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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.