Every child who grows up on a farm knows the difference between a farm animal and a pet. That didn’t stop my siblings and me from trying to make pets out of most of the animals on the farm where we grew up. Often, it didn’t work!
I had a special fondness for baby chicks. I couldn’t resist those little cheeping balls of fluff. I was fascinated by the brooder house full of tiny black eyes in a sea of yellow. When Mama sent me to feed the chicks, I’d wait till they were comfortable with me standing in their midst. Then I’d clap loudly - once - to see all those black dot eyes go down at the same time as the chicks reacted to the unexpected sound. I don’t think Mama would have approved, but I thought it was great fun.
Chickens don’t make good pets, as a rule, but I remember a particularly friendly little rooster we named Oogie. We could get him to perch on our shoulders or follow us about. I suspect he grew up into one of those mean roosters that loved to chase me.
Of course, we had plenty of cats. Those that survived the annual bouts of distemper made great pets, while keeping the farm’s rodent population under control. We loved dressing kittens in doll clothes, but we had a terrible time trying to get them to stay in the doll buggy. Even Mama had her favorite cats, a tiger-striped gray and a solid black. They whiled away many a cold winter day snoozing under the cook stove.
Dad usually kept a couple of dogs on the farm. He trained them to herd the cows home from the pasture at milking time. Each dog had its special place in our affections. I can still remember most of their names - Sport, Beauty, Spike - and Dad’s special favorite, a huge black and brown dog he called Maddo. Those dogs were good playmates and loyal friends.
Once in a while, we’d tame a bucket-fed calf or befriend a little runt piglet that needed to spend a few days in a box beside the stove in order to survive. They were pets only while they were small. We kept our distance from Daddy’s big work horses, Dolly and Bill.
Eventually, we did have one animal that was just a pet. That fat little black pony named Bertie had no practical use whatsoever. The only way we could get a ride on her was to push, pull, or somehow lure her up near the house. Then one of us would jump quickly onto her back and hang on as she galloped to the barn where she preferred to spend her days eating and sleeping.
Many of my happiest childhood memories involve hours of contentment spent playing with animals. I learned much from them about love and responsibility. But they also taught me the importance of just having fun.