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Friday, June 15, 2012

One must be vigilant on the farm

I went into the barn to feed the cats the other day and saw something move, out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look over the top of the middle wall and sure enough, three little fluffball kittens were picking their way across the hay bales in the far loft.

I have been looking for those kittens for weeks. I wanted to catch and cuddle them, because if you don’t catch them before 5 or 6 weeks of age, they are much less likely to want to be held. And they are very difficult to tame.

These kittens are about 8 weeks old, I think. But I doubt they have ever been out of the loft. This is where I found them, two from Brandy the calico and two from Shelby the grey tabby. They were tucked in the end of a long piece of pipe. When I first discovered them, I cuddled and examined them every day. Then one day, they were gone.

I called them the mute kittens because, unlike other litters who have given away their hiding spots with their mewing, these kittens were totally silent.

I went to their side of the barn and slowly slid the barn door open. They darted toward the back of the loft. I quickly scrambled up the ladder just in time to see the last grey tabby kitten dive under a pile of wood.

I stood without moving, for several minutes. Nothing. These cats were good.

Shelby, the grey tabby mother, spent most of her time with Sheila the housecat. The two of them hunted all night and lazed all day on the mat at the back door of the house. Shelby shows signs of nursing her kittens, but I don’t know when she does it because she is always on my back porch.

Brandy, the maternal one, looks after all four kittens without complaint. She does, however, have rather crazy eyes because of the stress of trying to keep them all safe.

She is probably the one who taught the kittens to be mute.

Sigh. I guess I have four more feral kittens in my barn. The challenge is now to catch and spay the two mothers that I missed last year: Shelby and Brandy.

Oh yeah and that little orange cat that I just assumed was male, because most orange cats are male, for some reason—waddled past me the other day, hugely pregnant.

I guess six or eight kittens are better than thirty-seven, which is what I had last year.

There is always something to manage on the farm. If you aren’t paying attention, things can get a little out of control.

When a sheep wanders past you with a swollen jaw, she might have parasites. Then it’s time to catch her and give her some medicine for a cure. We typically medicate our sheep at the beginning of every month throughout the summer, to ward off these parasites. But the Farmer is wondering if he maybe inserts the needle on the wrong angle or something—because some of the sick sheep do not improve.

“God tries every disease on sheep first…” the Farmer once said. I think I know what he means by that.

I have been busy and the horse has been down the field every day but I did notice today that her hooves are looking quite unkept. Time to call the farrier. He will have to hang on to her leg while she flings her hoof back and forth, in an effort to free herself from his grip. When her hoof connects with the stall, it will sound like a gunshot. But the farrier will not let go. He will sling a rope around her leg and allow her to swing it back, and forth.

And when she is tired, he will trim her hoof. And then repeat the whole procedure on the otherside. Patience is a virtue, my friend, indeed.

I haven’t seen the cows up close lately. They happily inhabit their own side of the barnyard, away from the sheep. I wonder if they are pregnant again. I have not witnessed any dancing with the bull. My bottle-fed baby calf has successfully infiltrated the herd. He is just like the others: happy and boisterous.

Farming is about observing, paying attention, and taking action. It’s a day-to-day preoccupation that is very rewarding and very satisfying, both to the Farmer and to me.

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