Married with Horses: Animal Crackers

A horsewoman's husband ponders on how some days, feeding the animals seems to take almost all day.
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A horsewoman's husband ponders on how some days, feeding the animals seems to take almost all day.

Many days on the farm seem to revolve entirely around food.

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Jack and Macy are the first to meow for food after the alarm clock rings. Since recently investing nearly a thousand dollars in Jack's urethra, he is now on a "healthy urine tract" diet. Fittingly, the new kibble is bright yellow, but Jack isn't as excited about it as he was about his old kibble.

And though Macy has a feeder in the barn filled with regular cat kibble, she prefers the crunchy, fresh-from-the-bag, bright yellow kibble she gets in the house. Jack and Macy race ahead of me to the laundry room just off our kitchen. Jack's bowl is on the short bin that holds Hazel's kibble because Jack is too fat to jump up on the dryer, where Macy eats. The problem is that Macy usually eats her food and then jumps down on the bin to eat Jack's food. He does need to lose some weight, though.

Mixing the yellow kibble with diet kibble is in our plans, as is getting a kitty harness and leash so we can take Jack for walks. I'd rather be laughed at for walking our plump Tuxedo cat than pay another grand to unclog his wee-wee.

As always, when I slide back the pocket door to the laundry room, both cats have food, though it's in need of a "freshening up" and neither one will eat until that's addressed. For Jack, I pick up his bowl, shake it a few times and put it down in front of him. Now it's "fresh" and he digs in.

Macy's serving of kibble is spread around on the top of our front-loading dryer. If she gets food in a bowl, she'll wolf it down and throw it back up, usually within a minute or two, and usually in inconvenient places. And Macy doesn't mind throwing up on the couch or at your feet as you cook your morning eggs.

Unless animals think carpeting is like grass, I've never understood why every animal we have insists on vomiting on carpet. There is only one bit of carpeting remaining in downstairs: the mat by the back door. If the animals feel sick, they run for the mat.

Though Macy rolls her eyes every time I spread out her kibble, it saves us a clean-up...usually. And even though I merely gathered Macy's old kibble from the top of the dryer and "re-sprinkled" it in front of her, it, too, is "fresh" now and she can eat it.

Granted, Kimberly and I can't function without breakfast either. Most days begin with natural bacon and eggs--sometimes scrambled, other times fried--with toast, juice and vitamins. Considering everyone but us cries, whinnies, meows, whines, barks or generally makes a scene at mealtime, our breakfast is the quietest meal on the farm.

Once we're fueled up, we head to the barn. Sascha comes downstairs from her "nest" in the hay loft, and we shake the kibble in the feeder so she can eat. The instant we step foot in the barn the whinnying, head shaking and pawing begin. I've never figured out why horses have such trouble with time as well as cause and effect.

If you ask a horse what time it is, he or she will tell you it's "now." There seems to be no past or future, only now--which incidentally, is when they want their food. Right now.

Asking a horse how he or she thinks the beet pulp and grain found their way into the bucket is pointless. That you need to soak the beet pulp or scoop the grain is beyond them. As far as the horses are concerned, any delay in the delivery of their buckets constitutes neglect, torture, cruelty and abuse. As soon as you appear in the barn, those fully-loaded buckets should drop.

At least Vander, Ellie and Madison will eat about anything. If you get a batch of beet pulp that's a little coarse or slightly sweeter, or if the feed store was out of the usual grain, these three won't even notice. Vander will eat nacho cheese tortilla chips for goodness sake! He likes cat kibble, too-preferably in large quantities. And Vander is only occasionally picky about his hay. Madison isn't too concerned about her forage, and Ellie will eat thick, sun-bleached bedding straw if you put it in front of her.

Mandy, on the other hand, wants hay fit for a queen and exactly 2,246 pellets of the same grain she had yesterday and the day before. If her beet pulp is a different texture, too cold or too soggy, she'll turn up her large nose at it. When the bucket does pass the test and she begins eating, it's a slow and deliberate process. While the other horses are chewing mouthful after mouthful, Mandy's prehensile lips are slowly separating the grain from the pulp. I've never seen anything like it.

Mandy picks up one grain pellet at a time, and delicately chews and swallows it before carefully selecting another pellet. It may take her several hours, but she will pick out all the grain and leave only beet pulp. Mandy will usually finish her bucket by the next mealtime, but at her own pace and on her own terms. Because of her habit Mandy is turned out alone, lest her pasture mates eat her (and her foal's) food.

We usually feed the dogs after the horses. Hazel can't eat her food if you're outside. She gets too excited and just leaves her bowl of food to dry up in the sun. Granted, she gets food no matter what you do. If Hazel forgets her bowl, she will find something else--especially rotten something elses that she digs up or finds in the road. I once tried giving her fresh "deer parts." She promptly buried them to let them "age," as she puts it.

And feeding Kit has become a bit more involved these days. A head cold has severely diminished her appetite and she won't eat her usual, sloppy bowl of food. But she can't take antibiotics on an empty stomach; fortunately, she does allow us to hand feed her people food. (Yes, she "allows" herself to be pampered.)

We began with homemade meatballs, which she soon tired of, and now we're on to grilled, dark meat chicken, which we pick from the bone into skinless, bite-sized pieces. Kit is 16, so we figure it's too late to stop catering to her. Plus it's kind of fun.

It's not long before it's time for the peoples' lunch. We usually have a salad or a sandwich before returning to the barn to give the horses a few more flakes of hay. And if Mandy has finished her bucket, we may offer her a little more grain as well. After all, she is eating for two!

Because we can't feed Kit too much at one time, she gets a late afternoon meal. Like breakfast and dinner it's usually messy. Even when we properly place the food in her mouth, she gets food on herself and all over the floor. But now that we're feeding her chicken, Jack usually helps us clean up.

After Kit's afternoon meal, it's nearly our dinner time, then the dogs' dinnertimes, and then the cats get more food just before the horses get another round of buckets and hay. And though we haven't missed a mealtime in ages, everyone meows, barks, whinnys and whines like their lives depend on it.

The summer garden doesn't need to be "fed," per se, but it sure likes water in the evenings. And while the plants won't meow, bark or whinny if you don't water them, they will silently and unceremoniously turn brown, which is just depressing.

I believe all this work is appreciated. At least Kimberly says "thanks" when I cook for her--even when I take the easy way out and make pizza. Homemade crust and sauce are easier than you think. We don't have any animals that we can milk (as far as I know) so I just buy the cheese. I know Mandy is pregnant, but horse cheese just doesn't sound good. Sorry, horses, no offense intended.

I suppose Kit says "thanks," too, in her own way. She gets excited, even after a hand-fed meal. She wags her tail, growls and howls, and rubs her face all over the love seat in the kitchen nook. We have it covered with a flannel fitted sheet that matches nothing else in our house, but it's easier to wash than the entire love seat. Because only animal people visit us, we haven't had to explain or apologize for the flannel sheet.

Even though we sometimes feel like we spend the entire day doing little other than feeding the farm, at least we know that everyone is well taken care of (or simply spoiled). We know not every person is lucky enough to have horses, dogs or cats. Plus, the animals make Kimberly and I feel needed and important, even if all they care about is the food. Whatever the case, tomorrow we'll get up and do it all over again!

Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.

Read Jeremy's other columns in EquiSearch.com's Humor section.