now! We might wish we had one filled and waiting should water rationing be reinstated. In the meantime, we stay out of the heat as much as possible. Mike did fill his 200 gallon water tank six times and water the produce garden so we did not lose the produce scheduled for the local restaurant. After all, we got our foot in the door with them last year because their purveyor failed to show up with the summer squash he promised. Drought or not, we need to keep our word as far as possible, even if it means paying city water rates because the creek ran dry.
In fact, the creek bed is almost dry except in the deepest parts, but at least there is water available for the wild life. We have not seen our usual herd of deer, but a flock of turkeys with their young chicks still make forays into the yard. I think the dogs are just too hot to care. Even when a wild rabbit came up into the yard last evening and sat and stared at the house, they could not be bothered to move out of their respective cool spots to notice.
The raccoon that stole a large plastic food bowl and its contents off the deck a few days ago has not been around either. I suspect, he is munching the cat food from it like popcorn, from the shady shelter of his own abode. I can see it now, cradled in his left arm as he reaches into it with his right. Sure wish he would bring the bowl back. It was a good one, an extra large, heavy dog food bowl. Raccoons are little thieves, a fact I noticed since moving to the country. Little wonder so many despise their cute little fuzzy, bandit marked selves. Remember last year, when Mike planted a full acre of sweet corn and we only got four ears? A neighbor reported they already destroyed over one hundred watermelons from their farm. Yeah…that’s raccoons for you! Poor things probably won’t get any corn this year, the drought took it toll on the plants. Gee, maybe they will move elsewhere, ya think?
So here we are, stuck in the house due to the heat (except for Mike’s usual and necessary chores), we and three dogs. Too much land to water, no water in the creek to pump, brown crunchy pastures and over-heated cattle who seem to delight in making their own swimming pool from their urine and standing in it to keep cool. The urine pool makes for a smelly invitation for all sorts of flies that Mike has to deal with. That alone begs the question, why is it that cows will stand in the rain to eat, but freak out if sprayed with any sort of liquid? In any case, I am wishing they had a small shallow pond near their run in to stand, instead of the pool they “built” inside the shed. As Bill Cosby once said in his story of Noah, “Who’s gonna clean up that mess?!”
So before you think that all I do is complain, let me add.,, This morning we woke up to somewhat cooler temperatures and the sound of thunder. We go absolutely no rain, but it will be a balmy 98F today as the result of the brief cloud cover. We will take it! It might even been a good day for a cook out in the shade of the wild cherry trees next to the house. Maybe I will fill Eddie’s pool for the dogs to romp in. Or maybe, we will do what we have done for the past several days and just vegetate in the living room with the slight breeze of the air conditioner and be thankful every minute that we have not lost the electrical power.
I arrived back in Kentucky from my latest trip last Tuesday evening. Funny, after three more weeks away from home, the farm felt strange. The deep green grass, now browned by a month long drought, mimicked the scrubby, sparse landscape I left behind in the Colorado countryside. But being home was not similar in any other way. Crickets, tree frogs, and coyote calls replaced traffic sounds, sirens, and door slamming upstairs neighbors. Tractor Supply, Lowes, and Southern States return as my shopping places of choice, though they hardly hold a candle to my forays into Neiman-Marcus, Dillards, Nordstroms, and Macys. My empty, dusty wallet, once again carried in the convenience my back pocket, no way approaches the $6,500 (yes, that is six thousand five hundred) ostrich leather Prada handbag I covetted. (Yes, gentlemen there are purses that expensive out there. Aren’t you thankful for your low-maintenance woman?) The clearance shoes priced at $400 in the “Needless Markup” store, I left behind in favor of my $35 muck boots.
For nearly six weeks (in two batches) I ate in real restaurants with real waiters and tablecloths, tipped far too much, and enjoyed the company of old and new friends. I shopped. I went to the movies (the first time in the US since the first Titanic was released). I won $1,000 at a casino (another first!) I had a pedicure (another first, at least done by someone else), got new glasses and contact lenses, and had my teeth cleaned. I was invited to people’s houses for barbeques, participated in trivia contests, had grown-up conversations that involved more than “moo,” “ruff,” and “meow” interpretations. I met people from Wisconsin and New Jersey and other “exotic” places, ran into Wildcat fans everywhere (which someone told me is why they refer to the University of Kentucky fans as the Big Blue Nation), and refound the value of shopping as a female bonding activity. It was great.
It was wonderful and horrible all at the same time. Wonderful because these are things I enjoy immensely but do rarely, and horrible because it left me wondering if the city girl in me still wanted to live in the city more than the country. Should I return to the city? Continue on this path? Face it. I LIKE traveling. I LIKE spending money. I LIKE nice stuff….yep champagne taste on a Koolaid pocketbook (I can’t afford beer).
So, I am back now. Back to chores and laundry, mowing and blogging, musing and wondering. Back to naming calves, fixing the house, eating dinners in front of the television, often alone and sometimes overwhelmed by all this…this…stuff…this…FARMING stuff! Will I ever be content again? What is the answer?
While mowing around the electric fence today, I came to the conclusion that I need one of two things to settle my enigmatic personality:
I need to win the lottery or I need a clone of myself.
Yeah, right. I will just run right out and win a few million and all my problems will be solved. Uh huh.
Instead, maybe I will just momentarily be happy that I have seen both sides of life and that I have a choice. Few in this world do. Many never see a mall let alone a department store or beautiful $3,000 earrings– priced per earring– let alone turn down the purchase because they are white, not yellow, gold. (Well, I had to give her some excuse! Choking would have been rude!) Many face outrageous medical bills like my brother and “sister.”
My brother is progressing in his healing and I understand his bills are more than $80,000. My friend received mixed news and will soon start chemo, reconstructive surgery, and radiation, and her bill just for tests ALONE was over $30,000 before the first of two surgeries. Everyone else I love is in a health holding pattern. Most people I know take daily prescriptions for everything from diabetes to high blood pressure, yet other than some odd fatigue thing that has plagued me for twenty years or more, I am healthy. I have no medical expenses, I take no medicines on a regular basis. In fact, I have few of the worries many people my age face. So altogether now, may I have a unified, “Geez!” with my whine?!
I may travel west again in the next few weeks as my friend begins her medical treatments; I might even take an actual vacation.. But as I mowed around the electric fence this morning I also realized wherever I am…I am blessed.
I guess I can pass on the $6,500 handbag, the $3,000 diamond studs, and the shoes priced for a steal at just $400 just this once. On the other hand…
Oh, Mi-ike! Can we raise ostriches next?!
Me too! Ha! Not really. You see, a couple of months ago I got “itchy feet.” I love to travel and during the Spring when Mike is so busy with prepping, plowing, and planting, I get lonesome for human company. It seems to happen every year. It is then that I yearn to travel.
So I had the bug and called a dear friend of mine to see if there was “room at the inn.” It was then I found out she had just been diagnosed with cancer and faced surgery in the near future. I was in shock and in about a second my desire to travel for fun became a need to travel to her, to be by her side, to help however I could, to satisfy myself that in spite of the disease she was “healthy.” Afterall, she and I had been friends since last year, when we were seventh graders. (Of course I’m kidding…not about seventh grade, but it has been about 40 years since we were seventh graders!)
I began making plans to visit her the day of her surgery or soon thereafter. Meanwhile, my oldest brother had a heart attack and was to undergo a quadruple bypass. I made plans to fly in for that visit too. As it turns out, their surgeries fell within a few days of each other and I could make sure my brother was doing well before traveling on to be with my “sister” for her surgery. At this writing, both are doing quite well….although they might dispute the word “well” depending on their current pain level.
I am now back home, greeted by a fiance and the three dogs who apparently thought I was never coming back. I have never seen such excitement in this crew! The bad news for my blog readers is that my stay will only last about a week and I will fly off again to be with my “sister” for the next round in her several surgeries. I will be back, though, I promise. Just hang tight.
Mike got the garden mostly planted while I was gone and the soybeans are in the ground. He is now working on his hay baler, which apparently someone decided they needed parts off more than he. They stole so far adding up to more than $1,000 to replace, not counting labor. I suspect it was a former field worker or the local kid that stole the timber off our land a few months ago. Nonetheless, if we are going to have hay for winter, it must be fixed. The corn he planted in April will not suffice for the cattle. Mike also plans to plant pumpkins for sale at the local farmers market.
Of themselves, none of these crops are sufficient for living income. The combination of all, however, we hope will allow us to at least break even this year– that is, if people would quit stealing from the farm.
By the way, for those wondering if the cows would remember me after being gone so long. Yes, they did. Mike drove me by the calf shed on my arrival home. Coco, Runner, and Ricky were in the field nearby and I called them as we passed. Ricky and Runner kicked up their heels and followed the truck in a trot while Coco, who turned into a black (not red) Jersey in the past three weeks, stared at me with a look that said, “You are coming to pet me, aren’t you?”
Ah, yes. I feel like I am home.
I really hate to say it, because last time I did things changed in a bad way, but I think Spring really is here. Heavy frosts last week and one hard freeze kind of muted our jubilation over its early arrival, but this week things are warmer, rainier, and more like one would expect.
I took my coffee out to the front deck this morning while Mike misered away his last precious moments of glorious snoredom. Sleeping, in this house, is often a privilege granted only by the pets residing here. Normally, as soon as it begins to get light, at least one, if not three, ecstatic dogs pounce on the bed to wake us. It is as if they want to sing out, “Wake up! Wake up! The sun rose again!” Yeah, thanks. Oh, and thanks for washing my face for me with your tongue too. Where’s my coffee?
I did my morning routine: let dogs out, potty, shower, make coffee, water houseplants. It occurred to me, still in my early morning half-awake fog, when I watered the new potted petunia Mike bought me for my birthday that it really was warm out. Yay! Coffee outside this morning!
As you recall, we put a deck on the front of the house this year. Previously, there was none. Now I am not talking about replacing what was there…there was NONE. No deck, no porch, no steps, nothing. The front door from the inside was a door to no where– and that was about a five feet drop. The new deck is small, but I love it. There is a bistro set with a bright yellow umbrella where I can sit and recall taking espresso at Deux Garcons in Aix en Provence a few years ago. There is a bench with bright Hawaiian floral printed pillows that remind me somehow of the mumus my mother used to wear as I grew up. And there are pots, lots of pots. Empty pots that await soil and flowers because it has been too cold to plant them up.
Ahhhh. My porch, my coffee, my new flowers from Mike, my dogs playing in the yard. (My, that sounds selfish. Still, they are my pleasure too.) Yes, we have a yard now too! Mike hired some local boys to clean out the cow shed a few days ago. He was busy, it needed to be done, and they made the mistake of asking if he had any work they could do for pay. That’ll teach ’em! It worked out great for the all, though. When they finished mucking the 16 X 58 calf shed, the three of them built the dogs a fenced in area at the front of the house. The structure is temporary, made from metal posts and cattle panels, but it provides a larger area for unsupervised fun. The two larger dogs, not being spoiled quite as much as Fritz, love it! I have to say, I do too.
Sitting at the bistro table, on the porch, watching the dogs turn donuts in the yard in a mad game of chase is great, but not nearly as great as seeing the sea of green that now surrounds the house. I sat musing about which flowers I wanted to plant where, how to build a walkway to the drive that could be mowed rather than weeded, and even scolded myself for not yanking the morning-glory weed (yes, weed) that draped itself across the Japanese Barberry Mike hates. Yet as I sat there I also became acutely aware of the sounds of Spring around me. A wild turkey or two gobbled a mating call in the trees not 200 ft from the house and a little beyond that, two deer vocalized. Song birds chattered away in the branches above, happily rustling the branches as they jumped from place to place. Sammy the Cat meowed a greeting to the cows mooing in the distance and above all this clamour came another sound. A human sound.
Apparently Mr. Jones is planting his fields this morning, and even if it is only seven o’clock, it should be a welcome sound of Spring in the country. I had to remind the city girl in myself of that as I sipped my coffee and selfishly enjoyed the cool morning air, the scent of the honeysuckle and all those sounds around me. This is not a park refuge, I am not a weekend hermit on a religious retreat. This is a farm.
It is also planting season and Farmer Jones (or whoever it is) was on it this morning! The loud engine noise his tractor made echoed from the creek below us, its volume enhanced by the cliff walls. I actually had to stop to figure that out, because to me, for a moment, it sounded like the 405 freeway lined with semi tractor trailers on a workday morning. The juxtaposition of that sound, that motor driven, squeaking sound, against the backdrop of Nature actually disturbed me. That was a realization that surprised me, having grown up less than two blocks from a freeway interchange. I wanted the sound to go away. I wanted to listen to the birds and the deer and the cows and the dogs. That noise, that infuriating human-made noise, as Mike probably would tell me, was the necessary sound of money being made. It too is a sound of Spring.
Like Farmer Jones, Mike will climb on his own tractor again today and disturb Nature’s sounds too. He broke only a portion of the ground for pasture before the cold hit, though the sweet corn is not up yet. Hopefully the new pasture will provide hay in the late summer, so I am glad he finished that. He also broke a field for sunflowers and cucumbers– an experiment I convinced him to try near the asparagus field. He still needs to prep the fields for soybeans and there is field corn to plant and the produce garden to prepare. Unfortunately, a bearing is out on his plow and he feels rushed to fix it before we get too far into the season– especially since the greenhouse plants are at a near perfect height for transplanting. Breaking the produce garden, to me, is the priority. Mike would disagree. I would also like the garden closer to the house, Mike would disagree with that too.
This year the produce garden will be even further from the house than before due to the crop rotation Mike practices. It will be larger too, I think. It seems that for something like $2.60 more Mike picked up 150 lbs. of potatoes for planting instead of the 60 lbs. he originally intended. He also has seed potatoes for pink, golden, and purple fingerling types. Barring any disaster the potatoes should produce about 1500 lbs of potatoes…for two people, their friends, and a local restaurant. I think we will have potatoes coming out our ears, but a bargain is a bargain. For the price of a few of ten pound bags of Idaho potatoes we might purchase at the local grocery, we will have ample.
There will be kale, spinach, fifteen varieties of heirloom tomatoes, another fifteen varieties of peppers this year too, as well as okra, squash, zucchini,…. you name it. Hopefully, we won’t have a drought this year and buyers will line up for our morning-picked food. We are checking into starting or joining a CSA program, but for this year, the produce garden income will remain coming from the farmers market, the restaurant, word of mouth, curbside, and friend sales.
As I mentioned, many of the plants we will move were started in float trays in the greenhouse back during the winter. In a few weeks we will spend days planting them by hand into the garden, and then constructing the Florida weave to support some of the plants, followed in the summer by hand harvesting. Mike uses his cultivator to clear weeds between the rows, but there simply is not time (nor energy) for hoeing around every single plant. A lack of a ready source for water other than rainfall disallows planting under plastic mulch. The result is lower production due to weeds, which frankly, given the amounts we plant and can, I am rather happy with. Again, Mike might disagree since he always likes a bumper crop. But, with labor intensive as it is in gardens such as this, and on produce farms in general, we Americans still do not like high food prices. Because of that, Mike expects to realize only about sixty to seventy-five cents a pound (wholesale) for our tomatoes. We will also have more than we can possibly eat, can or freeze for ourselves.
In fact, we are in that position now with asparagus. The asparagus came on a couple of weeks ago because of the warmer than usual weather. It has not hit its peak yet and I am already tired of it. I love asparagus…just not every day. With a thousand plants in the ground and a short season, that is exactly what it is. We will be canning and pickling and eating it in a thousand different ways until it finally pans out around June 1. Meanwhile, I am collecting asparagus recipes on Pinterest. Some sound wonderful; some, not very; some, curiosity inducing.
For example, I found an Asparagus Bundt Cake recipe the other day that intrigued me. Why not…carrot cake, zucchini bread, why not asparagus? I never found any other dessert recipes for tall green spears and wonder why. So today, I am going to try to make a Chocolate Asparagus Cake. If it is edible, I’ll post the recipe I came up with. If not, we will all know why there are so few recipes for asparagus as a dessert.
Now I am wondering if cows can eat can chocolate cake…? and will they eat asparagus? Hmmmm.
Mike moved Pip and the Painted Ladies over to the other farm and in with Big Mama Angus and Brahma Mama’s herd. The new availability of grass and clover on demand has apparently been good for Pip because he is in a growth spurt and now stands as tall as the Painteds and is heavier. Sam the Charolais finally matured sexually as did Spot the Jersey, so it won’t be long before we will sell Pip and Spot. Rhino the Angus is still king of his herd, though. In a dominance display, Spot tried to mount the huge bull a couple of weeks ago. Rhino head butted him off his feet and the young bull ended up on his back, feet in the air, looking like “what happened?” Rhino is our keeper bull, a fine-looking specimen for building our personal herd. The upstart will breed elsewhere and perhaps increase a local dairyman’s herd.
The babies in the calf shed are growing like weeds, even if they are afraid of the great outdoors. Because of the cold, we kept them inside all winter and now, even with their pen doors open, they hesitate to go outside. They must, because they too will one day join Rhino’s herd…after they are electric fence broke. For now, instead of kicking up their heels in joy at the prospect of “breathing room” they stand in a group, afraid to move for fear of that white thing that hurts (the electric fence ribbon). It is not the happy sight of Pip running wantonly from end to end seemingly smiling from ear to ear in the joy of his new and greater surroundings. He took right to it, while these have explored little in the two weeks their shed has been open. They will have to get used to being outside soon, because putting them to pasture saves the expense of feed and is healthier for them.
Besides, we have others critters to buy feed for.
Mike buys a bag or so of feed per week for the fast-growing turkeys. Since they are not yet outdoors ready, he also brings them clover, grass and herbs for their nutrition and fun. It is cute to listen to their gobbles turn to almost dove-like coos when the green food appears. They also do a sort of happy dance, flinging themselves across the pen like they were dive bombing an enemy. I never expected to see such behavior and joy from a flock of birds
Perhaps utter joy is the true sound and sight of Spring. I hope so and I am learning and watching. I also hope it does not turn cold again.
I am up a little earlier this morning than I planned. It happens like that around here. Weather alerts, the wind, strange cat sounds, or a puppy whining at the hardness of bone she is chewing will do that to you. You probably surmised at this point that Val is still with us. After being sick for a week and hardly lifting my head off the pillow, I did not have the heart to send her away. It looks like she is now part of the family and even Eddie has become her doting alpha male to the chagrin of Fritz, who believes himself to be the top dog. They are all in a three way tie for who is the most spoiled.
Their day consists of rushing out the front door first thing in the morning to get a little play time. Stand back if you are between them and the door, because it is a little like watching elementary school kids in the old days when school dismissed. [Todays school are much more regimented.] They return to dog biscuits while we sip our coffee through a one-eyed haze. In about an hour they leave with Mike to ride along while he feeds the calves. It is the happiest time of day.
Lately, their rambunciousness means that Mike has to chase down three dogs running in three different directions at the same time and none coming to their name. Stop! Hee! Sit! …yeah, Mike’s learned those well– not so much the dogs. I hand it to old Fritz. He has never responded to voice. Never. He’s a Patterdale, though, and while other breeders bred for agility or looks or whatever, I think they bred Patterdales for stubbornness. He does not mind…not in English, not in French, not in Spanish and not in Japanese. I know. We’ve tried. Looking at the Wiki picture, maybe we should have tried German. We have found that the only way to get him to mind is to fool him. If you want to get him to eat dinner, for example, and he’s hiding upstairs, “Fritzie! Wanna go for a ride? (jingle keys)” is the way to do it.
The good thing is that Fritz LOVES the calves. When the three tear off in a confused run with Mike trying to get them into the truck, Fritz usually makes a bee-line for the calf shed and often runs around to the run-in side to try to see the “baby cows.” This morning if the same scenario occurs, I wonder how he will respond to thirty turkey chicks, not calves, looking back at him. They are the newest arrivals to the calf shed, although separated completely away from the calves. I suspect his excitement will not make it easy for Mike to get him back into the truck.
Yesterday, you see, was move-in day for our soon-to-be free range turkeys. Mike, Caddyshack and City Guy spent the day before tranforming the run-in shed to a turkey coop, complete with roosts, feeders and manure box (for the want of a better word.) It looks sharp! Not as cute as some of the Victorian style chicken coops I have seen and admired on the internet, but certainly very functional.
I imagined moving the turkeys from their brooder in the garage to the cowshed would be comical. I pictured the three amigos pitching squawking and flapping birds into the back end of Mike’s truck only for the flappers to escape when they opened the hatch to take one or two out. I pictured us chasing turkeys around at least five acres, which none of us is in the shape to handle. I even suggested rounding them onto a sheet then gathering the ends to tote them over, when met Mike’s sharp disapproval along with a bit of teasing. Nevertheless, as the time arrived for the men to transfer ability-to-fly birds, I quickly ran for my cell phone. I just knew there was a $10,000 prize for this on America’s Home Video or something.
I think I was disappointed when the transfer went off uneventfully. No. I know I was disappointed. I really wanted the $10,000! We just reached in, grabbed a bird or two, covered its head and carried them to the pen. They hardly peeped. Each was a little confused once they arrived, but you could tell from their chirps, their scratching, and their snuggling into the hay that they loved their new home. Even the little Royal Palm turkeys snuggled in under the heat lamp and went to sleep.
Which is what I think I am going to do for a little while. This getting up early stuff is for the birds…or the turkeys…or the dogs…or someone. It is not for me. Have a great day!