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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Free kitties - but don't touch my lamb!

There is ice to break now on the cow’s water when I go out in the morning. The water in the hoses to the barn froze before we had a chance to shut them all down. Winter is peeking her frosty head around the corner as if she has suddenly remembered Eastern Ontario.


The rams’ hot breath hangs in the air of the lambing pen. They seem agitated. Soon they will have their freedom, and then in approximately 148 days a bunch of lambs will be born. Steve seems like he’s raring to go. He keeps head-butting the feeder when I walk by and put my hand in to pat him on the head. He wants out. But first we have to sort our existing flock of ewes and lambs.

Normally we sell the fat male lambs in the fall. This year I think the Farmer wants to sell most of the lambs, to make way for a change in the herd. We’re weeding out the Dorsets because they are too fluffy. I keep thinking about my little female, whom I did not name, who was born with club feet. I kept her penned with her mother until her feet straightened out, and then someone (likely the Belgian horse) stepped on her and broke her leg. Again she was penned with her mother and splinted until her leg healed. She is still fairly tame, and her mother has always been more like a dog than a sheep. She comes over to get her back scratched, pushing her nose into my hand. I don’t think I can say goodbye to either one of those two.

On sorting day, I will put a ribbon around the necks of that mother and baby so that the Farmer knows who he should not be taking to market. There may be a discussion around that reasoning. But I don’t care. He’s not taking my favourite lamb.

Yes, I know that’s not good farm sense – getting attached to my animals, but here’s the thing: I’m attached to many of them.

We had a tame kitten from the barn who kept coming in the house and I was just working on the Farmer – getting him used to having a pet indoors – when the kitten suddenly disappeared. It was still too young for us to tell what sex it was. We called it Hot Dog (because that was its favourite snack). Months later, our houseguests still ask what happened to that cat.

I can’t afford to fix all of our barn cats, obviously. They are quite prolific and apparently they are also a bit spoiled. I am trying to tame the littlest ones so that they will let me treat them and medicate them when they are sick, and so that maybe they can be turned into nice housecats for someone. I have about half a dozen now, ranging in age from three months to a year that will allow people to pick them up and cuddle them. If you know anyone who wants a nice cat, let me know. I can hook them up.

Soon there will be some other new arrivals on the farm. Mochacinna Latte (Mocha for short) has been co-habitating with Young Angus since last March, so she should be due to calf mid-December. The other two calves we have had born on the farm came without much fanfare or difficulty, so we are hoping this one will be the same story.

As the weather gets colder and the food in the pasture gets scarce, Misty should be coming up to the stable more often. That’s a good thing, because we need to get a good look at her to see if she is also growing a baby belly.

It’s time to put up our first bale of hay, to stuff feed bags in all the barn wall cracks, and to bed down the barn with some straw. Winter’s a-comin’.

Steve the Suffolk

In the process of putting the flowerbeds to bed for the winter, I decided to rip out some of the overgrowth of Virginia Creeper from the stone fence. The long, curling vine lay in a heap in the middle of the yard and I stared at it, wondering if I could channel the spirit of Martha Stewart long enough to transform the vine into a crafty Christmas wreath for our farmhouse door. I told the Farmer not to drag it off to the burn barrel: I was going to make something out of it. He looked at me as if I said I was going to give birth to triplets.


“What. I can make stuff. Just you wait.”

I did try to wind it into a wreath but I couldn’t get the tangle to form a circle shape. I decided the wreath makers had secret tools and implements that I did not possess. Then I went shopping at Old Porch Primitives in Oxford Mills. Every time I go into that store, I see something that makes me cry. Simple little wooden signs declaring: “All because two people fell in love” and “Could I have this dance, for the rest of my life?” Honestly. I am such a mush. I love that place.

Debbie had hung a simple strand of grapevine between the rafters, wound lights around it and dangled metal stars from its curves. I bought a spray of stars and went home, armed with inspiration.

I now have a homemade swag of vine, fairy lights, metal stars and ornamental sheep on my sun porch. And if you haven’t gathered from the last three paragraphs, I’m darned proud of it. Now if I can just figure out how to get my solar Christmas lights to work, I’m ready for the holiday season.

On the livestock side of things, the Farmer has decided he is tired of Dorset sheep. They grow great big pompadours of fleece, and their young often have difficulty finding the teats in all that wool. I personally find them very cute, but I guess that doesn’t count for much when you have to shear them. My husband decided to sell Rambi, the Dorset ram, and to buy a black-faced Suffolk to bring about change in our herd.

On the way to Maurice and Joyce Seguin’s farm Sunday morning, the Farmer cleared his throat. “Can I just ask that you do not give this ram a stupid name, like Rambo or Rambi?”

Stupid? “What would you like me to call him?”

“Well, I call all my rams Johnny.”

I told the Farmer that I thought that was ridiculous and not very original. Each ram should have its own name.

“Okay,” I said, “What should we call him, then? Steve?” I joked.

So now we have a 10-month-old Suffolk named Steve.

The ram was obviously raised with love and trust, by Grama Joyce. Her tame goats and lambs gathered around, nibbling on our jackets and fingers as we put a collar and lead on our new ram.

Steve allowed himself to be led up the ramp into the back of the truck. On the way home, he commented on every pothole and bend in the road.

“It’s okay, Steve. Almost home,” I said.

Back at the farm, we helped Steve to hop off the back of the truck and into the lambing pen, where Rambo and Rambi were already happily ensconced in their catered hotel.

The two older sheep crowded to the corner of the pen and craned their necks to see the newcomer as he was released into his quarters. They lifted their snouts skyward to catch his strange scent.

The Farmer tied a bell onto Steve, thinking it would keep us from taken by surprise.

“Don’t get yourself into a corner with this one,” he warned.

I looked at Steve. He approached and put his soft muzzle into the palm of my hand.

“He doesn’t like his bell,” I said. I might have to help that jingling thing to go missing without a trace at some point.

I can’t wait to see the black-faced babies we will have in April.



Farm Community Service Note: If anyone is interested in adopting two little male pot-bellied pigs, let me know and I can hook you up with their owner. They need to be in a winterized shelter. Dianafisher1@gmail.com.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A skunk a day keeps congestion away

Just about everyone in my daily world has a cold right now. So, despite my strong constitution, one day about a week ago I noticed the beginnings of the tell-tale throat tickle. A-hem. Out came the bottle of Oil of Oregano.
A friend of mine got me hooked on this nasty stuff. It tastes like liquid fire with some potent herbs thrown in for good measure. But it works. The key is you have to start taking regular doses (2-3 drops) when you first begin feeling symptoms of a cold or sore throat. I think it kills every germ in your throat on the way down because you start feeling better right away. It is a natural anesthetic and fights anything viral, fungal or bacterial. It is the enemy of all things germ-y.
Another key to Oil of Oregano usage is that you must never – I repeat, NEVER – put the 2-3 drops ON your tongue, where taste buds abide. If you ever want to taste food again, you must put the drops UNDER your tongue. And no matter what the Farmer tells you, I did not tell him to take a tablespoon of the stuff. He obviously wasn’t paying attention to my instructions.
My personal recommendation is that you keep a chaser at the ready – real maple syrup works well – so that you can quickly eradicate the taste of the oil. Again, if you get your symptoms in check early enough, you should suffer less than usual during cold season.
My Cree friends are currently planning their fall goose hunting trip to Eastern Ontario, so we will have houseguests again soon. When they were here in the spring, one of the boys was very sick with the mumps. It amazed me when he hauled himself out of bed before dawn each morning to go hunting with the men, bottle of Advil in hand.
“Doesn’t he just want to stay in bed and watch movies? I will take care of him,” I offered. I was promptly told that the Crees believe you must get up out of bed and go outside when you are sick, otherwise the illness will “sit” on you. Ruth patted her chest as she explained, and it made sense to me. When I wake up with a cold, I like to go out to the barn to clear my head. The fresh air and hard work does me a world of good.
Last weekend we were getting ready to head to Queen’s University in Kingston, where my husband the Professor had to attend a workshop. He went out to the barn to feed before we left. When he returned to the house, he announced that my over-feeding of the barn cats had enticed some hungry skunks. He had taken care of the problem, he said, and we grabbed our coats to leave.
As we got in the truck and headed down the road, it was as though a cloud of Pepe le Pew’s finest scent was chasing us. I worried that the Professor was going to be recognizably stinky during his seminar. As we rounded the corner, however, the smoke cleared. I guess it just hangs over the barn like a stink cloud. “It will smell like that for the next six months,” he said.
Oh well, eau de skunk does wonders for clearing the sinuses.

A Sommelier I'm Not.


With 15 to 20 people at our dinner table every Sunday evening, we go through a lot of wine at our house. A while back, Mom started providing her homemade wine to help us cut costs.
Now some people turn up their nose at homemade wine, because they feel it is not up to their standards. I’m not exactly a conoisseur, but I’ve had some pretty expensive wine in my travels – and in many cases I would prefer the taste of the homemade stuff.
Mom needed help bottling her wine batch the other night, so I met her at the Brew-by-You on Prescott Street, ready to pitch in.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the place was the water stain up the wall to the ceiling. Apparently Mom had had an altercation with the bottle-rinsing mechanism. She smiled sheepishly and handed me an apron.
I watched as she placed one bottle after another under the plunger, filling them with wine. Her routine had a rhythm to it. When she paused for a moment to rinse out a few more bottles, I watched as the wine rose up the side of the bottle to the neck…”Aah! It’s going to spill over!” I panicked. Mom jumped and rushed over to look at the equipment. “No it isn’t, silly. It stops when it gets to the top.”
Phew. For a minute there I was having visions of  Lucille Ball at the conveyor belt, popping one chocolate after another into her mouth when the assembly line backed up. Except it would be Mom and I, taking turns putting our mouths under the plunger to catch the overflow in between bottles. I told the owner of the shop what I was imagining. He handed us two wine glasses for sampling.
“Something tells me the two of you would do just fine if that happened,” he said, and walked away.
I was given the job of corking the bottles. “Good. I hate that job,” Mom complained.
When I asked why, she said, “Because I hate that stupid little machine.”
I watched the shop owner demonstrating how to use the manual cork plunger. Position the bottle, pop the cork into the funnel at the top, squeeze the handle down to bring the cork into position and plunge. Simple. I looked at Mom. Something tells me she had had a bad experience with the bottle slipping and spilling in the past. I made a note to be extra careful.
The machine was quite stiff to operate so after a half dozen bottles, I was already starting to sweat. I paused to lose a layer of clothing. Mom looked at me and smiled. A-ha. So that’s why she gave me the corking job.
Next, Mom chose labels and started applying them to the wine bottles. I was allowed to pick out the sleeve-things for the bottle top. Fun, fun. I chose a rainbow of colours, each one complementing an accent on the label art.
Mom watched as I popped one sleeve after another onto the bottle tops. “Normally I colour-coordinate them according to wine type and size of bottle,” she said. “That way I don’t have to take them out of the case to see what I’ve got.” Well, that makes sense, but my way is more fun, I said.
I pushed the bottles into a huddle in the corner of the countertop. Then I carefully placed one at a time into the heated coil ring, to shrink the sleeve. “What happens if you leave it in too long?” I asked.
“It begins to smoke and melt,” the shop owner said, raising one eyebrow at me. Mom may find a few singed sleeves on her bottles but after the first half-dozen bottles, I got the hang of it.
At the end of the evening, we sampled our wine and pronounced it delicious.
“Mmm. Yummy. Two more months and it’ll be perfect. Just in time for Christmas.”
Who does she think she’s kidding? That wine isn’t going to last until December unless we put it in her basement and completely forget it’s there.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Misty submits to a pedicure

One weekend a couple of our dinner guests pointed out that Misty appeared to be favouring her front left foot. Well, no wonder. The girl hasn’t had a pedicure since before she went off to “summer camp” to be bred, and she has been gallivanting over glacial moraine for the rest of the season. She probably stubbed her hoof on a rock and cracked it. I called the farrier.


For the next few days we couldn’t get our schedules coordinated, so Misty had to wait til the weekend. Finally, on Sunday night, just as we were welcoming the first of our 18 expected dinner guests, Thad the farrier called. Our knight in oiled chaps. Our saviour of the hooves. He was in the area. We turned the veggies down to a low boil and headed out to entice Misty into the stable.

It was a beautiful fall day, and we found her standing with her friend Donkey under the low hanging branches near the fenceline. The twigs were scratching her back in the breeze. She was quite comfortable and didn’t seem interested in my requests for her to follow me to the barn.

“Go get a bucket of corn,” the Farmer suggested. Well, that worked. For Donkey, anyway. He followed me into the stable. Then Misty followed him.

We hooked their halters up to the stall ties and gave them each some water and hay with their corn ration.

Just then Thad arrived. He walked right into the stall behind Donkey. “Uh...are you used to donkeys?” I asked, worriedly, “Cause that one bites. And kicks.”

He looked at Donkey. Donkey looked at him and stopped chewing for a moment. They seemed to form an understanding.

Thad moved around to the other side of Misty. She was stubborn to lift her foot for him, but she was not at all nervous or jumpy as she had been in previous pedicure sessions. Her eyes were calm and when he tapped her ankle with his little hammer, she lifted her hairy hoof for inspection. Thad turned his back on her, brought the hoof up between his knees and gripped it firmly while he picked the debris out. She slammed the hoof back down to the ground and Thad jumped out of the way. This routine repeated itself several times until finally he could see that the soft inner portion of the hoof (known as the “frog”) had abcessed. He cleaned it, put antiseptic on it, and pronounced her cured.

But there were three more hooves to go. Thad patiently led Misty through the various signals. He leaned on her to get her to shift her weight. Pulled on her ankle tuft to get her to lift her hoof. Tapped her with the hammer. Straddled the hoof. Picked it clean. Jumped out of the way when she pulled it back and slammed it to the ground like a gunshot. Then he repeated the routine with the file. He tied a rope around her hoof and let her swing it back and forth until she got tired and gave in. Soon Misty had four beautiful hooves, nicely trimmed. The rodeo was over. Thad was drenched in sweat.

I looked at Donkey. His hooves are tiny little things but he did have some problems with them earlier in the summer when one of them started to curl upwards. Apparently his trotting around provided enough self-trimming. His hooves are nicely worn down now. Which is a good thing because we have been told that if you want to do a donkey’s hooves you have to put him in a stockade and leg ties. And we don’t have any of those handy.

I paid Thad, gave him a tip and thanked him for his patient efforts. I appreciate that he never hits my horse or yells at her in anger. I promised to call him back in eight weeks.

“Misty seems calmer than before. Maybe it her time at the breeder’s that calmed her down.” I asked Thad if he could tell whether Misty was pregnant or not. He looked at me like I was slightly crazy. I guess that means no, you cannot look a horse in the eye and tell if she has a secret.

I can tell by the way she walks now, though, that she feels extra pretty with a fresh pedicure.