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Farmers must be psychologists to weather storms

September 11, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

One senses that if it were up to Magellan the pig, he'd order up a hurricane every day of the week.

It's interesting to see how different animals cope with six hours of driving rain in different ways, and Magellan was clearly the most comfortable with it of any critter on the farm.

He greeted the soaking the way an unemployed Key Wester greets a sunny day on the beach. He parked himself right out in the open and went to sleep, the only movement coming from his sides as he breathed out a particularly contented grunt.

He was on a bit of a slope, and after a bit, the rivulets of water began eroding the mud on all sides of him, leaving him sound asleep on a pig-shaped pedestal as the ground around him washed away.

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Hurricane Hanna had another singular effect on the porker: For the first time since we had him, he was clean. As a general thing, he walks around wearing about a wheelbarrow's worth of mud for a coat and so we've never had an accurate sense of his true shape and color. Turns out he's a dark red, but he could have been zebra-striped for all we knew.

The bouvier des Flandres named Opie was also pretty much okey-dokey with the storm -- basically because his coat is so thick you could run him through a car wash without the moisture ever reaching his skin.

He also thought it was pretty cool that at a full sprint he could leave a 6-foot rooster tail of water in his wake, further soaking any man or beast that happened to be too close. It's doubtful even a tornado would bother Opie, probably because he so closely resembles one himself.

The donkeys and cows stayed out in the rain, but there was a key difference. The cows don't make a big deal of it. They go off and lie down under some out-of-the way tree, occasionally taking a bite of grass to pass the time.

The donkeys, however, never miss the opportunity for drama. They pick a tree that's in plain sight of the house and stare in at us, with the express intent of making sure we can see how miserable they are. Their ears droop, their shoulders slump and they spare no effort in displaying their suffering in a good strong light.

They say that donkeys are biblical, and they are, in the sense that they resemble Job. There's a reason that Eeyore makes Job look like Katie Couric.

The most miserable animal on the place during prolonged storms is Hannah the bulldog, who was not amused in the least by Hanna the Hurricane.

Under the best of circumstances, Hannah is a sort of stocky, stubby, immovable object that cannot be displaced with a water cannon. Yet she must move, however subtly, because she's always under my feet. She's kind of like an ottoman that anticipates where you want to walk and parks itself there.

Whereas a gentle nudge with a toe will send Opie flying out of your way, such incentives are worthless with a bulldog, whose superstructure most resembles the wide, stable stance of a footed bathtub.

So needless to say, getting her to move outdoors into the rain for any reason, however necessary, is problematic. More problematic is getting the passive-aggressive animal to come back in. She stands in the downpour with an awful look on her face -- you are the reason she's out in this, so it will be on your conscious as she grows colder and colder, wetter and wetter, and eventually dies.

So, all told, storms can be rather stressing. Farms, it seems, must not only be staffed with farmers, they must be staffed with psychologists.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com.

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