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Winter Street students charm farm animals

March 25, 2009

We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 farm critters, depending on whether you count the chickens as one species, or 18 birds in total. I count them all because we have three horses and we count all three -- doing less for the chickens seems disrespectful.

Last week, the total doubled as we entertained about 35 kids from Winter Street Elementary School's after-school program. The animals and kids represented a clash of energy forces that, could it have been harnessed, would have mothballed at least three gas-fired power plants for about a week.

The bus from Winter Street pulled into a church parking lot down the road, and we took our old goat named Eddie to serve as the welcoming ambassador on the assumption he was capable of doing the least amount of damage. Ed has a long beard, a curvaceous set of horns and looks much like the mascot for the U.S. Naval Academy.

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He's reached the age where he doesn't get excited about much, except the two young female Kiko goats we bought to keep him company after he lost his longtime companion, Pete. Eddie was gelded long ago, so he spends his days with the girls having multiple heart attacks over What Might Have Been, so there is never much left in the tank for other recreations.

True to form, he placidly greeted the students, who were quite respectful in return -- while still maintaining a healthy dose of rambunctiousness that defines any self-respecting kid. Eddie was enlivened by the attention -- he's not a goat that really needs any addition to his own sense of self-importance, and this welcoming honor made him pretty insufferable for the rest of the week.

The first animals to see and hear the merry band of students hustling up the lane were the alpacas -- and it would be wrong to say the alpacas were not impressed. They are the delicate, shy type as a rule and the greatest aggregate excitement they had seen up to that point was probably a Weed Eater.

This changed their worldview. Their necks are usually about 2 feet long, but such was the strain of eyeballing this circus that the ample throats were stretched out to about 3 1/2. Curiously, the alpacas appear to warm to youngsters faster than adults. They show good judgment in this respect.

Most animals seem to be this way, I've found. They seem to sense a kid isn't going to do something distasteful, like try to nail metal shoes to their feet or pump them full of worming medicine. So the goats, cows, donkeys, pig, et al., pretty much fell into line. And the kids were interested in them, too, although -- being kids -- they were just as enthralled, if not more so, with goat, cow, donkey and pig poop. So many styles, colors, shapes, consistencies and shoe-adherence characteristics. I suppose it is rather amazing, although I had never thought of it in this way before.

The one animal I was worried about, however, was our contrary miniature horse that Beth named Doodlebug, but I call the Little Puke. The horse counters his physical minimalism with an attitude and ego the size of the British Isles. The L.P. is always escaping his confines and dancing away when we try to catch him. He chases the goats, bucks, kicks, spits and is truly sociable.

His only asset is his infernal cuteness. Were it not for this, he long ago would have had a front-row seat to the inside of a can of Alpo. But even he was charmed by the students' affections and behaved himself. Amazing. If they can win over the Little Puke, there is nothing in life these kids can't accomplish.

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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