Taking care of chores

April 30, 2010

My friend couldn’t work for two days due to the snowstorm. But I kept busy.

My last lamb was born, making 13 lambs total, and 12 surviving. (One of these days I’ll post about that poor lost lamb, way back in mid-February. His surviving twin is practically as big as a yearling already. Their mother, Azalea, has the most bounteous sheep udder on the place. I often see Mary’s lambs cleverly dropping to their knees behind Azalea to sneak a snack when Azalea is distracted.)

I tagged the last little ewe lamb, the result of Bean’s teenage pregnancy, and banded her tail. The lamb was born knuckling over on one fetlock. This is usually caused by crowding in the uterus, and sure enough, after 24 hours the lamb is standing straight on her feet. Hooray!

I burned the new calf Rocky’s emerging horn buds with caustic paste. It is basically industrial strength wart remover. This makes him very uncomfortable for a couple of hours, and he has to wear a helmet of duct tape to protect himself and his mother, Katika, from any drips or smears.

I hate these unhappy chores. It is against my nature to cause animals any discomfort. However, the discomfort is fleeting and the results are important — no horns to gore me with as a grown bull, no long woolly tail to become sticky with dung and eventually be eaten out by maggots.

Still, I once said to my visiting big brother, trying to pat my steer calf Spanky, who danced away:

“Oh, he’s a little shy.”

And my brother snorted. “A little SHY? So would I be if you cut off my testicles and burned off my horns!”

By the end of the day, however, both Rocky and little lamb #12 were curled up next to their mothers, looking unconcerned.


Walloped by snow

April 28, 2010

Half a dozen times this winter, weather men have forecast blizzards and the big storms have passed us by. So no one was holding his breath over the latest prediction. After all, it’s April 28!

Naturally, this time we got a foot overnight and it’s still snowing.

At least two members of the family are very happy. At 6 AM DH was hauling out his gear for a ski before work. And above is Lucy at 6:45, skiing to barn chores, carrying her school books, with her barn boots tied to her backpack. (At our school all students have barn chores before breakfast and supper, usually in a rotation of two weeks on, four weeks off. Lucy has signed up for barn chores almost every week of the school year.)

Down at the farm, even my bullheaded friend can’t pull stumps that he can’t see, so I will have a quiet day at home.

Speaking of bulls, I banded Rocky, the new bull calf, at morning chores today. Since I am removing his testicles, making him a steer, this is called “steering” a calf. The expression bothered me a lot years ago, as did “beef” as a verb. (“You gonna beef that cow?”) I don’t like referring to any living creature as a product. (Similarly I don’t name pigs Ham, Bacon, or Pork Chop.) However, in this neck of the woods only a persnickety teacher-type would say “castrate.”

Besides, it is my suspicion that most of these euphemisms evolved to spare male embarrassment. In my experience, quite often the same big, burly farmers who swear up and down a mountain will be completely flummoxed by a female using the word “testicle.”

With luck, this afternoon I will have time to post about Katika’s calving. In the meantime there is a wood thrush sitting disconsolately on my back porch out of the snow, no doubt hoping that insects or fruit will magically appear.


April 27, 2010

Eight hours in a spring snowstorm. Words are hardly necessary.

Starting the clean-up

April 27, 2010

My old friend came yesterday to start cleaning up after the logging. It was great to see him and his wide quiet smile, as always.

Some things were unchanged. I said, in reference to one of my ideas, “Well, you know I’m a little crazy,” and he teased automatically, “A little?”

I drove him up the hill to the machine.

I fetched his coffee and his lunch and he said, “Good girl.”

I gave him my arm to steady him walking across the uneven ground.

But I worried. He seemed more tired, more frail, more easily out of breath. When I returned after straining the milk, he told me that he’d had to climb down from the machine — and had stumbled and fallen straight over backwards. Luckily he had just dug up that section of ground to remove the rocks so he had a soft landing.

The stumping work is slow and the area is very large. Several times when I drove out to check on him he told me that he dared not look up while working because he got too discouraged. He was not complaining. He never complains. He was simply stating a fact.

He insists that his health is fine. (Apart from his history of two quadruple-bypass heart operations, stents for cardiovascular disease, glaucoma, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, that is.) However several times yesterday I could feel tears of worry prickling.  The line from Goodbye, Mr. Chips went through my mind: “Nothing really wrong with him — only anno domini, but that’s the most fatal complaint of all, in the end.”

He has become very dear to me over the six years he’s worked clearing the farm. He has always reminded me at times of my father. But now he is starting to remind me of my mother in her last years: her fragility and brave determination despite her tiredness.

Snowflakes are falling this morning and I find myself almost welcoming the storm due today and tomorrow, so he can have some rest.

No time!

April 26, 2010

I’m sorry I haven’t posted about Katika’s scary illness. I will as soon as I can. But the weekend was so pretty that I spent much of it working outside, far from a computer. It was great to have my hands in the dirt again and the sun on my back, and know that deeply satisfying feeling of physical tiredness that comes from grunt labor and not merely from anxiety or lack of sleep.

This morning I am up early to cook dinner and clean the house before the kids wake. My old friend is coming today to help me on the farm for the week. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to have him back again, so this is a very happy thing. There is no one who knows the property better, or has more skill on big machines — or makes more fun of me. We always have a cheerful, laughing time. The plan is that he will stump and clean up the back ten acres after last fall’s logging so that I can get them in grass as soon as possible.

However, naturally, once I set everything up the sunny forecast darkened. Yesterday I had been worried by the new predictions of rain. But this morning I rose to hear the computer chirping. When I clicked on the Weatherbug alert, I found a Winter Storm Advisory — we may get 6-12″ of snow tomorrow. This can’t be happening!

I hope I’m a good enough customer at the rental place that they won’t charge me to have the excavator sit buried in a snowbank. And I pray that anything we get melts quickly and does not make the land too wet to work.

On the good news front, DH arrives home tonight. I will be glad to have him back safe before the storm. Moreover, Katika is better and by tomorrow morning the refrigerator will be stocked with gallons of milk and his favorite heavy cream.

On to cooking spaghetti casserole and crossing off the rest of my list!

They Died With Their Hats On

April 23, 2010

I have been too rushed to post and now I am too tired. I have been up most of the past two nights, checking Katika. She finally calved yesterday morning but then became very ill with a metabolic disorder called milk fever. Left untended, this would have killed her. She also tore open her udder. I wrote all about it for my cow friends, who walked me through treating her, but I’m too sleepy to put it up here now.


His name is Rocky. I’ll write all about him over the weekend. But now I must get some sleep.

I must say, though, that if you have to be up and down all night, pulling your coveralls on over your pajamas, stuffing your long hair under a baseball hat, and driving down to the farm, it is helpful to have to do it when your DH is away. Instead of stumbling around cautiously in the dark, you just snap on the light. And when you return and kick out of your barn clothes, you can slide under the covers and read for a few minutes as the adrenalin fades.

The only problem is that I’ve been so exhausted that I’ve faded even faster than the adrenalin. Twice over the past two days I’ve waked up to find myself with a book on my chest and my baseball hat still on my head.

Lucy gets braces

April 21, 2010

Lu and I spent the day in Vermont yesterday and she was fitted with braces. Braces these days are a very different animal from that which I experienced forty years ago, or even that Jon experienced ten years ago.

Forty years ago the bands went all the way around each tooth. Now, the hardware is glued to the teeth and only one molar in the back of each quadrant gets a band.

Ten years ago, Jon had no choice but traditional silver braces. Now braces and wires come in a kaleidoscope of possibilities, and kids enjoy changing the colors at every appointment. Lucy’s choice was to start with shamrock green and aqua blue, on alternating teeth! “I figure I might as well have a little fun with it.”

As with glasses last year, Lucy had almost been looking forward to braces, but once they were on she changed her mind. However, she tends to be philosophical. She is happy she will have her braces off by the time she starts high school. This inspired a serious discussion of where she wants to go to high school (there are three local options). Lucy is a long-range planner.

She is so grave and responsible and yet lighthearted underneath. It’s definitely a hassle having to drive so far for the orthodontist; it eats up an entire day and we’ll be doing it every six weeks for two years. However I love spending time with my girl.

In the waiting room we watched a toddler in a lilac pencil-striped cotton dress and matching leggings climb on her mother’s lap. I felt a wave of nostalgia. It seems like only yesterday. My baby is growing up.