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Farm Animal Idioms

By Cyndi | Jul 2021 | Barn Animals

Many English sayings have their basis in farm life and I’ve gotten to see these first hand while observing our barn animals over the years. Here are some of my favorite sayings that come from the people who lived around horses, chickens and other farm animals. Since most people are city-dwellers now, I use them to tell stories about our barn animals.

Common Chicken-Related Idioms

chickens pecking at the Dog and Pony Ranch Animals are most content with a clear hierarchy and dominant leader. For the past couple of years, our smallest hen, Dot, a white Leghorn with a grey dot and an alpha attitude, has firmly kept the rest of her flock in line. Being in charge is not an easy job and Dot will even put herself between a threat and her flock – we even caught her on video outmaneuvering a coyote so the other hens could make it to safety!

Seeing Dot assert herself pecking at a new flock of young hens wasn’t easy for us kind-hearted humans, so we gave the hens a reprieve with a separate higher roost bar in the chicken coop for Dot. Fortunately, all the new hens quickly recognized Dot as their leader but she won’t hesitate to remind them if needed.

Our dominant hen demonstrates these phases regularly:

chicken egg basket at the Dog and Pony Ranch Other sayings relate to the fragility of chickens and their eggs. We get more eggs from our hens than we can use, but for farmers who counted on eggs and chickens for their livelihood, their fragility can be challenging as these phrases illustrate.

On a related theme of being fragile, several sayings extend this to being timid (we have one of these chickens too who is definitely at the bottom of the pecking order).

chicken broody feathers at the Dog and Pony Ranch On the other end of the timidity scale are the broody hens who will sit all day/night on their nest to warm and defend their clutch of eggs for several weeks. Since we don’t have a rooster, this is a wasted effort but that won’t change the hormones of these committed hens! Our Buff Orpington, Buffy, has been our broodiest hen to date – mama bears would be impressed with how she guards her “babies”, fluffing out all her feathers to warn me away from her eggs as she is doing in this photo.

Common Horse-Related Sayings

horse teeth at the Dog and Pony Ranch Many guests are surprised when I show them a specimen jar containing a tooth that had to be pulled from one of my older horses and explain that the bad tooth was found during the horse’s annual dental work. In the wild, eating grasses all day grinds down horse teeth (plus horse don’t live as long in the wild, nor have bridle bits in their mouths) so nature has horses’ teeth continually grow. Domesticated horses need their teeth to be filed down each year (aka “floated”), but even with floating, much can be determined about a horse’s age by looking at their teeth. My 11-yr old horse, Rio, still has beautiful teeth in this photo, but continually-growing-teeth helps explain how these idioms originated.

horse in  water I had heard the “lead a horse to water” proverb for years but unfortunately experienced it one summer with my horses. We were still living in the Bay Area and boarding our horses when I noticed both of my middle-aged Quarter Horses started doing poorly and not drinking/eating. I was about ready to call the vet but didn’t have much to tell him. Over the next few days, I found that they would practically pull me to the turn-out pasture where they drank LOTS of water from the stock tank and then would start eating again back in their paddock. I researched and tried many things starting with cleaning their water tank (multiple times), putting yummy additives in their water, and even buying a new stock tank. Nothing was working when I’d lead them to their newest water source and try to get them to drink, but at least they were drinking as much as they could from the shared stock tank in the turn-out area.

Working around their water tank, I noticed quite a few yellowjackets were buzzing around the water and it seemed like it was a bad summer for yellowjackets. So, I hypothesized that my horses had both been stung repeatedly while drinking water which scared them enough that they were willing to not drink (I think they were willing to die before drinking that water again). I bought a long hose and moved their water tank to another location in their paddock and they were happy to drink from their stock tank again! Fortunately, this story had a happy ending, but it was a scary way to experience this phrase first-hand.

These are other common sayings related to horse behavior, so I’ll include them here.

horse race Quite a few sayings are based in horses’ strength and speed – watching them run is a beautiful sight! Our personal trail horses were chosen because of slow and calm temperaments (“more whoa than go” as horse people will say) but far more horses are bred to run, especially breeds like Thoroughbreds (racing) and Arabians (endurance). Horses were primary transportation for centuries so most everyone could relate to these sayings.

Common Dog-Related Sayings

dog house Most people who read our blog have dogs so probably can relate to these sayings. I also had to include some dog idioms since I have so many cute photos of dogs!

dogs sleeping at the Dog and Pony Ranch This is one of our foster dogs crashed with Hannah after running around our 60-acre ranch! Cocoa was a young, abused puppy when we fostered her and her growing trust of us was something we will never forget. We were cautious to not disturb her when she finally had some peaceful sleep so seemed a fitting photo for this next idiom.

There are so many more animal sayings – what are your other favorite animal-related idioms?!

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