Animal talk

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Having a variety of animals at our farm makes my days very exciting and cheerful. While our dogs greet us every morning from their spot in the laundry room, barking and jumping like miniature Jack Russell terriers do, our border collie remains calm and heads to the door to wait for it to be opened. As soon as the door is opened, she heads out first, and the other two follow unless it is cold, wet or snowy.
I hold the door open as I try to call them, luring them as I pet them on their heads and ears, baby talking to them. They understand completely what I am doing. It is a daily routine, and they know a treat will be coming out of my pocket when I get my work clothes on and head to the barn. The little dogs sit up pretty, and they all wag their tails.
As soon as I head off the porch, the cats know it is time for their food: one can of cat food for all five cats to share. The whole gang of cats meow and run in front of me, scurrying under my feet. Every once in a while, one gets stepped on. It will shriek, sounding off to let me know I hurt its foot. I try to pet them as they eat so they are not afraid to be touched.
Next, it is the turkeys that see me. They start to walk over gobbling and making high-pitched peep sounds. They wait patiently while I flip out the ice in their water tub and give them a scoop of corn and chicken feed. If I have a leftover end of bread broken into pieces, they all pay close attention and dart to get the piece of bread before the next turkey can. Competition between them is fierce, so I try to make sure I have enough for everyone.
Eventually, I make my way to the barn, but before I even get close, the lonely goose runs up fast in a loud goose-honking yell. She lost her duck friend last month to something that left a very messy crime scene. Owl, coyote or a fox are the suspects. There were feathers everywhere and some blood in the snow.
This goose is trying to tell me something, but it is hard to figure out. She flaps her wings as she runs like she is going to attack me, but she stops and honks and puts her head low. I change her water in her pan and give her some of the chicken feed. I even take time to feed the heifers their 18% feed so she can eat some. She isn’t tempted. She hisses and follows me to the dairy barn. As she walks into the barn, the cows just look at her.
I can figure out what most animals want when they talk to me. Every morning and night, calves are very good at telling me they are hungry. Chickens have a different cluck when they are out of water or feed. The cows are good at letting me know they need to be milked, are hungry or just sharing a good morning moo.
When families and school groups visit, they all know the animal sounds. However, they don’t know the different tones of the sounds that each animal can make. As farmers, we know when a cow is sounding out in pain and when a calf makes its first baby moo. The same goes for dogs with a happy bark or a growl. The chirp a chick makes when it comes out of the egg shell is different from when they are chirping and kicking up the bedding looking for food. With a goose, though, is the honking hiss a happy sound or a warning that a bite is next?
I do know animals have feelings and can sense our emotions. Many times, I have been comforted by our dogs, cats and cows. I have hugged a chicken, but it isn’t like hugging a calf or lamb. Maybe this goose is still mourning the loss of her duck friend, and she is just sad and lonely. I know I can relate to those feelings too. I don’t think I am brave enough to see if she needs a hug, but I do know that for people, if we try to understand each other better and figure out one another’s needs, hugging can make a big difference.
Perhaps I will.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband Duane and daughter Anna milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots.  They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin. The Hinchleys have been hosting farm tours for over 25 years.


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