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Raising and taming farm animals during COVID-19
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Chickens, cats and caterpillars

Raising and taming farm animals during COVID-19

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Andrea Bachmann Kaitany didn’t intend to spend the spring and summer of 2020 in Denison, but the coronavirus pandemic made a mess of her plans.

She and her husband, Richard, planned to move to Kenya in March to open Simbolei Academy,

a high school for about 300 girls, in Rift Valley Province.

The project has been under development for about five years.

Richard retired from his job as a plant pathologist for the Michigan Department of Agriculture last fall; Andrea took early retirement from her position as a professor in the department of writing at Grand Valley State University, in Michigan.

“We had sold our house in Michigan and March 15 was the day for move out,” Andrea said. “The plan was I would take my daughter back to school in Minnesota, at Carleton College, and my husband would stay in Michigan for a week or so getting everything lined up and then he would leave for Kenya.”

That plan soon fell apart when the government of Kenya decided to shut down all international flights into the country.

“We couldn’t go to Kenya and my daughter couldn’t go back to Carleton because they went online for the rest of the semester at that point, so she never went back to Minnesota,” Andrea said. “I didn’t have a house in Michigan to go back to and I couldn’t leave for Kenya because flights were closed down.”

Andrea and her daughter Jelimo, who is 20, decided to stay on the family farm on the west side of Denison with Andrea’s mother, Juanita Bachmann.

“We decided to keep my mom company,” Andrea said.

Andrea and Richard have three older children; they all work in Michigan and stayed there.

Andrea said she was prepared for moving to Kenya – not months of inactivity.

“When we got here I immediately started trying to think up little projects that would make it more fun to be out here on the farm,” she said.

They started by collecting tadpoles from the farm pond to raise inside.

“We named the tadpoles but it’s hard to tell tadpoles apart,” Andrea said.

As luck would have it, Andrea’s sister, Marcia, had some animals that were in need of a new home.

Marcia lives on a farm on the north side of Denison.

“My sister had a couple of chicks that were orphaned because their mother got eaten by a raccoon,” Andrea said. “She asked if we could take care of these two chicks and we did.”

Andrea and Jelimo kept the chicks in a cage in the farmhouse kitchen until they were old enough to go back to Marcia’s farm.

Andrea said they started missing the chicks as soon as they were gone.

Marcia stepped in again and offered chicks from a large batch of eggs she was incubating.

Twenty-three of the eggs hatched.

“I said, ‘Oh, they’re so small – just give us 10 of them and we’ll raise them until they’re old enough to run around and then you can have them back,’” Andrea said.

“Well, we kept them in the kitchen for a few weeks until they got too big for that and we moved them out to the enclosed porch. They got too big for that so we’ve moved them into the garage.”

The chickens also get to free range in the yard.

“They’re good company,” Andrea said. “We’ve gotten kind of attached to them.”

All of the chickens have names – some of which turned out to be inappropriate.

“We gave almost all of them female names just because female chickens are more valuable and we were kind of hoping for the best,” she said. “We’re not absolutely sure yet, but about half of them look like they’re roosters.”

Nefferchicki turned out to be a hen, so her name worked out.

Cleopatra, however, started trying to crow about a week ago. Andrea joked that “Cleopatrick” might be a better name.

Another hen is named Linus.

“There are a couple that are kind of odd but a couple ended up working out well,” Andrea said.

Eggbert, a rooster, was one of the naming successes.

They decided not to give any new names.

“You get used to the names, so we pretty much stuck with the names they originally had,” she said.

“One that we still can’t figure out if it’s a rooster or a hen yet is named Tux – because he’s black with a white front. We figure Tux is a non-gendered name so it doesn’t matter very much if that turns out to be a rooster or a hen.”

Chickens are smart animals; some of these even seem to know their names, she said.

The chickens have been a good distraction during the pandemic lockdown.

“It gives you something to think about and it gives my daughter something to do,” Andrea said.

She hopes to be able to get on with her move to Kenya by late August or early September, so the chickens are going to need a new home.

“They can go back to my sister’s house but she has about 60 chickens already – and she’s concerned they won’t get the loving attention as pets that they get around here,” she said. “She has lots of chickens so she doesn’t particularly care if she gets these 10 back or not.”

The chickens would be good for anyone who would like to have a couple in their back yard.

“These would be ideal for somebody who would like a pet chicken or two,” Andrea said. “They usually do better if you get two of them.”

Anyone who would take them would need to make sure they are protected from raccoons and opossums, she said.

“They can’t in any way defend themselves,” she said.” My only concern, if somebody wanted one or two as a pet, would be that they have a safe place to keep them.”

The chickens aren’t the only animals to benefit from Andrea and her daughter sheltering in Denison for the last few months.

They also tamed two stray tomcats, had them neutered and vaccinated, and found homes for them.

“One of them had long hair and so obviously wasn’t adapted to farm life,” Andrea said.

Those two cats had the same good fortune as a stray kitten Andrea and her sister Sylvia found in a ditch during a visit to Denison in 2016; that kitten now lives with Andrea’s older daughter in Michigan.

Andrea said she and Jelimo are still looking for interesting projects for their remaining time in Denison.

“She’s interested in biology so I’m interested in anything that has to do with animal life cycles,” Andrea said.

They currently have a monarch caterpillar they are feeding and observing.

“The caterpillar grew two tenths of a centimeter overnight,” she said. “We’ve been measuring.”

Andrea said she finds value in learning about how animals grow and develop.

“The amazing thing about this whole thing is how fast these animals grow,” Andrea said. “They’re halfway through their lifespan and we’ve only been here a couple of months.”

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