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Monday, December 1, 2014

Winter warning

The Accidental Farmwife
The animals prepare for winter
By Diana Fisher

I turned the porch light on and there he was. A huge grey tabby, with half an ear missing and some crooked whiskers. He was eating the cat food I leave there, and the light made him freeze on the spot. But he saw me. His eyes met and locked on mine. I did the same thing I had done a couple years ago to tame Sammy. Slow blinks. The grey cat stayed frozen, staring at me, and slowly his eyes began to appear less startled, less alarmed. Calmer. He slowly blinked back at me. Then he turned and disappeared into the wood pile.
As the weather turns colder, cats we’ve never seen before appear out of nowhere, looking for food. Cats we thought had disappeared long ago suddenly reappear on the scene, checking out the familiar feeding spots. I was happy to see Sabrina the barn cat again. None of the other cats accepted her and they always scared her away when she came to eat. I used to have to feed her behind the stack of rubber boots or up on top of the freezer, where they couldn’t see her.
We first saw the grey tabby last spring when that calico cat was here. Every time she was in heat he would show up, answering her mournful cry at the window. We got her fixed and found her a home, though, after her babies were weaned. Then we didn’t see him again. Until now. There are no fertile females here to attract him anymore so he must be here for the free food.
One of the barn cats who eats on the back porch but doesn’t like people, has decided she will occasionally come in just to warm up. Nosey just darts in when you open the door. If you aren’t looking down, you don’t even see her. She’s just a stripey blur. I come home from work and there she is in the hallway, sitting like a statue, watching me. The girls must have inadvertently let her in after school. Sometimes she overnights with us and I don’t even know she is inside until I go downstairs and see, out of the corner of my eye, a brown tail disappear into a dollhouse.
The horse, donkey and cows are now covered with a fine coat of fur. They are ready for winter. I try to remember how thick their coats were last year. Some farmers can predict how harsh the winter will be by the thickness of the animals’ coats. The horse can be convinced to come into the stable every night now, for sweet feed and hay and shelter from whatever weather the night will bring. In summer she often stays down in the meadow, sleeping under a tree. Now the animals are usually up by the barn, eating from the feeders.
We’ve had to put a few bales up a week, but it’s already December and they can still go down on the meadow if they want to. They keep eyeing my front lawn and watching to see if we remember to lock the gate.
The horse has had her anti-botulism shots so she can eat the wrapped silage hay but she prefers the dry hay. The cows also prefer the dry hay this year. Hopefully they will acquire a taste for the sweet whiskey-smelling wrapped hay soon because that is what we have planned to feed them through the winter.
The dog houses are lined with hay and the dogs spend long hours napping every day, in snug comfort.
The birdfeeder is full and the two house cats spend the afternoons on the windowsill, cackling at the chickadees. The birds are so happy to see the black-oiled sunflowers they flit around my head as I fill the feeder, brushing my arms with their wings.
That last wind made it easy for the Farmer to find deadwood for the fire. He cut the felled trees with his chainsaw, stacked the logs on his wagon and brought them up to the house. Then he threw the logs up on the porch and stacked them in a wall of wood to block the wind and feed our woodstove.
There’s nothing like a wood fire in winter. So we’re ready. Bring it on.


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