Animal Farm – An American in the Algarve

It started with the duck. A part of our fence blew down in a surge of the hurricanesque winds that frequent the Algarve. Before we could repair it, a hunting dog came out of nowhere and brutally murdered our favourite female duck. On the front lawn. Her name was Billie (after Billie Holiday). She got lettuce from our hands every morning and loved to cuddle. It sounds silly to adore a feathered pig, but we have a soft spot for ducks (I once entertained the idea of diapering ducks). 

So after Billie, the duck was killed, our free-range brood went back to their coop until fence repair was complete. All except Tarantula – a beautiful, loud, accidental member of our small bird family. “I would say 99% sure they’re all females,” the shady hippie selling them on his farm had sworn to me. It turned out to be more like 50% females. It’s a terrible ratio. So ever since Tarantula had lost an eye fighting, he’d been out wandering the garden freely. But after the dog incident, he was also at risk. 

We tried putting Tarantula back in the coop but Mr Incredible (the dominant male) nearly killed him. And if you’ve never seen a cock fight, you cannot fully appreciate their level of merciless brutality. They fight with sharp-claws-out, pecking-for-eyes vengeance. When I first saw them flying into the air like ninjas on steroids, karate-kicking and scratching each other, I finally understood gambling on cock fights. Not my cup of tea for entertainment, but it is quite a spectacle. 

My children came up with the solution: bring Tarantula inside. Yes, of course! How had I not thought of that myself? Kidding. I was horrified by the idea of a rooster sheltering in the guest bathroom. He’s not exactly potty trained. 

Tarantula, for his part, quite enjoyed strutting around in his new digs. He woke us up in the middle of the night crowing. Fair enough. That’s what roosters do. It turns out that only crowing at dawn is an urban legend. Roosters don’t really have accurate clocks. They crow all the time. For no reason at all. Whenever it suits them. When they’re hungry. When they’re happy to see you. When they hear another rooster. To mark their territory. When they see a predator. The reasons, apparently, are quite boundless.

So while a rooster wreaked havoc in our bathroom and a murdered duck chilled in our refrigerator, one of our guinea pigs started acting strange. Almost like he had epilepsy. He was falling over when he walked and would suddenly stop moving altogether. The small animal vet in Espiche recommended antibiotics. Not pills. An injection. Daily. To and From Espiche for the shot. I took him. It was touch and go, but after eight days of IV medicine (one we had to inject ourselves as it was Sunday), Sunny the Guinea pig improved. Ten more days of pampering with fresh cucumbers, uber-expensive Timothy Hay and probiotic drops and he was right as rain. His weight seemed fine, but have you ever tried to weigh a guinea pig with a kitchen scale? It ain’t like a slab of butter, let me just say that. Eventually, Sunny went back where he belonged: outside.

A few days later, the fence was repaired and Tarantula also went back to where he belongs: outside. Billie was finally laid to rest: outside. Meanwhile, I, the city girl who spent the last 20 years in the seaside bustle of Tel Aviv attending circus performances and choreographing shows, have thrown out my sequined costumes and pulled on my rubber gloves. I have replaced a non-animal circus with an official zoo. 

At the end of the day, farm rules are similar to expat guidelines: 

1. Learn how to get muddy 

2. Sometimes it takes bottle feeding to survive 

3. Burying your ducks is hard but you can do it 

4. Build strong fences and protect your boundaries 

Sometimes it requires strength you didn’t know you had. You do. Keep expecting the unexpected. Expand your horizons. Who knows? Actually– just maybe– you can. I do, however, draw the line at diapering ducks. I can, but I won’t. That’s an important category too. For now, everyone is healthy and happy in the best place possible: outside. 

Meredith Price Levitt is a freelance writer for over 20 years and a recent immigrant to the Algarve. She’s learning Portuguese, how to plant cucumbers and building a hexagon for aerial arts. You can reach her


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