Archives for category: emu

Settling In

A.V. Walters

The trauma of the emu relocation is wearing off. It’s been four days now, and my suspicions are bearing out on the source of the emu hostility. After a couple of days of ravenous eating, Mr. and Mrs. have relaxed about scarcity. With that, Kelvin and Gatsby seem not to be such an imposition. The cross-fence pecking has dwindled in frequency and ferocity. (In part because Gatsby’s staying back, a bit.) Not that I’m going to open the gate just yet, but things have improved.

Up on the hill, the emus have a great view. I’m not sure if they appreciate it. It’s just more stimulus for their already overextended brains. There’s a lot more noise up there, too. You can hear traffic, even though the road’s almost a half mile away. The young emus are startled by every new noise—their heads darting from side to side trying to get oriented. Down in the bottomland, a bull is bellowing. It’s been going on for days, must be that time. It’s pretty loud and it has the emus wide-eyed and wary. And then there’s the sheep; they’re not shy either. That’s something they’ll just have to tolerate. They are, after all, sheep protectors.

Gatsby is still smitten with the adult emus. I guess that is as it should be. When I visit (because that brings Mr. and Mrs. down to the lower fence) he is torn between visiting with me, or hanging at the fence with the big guys (who still treat him with a certain level disdain.) Sometimes he stands, ten or fifteen feet from the fence, looking at them, then at me, repeatedly, frozen there, unable to decide. Kelvin has no such problem. She knows where the food comes from. She’ll even herd Gatsby over for dinner—she’s a very good big sister. And finally, he’s eating. I know that things are better, because today, for the first time since they moved, I saw them dance and play. It was brief, but there it was, a glimmer of fun. And when I walk up the hill, when they see me, they come running. Not for any particular reason except they like to run. (I can tell because if something catches their attention, they’ll change direction and head off that way. They’re still just big, dumb birds.) They are broadening their territory—occupying larger and larger areas of the lower pasture. The emus are finally settling in.

This emu move across the farm is actually good for me. I need the distance, figuratively speaking, so I can let them go. They have to be farm emus, not pets, and I’m not always going to be here. I’m such a softie, though—I’ll probably end up leaving bags and bags of emu food when we go. Just the idea that these little guys wouldn’t be fed, when they’re really still babies, is more than I can bear. That distance is good in another way, too. Back and forth across the farm at least twice a day, I’m hoofing almost four miles. I can use the exercise.

And, it makes me look around. I’ve discovered two hawk nests. The blackberries are getting ripe. They’ve just cut and bailed the grass in the bottom of the valley—the squared bails in crooked lines along the work trail of the tractor. Even with most of the valley dry as dust, it’s still picturesque. Tomorrow I’ll scout out the blackberries. Maybe I can find enough ripe ones for the pie I promised Rick.

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Empty Nest

A.V. Walters

Our avian stalemate was short lived. One of the chickens decided to break ranks. I don’t know the dynamics of chicken-chicken relations, much less chicken-emu exchanges. In any event, chicken-number-two decided to change sides and hang with Gatsby and Kelvin. She followed them around, even slept on the ground near them, in their corner emu haven. That shift changed her routine and she stopped laying eggs in her usual spot. Every day we’d have to go searching for her egg. The egg hunt caught the attention of the emus (though I doubt they had any idea what was up.) I’d be stalking around the yard, poking here and there, with two emus following so closely behind that if I stopped suddenly, they’d bump into me like some Laurel and Hardy routine. Just behind them was the emu-friendly chicken (following the emus) and the regular chicken, not to be totally left out, brought up the rear. What a parade!

The emus are amazingly social. They tried to play and dance with their new chicken friend, but she didn’t get it. Just keeping company was enough for her.

Feeling their oats, the emus proceeded to try to engage with the antisocial chicken, and it resulted in a spirited emu/chicken chase. They could not win her over—so it was a three-to-one club in our front yard.

 

The Emu Transit Trailer

The Emu Transit Trailer

And things would have remained so, had it not been for the arrival of the trailer. I’d talked to Don and Elmer about transferring the emus across the road—for training with sheep at the tutelage of emu-dad. Being a softie, I’d requested that they use a fully enclosed trailer. Emus do not like travel and do not transfer well. I thought the experience would be less traumatic if the trailer didn’t offer the view of the world whizzing by at high speed. So, out of the blue, Elmer arrives with a perfect livestock trailer—not one of the ratty open trailers he uses to transport chickens, but a real, fancy trailer. Apparently he borrowed it for an extra large load of sheep he needed to haul, and thought he’d take the opportunity to move the emus. There we were, without notice, for the fateful emu moving day. It’s probably just as well, because I’d have fretted over it.

 

Not liking that trailer!

Not liking that trailer!

Hmmmph! Smells like sheep!

Hmmmph! Smells like sheep!

With a minimum of trauma, and only a few tears (mine), the emu-youths were loaded into the trailer and off to new pastures, literally. For their initiation, we decided not to mix the young with the adult emus—so as to let them get used to their new digs first. Good thing, too! Those little emus were in total, “Where-are-we-now, Toto?” shock. They stood in the middle of a large pasture, slack-jawed at the openness. The only thing that captured their attention were the almost equally curious emu parents, gawking from across the upper fence. Emus!

 

Look! EMUS!

Look! EMUS!

The little guys set off at a trot to explore these new relatives. But blood isn’t thicker than water. It doesn’t come close to being as thick as food. The deck was stacked against the youngsters.

 

Maybe not so friendly

Maybe not so friendly

You see, our dry summer has been so dry that the summer grasses have browned early. There’s little nutrition in grazing this season. Even up by the pond, where the emus have been kept, it is pretty brown. Elmer has cut back on the number of sheep he’s running—keeping only breeding stock. There’s little grass to feed them and the cost of hay and feed (grain) reflects the dry conditions and scarcity. Usually, if the emus are with the sheep, they’ll supplement summer’s slim pickings with the sheep mix. But this year the emus aren’t with the sheep. Nobody bothered to check on the emus up in the high pasture and they are hungry. So the kids were not visitors—they were competitors for scarce resources; the emu-babies’ homecoming was punctuated with hisses and grunts from mom and dad. If the little ones got too close to the fence, they were rewarded with pecks on the top of their heads (Just like the chickens!) Sadly, this hasn’t dissuaded the little ones. They are eager to commune with other emus. Gatsby, especially, runs to the fence whenever the adults are in view. I think this relationship may be forged on the enthusiasm of youth.

 

Perhaps a little supervision is in order

Perhaps a little supervision is in order

I also think we can fix this. I think a few days of ample rations all around will bring out the better natures of those cranky adult emus. So it’s been kibble and apples all around.  Yesterday, Mr. and Mrs. Emu scarfed down ten good sized apples in minutes. The solution is Food-Aid. We’ll use food as the social lubricant. Today I’m going to slip in some sweet mix (corn and other goodies used for lambs) for extra calories. While the special emu kibble is a better dietary choice, sometimes junk calories are in order. I’m walking across the farm—about a mile—to the back pastures several times a day to provide extra goodies for the parents and company and play for the kids until they settle in. I am hugely relieved that there are two of them, and that they are such good company for each other.

 

Hey, watch your back!

Hey, watch your back!

Meanwhile, on the home front, we have answered a burning question in a sad way. We decided to keep the two chickens for a few days. We like the eggs and, though chickens are no social substitute, we were missing the emus. The unanswered question was whether emus were guardian animals for chickens. The answer is that just the presence of emus helps to guard the chickens. The morning after the emu relocation, we woke to just one chicken, and a lot of feathers. It took the predatory critters less than twelve hours to figure out that those chickens were unprotected in the front yard. We hadn’t even thought of it—that maybe the chickens were at risk without the emus. We feel a little guilty. Chicken number one was eaten—by whom we couldn’t tell. That was it. The other chicken was quickly returned to the relative safety of the barn and our home is now bird free.

Rick spent that next day scrubbing the porch and walkway, removing the temporary fences and returning our yard to normal, residential habitation. The cats are happy. They’ve been going in and out the cat door and re-exploring the front yard. When I miss those emus, I hike across the farm for an emu fix. It’s not the same….but it was time. Nature abhors a vacuum. Territories quickly adjust. But the emus will always have a special place in our hearts.

 

 

Coop d’État

A.V. Walters

“Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss”

These chickens are aggressive. They made it absolutely clear who’s in charge in our front yard. Because the emus are so much bigger, we forget that they are still little kids. If ever there was a lesson that you’re as big as you think you are, this is it. Right from the get-go, the chicken-bully (as we call the more aggressive of the two) started harassing the emus. When they’d bend over to eat, she’d rush over and peck the emus right on the top of their heads! The message was clear—the chickens are in charge!

The emus have learned to steer-clear, and give the chickens a wide berth. At times, they can eat together, (if I make sure there’s ample chicken food.) But, in their meanderings, the two species have a different agenda, and don’t choose to keep company. They’ve made their peace, but it’s not friendly.

Bob, the cat, was hiding under the lower, redwood branches. He’d crept in, to check-out the chickens. The emus spied him and took off in hot pursuit. They split up and triangulated their attack. The poor cat nearly didn’t make it over the fence, in time. And that was Bob, a cat they know and like! (Well, like may be a bit strong, but they know he’s not a threat.) Were the emus defending the chickens? Or, having been demoted in their own yard, merely defending their dignity against an unsuspecting target? And, just what was Bob doing in the redwoods, anyway?

Bob, from a safe distance.

Bob, from a safe distance.

Rick had it in his head that he could solve the underlying animosities by swapping out the bully-chicken for a more self-possessed, well-mannered chicken. (We live on a chicken farm, so we have access to spare chickens.) My sister shook her head. Even from 2,500 miles away I could hear her tight-lipped nonresponse. (The woman has her own chicken issues, I tell ya.) Finally, not one to hold her tongue, she cryptically said, “Won’t do any good; it’s about pecking order.”

I hate to admit it, but I’m enough of a political Pollyanna that I actually like the idea that deposing one bully could solve the problem of tyranny. Apparently Rick does, too. We’re not naïve. We read the papers. Has there ever been any coup that didn’t just install the next bully? I was in no hurry to do the chicken swap but yesterday Rick put chicken replacement on our to-do list.

We stuffed the chicken-bully in a box, and walked over to the chicken barn. We let her out and she immediately blended into the crowd. As for the replacement, how do you pick? What do you look for? Essentially, it comes down to who you can catch.

Not as easy to catch as it looks

Not as easy to catch as it looks

We returned with the replacement chicken and put her in the nighttime cage, to let the two chickens get to know each other through the safety of the bars. The squawking started almost immediately. The emus perked up—trouble in Chicken World could only be good news for them.

It’s official. The new chicken is the “low hen on the totem pole” resident of our front yard. The formerly docile chicken has stepped up to bully role. She doesn’t much like the new chicken and she’s loud about it. We’ve gone from nasty to noisy. She woke me up this morning, at sunrise.

The emus seem to like it. With the Chickens occupied with their own disputes, the emus are left, more or less, in peace. And actually, it looks like the emus are enjoying spectator status. I feel like I should serve popcorn. Funny how I can hear my sister’s “I told you so,” loud and clear, from across the miles.

Post-script:

Not so easy, this chicken swap. The new chicken was just too…well… chicken. She sat cowering in the corner of the porch all day.

Chicken chicken.

Chicken chicken.

Rick decided that it wouldn’t do. Another chicken swap was needed. We captured her and returned her to the barn. Rick rounded up a bunch of chickens, and then, using portable fence panels, thinned until he had just the chicken! The Goldilocks of chickens, not too bold, not too chicken. This one is just right. We brought her back to the yard and she settled in immediately, friendly, without being deferential. I think this chicken combo will work. Who knew it would be so involved? Now we need to see how the emus react.

Relaxing by the pool.

Relaxing by the pool.

Don’t forget, The Emma Caites Way and The Gift of Guylaine Claire are available as free Kindle downloads on Amazon–July 1 thru July 4.

Not By The Hair of My Chinny-Chin-Chin

A.V. Walters

Today the goats got out. I don’t know how. I was on the back porch, talking on the phone to my mother, and looked up to see two goats staring at me. “Rick!” We rounded them up and brought them back to one of the old sheep barns where they’ve been staying, ever since one of Elmer’s tenants abandoned them. They herded pretty well over, but balked at going back in through the gate. One of them appears friendly, the other a little stand-offish. We were taking note of their demeanor, because these are the goats that have been recommended to us for our front-yard-emu-training efforts. These goats are full grown, but little.

There have been some strange goings on, of late, with gates and locks—and this goat fiasco fit right in. The gate was wide open. The gate peg had been laid neatly on top of the fence post, indicating that the goat escape was no accident. We need to get to the bottom of this, since there’ve been mysterious issues with our gate, and we don’t want the emus out on the road.

Getting the goats into their pen was a bit of a feat; once we got to the gate, they took one look and weren’t so interested in cooperating anymore. We had to trick them, with carrots as bait. (It turned out not the best goat treat. Who knew?) Once inside the pen I came to the conclusion that maybe these goats had been abandoned for a reason. Indeed, that was when “friendly” suddenly wasn’t. The more it became clear to them that they were being returned to the pen, the more aggressive she got.

Friendly Might Just Be Aggressive

Friendly Might Just Be Aggressive

She originally liked being patted on the face, but when confronted with a return to captivity, she started pawing and then butting. She’s only knee high, but a butting goat is no joke. You don’t dare turn your back on it. (Rick had noted the same behavior when he’d passed by their pen, about a week earlier.) Taking no chances, I decided to climb the fence to make my escape. Her shyer companion isn’t as friendly, but isn’t a butting problem either—she follows her more aggressive friend, but keeps her distance.

Shy Is Looking Good

Shy Is Looking Good

Finally we got them re-situated. It was a lesson learned. (No, not “Don’t look a gift goat in the mouth.”) We now know that we don’t want these goats in our yard. It’s enough that we have to watch out for emus and chickens (but not having to go down to the hen house for eggs, is a plus.) I really don’t want to have to defend myself from aggressive goats. The great goat escape was a minor annoyance but it’s one that will save us grief in the future. So, the verdict is in, No goats.

Who’s Chicken, Now?

A.V. Walters

Emus aren’t, by nature, guardian animals. They’re actually pretty skittish and, if you want them to guard a herd, they need a proper introduction. Emus are very social animals, but they need to learn who is part of their flock, so they’ll know who isn’t. Gatsby and Kelvin have been running-off anything that comes into the yard, such that we can’t always tell if they’re being nasty, or just overly-friendly. Sometimes, it’s hard to know the difference.

I once had a cat that seemed gregarious and friendly but, at that time, I didn’t have many visitors in my life. Then, when people would come over, the cat would disappear. It turned out that he was petrified of anyone but us. It’s taken years to get him to be comfortable around visitors and strangers. (Rick may argue this point because this cat will still scoot away from him, when he walks into the room.)

And so it is with the emus, they are very comfortable around us, and most of our friends. So, we thought that they were generally, friendly emus. And, well they are, but only within their comfort zone. When strangers come by, they can be a little nervous, and potentially dangerous. That’s the good news… and the bad news, about emus. If they know you, you’re family. If they don’t know you—you are a potential enemy.  As we’ve said before—they’re not real bright. It’s kind of a binary system, they’re either on, or off. If an emu is afraid, then you need to be a little afraid. You need to pay close attention if they start to hiss or huff. Because, not far behind that, is an instinctive, and potentially devastating, kick.

It’s not just with people. The emus are comfortable with our cats; they grew up with them. But they clearly make the distinction between ours and the feral cats from the dairy, next door. Those cats get run off (I suspect with some glee.) It occurred to me recently (when a visitor earned himself a solid hiss) that our emus needed finishing school, so to speak.  So, we decided to start small.

Since there is the possibility that the emus may be guarding chickens, it was a small enough place to start. First, we put an empty cage in the yard, for a few days—that garnered some interest—and soon enough, it became part of the landscape. Then, two days ago, we dropped a couple of chickens into the cage. The emus were wary, to say the least. They scooted around, wide-eyed at the new arrivals’ cackling. (They do seem to be particularly noisy chickens.) We gave it an overnight, and the following day, we opened the cage.

Here come the chickens

Here come the chickens

Now, these emus are teenagers. They’re not yet full sized, but they’re a lot bigger than a chicken. But when it comes to new experiences, they’re still just babies. The emus headed to the far side of the yard. Then, after watching from afar, they slowly inched closer to size-up the new invaders. The chickens are full-gown and about as bright as… well, chickens. They, in contrast, are totally nonplussed by the emus. The emus alternate between being cool about chickens, and being spooked. They walk around like it’s no big deal, but if a chicken corners them, Kelvin, in particular, reacts like her life is at risk. Even though she’s the bigger of the two, she is also the most jumpy. (Boy, does she take after her mother, or what?) For his part, after an initial nervous phase, Gatsby invited a chicken to “dance” (doing the characteristic, emu drop and roll.) The chicken was non-responsive—clearly ignorant of the emu rituals of engagement. I can only hope that the emus aren’t put-off. They’ve managed to share food dishes and yard without serious incident. So far, we’re calling it a success, in a measured sort of way.

Who's stalking whom?

Who’s stalking whom?

Clearly, it’s a good thing we recognized the need for this. These emus have some manners to learn before they head out into the world to take on their security work. We don’t want to raise thugs, after all. We’ll start here, quietly with chickens and, in a week or so, we’ll trade up to goats. Goats, you ask?  Well, Elmer has a couple of goats that were left behind by tenants (this is typical, Elmer) and they’d be perfect for hardening off a couple of flappable, emu trainees. In a few weeks, maybe they’ll be ready for sheep.

Breaking Bread

Breaking Bread

Rick nods to Elmer, noting that we have two cats, two emus, now, two chickens and soon, two goats. He says that if we start building a boat, anytime soon, people should pay attention to the sky.

chick-n-emu 4

 

Voters and Chickens:

Rights (or the lack of) and Repercussions

A.V. Walters

The Chickens have the floor…

Our emus may have to adjust to a different future that I’d imagined for them. It all goes back to a wacky election in 2008.

You see, in that year, animal rights activists put a referendum on the California ballot that would forever change the way chickens are kept on farms in our state. The measure was poorly defined, and the drafters were a million miles from anything in the world of chickens or eggs or economic realities. Still, the objective was to decrease the level of “cruelty” in livestock agriculture. Who could be against that? With some measure of bitterness, I note that that same election cycle produced another measure that stripped marriage rights from gay and lesbian couples in our state. Here we are, over four years later and to date we haven’t sorted out either one of these issues. Chickens given rights, people losing rights! Only in America!!

On the same-sex marriage issue, we are leaping into the future. In part because of the unfairness in the Proposition 8 law, the public dialogue has changed radically. One by one, states are stepping up (as well as the international community) to ratify human rights, ending discrimination in our antiquated, marriage laws. Sadly, in California the situation remains unsettled because actual law moves more slowly than public opinion (and that may be a good thing, sometimes.) This deplorable referendum has worked its way up through the appellate courts and into the highest court in the land. I can’t say the chicken situation is working out so well, either.

Everyone would love to know that the chickens (or eggs) they eat come from some warm and fuzzy, loving farm-home. Modern farming, especially livestock, isn’t warm and fuzzy. Large scale farming is even less so. Since the Chicken Rights referendum wasn’t specific about how chickens should be kept, litigation immediately ensued. (How ironic, a “what came first” thing—the rules or the legislation.) So, farmers waited for instructions. While we’re moving towards an ascertainable standard, the deadline for compliance looms, and many of the older farmers are just closing up shop. What is clear is that the chickens need more “personal space” and elevated wire cages may soon be a thing of the past.

Elmer’s been watching the issue since that election. He’s attended the poultry conferences and seen the new, demonstration equipment. He’s lived on a chicken farm for his entire life and has watched poultry and egg production methods come and go. “Cage free is the future,” he says, “And that’s what we had when I was a kid!” He shakes his head.

“When the cages came in, it was supposed to be the wave of the future. The elevated, wire cages solved a lot of the problems—the waste dropped through the cage for easy removal, the feed was delivered to the troughs along the cage and the eggs rolled forward on the wire chute for easy gathering. Since the chickens weren’t standing in their feces, a lot of the diseases we dealt with, in the past, just disappeared. It was clean and modern.”

The downside to the economy of scale was, well, the scale of it. The press for more production led to overcrowding, and some kinds of wire cages were harmful to the chickens’ feet. Now the consensus is that chickens should be back on the floor, they should be cage-free and should have material (greens, straw or shavings) for “scratch.”

The new law won’t solve the issues of scale and size, and disease becomes a bigger concern. Given the new (and still unclear) restrictions, and the high costs of labor, the commercial solutions offered are high tech and expensive. Nobody wants to see egg costs go to $6.00 a dozen—which we sometimes see here from organic “boutique” farms. The operations challenges remain the same, waste removal and disposal, food delivery and egg collection. The industry is pimping gorgeous equipment—rolling (conveyor) floor beds, automatic feed dispensers and egg collection, all the bells and whistles. And the cost for an operation the size of Elmer’s? Try a cool, half-million dollars. It’s so high, that the only way to make it work is to seriously expand production. So this law, while well-meaning, will drive small producers out of business, and create even bigger factory farms. Good news for chickens?

Elmer is experimenting. He could retire if he wanted but instead, he’s going back to “chickens on the floor.” He’s cutting and bailing his own hay and straw for scratch and bedding materials. He’s resurrected old brooder boxes from over sixty years ago (farmers never throw anything out.) He’s modifying his manure collection system, using bedding materials for absorption, and thus minimizing the frequency of full removal (as relocating the chickens for cleanup is stressful to the chickens.) In short, he’s going back to the kind of farming they practiced when he was a boy. He’s mindful that he’ll need to keep an eye out for any increase in disease and, even at this experimental stage, he’s seeing a increase in predation

Chickens in elevated cages are relatively safe from predators. Elmer’s barns are designed for cage operations, with open sides for ventilation. On the open floors, especially where the chickens are given some access to open-air yard areas, he’s seeing a return of raccoon losses and fox and coyote problems. Even with his small scale experimental operation, he’s losing a chicken a day. This too, is like the old days.

He asked me today if I thought emus could guard against raccoons. In an instant, I saw the writing on the wall (or the broad side of a barn door.) It burst my bubble— the image of our emus patrolling the open range with sheep. I don’t know how emus would react to raccoons—but they’d be good guards against foxes and coyotes. A quick online search reveals no firm information on the emu/raccoon dynamic. It makes me a little sad to think of Gatsby and Kelvin guarding a chicken barn. But, on a farm, we do the work that comes our way. So, we shall see.

Emu Cool

A.V. Walters

Emus Callilng

Emus Calling

Soon, it’ll be time for these emus to move on, literally, to bigger pastures. As is their nature, they’ve become cocky and territorial. No bird, nor cat, dare light in their yard—the emus are a patrolling force to be reckoned with. Of course we have no idea what they’d do if they caught one of these trespassers—and I doubt they know, either. I worry a little that they might be too possessive to admit sheep into their private club. But, sheep are their future, their raison d’être. It’s to protect the sheep that the fields need patrolling. That’s the way it’s going to be, and Gatsby and Kelvin are going to have to learn to loosen up a bit.

They remind me of teenagers, hanging out in front of the convenience store, trading the short ends of cigarette butts, harassing the littler kids, and sneering at the adults who might dare to look at them askance. They march around the yard with purpose, their pre-historic, long-legged gait almost a swagger. Of course, if I come out with apple treats, the veneer of cool peels away in a split second and they’re eager emu babes, again.

Today was just such an exercise. I decided to wash off the front porch and clean the sidewalks. (Dirty birds!) Rick came along to man the hose—and the emus’ curiosity revealed them for the eager children they are. They seem to love anything with water. Rick trained the spray into the yard and, with little encouragement, they dashed in and out of the shower like kids through a sprinkler on a hot, summer day. Even after the running stopped, they (Kelvin mostly) stood and let Rick hose them down. Dripping, they followed me as I broom-scrubbed, hopping and pecking at the push-broom like curling champions (sport, not hair.) Cool aplomb gave way to raw enthusiasm as they followed me, chirping at this fun, new adventure.

I decided to wash down the storm door and that brought a new round of chirps as they admired their reflections in the clean glass and then stooped close to peer into the house. They clearly remember that, once upon a time, the house was part of their domain. Someday, somebody is going to open a door, perhaps to call for a kitty-cat and, before they know it, two grown emus will be zipping across the threshold. What a shock it’ll be, and I’m sad that I’ll miss it.

I think I can hear them in there.

I think I can hear them in there.

Too soon, for Gatsby and Kelvin, the scrub-down was done. We shut off the water and put away the broom and bucket. Once we’d retreated indoors, back to work after the break, the emus remained at the door, beaks glued to the glass, hoping for an encore.

Hey, Come out to play.

Hey, Come out to play.

“Hey, can Rick and AV come out and play?”