Sunday, May 1, 2011

Very Dutch

There were certain things that characterized the Netherlands for me when we were there: the giant wheels of cheese; the tulip fields; and, as I mentioned before, the preponderance of farmland and pastures appearing immediately outside of the cities, with none of the suburban-sprawl transition one sees so much of in the U.S. The fields, full as they were with sheep, were all very charming to me, but I must admit that for the most part the sheep themselves served more as aesthetic features, dotting the landscape with a pleasant wooliness, than as individual animals to observe and/or interact with.

But then we visited a local “Kids’ Farm” in Leiden, a place that hosts a whole range of domesticated animals, some of which can (in theory) even be petted—and we got to see these animals’ personalities in action.

Upon entering the farm, we first encountered a pen full of what our host, Sarah, calls “pajama chickens”: chickens that have been bred to have big, puffy, feather feet, a trait that causes them to walk in a highly entertaining manner, raising their plumed feet high with every step.

These guys ran (well, shuffled quickly) towards us at first, but when they discovered we hadn’t brought them any food they soon lost interest and returned to pecking at the ground or staring with intense focus at some bread in the water—just out of reach—clearly trying to decide whether it was worth risking death to plunge in after it.

There were more chickens in coops, and some of them were setting up a tremendous racket—because, we discovered, a turkey was in there with them. Lest you think that turkeys have the power to alarm only other barnyard fowl, perhaps I should mention that: 1. The bit of wattle above the turkey’s beak can be raised and lowered at will in a way that is highly disturbing to see; 2. The turkey eventually left the coops and roamed through the farm, where, out of the blue, it let out a tremendous gobble and scared the hell out of some visiting teenagers. (It was great.)

We also passed through the territory of a fairly aggressive goose (although that phrase is probably redundant), which allowed us to go by but hissed threateningly and fixed us with a minatory glare. We all pretended nonchalance, but we walked away pretty quickly.

Finally we arrived in the fields with the sheep and goats and their young all grazing or dozing in the sun. The little guys were just adorable, and we all wanted to pet them, but the animals were not nearly as interested in such interaction as we were.

In fact, when Annie approached an adorable little lamb that had been sleeping under a tree, the animal not only scrambled up and moved away, turning its back on her, but it added insult to injury by lifting its tail and farting very definitely in our direction. I was reminded of my shocking betrayal-by-bovine at the National Zoo: you just can’t trust domesticated animals…

Still, it was fun to watch the wooly little guys at work: to see the synchronized grazing of a mother-child pair and to observe the gusto with which a lamb nursed at its mother, whipping its skinny little tail excitedly through the air as it did so.

All in all it satisfied the requirements of city-dwellers visiting the country: it got us closer to animals that we still consider somewhat exotic, and it reminded us of why we’re happy to be farther from those animals on a day-to-day basis. You can’t ask for more than that.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


biobabbler said...

Wow, sounds delightful. There is a REASON royalty used geese to patrol the grounds. And they are just the right height to really NAIL a bad guy where it hurts.

Funny, the 2 chicken varieties you showed are 2 of the 3 I have. Tho, my light Brahmas (the giant white ones) are not NEARLY that fat. It's HOT here, so I suspect the super fatties would do badly here, and very well there. (or is it "fluffy"?)

Indeed, that little lamb looks primed for a nuzzle. Sweet! =)

Anca Vlasopolos said...

That lamb looks like a toy forgotten by a child! And the goose brings back my childhood trauma of being chased by a gander, who remembered me, and chased me every time he set eyes on me. On the other hand, I live close to Republicans, so . . .

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