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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Opening Day of Duck Season

The alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning. Unlike on weekday mornings, when he hits the snooze button and goes back to sleep, the Farmer was up and out of bed before I could bury my head under the pillow. Headlights slowly crept up the driveway.


“Good morning Cody,” I heard someone greet our intrepid watchdog before entering the house through the door under our bedroom window. Cody snorted and retreated deeper under the porch. I heard a few more vehicles arriving, car doors being shut, tired, early-morning greetings being exchanged.

Within minutes I could smell coffee brewing, bacon frying and toast...toasting. The Farmer built this house well. It’s almost soundproof from room to room; the conversation in the kitchen was well muffled. Lying in bed while so much activity filled the room below reminded me of being at my grandfather’s cottage as a child. On those summer nights the adults would laugh over a game of cards in the kitchen while my sister and I lay in our cots, watching the lantern light flicker over the ceiling.

I returned to sleep before the hunters slid out the back door. They started up the ATV and a few trucks and headed down to the creek that runs along a mile of our property. My husband had already set out blinds and piles of decoys the day before, in preparation for this pre-dawn hunt. It was now probably about 5:30 am.

I woke at dawn, to the sound of guns popping in the distance. Pulling on my barn clothes, I headed down to the kitchen. It looked like a twister had just passed through. To be fair, everything was neatly stacked, but there was still quite a bit to clean up. The Farmer likes to clean up his own messes but I knew he would need help, as he still had a big meal to cook for the traditional opening day lunch. I decided to go to the barn first.

Halfway to the barn I realized I had forgotten my gloves back at the house. Oh, well. The mud at the entrance to the barn was more like quicksand after the rain. I stepped in a soft spot and the sludge promptly sucked my rubber boot right off of my foot. I stood on one leg and put my hand out to the side to stop from falling into the muck. I grabbed the gate right where a healthy crop of stinging nettle was growing. The shock made me drop my foot into the mud.

I picked myself up and hopped on one foot over to the water trough, where I scrubbed the nettles out of my now-throbbing hand. I picked up a nearby rag and wiped the mud off my foot before stuffing it back in my boot. The sheepdog whined at me. My strange behaviour was probably making her nervous.

I continued on to feed the cats and the turkeys. On my way to feed the rams (who are now in isolation awaiting winter mating season), the bull started to approach. I waved my pitchfork at him. He gave me a sidelong look and then backed away. I hurried into the lambing room before he could set me up for a charge.

After feeding and watering all the animals, I returned to the house to clean myself up. Next, I headed to the kitchen to put a dent in the mess. Just then, the hunters returned. They put two measly geese on the porch and headed into the house. As they had already been awake for more than six hours, they were just about ready for beer, wine and cigars. It was about 11am.

The Farmer started up the bbq and prepared to cook their feast. I was beginning to feel a little out of place. Testosterone hung thick in the air like a cloud of cigar smoke.

I decided to leave the boys to their manly chatter, and grabbed my car keys.

Kissing the Farmer on the cheek on my way out the door, I announced I was going to do some hunting of my own. At the shopping mall.

No, we have not been drinking.

Boozing Bovines

I read an article in the Farmers’ Forum recently highlighting a farm in Kelowna, B.C., where the beef cows are fed red wine. Apparently Farmers Janice Ravndahl and her brother Darrel Timm of Sezmu Farms (get it? “sez Moooo…”) give 100 of their 300-head herd a litre of red wine EACH every morning for the last 90 days of their lives! The farmers say the wine enhances the flavour of the beef – and it’s “the ultimate food and wine pairing”. I guess it is. The beef is going for close to $35 a kilo for the rib-eye at local butchers and restaurants in B.C., and they are looking to increase their market across Canada soon.


I think this story is a great example of a couple of things. First, I always admire farmers who take their business one step further, by creating their own unique brand of product. Some sheep farmers have a side business selling hand made wool creations. Some goat farmers sell their cheese on the side. Aubin farms of Spencerville has a fantastic offering of flavourful samosas and chutneys at the North Grenville Farmers’ Market every Sunday. These farmers are doing more than just raising their product and shipping it off to market. Perhaps they don’t have fulltime day jobs elsewhere. I don’t know how they find the time, but I admire their entrepreneurial attitude.

The story of the wine-fed cows also makes me smile because, according to the Sezmu farmers, the wine keeps the cows happy. They are constantly mooing after feeding, which is something they never did before. Apparently they are so loud with their drunken song, the farmers have switched their wine feeding to morning so that the bovine merry-making doesn’t keep the humans up all night. The wine is bought from local wineries, and if you’ve ever had B.C. wine you know it’s world class. These cows aren’t just drinking fermented grape juice over there. They’re getting the good stuff. What a nice send-off for these animals in the last three months of their lives.

My question is this. How do the Sezmu farmers decide which 100 of their 300 cows will be the lucky ones to enter the booze program? Is it the ones who have gained the most? The ones with the best temperament? Or is it the luck of the draw? When we got Betty and Ginger a couple of years ago, I read a study stating that cows are very intelligent animals. Mine have yet to prove that fact, of course, but still I am wondering, if they are so intelligent, don’t you think they know that some of them are getting preferential treatment? Some farmers believe that the mood of the animal pervades the meat. That is one of the reasons why we try to keep our animals content, particularly during the time leading up to market. If the wine makes the happy beef taste better, wouldn’t the opposite hold true for the cows that are feeling left out? Wouldn’t their meat be bland and tasteless as a result of their depression? I think this is something you have to consider.

Our fledgling beef herd is just starting out. We have only four cows and one bull at the moment. Maybe when that winery opens up down the road, we should try the bovine-wine connection ourselves. But if we do, you can be sure that none of our cows will be feeling left out. No one likes to drink alone.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Not his kind of cake

My summer vacation was absolutely perfect. I didn’t go away to the ocean, I didn’t go camping in the woods. I didn’t travel to some great city to visit museums, art galleries and rock concerts. I stayed right here at the Fisher Farm. Home.


My mornings consisted of loafing about, having coffee in bed, following the Farmer around the barnyard for an hour or so then picking a weed or two out of the garden. After lunch on the porch I would fall asleep reading my book.

Now don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t completely non-productive while the Farmer moved wagonload after wagonload of manure every day. I did sort out my book proposal and I sorted out my teenager’s closet. Those jobs took three days all together. But mostly I loafed. And I loved every minute of it.

As the Farmer was working so hard (his home-stay vacations are always more work than going to work), I took over the morning feeding chores. And it’s a good thing. Because I stumbled upon something this morning that would have made the Farmer scream like a girl. On the floor of the storage room in the barn was something green with black stripes that rhymes with “cake”. Yessir, that’s what I said: CAKE.

Now, this particular “cake” was no longer wriggling, as it had been mostly decapitated by one of my hardworking barn kitties. But it was still a cake. And the Farmer hates that kind of cake. In fact, the Farmer hates cakes so much, people are not supposed to even mention them in his presence. He can’t watch them on TV, he hates it when they show up on the road, and he certainly doesn’t want to deal with them in his own environment. If there is a nest of cakes in the barn, I am going to be the one to get rid of them. And that is not a task that I am particularly looking forward to.

As a young girl growing up on Johnston Road, I remember kicking the tarp off the lawn tractor and having a cake wriggle over my foot. It didn’t concern me much.

An afternoon in Limerick Forest with my children was made even more enjoyable (at least to them) by the discovery of a nest of tiny newborn cakes. Again, I wasn’t really bothered by the little squirmers.

I have been to Australia on a few occasions, and I have spotted the elusive, deadly Brown Cake. It is possibly the most poisonous cake in the world. It was wriggling through the underbrush next to a beach that was cleared by the screaming whistles of lifeguards within seconds of my announcing I had just seen “a funny brown twig that moved”.

Perhaps it was that experience in Australia that changed my view of cakes. Yes, I know that our Eastern Ontario version is nowhere near as dangerous as the Aussie brand. But still. Where once there was apathy, there is now extreme dislike. I don’t like them.

That being said, if I do discover a nest of cakes in our barn, I will be the one to scoop them up and carefully move them to the forest or the stone fence, where you might expect to see them. Where they belong. If I leave the job of eradicating the cakes to the Farmer, he will no doubt take a flamethrower to whatever corner of the barn the nest is discovered in, setting fire to our hay and possibly taking down the entire structure.

And you think I exaggerate.

I picked up the dead cake in gloved fingers this morning, placed it in a feed bag and put it in the burn barrel. I have not spoken to the Farmer about my discovery, and I hope that none of you will either, when you meet him on the street. He doesn’t usually read my columns (unless someone suggests he should), so the cake secret should be safe with us.

If he comes to me demanding that I tell him the truth about the cake, I will know that it was one of my loyal readers who let the cake out of the proverbial feed bag.

The barn is a type of man-cave for the Farmer. He goes there to do menial tasks as a form of peaceful meditation. If he knew there was a cake – possibly several of them – in the barn, he might never venture inside again. So let’s just keep this between you and me, okay? Okay. Thanks.