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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dining Al Fresco


The lambing pens are lined with hay, waiting for our Christmas babies to arrive. The rams obviously did some work before we locked them up in August, because there is a ewe or two with a distinctly swelling udder. They are “bagging up”, as the Farmer says. That is a rather indelicate way to describe the situation. Most of our ewes are due to lamb in April.
Our cows are also due to give birth any day now. Ginger, Betty, Julie and Mocha each took turns dancing with Young Angus when he arrived last spring. However, according to the Farmer, they are not bagging up. But that doesn’t mean anything. Betty didn’t bag up the last time she gave birth to a huge calf either. She just let out a long, low mooo one morning and twenty minutes later she was licking her newborn clean.
In order to make things as comfortable as possible for our four bovine mothers-to-be, the Farmer has closed them off in their own field on the far side of the barn, There they have their own water supply, an open pasture and part of the barn for shelter.
This weekend the Farmer decided to cut the huge beams that make up the half-wall in the turkey pen. This large, open room is ideal for the cows, and now they can get in. Within half an hour of the Farmer’s renovations, Ginger and Julie had moved in to the new space. They are the smart ones, I think.
The cows are feeding now on wrapped hay that smells like whiskey. The fermentation process has left the silage rich and scented. They chew slowly, savouring the flavour.
So we will go out in the morning and evening now to check on the animals. I hope they don’t all give birth at once. I hope things go without complications, as planned. We selected a bull that would produce smaller calves that grow quickly after birth. I don’t want to deal with any calves getting stuck during birth when I’m the only one at home. It would be just my luck to have this sort of thing happen.
Misty is supposed to be pregnant, but we still don’t have that confirmed. Perhaps when we have the vet in to assist with the cow births, we will get him to do a preg check on Misty at the same time.
I have to go to Rooney’s to stock up on calf bottles and milk replacer. I keep this at the ready in case a ewe gives birth to multiples. Inevitably there will be a runt lacking the rooting instinct, and I will have to feed it with the bottle. During the first 24 hours, that milk must be colostrum straight from the mother, or the chance of survival is very slim. As much as I try, however, I cannot get enough milk from a ewe to fill an eye-dropper. The Farmer has to climb into the pen, tackle the mother and steal her milk. He can get an inch or two of colostrum in no time, and then I fill the big syringe to feed the baby.
Ideally, after a week or so, the runt will regain his strength and catch on to the routine of feeding from his own mother. If he doesn’t, I have to train him to feed from the bottle that I strap to the side of the pen. This method has worked, in the past. We are in the business of growing healthy sheep here.  
If the cows need help feeding their babies, we will supplement their feedings also. I will buy my supplies, and wait. They can come now – I am ready.

A Tale of Two Kitties

Attempting to slow down life

I don’t know how life suddenly became so busy. We don’t have kids to ferry around to hockey or soccer; only one remains at home and she is pretty self-sufficient. We have less than a fifteen minute commute to work in Kemptville, and we spend the majority of each weekend at home. Still, life goes whizzing by.
Some of our best moments are spent at the dinner table, in the garden, or in the barn. Just living, working, talking together. The best memories are not built in front of the television or computer.
The computer is a necessary evil, keeping us connected to work and friends and news in the rest of the world. But I think we can do without the TV. In 2011, the Farmer and I are going to look at our life to see how we might attempt to slow it down by simplifying things a bit.
I love living in a region with four distinct seasons – but they mark the passage of time in a way that clearly shows you how fast life is passing. Last winter we were praying for a dear friend with brain cancer. This winter we are burying him.
It’s been almost three years since we lost my dad. Three years. But as I watched the movie “The Bucket List” last week, the tears ran down my face. It is very difficult to recover from the loss of a permanent fixture in one’s heart.
I have friends entering menopause, fighting cancer, burying their husbands. Yesterday we were in high school.
Our lives are a blip on the screen. The best we can do is to surround ourselves with positive people, to keep traveling up hill, and to pause to appreciate the moments.
This morning my mother called to tell me she would not be at Sunday dinner. Instead she would be visiting with her own 95-year-old mother Vicky, who had recently suffered a fall. Vicky was only slightly hurt in the fall, thank goodness, but it put things into perspective. Occasionally she falls down and has to remain on the floor for several hours until she is discovered. She has left the water running in the bathroom for the entire day. She left the milk to burn on the stove. It is becoming unsafe for Vicky to continue to live on her own. At times like this, I wish we were Italian.
If we were Italian, I might be a stay-at-home Mom, and we could move our aging parents and grandparents into the spare wing of the house. There they would enjoy their golden years, and pass their wisdom on to the younger generation – our children and grandchildren.
But alas, we are not Italian. We work outside the home, and we are not able to move our aging family members in with us. It is time to find a new home for Vicky.
Vicky has been through some hard winters, living in a little schoolhouse in Quebec where her husband hunted, she gardened and they traded their goods for eggs at the farm down the road. As a single mom of four boys and one girl, Vicky learned to be thrifty, resourceful, creative and optimistic. When she doesn’t understand or cannot hear what you are saying, she giggles. She doesn’t get frustrated or upset – she just laughs. That’s Vicky.
And this gorgeous woman, who still paints her nails to match her russet-red hair, deserves the very best for the last few seasons of her long life.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stinky Finds a Home

I was raised with housepets, a dog and a cat. Moving into the farm three years ago, I had to adjust to having many “pets”, none of whom stayed in the house. It’s been a going concern for me. I’m always worried about the animals and how they are faring out of doors.
I’m quite happy to have the animals living outside, because I tend to be allergic to most of them. I do let them in to visit quite often, however. We have one cat that can open the sliding door himself. We often see Tiger strolling around the kitchen (accompanied by a swarm of mosquitoes in the summer).
In winter the cats disappear for long periods of time into the depths of the barn, where they burrow into the big round bales of hay together for warmth. The horse warms a family of cats in the stable too, and we often have those ones wandering up a well-beaten path through the snow to the house.
Occasionally we will have a barn cat that is extremely friendly. They will allow themselves to be petted and held. At the moment we have three or four of these tame little critters and I would like to see them adopted into good homes before it gets really cold outside.
Saturday was Stinky’s lucky day.
I didn’t think the little grey-and-white kitten had a name, but apparently he was dubbed Stinky by our daughter one day. I don’t think he is smellier than any of the other cats – he just gets close enough for us to smell him, while the rest keep their distance.
In any case, it was Stinky’s sparkling personality and not his scent that got him adopted on Saturday. Now he lives with a nice young couple and their beagle dog near Oxford Station. Latest reports claim that he is adjusting well to his new lifestyle, even if he has to share the home with a dog.
Controlling the cat population is a continuing battle, and I can’t afford surgery for all of them. Many times I have said, there must be someone out there who has developed a contraceptive for cats. Well, there is.
According to Pet Publishing’s website: Michelle Meister-Weisbarth, 32, a third-year student at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM), has genetically engineered a strain of Salmonella, one that does not produce disease, for use as an oral contraceptive vaccine with female cats. Her creation is an immunocontraceptive vaccine, i.e., one that prompts a cat's immune system to produce antibodies that prevent sperm from fertilizing her eggs.
"Immunocontraceptive vaccines have been around for a while," says Meister-Weisbarth, "but no one had married the idea of our feral cat problem with the vaccine. The key is to make the vaccine species-specific so you can put it in food pellets, drop them as bait, and not worry about blocking fertilization in any other animal."
Well, I’ll be. Are they looking for test cats? And if it has been around for a while, why haven’t I heard of it?? What a great idea.
There are still a few kinks to work out, of course, but it looks as though the vaccine will be available on the American market, at least, within the next 5 to 10 years.
Imagine the impact this vaccine will have on the feral cat population. Animal shelters will benefit hugely from this development. Not to mention the farmers with loveable barn cats like Stinky, who was recently given the more noble name of Oliver.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Steve's Day Out

We had had our new Suffolk ram Steve for one week. It was time to set him free amongst the ladies. But first we had to collect all the lambs that would soon be going to market.

I got called in to work Sunday afternoon but – wonder of wonders – the farm work waited for me until I returned. After Sunday dinner (and several glasses of full-bodied red wine), the Farmer and I headed to the barn where our flock was barricaded. Our intention was to sort sheep.

The ewes had to somehow be separated from the flock and ushered out the door, while the lambs were retained inside the barn. This proved to be no easy task. The ewes were not going willingly into that dark night. The Farmer decided to start pulling them by the hind leg, backwards. He started with the largest ewes, stalking them as they munched hay, then grabbing at the knobby little sticks that held up their girth. Once, twice and three times he was tossed into the hay by the biggest ewes. I couldn’t help laughing. The sheep were taking advantage of his exhaustion and slight impairment. I decided to help.

I found that if you grabbed both hind legs at the same time, the sheep would simply run backwards to help you out, sort of in a reverse wheelbarrow game. It worked quite effectively, until I started laughing and got myself off balance. Then I too got tossed into the dirt. Finally all the ewes were outside and the lambs were happily trapped in the barn, with a fresh load of hay and water. We went out to see Steve. I shooed the ram into the alley between the pens and helped the Farmer to hold him there.

While we held Steve up against the gate with our legs, the Farmer fastened a fresh blue cube of chalk to the ram’s halter.

“I can never remember how these things go on,” he muttered as he struggled to connect the clasps around Steve’s barrel chest. For the next ten minutes we held Steve tight as we tried different buckling combinations with the halter. Finally we got it on him in a fashion that would not soon be undone. Steve groaned. And grunted. And belched. He was growing impatient of this game already.

We opened the gate and pushed him out into the neighbouring room, only to discover that the last round bale of hay I opened had unrolled and hung down in front of us, blocking our path. Together we pushed Steve out through the curtain of hay and toward the open barn door. Outside, it was dark. There wasn’t a yard lamp or moonlight to brighten his path. He didn’t know what was out there. I could tell he was scared.

Why we decided to turn Steve out at night, I don’t know. In hindsight, it wasn’t the greatest idea. For the next hour, Steve tried to cozy up to the ewes who were outside the barn. They liked the smell of him but they weren’t too sure about his unique black face or his jingling collar bell. He was still running around after them when we stumbled back to the house to bed. It was 10pm.

The next morning, Steve was nowhere to be found. He had obviously tried to get back into the shelter of the barn, because the gate to the lambs’ pen was open and all of our captives had been set free. Before and after work the Farmer searched for the lost ram, listening for the jingling of his collar bell. We couldn’t imagine Steve would head for the bushes, as sheep are afraid of the dark unknown of wooded areas. We assumed he was in the cornfield or down in the meadow, but we couldn’t find him. Finally the Farmer called our neighbour, who also had sheep. Sure enough, for the past day, he had been hosting Steve.

Now our Suffolk ram is back in the barn where he wants to be, and he has some new roommates. The Farmer put some ewes in there with him, and hopefully they will become better acquainted with each other. After a while those ewes will switch places with another lot, until the whole flock has visited with Steve.

Hopefully by the time we let him out again, he will have grown so fond of his ladies that he will not want to leave.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Free kitties - but don't touch my lamb!

There is ice to break now on the cow’s water when I go out in the morning. The water in the hoses to the barn froze before we had a chance to shut them all down. Winter is peeking her frosty head around the corner as if she has suddenly remembered Eastern Ontario.

The rams’ hot breath hangs in the air of the lambing pen. They seem agitated. Soon they will have their freedom, and then in approximately 148 days a bunch of lambs will be born. Steve seems like he’s raring to go. He keeps head-butting the feeder when I walk by and put my hand in to pat him on the head. He wants out. But first we have to sort our existing flock of ewes and lambs.

Normally we sell the fat male lambs in the fall. This year I think the Farmer wants to sell most of the lambs, to make way for a change in the herd. We’re weeding out the Dorsets because they are too fluffy. I keep thinking about my little female, whom I did not name, who was born with club feet. I kept her penned with her mother until her feet straightened out, and then someone (likely the Belgian horse) stepped on her and broke her leg. Again she was penned with her mother and splinted until her leg healed. She is still fairly tame, and her mother has always been more like a dog than a sheep. She comes over to get her back scratched, pushing her nose into my hand. I don’t think I can say goodbye to either one of those two.

On sorting day, I will put a ribbon around the necks of that mother and baby so that the Farmer knows who he should not be taking to market. There may be a discussion around that reasoning. But I don’t care. He’s not taking my favourite lamb.

Yes, I know that’s not good farm sense – getting attached to my animals, but here’s the thing: I’m attached to many of them.

We had a tame kitten from the barn who kept coming in the house and I was just working on the Farmer – getting him used to having a pet indoors – when the kitten suddenly disappeared. It was still too young for us to tell what sex it was. We called it Hot Dog (because that was its favourite snack). Months later, our houseguests still ask what happened to that cat.

I can’t afford to fix all of our barn cats, obviously. They are quite prolific and apparently they are also a bit spoiled. I am trying to tame the littlest ones so that they will let me treat them and medicate them when they are sick, and so that maybe they can be turned into nice housecats for someone. I have about half a dozen now, ranging in age from three months to a year that will allow people to pick them up and cuddle them. If you know anyone who wants a nice cat, let me know. I can hook them up.

Soon there will be some other new arrivals on the farm. Mochacinna Latte (Mocha for short) has been co-habitating with Young Angus since last March, so she should be due to calf mid-December. The other two calves we have had born on the farm came without much fanfare or difficulty, so we are hoping this one will be the same story.

As the weather gets colder and the food in the pasture gets scarce, Misty should be coming up to the stable more often. That’s a good thing, because we need to get a good look at her to see if she is also growing a baby belly.

It’s time to put up our first bale of hay, to stuff feed bags in all the barn wall cracks, and to bed down the barn with some straw. Winter’s a-comin’.

Steve the Suffolk

In the process of putting the flowerbeds to bed for the winter, I decided to rip out some of the overgrowth of Virginia Creeper from the stone fence. The long, curling vine lay in a heap in the middle of the yard and I stared at it, wondering if I could channel the spirit of Martha Stewart long enough to transform the vine into a crafty Christmas wreath for our farmhouse door. I told the Farmer not to drag it off to the burn barrel: I was going to make something out of it. He looked at me as if I said I was going to give birth to triplets.

“What. I can make stuff. Just you wait.”

I did try to wind it into a wreath but I couldn’t get the tangle to form a circle shape. I decided the wreath makers had secret tools and implements that I did not possess. Then I went shopping at Old Porch Primitives in Oxford Mills. Every time I go into that store, I see something that makes me cry. Simple little wooden signs declaring: “All because two people fell in love” and “Could I have this dance, for the rest of my life?” Honestly. I am such a mush. I love that place.

Debbie had hung a simple strand of grapevine between the rafters, wound lights around it and dangled metal stars from its curves. I bought a spray of stars and went home, armed with inspiration.

I now have a homemade swag of vine, fairy lights, metal stars and ornamental sheep on my sun porch. And if you haven’t gathered from the last three paragraphs, I’m darned proud of it. Now if I can just figure out how to get my solar Christmas lights to work, I’m ready for the holiday season.

On the livestock side of things, the Farmer has decided he is tired of Dorset sheep. They grow great big pompadours of fleece, and their young often have difficulty finding the teats in all that wool. I personally find them very cute, but I guess that doesn’t count for much when you have to shear them. My husband decided to sell Rambi, the Dorset ram, and to buy a black-faced Suffolk to bring about change in our herd.

On the way to Maurice and Joyce Seguin’s farm Sunday morning, the Farmer cleared his throat. “Can I just ask that you do not give this ram a stupid name, like Rambo or Rambi?”

Stupid? “What would you like me to call him?”

“Well, I call all my rams Johnny.”

I told the Farmer that I thought that was ridiculous and not very original. Each ram should have its own name.

“Okay,” I said, “What should we call him, then? Steve?” I joked.

So now we have a 10-month-old Suffolk named Steve.

The ram was obviously raised with love and trust, by Grama Joyce. Her tame goats and lambs gathered around, nibbling on our jackets and fingers as we put a collar and lead on our new ram.

Steve allowed himself to be led up the ramp into the back of the truck. On the way home, he commented on every pothole and bend in the road.

“It’s okay, Steve. Almost home,” I said.

Back at the farm, we helped Steve to hop off the back of the truck and into the lambing pen, where Rambo and Rambi were already happily ensconced in their catered hotel.

The two older sheep crowded to the corner of the pen and craned their necks to see the newcomer as he was released into his quarters. They lifted their snouts skyward to catch his strange scent.

The Farmer tied a bell onto Steve, thinking it would keep us from taken by surprise.

“Don’t get yourself into a corner with this one,” he warned.

I looked at Steve. He approached and put his soft muzzle into the palm of my hand.

“He doesn’t like his bell,” I said. I might have to help that jingling thing to go missing without a trace at some point.

I can’t wait to see the black-faced babies we will have in April.

Farm Community Service Note: If anyone is interested in adopting two little male pot-bellied pigs, let me know and I can hook you up with their owner. They need to be in a winterized shelter.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A skunk a day keeps congestion away

Just about everyone in my daily world has a cold right now. So, despite my strong constitution, one day about a week ago I noticed the beginnings of the tell-tale throat tickle. A-hem. Out came the bottle of Oil of Oregano.
A friend of mine got me hooked on this nasty stuff. It tastes like liquid fire with some potent herbs thrown in for good measure. But it works. The key is you have to start taking regular doses (2-3 drops) when you first begin feeling symptoms of a cold or sore throat. I think it kills every germ in your throat on the way down because you start feeling better right away. It is a natural anesthetic and fights anything viral, fungal or bacterial. It is the enemy of all things germ-y.
Another key to Oil of Oregano usage is that you must never – I repeat, NEVER – put the 2-3 drops ON your tongue, where taste buds abide. If you ever want to taste food again, you must put the drops UNDER your tongue. And no matter what the Farmer tells you, I did not tell him to take a tablespoon of the stuff. He obviously wasn’t paying attention to my instructions.
My personal recommendation is that you keep a chaser at the ready – real maple syrup works well – so that you can quickly eradicate the taste of the oil. Again, if you get your symptoms in check early enough, you should suffer less than usual during cold season.
My Cree friends are currently planning their fall goose hunting trip to Eastern Ontario, so we will have houseguests again soon. When they were here in the spring, one of the boys was very sick with the mumps. It amazed me when he hauled himself out of bed before dawn each morning to go hunting with the men, bottle of Advil in hand.
“Doesn’t he just want to stay in bed and watch movies? I will take care of him,” I offered. I was promptly told that the Crees believe you must get up out of bed and go outside when you are sick, otherwise the illness will “sit” on you. Ruth patted her chest as she explained, and it made sense to me. When I wake up with a cold, I like to go out to the barn to clear my head. The fresh air and hard work does me a world of good.
Last weekend we were getting ready to head to Queen’s University in Kingston, where my husband the Professor had to attend a workshop. He went out to the barn to feed before we left. When he returned to the house, he announced that my over-feeding of the barn cats had enticed some hungry skunks. He had taken care of the problem, he said, and we grabbed our coats to leave.
As we got in the truck and headed down the road, it was as though a cloud of Pepe le Pew’s finest scent was chasing us. I worried that the Professor was going to be recognizably stinky during his seminar. As we rounded the corner, however, the smoke cleared. I guess it just hangs over the barn like a stink cloud. “It will smell like that for the next six months,” he said.
Oh well, eau de skunk does wonders for clearing the sinuses.

A Sommelier I'm Not.

With 15 to 20 people at our dinner table every Sunday evening, we go through a lot of wine at our house. A while back, Mom started providing her homemade wine to help us cut costs.
Now some people turn up their nose at homemade wine, because they feel it is not up to their standards. I’m not exactly a conoisseur, but I’ve had some pretty expensive wine in my travels – and in many cases I would prefer the taste of the homemade stuff.
Mom needed help bottling her wine batch the other night, so I met her at the Brew-by-You on Prescott Street, ready to pitch in.
The first thing I noticed when I entered the place was the water stain up the wall to the ceiling. Apparently Mom had had an altercation with the bottle-rinsing mechanism. She smiled sheepishly and handed me an apron.
I watched as she placed one bottle after another under the plunger, filling them with wine. Her routine had a rhythm to it. When she paused for a moment to rinse out a few more bottles, I watched as the wine rose up the side of the bottle to the neck…”Aah! It’s going to spill over!” I panicked. Mom jumped and rushed over to look at the equipment. “No it isn’t, silly. It stops when it gets to the top.”
Phew. For a minute there I was having visions of  Lucille Ball at the conveyor belt, popping one chocolate after another into her mouth when the assembly line backed up. Except it would be Mom and I, taking turns putting our mouths under the plunger to catch the overflow in between bottles. I told the owner of the shop what I was imagining. He handed us two wine glasses for sampling.
“Something tells me the two of you would do just fine if that happened,” he said, and walked away.
I was given the job of corking the bottles. “Good. I hate that job,” Mom complained.
When I asked why, she said, “Because I hate that stupid little machine.”
I watched the shop owner demonstrating how to use the manual cork plunger. Position the bottle, pop the cork into the funnel at the top, squeeze the handle down to bring the cork into position and plunge. Simple. I looked at Mom. Something tells me she had had a bad experience with the bottle slipping and spilling in the past. I made a note to be extra careful.
The machine was quite stiff to operate so after a half dozen bottles, I was already starting to sweat. I paused to lose a layer of clothing. Mom looked at me and smiled. A-ha. So that’s why she gave me the corking job.
Next, Mom chose labels and started applying them to the wine bottles. I was allowed to pick out the sleeve-things for the bottle top. Fun, fun. I chose a rainbow of colours, each one complementing an accent on the label art.
Mom watched as I popped one sleeve after another onto the bottle tops. “Normally I colour-coordinate them according to wine type and size of bottle,” she said. “That way I don’t have to take them out of the case to see what I’ve got.” Well, that makes sense, but my way is more fun, I said.
I pushed the bottles into a huddle in the corner of the countertop. Then I carefully placed one at a time into the heated coil ring, to shrink the sleeve. “What happens if you leave it in too long?” I asked.
“It begins to smoke and melt,” the shop owner said, raising one eyebrow at me. Mom may find a few singed sleeves on her bottles but after the first half-dozen bottles, I got the hang of it.
At the end of the evening, we sampled our wine and pronounced it delicious.
“Mmm. Yummy. Two more months and it’ll be perfect. Just in time for Christmas.”
Who does she think she’s kidding? That wine isn’t going to last until December unless we put it in her basement and completely forget it’s there.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Misty submits to a pedicure

One weekend a couple of our dinner guests pointed out that Misty appeared to be favouring her front left foot. Well, no wonder. The girl hasn’t had a pedicure since before she went off to “summer camp” to be bred, and she has been gallivanting over glacial moraine for the rest of the season. She probably stubbed her hoof on a rock and cracked it. I called the farrier.

For the next few days we couldn’t get our schedules coordinated, so Misty had to wait til the weekend. Finally, on Sunday night, just as we were welcoming the first of our 18 expected dinner guests, Thad the farrier called. Our knight in oiled chaps. Our saviour of the hooves. He was in the area. We turned the veggies down to a low boil and headed out to entice Misty into the stable.

It was a beautiful fall day, and we found her standing with her friend Donkey under the low hanging branches near the fenceline. The twigs were scratching her back in the breeze. She was quite comfortable and didn’t seem interested in my requests for her to follow me to the barn.

“Go get a bucket of corn,” the Farmer suggested. Well, that worked. For Donkey, anyway. He followed me into the stable. Then Misty followed him.

We hooked their halters up to the stall ties and gave them each some water and hay with their corn ration.

Just then Thad arrived. He walked right into the stall behind Donkey. “Uh...are you used to donkeys?” I asked, worriedly, “Cause that one bites. And kicks.”

He looked at Donkey. Donkey looked at him and stopped chewing for a moment. They seemed to form an understanding.

Thad moved around to the other side of Misty. She was stubborn to lift her foot for him, but she was not at all nervous or jumpy as she had been in previous pedicure sessions. Her eyes were calm and when he tapped her ankle with his little hammer, she lifted her hairy hoof for inspection. Thad turned his back on her, brought the hoof up between his knees and gripped it firmly while he picked the debris out. She slammed the hoof back down to the ground and Thad jumped out of the way. This routine repeated itself several times until finally he could see that the soft inner portion of the hoof (known as the “frog”) had abcessed. He cleaned it, put antiseptic on it, and pronounced her cured.

But there were three more hooves to go. Thad patiently led Misty through the various signals. He leaned on her to get her to shift her weight. Pulled on her ankle tuft to get her to lift her hoof. Tapped her with the hammer. Straddled the hoof. Picked it clean. Jumped out of the way when she pulled it back and slammed it to the ground like a gunshot. Then he repeated the routine with the file. He tied a rope around her hoof and let her swing it back and forth until she got tired and gave in. Soon Misty had four beautiful hooves, nicely trimmed. The rodeo was over. Thad was drenched in sweat.

I looked at Donkey. His hooves are tiny little things but he did have some problems with them earlier in the summer when one of them started to curl upwards. Apparently his trotting around provided enough self-trimming. His hooves are nicely worn down now. Which is a good thing because we have been told that if you want to do a donkey’s hooves you have to put him in a stockade and leg ties. And we don’t have any of those handy.

I paid Thad, gave him a tip and thanked him for his patient efforts. I appreciate that he never hits my horse or yells at her in anger. I promised to call him back in eight weeks.

“Misty seems calmer than before. Maybe it her time at the breeder’s that calmed her down.” I asked Thad if he could tell whether Misty was pregnant or not. He looked at me like I was slightly crazy. I guess that means no, you cannot look a horse in the eye and tell if she has a secret.

I can tell by the way she walks now, though, that she feels extra pretty with a fresh pedicure.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Dad

‎"...when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance." - from The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran.
After a few days of cold rain and harsh winds, we were blessed with warm sunshine and a cool breeze on October 16, the day we chose to bury Dad’s ashes. The sun shone through yellow leaves onto the black tombstone that Mom had so carefully chosen to mark Dad’s final resting place. It has been engraved with a waterside scene of two Adirondack chairs on a dock, with two loons floating near the shore. Dad was happiest near the water.
For the past two and a half years, Dad’s resting place has been various locations of prominence in the house where he spent the last 24 years of his life. It became a bit of a game for me, every time I dropped in at the house on Beach Road, to find Dad. Mom liked to move him around once in a while and I couldn’t settle in until I found him. When I discovered the polished mahogany box I always put my hand on it and whispered, “There you are. I love you.”
Dad’s pancreatic cancer revealed itself as more than just a persistent back pain in August of 2007. By September 11, despite surgery, it had spread and he was diagnosed terminal. We lost him just four months later, on January 14, 2008. Maybe we held onto his ashes for another two and a half years because we weren’t ready to say goodbye yet.
Reverend Lynda from the United Church did a wonderful job choosing the perfect verses from the Bible and writings by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Dad was never much of a church-goer, but he had formed a friendship with Lynda at our farm wedding and during his illness. She knew the type of ceremony he would want: nothing too formal.
Anastasia read the lyrics from a country song, “I’m already there: take a look around, I’m the sunshine in your hair, I’m the shadow on the ground...” and she almost got through it without crying. Wish I could say the same for me. Reverend Lynda helped me out by starting the reading on Death from The Prophet, but I barely made it through my four lines. The last two, “‎"...when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance,” were delivered in a falsetto, I’m afraid. Those words are so perfect for Dad, who loved so much to dance.
Milena read an email in which she detailed a dream she had about her grandfather. A few of us have had really vivid dreams about him, and they have been similar in their tone and very, very comforting.
After the urn was placed into the ground, we each took turns putting a rose on the grave. I touched the velvet bag holding Dad’s remains one last time, and allowed myself one more good cry. I’m sure he would prefer we suck it up, but I’ve never been one to hold back emotions. Must be the Black Irish in me. Anyway, no need to hire professional wailers at our funeral (as is the custom in Asia). We do our own wailing here, thank you.
After the ceremony, Mom explained that when she told Dad she had chosen a spot for them to be buried together in Oxford Mills, his reply was, “Oh. I thought you were going to keep me.” Well, I guess she did both. She couldn’t keep him forever – what if something happened to the ashes? His remains are in a much safer place now, and we all have a place to visit.
I live right around the corner from Dad’s resting place, and although I’m sure I’ll check on it every once in a while, I don’t imagine I will feel closest to Dad there. I feel his presence when I am enjoying the breeze coming off the water, or admiring the fresh beauty of the first snowfall. I can almost hear him when I’m facing a personal challenge or even when something strikes me as incredibly funny. He has instilled in me a love of nature, a sense of humour, a belief in myself and, hopefully, strength of character.
Thanks, Dad, for everything. You will always be remembered.

My Farm Journal

I’m going to start reading the annual Farmer’s Almanac online. They seem to be more accurate than the weekly weather forecast. The Almanac predicted a 30-degree summer and they were right. They said it was going to be a wet fall – with 23 days of rain in September I’d say they were right on the money.
Now the Almanac is calling for a cold, dry winter. Not the winter of choice for a farmer. Actually, I don’t know anyone who would appreciate that kind of winter. Snow insulates and so, much as we complain about it, it’s a good thing. And it gives us something to play in and keeps the snowplow operators happy.
If it’s a dry winter, our water to the barn will freeze. Like it did two years ago. I had to haul buckets of water out to the cows twice a day – have you any idea how much those things drink?? More than once I would stagger out to the barnyard under the weight of two full water buckets only to have an impatient Betty knock me on my butt into the snow.
Many farmers keep a farm journal to keep track of the weather patterns and what they do around the farm each season. Quite often it was the farmwife who did the writing in years past, as she typically spent more time in the house. On the Fisher farm, this Accidental Farmwife column tends to be our farm journal. We look up past issues in my scrapbook to see when we let the rams out, when we medicated the sheep last, etc. I do have another book for writing down important dates and of course we have the lambing journals for marking down who gave birth to whom, etc.
I would love to get my hands on some authentic old farm journals. They must be awe-inspiring reads. Much like my childhood fascination with the Little House on the Prairie book series, detailing the hard life of the pioneers, I think stories about the lives of farmers in Eastern Ontario at the end of the 19th century would be equally impressive.
My Farmer has documented life through a collection of lists. He has a clipboard with the attendance list, menu and details of every family Thanksgiving dinner he has hosted for the past several years. Many times the Farmer will refer to the clipboard before he uses the phonebook. I learned a long time ago not to mess with the clipboard of lists.
As I flip back through the aging sheets of looseleaf, I notice that the list of attendees at the family gatherings has shifted recently so that the younger generation under the “kids” heading shows more names than the “adults”. Soon we will be over-run with young people.
Just last week the Farmer became a great-uncle. That is just one step away from grandfather, as far as I’m concerned. Of course, our kids are still pretty young, with POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION (the emphasis was for their benefit, not that they ever read my column ;) to complete before they consider marriage or parenthood. But when they do eventually (ten years from now!) add a name or two to our “kids” list on the clipboard, we will welcome the little gaffers with real Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Looking forward to the new library

I wish I could take a good picture. If I were a gifted photographer, I would drive around with a camera in my car so that I would always be ready to grab a snapshot of a scene. For example, on my 15-minute drive into town this glorious autumnal Saturday, I saw the following works of art that I wish I had captured on film: two gleaming black horses standing pushme-pullyou style under glowing yellow leaves on a maple tree; blood-red chrysanthemums in black iron urn planters next to cheeky orange pumpkins on the front steps of a white house; a real-life cowboy in a plaid shirt, boots and jeans leaning on a shiny red truck, talking to a white dog with a brown spot around its eye. It appeared as though a television crew had come through town, setting the stage for visual perfection in every corner before the cameras started rolling. I hope lots of people got married today because it was the perfect day for a wedding. It even rained a bit at the end of the afternoon, for luck.

I drove past the new library construction and thought of how many hours I have spent in libraries over the years. Life is so busy now that my recreational reading has been reduced to a few minutes a day before bed unless I’m on vacation, but there have been times in my life when I positively devoured books.

We only had two channels on the TV when I was growing up, so books were important. I was a regular customer at the public library, where I borrowed as many books as I could carry each week. My favourite authors were Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl and Carolyn Keene. (I just discovered, after Googling “who wrote the Nancy Drew series?” that it was actually a bunch of people, writing under the collective name of Carolyn Keene. That boggles the mind.)

Books entrusted to my safekeeping were always in some sort of danger, unfortunately. I read while walking home after school. My favourite place to read was up a tree. Many times a book fell out of my shoulder bag during the climb, landing in a pile of damp leaves – or worse. I used to read during my bath too, until that fateful evening when a very large hardcover copy of The Story Girl slipped through the bubbles into the water. When I checked to see if it had dried out the next morning, I was shocked to see its pages had swollen so that the book was forced permanently open. I have a confession: I squeezed that book shut and returned it to the library shelf without telling Mrs. Folkard, the Kemptville Public School librarian at the time. She scared me just a little.

Hangin’ out in the public library was one of my favourite pastimes when I was young. A few decades later, the library was a weekly destination when I was raising young children of my own. It provided much more than books to a young mother desperate to get out of the house. When I lived in Asia, I scooped up the new English bestsellers as soon as they arrived on the display table before they could disappear.

I’m looking forward to checking out (get it? I punned ;) our new library and dusting off my old borrower’s card. I hope we find an appropriate use for the old library building, because it holds a special place in the hearts of many local book lovers.

Last month we lost Mrs. Groskopf, the librarian who held court in the old stone building on Prescott Street when I was a skinny little four-eyed bookworm. She had a smile that crinkled up her eyes, and I know she loved her library because she knew exactly where every book could be found. I once thought I would be a librarian some day. It says so in my kindergarten yearbook (circa 1973, if you must know...). Many things have changed but my love of books remains. Thank you to everyone who donated their money, time and efforts to the Room to Read campaign. I know I’m going to be one of our new library’s first customers.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Opening Day of Duck Season

The alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning. Unlike on weekday mornings, when he hits the snooze button and goes back to sleep, the Farmer was up and out of bed before I could bury my head under the pillow. Headlights slowly crept up the driveway.

“Good morning Cody,” I heard someone greet our intrepid watchdog before entering the house through the door under our bedroom window. Cody snorted and retreated deeper under the porch. I heard a few more vehicles arriving, car doors being shut, tired, early-morning greetings being exchanged.

Within minutes I could smell coffee brewing, bacon frying and toast...toasting. The Farmer built this house well. It’s almost soundproof from room to room; the conversation in the kitchen was well muffled. Lying in bed while so much activity filled the room below reminded me of being at my grandfather’s cottage as a child. On those summer nights the adults would laugh over a game of cards in the kitchen while my sister and I lay in our cots, watching the lantern light flicker over the ceiling.

I returned to sleep before the hunters slid out the back door. They started up the ATV and a few trucks and headed down to the creek that runs along a mile of our property. My husband had already set out blinds and piles of decoys the day before, in preparation for this pre-dawn hunt. It was now probably about 5:30 am.

I woke at dawn, to the sound of guns popping in the distance. Pulling on my barn clothes, I headed down to the kitchen. It looked like a twister had just passed through. To be fair, everything was neatly stacked, but there was still quite a bit to clean up. The Farmer likes to clean up his own messes but I knew he would need help, as he still had a big meal to cook for the traditional opening day lunch. I decided to go to the barn first.

Halfway to the barn I realized I had forgotten my gloves back at the house. Oh, well. The mud at the entrance to the barn was more like quicksand after the rain. I stepped in a soft spot and the sludge promptly sucked my rubber boot right off of my foot. I stood on one leg and put my hand out to the side to stop from falling into the muck. I grabbed the gate right where a healthy crop of stinging nettle was growing. The shock made me drop my foot into the mud.

I picked myself up and hopped on one foot over to the water trough, where I scrubbed the nettles out of my now-throbbing hand. I picked up a nearby rag and wiped the mud off my foot before stuffing it back in my boot. The sheepdog whined at me. My strange behaviour was probably making her nervous.

I continued on to feed the cats and the turkeys. On my way to feed the rams (who are now in isolation awaiting winter mating season), the bull started to approach. I waved my pitchfork at him. He gave me a sidelong look and then backed away. I hurried into the lambing room before he could set me up for a charge.

After feeding and watering all the animals, I returned to the house to clean myself up. Next, I headed to the kitchen to put a dent in the mess. Just then, the hunters returned. They put two measly geese on the porch and headed into the house. As they had already been awake for more than six hours, they were just about ready for beer, wine and cigars. It was about 11am.

The Farmer started up the bbq and prepared to cook their feast. I was beginning to feel a little out of place. Testosterone hung thick in the air like a cloud of cigar smoke.

I decided to leave the boys to their manly chatter, and grabbed my car keys.

Kissing the Farmer on the cheek on my way out the door, I announced I was going to do some hunting of my own. At the shopping mall.

No, we have not been drinking.

Boozing Bovines

I read an article in the Farmers’ Forum recently highlighting a farm in Kelowna, B.C., where the beef cows are fed red wine. Apparently Farmers Janice Ravndahl and her brother Darrel Timm of Sezmu Farms (get it? “sez Moooo…”) give 100 of their 300-head herd a litre of red wine EACH every morning for the last 90 days of their lives! The farmers say the wine enhances the flavour of the beef – and it’s “the ultimate food and wine pairing”. I guess it is. The beef is going for close to $35 a kilo for the rib-eye at local butchers and restaurants in B.C., and they are looking to increase their market across Canada soon.

I think this story is a great example of a couple of things. First, I always admire farmers who take their business one step further, by creating their own unique brand of product. Some sheep farmers have a side business selling hand made wool creations. Some goat farmers sell their cheese on the side. Aubin farms of Spencerville has a fantastic offering of flavourful samosas and chutneys at the North Grenville Farmers’ Market every Sunday. These farmers are doing more than just raising their product and shipping it off to market. Perhaps they don’t have fulltime day jobs elsewhere. I don’t know how they find the time, but I admire their entrepreneurial attitude.

The story of the wine-fed cows also makes me smile because, according to the Sezmu farmers, the wine keeps the cows happy. They are constantly mooing after feeding, which is something they never did before. Apparently they are so loud with their drunken song, the farmers have switched their wine feeding to morning so that the bovine merry-making doesn’t keep the humans up all night. The wine is bought from local wineries, and if you’ve ever had B.C. wine you know it’s world class. These cows aren’t just drinking fermented grape juice over there. They’re getting the good stuff. What a nice send-off for these animals in the last three months of their lives.

My question is this. How do the Sezmu farmers decide which 100 of their 300 cows will be the lucky ones to enter the booze program? Is it the ones who have gained the most? The ones with the best temperament? Or is it the luck of the draw? When we got Betty and Ginger a couple of years ago, I read a study stating that cows are very intelligent animals. Mine have yet to prove that fact, of course, but still I am wondering, if they are so intelligent, don’t you think they know that some of them are getting preferential treatment? Some farmers believe that the mood of the animal pervades the meat. That is one of the reasons why we try to keep our animals content, particularly during the time leading up to market. If the wine makes the happy beef taste better, wouldn’t the opposite hold true for the cows that are feeling left out? Wouldn’t their meat be bland and tasteless as a result of their depression? I think this is something you have to consider.

Our fledgling beef herd is just starting out. We have only four cows and one bull at the moment. Maybe when that winery opens up down the road, we should try the bovine-wine connection ourselves. But if we do, you can be sure that none of our cows will be feeling left out. No one likes to drink alone.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Not his kind of cake

My summer vacation was absolutely perfect. I didn’t go away to the ocean, I didn’t go camping in the woods. I didn’t travel to some great city to visit museums, art galleries and rock concerts. I stayed right here at the Fisher Farm. Home.

My mornings consisted of loafing about, having coffee in bed, following the Farmer around the barnyard for an hour or so then picking a weed or two out of the garden. After lunch on the porch I would fall asleep reading my book.

Now don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t completely non-productive while the Farmer moved wagonload after wagonload of manure every day. I did sort out my book proposal and I sorted out my teenager’s closet. Those jobs took three days all together. But mostly I loafed. And I loved every minute of it.

As the Farmer was working so hard (his home-stay vacations are always more work than going to work), I took over the morning feeding chores. And it’s a good thing. Because I stumbled upon something this morning that would have made the Farmer scream like a girl. On the floor of the storage room in the barn was something green with black stripes that rhymes with “cake”. Yessir, that’s what I said: CAKE.

Now, this particular “cake” was no longer wriggling, as it had been mostly decapitated by one of my hardworking barn kitties. But it was still a cake. And the Farmer hates that kind of cake. In fact, the Farmer hates cakes so much, people are not supposed to even mention them in his presence. He can’t watch them on TV, he hates it when they show up on the road, and he certainly doesn’t want to deal with them in his own environment. If there is a nest of cakes in the barn, I am going to be the one to get rid of them. And that is not a task that I am particularly looking forward to.

As a young girl growing up on Johnston Road, I remember kicking the tarp off the lawn tractor and having a cake wriggle over my foot. It didn’t concern me much.

An afternoon in Limerick Forest with my children was made even more enjoyable (at least to them) by the discovery of a nest of tiny newborn cakes. Again, I wasn’t really bothered by the little squirmers.

I have been to Australia on a few occasions, and I have spotted the elusive, deadly Brown Cake. It is possibly the most poisonous cake in the world. It was wriggling through the underbrush next to a beach that was cleared by the screaming whistles of lifeguards within seconds of my announcing I had just seen “a funny brown twig that moved”.

Perhaps it was that experience in Australia that changed my view of cakes. Yes, I know that our Eastern Ontario version is nowhere near as dangerous as the Aussie brand. But still. Where once there was apathy, there is now extreme dislike. I don’t like them.

That being said, if I do discover a nest of cakes in our barn, I will be the one to scoop them up and carefully move them to the forest or the stone fence, where you might expect to see them. Where they belong. If I leave the job of eradicating the cakes to the Farmer, he will no doubt take a flamethrower to whatever corner of the barn the nest is discovered in, setting fire to our hay and possibly taking down the entire structure.

And you think I exaggerate.

I picked up the dead cake in gloved fingers this morning, placed it in a feed bag and put it in the burn barrel. I have not spoken to the Farmer about my discovery, and I hope that none of you will either, when you meet him on the street. He doesn’t usually read my columns (unless someone suggests he should), so the cake secret should be safe with us.

If he comes to me demanding that I tell him the truth about the cake, I will know that it was one of my loyal readers who let the cake out of the proverbial feed bag.

The barn is a type of man-cave for the Farmer. He goes there to do menial tasks as a form of peaceful meditation. If he knew there was a cake – possibly several of them – in the barn, he might never venture inside again. So let’s just keep this between you and me, okay? Okay. Thanks.

Monday, August 30, 2010

And so we fall...into autumn

“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
as I have seen in one autumnal face” - John Donne
They say a falling leaf is nothing more than the summer’s wave goodbye. Autumn is my favourite time of year. “Indian Summer” can bring thirty degree temperatures but the refracted light of the fall in Eastern Ontario is soft and gentle: not harsh and glaring as it was in summer. The evenings are cool and fresh, “good for sleeping”, as we Canadians are apt to say.
We caught Rambi doing the dance with one of the ewes a few weeks ago, so he and his friend Rambo are now trapped in a lambing pen, until December. He may have already taken care of a couple of ewes, so we will likely have a few Christmas lambs again this year. But the bulk of them will be born in the spring, as they were this year. It’s much easier. They’re in the barn for a shorter amount of time before the new grass is up. That means less hauling hay and water to the lambing pens for me.
The Farmer mentioned a few times that he might sell off most of the sheep this year, and slowly move our operations over to beef cattle. I will miss my lambs if that happens but I won’t miss the worry. I get really attached to them and when something goes wrong (like a coyote kill), it keeps me up at night. The Farmer says beef will be easier, but when I say that to other farmers, they laugh. And that worries me a bit too. Must do some more thinking on that one.
All of the stores have fall mums on sale now. I am trying not to buy one in every colour. It’s very tempting. I love love love flowers.
The nasturtiums and marigolds I planted in rows in and around the tomato and potato plants seem to have done their job. The Farmer pronounced it my “best garden ever”. I beam with pride. Even if I can’t get time in the kitchen, at least I can grow something for Sunday dinner. (I’m just kidding – I don’t really like cooking and am quite obviously well-fed by the Farmer).
It’s time to hem the school uniforms, buy the school supplies, and stock up on lunch foods. The Ex is over, the annual Fisher Farm party is over, and it’s all down hill from here – or up hill, depending on how you look at it. I love the changing seasons. It’s how we mark the passage of time.
Our horse is supposed to be pregnant, but we don’t know for sure. She hasn’t been hiding behind the bushes with morning sickness, I haven’t seen her knitting booties the size of dinner plates, and she isn’t requesting pickles and ice cream. She isn’t doing anything different, actually. Misty spends her days in the back meadow with her bff Donkey. She comes up for water, attention, and shelter at night. We will watch her closely, to see if she starts to look like her ankles are swelling. A new foal would be a lovely way to welcome spring.
This summer lived up to its almanac prediction of being a thirty-degree scorcher. Let’s see how winter turns out. The Farmer’s Almanac (not my Farmer) says Winter 2010 in Ontario will be “bitterly cold and dry”. Thanks for the warning. I prefer a snowy winter, because the snow is beautiful, it insulates everything (including the water pipes to the barn) and it gives you something to ski, snowmobile and play in.
For now, I will enjoy the fall. It must be right around the corner, because the tree that is always the first in town to turn (the maple outside Vincent’s salon on County Road 18) is already losing its flaming leaves.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wasn't that a party??

The Farmer and I got married on the farm, three years ago today. From that moment on, my life story veered in a direction that I never would have expected. And I am happier than I ever thought I could be.

Having a wedding at home is a lot of work, because you have to set everything up and tear it down again, but it sure is a lot of fun. We enjoyed ourselves so much, we repeat the party every year.

We don’t repeat our vows every year – the Farmer has had enough time now to realize that his Farmwife does not bake pies or shovel manure and I don’t want to give him the chance to change his mind – but we do repeat the celebration.

Our annual Fisher Farm party is just a chance to get together with family and friends – some that we don’t see all year, because of distance or busy lives or both. Filling our home with people we love is better than Christmas to me – and I get really excited in the week leading up to the event.

I do check the weather forecast, but I don’t get hung up on it. The last two years the heavens have rained on our party and it hasn’t dampened our spirits one bit. I just waited til the ground dried off, then I set out my paper bag lanterns to light a trail from the dance floor to the bonfire. Tiki torches were lit around the gardens, and a line of white rope lights was strung along the clothesline over the dance floor and around the porch. The Farmer obediently constructed, hung, assembled and moved everything according to my direction. Then he thought he would add his own little touch to the decorations: a giant wasp hive.

The Farmer thought the wasp hive – which is about the size of a basketball net – would make a nice addition to our sunroom. He hung it from the rafter, over the door. I knew he had spent the previous two evenings spraying the hive with Bug-Be-Gone – but I wasn’t all that surprised when one and then two slightly intoxicated wasps staggered into the doorway of the hive and then fell out onto the floor.

I had visions of the Mayor sitting down to his meal with a wasp landing on his head. Luckily, that didn’t happen.

The horse and donkey were very entertained watching all the people coming and going, and they seemed to enjoy the attention. They stood at the fence for most of the evening, allowing guests to pet their noses (and feed them bits of apple and sugar cubes). They moved on when stinky cigar smoke wafted through the air after dinner, but appeared again after dark when everyone moved out to sit around the campfire.

The kittens got plenty of attention – particularly HotDog, who narrowly escaped being cat-napped by the Mayor’s wife at the end of the evening.

On that note, we do have at least 5 people-friendly kittens that I would like to see adopted into a good home before it gets cold outside. If anyone is interested, please let me know. I will post photos of them on my blog:

It may be difficult to say goodbye to HotDog, however. He has endeared himself to everyone, including the Farmer. I have caught him watching TV with the kitten asleep on his lap more than once.

We had an early summer this year, and it has lived up to its almanac prediction of being a hot one. I hope everyone had the chance to attend at least one bbq or outdoor party this year. It’s a celebration of our summer season, as it draws to a close for yet another year.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chicken Chasin' on the Farm.

After about two-and-a-half months, the time had come to send our chickens for processing (aka holiday with no return). So at 5:30 one weekday morning, we headed out to the barn in the early morning mist. The Farmer got into the pen with the little pecking beasties, while I struggled to stack the plastic cages that would hold seven birds each. In my own defense, they were big cages and heavier than they looked.

The Farmer herded the chickens into a corner, grabbed three or four of them by the legs, and brought them flapping and squawking to me. My job was to open the cages and direct their heads into the corners. If you get the chicken’s head into the corner, he stops fussing, I’m told. But they kept trying to wriggle out of my grip and peck me as I gently yet firmly pushed them into place, making room for three or four more. Once I had them in the cage, I put my palm on their soft sides to calm them. I like to think I send my animals off to market or to processing with a peaceful state of mind. And I always try to look them in the eye to say “thank you” for feeding us. Well, not every one of them – but I do make eye contact with at least one before they leave.

I don’t feel like I helped much but the Farmer says I did. He had given himself ninety minutes for the loading job and we were done in sixty. Time for coffee together before he left. I didn’t want him driving through Tim Horton’s with that load of chickens.

With a vacancy in the chicken house, the turkeys were upgraded from their cramped digs in the coop. They seemed to like their new home as it was much more open to the outside, giving them more fresh air and running room. Turkeys get bored: if you leave your stuff – like jackknives and hammers – lying around, they play with them. They are particularly fond of shiny objects. So things are never where you left them.

I much prefer the turkeys to the chickens, because they don’t peck, they are curiously entertaining with their synchronized gobbles and they are always happy to see me. They run over warbling to my side of the room when I hang my leg over the half wall and drop into their pen.

We are getting to know our neighbours very well and vice versa, whether they like it or not. One day Julie showed up at the door and announced that one of her little dogs had the turkeys “hostage”. I thought that odd, because our turkeys were in a pen. “No, they’re not,” she said. Sure enough, the turkeys were running around the barnyard in one big feathered wave, from corner to corner – but they couldn’t cross over to the open field because a fluffy little dog that looked like he would fit in a latte cup was doing a fine job of herding them. The dog knew the gig was up when he saw the two of us approaching, however, and allowed himself to be picked up and scolded.

“Oh, don’t be too hard on him,” I said. “If it wasn’t for him, I would have turkeys all over the field.”

I didn’t know how I was going to get them back in their pen, but decided to start by unrolling the wire fence and stretching it across the opening to the pasture. Then I held my arms out and shooed them toward their pen. And they ran in. One by one, directed by my arms. That was easy.

I pulled the door shut and examined the damage. Obviously one of our cows had busted in. I wedged a piece of wood across the door and told the turkeys to stay put. A chorus of garbles replied.

Never a dull moment on the farm. I guess the neighbours are quickly learning that the bucolic existence they imagined can sometimes be a little more exciting than living in the suburbs. I’m sure they were quite thrilled to look out their kitchen window Saturday morning to see Bonnie and Clyde (aka Horse and Donkey) munching on their front lawn.

So her show dog pooped on my lawn and teased the heck out of my farm dog. As Julie said, I think we’re more than even.

To the reader who sent me his old collection of farm magazines, thank you very much! They are literary antiques.

Monday, August 16, 2010

915 Jig Street, Oxford Mills


Boatin' with Dad

On the long weekend, the Farmer and I decided to escape the farm with the boat overnight. We were heading for the wide open water of the Big Rideau. Mom offered us Dad’s old charts – the very charts that I bought him for his birthday back in the ‘80s. I carefully unfolded the weathered maps and watched as Mom pointed out various locations that I would remember.

“Here is where we rented that cottage when you were sixteen,” she said. “And here is a nice spot to stay overnight in your boat.”

Mom had written personal notes all over the map in her perfect script. And in the bottom right hand corner, Dad had written “Larry A. Leeson” in his familiar scrawl.

“Thanks, Mom,” I said, giving her a hug. I thought of how many times she must have pored over those maps with Dad in summers past.

The Farmer and I hit the road, our little nineteen-foot cutty trailering behind us. In a short time we were in the village of Portland, at the public ramp.

We launched the boat successfully and were booting along toward Rideau Ferry so I decided to make us each a sandwich. I put the maps down for a moment and started slicing kielbasa.

“Hey! What the…” the Farmer yelled, yanking on the throttle. Suddenly we were coasting over a shoal, and the water was just three feet deep. I guess that’s what happens if you put the maps down for a minute and you aren’t familiar with the area.

“Oops, sorry. I wasn’t paying attention. So that’s what those white markers are. They sure aren’t very big, are they? You hardly see them until you’re on top of them.” I rambled on, nervously. I could tell the Farmer’s teeth were clenched under his moustache.

“Let me see that thing,” he said, as he took the map from me.

As we passed each island, I held my finger on the corresponding map blob. I was just thinking how nice it would be if someone had bothered to put water-facing signs on these islands, when we suddenly passed a sign declaring “Davidson’s Point”. I looked at the map. Mom had marked “Dad’s favourite spot” on an island nearby. I studied it carefully as we floated past. I could almost see Dad on the shore, his dog at his feet.

The afternoon sun spilled diamonds all over the water as houseboats, jet skis, cigarette boats and cruisers passed us. We took our sweet time heading back to the dock.

We ate dinner on the Galley patio in Portland that night, and watched as the big boats pulled into the marina, one by one. Some guy I will call Guido the pimp narrowly missed taking out one of the boathouse posts as he backed his cruiser into the parking spot, with the “help” of his equally inebriated idiot friend. Just as they settled themselves and quieted down, the boat carrying their female counterparts showed up. They were no less impaired, and the restaurant guests on the elevated patio held their collective breath as the boat glided into place directly beneath us. Luckily, the revellers were sufficiently tired out from their day of partying and didn’t keep us up all night.

I slept like a rock on our boat.

The next day, we cruised up the opposite shore of the lake toward the Narrows locks. We thought we would sit and watch the boats for a while, so we would know what to do when it was our turn.

As we stepped up onto the dock, I noticed a leather-tanned, shirtless older man wearing well-worn shorts, boat shoes and a gold chain. “That’s what Dad would look like if he had lived another ten years,” I mused. That was his perennial summer outfit. The man was just sitting and watching the boats, and talking to the lock staff as if he knew them well.

Just as the locks opened and the boaters readied themselves to leave, the tanned man appeared beside me. He was chatting with the girl who was turning the big wheel to open the locks.

Something about his voice, his comfortable manner, and the whole boating environment brought memories flooding back. Dad.

The tears came rushing out before I even knew what was happening. My husband gathered me up in his arms and walked me away from the people.

It’s been three years since Dad got sick. Part of me keeps expecting him to show up, especially in this setting, on the water, where he was so comfortable.

It just isn’t fair. He should have been there with us in his own boat, showing us the way.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

and our Gordon Setter. Cody. Encased in ice.

this is a Gordon Setter.

this is what the elegant lady known as "Ember" looks like. sort of.

this is the tail I saw behind the cedar tree. note the curl.

Lady and the Tramp

It was 5:30 in the morning and my dog was barking. There are two problems here. Number one: it’s Sunday. And number two: Cody doesn’t even bark when people come up the laneway anymore. It’s like he’s on work-to-rule or something. So when I heard this barking, I knew something was up. I put on a robe and pressed my face up against the window screen to see down the driveway. Nothing. But the dog kept barking. I grumbled, looked at the Farmer (who was sleeping on his good ear and hearing nothing), and trudged downstairs.

Throwing open the front door, I snapped at Cody, “Shut it! It’s too early! What are you barking at?!”

Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tail. A very special tail. It wasn’t a fluffy barn cat or farm dog tail. It wasn’t a skunk or squirrel or raccoon tail. It was a thin, black tail, curled up like a fiddlehead. And it was coming from something behind the cedar tree. I took a step closer.

Out from behind the tree bounded a big, black afghan hound. She pranced, danced, sprung and leapt across the garden as Cody bellowed. Then she stopped, sat down in the middle of the driveway about 50 yards beyond the end of his chain, and stared at him while he barked in frustration. For about two minutes she watched as I tried to quiet him. Then, bored of the game, she got up and left.

“Well. Wasn’t she somethin’!” I asked Cody. He seemed to agree, whimpering and retreating into his cave under the porch.

The next day, when the prancing pooch returned to terrorize my mutt, I met the owner, our new neighbour.

“I’m sorry – we lived in Manotick for years and never once did my dogs escape,” Julie explained. “But now, the minute I open the door, she’s off like a shot. She just can’t stay away. I don’t know what she sees in him,” she said, looking at my dog. “And now she is in heat!” The woman was obviously distressed. Has she never seen “Lady and the Tramp”, I wondered?

“Well, don’t worry – he’s fixed,” I said, motioning toward my dusty, tangled, slightly overweight Gordon setter. My neighbour breathed an audible sigh of relief.

Cody looked like he was going to bust a gut. He shivered and shook and tried to stifle a whimper, but it got out anyway.

Ember, as she is called, comes by her grace honestly. She is a very well-trained, champion show dog. She regularly takes part in regional, national and international dog shows where she meets every breed of well-groomed, well-bred, distinguished and dignified dogs. But she wants Cody. He looks a bit like her, with his long black hair. She thinks he is the perfect mate. She appreciates his roughness. She wants to run and play and chase sheep with him. She wants to curl up with him in the dustbowl under the porch. She wants to have little half-breed babies with him. But, alas, it is not meant to be. And if she keeps running through the bushes between our two farmhouses, she will get burrs in her long hair. And so she was put on a clothesline run, just like Cody.

Last night Cody and I went for a walk. We headed down the road, past Ember’s house. He spotted her and she spotted him. She started barking. And jumping up and down. Acting not very show dog-like at all. I hurried Cody past the house. He seemed embarrassed by her display of emotion and gladly followed me away from the scene. Julie came out of the house and we had a chat. She managed to get the dog to calm down. As I turned to leave, we heard a heavy sigh. Ember was lying flat out, with her face in the grass. “Is that the front end?” I asked. All I could see was long black hair. Even her nose was covered. I have never seen a dog do that before.

“Oh. She’s upset,” Julie said. Just then Ember lifted her head and looked at us, as if to say, “I cannot believe that you won’t let me free to come and see him. Don’t I look very, very sad right now?” What a drama queen she is. Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Miss Ember at the Fisher Farm. Even if Cody is fixed.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

For the love of feral felines

I had a very lucky phone call last week. A friend of ours, who is a veterinarian, was giving me some advice on my barn cat population. Halfway through the conversation, he offered to come out to the farm and perform surgery on as many as I can catch. At first I thought I was hearing things. But rather than look the gift horse in the mouth (what a weird expression) and ask too many questions, I thanked him and hung up with the direction to collect as many cat carriers as possible in order to catch my mostly feral feline family. And I would study up on the Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) process.

I contacted Paul Lafleur of the Village Kitten Rescue in North Gower, for advice on trapping the little beasties. He was extremely helpful, showing up within a couple of days with two dozen cat carriers.

Some readers may remember my comments one year ago, when I stated that I would not be spaying and neutering my barn cats. Our feline population was controlling itself at the time, I thought. That is no longer the case.

I trolled the Web for more info on luring and trapping. is full of sound advice and insight. The worst thing you can do for a feral cat, the site states, is to catch it and bring it to an animal shelter. First of all, it is not adoptable. Wild cats are not good house pet material. Wild kittens, on the other hand, have a chance of being tamed. The trick is to socialize them as soon as possible. Several of our barn cats now march right into the house – one even knows how to slide the screen door open to let himself in – because we have been handling them since they were tiny. Once given their shots, they will be quite good pets to some lucky Fisher farm visitor. But if we don’t do something about the adult feral felines, the overpopulation will only get worse. I’m already starting to resemble a crazy cat lady, as I shuffle along to the barn with a dozen little critters at my feet.

The Trap-Neuter-Release method sounds like the solution to our problems. Of course, it has been suggested before by a few well-meaning yet highly critical people who must think I have all the money in the world. Perhaps they thought I had one or two cats to fix. But with the good doctor’s help, we will get this cat collection under control.

Catching and culling my cats, as some other farmers have suggested, is not a reasonable method of controlling the population either, in case it has crossed your mind. I have a food supply here – rodents in my sheep feed. Cats will always be here, and having to routinely put the “excess” kittens down is not something that I can allow in my environment.

I have assembled the cat carriers. They are lined with newspaper. I am putting small amounts of food in the cages, to allow the cats to become comfortable inside the small spaces. On TNR day, I will put a tiny delicious pile of something – perhaps tuna? – inside each cage. Cat will go in, and I will then tuck his or her tail in and latch the door. Doc will come, needle the cat into a nice blue dream, my assistants (5 cat-loving daughters) will carry the sleeping patients to the surgery deck (yet to be determined – the Farmer is thinking “not my kitchen island”) and the work will begin. Post-surgery, the cats will be gently placed back in their carriers until the drug wears off. They have trouble controlling their body temperature during this recovery phase (also learned that from, so they will remain in the house overnight.

I expect we will awake the next day to quite a racket. And when we release the cats back to their homes in the hay bales, they will have quite a shared adventure to discuss.

During my inquiries regarding TNR, I also met someone named Gwen Thompson, who is running the Country Cat Rescue. She has her hands – and house – full of kittens that she lovingly cares for until someone adopts them. Unfortunately, since the recent tainted pet food catastrophe, her suppliers (Purina and Iams) are no longer sending her donations. If any Farmwife readers out there know of a way- a corporate donation would be lovely – or a grant of some kind - to keep Gwen in kitty food, please give her a call: 613.258.2622 – The kitties thank you.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Holy Heatwave, Batman!

I’m going to do something typically Canadian, and talk about the weather. It’s something we all have in common, after all. The weather unifies us. Last week sure was a scorcher, huh? A real record-breaker.

Over the last few summers, since I became the Farmwife, we haven’t had much heat. It has been cool, gloomy and wet. The hay has been crap as a result. We were due for a hot summer. Like the summers of our youth.

Like many people my age, I grew up without air conditioning. We did have a monstrous square fan, however, that sat on the floor at the end of the hallway in our two-bedroom bungalow on George Street. I would sit in front of it and sing into it, entertaining myself for hours with the robotic voice that emerged. If it was unbearably hot, one could always retreat to the dark, cool basement.
The jingling of bells coming down the street sent us running for Mom’s purse. “The ice cream man is coming!!”

We have air conditioning in the farmhouse, but we aren’t fond of it, normally. We have been fond of it lately. That and the standing pool (too small for swimming) is keeping us alive, I think.

It’s nature’s cruel joke that this heatwave has been perfect haying weather. I am equal parts relieved and feeling guilty that the task of bringing in the hay is really a one-man job. I don’t think I would last long if we were stacking square bales on the wagon and transferring them up to a hot loft in the barn. Thank goodness for round bales. But the Farmer spent a good two days bringing those up from the field all by himself, without many breaks, because the sky threatened to dump rain on what looks like a delicious sweet, green crop of hay. I watched from my floating chair in the pool. Isn’t that awful? I paid for it with an upset stomach and a sunburn, but it was fun while it lasted.

I do my bit to contribute, heading out to the chicken coop first thing in the morning to wrestle 40-kg bags of feed while kicking my legs and shaking my head in a strange mosquito-repelling dance. The chicks are getting to the age where they peck at my legs if I take too long struggling with the bag string, however, so this job may also get passed over to the Farmer soon. I don’t like being hen-pecked.

The cows can always be found in the old log barn during the heat of day. They pack all four of themselves in that one tiny 8’ x 10’ stall, where it is dark and cool and the bugs don’t seem to bother them. I see four sets of eyes peering at me through the slats as I pass by.

The kittens lie flat out on the deck of the swimming pool. They appear to be boneless, like furry puddles. Occasionally they dip one paw in the pool and raise it to the mouth.

The horse and donkey roll on their backs in the dusty sand to cool themselves and to ward off the biting flies. We tried to cool Misty with a garden hose last year but she was having nothing of it. The horse flies have left their mark on her, and I am having trouble convincing her that bug spray is nothing to fear. The squirting startles her. I will have to spray citronella on a cloth and rub it on her underbelly, where she is bitten the most.

The Farmer broke his shears after the second sheep this year, so most of our herd is still wandering around in full wool. Poor things. They pant like dogs and lie beside the water trough, under the shade of the tree.

Yes, it’s hot. But you won’t hear us complaining. My fall flowers are already beginning to bud, reminding us that cooler weather is just around the corner. Much cooler.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Horsey-girl returns home

“Hey there, horsey-girl…” (sung to the tune of Georgey-girl)

This is what I sing as I approach the stable. I am answered with a snort from inside. I hear hay being dunked in water. Misty is home.
I slide the doors open all the way, and she squints in the sunlight. “There you are!” I greet her. She shuffles up to the front of her tie-stall and nods her huge blonde head up, down. I feed her a sugar cube. Not the way you are supposed to feed sugar cubes to horses, on an open palm. Misty won’t eat it unless you hold it in two fingers and let her grab it with her lips. But she does like sugar cubes. Contrary to what we first believed, when we took her refusal for distaste. Ashley got all the sugar then.
I want to take a close look at her, to inspect her all over, so I reach for the brush. Just then, I hear Donkey. He has emerged from the barn and is approaching the window to the horse stall. He is trotting. And winding up for a big heeee-haaaawwww…oh boy. He is happy his friend is home. This gets Misty very distracted. She is no longer interested in being in her stall. She pulls on her tie with a yank that threatens to tear the rope from the wood.
“Ok, ok, calm down,” I say, as I unhook her tie. She puts it in reverse, and rests her chin on the stall door. Open this please, she seems to say. She meets donkey’s eye as he peers in through the broken pane in the sliding door.
My plan is to lead her gently out of the stable, as done in other horsey establishments, where the residents have manners. Then I will take her lead and halter off and release her to run free all day with Donkey. After a month of being in a strange stable, with strange caregivers and an even stranger male named Prince – who soon became very familiar – I’m sure she is happy to be home on her wandering land.
Misty lets me clip the lead on her halter. I slide the barn door open. Then unhook the stall door. She bounds forward. “Whoa!” I just get the lead unhooked and off she bolts, toward the pasture and her waiting friend. So much for manners.
We haven’t heard thundering hooves in a month. It’s a welcome sound. As is the sight of our happy horse tossing her mane, nipping at donkey, crashing down the field to the open meadow on the other side of the trees.
Later that day I get close enough to inspect my horse. She was very well cared for at the breeding place. I think they even brushed her mane properly – something I’m always afraid to do because I think it pulls and hurts her. Under her mane is some sort of dandruffy-fungus that I think comes from standing in the rain. “You should probably come in at night, girl.”
At the breeders’, Misty had a big box stall to herself. We have two tie stalls here, but they are closed in and can easily be used as one big box stall. I make a note to discuss this with the Farmer. And yes, we can discuss getting one of those push-with-your-nose-and-water-comes-out toys that she had there too. She seemed to like that. And it reduces my risk of getting hit in the head with a flying bucket, too. I tell all of this to Misty and she seems to understand. She puts her big nose on my shoulder and breathes me in, deeply. Then, conversation over, she turns and trots over to Donkey.
The big girl is home and all is right with the world.

The Lovely Lorna turns 80

She is one of the most spirited women I know. Her favourite colour is purple, and she wears it often. She creates mouth-watering desserts, but rarely eats more than a bite of her own sweet concoctions. She bowls a mean game, and cleans her own house. She has raised five children, and helped to guide fourteen grandchildren through life. She is the matriarch of the Fisher family. And I can’t believe she is eighty years old. She probably can’t, either.
Last Sunday, we hosted forty-five of Lorna’s family members who wanted to let her know just how much they appreciate her.
The sheep stayed up near the house all day. I think they liked all the attention. The folks from the city donned rubber boots and toured around the farm, meeting the lambs, the donkey and the cows. The farmer stuffed a turkey and cooked a whack of steaks on the barbeque. Everyone else brought a salad, a side dish or a dessert. I think there is enough wine and beer here to last us ‘til August. It’s shocking to think we can feed 45 people within the walls of the farmhouse, but we did. We were bumping into each other in the halls, and spilling out onto the porch to watch the rain fall softly down from underneath the patio umbrella.
So Lorna was born in 1930. The same year that Sean Connery, Tippi Hedren, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen and Imelda Marcos were born. In 1930, the Mickey Mouse comic appeared for the first time. Scotch tape was introduced (what the heck did we use before that?). The first frozen foods were sold. Twinkies were invented. Fred Astaire sang “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich lit up the silver screen.
Lorna was born on the cusp of the Great Depression in Canada. How much have things changed in her lifetime? When Lorna was a little girl, something new called the television was about to appear on the scene. It would change the world in both positive and negative ways. I must remember to ask Lorna what she thinks about the iPad and the iPhone. I know she has a Wii. Not sure if she uses it, however.
Lorna has been married to Wally for sixty-two years. Sixty-two. Years. The woman has the patience of Mother Theresa. But she said she knew he would be her husband, the day she met him. She even remembers saying to her friend, “that’s the man I’m going to marry.” She said she could picture their life together right from the start. Raising a family. Putting down roots. Supporting each other.
Working with the Crees on my latest project at work, I see the way that culture reveres their elders. We can learn so much from our parents and grandparents, if we listen. I believe Lorna has passed her lessons on effectively. I know she raised children who respect her. That is significant.
To Lorna on her eightieth birthday: May we all grow old as gracefully as you have, elegant lady. You make it look so easy.