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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Morning Exercises

5:59 am. The alarm has not yet rung, but I’m up. I always wake just moments before the buzzer goes off. I swing my legs out of bed and pull the window shade up. No sunrise yet. I look over at my sleep partner, who is blowing imaginary smoke rings toward the ceiling: poof…poof.
I pull on barn jeans, sweatshirt and woolly socks and pad down the stairs to the kitchen. The offspring are still asleep. I don’t mind the solitude; the peaceful quiet is rejuvenating.
I look out the window. The pre-dawn light has turned everything blue.
I make coffee for the Farmer, green tea for me. Cody has spotted me in the kitchen window. He taps a dance on the roof of his dog house in anticipation. He can wait.
I pull on my barn coat and stuff my feet in my boots. I take a scoop of soft kibble for the sheepdog, and grab a box of chicken broth from the fridge. As I slide open the patio door, I hear Misty stomping out a rhythm in her stall.
“I’m comin’,” I gasp. A blast of frozen air steals my breath.
Tiger, our most aggressive little kitten, meets me on the path and turns to lead the way. He squawks out instructions. Stops at the stable door and turns to see what’s taking me so long. I scoop cat food, pour the chicken broth over it and refill the water bowl. Then I turn to the horses.
In the night, Ashley and Misty have dumped all of their hay out into the aisle where they can’t reach it. They have also thrown their heavy water buckets – possibly when full of water, by the telltale mark on the wall. I’m pretty sure they regret playing this game in the early hours of the morning before I arrive to fill their rumbling stomachs.
I pick up my pitchfork and collect all the loose hay, refilling their feeders. I scoop water from the heated barrel into each of the buckets. I give each horse a scoop of corn and duck as Misty flips her dish at my head. I stand there and stare at her, hands on my hips. She looks at me with one eye, then reaches her snout under the feeder divider, helping herself to Ashley’s corn. It just tastes better, she thinks.
Leaving the Belgians to their breakfast, I unlatch the door and slide it open. I put the food in the sheep dog’s bowl and refill her water bucket. I don’t pet her, because she’s nuts. Without looking her in the eye, I tell her she’s a good girl and pat her quickly on the head with my leather-gloved hand.
The cows are lying on a bed of hay around the feeders. They look very comfortable. Mocha lets out a low moo, and I notice that the feeders are empty. Several sheep are munching on the hay bedding. Several more are standing on the path that they have beaten to the barn. They are staring at me. Louise the leader lets out a low baa.
“I noticed. Empty. I’ll go get him.” I make a mental note to plug the tractor in before returning to the house.
I head into the barn, where I fill up the water and put out one more bowl of cat food for the shy ones. Then I climb up over the gate and let myself out the back door of the barn, taking a pail of water with me. As I approach the lambing room, I hear the lambs and ewes knickering to each other. It’s the only sound on this still wintry morning. I unhook the door and let myself in. A warm, red glow from the heat lamp lights my way. The air is warm and steamy. The ewes call out to me for their feed. I unhook the water pails from where they hang, frozen solid. I grab a hammer and step outside. Turning the buckets upside down, I tap all the way around and sharply on the bottom of each pail, until the ice slides out. My first year on the farm, I must have cracked a dozen buckets. I’m good at it now.
I refill the water buckets with the water I’ve brought with me. Then I pick up the pitchfork and let myself into the next room, where the hay is kept. It’s time to start a new bale, but I can’t seem to get one free to pull a flake from it. I haul my ass up and onto the nearest 5-ft round bale, and wedge myself in between two of them. I alternate shoving with my legs against a bale as I scooch my bum downwards. Suddenly the giant roll shifts and I’m firmly wedged, my knees pressed to my chest. A squirrel screams down at me from the rafters. He is probably hoping I’m stuck so he can eat me. Finally I get the bale rolled over so I can release some hay. By the time I’m finished, I’m drenched in sweat.
I put a scoop and a half of sweet feed in the plastic garbage can lid and toss it into the middle of the pen. Three ewes and five lambs dig in. Then I take half a scoop and pour it into the dish in the creep.
The creep is an area of the pen that has been cordoned off with a low fence so that only the lambs can get in. They creep under the fence and through the feeders to get at the feed, often getting their fat butts stuck. I watch to make sure they get through safely. The littlest ewe tries to squeeze through, but she is too fat.
I turn the overhead light off, latch the door to the feed room and let myself out. Picking my way back over the ice, I walk back through the barn, the yard and the stable, patting hungry, indignant animals on the head as I pass.
Back in the house, the coffee is ready. I pour a cup, add sugar and cream, and get my tea out of the microwave. I quietly step upstairs to wake my husband.
“Good morning, my love. The animals are waiting.” And my morning exercises are over.

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