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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cats, Cows & Comfort Zones

We were just heading out the door one morning when I caught sight of a long white tail in my peripheral vision. It was heading down the basement stairs. Oh no. We had an intruder. And it was not housetrained.
The Farmer has a “thing” about cats in the house. He was raised to believe that cats belong outdoors. As our cats are all half-wild barn cats, they wouldn’t know what to do with a litter box if they came across one. My house plants, on the other hand…
I didn’t have time to chase the cat, so I simply closed the basement door and hoped the Farmer wouldn’t notice her.
When I returned that afternoon, the basement door was still closed. I opened it and tiptoed down the stairs, mewing for the cat in what I hoped was a non-confrontational manner. The feline appeared from under a chair and jumped up onto the table where the girls’ old dollhouse stood. The cat stood and looked at me for a moment, letting out a long “meeeewww”, before disappearing into the dollhouse. Moments later, her face appeared in the window. She looked just like King Julian from Madagascar with her wild eyes. And her mewing was so soft, I couldn’t hear her. Her mouth was moving but no sound was coming out. I was laughing and trying to coerce her out of the structure when I heard my husband’s footfall on the stairs.
The Farmer didn’t share my sense of humour about the situation. He wanted the cat out of the dollhouse that he had made for his children with his own hands, out of the basement and out of the house. NOW.
I don’t remember whose idea it was, but I’ll take the credit. I went outside and got Cody, our goofy black setter. He followed me down the stairs, and immediately sniffed out the cat. Cat Julian turned into a prickly puffball with claws, scooted through the dog’s legs and pretty much flew up the basement stairs. I had left the back door open a crack, and I was absolutely positive I saw her tail disappearing under the porch as I reached the door to close it.
“She’s gone now. And I don’t think she made a mess,” I told the Farmer. He looked around the basement, doubtful.
Later that evening, just around midnight, I was returning from a girls’ night out with my sister. “Oh-oh,” Cathy said, as she opened the door. “Cat in the house. I just saw it going down the basement stairs.”
When I reached the bottom of the stairs, the cat was sitting on a nearby chair. She let out a plaintive wail. She was probably just as frustrated as I was, and missing her kittens too. I tried to cross the space between us quickly, but tripped on a metal cage that we use for catching skunks. I wondered how long the Farmer had been trying unsuccessfully to catch the feral beast. Fun way to spend an evening.
My stumble startled the cat, and she disappeared into her dollhouse. I decided to close the basement door and keep her downstairs for the night. I hoped her wailing wouldn’t keep us up.
Before the sun was up Saturday morning, the Farmer was out the door for goose hunting on the St. Lawrence. I was in charge of watering the cows. It sounded simple enough, so I decided to sleep in.
Betty’s bawling woke me up at 8 am. I got dressed quickly and opened the patio door. Three cats ran in. I put their feed outside, opened the basement door for Cat Julian, and took off for the barn.
The cows have to remain separated from the sheep until snow covers the ground, which will discourage them from escaping through the forest. The water in the sheep trough is heated, but I couldn’t let the cows into the open area to drink. Personally, I think it would be far simpler to buy another heater for the cow’s water trough, but at the moment we just have the one. And the cows’ water hose was frozen.
I had no choice but to haul water by hand. I filled two buckets from the water trough, and carried them about fifty feet through the half-door to the rear barnyard. This task was difficult enough, but Betty decided to up the ante by bowling me over for my bucket the minute I crawled through the door. I struggled to get the water into their trough before the big bovine could spill all of it. I repeated this process about ten times until the trough was full. My arms shook from the effort, I was teeth-to-toenails mud and I hoped the neighbours weren’t watching from their window.
The cows jostled for position around the trough and sluuuuuurped greedily. Finally, after a few minutes, they were sated.
I dropped my buckets and limped back to the house. Just then, Cat Julian appeared in the doorway. She gingerly put her foot outside and touched the icy wood with one padded toe. I froze on the steps and held my breath. One false move and she would be back in her dollhouse in the basement.
It was cold outside, but hunger finally won out. Cat Julian strutted past me and met up with her two calico kittens on the woodpile.
I must admit, I felt a very gratifying sense of accomplishment. But I felt as though I had been run over by a truck.
The Accidental Farmwife would like to thank everyone who dropped in to say Merry Christmas and to share a hot chocolate during the parade last week. Diana.fisher@metroland.com.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Buddy. The greediest little lamb of them all.

Taking Stock of the Flock and Battening Down the Hatches

The chill before the snow, with the North-west wind whipping up the pasture, is quite a nasty thing to bear. Our cows are in their own section of the barnyard at the moment, because they were constantly breaking out of the fencing all summer. Their area is surrounded by an electric fence now, and there they will stay until snow covers the ground, discouraging them from venturing away from the barn. A few weeks ago, they broke into the hay storage and made a messy nest for themselves in there. They are obviously starting to look for winter cover.
Tyson and Mocha, the calves, have discovered that the chicken coop is not very comfortable with its concrete floor. One calf tiptoed up the steps into the coop last week, only to be trapped inside. He consequently broke out through the lower window.
Our cows Ginger and Betty did some further investigating, and discovered a way into the old log barn. We will clean it up for them and allow them to stay. It even has a manger. I half expect Joseph and Mary to show up soon, on Donkey’s back. All the barn needs is a star above it.
Some of our sheep – Rambo’s various dance partners from August – are heavy with lambs now. If our estimation is correct, we should have babies arriving between Christmas and New Year’s. Good timing. I will have to stock up on milk replacer powder so that I can bottle-feed. I guess I know how I will be spending my holidays…
We will be sending many of our male lambs to Leo’s sale barn in Greely later this month, and keeping the females to regenerate the herd. It will be difficult to say goodbye to some of them. Unfortunately, despite my inability to remember my own phone number at times, the identification of each lamb that I fed is clearly engraved in my mind.
We brought lamb 921 back to life with tube feeding after he gorged himself on grain, paralyzing his legs. He later succumbed to a virus and passed. The quadruplets, numbered 905 to 908, were some of the neediest lambs at birth. They are running around the pasture now, plump and fluffy. They still remember me, and come to bump noses with me when I nicker at them. The Farmer delivered Buddy, another one of our greedy little pigs who always cried for the bottle when he saw me coming. And then there was Lily. I will never forget that little lamb. She is the one I am feeding in my Farmwife photo.
Lily was born to an irresponsible teenaged mother who possessed not an ounce of maternal instinct. Basically this one-year-old ewe gave birth and then totally abandoned her young. If Lily tried to nurse, her mother would lie down or head-butt her away. When I left the house to feed in the morning, I could hear Lily bellowing all the way from the barn. That little girl had a set of pipes. Despite the advice on the milk replacer label advising feedings of 50 to 100 mls at a time, Lily enthusiastically downed 400 mls at once. I was her main source of food for the first few weeks of her life. After we released the sheep to the pasture in the spring, Lily would come running every time she saw me, bleating at the top of her lungs the whole way. I loved that little lamb.
One weekend, the Farmer and I had to go out of town. Donkey had discovered a new game of chasing Lily, probably because he liked the way she yelled. My daughter had reported this to me, as she watched from the window. “That Donkey is going to give your little lamb a heart attack, Mom.” Sure enough, when we returned from our trip, Lily was lying in the barnyard, dead. There wasn’t a mark on her. We’ve lost other lambs, but this is the first one that made me cry. I’m not blaming Donkey, but he probably knows what happened. Sometimes I wonder if I fed her too much or gave her too much preventative medicine against the virus that was taking some of the other lambs. I probably should have separated Donkey from the lambs when Paulina told me he was chasing them. I blame myself for not protecting Lily.
I had hoped that Lily would be one of the lambs that would grow up to have her own babies and stay with us for a decade or more. We have some ewes that old in our herd. Because of the weeks that I spent feeding her, I also harboured hopes that she would remember the sound of my voice. Normally the males tend to be the friendlier newborn lambs. I don’t know why this is. But Lily was different. She had a friendly, trusting nature.
Perhaps there will be another Lily in this next batch of newborn lambs. With any luck.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Dandy Doe

Hunter's Prayer
I the hunter, my senses alert,
My blunderbuss at my side
Shall go forth to vanquish the antlered beast
To make raiment from his hide.
His tender flesh shall grace my board
A magnificent, royal feast
His horny crown high up the wall
Shall honor the regal beast.
Now I pray my God be at my side
As to the woods I go -
And guide my steps and guide my aim
And the splendid beast laid low. - Bob Price

Everyone seemed to enjoy the lovely summer-like weather that we had for the first week of November. Everyone, that is, except the deer hunters. Deer apparently don’t move around much when it is that warm. The “rut” isn’t on; the deer aren’t out looking for partners, because they are too hot and lazy to mate. My hunter said that he is pretty sure he saw a buck rolling around on his back in the meadow, hooves in the air.
It’s an interesting perspective. Imagine. Being disappointed that it is unseasonably warm in November. Wild.
Some hunters came home from their hunt camps after the first week, bored and tired of waiting for hours in a tree stand for a deer that would never show. Others decided to make the most of the balmy weather, turning in their shotguns for golf clubs.
The Farmer and his hunting party headed to the St. Lawrence on Friday for a day of goose hunting instead. They enjoyed lunch over a campfire in the sunshine, but they didn’t fire a single shot. Apparently the geese don’t feel like moving much either when it is warm.
When the Farmer returned from his day on the shore, Betty and Ginger had a surprise for him. As if they were playing a bovine version of “Red Rover”, they had combined their strength (perhaps by linking limbs) and barged through the electric wire that the Farmer had strung in front of the hay store. Once recovered from the zapper, they proceeded to push on the huge sliding barn door until it busted clean off its hinges. I guess they were in the mood for hay. The cows tugged and nibbled on a few of the round bales, making a right mess. The Farmer was not impressed. It’s funny how the animals only seem to really act up when we aren’t home. It’s like they know when we are gone and after a certain number of hours they just can’t help getting into mischief. The Farmer spent most of Saturday repairing the damage they had caused.
As the sun began to set, he decided to take another walk around the property.
My hunter was just about to give up his gun, when Mother Nature gifted him with a big beautiful doe. We will have venison next week for Sunday dinner. And that’s one less deer to leap out of the fog in front of my car when I’m winding my way down our single-lane road.
When the Farmer shot the deer, he called me on the 2-way radio. I had already heard the shots, so I was prepared for the return of the triumphant hunter.
I donned an orange coat and walked down the tractor lane to meet him. The Farmer had hauled the deer up onto the front of his ATV and there she was draped, in all her glory.
I put my hand on her side. Her smooth hide was the exact gray shade of tree bark. This is the second deer I’ve seen the Farmer bring in. Last year it was a buck. I am always amazed that something so big and beautiful maintains such a secretive coexistence with us on our 200 acres. It’s like capturing a unicorn. Unlike many people that I know in the area who entertain deer on their property each sunrise and sunset, we rarely see our deer. Maybe the farm animals scare them away.
The Farmer watched me as I examined the deer. We both had tears in our eyes. It is always a humbling moment, I think, for a hunter. I’m no hunter but I understand the awe, and the mixed emotions. She was so beautiful.
I said a little thank-you to the doe, and stepped away from the ATV. Feeling brave, I offered to help my husband to lift the doe off the machine. When he untied the rope that restrained her, however, one of her long limbs slipped and an elegant high-heeled hoof tapped me. I jumped and screamed. And was consequently banished to the farmhouse.
I guess I’ll leave the dirty work to the Farmer.

-30-

Monday, November 10, 2008

Snow in Canada Trumps Sun in Oz

We were gifted with a wake-up call last week, when that snowstorm hit. (For those of you who didn’t like the snow, by the way, I apologize. I’m pretty sure my late father, who loved snowmobiling, has been given control of the snow machine in Heaven...) One of my favourite memories of growing up in Eastern Ontario was waking up every year to see the first snow blanketing the lawn and branches. The dramatic change in scenery was / is breathtaking. If I have one complaint about the snow last week, it was that it arrived in the evening. No surprise. But Mother Nature - and Dad - have another chance to surprise us, later in the season.
With the freak snowstorm, Cody’s doghouse filled with snow, the side of our tent-trailer blew in, and Wendell the wallaby, as you have heard, went missing. Hopefully he will be found before snow covers his food supply again.
We were reminded that the cows need a heater in their water trough, the sheep need hay in their feeders, and we need snow tires on our vehicles before the next storm hits.
But I tell you this. I would never trade our four Canadian seasons for a year of Australian sunshine. I’ll take our soft, refracted light creating opalescent frost on the fields over the harsh Brisbane glare any day.
I lived three years overseas in an Asian country that suffered rain instead of snow in winter, and I actually came to miss our frosty season.
Having four seasons gives every living thing a chance to rejuvenate, to re-energize, and to be reborn. Winter is for cocooning and connecting, spending time with loved ones over coffee talk and dinner parties. It’s time to catch up on best-selling novels and indoor projects such as home improvements. Winter builds character. Perhaps that is why Canadians are renowned for having such a great sense of humour!
I pulled the deadheads out of my garden last weekend and uncovered fresh green buds that will lie in wait under the snow until springtime. I cut down the clematis vines and trimmed back the dogwood shrubs. It’s time for everything to sleep.
I took my jacket off in the afternoon sunshine and loaded the wheelbarrow with wood from the log pile. As I piled the wood on the back porch, I thought of everything that has happened since the last time we prepared for winter.
Last year at this time, my father was very sick. We knew we were losing him, but we didn’t know how long we had. Every day was a gift. He has been gone nearly ten months now.
Last year our daughter piled the wood on the porch. She loved working around the farm. This year, she has other interests.
Last fall, I was a newlywed farmwife. This year, I often sit quietly and wonder at my life. Why did it take me nearly 40 years to come to this place? (And I don’t mean Oxford Mills. I mean this place in my life.).
So this is what happy feels like. Wonderful. Peaceful. Content.
My friend in Vancouver tells me that the rains have begun. They should end, she says, around May next year. That is their winter.
A former colleague in Australia writes that summer is just beginning in Brisbane. The rays are so fierce, direct exposure is not recommended for longer than 15 minutes at a time. Sounds like our frostbite warning.
In Taiwan this winter, the wind will whip through and the rain will pelt down as my friends try to make themselves comfortable between concrete walls with no central heating. The temperature only drops down to about 5 degrees Celsius, but the damp chill doesn’t leave until springtime.
I’ll take Canada. When the sparkling snow falls, it insulates like a blanket. I’m looking forward to a getaway weekend at Gray Rocks Ski Resort. Their value season deals are so good, it’s almost cheaper to go than to stay home. I’m not much of a skier, but I can get down the hill without breaking my neck. And it’s a great way to enjoy a wintry weekend in the sunshine.
Instead of complaining about shoveling snow, think of it as a free workout. Suck your tummy in, bend your knees, and heave-ho!
When the roads are too dangerous to drive, take comfort in the fact that you have a warm home, healthy food to eat, and someone to talk to. Turn the television off. Stoke the fire. Let time slip by, slowly.
Enjoy your winter. Buy yourself some boots, wear a hat and cloak yourself in proper winter clothing. If you are dressed appropriately, winter in Canada is amazing. Be proud of your Canadian heritage. And, as they say in Australia, quit your bloody whingin’, mate!

-30-

Run Bambi Run

For the last couple of weeks my husband has been walking around starry-eyed, humming “It’s the most wonderful time of the year...” He isn’t referring to the kids’ return to school after summer vacation. He isn’t thinking ahead to Christmas, either. He’s thinking there are only a few more sleeps until the deer hunt begins.
Like many people in rural areas of Eastern Ontario, hunting is a very big part of my husband’s culture. He grew up hunting, and he was happy that at least one of our 5 daughters took an interest in the sport. 16-year-old Anastasia took her Hunter Safety Course last year, joining the growing league of women hunters in North America. .
The preparations for hunting season begin on the Fisher Farm around the end of September. The men in the Farmer’s hunting party, aged 17 to 82, drive their trucks out to the back pasture, where they spend the better part of the morning shooting clay pigeons to polish up their aim.
When they break for lunch, a feast awaits them. Everyone brings something to cook from a past season’s hunting or fishing trip. I’ve seen the menu include Rabbit Stew, Arctic Char in a Maple Glaze, Goose Bourguignon, Roast Duck, Stuffed Wild Turkey, and Venison Stew. I’ve tried to sneak a salad in there but I know it won’t get eaten. And I don’t want to mess with tradition. The rest of the afternoon is spent brushing up on their favourite fish tales and hunting legends, over a glass or two of red wine.
One of the most popular events in the hunting season is the St. Lawrence River goose hunt and shore lunch, followed by a night at the MacIntosh Inn in Morrisburg, the grand buffet the next morning and more hunting the next day.
But now deer season is upon us. This is the time of year when it is not safe to hike the back 40 with the dog unless both of you are wearing an orange vest. For that matter, I might see if I can get something orange to strap on our two brown calves, Mocha and Tyson...
Some “hunting widows” complain that their men are gone off to their hunt camps for the entire deer hunt. Many times the men return after two weeks with nothing but a bag of filthy laundry (if they bothered to change at all) and a thick beard smelling of beer and cigars. My husband hunts our own 200 acres for the most part, so we don’t have to say “see ya in two weeks”.
I think if I were left on my own for that amount of time, however, I would make the most of my solitude. I would finish those three novels that I have half-read. I would attack my list of things that I wanted to do around the house. I am already looking forward to the night when the hunters go away for the weekend so that I can have a girls’ night out – or in.
The last time the Farmer went out hunting, he was looking for the coyote that had been dragging off our sheep (we lost three lambs in a month).
As the sun came up over the horizon, I could just make out the shape of my earnest hunter leaning against the stone fence, his gun trained on the pasture below.
Something must have caught his attention, because he whirled around suddenly, startling the four cows and one curious donkey who had silently gathered behind him. They had noticed him lying in the middle of their field, and they wanted to know what he was doing. Unfortunately, they blew his cover and any coyote that might have been in the area would have seen both hunter and crew by the time the Farmer finished scolding his four-legged friends.
The Farmer will be tired for the next two weeks, as he squeezes in a sunrise hunt most mornings before work. Most of the time he doesn’t even see a deer, let alone shoot one.
Is the hunt necessary? You only have to hit a deer on the highway once to say “yes”. But don’t worry too much about Bambi – as the Farmer says, he’s pretty safe around here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Canadian Snow Trumps Sunshine in Oz

We were gifted with a wake-up call last week, when that snowstorm hit. (For those of you who didn’t like the snow, by the way, I apologize. I’m pretty sure my late father, who loved snowmobiling, has been given control of the snow machine in Heaven...) One of my favourite memories of growing up in Eastern Ontario was waking up every year to see the first snow blanketing the lawn and branches. The dramatic change in scenery was / is breathtaking. If I have one complaint about the snow last week, it was that it arrived in the evening. No surprise. But Mother Nature - and Dad - have another chance to surprise us, later in the season.
With the freak snowstorm, Cody’s doghouse filled with snow, the side of our tent-trailer blew in, and Wendell the wallaby, as you have heard, went missing. Hopefully he will be found before snow covers his food supply again.
We were reminded that the cows need a heater in their water trough, the sheep need hay in their feeders, and we need snow tires on our vehicles before the next storm hits.
But I tell you this. I would never trade our four Canadian seasons for a year of Australian sunshine. I’ll take our soft, refracted light creating opalescent frost on the fields over the harsh Brisbane glare any day.
I lived three years overseas in an Asian country that suffered rain instead of snow in winter, and I actually came to miss our frosty season.
Having four seasons gives every living thing a chance to rejuvenate, to re-energize, and to be reborn. Winter is for cocooning and connecting, spending time with loved ones over coffee talk and dinner parties. It’s time to catch up on best-selling novels and indoor projects such as home improvements. Winter builds character. Perhaps that is why Canadians are renowned for having such a great sense of humour!
I pulled the deadheads out of my garden last weekend and uncovered fresh green buds that will lie in wait under the snow until springtime. I cut down the clematis vines and trimmed back the dogwood shrubs. It’s time for everything to sleep.
I took my jacket off in the afternoon sunshine and loaded the wheelbarrow with wood from the log pile. As I piled the wood on the back porch, I thought of everything that has happened since the last time we prepared for winter.
Last year at this time, my father was very sick. We knew we were losing him, but we didn’t know how long we had. Every day was a gift. He has been gone nearly ten months now.
Last year our daughter piled the wood on the porch. She loved working around the farm. This year, she has other interests.
Last fall, I was a newlywed farmwife. This year, I often sit quietly and wonder at my life. Why did it take me nearly 40 years to come to this place? (And I don’t mean Oxford Mills. I mean this place in my life.).
So this is what happy feels like. Wonderful. Peaceful. Content.
My friend in Vancouver tells me that the rains have begun. They should end, she says, around May next year. That is their winter.
A former colleague in Australia writes that summer is just beginning in Brisbane. The rays are so fierce, direct exposure is not recommended for longer than 15 minutes at a time. Sounds like our frostbite warning.
In Taiwan this winter, the wind will whip through and the rain will pelt down as my friends try to make themselves comfortable between concrete walls with no central heating. The temperature only drops down to about 5 degrees Celsius, but the damp chill doesn’t leave until springtime.
I’ll take Canada. When the sparkling snow falls, it insulates like a blanket. I’m looking forward to a getaway weekend at Gray Rocks Ski Resort. Their value season deals are so good, it’s almost cheaper to go than to stay home. I’m not much of a skier, but I can get down the hill without breaking my neck. And it’s a great way to enjoy a wintry weekend in the sunshine.
Instead of complaining about shoveling snow, think of it as a free workout. Suck your tummy in, bend your knees, and heave-ho!
When the roads are too dangerous to drive, take comfort in the fact that you have a warm home, healthy food to eat, and someone to talk to. Turn the television off. Stoke the fire. Let time slip by, slowly.
Enjoy your winter. Buy yourself some boots, wear a hat and cloak yourself in proper winter clothing. If you are dressed appropriately, winter in Canada is amazing. Be proud of your Canadian heritage. And, as they say in Australia, quit your bloody whingin’, mate!

-30-