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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tips for a healthy Farmwife-life

Now that I am working from my home office, I can take my coffee break in front of the TV once in a while. Last week I caught some advice on how to fool your body into thinking you are 20 years younger. Now, I wouldn’t want to be 23 again for anything. But I do like to learn about healthy living. So I took notes. And planned to try the tips out on my unsuspecting husband.
Apparently we are supposed to do 4 daily things to slow down the aging process.
Number 1: Cleanse your skin. That’s a no-brainer for me. I’ve been doing that for years, because I love the feeling of freshly-washed, toned and moisturized skin. However, if you go anywhere near the Farmer with a lotion or potion, he runs screaming. I think we’re going to have to skip this one for him. I will try to spray some sunscreen on him before he heads out for a day of fishing.
Number 2: Get 8 hours of sleep per night. This should be a pretty easy one for us. We are usually in bed by 10 and up by 630 or so. On weekends, that whole thing moves back a couple of hours, but we are still pretty good about sleep time. The problem is we don’t always get quality sleep, because the Farmer occasionally gets restless leg syndrome. He jiggles and shakes in his sleep, making it a rough night for both of us. Someone once told me an old wives’ tale that this old wife might eventually try: slip a bar of soap under the blanket at the foot of the bed to get him to stop wiggling. Will Lever 2000 do?
Number 3: Exercise a total of 300 minutes per week, minimum. Or 5 hours. That’s an hour a day if we allow two days off a week. Not gonna happen. I’m wondering if I got the number wrong. We’re too exhausted after our farm chores to do any exercise. I do yoga in the morning, but that’s just to get the kinks out. We recently received pedometers, so we can count how many steps we take around the farm all day, but neither one of us can get through an hour without accidentally resetting the darn thing. Here’s hoping our hay pitching and manure forking is enough to get us into shape.
Number 4: Eat more of these three things: eggplant, sweet potatoes, and blueberries.
I didn’t hear the disclaimer, where you aren’t supposed to serve all three of these in one meal. I made Greek moussaka (sort of an eggplant lasagna), sweet potato home fries and blueberries for dessert. No, they don’t exactly go together. I’m not a very intuitive cook, but you won’t starve in my house. The Farmer was wondering why there was no meat involved in his meal. After dinner, he looked at the dog and said, “the next time you see her going for the television, hide the remote.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hot Dog Comes Home

We once had a little kitten we named Hot Dog. He was named this because of his penchant for bits of weiners that we would give him as a snack. All day long, Hot Dog would sit at the patio door and wait for it to open so he could dart in and run to the fridge. There he would sit until someone noticed him. Then he would roll on his back and do his “cute routine” until he was rewarded with a hot dog bit. He wasn’t very vocal – not like Sheila, our self-proclaimed house cat, who hollers a blue streak until she gets a small handful of cat treats. Hot Dog was a well-loved kitten. But he resisted being made a pet. He preferred to be outside.
On Sundays, when family came over for dinner, people would comment on the fact that Hot Dog didn’t seem to be growing. He maintained his kitten size for months. Perhaps that is part of what endeared him to everyone. He even won the Farmer’s heart.
One day when I came home from an outing, I found the Farmer sitting on the couch watching TV, with his faithful kitten tucked in beside his hip, sound asleep.
At our annual farm party in August, one of our guests held Hot Dog on her lap for the entire evening. He just lay there calmly as about 50 people streamed in and out of the house, making all sorts of noise. He seemed to enjoy the activity. He wasn’t your typical feral barn cat. He was a people cat.
One day last September, Hot Dog wasn’t at the door when I went out in the morning. I searched the stable, where he often slept in the hay. He wasn’t there either. The next Sunday at dinner, I dreaded telling everyone that he had disappeared. I wondered what had happened to him. Maybe he got eaten by a coyote?
“He’s so trusting, he would probably just walk right up to a coyote and try to play,” someone said. I worried that the neighbour’s dogs had eaten him. He was too small to be chased off the farm by another dominant male. This often happens with our older cats but not kittens.
Maybe I had given him too many hot dogs, and he had a reaction to the overload of nitrates. Poor little thing. Anyway, whatever happened, he disappeared for a few months.
One day a couple of medium-sized gray tabby cats showed up on the back porch. I can’t remember when that was. I keep looking through my photos trying to remember the first time I saw them. I know that one of these cats has always been wild and scared, while the other has been quite tame. Funny that I didn’t make the connection and realize that it was our dearly beloved Hot Dog. I guess that’s a sign that I have too many cats. I no longer recognize them.
Now I am taking every opportunity to pet this lovable cat, so that he will remain tame and easy to manage. That way, if I have to give him medication at some point, it will be easy. Or if someone wishes to adopt him, he will make a good pet. I noticed that Sheila has chosen him as her favourite wrestling partner. They spend hours rolling around the lawn together as one big fluffy ball of kitten.
I still wonder what his story is – what made him disappear for a few months? Did he simply feel winter coming and head to the barn to nest? Only Hot Dog knows for sure, and he isn’t telling his secrets.
I guess I have something to add to my grocery list, to welcome him back. A package of tasty hot dogs.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Monday, May 9, 2011

spring lambs

Happy Mother's Day to Ewe and You!

The Farmer decided to let the ewes and lambs out of the barn in honour of the nicer weather. Or maybe it was in honour of Mother’s Day. Out in the open pasture, the little ones are continually getting separated from their mothers. All I can hear is the sound of hoarse little lambs going “Maaaa-aaaah!” Some of the ewes answer, while others don’t. The unresponsive ones aren’t necessarily bad mothers. They might be just a little preoccupied.
The day before Mother’s Day found me in Walmart. I watched a frazzled mother juggling two kids in the lineup at McDonald’s. One little guy, kicking his foot impatiently against the hip he was resting on, lost his shoe. His eyes followed the colourful sneaker as he and his mother slowly moved away from it and towards their table. He started to wail in some indecipherable baby gibberish that only made sense to him. The young mum tried to shush him as she fit him into his high chair. Finally she noticed her son was missing his footwear and retraced her steps to retrieve the shoe. Little man sniffled and shivered and reached for a French fry.
As I watched from my vantage point across the crowd, I was instantly transported back in time about 18 years. I had a side-by-side stroller with two little girls in it. The larger child was four years old and her little sister was one. I was pregnant with my third. My back ached and my feet throbbed. I was in a hurry to get through the crowd of slow-moving shoppers so we could go home. The baby needed a nap. She was getting cranky. It seemed that she was getting fussier and more agitated with every step I took. I moved more quickly. The grumbling turned into a wail. “Anastasia! Would you please give me a break!” I hissed as I finally reached the end of the mall, opened the door and navigated the stroller outside. It was then that I noticed her shoe was missing. And Milena had a really guilty look on her face.
“Did you take your sister’s shoe off?” I asked her, putting two and two together.
“It’s in the stowah,” she smiled, pointing back down the long mall. Sigh.
I searched for 30 minutes and never did find that shoe. Damn side-by-side strollers.
Eighteen years ago. Eighteen months ago, it seems. And now my last baby bird is preparing her wings for flight. I worry she won’t have nice roommates. I worry she won’t eat properly. That she won’t be safe. Or happy. I have to try to keep my worries to myself. And be proud of the independent young woman I have helped to raise.
On our wedding day, the Farmer and I wanted our five daughters to play an important part in the ceremony. We had them each read a verse from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
As Mother’s Day passes by for another year, let’s remind ourselves what it’s all about:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Warning: Graphic Birthing Tales from the Farm

Here’s how it’s supposed to go. Ewe starts to feel a little pressure, takes herself to a quiet corner of the communal pen, lies down. She spends a few minutes in labour on her side, turning her nose skyward with every contraction. Then she will shift around and maybe stand up to give birth. Lamb emerges nose and two front hooves first. Slides out easily onto fresh, dry hay, and mother immediately begins clearing the airway and stimulating the lamb to breathe by licking its face clean. Ewe continues to lick the slimy wet off the lamb until it is completely clean and dry. Fluffy, even. Lamb, invigorated by all the massaging, is prompted to get up and seek out milk. It stands up, wanders to the back of its mother and, guided with gentle prodding from the mother’s nose, finds the milk and drinks. Mother stands stock still until baby has had its fill. Baby then wanders into a warm dry corner of the pen, curls up and falls asleep. At this point I walk in, discover the newcomer, congratulate the mother and reward her with her own cordoned-off area of the pen and a handful of sweetfeed. It often does go like this, thankfully. But with 45 ewes scheduled to deliver, you can be sure there will be a few catastrophes in the bunch. These are what keep me awake at night.
In some cases, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. I will head out to the barn to feed and check on everyone and this is what I will find. A lamb is stuck halfway out of its mother, its second hoof pointing inward instead of out. Maybe the ewe has already been pushing for a while and she is exhausted, so she is lying down. On the unborn lamb’s head. I have to don arm-length plastic gloves and assist. I don’t like this job. I’ve only done it once, when the Farmer wasn’t home. I worry I will cause a prolapse of the uterus. I think that’s what it’s called, when the ewe’s insides try to follow the birth on the way out. Nasty. I read on The Pioneer Woman website that she keeps a big bag of sugar at the ready during calving season. Apparently if a cow begins to prolapse, you can shrink the uterus by putting it in a bag of sugar, then gently push it back into the mother. And hope for the best. I haven’t had to try this yet, and I’m hoping I never have to.
Occasionally one of our ewes will deliver a stillborn. Sometimes these lambs are deformed in some way but usually they appear to be completely normal. Often they are big, beautiful babies that had a very good chance at survival, and there is no reason for them to be born dead. That’s frustrating.
Our ewes normally have one or two lambs, but when they have multiples there can be serious problems. Often one will be deprived of oxygen and born a bit “stupid”, without a will to thrive. It’s heartbreaking, to watch these little ones fade away.
Sometimes the lambs are born without the suckling instinct. We’ve recently discovered that this is due to a lack of selenium in the soil in Eastern Ontario. An injection may be all it needs to begin suckling normally. Other times the mother just gives birth to the lamb and lets it lie there, neglected. The lamb needs to be dried off, stimulated to breathe and to eat. It’s very difficult for a farmer to replace the ewe at this stage. The lamb also needs the first milk, or colostrum, in its first 24 hours. If we can’t get the colostrum from its own mother, we will try to steal some from someone else who gave birth the same day, and feed it to the lamb with a syringe. This stuff is liquid gold. I have seen limp lambs come to life on colostrum. It’s an infusion of energy.
Currently I have two that lambs that are pretty much completely dependent on me for their survival. One bites instead of sucking. I don’t blame her mother for running away when she approaches. The other lamb is very good at suckling, but her mother doesn’t have much milk. She will have to learn to steal from the other mothers when they have their heads in the feeder. We have to try to get these weak lambs through the next few weeks with milk replacer until they are old enough to survive on grain, hay and water.
Lately, these are the two that keep me up at night. I haven’t named them, but I know them by their markings. They know me by the bottle in my hand, and the smell of milk.