The barnyard parade

sheep dog

I will soon be celebrating the 10-year anniversary of moving to the ranch. The following was written soon after…”Sometimes I wonder how this happened,” the man of the ranch says. It is early morning, just a little after dawn, and, work boots on, steaming cup of coffee in hand, he is standing by the sliding glass door staring out onto the patio. Staring back at him are a tiny gray kitten, a floppy-combed leghorn hen and a huge white sheepdog. They are lined up waiting for him.

It’s a good question. How did this happen?

Two years ago I was living in a trailer with my two dogs, two cats, little speckled hen (the lone survivor of a coon massacre) and three yearling lambs. The lambs would often sleep on my porch as I had yet to build a fence, and the hen, meanwhile, was roosting on a perch I’d rigged up in the bathroom.

In spite of the craziness, or perhaps because of it, I kept a tidy house. My floors will never again be scrubbed as often as they were when I had a hen living with me. Still, I recognized that it was not the house of a “normal” person. I worried that left to my own devices I was beginning to veer from adorably nutty into just plain nutty.

So, when we began our courtship, I was upfront about my eccentricities. He offered to find a spot for the hen and lambs in one of his barns and even helped me acquire some chicken friends. I jumped at the chance.

Eventually, I, and the two cats and two dogs, also moved out of the trailer and onto the ranch, and we all lived happily ever after. Sort of.

Since then, I have been able to curb my impulses most of the time, but we have had several baby lambs, a baby bird, and a few rounds of kittens spend a night or two in the house — but none of them ever became permanent residents, thus honoring an early agreement that was made capping the indoor animal count at 4.

Still, when the man of the ranch came home one evening to discover a small animal carrier perched in the bed of the pickup, he was terrified. “Honey” he called to me as he entered the house. “Why is there an animal carrier outside?”

“It was for two kittens that needed a home,” I said. “but they will be barn kittens.”

“Oh,” he said. “Well, that’s not so bad.”

“Um, they are in the bathroom right now though,” I said. “Just for tonight,” I added

Unfortunately, they have no desire to be barn cats. I did move them to the barn after the first night, but they immediately started sneaking out through a gap in the barn’s foundation to follow us around everywhere we go.

The chickens sometimes do this, too, as does Ellie, the sheepdog, and depending what pasture you are in, a small flock of sheep might join as well; so while doing chores, one often feels one is the grand marshal of a barnyard parade. I enjoy this feeling. The man of the ranch? Not so much.

At least the barnyard parade was mostly confined to the barnyard though. Until recently. Ellie used to be the only outdoor animal that got fed on the patio. I don’t know who figured it out first, but it wasn’t long before the hens noticed. At the same time, the kittens realized if the humans couldn’t be found elsewhere, they eventually appeared on the other side of the big glass door.

So, that’s how it happened. Most mornings a quiet cup of coffee includes a stare down from a weary Ellie waiting for breakfast, one or more hens wondering when the next dog food delivery will arrive, and a kitten or two mewling for attention as well. The man of the ranch remembers when things were different. But I hope he still finds it all adorably nutty, not just plain nutty, and he wouldn’t trade us if he could.

Well, maybe just those kittens.


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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.



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