A teenager … and a wild goose

October 31, 2010

Lucy turned 13 yesterday! My baby is a teenager.

To her great joy, she received some clothes from L.L. Bean. Though she’s been privileged to own only a couple of Bean items in the past, they’ve made a huge impression. Lucy is now a devoted Beaniac. She reads their catalog cover to cover, evaluates their advertising slogans, scrutinizes their website, and reads reviews of all their new offerings. I think she could tell you the thread count in their sheets. At thirteen Lucy thinks she would like to be a product tester for L.L. Bean someday. Hiking, cross-country skiing, kayaking: what a great job that would be! Moreover, it would take her to Maine, which from their catalog appears to her to be the ideal place to live.

Here’s my girl in her new L.L. Bean fleece-lined overshirt and flannel-lined jeans (and peace symbol earrings from Jon). She has declared the shirt the most comfortable piece of clothing she’s ever owned. She intends to have one for the rest of her life.

It snowed all day. DH had bought her two horse paperbacks so Lucy put on Christmas carols (“It’s my birthday!”) and spent the dark afternoon snuggled up in her new cozy shirt, reading happily.

*   *   *

I was feeling a bit nostalgic and sad when I went down to the farm for evening chores. To my surprise I had a visitor. A miniature wild goose was walking nervously around my barn. I’d never seen this kind of goose before. (The photo at left is not my goose but looks just like it, if you picture snow on the ground.)

At first glance it appeared to be a Canada goose that had been shrunk in the dryer and lost its white throat cravat.

I love sighting “new” birds. I know this sounds bizarre but to me they are always gifts to me from a benevolent God with the help of my late mother, who loved birds and taught me to love them too. So my reaction is always to beam.

When I got out of the truck, the bird spooked and sprang into the air, but circled high overhead and came right back.

He dabbled in the snowy mud around the barn anxiously, very small and very alone. A lone goose seems as naked and pathetic as a lone sheep. I guessed he was a juvenile who had somehow been separated from his flock. I stood there in the snowy slush, smiling foolishly and doing my best to memorize his markings until I could get home to my Sibley’s.

After chores I looked him up. He was a Brant, and his lack of neck ring indicated he was indeed a juvenile. Brants are saltwater birds. They breed in the Arctic tundra and winter in estuaries along the eastern seaboard. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Brants merely fly over the Adirondacks in their fall migration. However, hunting season for Brants started here October 2.

Poor little guy. He’d never even been to the coast and already he was lost, probably shot at. (I know plenty of hunters and they’re fine people, but my heart was prejudiced at a very early age by Thornton Burgess and The Adventures of Poor Mrs. Quack.)

The Brant was gone this morning. I hoped he was on his way to the Connecticut shore, slipping safely between shots from the Terrible Guns.

Kitchen going in!

October 30, 2010

O.B. has started hanging the kitchen cabinets. Suddenly I believe I really will live to see the completion of this project.

You will notice that the sheetrock is finished. I haven’t mentioned its progress because paying too much attention to the sheetrocking progress (or lack of it) only led to frustration. Back in early September I was told the crew would come in for a blitz and hang it, tape it, and prime it, all in four days. In the end it probably was four days but nobody mentioned it would be four days over five weeks. As virtually nothing else could be done until they were finished, the work site was deserted day after day. I just bit my lip and tried not to obsess about winter moving in and the lost opportunities. I heard later that the crew got an unexpected big job from a wealthy owner that bumped me off the priority list.

But now it is done and the cabinets are going in. The cabinets, too, have been a journey. I chose and signed for them in August, providing my credit card, and was told the order would be placed on September 9, when a sale started.  I arranged my finances accordingly. On September 20 I had a call from the salesman. I thought perhaps the cabinets had arrived. Actually, no, he’d forgotten to order them, and needed my credit card information again. I was exasperated but given the long delay in the sheetrocking, I thought it might work out in the end.

However, I’ve been juggling crazily to finance this project. I informed the salesman that at this point I would need a couple of days to move things around again so I could put the hefty cabinet sum on my credit card, and that I’d call him. Two days later, I telephoned and said, “OK, now you can put the order through. Here’s my card number.”

On the morning of October 4 I was in a hotel bedroom in New Hampshire, stepping into my dress for the funeral of my father-in-law. It was a fraught and emotionally exhausting time. My cell phone rang.

“Hi there! Your cabinets are on the truck and we can deliver them tomorrow. I just need your credit card information to pay for them.”


“Oh, I never put the charge through.” A chuckle. “Did you a little favor there.”

A blinding rage swept over me. I had told this salesman that I was watching every penny, plotting the timing of every expense against income like a military campaign, and could cope with no surprises. Surprise!

I rarely lose my temper, but when I do my verbal ability turns into a surgical blade. I knew I was about to de-bone this man at the top of my lungs. I managed to say in a tight voice that I would call him back.

When I was calmer I called back to tell him that with the death of my father-in-law I now had sudden new financial responsibilities and I could not pay for the cabinets that day and probably not for weeks.

He protested. The cabinets were on the truck!

I bit back my adolescent rejoinder:  Tough! You snooze, you lose! and said merely, “I’m sorry. If you’d put the charge through either of the last two times I gave you my credit card information, this would not be an issue.”

He subsided. When we got home to New York after the funeral I called the lumber yard manager and explained there would be a delay. And life went on. Weeks passed, with fleeting, rare sightings of the sheetrocking crew.

This Monday I called the salesman and gave him my credit card information for a third time. “Charge it through this morning.”

“Oh, I definitely will.” He sounded chastened. “Sorry for the mix-up before.”

I told O.B. that the cabinets had been paid for and should soon be on their way. O.B. has less faith in mankind. That afternoon he called the salesman.

“Put that charge through yet?”

“What? Oh, no, not yet.”

O.B. is always pleasant but his voice was steely. “Do it now and call me back when it’s done. It should take five minutes. If I don’t hear from you in under an hour, I’m going to… be … very … upset.”

The charge went through five minutes later. On Wednesday the cabinets were delivered. Now they are going up.

It’s starting to look like a real apartment!


October 29, 2010

The school is its own fiefdom. Instead of the government decreeing that holidays fall on a Monday for a three-day weekend, here we make them fall on Wednesdays so all staff are on duty. Thus Wednesday was Halloween.

This is a big, old-fashioned, child-friendly event. The dining room’s windows are covered and it is decorated with giant artworks made “in secret” by the faculty, working at night. The menu is appropriately ghoulish (often green spaghetti).

Since I’m no longer working for the school, I wasn’t going to the event but of course both Lucy and DH were. Everyone must come in costume and all have to be homemade. Lucy had been working on her costume with her friend Anabell for two weeks, sewing, painting, and contriving. They went as Raggedy Anne and Raggedy Andy. Here they are at the after-supper carnival run by the 8th graders, trying to eat donuts off fishing lines.

And here they are before the action began (click to enlarge):

We are so blessed to be part of a community in which children are allowed, even expected, to stay children. Where else would a group of fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds come to a party dressed as M & M’s? And play games with candy corn prizes?

I have made DH’s and my costumes for almost thirty years but somehow I was so busy this year that it got by me.

“I guess I’ll be the color red,” DH said idly on Halloween morning. “I’ll wear everything red.”

“The color red?” I asked.

Lucy’s eyes silently begged me to intervene.

DH’s second thought was that he could be an iPad (he’s a technology geek). I said I would work on it between chores at the farm.

This was due to be a big day for the garage project. After months of delay, O.B. had promised that this would be the day when Dean’s mis-laid roof ridge cap was finally fixed to eliminate leaks. I’d been beside myself with worry because with the wiring, insulation, and sheetrock now installed, any further leak would do serious and expensive damage.

It took me a long time to realize that O.B. kept putting this chore off because he is almost as afraid of heights as I am. Last week he climbed up on the roof, sat on the peak, and then called down to me in a thin voice, asking if I could toss him a rope to get down. Because I am not a climber and don’t know how to belay without DH to set me up, I’d had to tie the end of the rope to a board and nail the board braced across the inside of a window frame for his protection.

Now there was a plan to get a man-lift.

All day long I rushed back and forth to the farm, mucking the barn, burning horns, cutting brush, and stopping in at home to put in a few licks on DH’s costume. DH emailed me photos and design ideas.

But where was O.B.?  It was 2 PM. The work site was deserted. The wind was picking up. Days of rain and snow were in the forecast. I controlled my impulse to scream. I raced home to keep working on putting together something that looked like a big iPad for DH.

The next time I went down, O.B. was back, this time with his brother Randy and another rope. The man-lift idea had fizzled. They were going to climb the roof after all.

I watched for a few minutes, chewing my knuckles, as they set up. Climbing is like excavator work to me. I can’t begin to do either myself, but I’ve watched it so often I know what the moves are supposed to look like. And I wasn’t seeing those moves. I’d lent O.B. DH’s climbing harness but apparently it didn’t fit. O.B. had decided to just go with his tool belt. Augh!

I tried to argue with him.

“It’ll be fine, dear.”

I have listened to climbing death stories all my adult life. I couldn’t watch. I went home to finish DH’s iPad.

However, as often happens when I’m beside myself, everything did turn out fine. By the time I returned for evening chores, the roof was neatly fixed and the boys were gone. And DH was off to Halloween supper as an iPad geek. His “screensaver” is a panorama of the school from the pond.

I realized after I cut and glued all the pieces of the photo down to enlarge it that it was a bit off, but no worries. The school children were much more interested in “pushing his buttons.”

Farmer Brown’s Boy

October 28, 2010

Yesterday morning there were a dozen Canada geese in the back field. In recent weeks I’ve often glimpsed wild turkeys back there, pecking for the winter rye seed that didn’t germinate. But I’d never seen geese on the field. I have grass on my back acres! Geese are grazing! I was thrilled.

I couldn’t get close. Here in the mountains Canada geese are extremely wild and nervous.

I walked as near as I dared (which wasn’t very near) and then used my zoom. The geese shifted anxiously. I was immediately still. Hush, hush. You’re safe. Don’t you know I’m Farmer Brown’s boy?

In the animal tales of Thornton W. Burgess, at least 50 of which I read compulsively as a child, the only human character is Farmer Brown’s boy.

In a couple of the early stories, Farmer Brown’s boy is naughty and makes trouble for the animals, but even as a second-grader I understood that Burgess had to discard this device quickly. In all the rest of the books, Farmer Brown’s boy is a quiet, helpful observer, a budding naturalist who sits and watches the stories unfold at the Green Meadow and the Smiling Pool and sometimes kindly scatters corn or hay for the animals. He rarely speaks and is never shown in the illustrations. We don’t even learn his name.

E.B. White had a similar wildlife-loving character, Sam Beaver, in The Trumpet of the Swan. However I was older (11) and less impressionable when he appeared. Farmer Brown’s boy had entered my life as soon as I learned to read.

E. B. White’s Fern, in Charlotte’s Web, is another of these patient animal observers and came into my orbit when I was even younger. However Fern soon inexplicably (to me) became more interested in Henry Fussy and ferris wheels, so she never had my complete trust or allegiance.

No matter how old I may become, as long as I am able to sit quietly and watch the natural world, in my heart I’ll always be Farmer Brown’s boy.

Nose bling and horn burning

October 27, 2010

Yesterday I caught up on calf care. I have two calves at the moment: Katika’s steer Rocky, six months old, and her foster calf, next summer’s bull, John Wayne, a.k.a. Duke, two weeks old.

Rocky had to be weaned (he was leaving almost no milk for poor Duke) and Duke needed to have his horn buds removed. These tasks were way overdue. Not only had I been crazy busy but in the midst of all the pressure they’d both fallen ill with savage diarrhea.

Foul-smelling, grey-green, frothy, thin liquid.

I was horrified. I’d never seen such terrible runs and it had come on so swiftly. Diarrhea can kill a calf in a twinkling from dehydration. Suddenly both calves looked dull-eyed, weak, and were barely interested in eating.

Since the calves had had no contact it seemed obvious that whatever problem they shared had been passed from one to the other on Katika’s teats.

As I rushed hither and yon with pigs and sheep, I struggled to keep the calves clean and dry and begged for help on my internet cow board. Once again those far-flung friends came through. Mike in California suggested coccidiosis, an intestinal parasite. I had no time — or brakes — to drive the 45 minutes to my vet with a stool sample (a froth sample?) to confirm this diagnosis but after reading descriptions I decided I would just treat for it anyway. Luckily I had Corid, the necessary meds, on hand. Corid is mixed up in a drench and administered orally for five days.

In between other jobs I would catch the calves, tie their heads, and force a drench gun to the back of their throats. At first they were so weak and sick they barely struggled. But as they felt better, especially Rocky at 300+ pounds, it became more of a rodeo.

Still, the good news was, they did feel better. After two days Rocky’s diarrhea disappeared. Duke’s bowels remained loose but I thawed a gallon of colostrum I’d put in the freezer when Katika last calved and fed it to him in a calf bottle. Colostrum has extra fat and, more importantly, antibodies. Soon Duke’s eyes were bright again and when I mucked stalls in the morning, after turning everyone else out, he would buck and kick and crow-hop happily down the aisle.

Obviously it was time to de-horn and wean.

There are a lot of ways to remove horns — burning with a hot iron, surgically scooping, and more — and after trying most of them, I’ve found the simplest, cheapest, and least troublesome is to use Dr. Naylor’s Dehorning Paste at a few days old. A flick of a shaver to remove the hair, a thin layer of paste, a head-wrap of duct tape, removal six hours later, and the horn buds are killed. The hair grows back in a month and you’d never know horns were a factor.

The paste is an alkaline base like Drano and is definitely uncomfortable. However all the methods are no fun and this seems the least disruptive to the calf. It is also something I can do myself, and a $5 bottle has lasted me five years and as many calves, and is still 3/4 full.

I have never de-horned with the paste as late as two weeks old but I decided to go for it and hope for the best. Here is Duke in his head-wrap.

At evening chores I removed the tape, wiped his head clean, and put a new piece of duct tape on just to keep any missed paste from straying. Duke nursed on Katika vigorously, lashing his tail in contentment, seeming none the worse for wear. Today I removed the tape altogether and his horn buds are just two burned dark spots the size of quarters.

Meanwhile, there was Rocky to wean. I really didn’t look forward to this.

My cow Katika is perhaps a typical mother. She is very good at establishing boundaries — a swift kick to the head — with anyone else‘s calf. With her own babies she is butter. Her second calf, Hopie, was so large and greedy at nine months that she would lacerate Katika’s teats with her teeth and practically knock her sideways punching her bag for more milk. Through it all Katika just stood there patiently.

“Do not let her do this!” I would implore Katika as I smeared cream on her bloody teats. I was so concerned that I stopped milking, praying Hopie’s aggression would ease up with a greater supply. Nope. I bought a weaning ring, covered with sharp plastic spikes, but it looked so ferocious I hesitated to allow it anywhere near Katika. I finally solved the problem by selling Hopie off the farm.

But Rocky is due to be steaks at the end of next summer. Beef is the very easiest product for me to market. I could sell much more than I have. So I had to face this issue and deal with it. Rocky had to be weaned. Onward!

A calf weaner tightens on the cartilage between the nostrils exactly like a screw-on earring. Though it looks awful, it does not hurt the calf. By now Rocky was so accustomed to me forcing meds down his throat that he hardly objected when I tied him and began fiddling with his nose.

Here he is wearing his weaning ring.

When I let Rocky out yesterday he galloped down the barn aisle to his mother and followed her out to the pasture as usual. He thrust his nose under her to find her bag. I winced as I watched those spikes jabbing Katika’s udder. Sure enough, Katika just shifted slightly and took it. This will never work. Katika is a martyr mother.

What I hadn’t realized is that the weaner flips down to cover the top lip so the calf cannot physically get the teat in his mouth. He remains with his mother; he can still graze, he can still clean up his grain, but he cannot nurse. Rocky spent ten minutes moving from one side of Katika to the other, bashing her udder with spikes while she stood patiently, before he finally gave up, baffled. I foresee this scenario lasting a few days before he truly accepts that he is cut off from the milk bar.

Later in the day I watched Katika licking her boy tenderly. Growing up is hard.

Bringing Home the Sheep

October 26, 2010

A week ago I got the sheep home. After morning chores I spent two hours mucking their stall, which the pigs had excavated into a giant crater, then spent five hours in the brake shop a half hour away getting my truck repaired. (“Your pad on the left rear was the thickness of a Kleenex, and the rest were gone!” exclaimed the technician.) $800 later I was back on the road, hurrying to collect gates and fence posts to set up the sheep trap.

A few days earlier I had run into an acquaintance who’d said, “How’s life?” and at a low moment I’d confided my worry about moving the sheep without help. “Oh, I’ll have some kids with me Tuesday, we’ll all come give you a hand,” she said easily. I was astonished. I’ve known this person from a distance for twenty-five years but not everyone is game for livestock handling. I barely restrained myself from falling on her neck with tears of gratitude.

In fact over the past few days I’d several times found myself whimpering in my throat. Hurry, hurry, hurry, constantly checking my watch — trying to coordinate all the balls I had in the air. Get the pigs loaded. Get to the slaughterhouse without careening off the road sans brakes. Pick up my 300 lbs of beef and deliver it to freezers. Get to the brake shop. Now I was racing to pick up the borrowed trailer to have everything set up before Noni and the children arrived.

I was pounding the last fence post when her car pulled up, the doors popped open, and the children spilled out. They were tiny. Fourth graders, and very small. My heart sank. Would they even be able to lift the gate to close it? Still, Luke and I had done this job with just two people. I would have to count on Noni.

I put on a cheery voice. “Are you all ready to be shepherds?”

“Yes!” the children screamed. One little girl in day-glo pink was jumping up and down.

I showed them where to stand and went up the hill to let the sheep out. Thirty seconds later I was running back down the pasture, in front of the flock, shaking a grain can. The sheep paused momentarily at the sight of the children (predators?), but I shouted, “Sheep! sheep!” and rattled the grain and they swept after me in a woolly mob, intent on the sweet treat. They galloped across the road, bounced into the trailer, and Noni slammed the door.

We’d done it. After so much tension and anxiety for days it had been easy. The sheep were safe.

I almost wanted to cry. The relief was so sudden and so complete I felt boneless, like a marionette whose strings have been cut.

The children wanted to see my farm so the group followed me down the highway in their car. I remained in something of a daze as I unloaded the sheep, brought in all the animals, and fed everyone. The kids climbed up in the hayloft, laughing and calling. They checked the nest boxes for eggs. A little boy washed out the borrowed trailer with the sprayer on the hose. I was still repeating to myself, “It’s done, it’s done.”

An hour later I was backing the trailer into its slot before going home to cook dinner. Though there was still plenty of work to do before winter, the worst was behind me.

Sometimes a little help makes all the difference.

This Little Piggy

October 25, 2010

…went to market. Yes, I got the pigs loaded last Sunday night and got them to the butcher on Monday. I had no problems — if you don’t count the fact that my truck brakes began to fail during the snowstorm Friday evening and I was not able to get a repair appointment over the weekend, so I drove the four hours round-trip to the slaughterhouse plotting exactly how and when I could touch the brake pedal. Just an added fillip of excitement to keep me awake.

Loading the pigs by myself was the big hurdle. I have loaded pigs many times. In general, with all animals, but especially with pigs, who are 200+ pounds of pure muscle and smooth like torpedoes — nothing to grab — you want to create a situation in which they load themselves.

I’ve loaded pigs by force and it is neither easy nor fun. It’s impossible to keep your feet if even a small boar is determined to push past you and takes the route between your legs. Those powerful heads and necks won’t be turned aside — you will be riding a pig backwards momentarily.

Quite often I’ve put a five-gallon pail over a pig’s head and while it’s confused, backed it onto a trailer. But that job’s no sinecure either, and while you are pushing step by step you must have a second person to slam the door shut.

In the photo (right), I’d just finished moving the piglets this summer, catching them one by one and loading them into a small homemade trailer to take them to the back acres, and in the melee had become smeared with manure from head to toe. (Even Lucy, who is always polite, wrinkled her nose and said frankly, “Mom, you smell kind of … terrible.”) Ever after, I led the pigs wherever I needed them to go with a bucket of warm milk and they trotted after me like dogs.

This is much the best way to move animals. All carrot, no stick — and consequently no stress. But how to create that happy situation while getting big hogs up into the back of my pickup truck?

I thought about trying to lead the pigs up onto Allen’s rock peninsula, from whence they could step into the truck, but that would require building a temporary holding pen on top of the rocks with pallets and t-posts, and given everything else going on, I had neither the time nor the energy for a multi-step solution.

Instead I decided to bring the pigs into the barn and use my narrow barn aisle as a chute. In this scenario I only had to build an enclosed ramp up to the truckbed.

The snowstorm brought the pigs into the barn a day early, which was not a problem except that they immediately burrowed under the hay bedding and began excavating the gravel floor, looking for China. By the time they left, they’d created a 10′ wide by 3′ deep wallow. That would take sweat to fix, but for the moment I couldn’t worry about it.

I had decided to use my lamb creep panel as the base of the truck ramp. A “creep” is a protected area where young animals can squeeze in but adults cannot. I had knocked my panel together out of sauna scraps one dark evening in February in the snow of the driveway. The result was inelegant but perfectly functional. Now I would build on it to load the pigs.

Long ago my friend Tommy said to me sternly, “Are you going to be a carpenter or are you going to be a farmer?” I found this very endearing. Actually, I’m going to be a proofreader was obviously not the correct response. He explained that a carpenter was careful and precise, building for the ages, and that a farmer just banged nails anywhere to solve immediate problems. By this definition (if no other) I am definitely a farmer. I always think of Tommy when I’m tying boards together with baling twine or devising some makeshift remedy out of odds and ends.

After siding the garage in ’09 I’d stored a lot of scraps of OSB. I loathe OSB but now it would come in handy to line the inside of my stake rack. It was 33° and I knew from experience that a draft at that temperature would make any creature miserable.

At this point I was so intent on the job that I forgot to take pictures.

I screwed more scraps of OSB to the creep panel to serve as the floor of ramp. I dragged pallets over to be the ramp side-walls, standing them on edge and pounding t-posts through the hollow centers to hold them upright. The upper row I secured with baling twine. Gradually something Rube Goldberg-ish took shape. None of it was terribly sturdy but my goal was to create a simple passage up to the truck floor, rather than a real containment system.

I spread a bale of hay in the floor of the truck, loaded a feed bucket with pellets and slightly squashy apples (for the enticing smell) and went to let 600+ pounds of pig loose in the barn aisle.

I slid the latch and took a deep breath. Here we go.

The pigs were perfectly happy grunting and exploring the barn and showed no interest in my bucket of feed. I walked up the ramp myself and set the feed in the truck bed. Then, in the interests of a low-key loading, I returned to the barn and forced myself to sit down calmly on an overturned bucket and pick up a book. Yes, I was reading the current novel for book group, Little Bee, with big hairy hogs chewing on my pants’ legs. A surreal moment.

Gradually the pig that Lucy had named Amelia, for Earhart, lived up to her intrepid reputation and ventured up the ramp. She stood in the truck munching apples contentedly. The other two pigs showed no interest in joining her. Suddenly I began to worry that my only self-loading pig would eat her fill, leave the truck, and I’d never load anyone. I put my book down.

Using a spare gate and my weight I crowded the remaining pigs to the front of the aisle. This took longer than you’d think because each of the pigs was both bigger and stronger than I. In fact I began to wonder dismally if they were smarter as well. Just when I’d be about to trap them close to the ramp they’d turn on their haunches and barrel past me, flipping the gate and knocking me sideways, grunting and kicking up their heels, headed straight for the back of the barn. The first pig galloped down to join them.

That’s when I realized I’d misjudged the proper bait. The pigs’ real interest was not food but … cow manure. Yes! A filled muck bucket, ready to be dumped, had all their attention. I clambered over the excited hogs and, using a pitchfork, dropped sloppy cow pies all the way up the ramp into the truck.

Well, this was more like it!

The pigs were drawn as if to a magnet. I stood behind them, holding the pitchfork ready, but there was no need to prod.  The pigs rooted through the cow pies like truffle connoisseurs picking for the choicest delicacy and then strolled up into the truck looking for dessert. I slammed the tailgate shut and swung closed the back gate rack.

Hooray! The pigs were loaded. I’d worried about this day for weeks, but I’d done it.

It was starting to sleet. I covered the truck with a tarp (tied down with baling twine) and left truck and cargo at the farm overnight. The pigs were quiet and calm — fed and watered, warm and dry. I felt almost giddy with relief.

The next morning was blessedly anticlimactic. After milking and turning the rest of the animals out, I peeked in at the pigs and they looked up at me, snouts snuffling and questing. I passed in some more apples and got on the road.

As I drove through a light blowing sleet I was very aware I had almost zero brakes at my disposal. I turned on the radio to distract myself … and happened to hit a country music station.  Who knew there were songs like She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy ?!  The silliness kept me smiling.

Four and a half hours later the job was done. The pigs unloaded with no stress. What a relief to have that big, sad chore crossed off.

Up in the Morning Early

October 23, 2010

DH and I got up at 2 AM today, and he went out the door carrying his bag and a cup of tea just before 3 AM, headed for the airport and New Mexico. While he was shaving and showering, I’d scraped the car windshield. Yes, we had flurries of snow yesterday and last night.

This morning it is cloudy but beautiful. Our fall leaves are gone but the tamaracks blaze like golden torches among the spruce and balsam.

It appears that today may be our only “precipitation-free” day of the coming week. I should really try to get a lot done on my list of chores. Unfortunately I’m fuzzy-headed from lack of sleep. Thus I’m concentrating on the things that don’t require brain cells.

One is a haircut. After milking I showered and asked Lucy and her friend Naomi to trim my hair. I sat on a stool as they worked.

I love the idea of kitchen haircuts. Once last year when I was dropping off milk at my old friend’s house, I walked in to find him perched on a kitchen stool and his wife snipping his hair. He looked about seven years old. I was instantly transported back to my childhood, when my mother tied a plastic apron around our necks and wielded scissors (for the girls) or electric clippers (for the boys).

Even better, when my little sister Jane and I were pre-adolescents, Mom would wash our long hair first in the kitchen sink, while we lay on the long counter with towels rolled under our necks, and then rinse it with the spray nozzle. To this day, the best part of a salon haircut is having my hair washed, because it takes me back to those cozy kitchen times.

A haircut from Lucy and Naomi wouldn’t be quite the same, but in the same spirit. I suggested that they take off a half inch to an inch. I saw later from the sweepings that they took off 3.5 inches.  Oops. Ah well, it’s only hair.

I also suggested that to keep their line straight, they try the old “scotch tape on wet hair” trick that I always used to cut my babies’ bangs. It worked fine.

“You know I don’t know what I’m doing, right?” Lucy asked nervously.

“It will be fine.”

And it is. I’ve had haircuts that cost $25 that weren’t any better.

So now haircut is haircut and I’m on to the next item.

Catching up

October 22, 2010

For the past week life has been so hectic that I’ve had little time at the computer. I kept telling myself, “If I just make it to Wednesday, I’ll have survived the worst.” This turned out to be true. I did survive, the most worrisome chores are behind me, but I’ve still been pushing, pushing, pushing to get the farm ready for winter as cold weather has closed in.

Yesterday we had grey, slanting rain, mixed with snow. It looks as if we’re due for more of the same for the next few days. The temperatures are hovering right at freezing. The wind is gusty and bitter. I’m so grateful Allen and I got the run-in shed up a year ago. The animals are muddy and wet but at least they’re safely out of the wind.

Today I will alternate chores outside in the rain and wind with work indoors — thawing, and getting DH ready to leave at 3 AM tomorrow for Santa Fe. My hope is that by the end of the weekend I will have most of the farm’s winter prep under control. I’m highly aware that at any moment the temperature could drop two degrees and all this freezing rain will be snow.

In the interstices I will also try to post about trucking the pigs and sheep.

Meet the Duke

October 17, 2010

I’ve been waiting and waiting for a calf to raise as next year’s breeding bull. Naturally in the midst of everything else going on, the dairy wife, Melissa, called to say a bull calf had finally arrived. The next morning I drove the hour to pick him up. Given the dearth of bull calves this year, I had to outbid another interested party — so he cost me $20 rather than the usual $10. Still a bargain that’s hard to beat.

He’s a cutie. Meet little John Wayne.

I call him Duke. (I mentioned “Dukie” once and Lucy made a face — “What a terrible name!” I was puzzled until she explained to me that “dukie” was slang for excrement.  DH confirmed this. My goodness. I must be very sheltered if my twelve-year-old has to lay out the facts for me. However, it’s true that I did believe “dumb-ass” was an expression unique to my friend Allen, as I’d never heard it before.) In any event, I’ll endeavor to avoid the diminutive.

Lucy thinks Duke is the cutest calf we’ve ever had, given his big splashes of white. He is striking. Melissa assured me that he is 100% Jersey, but I have my doubts. Duke’s eyes have the white around the iris that suggests Holstein somewhere in his background. Here he is, looking up fearfully at Birch in the next stall.

Lucy’s horse Birch hates calves. Though he doesn’t hurt them, they irritate him just by existing. He laces back his ears and bares his teeth. He is the grouchy Mr. Wilson to their Dennis the Menace. Duke looks properly alarmed.

Katika is not much friendlier but Duke hasn’t realized this yet. I put him on her to nurse while she’s in her stanchion eating her grain. Years ago even grain couldn’t distract Katika from kicking foster calves off her bag, but she’s mellowed with age. She snorts and rolls her eyes to look at him, shifts distractedly, and then sighs and returns to eating. I know she’s finished breakfast when she winds up that hind leg to clock him in the head. That’s my signal to pull him away.

I’m going to have to wean Rocky, Katika’s own calf, but there’s so much going on right now I may wait a few days. Rocky is almost six months old and could easily be weaned (dairies often wean at four to six weeks).

I was amused to watch Rocky when I turned him and Katika out the first morning after the new calf’s arrival. Rocky immediately shoved his big head under his mother to nurse and then recoiled. He sniffed at her bag suspiciously. One could almost see the thought bubble: “Somebody’s been nursing on my teat!” He backed away and ran around to the other side. He sniffed. The same! Outrage and confusion were written across his face. It was five minutes before he finally took a teat in his mouth and settled down to eat.

Duke is my eighth calf but I never tire of their wide-eyed, unsteady tottering on long legs, the questing mouths searching for milk in all the wrong places, the funny little skips and hops to express their happiness when their bellies are full.