When we moved from the Sierra, Nevada foothills in California 25 years ago, we moved from the country, to the country. In California, we had 3 acres, an orchard, garden and chickens. When we moved to Idaho, we settled in a very small town, very small-population around 650. It was different terrain, but also beautiful, in a different way. We built our dream house at the base of a mountain and was surrounded by farms. It was no longer sheltered, with hills and countless pine trees, but fields as far as the eye could see, and amazing sunsets and rainbows. The kids had room to roam, with our 19 acres and also the foothills. We again had an orchard, garden and chickens, but could not stop there.
We tend to be a bit restless and don’t do things on a small (or maybe even a normal) scale. Anyone can buy or even build a henhouse. We built a miniature western village for our animals. Little buildings that resembled old-time saloons and hotels. We also wanted to give our little feathered ladies incentive to lay eggs, so my husband put up a large Colonel Sanders sign on the henhouse. We would get baby chicks from time to time and when they grew, there would always be a rooster or two to terrorize the girls, and challenge them as they tried to collect eggs.
Next door to the chickens, lived the cutest baby animal in the world, in my opinion. We loved the Pygmy goats and when they were young, they were fun to watch, with their acrobatics-jumps and twists mid-air. If my kids (human) would bend over, the kids (goats) would jump on their backs. They were only pets, as Pygmy goats are so little, it would be very difficult to milk, unless you were laying on the ground, or putting them on a table. Plus, you wouldn’t get much milk. We eventually ended up giving them away to a neighbor because of their incessant bleating, especially if they saw us. After a month, the neighbor scolded us, saying, “You didn’t tell me how noisy they were!”
One year, our youngest daughter decided to raise a rabbit to show at the fair. She joined 4H and went to meetings for months to learn how to handle and show her beautiful reddish-tan Rex rabbit. The day of the fair arrived and we sent our daughter out to get her rabbit. She ran back in the house and exclaimed, “He’s dead!” We both stared at her, and each other in shock. Upon further examining, he must have died of old age or a heart attack. Our daughter later confessed she was kind of glad because she did not want to show it. No, she did not kill it.
Our son, Jake often went exploring in the hills, which he loved to do. One time he came upon a wayward sheep, which had obviously been out there a long time, because the wool was so overgrown, that the sheep could barely move or see. Jake got the ATV and with the help of his little sister, went back to rescue the sheep. They were so excited! They took the ATV, pulling a tiny lawnmower trailer behind it. When they returned, there was a HUGE upside-down sheep on the trailer, unable to move or escape. The kids looked very triumphant and victorious. We eventually talked the Ag teacher into taking the poor, starving thing to care for it and shear it. He said the sheep was only about 20 pounds underneath all that wool.
There was the time my husband and son went out shooting 22’s in the hills. They happened upon a pile of junk and proceeded to look for some targets, to shoot at, but instead discovered something else. They returned home with a big box of black and white puppies someone had dumped there! Unfortunately for the previous owners, the box had an address label stuck to it that gave their name away, and we knew them. My husband called and the woman answered and was so shocked and embarrassed to find out that her son, who was supposed to deliver the dogs to the pound, had just dumped them to perish. Later that day, we saw the same boy outside the local market, Clarks, trying to give away puppies.
Children need things to keep them busy, and we decided to purchase some drop calves to raise big enough to sell. This is a commitment because you have to get up early to bottle feed them. This was during school, so we would wake our 3 kids up at 5:30, mix the formula, fill the huge bottles and take them out in the cold to feed those rambunctious calves. Someone said to my husband, “How do you get your kids to wake up at 5:30?” My husband replied that we had them in bed by 9:00. The same person asked “Well, how do you get them in bed by 9:00?!” You know what my husband replied, right? “Well, I get them up at 5:30!” The calves were strong, wiggly and seemed to always want the bottle that wasn’t theirs. It was frustrating and messy. Our rancher friend told us, “now you know why we ranchers have such colorful language!” Some asked why we were now raising calves. We told them that we weren’t raising calves, we were raising children.
By far our most adventurous endeavor was when we got the Ostriches and Emus. We had a friend in California who raised the big birds and made a lot of money selling the eggs. My husband built a big, tall pen. We purchased an old horse trailer and Purina Ostrich food from a feed store in Burley. Yes, they had Ostrich food. We bought 2 hens and 1 rooster and covered their head with a hood, so they couldn’t see and put them in the trailer to bring home. It was so crazy and fun to see those big, prehistoric-looking birds roaming that big pen in our field. They were docile most of the time, except breeding season, and we would pet their fuzzy necks and stroke their feathered back which came up to my chest. I couldn’t wear sparkly jewelry near them, because they would go for it. They are fascinating creatures, although not very bright. Although they tower at about 8 feet tall, their brains are about the size of a walnut. When they were in breeding and laying season, they were aggressive we had to be creative and smarter than an ostrich, which isn’t hard. To retrieve the massive eggs, my husband would simply walk into their pen, with a sheet of plywood in front of him, hiding his body. The birds must’ve thought, hmmm, there is a sheet of plywood walking through my pen because they did nothing. My husband would grab the egg and get out of the pen, without incident. We hatched some darling big chicks, had people drive by slowly to catch a glimpse of the ostriches, had the FFA and pre-schools come by on field trips, but alas, we never made any money from them. We did have a heck of an omelet party with our friends, as one ostrich egg equals 22 chicken eggs.
Our emus, were more skittish than the ostriches, and not quite as fun, but their eggs were beautiful, a dark bluish-green color and about half the size of the ostrich egg. One time it had snowed quite a bit and the snow drifted and collected by the emu pen. Unbeknownst to us, the emus climbed the snow mounds right over the fence and escaped. We received a phone call from a neighbor telling us that she saw some big birds out by the highway. My husband jumped into his truck and started chasing and attempting to herd the emus, which, by the way, is impossible. They dart and are very fast. He finally gave up and knowing he couldn’t just leave them, got his shotgun. He was soon joined by a sheriff, who had obviously been called about some erratic driver chasing dinosaurs out in a field. He stopped Rick and asked what was going on. Rick explained that there was no way to herd emus and that he would have to shoot them. The officer surely would have something to say about that. He paused and said, “Can I shoot them?” Rick offered his gun and the officer, declined and said, “That’s ok, I have my own” and went and got his own shotgun out of his car. Well, I guess it’s not every day you can shoot a 80-pound bird. I would like to hear the story he told that day.