Farm Follies Livestock Adventures

REST is a Four-Letter Word

Whenever I meet someone new and I tell him or her how I live on a farm, I am still amazed at how many people tell me, “Oh, I have ALWAYS wanted to live on a farm. It must be so nice.” I nod and smile and think, “They have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.” This may or may not be true, but at least it makes me feel better about the times that I get frustrated living here.

The thing is, living on a farm has never been a dream of mine. A place with a small garden and some land, sure, but a running cattle farm? Never. That is not to say that I am not grateful for the beauty and tradition of this place, quite the contrary. It is only to say that when I thought about where I would be at forty I never thought that I would be dodging chicken droppings in the garage and shooing barn cats off my kitchen counter. Just saying.

Farming, I have discovered, is something that many romanticize, but only a few are actually made for. This is because most of us are lazy. Offended? Think about it. If you are a farmer, and want to run a sustainable farm, REST is one of those four-letter words that you can’t repeat around your kids. After dinner, there is no settling down in front of the TV to catch up on the latest episode of C.S.I., there are fences to be walked, things to be fed, manure to be cleaned. To put it simply — there is WORK to be done — a four-letter word that is welcomed here on the farm.

I am a hybrid. A farmer’s wife who sometimes likes to lay in bed and watch Grey’s Anatomy. In my defense, teaching takes a lot out of me. Perhaps some day I will start a teaching blog that shows just how much work that we do and the emotional toll that it takes upon us, but this is not the time nor place. My goal here is to show what life on a little farm is actually like — with a little sass thrown in.

Long-time readers may remember that every year my husband and his family go on a camping trip up to the northern parts of Maine. While this is not the only time during the year that I am left to tend the farm, it is the only time when his father is also not around in case of emergencies. This makes me fully responsible for every cow, chicken, pig, cat, dog, and kid that lives here.

It is stressful.

This year Xandy planned his trip from Thursday to Sunday, a mere four days. Four days. I can do anything for four days, at  least that is what I told myself at the onset of this year’s camping time. Before the trip, Xandy leaves a list of names and numbers in case there is a “Cow Emergency.” The list includes neighbors who are willing to help if the herd runs into the road and the large-animal vet who is willing to come out if one of our cows goes into a particularly difficult labor. Someday I will describe what one of those particularly difficult labors looks like — as I have helped my husband by kneeling in the manure pit, pulling on baling twine tied around a half-birthed calf’s legs. But that is another story.

This story begins on:

Day One: Thursday

After Kitt and I visited the local farmer’s market so that Kitt could get her sugar-fix from the Amish bakers and I could get my carbohydrate fix from the Good Bread Guy, we came home to begin our solo time on the farm. I walked into the house only to be greeted by the ringing phones in the kitchen — yes two, see my post about my husband as an anachronism to catch up.

Xandy’s sister was heading up to the camping spot and wanted to know if the cows were ok.

“I just walked in the door. I have absolutely no idea how the cows are doing.”

“Well, dad and Xandy said that there are two cows that are ready to calve out, so they just wanted me to check in.”

“Two WHAT? They didn’t tell me there were two. I don’t know which ones are even still pregnant.”

She laughed, “I’m sorry, dude. I am just doing what I am told.”

I know that feeling.

“Let me get the cordless. I’ll go check.” I turned an episode of Dinosaur Train on for Kitt, threw my purple gum-rubber barn boots on (which I received from Xandy as a birthday present), and walked out back to find the cows.

The herd was miserable as we were in day two of a five-day heat-wave. All of them looked at me, panting, bleating, pleading — please make it cooler. Sam, the calf Kitt named after one of her classmates, pushed his way up toward me looking for food. His mother is gone (not actually — she is in our freezer — another long story), and Sam is now a “bucket-fed baby” meaning that he gets a bucket of milk-replacer every night. He looked at me and gave me a “mea0000.” I told him he would have to be patient.

Under the barn ALL of the cows looked to be nine-months pregnant and miserable, but none seemed more miserable than others, so I told my sister-in-law that they all seemed to be OK, and then I headed back into the house to get Kitt to actually feed things.

“I’ll help, Mom. I know what to do.” And she did — as most nights while I cooked dinner, she heads out with Xandy to “feed things.”

Luckily, most of the herd was out on grass, so there was no need to throw down a lot of hay like we have to in the winter. There were, however, two yearling bulls in the barn waiting to be snipped so that they could also be put out in pasture. Xandy assured me that he had put enough hay bales down on the barn floor to last me for the four days. When we walked into the barn, only one bale lay on the floor. One bale and a note:

“We took four bales of hay. We’ll be back tomorrow for 25 more — and we want the greenest stuff you’ve got. Signed Peter and Lisa” (*names changed to protect identity).

So they had taken the hay Xandy had left and wanted more. A lot more.

“Green stuff?!?” I mumbled at Kitt, “It is freaking MAY. How green can year-old hay be? I mean COME ON!”

I gave the remaining hay left on the floor and water to the bulls, and then looked to find “green hay” — at this point drenched in sweat from the 90+ and humid weather.

In the back left corner of the barn I found a wall from floor to roof high of tightly packed hay. I threw Kitt in the grain bin to “play” (or at least not get squashed by a wall of hay) and set myself to work.

I was wearing a tank top and skirt with my boots, and hadn’t brought any gloves into the barn with me — but that didn’t stop me. I wanted to get this done. I climbed the wall, trying to pull down as many bales as I could without causing the entire thing to collapse. I started to envision me, dead, under 50 bales of hay and Kitt stuck in the grain bin eating the grain and the mealy worm that she had found and had let writhe around on her boot to survive. “Mom look, A WORM!” She had squealed with delight when she found it. “That’s good, Kitt. A worm.”

I kept going.

After what seemed like an hour and enough hay chaff in my boots to feed the bulls the next day, I was done. I nodded proudly at the pile and left a note:

“Peter and Lisa, Xandy and Mark are out-of-town for the weekend. This is the greenest stuff I could find. If it is not good enough please check in with them on Sunday. Thanks! Sherry.”

I fed Sam and the barn cats, got my kid out of the grain bin, found some chicken eggs in another bale in the barn, and went into the house to make dinner.

The beer that I drank as I rocked on the front porch later that night never tasted so good. I have to admit.

Day one down. Tune in later for days two through four.

Livestock Adventures

If There’s A Cow Emergency…

The weekend after Memorial Day is my husband’s annual “family fishing” trip. I say “family” because I was told from almost the minute we started dating that there were “no spouses and no dogs” allowed on the trip. Fishing is in quotation marks as I don’t think much fishing takes place. I think it should be called the “family drinking, sitting, gorging, and smoking” trip. They drink, sit, gorge and smoke for four days, and with the husband away, I am left to tend the farm.

This will be the first time that I will spend a few days alone on the farm. Well, not actually alone, I suppose. At first count we have 1 baby, 2 dogs, 1 spayed barn cat, 2 kittens from the spayed barn cat (the vet says that there is a possibility that the cat had two uteruses….two uteruses….seriously?!?!?!), 2 pigs, and a herd of cattle – a few of which are severely pregnant. I keep asking my husband how many cows we have and he just says “a bunch.” Thanks, that’s helpful when I am trying to figure out how many should be in the pasture. The herd has actually been broken up into three groups — one here, one across the street in a pasture up in the woods, and one up the road in a neighbor’s pasture. We got rid of the chickens in the fall as my dog kept using them as a chew toy– every once and a while I still find feathers from her victims.

The first night, I had to teach a literature course at the local community college. Xandy is usually home by the time I have to leave for class, but this week he is “camping,” so my mother and sister agreed to tag-team babysit. My sister had been babysitting Kitt since she was about three months old when Xandy and I had our first big “date-night” out together.  I, silly me, was worried about the baby. I ran around frantically showing my sister everything there was to know about Kitt — “Be sure to turn on the light machine after you feed her,” and “She likes this cow toy especially,” and “Make this face if she starts to cry.” You get the picture.

Xandy, however, had other things to think about, “If it’s a kid emergency call Sherry’s cell. If it’s a cow emergency call my cell.”

I remember Chrissy’s face, “A cow emergency? What the hell’s a cow emergency?!?”

Xandy just smiled, “You’ll know.”

My mother planned to arrive at 4:00PM, about 30 minutes from when I wanted to leave for class with my sister relieving her at 6. My mother-in-law had stopped by earlier in the day with an emergency of her own and left me with Xandy’s brother’s dog Molly. That brought the dog count up to three. I mentally noted that I had to add Molly to the list when I have to (as Xandy puts it) “feed things.”  I figured that I would feed the 2 pigs, 3 cats, and 3 dogs after my mother arrived. She could change and feed the baby, and then I could change myself.

I told my mother and sister that I would pay them with food, so I was finishing up the baked haddock meal I had decided upon when my first babysitter arrived. My plan worked well. I put on my sexy purple rubber rain boots that Xandy had given me for my birthday from Tractor Supply (as my sister said, “Nothing says love like a waffle maker and some gum rubbers”) and headed out to the barn.  I followed my husband’s instructions exactly –“Turn on AM1490 so that the critters know it is time to feed things. Hopefully, there will be clarinets. Everyone loves clarinets. Take a five gallon bucket to the hand pump and fill it ¾’s full. You’ll look like a true farm wife out there on the pump! (He laughed here. He’s been slowly trying to train me since the day he met me, but I don’t train well) Fill the grain bucket and put both in the pig trough. Give the cats fresh water and food. The cows should be fine on pasture. It’s not too hard. At least I got rid of the sheep.” The “feeding things” went off without a hitch. I even had the dogs and my mother finished in a timely fashion.

Now that I was in charge of both kid and cow emergencies I was sure that I would be receiving panicked calls every ten minutes. That didn’t happen though. The only thing that occurred that first night was another surprise addition.

“How many kittens did you say you had?” My sister grinned.

“Two. One black and one orange tabby.”

“You realize there are two orange kittens in the barn.”

“Come on, you can’t be serious.”

She was.

New count: 1 baby, 3 dogs, 1 spayed barn cat, 3 kittens from the spayed barn cat, 2 pigs, and a herd of cattle. I took the phone up to bed and prayed that no one called to tell me the cows were out.

To be continued…

Here’s a pic of the miracle kittens — the first two anyway: