Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Life in a Zoo The Real Thing: Daisy the Deer and the Emu Chicks

Later in our zoo days we began to breed emus. We had the incubators and all the equipment to hatch eggs for other breeders.  

After the chicks hatch, they spent about a week in the hatchery. Then we took them to the chick barn.  This was a specially built building with four stalls inside it.  The first stall was for the tiny babies. When they reached a certain size, we transferred them to the next stall. It was important to keep the emu chicks separated by size, because the bigger ones could trample and hurt the smaller ones.By the time they were about three months old, they were big enough to stay outside, so we moved them from the barn.   

When we built our barn, we installed large glass windows on one wall the width of the four stalls.  These windows were installed so that the opening sash was directly on the floor.  That way, we could open them from the bottom to let the chicks out. Each stall had a fifty-foot long pen filled with sand so the chicks could run outside and play. 

Once we got our chick barn set up and the first baby emus in the barn, a funny thing happened.  Well actually, it wasn’t all that funny to us in the beginning.

Enter Daisy the Deer. She was our tamest deer and thought sure she was a “people”.  She followed us everywhere and came into the house every chance she got. Daisy was very playful and curious about everything we did.

She often made a nuisance of herself by pestering us for attention.  For example, one day Joe was hammering a nail into a fence post and Daisy felt she wasn’t getting enough attention. She snatched the box of nails and ran.  This of course, got Joe’s immediate attention. He bellowed and chased after her, nails scattering and spilling everywhere!  This was a typical Daisy Stunt.

One day we came home from shopping, and I had a sense of uneasiness. Daisy was not there to greet us at the gate, as she usually was. After putting up the groceries, we wandered around the compound, calling for Daisy. We couldn’t find her in any of the usual places.

Finally, I had to stop hunting for Daisy and go check on the emu chicks.  When I opened the door, I was astounded. There was Daisy in the stall with the tiniest emu chicks!  My heart lurched as these $3,000-each baby birds were dangerously close to her sharp hooves.

About ten of them gathered around her, pecking at her legs while she was busy licking as many baby emu bottoms as she could reach. My first thought was that she might step on one and hurt it. I got into the stall and gently pushed Daisy out, then shoved her out the door. 

Apparently, to get into the barn with the chicks, Daisy had to drop to her knees and crawl in.  I never saw her do it, but that must have been a funny sight.

Daisy loved the baby emus.  She couldn’t get enough of being in the pen with them and licking them.  They seemed fascinated with her and would always crowd around to peck her legs and belly and whatever part of her they could reach. 

The wire to the emu chick runs was only four feet high. Daisy could jump that with barely a twitch of her muscles.  So keeping her out of the chick pens was impossible.  From that first day on, whenever Daisy was missing, we could be sure to find her with the emu chicks.

In all the years we bred emus, not one chick was ever injured by Daisy’s attention.

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