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Thursday, January 24, 2013

In a power outage, hunker down.

Last Sunday we had a blackout – or a whiteout, depending on where you were. The winds began around midnight and continued blowing throughout the night, gathering strength. Early in the morning a wall of snow blew past the house, completely blocking sight beyond the porch. Then the snow cleared and the sun broke through the clouds. But still the winds blew.




First the wind came from the North-west, up the pasture, to hit the house at the back porch, rattling the sunblinds where they were rolled up against the windows. Then the wind changed direction and it came from the East, smacking the awning against the house. Every loose flap and board on the house flew up and slammed back down, making quite a ruckus. The sheepdog started barking and the cats went into hiding.



Then, shortly after noon, the power went out. The sun was still shining, so we stoked the fire in the woodstove and settled in with the last of the hot coffee and our oft-neglected paperbacks on the couch. I thought, this is my way to spend a Sunday. As the hours went on, it became increasingly apparent that we would not be able to properly clean the house and prepare a full meal for our dozen-or-so Sunday dinner guests. I picked up the cell phone and called to cancel our guests driving out from Ottawa. “Oh don’t worry; we aren’t coming!” said my father-in-law, who informed me that a blizzard had completely overtaken Ottawa. News briefs on my Blackberry from Ottawa Police reported road closures on the west, south and east of the city due to poor visibility, ice and numerous collisions. They even closed the 417. At our house, the sun shone, and the wind stopped. But the power was out. So we cancelled Sunday dinner. We never cancel Sunday dinner.



The afternoon stretched ahead of us. What to do? I took advantage of the sunshine to sweep and Swiffer the floors, and the Farmer put a pot of bottled water on the woodstove for tea. I nibbled on bean salad, bell peppers and hummus for lunch. And I made a salami-and-cheese sandwich on rye for my husband. We were quite comfy in front of the wood stove, and tucked back into our books.



It occurred to me that we need a radio that runs on batteries for times like these. I would have liked to hear the news. But when she finally woke up from her long winter’s nap, our daughter created a wi-fi hotspot with her cell phone and plugged it into her laptop so we could check out the Hydro One site. Power outages were marked all over Eastern and Southern Ontario, in scattered pockets. Merrickville was on, but Kemptville and Oxford Mills were out. Oxford Station was on, but Spencerville was out. Our skies were clear, but Kemptville was in white out and Ottawa residents were being advised not to venture out onto the roads at all.



I settled back into the easy chair in the corner between two windows and tucked back into my book. Paulina went upstairs and got a pile of books and her guitar. I haven’t spent that much time with my youngest child in ages. Of course, she was also nursing a head cold so she wasn’t energetic enough to do much besides loll around in front of the fire.

At about 4pm, the lights, television and radio came back on. But I had finished my book, spent the afternoon in front of the fire with my husband and daughter, and felt very relaxed indeed. I made a simple dinner of salad, soup and open-faced Reuben sandwiches, and we watched two movies in a row.

“What a productive day this has been!” the teenager announced, before finally going off to bed. The power can go out any weekend as far as I’m concerned.



Author’s footnote: thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the late Marg Rupert, who was killed in a fire at her home on Sunday. Hold your loved ones close, for we never know how long we will have with them. Email: dianafisher1@gmail.com.









To Anastasia on her 21st birthday

Those last two snowfalls of 2012 left the barn buried and packed in ice. The Farmer spent most of one day clearing our long driveway, then he started creating pathways to the shed and outbuildings with the snowblower. When he got around to the far side of the barn, he got a big surprise. Just in front of him in the pure white snow, a little black head popped up and bobbed around before weakly settling back down. A new calf had been abandoned in the snow by its mother.


The dark brown calf had been licked clean, and any sign of the birthplace had been covered by the freshly fallen snow. Still, there was no telling how long it had been lying there alone in the cold, so my husband and son-in-law carried it to the lambing room of the barn. They set it up with a heat lamp and gave it a rub-down with a towel. Then they went out to search for its mother.

All of our cows were standing at the hay feeder, chowing down. Mocha and Ginger had already had their calves; this one belonged to Betty, Julie or the first-timer, Oreo. Everyone munched and stared as they were examined by the Farmer. He decided Oreo, who wouldn’t let him anywhere near her, was the culprit, as her sides appeared decidedly less inflated than in weeks past. I imagine he spoke to her for a moment about her calf and, still in shock by the event of her first birth, she just kept eating.

I was summoned to make a bottle from the bag of Mocha’s colostrum in the freezer. I dumped the cloudy yellow contents of the baggie into the blender and mixed it with some bottled water. Then I poured the mixture into a measuring cup and gently warmed it in the microwave before pouring it into the calf bottle and fitting on the large rubber nipple. Pulling on snowpants, boots and barn jacket, I trudged out through the snow to the lambing room.

I found the calf, curled up in the corner of the pen, its head at an awkwardly uncomfortable angle. I climbed into the pen and sat down beside the animal, which was about the size of my daughter’s Labrador Retriever. The Farmer pried its clamped jaw open with his fingers. So much about farming is about being gentle and strong at the same time. “It’s cold,” he announced. We pushed the nipple of the bottle into the calf’s mouth, and I stroked the newborn’s throat. After a minute or two he started making little chewing movements but no sucking was happening. I pulled the bottle out and saw the nipple was blocked. The Farmer took it from me and emptied half of it into a bowl before filling a large plastic syringe. Again he pried the animal’s jaw open, this time to fit the syringe in before pushing the plunger. I heard and saw swallowing. Yay.

Fill syringe, open mouth, repeat.

When the calf had a pint of the warm liquid gold in its belly, we let it rest. Already we could hear his mother bawling outside the door. Suddenly she remembered she had left something in the snow over by the gate…

A little while later the Farmer went back out to the barn and the calf was on its feet. My husband carried the calf outside and reunited it with its mother. The new little family wandered over to the sheltered area of the barn, and the calf started suckling.

I said we should call the calf “Lucky” but the Farmer has decided his name is “Snowball”. Oreo was our only heifer this year so hopefully the last cows-in-waiting won’t have any surprises for us.

Farming is more about crisis management and problem solving than planning, I’ve found, as any plans you make can be laughed away by a drought or a rainy season. Hopefully 2013 will be more temperate than 2012, with enough hay for every animal and less stress for every farmer.

To reach the Farmwife, email Dianafisher1@gmail.com.

A very lucky snowball indeed.

Those last two snowfalls of 2012 left the barn buried and packed in ice. The Farmer spent most of one day clearing our long driveway, then he started creating pathways to the shed and outbuildings with the snowblower. When he got around to the far side of the barn, he got a big surprise. Just in front of him in the pure white snow, a little black head popped up and bobbed around before weakly settling back down. A new calf had been abandoned in the snow by its mother.


The dark brown calf had been licked clean, and any sign of the birthplace had been covered by the freshly fallen snow. Still, there was no telling how long it had been lying there alone in the cold, so my husband and son-in-law carried it to the lambing room of the barn. They set it up with a heat lamp and gave it a rub-down with a towel. Then they went out to search for its mother.

All of our cows were standing at the hay feeder, chowing down. Mocha and Ginger had already had their calves; this one belonged to Betty, Julie or the first-timer, Oreo. Everyone munched and stared as they were examined by the Farmer. He decided Oreo, who wouldn’t let him anywhere near her, was the culprit, as her sides appeared decidedly less inflated than in weeks past. I imagine he spoke to her for a moment about her calf and, still in shock by the event of her first birth, she just kept eating.

I was summoned to make a bottle from the bag of Mocha’s colostrum in the freezer. I dumped the cloudy yellow contents of the baggie into the blender and mixed it with some bottled water. Then I poured the mixture into a measuring cup and gently warmed it in the microwave before pouring it into the calf bottle and fitting on the large rubber nipple. Pulling on snowpants, boots and barn jacket, I trudged out through the snow to the lambing room.

I found the calf, curled up in the corner of the pen, its head at an awkwardly uncomfortable angle. I climbed into the pen and sat down beside the animal, which was about the size of my daughter’s Labrador Retriever. The Farmer pried its clamped jaw open with his fingers. So much about farming is about being gentle and strong at the same time. “It’s cold,” he announced. We pushed the nipple of the bottle into the calf’s mouth, and I stroked the newborn’s throat. After a minute or two he started making little chewing movements but no sucking was happening. I pulled the bottle out and saw the nipple was blocked. The Farmer took it from me and emptied half of it into a bowl before filling a large plastic syringe. Again he pried the animal’s jaw open, this time to fit the syringe in before pushing the plunger. I heard and saw swallowing. Yay.

Fill syringe, open mouth, repeat.

When the calf had a pint of the warm liquid gold in its belly, we let it rest. Already we could hear his mother bawling outside the door. Suddenly she remembered she had left something in the snow over by the gate…

A little while later the Farmer went back out to the barn and the calf was on its feet. My husband carried the calf outside and reunited it with its mother. The new little family wandered over to the sheltered area of the barn, and the calf started suckling.

I said we should call the calf “Lucky” but the Farmer has decided his name is “Snowball”. Oreo was our only heifer this year so hopefully the last cows-in-waiting won’t have any surprises for us.

Farming is more about crisis management and problem solving than planning, I’ve found, as any plans you make can be laughed away by a drought or a rainy season. Hopefully 2013 will be more temperate than 2012, with enough hay for every animal and less stress for every farmer.

To reach the Farmwife, email Dianafisher1@gmail.com.

2012 was a very good year.



Whether it was ‘annus horribilis’ or not, it’s important to sit back as the year wraps up, and take stock of your situation. On the Fisher Farm, 2012 was a pretty good year. We had calves born on schedule in winter, and although I had to keep one of them alive with a bottle because it wouldn’t suckle from its mama, they all thrived through the summer and fall until it was time to go to market. We had lambs born in spring, which is when I like them to be born; not in winter when you are constantly battling ice. Ice takes over the water buckets in the lambing room before the ewes have had their fill. Ice freezes the barn doors shut so we can’t get in to feed in the morning. Ice freezes the water hose so we can’t refill the water troughs when they are empty. Spring is better for lambing, to be sure.

We only lost one lamb to a coyote that we are aware of this year, and we only had four kittens born on the farm. That’s a pretty good reduction from last year, when we had 40. Operation spay/neuter was a success.

As the grass greened all around us and the farm animals began taking care of themselves, it became time to shift our attention to weddings. Our daughter’s, and my sister’s. One in January and one in September. First came Anastasia. She planned the whole thing pretty much on her own, on a shoestring budget, and it was impressive. I planted flowers in containers that could be easily shifted to the wedding site, and invitations were sent out for an important date three months into the future.

We managed to buy and put away some hay in early summer, and that was a good thing. You never know what the season holds, but this year it didn’t hold much rain. Our land is low and a creek runs through it so we didn’t suffer much but hay was pretty scarce all the same. Some farmers in Renfrew County are counting on the generosity of strangers out West for the hay that will get their animals through this winter. A winter that is shaping up to be a nasty one indeed. I would have been pretty sad to see the Farmer sell all our animals for lack of hay to feed them. Many farmers in Eastern Ontario had to do just that. I wonder if we sold all our animals if we would start over again?

We saw a terrible accident take the life of a beloved high school teacher, friend and coach in June. The funeral for Ted Cooper became a celebration of life. It brought so many old friends together to say goodbye to the old North Grenville District High School for the last time.

Anastasia married Andrew on a 30+ degree day in the middle of a meadow. The memories of that day are scorched on our brains as the sun scorched our skin. The new Mr. and Mrs. Wiggins went to P.E.I. for their honeymoon and caught a 1000-lb tuna fish. Too bad it was out of season and they had to throw it back for someone else to catch. It would have been worth about $10,000. In any case, I think catching a big fish is a lucky sign. And later in the year the bride was digging for driftwood when she found a diamond ring on a beach along the St. Lawrence River. I’m hoping the lottery ticket she bought me is just as lucky as she is.

We wrapped up the summer of 2012 with our annual Fisher Farm party, and this year it fell right on our fifth anniversary. A perfect celebration of a commitment I would make all over again, in a heartbeat.

My sister married her sweetheart and we celebrated as the power went out on September 8th. Dad was there in spirit, in the form of a double rainbow during the wedding reception. You bet your sweet Aunt Bippy we got pictures.

We have so much to be thankful for, as the seasons go whizzing by. Daughters graduating, finding their way in life, one little success at a time. It’s time to look ahead to 2013, for its challenges and surprises are still mysteries to all of us. May it be ‘annus mirabilis’, a very good year for each of you.

Email the Farmwife at: dianafisher1@gmail.com