Cockatiels aren’t your typical homestead bird but Smoky Bones has been the ambassador here since he first came home with me in 2006…before this was even remotely a homestead. He had belonged to my friend, Jo-Ann’s Uncle Mike. Uncle Mike, Smoky and a small dog had all been living with relatives on their farm in Voluntown, CT. Ironically, it was a goat farm. But they were selling out and moving to a new state. And Uncle Mike was being sent to an assisted living complex (or maybe even a nursing home; it’s been awhile). I remember the dog’s place with the family was assured but the wife found Smoky to be a challenge so he needed a home. It broke Uncle Mike’s heart. He was only willing to relinquish his pet after constant reassurances from Jo-Ann that he would be well-loved and cared for. It breaks my heart to think of it even now; I could write a whole other blog post about our society’s treatment of their elders but, for now, I’ll stay on subject.
I’m still stymied on what the challenge was…
Smoky had roommates when he first came here, a trio of budgerigars named Nigel, Jamaica and Skye. I set his cage next to theirs for company and, while I wasn’t confident enough to put them together in an aviary setting, that was a future plan. Until I underestimated the effects of having fluttering, chirping birds in a house full of felines. My Megan Magee was still with me then; birds were her absolute delight. I came home one afternoon from work to find both cages on the floor. Smoky was fine. A bit shaken but otherwise hale and hearty. The parakeets were flying pell-mell around the house…except for Jamaica, who greeted me on the living room floor, surrounded by felines, left wing bleeding. He was my first concern, for obvious reasons. I grabbed a nearby clothes’ basket and threw it over him then shooed the cats out of the living room until I could get him to calm down enough to let me handle him. Good luck! I remember, despite the bloody wing, he flew back into the rabbit room (where their cages were also housed) and, eventually, into his cage. I managed to clean his wing with saline; it proved to be only a flesh wound. Nigel and Skye seemed unscathed, physically, but the following morning Skye let out a squawk and tumbled to the floor of her cage; the next morning, Nigel, did the same. (Or maybe it was the other way around…again, it’s been awhile.) Though they would never become actual roommates, Jamaica and Smoky were good company for each other for many years’ after. Sadly, I lost Jamaica in 2012.
Far from being a “challenge,” Smoky has proven to be quite the character. Shortly after I brought him home, I was sitting at the table, reading a book, while Smoky whistled away in his cage. Eventually, his whistling drew my attention. I realized I recognized the tune. That was the opening to the old “Andy Griffith Show” and, later, was that “The Odd Couple” theme? I went to work the next day and asked Jo-Ann if Uncle Mike watched a lot of TV Land. She admitted that, yes, he did. Well, Smoky had picked up the theme songs to many of his favorite shows. Uncle Mike also had a police scanner. Out of the blue, Smoky will suddenly squawk, “Rescue! Rescue!” complete with a bit of re-created static as the scanner pops “on” and “off”. And you’ll never doubt his name. His invariable greeting is, “Hello, Smoky!”
Dogs are a usual part of any homestead. I hope to one day raise border collies for herding future sheep, and also agility. Mom brought Max with her from Missouri in September 2014. He’s a blue heeler. Traditionally, this is a herding breed but Max has never been sheep or goat “broke” so putting him out with Felicity and Co. would be a disaster (if a dog has not been raised with sheep, instead of herding, he’ll run them down and potentially kill them; they have to be “broke”. This does not mean anything brutal or unkind to the dog but a gentle training to teach them how to appropriately interact with them.). He knows he’s supposed to do something with these goats but he doesn’t know what that something is. And, for Felicity’s part, she doesn’t seem to be dog “broke” either (again, simply being raised around dogs and being taught to understand that the dog does not mean her harm but is there for her protection; because she’s never been taught otherwise, she sees Max as a threat…and he is because he’s also never been taught). When Max first came here, Mom and I took he and Bear (who was still with me then) out on leashes. I wanted them to at least get acquainted with each other so there wouldn’t be some mad charge at the back door someday. Amazingly, Felicity didn’t seem to have any problem with Bear. Maybe his size was a deterrent (St. Bernard) but Max lunged and then Felicity charged. That ended that exercise. We are very careful to keep Max and Felicity separate. However, Max is an intelligent boy. And, while it may be a little late in his life to get him into herding–especially with a recalcitrant lead doe fighting him every step of the way–now that warmer weather is coming in, I would like to start some basic training with him and then, maybe, get him into agility. Herding breeds have a lot of energy so it would be good for him to have a means to use some of it up each day. He learns fast. Over the wintertime, we started chorus classes…I taught Max to howl. And he sounds for all the world like the wolf he’s often mistaken for in public.
May God bless you & keep you!