Entertaining Articles

  • All the Cows are Cool and the Women are Beautiful

    Written By Barbara O'Brien
    Making movies is a little bit like making magic.  It may look real on film but, of course, it is all an illusion. I was reminded of this a few weeks back when a good part of the country including western Wisconsin, where I live, was in the grips of a dangerous heat wave.  Temperatures soared and heat indexes were at 115º F plus.
    As I sat working in my home office, sweat dripping off my brow in spite of the two fans positioned on either side of me, I was reminded of when I was working on a feature film called Here on Earth.  It starred a young Chris Kline, and equally young Josh Hartnett, and a lovely young actress named Lee Lee Sobieski.  We had been contracted to provide a herd of dairy cows to give reality and atmosphere to the dairy farm location.
    We dutifully hauled the six Holstein cows to the set every morningHolstein Heifer by Barbara O'Brien and once they were unloaded, cleaned up and made comfortable we waited around for their inclusion in a scene.
    Movie work is a classic case of hurry up and wait which means everyone must show up at 6:00 am because they just might change the shooting schedule in which case you better be ready when the first assistant director runs up to you, walkie-talkie in hand, and says breathlessly, “The director would like to use the cows now.”
    This in itself is not so bad, but shooting happened to be taking place in a record heat wave not unlike the one we all just experienced.
    We had a place in the shade, and plenty of water for the cows so they were ok when we were not working but once we moved into the lower level of the barn it was stifling hot and we felt the cows were at risk.
    I mentioned this to the first assistant director who expressed our concerns to the director.  The order was then given, “Cool the cows!” and a large plastic duct was pushed through a window and cool, clean conditioned air began to pour into the barn.  It was heavenly if you were a cow.  But if you were a trainer or just about anyone else, you had to stay back out of frame and almost die as the barn heated up even more because of the monstrously huge movie lights and close pressed bodies of the crew.
    The actors were treated well, also.  The crew had broken for lunch in a large event tent, which offered shade, but there was still no breeze and the heat and humidity was oppressive.  I was watching as everyone moved as slowly as possible to avoid any extra exertion when I noticed Lee Lee Sobieski exiting her trailer.  She looked liked an angel just stepped down from the clouds as she approached – every hair on her head in place, her makeup perfect and completely sweat free, as if she was immune to the weather.  She came with her plate and sat at our table, which was unusual, as animal trainers are pretty low on the film crew totem pole. She happened to be an animal lover and wanted to know more about the cows.  So we enjoyed a brief, if hot, lunch break with her.  Then she floated back to her air-conditioned trailer and we went back to the cows.
    In my next life, I am either going to be a beautiful young actress or a beautiful young acting cow.  In either case, I will be cool.

  • 2nd Annual Dog Days of Stockholm

    Mark your calendars and hightail it to the second annual Dog Days of Stockholm on Friday and Saturday, August 5-6, 2011 in beautiful Stockholm, Wisconsin! This family-friendly, dog-friendly community festival on the banks of Lake Pepin in western Wisconsin provides great fun for dogs and dog lovers alike. Stockholm is a short drive from the Rochester, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Eau Claire areas.
     
    On Friday night, party outdoors on the grounds of the historic Old School House. Enjoy wine, cheese, pie, and music under the stars from 7 to 9:30 pm (admission $5). Steve Meyer & The Blues Dogs Band will rock out live boogie rock and oldies. All ages are welcome. Put in your bids for Saturday’s Silent Auction and buy your second Annual Dog Days T-shirts. When you’re away from the big city lights, you really can see the stars!
     
    On Saturday, Pat Kessler of WCCO-TV fame is back as master of ceremonies for the Festival in Village Park (10 am to 5 pm, admission $5 for ages 16 and up, FREE parking). Enter your dog in the Best Smile, Best Dog Trick, Dog-Person Lookalike, and other contests. Watch agility demonstrations and see a Border collie herd ducks. Visit vendors offering people food, dog supplies and services, animal communication, and pet treats for sale.
     
    Meet author Jenny Pavlovic, who will speak about disaster preparedness for your family and pets and sign her award-winning books, 8 State Hurricane Kate: The Journey and Legacy of a Katrina Cattle Dog and the Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book. Omega Fields® will provide free Omega Nuggets treat samples in your gift bags and you can sign up at Jenny’s booth for a chance to win a free pound of Omega Canine Shine®, a wonderful flaxseed based supplement for your dog!
     
     All proceeds of the festival (less expenses) will be donated to local animal rescue organizations.  Please bring an unoped can or bag of quality pet food to donate.  Meet representatives of local dog rescue groups and their rescued dogs in need of permanent homes.  Nearly all of the dogs shown last year were adopted - let's get more dogs adopted this year!
    Also at Dog Days of Stockholm...
     
    ·         Animal Actor Trainer, noted lifestyle photographer, and Omega Fields Spokesperson Barbara O’Brien of the Animal Connection will teach us how to get good photos of our dogs!
     
    ·         Animal communicator Sage Lewis will tell why our pets act the way they do!
     
    ·         A working dog will demonstrate police dog and search & rescue moves!
     
    ·         Other fun demonstrations will include: dog agility, dog Frisbee, groomers, dog tricks, even a dog rap artist!
     
     
    For more information please go to http://www.dogdaysofstockholm.com, or contact: Mary Anne Collins-Svoboda at 715-442-2237 or 715-495-3504 (Cell) or info@dogdaysofstockholm.com.
     
    If you would like to show your wares at a vendor booth, find more information at http://dogdaysofstockholm.com/vendors/html
     
    Stockholm, Wisconsin, population 99, is about 75 miles from Minneapolis/St. Paul, 50 miles from Eau Claire, WI and 60 miles from Rochester, MN. Stockholm and the nearby communities of Maiden Rock and Pepin (the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder) are a fun mix of artists of all disciplines, traditional farm families, funky galleries, bed ‘n breakfasts, restaurants, and local shops.

  • A Wolf at Every Door

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    Early in my career as a trainer of animal actors I had the chance to work with a wolf on a TV commercial. A hot shot director flew in from Chicago. I located a wolf owner through another animal trainer, and Steve, a man with many years of experience in handling wildlife for film, brought two beautiful wolves. The set was an abandoned farmhouse out in the middle of a recently vacated cow pasture. We did the filming at night. The wolf’s job was to run up to the door and scratch at it as if trying to get in. My job was to entice the wolf.
    Steve and my helper, my husband Kevin, met at the back of Steve’s SUV and opened the hatch. Inside there was a large dog crate. Inside the crate was a wolf who initially pulled back and then came forward to check us out. Steve opened the crate and took the wolf’s heavy lead in his hands. He gently coaxed the wolf out. The wolf was a beautiful animal and much larger than I had expected. His head and jaws were powerful enough to cause serious damage if he was so inclined. His coat was silver gray and glinted under the temporary lights the crew had set up at base camp. The wolf, his head held low, eyed us suspiciously.
    “He likes woman better than men,” Steve said. “You need to get low and speak to him quietly to show you are not a threat.” Steve then stooped and talked to the wolf in a sweet singsong voice, all the while stroking his head and back. I lowered myself and did the same. The wolf came forward and licked my hand. I was amazed to see such strength and power quietly submissive under my hand.
    Steve told us that this wolf had been handled from birth. Although it appeared tame it was nowhere near tame. If provoked, the wolf could attack out of fear. If startled, the wolf might run off the set into the countryside.
    There were the usual delays on the set. Spending a lot of time standing around and waiting is the not-so-glamorous part of show business. Finally, the producer came over to us and explained what he wanted the wolf to do. It’s funny how the instructions I receive on the set always involve more or different work than what I agreed to initially. In my initial conversation with the TV people, the wolf was to stand next to the farmhouse door, jump up, and scratch at the door. Now they wanted the wolf to be placed some distance away from the door, to run up to the door, and then scratch at it. For all of this the wolf would need to be off-leash with no handler visible on camera. Then the camera would pan to the side past the wolf to the open field that bordered the cow pasture.
    I was skeptical. To my surprise, Steve agreed that he could get the wolf to do it. My husband Kevin was stashed out in the field beyond the farmhouse set. If the wolf was startled or frightened, he would most likely run for the field. 
    I stood inside the farmhouse door with my hands full of strips of raw chicken. My plan was that the wolf would smell me and my chicken inside the door and then he would jump up on the outside of the door in hopes of getting some chicken. We did a few practice runs, off-leash. The wolf did not run away and he came to the door as hoped, but he didn’t jump up on the door and scratch at it. I guess my strips of raw chicken were not sufficiently enticing.
    Steve put the wolf back on his heavy leash and we discussed what to try next. The wolf then pulled Steve to the side of the house where he began to scratch and dig at the ground. 
    Meanwhile, the director, well known for displays of temper, was growing impatient. His assistant, walkie-talkie in hand, repeatedly came up to us to say nervously, “We really have to get this shot now. We really do.” Steve, having been in the business longer than I, took this in stride. He said the wolf would do the shot when he was ready and not a moment sooner.
    The wolf continued to dig for a bit longer and happily pulled a dark slimy object from the ground. I could smell it before I saw it. Steve laughed and said, “This will work.” With his gloved hand, he handed me the putrid object. “What is this?” I asked, quickly pulling on my own leather gloves. “It's a dead raccoon,” he said. “Long dead.” Long dead was right. Its decomposing flesh barely clung to its long skeleton. It was a disgusting object but the wolf wanted it badly.
    The nervous assistant popped up again, keeping a safe distance from the wolf, and said again, “We have to get this shot now.”
    Carrying the raccoon carcass, I resumed my position behind the door. Steve took the wolf some 25 yards away from the farmhouse door. Inside the dark farmhouse, I could see a grip (one of the fellows that do all the electrical for the lights on the set) standing just outside a window to my right. “Be careful,” he warned. “There is no floor behind you. The cattle broke it all up by using the house as a barn.” I had only a small ledge to stand on. If I moved backwards off it, I would fall into a basement full of cow manure. It was dark inside the house but I didn’t need to be able to see to know that lots of cows had only recently left this house. I clung to the frame of the door, clutching the rotting raccoon.
    The assistant whispered “Action!” to me, signaling that the wolf had been released. I held on to the frame of the door and held up the rotting raccoon. I could hear and feel the wolf slam against the door feet first as he scratched and pawed and tried to get to the dead raccoon. Steve was able to collect the wolf and gave him some raw chicken as a reward for being caught. Of course, the director wanted as many takes as the wolf could do and so we did it few more times. Each time I held on to the door frame for dear life so as not to fall backwards into the cow manure. My eyes began to burn from the smell of the raccoon and the manure. I wondered if my chosen career was so fun after all.
    Then I heard the director bellow from his seat on the crane: “Who the [insert very bad word here] are you!” I heard my husband’s startled voice call a reply from across the field, “Uh…I’m here…for the wolf.” The director yelled, “Get the [insert another very bad word] out of my shot.” Although I couldn’t see his face, I was sure poor Kevin scrambled out of the field vowing never to work on a commercial with me again.
    We did one more take and Steve decided that the wolf had had enough. We were done. The director was none too happy about this, but I deferred to Steve’s expertise. This was his wolf and he knew its limits. “You don’t want us to be chasing this wolf all over the countryside, do you?” he said to the producer. I envisioned a large wolf running down the nearby road surprising the drivers on their early morning commute.

    Kevin joined us and moved to give me a congratulatory hug. “What is that smell?” he said, recoiling. “Oh, just a rotting raccoon carcass,” I said blithely, as I tossed a pair of good leather gloves into the trash bin.

  • A Rat in Every Room

    Written By Barbara O'Brien
    You have all heard of celebrities or rock stars that trash their hotel rooms. They break guitars, smash TV sets and leave big messes behind. And although I do not do anything like that, I have been known to break a few rules when it comes to hotels. My work as an animal actor trainer has occasionally forced me to take drastic measures to keep the animals safe and with me at all times.
    Pet white ratWe were once hired to train some rats for a television commercial about the plague. We had to train the rats to run up and down a table on a mock pirate ship, nibble food, and well, act like rats. That part was easy. Rats like to explore new places and they like to nibble on food even more.
    Getting to the studio for the taping was no problem. We were living in South St. Paul, Minnesota at the time and the job was in Cedar Rapids Iowa, only about 250 miles away. We had talked about leaving the rats in the studio but because of a snowstorm, which slowed us down, we didn’t arrive until evening and the studio was closed. I didn’t feel too bad, as I was worried about leaving the rats there overnight anyway. What if they escaped? There would be no finding them in a massive studio with thousands of places a rat could hide.
    Our big problem was that it was now –15 degrees Fahrenheit and we knew that we could not leave them in the car overnight. We had no choice but to bring them into the hotel. Kevin, my husband, checked us in and we smuggled the rats’ carriers up the side stairs and into our room. We fed and watered the rats and then I took them out individually to continue their training. Rats are highly intelligent animals and of course, food motivated so they are easy to train. These were friendly domesticated rats with cute little pink noses and long gray tails. 
    The next morning using animal safe food dyes and vegetable oil we colored their coats to resemble brown Norway rats, the scourge of all ships at sea. I have to admit the transformation was amazing. What was once a cute little rat with a soft white coat turned into a grayish brown, somewhat fiendish looking animal that seemed fully capable of carrying diseases that could wipe out an entire population.
    Once we were done, I put the rats into the bathtub to dry. I knew they couldn’t climb the slick walls to escape.
    We went downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant to have breakfast. We had a nice young man as our server. He was cheerful in spite of the early hour and asked all the usual touristry questions.
    “So, where are you folks from?” he asked, smiling broadly as he poured our coffee.
    “We are from St. Paul.” I said, smiling back.
    “And what brings you to Cedar Rapids?” he asked.
    “We are here shooting a commercial.”
    “Wow, really, what for?” he said, intrigued.
    “It’s for a pharmaceutical company.”
    “And,” he said, nodding, “what is your part in it?”
    “Oh we are not in it.” I laughed. “We are the animal trainers, we brought the rats for it.”
    “Rats?” he gasped. He then quickly covered his mouth, as he didn’t want to draw the attention of nearby patrons.
    “Oh, yes, rats. A dozen of them,” I smiled again. “They are in the commercial.”
    I could see him taking this in and then he leaned conspiratorially over the table and whispered. “They are not in the hotel, are they?”
    I paused, thinking about the consequences of my answer. What would they do if the maid found 12 fiendish looking brown rats playing in the bathtub when she went to clean the room? Could be part of a new ad campaign, I mused, perhaps a new slogan for the hotel chain. A Rat in Every Room.
    I quickly I came to my senses and laughed heartily, “Oh, no, no, no, noooo, of course not. Don’t be ridiculous. The rats are at the studio. We would never bring them into the hotel.” The server gave visible sigh of relief and clutching his coffeepot, made his way back to the kitchen.
    Kevin looked at me curiously, as he knows I do not, as a general rule, out and out lie to people. “I guess we couldn’t tell him,” he said finally. “No, I guess not,” I agreed. I chuckled a little at the thought.
    We began to dig into our meals when Kevin asked suddenly. “You did hang the Do Not Disturb sign, didn’t you?”
    “No,” I said surprised and shocked. “I thought you did….”
     We both jumped up, leaving our breakfast behind as we raced to our room. As we tumbled out of the stair way and onto our floor I could see the maid beginning to swipe the card to our room.
    “Stop! Wait!” I called out, as I ran towards her. She pulled back, startled.
    “Excuse me, maid service,” she said, glancing at her cart. I quickly put myself between her and the door. “Maid service,” she said again. “I am here to clean the room.”
    “No, no thank you.” Kevin said calmly, trying to look cool “Please come back later.”
    “Yes.” I said too quickly. “We are very clean. We do not need our room done.”
    She gave us a look that read, “All right, have it your way” and went on to the next room.
    We couldn’t stop laughing as we watched the rats crawl around the tub, wondering what would have happened if we had been caught. We thoroughly scrubbed the bathtub, packed up the rats, and, unlike rock stars and celebrities, we hoped we left no evidence of our little rat adventure.

  • I Must be Famous

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    I must be famous. How can I tell? Well, I have an entourage.

    My entourage is with me morning, noon, and night. They accompany me while I eat and while I work. I am never alone. I am fascinating to them. They love me, they protect me, they compete with each other for my attention. They argue amongst themselves and jockey for the coveted position nearest to me. When I stand up, they stand up. When I sit down, they sit down. If I go upstairs, they come, too. When I come down again, they come down, too. When I go in the bathroom, they come in, too.
    This isn’t my first entourage. I am the mother of four boys, after all. But now the two oldest are on their own out in the world and the younger two are teenagers with friends and activities of their own. I had to get a new entourage.
    Each member of my entourage has his or her specific role to play. Apple the Aussie cross is my personal assistant. She wakes me in the morning and lets me know when it’s time to do chores. She monitors my health and nutrition: She never fails to remind me of mealtimes.
    Liesl the German Shepherd Dog is my bodyguard. Ever vigilant, she keeps constant watch on me. And on everyone around me. When I step outside the farmhouse, she makes a sweep of the perimeter and checks for suspicious activity. Like a true fan, she is devoted only to me. My husband Kevin could fall in the well and Liesl would never say a word. But let a strange car come down the driveway or naughty horses break out of the fence, and Liesl will let me know.
    Hawkeye the Border Collie is my fan club. His role is to look adoringly at me to let me know that I am the coolest, most wonderful person on earth. No matter what I wear, or say, or do, Hawkeye gazes at me with admiration in his eyes.
    I not only have an entourage, I have groupies, too. To be honest, my groupies are only part-time groupies. They only show up when I sit down to work at my computer and then they’re out of control. They jump on my desk and walk across my keyboard. They block my computer monitor with their bodies, flick their tails across my papers, and say “We love you. We love you…a little bit.” Sometimes I have to shut my groupies outside the office door in order to get any work done.
    My entourage and my groupies are not the only proof of my fame. Outside the farmhouse door, the paparazzi lay in wait for me. I have only to step outside and they mob me, all shouting out their questions at the same time. Really, I wonder if the paparazzi have any idea how much they sound like a flock of squawking chickens? Even their camera shutters sound like the flapping of wings.
    So, I have the fame, the next step is the fortune. They go together, right?

  • Dogs Know

    Written By Barbara O'Brien
    Dogs know more than we think.
    Kylie is a good dog. She is a tri-colored Australian Shepherd and is owned by my good friend Kathy. Kylie is an obedience and breed champion with a room full of ribbons and trophies to show for it. This is a dog that would never dream of being naughty and not doing what is asked of her.
    I have had the honor of hiring her many times for print ads and commercials. Kylie always did a great job for me. She followed my commands and was always cheerful with a joyful expression on her face. She loved to work and she loved being the center of attention. In the show ring and on the set Kylie was a star.
    Then Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember crying with her when she told me and I hoped and prayed for a quick recovery. Kathy is a fighter and underwent aggressive chemo treatments and then surgery to fight her disease.
    Months passed as Kathy went through her treatment, fighting fatigue nausea and tolerating the loss of her hair as her body struggled to beat the cancer that had taken hold. Her friends continue to pray and care for her. Kylie the Aussie never left her side.
    We were all overjoyed when Kathy eventually was declared cancer free. I knew Kathy enjoyed having Kylie perform for the camera so I waited for her to tell me when she was well enough to begin bringing Kylie the Aussie to photo shoots again.
    After I was sure that Kathy felt well enough to give it a try I booked Kylie for a shoot for a major retailer. Kylie was to pose with a human model who would brush her with a special grooming tool to remove fur.
    When Kathy came in with Kylie, I hugged Kathy and asked how she was feeling. Kylie the Aussie had always pulled on her leash when she saw me and wriggled her whole body in anticipation. This time when I greeted her and her owner, Kylie the Aussie was oddly restrained in her manner towards me.
    It is my usual practice to leave the owner in the waiting room and take the dog from the owner to work them on the set myself as most dogs work better when not distracted by their owner. Kylie was no exception to that rule. Although Kathy is an excellent trainer, in the past Kylie seemed to focus better when I worked her on the set without her owner in the room.
    I started to escort Kylie away from her owner and towards the set but she sat down and refused to leave Kathy’s side. “Come on, girl,” I said, slightly surprised. This was not normal behavior for Kylie the Aussie at all. Where was the dog that practically dragged me to the set and was so happy to show off her skills and tricks?
    “Go on,” said Kathy to her dog. “Go with Barbara. You’ll be fine,” she said.
    Kylie the Aussie was obviously reluctant to obey. She slowly got up and went with me, but looked over her shoulder at her owner.
    “Come on, girl,” I said in my cheeriest voice. “I’ve got cheese,” I said. Usually, the word cheese is the magic word to focus Kylie’s razor sharp attention. This time I said the magic word, she glanced my way for a moment, then looked back to the door of the room in which Kathy her owner was waiting.
    Why was Kylie the Aussie acting so strangely? This was not like her at all. This dog loved me and usually pranced and danced on camera happily sitting and cocking her head for the camera.
    The human model came in and I put Kylie the Aussie in position. I stepped back and began to cue her, looking for the sweet expression and happy ears that she always offered me.
    Kylie did her best to be obedient. She is a good dog and knows that Stay means Stay, but there’s a big difference between a dog who is focused on the work and a dog who is just going through the motions. Kylie was just not with me. I told her Stay and she would Stay but only for a moment or two and then she would break her Stay. This is unusual for such a well-trained dog and experienced animal model.
    “Oh, no! What did you do?” I said (my traditional speech when a dog breaks a Stay). I tried again. I gave her the hand signal and said “Kylie, Stay!” She paused for only a moment this time before breaking her Stay again. I was shocked. This is an obedient dog. She always listened to my commands and performed them cheerfully and happily for the cheese reward. What could possibly be wrong? I watched Kylie the Aussie as her gaze continued to go to the door. And then I understood. Kylie the Aussie’s mind was with her owner Kathy in the waiting room. I apologized to the photographer for the delay and took Kylie off the set. “Okay!” I said to Kylie. She bolted out the door and down towards the hall to be with Kathy. I could hear Kathy laughing as I headed towards them. “What is it, girl?” Kathy asked as Kylie stood on her hind legs and washed Kathy’s face with her tongue.
    “She can’t leave your side right now,” I said. She knows that you haven’t been well and that her place is with you.”
    Kathy held Kylie’s head in her hands. “Is that true, Kylie?” She said “Don’t you know that I am okay now?” Kylie looked back at her with the intelligent brown eyes of an Australian Shepherd, one of the smartest of all dog breeds. I think Kylie the Aussie felt the need to protect her owner Kathy and be with her. Kathy had beaten the breast cancer, but perhaps her dog still thought she still needed special care and attention. Although Kylie the Aussie shows every sign of enjoying being an acting dog, perhaps she thought she had a more important job right then: Being with Kathy.
    “Please come to the set with us?” said Kathy to me, and we went back. I said to Kathy: “You work with her. She usually works better with me, but she needs you this time.” Kathy put Kylie in position, thehuman model readied the grooming tool, and the photographer began to shoot. It was like a different dog was there. Kylie posed and perked her ears. She put her paw up and then down on command and she spun around in a circle when asked. She even kissed the model’s face on cue. Here was the Kylie I knew.
    The rest of the shoot went perfectly and the client was happy with the results.
    Another six months went by before I needed to use Kylie on a shoot. I had been in touch with Kathy and knew that she was getting stronger and feeling better every day. This time when she came to the studio Kylie was overjoyed to see me, almost leaping into my arms as I said hello. And when I took her leash to lead her to the set she went with me without a backward glance.
    On set she was once again a pro, offering all of her endearing behaviors like tilting her head and grinning for the camera. When we finished and I returned her to Kathy in the waiting room, I marveled at how different Kylie the Aussie was from the last time I worked her.
    It’s amazing to me how dogs sometimes just know. Apparently, even though Kathy thought she was back to her old self, Kylie the dog did not agree and thought she needed to stay by Kathy’s side. Now that Kathy was fully recovered and cancer free, Kylie the Aussie also was back to her old self and ready to perform.
    ©2011 Barbara O’Brien -White Robin Farm -N616 130th Street -Stockholm WI 54769 -(612) 812-8788

  • Will Work for Chicken Feed

    by Barbara O'Brien

    I work for chicken feed. Or at least my chickens do. That is what I will tell you when you ask how I train chickens to perform. I have trained chickens to jog on a treadmill, push a button, climb stairs, appear to be swimming, enter and exit an elevator, talk into a microphone, jump onto a desk and shake their tail in someone’s face, and many more behaviors for television commercials and print advertisements.

     
    Most people think that chickens are dumb and just run all over squawking and flapping their wings like…well, like dumb clucks. But I know better. Chickens are highly intelligent birds with tremendous survival skills that have allowed them to become one of our earliest domesticated animals.
     
    Chickens are useful barnyard animals. They peck at manure, eat larva and bugs, and aerate the soil with their scratching. They give us beautiful eggs on an almost daily basis. A flock of chickens is an excellent alarm system.
     
    Chickens are surprisingly trainable, too. When I am looking for a chicken to train for a commercial or an ad the first thing I do is find one that is bold and brave and will eat out of my hand. A chicken has to be food motivated or I will never be able to keep it on the set.
     
    If I want the chicken to walk towards me I hold the food just out of reach and reward it when it takes even the smallest step towards me. This training technique is called shaping. I use shaping to train all kinds of animals to perform. If I want a chicken to go to a certain spot I bait the spot with feed and the chicken is rewarded for going to the right spot. Eventually, the feed is removed and the chicken will still go to the spot.
     
    Omega Fields Animal Ambassador, Pretty Peggy, was remarkably easy to train for her many appearances in Perkins Restaurant commercials. In one spot, she had to portray the downtrodden wife of a late rising rooster. We trained her to sit still on a therapist’s office chair and cluck and squawk on cue as if she was talking to the therapist. I trained her to do this by showing her food and rewarding her when she made noise but didn’t move position. Her appearances in Perkins commercials were very successful.
     

    So, the next time you see chickens roaming and pecking in a barn yard, remember that they are a lot smarter than they look.

  • The Chorz Fitness System

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    I’m starting an exercise craze. Forget the Zumba® dance fitness craze. My exercise program is much better. I call it the Chorz Fitness System.

     

    man handling hay baleThe first module in my Chorz program is called Barn Chorz. This module gives you a good solid workout.  Exercise 1 is Feed the Horses. Reach up into the haystack in the barn, pull down several 70-pound bales of hay, and lug them one at time to three separate paddocks. To increase exercise difficulty, use one hand to drag the bale, and repeatedly wave the other hand in an arc to keep the hungry horses away while you heave the bale up and into the feeder.

     

    Now it’s time for exercise 2:  The Feed Bag Lifts. This exercise works the leg and butt muscles, and is beneficial for your arms and back as well. Begin by unloading the 50-pound feed sack from the pick-up bed. Remember to bend your knees before lifting to avoid injury. Now carry that bag over to the feed barrels and fill them. C’mon, lift, lift, lift that bag. You can do it. Feel the burn in the back of your thighs as you work those muscles. Do this exercise regularly and when you walk down the street people will admire your Feed Bag Physique.

     

    Exercise 3 is Clean the Stalls. Here we use two special sticks available exclusively from my web site in four decorator colors. Pick up the Manure Fork with both hands and flex those muscles by fishing out large chucks of horse manure from the stall’s bedding. Switch to the Pitch Fork and vigorously gather the wet heavy straw and dump each forkful into a wheel barrow. Feel your arm muscles ripple with the effort you are putting forth. Then stretch those back muscles of yours by lifting and pushing the wheel barrow out to the manure pile. Lift, lift, lift that wheelbarrow to dump the load. Variation: Use Ice Chipper(available from my web site in your choice of brass- or silver-like finish) to work those upper arm muscles by dislodging frozen chunks of manure. Shovelthe chunks into a flexible round rubber tote and drag the tote to the manure pile.

     

    Exercise 4 is Watering. This exercise is wonderful for developing strong shoulder muscles and slimming the waistline. Haul several five gallon buckets of water around the farm to the sheep, goats, chickens, and ducks. To avoid overdevelopment of your left or right side, carry two buckets at a time. Since hydration is always important during a workout, make the most of the icy cold water that splashes up on you as you walk with your buckets.

     

    Exercise 5 is called Putting Up the Hay. For this exercise you need one Hay Wagon(available from my web site in Farm Red only). To get the maximum benefit of this exercise, choose the hottest, most humid and breeze-less day of the summer. Unload bale after bale of 70-lb. hay bales off your Hay Wagoninto Barn(available from my web site in Red or Peeling Red.) Ooh, feel that sweat pouring off your body. Now that’s what I call a work out!

     

    I know you’re ready for a break, but don’t just flop after Putting Up the Hay. Remember you must always finish a workout by doing Stretches. Cover your hand with a Plastic Bag(available from my web site in many different colors and patterns). Don’t forget green for those St. Patrick’s Day workouts. Once your hand is bagged, bend your knees and reach down to pick up a pile of dog doo-doo. Repeat this maneuver over the three-acre farmyard until you feel the muscles of your entire body are stretched and smooth. This bending, stretching and reaching is so good for the core, you know.

     

    At any time, to increase the difficulty of your Barn Chorz workout, augment your workout clothing with insulated coveralls and Sorel snow boots.

     

    Whew! Wasn’t Barn Chorz a great workout?

     

    But wait, there’s more. The great thing about my Chorz Fitness System is that it’s unlimited. Once you’re breezing through Barn Chorz and you want more, you can add on exercise modules like Fence Building, Gardening, and Keeping Up Old Farmhouse. You’ll have enough exercise for a lifetime of fitness.

  • What Dogs Have Taught Me about Life, Love, and Myself

    Written By Jenny Pavlovic

    One of the best ways to get to know me is through the dogs in my life, so I decided to introduce myself through my relationships with them.
    Katrina rescue dog Kate taught me that an old, lost, beaten down girl who survived a Louisiana hurricane and flood and was displaced halfway across the country could adapt. It wasn’t easy–everything was different–but she carried on. She taught me that starting over when you’re perhaps past the prime of your life isn’t easy, but you can do it, and you can do it with dignity and heart. She reminded me how important it is to socialize puppies and expose them to all kinds of different experiences when they’re young. A dog who hasn’t had those experiences has a much harder time with new things as an adult.
    KateAfter Hurricane Katrina, I had to ask Kate for help and she led me to many new friends. She showed me that friends from all over the country and even the world will come forward to help when I need them. She also took me to new intuitive and spiritual depths and introduced me to animal communication in a way that I hadn’t known before.
    The only red heeler puppy for miles, Australian Cattle Dog Bandit, found me at the vet clinic, just minutes after my old red heeler mix Rusty had passed on. Bandit taught me that sometimes the best friends will find you when you least expect them to, and that paying attention to them is important. Jump on a good opportunity when you see it because life is too short and you may not get another chance. A 55 pound dog who can move a herd of cattle, Bandit showed me that attitude is everything. He also taught me to be a leader, because (bred to herd cattle) he is a ‘lead or get out of the way’ kind of guy. I had to step up to maintain order in our household!
    As a puppy, Bandit came with his own rubber chicken. I used to think that he waved the rubber chicken at me when I was trying to work because he wanted to play. But then I realized that he did it because he knew that I needed to play. He knows me so well. I call him my recreation director!
    Chase taught me that another man’s trash could be my treasure. My friend Sarah of Lost Fantasy Animal Rescue in Virginia (who I met in Louisiana caring for rescued animals after Hurricane Katrina) rescued Chase from a man who was going to shoot him for chasing sheep. Chase is the sweetest, handsomest, most sensitive dog who is so worried about making a mistake, because he knows that a mistake could have cost him his life. Chase trusts me now and we have learned to work together to herd sheep and ducks so he can express this wonderful talent without fearing for his life. He taught me that you can start over again and you can recover from abuse and violence to be who you were meant to be. Chase is a very loving dog who loves to meet people at book events and would probably like to be a greeter at Wal-Mart!
    Cayenne taught me that a dog who’s afraid of her own

    Jenny, Chase, Cayenne, and Bandit

    shadow can eventually bond to a person. Abandoned in the Tennessee wilderness with her very sick young littermates,Cay lost her mother too soon and struggled to survive puppyhood. She and her littermates were rescued by caring people who nursed them back to health, but she was afraid and had never bonded to a per

    son. With time and patience and love, this dog who once cowered in the back of her travel crate – needing two people to pull her out – learned to smile and be happy and run up to a person to be petted. She’s wiggly and joyful now, and seeks attention from my friends. Cayenne taught me to be patient and that the waiting is worthwhile. She loves me now and fully participates in life. Cayenne’s rehabilitation is one of my greatest accomplishments.

     Jenny, Chase, Cayenne, and Bandit
    (photo by L.S. Originals of Fridley, Minnesota)
    Kate, Bandit, Chase, and Cayenne taught me to live more in the moment and appreciate our time together each day, for our time together is much too short.
    Jenny Pavlovic is the author of 8 State Hurricane Kate: The Journey and Legacy of a Katrina Cattle Dog and the Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book, and a contributing author of Dogs & the Women Who Love Them: Extraordinary True Stories of Loyalty, Healing and Inspiration. She founded the 8 State Kate Press, LLC and donates a portion of book proceeds through the 8 State Kate Fund to help animals in need (more info at www.8statekate.net). Jenny is working on her third book, for kids from 1 to 100. It includes cartoon cattle dogs and rubber chickens, and reminds us to tune in to nature and the animals in our lives.

     

  • Kevin Talks to the Animals

    Written By Barbara O'Brien
    For those of you have been following my essays, you know that I am married to a wonderful fellow. For almost 30 years, Kevin has put up with me and all of my crazy ideas. More important, he has put up with my animal related lifestyle.
    Having said all that, I feel compelled to let you in on a little secret: Kevin talks to the animals. Not in a Dr. Doolittle sort of way. He has never mentioned any of the animals talking back. Not in an animal communicator sort of way: “Ginger doesn’t like your new boyfriend and that is why she chewed up his iPhone.” No, it’s more like Kevin talks to the animals and they agree to listen.
    I learned about this early on. We had only been dating a week Kevin talking to a cator so when his parents, Bud and Dee, invited me over for dinner. I had met his parents briefly but this was the first time we had all been together at their house. Kevin comes from a long line of animal lovers. His parents seemed normal enough as far as pets were concerned. They had a black and white cat named Pretty Cat and a German Shepherd/Golden Retriever dog named Elsa.
    We were at the dinner table when I noticed Elsa the dog watching Bud’s hand, which was holding his fork, with great interest. Elsa stared intently as the fork moved from the plate to Bud’s mouth and back down again. Nothing strange about that, I thought; a lot of people feed their dogs scraps from the table. Then Bud, talking to us all the while, speared a piece of pork chop with his fork, and pointed it towards Elsa. The dog gently took the piece of pork chop into her mouth, gulped it down, and resumed her fork-watching vigil. Okay, I thought, maybe Bud didn’t want the rest of his pork chop and this is his quick way of giving it to the dog. But then Bud speared another piece of pork chop and ate it with the very same fork he had just used to feed the dog. “Guess dogs are really part of Kevin’s family,” I concluded all those years ago. This casual approach to people and dogs living together that Kevin grew up with has proven to be a very good thing for me because I make my living with animals, have a house brimming with them, and cannot imagine a life without them.
    Fast forward nearly 30 years to the house I share with Kevin, our sons, and our animals. We have a naughty cat, Louisa. She thinks she should be fed at 4:30 am on the dot and does her best to wake us up to meet her demands. I ignore her or in a semi-awakened state, I grab her and banish her from the room and stumble back to bed again. But if I have slept through her announcements, I wake to hear Kevin saying softly to her, “Oh, what a pretty cat you are…such a good girl. We are trying to sleep and I can’t feed you right now because then I would have to feed all of the other cats and we can’t be doing that, now can we? There you are…such a good girl.” All the while he’s petting her velvety blue coat. I roll over in bed to look at them both in sleepy astonishment, and I swear I can see her grinning at me as if to say, “See, I told you he likes me best!”
    And it doesn’t stop there. When Kevin goes out to do chores he shouts out with a ringing cheerful voice, “Hello everybody! Good morning! How are my kids today?!” The horses perk up, the sheep start to baa, and the chickens respond with clucks and crows. The cats meow and rub against his legs as he makes his way down to the barn.

    “Hello, Churchill. Good morning, Bullet. And how is Helen today?” Kevin will say to the assembled cats as he distributes their food and makes sure each one has enough to eat. “Hello, Cleveland. Hello, Teddy. Don’t worry, it’s coming. HEY! NO FIGHT! Oh, there you are, Franklin. Where’s Charlie?” He speaks to each cat one by one and makes sure they’re all accounted for.
    The sheep spot him and beseech him to let them out to graze. As a rule the sheep and goats are not allowed to free graze unless we are there to supervise them closely. The sheep are notorious for getting into the farm fields and the goats get into all kinds of trouble jumping on and chewing on everything you don’t want them to jump or chew on.
    Every day, Kevin’s conversation with the sheep goes something like this:
    Sheep: “Baaaa! Please, Mr. Farmer Man, please let us out.”
    Kevin: “What? Do you guys want to go out?”
    Sheep: “Oh yes, please open the gate.” They say this politely, thinking they can fool him once again.
    Kevin: “Do you promise to be good?” He asks them this in all sincerity and with all the sincerity sheep can muster they say, “Yes, yes. Of course we will be good.”
    Kevin: “No, I don’t think so. Last time you broke the garden fence and ate the heads off all of the tulips.”
    Sheep protesting loudly: “Baaaa! It was the goats! The goats did it! Baaaa! You know those goats can’t be trusted.”
    Goats: “Hey! Did not!”
    Kevin considers their argument for a moment and then smiles broadly. “All right,” he says “But you better not get into trouble.” Like rude children at a birthday party they don’t even bother to thank him as they barrel out the gate into the green pasture ahead. “Be careful,” he admonishes them. “Don’t wander too far.”
    Kevin with Shetland horse and cats in penTwo of our young horses, Johnny and Cierzo, hang their heads over the fence with hopeful expressions as he sneaks them each a handful of grain. “Don’t tell her,” he whispers as he strokes their necks, knowing full well we don’t grain them until evening chores.
    I have often spotted Kevin talking to the horses as if they were respected friends whose opinions mattered. “So what do you think of those kids that came last week to ride you, Louis?” he will ask our elderly Morgan gelding. “Did you have fun? Was it nice being brushed and ridden by those kids? They were nice kids, weren’t they?”
    When he cleans the sheep and chicken barn I can hear him telling the chickens just what he is doing and how much they are going to enjoy the clean shavings and fresh straw in their laying boxes. He thanks the hens for their eggs and tells the roosters how handsome they are.
    He talks to other people’s animals, too. When I need Kevin to hold an owner’s second dog while we work with the first dog on the set, I can hear him talking as we walk away. He draws the anxious dog close and says in a quiet reassuring voice, “Don’t worry, they are just taking Buster’s picture. You will get your turn. You mom will be back for you soon.” While he waits with the dog, he caresses it’s head, strokes it’s fur and tells the dog, “There now. That’s a good dog.” When the owner and I come back to Kevin with the first dog, Kevin says to the dog he’s been comforting, “See, I told you,” as he hands the leash over. “She came back. It’s all right now…such a good dog.”
    I suspect that Kevin has always talked to animals. Since we moved to the farm nine years ago he seems to do it more and more. Maybe it is just part of getting older or maybe our four sons are tired of listening to us. Or maybe there is something else going on. An old Swedish farmer, Wilfred Larson, owned this farm before us and lived here with his wife, Ruth, for almost all of his long life. I’ve been told Wilfred was known for how much he loved his animals. Back in the day animals were considered more of a utilitarian commodity than they are now. His neighbors found it odd that he would talk to his cowsjust like they were people. They were even more amazed that the cows seemed to understand him. As Kevin walks through the same barn that Wilfred did and tends to the animals the way that Wilfred did, perhaps good old Wilfred Larson is smiling down from heaven knowing that his farm is being run by someone who talks to the animals, too.
    I don’t mind. Kevin can talk to the animals all he wants. I don’t mind at all – as long as he remembers to talk to me, too.

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