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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.