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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hooray Hooray we're into the hay

It’s a sunny Saturday but the wind is blowing a gale and it’s absolutely freezing. I tiptoe out onto the porch and tap the thermometer, which I believe is stuck at 5 degrees Celsius. We spent the morning working on the farm – I mucked out the horse stalls and the Farmer cleaned the geese he got yesterday, then we boarded up the back porch where we will stack the winter wood for the stove. The Farmer stood on the tractor and lifted the lawn furniture that I handed him up into the stable loft. I chased the cows out into the pasture and pulled the page wire fence across the opening so that we could move the first of the precious bales of hay out of storage and into the feeders that we will use all winter. The cows watched us carefully from the other side of the fence. Betty sniffed at the sweet hay wafting toward her on the wind and mooed at me. Mocha licked the rubber strap that held the fence in place. They are hungry.
My job is to keep the animals at bay while the Farmer moves hay into feeders with his tractor. We don’t want another incident like last year when Ginger nearly became a beef-kabob on the end of the tractor fork.
Finally it is safe to open the fence and let the cows in to feed. Betty moos when she passes me on her way to the feeder as if to say, “It’s about time!”
Mocha has grown so much, her collar is growing tight. She licks at my hand and tries to shake me away as I loosen the strap. All the while she keeps eating the tender hay. Julie the First is covered in soft black curls now. She skips away and gives a little donkey kick when I try to touch her. I need some sweet feed. I want to train her as I have with the others, to come for the sticky molasses-laced grain. That is the gentlest way I know how to lure the animals into a stall or a head gate.
The Farmer rests a round bale in another feeder in the barn yard for the sheep and horses. The Belgians are the first to discover it, and they spend the rest of the morning there, grazing in the warm sun. They watch us working in the stable, me throwing manure into a wheelbarrow and the Farmer stirring up clouds of feathers as he plucks. The horses have soft, downy auras of winter hair emerging. They prefer to be outside, but we try to get them in at night so that we can check them over. Ashley is favouring her hind leg on the right. I will coax her to lift it later. Although that isn’t the difficult part – it’s keeping the heavy hoof up for examination and cleaning when she wants to put it back down. The farrier is due for a return engagement in December and I want the girls to be good for him – so we had better do some more training. I give the horses a hug around the neck and they kiss me on top of the head, rubbing remnants of corn into my hair. Nice. Must remember to shampoo later.
Lunchtime is soup, sandwich and tea, to warm the insides for more work. But I won’t be going back outside today. I have a column to write and a manuscript to work on, emails from the office to answer and – oh yeah – a house to clean. I wake up the teenager who will be my assistant and she is not appreciative.
I take my tea to the computer and look out the picture window at my husband, who has just cleaned his gun. It is muzzle loader season next week and he wants to be ready. The deer have eluded him so far this year. I watch as he aims his gun at the boulder that mysteriously split in two last summer. The shot makes my heart jump. I see the horses, several acres away, take off in the opposite direction. The Farmer notices me watching and smiles, giving me the thumbs up sign.
Ten minutes later the curious horses are up sniffing the boulder that the Farmer was using as a target. I watch as he tries calling them away from his range of fire. When they won’t come to his call, he tries shooing them away. Eventually the horses grow bored of this game and wander away. The Hunter’s next shot sends them galloping down the field to the open pasture below. I decide to stick my head out the patio door to scold him for scaring my horses. As I step out of the den, however, my heart jumps again. A skunk and coyote are lying on the floor of the family room. The Farmer has proudly brought his carefully preserved pelts into the house to show me. Just then I hear the truck driving away, so I don’t have the opportunity to ask where he intends to display these treasures. The wall of the stable, over his tool bench, sounds like a good place to me. Surely he doesn’t plan to adorn our walls with these furs?
And he thought my Gustav Klimt print was offensive.
I step outside and watch as the sheep, which have recently discovered the bale of hay, tear it apart chunk by chunk. The bale is disappearing fast. We probably need about 100 to get us through the winter, and we have 80. Hopefully the winter will not be a long one.

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