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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Pedicure for the Belgians: No Small Feat

Ashley and Misty, our two Belgian horses, spend their days wandering, trotting and occasionally gamboling over the rocky glacial moraine in our pasture. Two months after the snow melted, we began to notice splits in their hooves. They were long overdue for a hoof trimming. The Farmer was making his usual trek to Timmie’s one morning when he noticed the Hearthstone Farrier Services’ truck. He walked right up to Dale Gladwin, took his card and made an appointment. He made sure to warn the farrier that we had very big girls.
On the big day, the horses began to whinny as Dale backed his trailer up to the stable and hopped out. I noted that this man, who would soon attempt to manhandle over 3600 lbs of Belgian heavy horse, was no taller than me.
The Farmer had secured the girls in their tie stalls, where they were eating their breakfast corn and hay. Their jaws stopped simultaneously when they saw Dale. The Farmer had cleared out the main area of the stable, outside the stalls. The girls watched as he fastened cross ties to either side of the room and stood with arms outstretched to measure the distance. Ashley snorted in commentary.
“So you want to go first, do you, girl?” the Farmer responded. Ashley allowed herself to be led out of her stall and clipped into the chains. She tugged on them gently to test their strength, then relaxed and set her gaze on Dale.
The farrier spoke in soft tones as he let the horse sniff his gloves. He asked her if she had a sore foot. Ashley shifted her weight nervously. She turned to bite at a fly on her side but the chains restricted her movement. She met my eyes and snorted.
“It’s ok, girl,” I said, and sprayed her down with repellent so that she wouldn’t fuss as much. Dale ran his hand down her front leg and tugged on the fur at the fetlock. The hoof lifted, easy as pie. He turned to straddle the leg and bent it up between his knees, exposing the underside of the hoof. As he reached for his clippers, Ashley stiffened and pulled her foot back out of his grip. He scolded her gently, and repeated the process. Several times. He suggested I feed her a bit of corn: anything to distract her. I held the corn bowl under her nose and she slurped at it, dropping wet grain onto his back, in his hair and down the neck of his shirt. Finally he was able to clip her hoof, brush the soft frog pad underneath, and check for any damage. By this time he was covered in sweat. And wet corn.
Next he pushed his tool block under Ashley’s nose and firmly pulled her leg out in front of her to rest upon it. With her leg extended like that, she looked like a spa client ready to have her toenails polished. As Dale straddled her foot once more to file her hoof, she quickly pulled it back from him, tossing him into the hay. I shot a glance to see if he would lose his temper. He just picked himself up, brushed himself off and walked in a big circle, muttering under his breath.
This painstaking process continued until all of Ashley’s hooves had been nicely cleaned, trimmed and shaped. When she refused to move, he gently tapped at her ankle until it annoyed her enough to lift her foot. It only took about an hour and a half…I told her how pretty she was and she snorted at me.
Next customer! Misty was nervous from the get-go, after watching Ashley fussing about. She broke her cross ties in the first five minutes. We refastened her and the Farmer and I each held a lead tied to her halter as back-up. Then we watched as she flung the farrier into the hay, again and again.
“Okay sweetheart. I know you’re stronger than I am,” he cajoled, “now be a good girl and give me your foot.”
Nothing doing. He tapped her ankles. She shifted her weight. He massaged and pulled at her leg. She just turned and looked at him. I tried to distract her with corn and she just took the bowl in her teeth and threw it across the room. Soon the Farmer had an idea. He slid a piece of plywood under the horse’s hoof, and the farrier chipped at her hoof with a chisel. And that’s how we got Misty’s front hooves trimmed. By the time he moved to the back hooves, however, Misty was losing all patience. And even a gentle horse might turn to kicking if her usual fussiness doesn’t work. So he called it a day. Two hours, and six out of eight hooves trimmed. Not bad for our first time.
After splashing his face and downing a glass of ice water, Dale gave us our bill. We were amazed that he had only charged for a regular trim, even though the job had taken two hours.
“You have to charge us more for your time,” the Farmer said.
“No – I consider it an investment,” Dale replied. I was amazed that he agreed to come back in another eight weeks. We thanked him and promised to do our homework
The next day I tried to lift Misty’s hoof using the lead rope as a sling, the way Dale had taught us. She flung me into a still-warm pile of manure and I made a mental note to muck out the stalls before trying such foolishness in the future.

Off the farm: KISSed at Bluesfest

In the ‘80s, I went to a lot of concerts. My uncle was head of Dustbane Security at the Civic Centre, and he let us in for free. Lansdowne Park was the only venue in town at the time. We saw half a dozen concerts each summer. And we sat in the V.I.P. section. I had no idea how lucky we were.
My tastes were more dance pop than hard rock, however. I didn’t see Judas Priest. Or AC/DC. I never saw KISS in concert... until this year.
Our youngest daughter Paulina is a fledgling rock star. Yes, she’s going to want to kill me when she reads this. She goes to club shows quite often, a true aficionado of live musical talent. I love going to concerts – and I like to give tickets as gifts. I decided to take the girls to KISS at Bluesfest as a summer celebration. Then I gritted my teeth, girded my loins and prepared to not enjoy myself. As it turned out, I haven’t had that much fun in decades. My cheeks hurt as much as they did on my wedding day, from smiling so much.
I didn’t “get” KISS in the ‘80s. I saw concert video clips on TV, and I remember thinking that Gene Simmons’ blood-spitting demon act was really scary, while his cod-piece thrusting dance was just plain gross. After Adam Lambert’s live American Idol performance with KISS, however, I decided it was pretty funny. Those guys don’t take themselves seriously. How could they, dressed the way they are in their garish costumes with the reptilian scales, bat wings, peek-a-boo cut-outs and platform heels?
On July 15 I put the girls in my little non-air conditioned car that squeaks so much you think a squirrel is caught in the engine, and headed to one of the most successful outdoor music festivals in North America. We drove down one street and up the next, searching for a parking space. I was occasionally overwhelmed by merging buses, one-way streets and aggressive drivers, and the girls were getting antsy so I dropped them off at the gate, and went off to find parking on my own. Every time I chose a spot, someone would come out of their house and say, “hey Lady. You park there, they tow you away,” or they would just stand guard at the end of their driveways, shaking their heads at me. Finally I received a text message from my eldest daughter, who was waiting for me at the front gate of the festival grounds. It took me another half an hour to find the parking lot that she directed me to. I walked the few blocks back to the concert area, crossed the green space and the OC Transpo route and booked it down the parkway to the main gate, followed by several slightly familiar looking people that I probably went to high school with. As I walked, I questioned whether I might truly be too old for this sort of event.
Like one of many sheep, I allowed myself to be corralled through the security check. I looked around for my children. Several thousand people were there, but not one face I recognized. And despite my three years in the over populated city of Taipei, I never have become comfortable in crowds. Thank goodness for cell phones and text messaging. They do come in handy at times like these.
The girls texted that they were waiting for me under the big screen, beside the stage. After all that driving around I was thirsty so I decided I had time to line up for a beer. But first I had to line up and show my I.D. I joked that I didn’t have any I.D. on me and asked if wrinkles and stretch marks would suffice. The girl behind the counter just stared at me, deadpan. She must have left her sense of humour in her other purse.
I took a cell phone photo of this 40-year-old guy who was very convincingly dressed as Gene Simmons. He too was playing host to a bunch of teenagers. This is what happens when Guitar Hero and Rock Band use ‘80s music in their programs. The music of our youth gets stolen by our own children. I don’t remember the music of the ‘80s being all that great when I was in it. Funny how it has stood the test of time with such a discriminating audience as today’s youth.
Beer in hand, I made my way through the crowd toward the big screen where my girls were supposed to be standing. Suddenly I got another text message. They were just a few feet from the stage, in the thick crowd that had begun to form. If I could see the guy with the foot-high Mohawk, they said, I could see them. But I couldn’t reach them. The crowd had already woven itself into a tight, impermeable mob. I was resigned to stand at the back, with a bunch of other parents who had been successfully shaken by their teenagers.
Finally, the show started. Fireworks cracked over our heads. Pyrotechnics flamed out from a wall of speakers to tan our faces, and I found myself wondering how flammable those costumes were. Paul Stanley hooked his platform-heeled boot into a hanging ring and swung out over the audience. The two new guys (replacing Ace Frehley and Peter Criss) played even better than the originals (not that I would know). A big screen spanned across the back wall of the stage to show Gene Simmons’ demon act in all its bloody glory.
I thought it was wonderful. It was one of the best shows I have seen in years.
Most recently I have seen Blue Rodeo, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, kd lang, and many other acts that might be deemed more suitable for my age demographic. But you know what? Sometimes it’s good to do something silly. It feels great to be a kid again. Crammed into a crowd so tight you can barely move. Getting rained on because the umbrella you wisely brought would only obstruct the view of the people behind you if you dared to put it up. Choosing for your own safety not to inhale but enjoying the incense mixture of cotton candy, cannabis, Indian food and fresh summer air anyway.
And even though my children stayed just out of my reach, deep in the thick crowd, I felt it was a night to remember, and we shared it together.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Julie the 1st

It was Canada Day and the Farmer and I were just getting organized for a trip to the St. Lawrence, where we had been invited to a bbq with friends.
At about 1 pm I headed out to the barn where my husband was topping up the lamb feeders - to see if he was anywhere near ready to go.
It had been a busy day already: Jim Gemmell, a technician from Eastern Breeders, had been around just after breakfast. Our yearling calf Mocha had been doing the mating dance for a day or so, and it was her turn to be bred.
Unfortunately her dance partner was Big Betty – who was supposed to be already pregnant and approaching her due date. The EBI tech confirmed our suspicions – Betty wasn’t pregnant – but she was in season. So we had her bred again too.
Hopefully, it will take this time. Obviously, we are new at this cowboy/cowgirl thing, and we don’t yet know the signs. Betty came to us pregnant and had a nice bull calf last year, so we know she can do it. My girl is no dud.
We might have built our chute just a bit too wide, so once lured with sweet corn into the head gate, the cows had plenty of room to wriggle around in an attempt to escape.
I kept waiting for the tech to get hoofed but it never happened. In fact, he commented on how calm our cows were. I felt like a proud mama. “That’s because this one treats them like pets,” the Farmer gestured toward me.
The two frisky girls taken care of, we turned to look at Ginger, who was standing in the corner of the barnyard, watching the proceedings with a concerned look on her face. She was so swollen with pregnancy she resembled one of those cows you see in Native American paintings: a perfect square block with legs.
The Farmer strolled over to her and wandered around back to have a look. “This cow is going to calf today,” he reported. I hurried around back of the cow to see what was happening. I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Of course, I had no idea what I was looking for.
“It could be hours, however,” he added.
A while later I was in the house, packing a bag for the pool party / bbq. I had momentarily forgotten about Ginger’s big day. I do that a lot, I guess. So when I found the Farmer, he took one look at my sundress and asked, “Is that what you’re plannin’ to wear to help deliver this calf? She’s pushing.” I trotted back to the house and changed into a long-sleeved shirt, jeans and my pink rubber boots.
When I made it back to the barn, I found the Farmer standing outside the pen that he had prepared with hay just hours earlier. Ginger was lying at the back against the bales, her face pressed into her yearling calf’s side. Mocha just lay there and chewed her cud as her mother panted, sighed and leaned into her. Betty lay just beyond Ginger’s rear end. I was glad we had closed the door to the little log barn, where the three of them are often found snuggled together, hiding from the flies. Those birthing quarters would have been a bit too close for comfort.
“Here it comes!” we coaxed Ginger as she gave a big push. A huge translucent bag slid out on a wave of water. “Uh...there’s no calf in that,” the Farmer declared. I had a horrible feeling in my stomach that something had gone wrong. Just then, however, two little yellow hooves peeked out. Followed by a black nose. “That’s what we want to see!” It looked awfully uncomfortable – giving birth to a creature that was all knees and elbows and sporting little yellow high heels.
“Does she need help?” I asked, just as the cow gave a big heave and the rest of the little black calf slid out - right into Betty, who up until that wet moment had been totally oblivious. “Move over, Betty,” I scolded. Mocha the calf was intrigued. For the next 45 minutes, while Ginger licked her calf clean and helped nudge it up onto its feet, Mocha kept sniffing and examining her new baby sister. I silently rejoiced that our new babe was a heifer and not a bull. We don’t keep the males and I hate sending my babies away...
Within an hour, we were on the road to our bbq. “What are you going to name your new addition, Mrs. Fisher - Canada?” asked the Farmer. She did share a birthday with the nation. With her shiny black coat, though, the calf reminded me of licorice. “We could call her Candy,” I suggested. The Farmer didn’t like that. “Sounds like a stripper,” he commented.
She was the first of our Black Angus herd, born on July the 1st. And so the dainty little creature, who looked more like a black lab than a calf, was christened Julie, the First.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Bringing in the Sheaves

“Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in….the sheaves!”
-Knowles Shaw hymn, 1874

Well, the sheaves have been brought in, but there wasn’t too much rejoicing. First of all, something happened to a couple of the bales and the twine was loose so the Farmer was lifting round bales up on the end of the tractor fork, only to have them wind open like an unfurling carpet, falling to the ground again. Try to stack thirty of those neatly in the barn. Next, the heavens opened and dumped a bunch of rain on us – not much – just enough to douse the hay we were desperately trying to get into the barn. And finally, there was no help in sight. Not a single one of our five offspring was around to take part in the annual farm tradition of bringing in the next winter’s feed. Which begs the question, where have we gone wrong?
In days gone by, a custom was built around the haying season. Families would travel to each other’s farms in turn, to work together and bring in the hay. This meant a great deal of manual labour, of course, as much of the work was done by hand. The efforts of the help were usually rewarded with a hearty meal, and sometimes at the end of the season, when every farm had been taken care of, a community dance would be held as a celebration. Local farm life writer Mary Cook could tell us a story or two about those days. Haying season was the original social networking opportunity: the chance to meet your neighbours and possibly even find a future mate. It was the original Facebook. It feels as though we are definitely missing out on something today. We could use some of those good old fashioned farm traditions.
With the development of more sophisticated farm machinery, the haying technique was simplified. With the right equipment today, a farmer can cut, rake, bale and collect all of his hay himself. And with the large round bales, you need to use a tractor to lift them onto the hay wagon. So it isn’t more than a one-man job, even if the teenagers did want to help – which they don’t. Of course, most farmers that I know don’t possess their own haying equipment. And it isn’t the sort of thing that you just lend to someone else to use. So, you have to hire someone to do it for you.
The Farmer hires someone to cut and bale the hay. If he is lucky, he finds someone who isn’t too busy to cut the hay during the only four consecutive days without rain that we will have all summer long. Day One, the hay is cut down. Day Two, the hay dries out in the sun. Day Three, the hay is raked and Day four, the hay is baled.
The Farmer chose Day Four to go fishing with his buddy, Ralph. And then he had the nerve to challenge Mama Nature by commenting on the four consecutive days with no rain.
So of course, when he finally had time to move the bales into storage in the barn on Day Five, it rained. And some of the bales fell apart. And the cows got in the way. And Donkey led some of the sheep through the open shed door before the Farmer had a chance to close it.
The process of collecting and stacking the hay bales usually takes a couple of days. I got pretty upset when the Farmer was courting me back in the summer of 2006 and he didn’t call for three days. It turns out he was haying for two and sleeping for one. The other woman turned out to be a 4’x5’ round bale.
We only did half the hay so far. The other half will wait for another elusive set of four sunny days this summer. It sounds like a good idea. The Farmer only has a day of work, and he has time to figure out where he is going to put the other thirty bales.
Ginger the cow is about to give birth. Her due date is Sunday. She will likely try to birth in the hay storage room, where she often shelters from the sun. We will have to wait until she and her calf are out on the pasture before we can move the rest of the hay into that spot.
And so we wait. For Ginger’s new babe, and for another week of sunshine. We have brought in half our hay. But so far it looks good.
I went into the barn and stuck my nose into a sweet, steaming bale. It’s amazing how hot they get, when tightly wrapped and slightly damp. The fermenting process continues, and they can actually become quite flammable so you have to ensure adequate ventilation. That’s all we need: a hay bale blowing up and scaring my lambs to within an inch of their lives.
The lambs will be the ones to benefit from all of this maneuvering, in the long run. If we manage to get a good load of hay in the barn, one that is not moldy and dusty, they will make more milk, birth more lambs and enjoy a more comfortable confinement.
Anything would be better than last year. Last year was enough to make me want to hang up my bag of lamb-feeding bottles for good.