I live on a small farm, where I take care of several steers (four at present), a beautiful heifer calf, and lots of chickens. We also have a couple of kittens — future mice slayers. We are new to farming, and are, of course, learning a lot along the way.
Our current batch of chickens consists of Finn McCool the Second (a cock) and his Fianna (our hens): Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, and Spinach.
The name Finn McCool comes from the story behind Turlough O’Carolan’s song ‘Si Bheag, Si Mhor’ (see here and here). Fianna means ‘band of warriors’. The other names are from Miss Flite’s birds in Bleak House by Charles Dickens, Chapters XIV and LX. No particular name goes to any particular hen, and we have more hens than we do names. There is a second cock (sometimes called Krook, after Miss Flite’s landlord, or just “the other one”) and we currently have thirty-one laying hens total.
Finn McCool has been under a death sentence for months and months because he is so mean, but we never seem to get around to actually butchering him.
We also have twenty-two chicks that were hatched from the eggs from our hens, but they don’t have names yet. About half of them are cocks anyway and are destined for an early soup pot.
Our older chickens are Golden Comets. The hens are a reddish golden brown color, while the roosters are creamy colored. The chicks hatched from their eggs didn’t end up looking quite like their parents. There are some white hens, some brown roosters, and even a couple of chicks with black, iridescent feathers.
We have four steers right now: Rice Cake, T.V.P. (textured vegetable protein), Almond Milk, and Burger.
We decided that vegetarian names would be fun for our beef cattle. Just imagine it: After butchering and freezing the meat, we’ll sit down to dinner and eat [drumroll!] — textured vegetable protein! Mmmm. The next steer will probably be soybean or tofu. (For the record, we don’t eat TVP, puffed grains, nut or soy milk, or, indeed, soy of any kind — on principle. We are not a vegetarian family.) The other steer, Burger, doesn’t actually belong to us, we just take care of him. We didn’t name him, but it is a pretty cute name anyway, don’t you think?
Rice Cake and T.V.P. were our first steers. We got them as calves. They are a mixture of Holstein and Jersey. Burger came next. He is stockier than the other two, and is nearly as big as they are. Almond Milk is our newest steer. He stays with our heifer until the Spring, when we will possibly be getting a new milk cow, and Almond will go with the big guys. He and Burger are also a mixture of Holstein and Jersey.
And then there is our very own heifer calf, Gladys Fawn. We gave her the middle name “Fawn” because several people told us that she looked like a baby deer when she was born. I call her Gladiola (sort of like gladiolus), or Gladdy, for “short”. Gladys was born on our farm, and is, in my humble opinion, the prettiest little heifer around. Born completely brown, she now has black all over her face and legs. She is a Jersey. I had never trained a calf before Gladys was born, nor seen anyone else do it, nor read anything about the subject. After she was born, I read what I could on the subject, and did my best. All in all, she is quite docile, though occasionally stubborn. She is destined to be a milk cow.
I’m a bit cynical about cats. We’ve been through four of them now. First, we found a large, sleek, grey cat with yellow eyes in our shed. He had an injured hip. We made him up a box, fed him, and pet him. He was a little aloof at first, but after he got used to us, he really enjoyed being with us. We named him Tipu. It’s a name we heard in the movie ‘Lagaan’ (2001). It is a Hindi name that means “tiger”. Tipu was one handsome cat. He stuck around for quite a while after his hip healed, and then left.
Our next cat, we got on purpose. He was a kitten and we got him for mice in the barn. We named him Moses, not because he was found in any bulrushes, but because he looked like the kitten in the James Herriot story ‘Moses the Kitten’. Moses’s favorite place to be was right behind our necks. When we picked him up, he’d crawl up our arms, and settle down behind our necks like a scarf. He was the sweetest little thing. He let us do anything with him — put him in boxes, wrap him in doll blankets — you name it, and he let us do it. And then we found him at the end of our driveway — dead. He’d been hit by a car.
Our next two cats were brothers. Some friends couldn’t keep them any longer and gave them to us. They looked very similar and we named them Thomas Twp and Thomas Twp Too after the twin brothers in the movie ‘The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain’ (1995). They were inseparable. Often we’d find them laying in the hay with their “arms” around each other. Thomas Twp was a little more aloof with us, but Thomas Twp Too was downright friendly … until he died. Thomas Twp was forlorn for quite some time, but, with lots of extra attention, he recovered. So we were down to one cat for a long time. Thomas Twp became a stick-tight. His favorite place was the mat by the back door, waiting for meat scraps, ignoring the fact that he was with us so that he could catch mice. And then, Thomas Twp disappeared. He’s gone. We don’t know what happened to him.
I’m one of those “if I have a cat, it’s gonna be an outdoor cat” people. I like useful animals. So, a cat in the barn for mice is fine with me, but I’m getting tired of cats dying and/or disappearing. And now, some friends found a tiny cage at the side of the road with a (declawed) mother cat and five kittens crammed into it. They took them home and put them into their barn, but they already have a plethora of cats, so … did we want them? So, now we have two new kittens. They were about three or four weeks old when we got them. They have been named Grumio and Biondello, after two of the comic servants in Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. Grumio is orange and very fluffy. Biondello is sleeker, and a combination of orange and white. Grumio is more aggressive, and Biondello is more cuddly. They are very cute and playful, and we have managed to keep them alive so far.