5 Things I’ve Learned About Farm Animals from China’s Countryside

You could easily call my Chinese in-laws’ home a family farm. There’s a garden out back that supplies the majority of our veggies. Chickens and ducks roam around (and, often, beyond) the front yard. And there’s a guard dog keeping it all together, stationed at the door (and, when we’re eating dinner, under the table).

It’s all a far cry from my childhood home in the Cleveland, Ohio suburbs. And over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about farm animals.

Here are 5 interesting things I’d like to share with – including the real reason why chickens cross the road (ha ha!):

#1: How to feed a dog scraps from the table, instead of dog food

Back in the US, my neighborhood was a world of golden retrievers, terriers and poodles that lived for those daily helpings of dog food from the supermarket. I couldn’t imagine ever feeding dogs anything else…until I started spending time at my in-laws’ home.

Here, dogs are a mainstay in the house, where my mother-in-law loves them for protecting the house. (Whenever the current dog barks, my husband likes to joke the dog is “on duty”.) But when it’s mealtime, there’s no canned or packaged dog food on the menu. Instead, “Bruiser” (yes, that’s the dog’s name) enjoys leftover bones from the table and/or a mixture of leftover rice/veggies and things like lard, fish remnants, and discarded meat.

Isn’t it odd that, to me, anything but store-bought dog food is unusual? When you think about it, this is how people must have traditionally fed their beloved canine friends. Now that I’ve seen another side of how to feed the family dog, I can’t help but wonder if all that canned pet food is such a good idea.

IMG_0083#2: Shushing the chickens will make them run away

I’ll never forget the first time I heard my mother-in-law saying “shhhhh!” around the house. Who did she need to quiet?

Then I noticed that every time she said this, the chickens would high-tail it out of the room with a glint of fear in their eyes. Like they were caught stealing from the rice stores.

What I’ve learned is that “shhhhh!” sounds threatening to their avian ears, and it’s nearly effective enough on its own to banish them from any room or space. (Sometimes you have to add a hand motion, but they usually get the idea.)

It has become so ingrained in me that I swear if I ever heard “shhhhh” in a library, I might still think of panicky chickens dashing out the door.

IMG_1824 (2)#3: Hot ashes can dissolve the most stubborn animal droppings

Okay, okay, so this will probably never end up as a tip in your Good Housekeeping magazine. But trust me, if you have free-range animals around your house – especially chickens and ducks – things can get pretty sticky. (Pun seriously intended.)

Thankfully, when your house happens to have a fire-powered wok (like the family house here) hot ashes are plentiful. Just tip them directly on the pile in question, let it sit for a few minutes, then sweep it away with your broom of choice.

I’ve watched my in-laws do this hundreds of times and it’s almost become second nature to me. Can’t believe it either. Who would have thought that this girl born and raised in the Cleveland, Ohio suburbs would become a pro at tackling animal droppings? 😉

IMG_20150916_081825#4: Dogs and chickens can coexist…sort of

No, I swear that’s not a typo. While it doesn’t seem intuitive to keep dogs and chickens together, I know it’s possible because it happens here at my in-laws’ home.

But it can’t happen without a little help and oversight from my mother-in-law. She knows you have to train the dogs. Last year, she had to discipline “Bruiser” a number of times for trying to nip at the free-range chickens. (I also could have sworn that I once caught “Bruiser” with some chicken feathers around the mouth.)

IMG_0036#5: Why the chickens really crossed the road

Who hasn’t heard that time-honored joke? You know, “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.”

Well, I’ve seen the chickens here cross the road. A lot. And honestly, I don’t think that’s the entire answer.

I know why the chickens really crossed the road. There’s lots of grass, bushes and trees over there, so they can forage for their most favorite food of all – insects and worms.

It’s that simple.

Have you ever lived on a farm or a farm-like home? What have you learned about farm animals?

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12 Replies to “5 Things I’ve Learned About Farm Animals from China’s Countryside”

  1. Some day I’m going to have a farm in New Hampshire and I will use all this valuable information. Especially ashes and animal droppings!

    So do your in-laws have a compost bin? Or a cat?

  2. Wow, their place sounds like our place! In our backyard we house a large family of farm animals including two dogs, a cat, an innumerable amount of chickens and ducks, as well as a goat and two pregnant pigs.

    Everyone seems to get along fine – as long as nobody interferes with the dogs’ dinner! We feed our dogs rice mixed with fish or chicken bones and they do fine.

  3. Back in Spain we also gave dogs food scraps. But there are many human foods that are not good for them, so I think it is better to feed them dog food. Be careful with chicken bones, they can hurt the dog’s mouth (and give him awfully stinky farts, hahaha).

  4. We had a farm in West Virginia, USA, and we just had crazy animals:

    • our farm/house cats would kill ANYTHING (frogs, snakes, a young hawk/owl once, squirrels, rabbits, woodpeckers…). The only thing that stymied them was a weasel, which would have killed THEM

    • our cattle chased foxes en mass, and sounded like elephants when mooing from ‘up a holler’

    • there was a Red-tailed Hawk that followed the car up and down our 1/2 mile lane every day

    • the dog was scared of dear

    • my mother joined in the craziness, naming the birds Hank Heron and Martin Luther Kingfisher

    And that’s just some of it!

    This was one of my favorite posts in ages, Joss. Has a nice happy edge to it, after hearing about what has been taxing for a while. 🙂

  5. The photography of the farm animals is just stunningly gorgeous!!! They are about the sweetest creatures I’ve seen in a long time. I’m not even a lover of animals since they all scare me, but your photographs could make me love them. You should enlarge them and sell them as pictures. I’m sure there’s a market for them…….and not just the meat market! Loved them. Lucy

  6. Wow Jocelyn what a look into your life! You really do live in the countryside! And that wok that your mother-in-law has going is so MASSIVE! I see some dumplings in there…?

    I don’t know if I’ll ever use it either, but the tip about the ashes on the dung is definitely handy.

    Have you learned any other farm tips being there? Wow, what an experience! I can’t even imagine it.

  7. I haven’t lived on a farm, but I remember being at a park near my former inlaws’ home and seeing a little hedgehog. The people in the park were just as amazed as I was. It was a quiet bonding moment for all of us.

  8. When our dog was just a pup my mother trained him to be around chickens by placing him in the chicken coop a few hours a day so he’d get use to them and they to him. It must have worked beciase he gets along with all the chickens as well as the goats.

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