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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Winter descends on the farm

It occurs to me that my sheep may be cold. I went out to the barnyard to check on the pregnant brood of cattle when I heard a faint bleating from the barn. I followed the well-beaten path into the room where the heated water is available for the beasts to have a good, long drink. There was Gracie, curled up between two mounds of frozen dirt. This is her first winter without friends for body heat.
Gracie spends her days with Donkey and Misty, the big Belgian horse. Her comrades are also her protectors, but I don’t know if they would curl up with her to sleep. And this time of year, when the horse and donkey come into the stable at night, Gracie is left alone in the barn.
At night the cows come in and huddle together, and that should warm things up considerably. It’s just the bitter midday cold that has me worried about her. She has a good fleece coat but I’m sure she would like to cuddle up to someone for that extra bit of warmth on a windy, cold winter day. Just one more reason why sheep shouldn’t be kept as solitary animals, the Farmer will say.
On my way back to the house I pass through the stable. It wasn’t yet time to put the horse and donkey in, as we like to keep them outside as long as possible – less mess to clean up in the stable, I suppose. Donkey thought otherwise, however, and started tailgating me, very closely. He fairly skipped over the last few piles of frozen dung to catch up with me as I opened the stable door. I would have had to slam it in his face to keep him out, so I didn’t. I ushered him into the warm stable, with the horse close behind.
Once the animals were inside their stalls, I loaded up the feeders with hay, filled the buckets with warm water and measured out portions of sweet feed. That’s where the trouble started. I put Misty’s sweet feed bowl in front of her, but before I had even put Donkey’s snack in front of him, the big horse reached over the partition that separated them and nipped him on the neck. I guess this is her way of reminding him that it is only out of her generosity that he is getting a snack at all. I gave her a scolding, firmly clasped the tie on her halter, and moved Donkey’s treat just out of her reach so she could neither steal it nor bite him. Still, it took some coaxing before Donkey would turn back around from where he hung his head in the corner. I think his pride was hurt. The politics of farm animals.
The bald spots on Donkey’s back are getting some hair regrowth. The sulfur lotion I have been applying to his bare patches seems to be working really well and that’s a good thing because I think it stings. I don’t want to have to put any more on him. The last time he sensed I was trying to dribble some of the stuff on his back he didn’t kick at me but he did do a double-legged donkey hop-kick sort of a thing to discourage me from further treatment. That kind of freaked me out. I was in the horse stall with him at the time. If he decided to line up and kick me, I wouldn’t stand a chance. And I’ve heard his hooves hit the wall. It sounds like a gunshot. So, the treatment has ended.
The cows are due to give birth any day now. We aren’t exactly sure when they are due, because it wasn’t a case of getting a bull and letting them dance together. A mature bull sets about his business right away. You can pretty much mark the date on the calendar and expect the calves nine months later. The little bull we got in the fall of 2013 was probably old enough to perform in the spring of 2014 but we aren’t exactly sure about that. He was pretty tiny. Our cows, however, appear to be massively pregnant.
Every morning and afternoon we have to walk the perimeter of the barnyard looking for calves. Particularly this week, when it’s expected to be bitter cold, we don’t want any calves born outside in the snow. We will have to make room inside the barn for the mamas as soon as they show signs of labour, so we don’t lose any young to winter.


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