On a farm like Diamond Forest Farm Stay that has a 600kg bull with horns you would be forgiven for thinking he was the boss but with over 100 animals it’s a lot more complicated than that. The hierarchy of animal leadership doesn’t automatically fall to the largest male. There are a lot more factors other than gender and size that are involved like age, whether you have horns, hooves or like to spit. A lot of the time it comes down to attitude between animals of different species and among those within the same species. Sometimes it can be amusing, sometimes frustrating, it doesn’t always seem to make a lot of sense and sometimes I feel like I’m back in high school!
Take said bull for example. Nugget is definitely the King of his paddock and of all the cows. The steers, heifers and calves all defer to him. He gets first dibs at the food bin, at the hay and everyone moves out of his way. Except for Ben, the buck. Ben is less than a quarter of Nugget’s size but he has an impressive set of horns himself and some serious attitude. One time when we had Ben in Nugget’s paddock there was no way he was taking second place to anyone. In the end Nugget and Ben decided to be equal and they shared the food trough first, together.
In the alpaca paddock it is an entirely different story. Rolley, our male, is a gentle, placid creature. Blondie, our oldest female, is not. She rules that paddock with an iron fist and mouthfuls of stinky, slimy, bile green spit and a few grunts in the direction of anyone who tries to challenge her. Scarlett, her daughter, takes her lead from her mum and lords it over Rolley too. Food and affection are all controlled by the girls. We thought that once Rolley had successfully mated with our alpaca girls a few times that things would change. But they haven’t and not for want of trying on Rolley’s behalf. More often than not he greets us in the morning with globs of green spit stuck to the fur on his neck, signs of another unsuccessful take over bid.
In the pony paddock it’s a little more complicated. Katie, the eldest at 35+ years, has always been the matriarch and Sally (21 years) the faithful sidekick but when we introduced two new ponies that put a new spin on the paddock politics. Fudge (12 years) and Pablo (8 years) are miniature ponies, but what they lack in size they sure make up for in attitude. Fudge wants to be boss but Katie has no intention of stepping aside so it often comes down to who is on who’s side. You see Sally likes Katie and Pablo. Fudge likes Pablo. Pablo likes Sally and Fudge. Fudge doesn’t like Katie and Katie doesn’t like Pablo. It all gets so confusing! And then out come the hooves and they squeal and carry on like a bunch of high school mean girls! It’s a whole new ball game when we add the donkeys!
The poor old sheep are pretty much at the bottom of the rung most times. If they’re in the paddock with cows; the cows are the boss. If they are in with our big horse Flyby; he’s the boss. If they’re in with the goats; the goats are the boss. The only exception is the ram, Mr T. A solid dorper ram with no horns, a lot of attitude, a hard head and a huge neck won’t be pushed around by any goat, not even Uther, our one horned buck. Uther definitely tries to boss Mr T around but it doesn’t work very well. The last time he tried Mr T rammed him in the back legs and Uther was so sore he could barely walk for two days. That told him.
Even among the sheep there is a pecking order and poor old Bart, the oldest male, isn’t anywhere near the top. That position is shared by the two oldest breeding ewes Mulberry and Boss. Yes, Boss got her name because she was Bossy. When rounding up the sheep, none of them will go where you want them to unless you first convince Mulberry and Boss they want to go where you want them to go. I guess, like people, they have gotten to a certain age where they no longer care what anyone thinks and just do whatever it is that they want to do.
Our peacocks and turkeys are equally bossy and are constantly contesting who has the rights to be the alpha big bird on the property. They reign over our big chickens, the Plymouth Rocks, who in turn lord it over our little chickens, the cochin bantams. The ducks on the other hand just seem to ignore all that and go into whichever paddock they want to. They aren’t scared of the cows, the pigs, the goats or Flyby our big horse, who has been known to accidentally tread on ducks and leave them injured.
Interestingly enough our cows and donkeys let the goats rule the paddock, when they happen to share one from time to time. Despite the cows having horns and the donkeys being capable of landing a good swift kick they aren’t quite so free with their weapons of choice like the goats. Heads crashing and horns clashing is a daily occurrence among the goats and so the other animals tend to give them a wide berth.
In the pig paddock poor old Wilbur comes in third, while his sister Charlotte with age, size and attitude on her side rules the pen. Vivien comes in second but only just. She is a lot smaller and faster and while Charlotte is the undisputed queen Vivien gets away with an awful lot simply because Charlotte can’t catch her. At the end of the day, though, on a cold winter’s night they all cuddle up together in their shed, usually with Wilbur in the middle. He’s not so silly. He gets the warmest spot even if he doesn’t get the choicest morsel of food.
Somewhere among all of this is us. While we can coax, cajole, herd and round up our animals we are still slaves to their needs. We feed them, groom them, have them shorn, clip their hooves, have their teeth done and drench them. We are definitely not the boss but we don’t mind. All our animals with their different personalities are what makes this place so special for us and so much fun day after day.