Livestock Adventures

What Not to Wear

A few mornings ago, as I sipped my coffee and jumped around online, I was annoyed by a car pulling in to our driveway. As I have mentioned before, when you live on a farm, you are never really alone. The reasons for this are many, but one of the major reasons is that people just seem to stop by whenever they feel like it. I have learned that no time is too early for this, as old farmers have knocked on the door at 7 A.M. looking for my husband. I try to put on a bra early. Mostly.

This particular morning was not quite that early. It was more like 9 A.M. when the large white sedan pulled in. I remember thinking that the women in the car must be enamored by our quaint space and must be stopping to enquire about what we sold. I sighed and opened the door, cognizant of my attire and frizzy hair.

I put on my best welcome to the farm smile and opened the door.

“I think you have cows out.” The woman said, standing at her car door and pointing to the edge of our pasture. “It looks like the fence is down over there.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“Thought you’d probably want to know.” She smiled, waved, and drove away.

Cows out.

Normally, as long-time readers know, Xandy is around to deal with this problem, but this time I was alone. I left Kitt in the house and ventured to the edge of the pasture to see what my morning visitor was talking about. As I walked, I called Xandy at work to let him know the situation. He promised to be right there. Right there, however, meant 35 minutes. I was on my own.

Sure enough, a piece of red fence panel had fallen over and a steer was on the other side of it munching away. I walked slowly toward the critter and asked him what the hell he was doing on this side of the fence. He looked at me, turned, and proceeded to jump through the barbed wire fence beside the panel and then galloped back towards the rest of the herd.


I called Xandy back, “You don’t have to come home. It was only one. I got him. He jumped through the barbed wire, though.”

“He’s fine.” Of course he is. We chatted about throwing hay to the others while I fixed the fence and ended our conversation.

Fix the fence. That made me laugh. If you know me, you know that I have ABSOLUTELY NO talent when it comes to fixing or building anything. I can’t even hammer a nail in straight. But, I’d rather have crooked nails than forty cows in the street, so I set off to my duty.

My sister-in-law stopped by at that moment, and helped me toss a few bales to the herd. She waved and smiled as I went back to the fence to fix the damage. “You can do it!” She yelled, as I went back towards the fence. I think I can. I think I can.

I wrapped baling twine around the panel, and hammered in a few nails to the barbed wire. Later I learned that staples are used for this job — but hey, the nails work. After I stood to admire my work. The barbed wire remained loose, but would work until later. I knew I could. I knew I could.

About ten minutes after my return to the house, my father-in-law showed up to do some haying. I sent him to fix the embarrassment of a fence.

“You know those movies where the farmer’s wife takes over the farm after the husband dies and she’s all tough and can do it all?” I asked my husband later.


“That will never be me.”

Did I mention I looked like this and that I was fixing the fence right beside our highly traveled road?






Cow Emergency

I felt as though I had just fallen asleep when I awoke to the ringing phone. For those interested, the phone in our bedroom is not a rotary, but it is attached to the wall across the room. The distance seemed like miles as I glanced at the clock. 1:45 AM. This can’t be good. I pulled myself out of bed and picked up the phone.

“You have cows out, I think.” Said the unfamiliar, female voice on the other end.

My mind didn’t quite register what she said. I think that she understood, as she gave me a moment and then went on, “We just drove by your place, and saw the cows up the road. Do you guys pasture up there?”

“Yes, we do. Honey?” I called over to Xandy hoping that he’d awaken. He barely moved.

“I looked for your number on the internet. We live on a farm, too, so I know that you’d probably want to know.”

“Thanks so much.” I hung up and called to my husband again. This time I added, “the cows are out up the road” to the end of my pleading. He jumped out of bed and dressed within moments.

Let me pause here to explain a little of our grazing practices.  Right now we have cows in three different areas. Most are behind our house, some are across the street in our upper pasture, and five are up the road at the neighbors property. It is the latter that caused Friday evening’s troubles.

“Good luck.” I think I said to him as I crawled back in bed. “I’d come, but you know Kitt.” I have never been so thankful to have a toddler.

I awoke four hours later and reached over to find the other side of the bed empty. Worried, I went downstairs half-expecting to see my husband asleep on the couch, but instead found an empty house and dooryard.

He never came home.

I started to worry that maybe those docile critters were more vicious than I had previously thought.

I called him immediately from my cell.

“Where are you?”

“I slept in my truck. There’s no electricity down here.” That is an enormous problem, as the fence on that land is the flimsy single wire electric fence held up by small fiberglass poles. The only thing holding those cows in is electricity.

The house phone rang as I began to answer him.

“Honey, I have to go the phone is ringing.” 6 AM. Also not good. While I have learned that people have no problem dropping in at early hours, 7 AM is usually the earliest.

“Good Morning. You have cows out all over the place here this morning.”

Another female voice, this time that of a neighbor who lets us know when the cows are out up the road.

“I feel so bad for you guys. There’s one on the yellow line right now.” She said as she hung up. I called Xandy and let him know he needed to find them.  I began to feel helpless.

After another hour passed. I called Xandy again, this time to ask him if he needed me to call his father.

“He’s already here. I called him after I got off the phone with you.”

That also can’t be good. My father-in-law lives an hour away.

“Still no electricity?”


I went to the freezer downstairs and took out a pound of bacon. It was going to be a long day.

Over eggs later, as his father went to buy extension cords, I learned of my husband’s plight the night before. It seems as though the electrical ground wire that powers the electric fence no longer works which allowed the cows to knock down the flimsy wires and leave the pasture.

“I didn’t have a flashlight, and I couldn’t get them to follow me. I came back to the barn and got some hay. It worked for a while.” He told himself he had two options: leave the cows and go back to bed or sleep there in his truck in case they got out again. He opted for option two. They later escaped, again, this time across the road to a nearby brook. He knew that he needed help when he saw that, and called in his father for reinforcements.

“I started to wonder if our cattle had become carnivores.” I told him.

His father returned with supplies and told his own past story of escaped critters.

“I had a couple of work horses that got out around 6 AM and the fog was thick,” he told me. “Cows, at least, are afraid of the road. Horses, are not because they are used to being on it. Those horses took off running up the middle of the road. THAT was scary.” The farmer’s example of a fish tale, I supposed.

Xandy came back in from feeding the critters in the barn and headed back out with his father to fix the electricity, which happened finally by 12:30 P.M. Xandy was asleep on the couch by 1:00 P.M. This time, I was able to let him sleep.

Until the next cow emergency, I thought. Which, thankfully, has yet to happen.

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

There’s A What????

You are never really alone when you live on a farm.

Over the last two years that my husband and I have lived on his family’s farm, this point has been reiterated many times. It was reiterated last night when I almost ran head on into a semi parked in our driveway waiting to unload roofing equipment for our barn; it was reiterated last Saturday when a curmudgeonly, old farmer from up the road knocked on our door at 6:45 AM to chat with my husband about farm business; it is reiterated last fall with a visit from a father and son looking for a place to unload a group of dying chicks they had purchased and had no idea how to take care of; it is reiterated almost daily by friendly neighbors, curious out-of-staters, and nosy family members.

It was especially reiterated early last summer when my mother-in-law Connie showed-up unannounced with my 2-year-old nephew in tow to babysit him at the farm for the day. They had decided to come to the farm to watch my father-in-law Mark hay.

“We’re here!” She declared as she shuffled in, filling our kitchen table with food, clothes, and diapers that would be needed for the day.

“Dit? Dit? Dit?” My nephew repeated as he toddled towards me. Dit is his name for my daughter Kitt – my daughter who I had just dropped off for one of her last days of daycare before I was off for the summer from my job as a teacher. It was one of the few days that the daycare was open, but my school was not. My plan was to take advantage of the rare alone time, and to get some work done.

“Kitt’s not here honey,” I leaned down to tell him, and his downtrodden look caused my eyes to well up, but I was resolved to get some work done.

“I was just about to mow the lawn,” I looked up to tell Connie. Unfortunately one of the drawbacks of farm-life is having a husband who has to cut hay for cattle and was often unable to cut grass for aesthetics, and we have a lot of fast-growing grass.

“Well don’t let us stop you; we know our way around,” this I knew to be true as she had lived in the house for forty years. After a visit I often found things rearranged back into the position she had kept them in. I think it is an unconscious habit – at least that is what I hope.

“Mmm, Mmm,” my nephew repeated, which I knew to be his sound for cows.
“We are going outside anyway. Max wants to look at the cows.”

After spending the morning dodging my nephew with the lawnmower, I gave-in and decided to visit for a while. It was Max’s naptime, anyway, so we would have time to relax. Connie and I sat and chatted. We flipped through magazines and Facebook pictures, and gossiped about everyone we knew.

She then got up to do clean the kitchen. This, I have learned, is the most positive aspect of having in-laws that frequently visit – you have a clean kitchen. I always hope someday she’ll get really bored and pick up the vacuum cleaner, but that hasn’t happened yet. I walked over to the sink to help her, when she looked out our back window towards the pool.

“Something’s in the pool!” she said in loud gasp.

Time seemed to stop then – I instantly went through every resident of the house that could be in there – Kitt, no—thankfully, she was still at daycare; Max—no, still in the crib sleeping; Mark – on the tractor; my husband Xandy – at work; my dog – her Norweigian elkhound coat is grey and black, whatever was in the pool was a chocolate color; Molly, my in-laws chocolate lab? Right color – definitely wrong size. This thing was the size of an adult person – but bulky and brown. The only thing left it could be – COW.

I followed Connie quickly out into the backyard, and stood at the pool surveying the situation. In the shallow end of the pool a brown and white spring calf’s head floated on the solar cover. The calf had obviously bent down to drink, fell in, and was saved by the solar cover’s presence. Only a few feet of water were visible, with most of the pool still under cover. The multi-chambered bovine stomach of the calf kept the rest of its body floating. I thought he must be dead.
As my mind wandered to “how sad” – the calf’s eyes found us, and I saw his nose flare.

Connie must have seen it too, because at that instant, my 63-year-old mother-in-law screamed, “Get it out. IT’S GOING TO RUIN THE POOL!”

She then took off her watch and her shoes and jumped in.

Now I came to the realization long ago, that I am NOT the person that you want with you if there is an emergency. In the classroom, I process information at lightening speed and can give an instantaneous answer to anything that happens, but in an emergency I become immobile. I always feel like I am in one of those dreams where you try to run and scream, but your legs won’t work and your voice is silent. That is exactly what happened as I watched Connie wade over to the calf, and hold its head above water.

“Try to grab it’s legs.” She motioned toward me as she floated the calf to the edge. The water on my face from her entry, woke me into action, and I hurried closer to the edge to help her.

Although this poor creature was a “calf” – it was by no means a small baby. At this point, the animal was at least 150 – 200 lbs in weight, and it became apparent quite quickly that we would not be able to get it out of the pool. Our effort was valiant, however. I pulled it’s front legs, and she pushed up from the bottom, but the frightened animal could not get footing and repeatedly fell back in.

“Get Mark, Quick!”

My father-in-law had been on a tractor across the road cutting hay, and had just jumped off the still running machine when I started yelling at him.

“Mark, quick, there’s a cow in the pool!” I yelled as a line of cars passed in front of me.

“A what?” he came to the edge of the road cupping his hand to his ear to try to filter through the sounds.


After a line of expletives, my 68-year-old father-in-law sprinted to the best of his ability towards the backyard.

When we returned to the backyard, the calf and Connie had bonded even more deeply. Connie stood hip-deep in what was becoming mucky water stroking the top of his head and muzzle as she waited. The calf was curiously calm in the situation – something for which we were all thankful.

Not hesitating for a second, Mark jumped into the pool, boots and all and began to push the cow up towards the edge. I again, went over to help, and within moments the beast was free. All I could think was “Now what?” when my dog came running up behind me. She started to bark at the frightened calf, forcing him to run towards the only non-chained link section of fence in the backyard. It became apparent as to how he go into the yard as he ducked and ran directly through the barbed-wire fence and joined the rest of the herd.

Connie and Mark chuckled and shook their heads and recounted the time when a full grown cow had fallen in the pool. That day ended with a dead cow and a new lining. I instantly felt lucky. After determining that our lining was still in tact we went into the house so that I could find them dry clothes.

A few moments later, my husband sauntered through the door, having come home early from work to hay. He didn’t have time to say hello as I launched into my animated story.

“Huh,” was his reaction.

“Huh, that’s all you have to say? HUH?”

“Yeah, well, I’ve been meaning to fix that fence. It’s on my To-Do list – I guess I should move it to the top.”

I looked over at my in-laws who again chuckled and shook their heads at their son’s lack of emotion. I joined in the laughter as my husband went to change into farm clothes. I sat for the rest of the afternoon listening to farm stories — glad that I lived in the kind of place people felt comfortable to visit.

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: