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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our barn has a revolving door.

We have kept Dennis the drover (not driver but drover; a driver just drives while Dennis does much more—it’s a rodeo out there sometimes folks) busy this past week. First we had him come and pick up our three male bull calves. You could hear the truck and metal trailer clanging and banging around the corner of our dirt road well before you could see it coming up the hill. The cattle were anxious to get out of the pen that the Farmer had successfully lured and locked them into the night before.
I unhooked the electric fence wire (which I had already switched OFF), unlatched the front gate and swung it open for Dennis to drive through. His tires slipped a bit on the snow as he backed the huge trailer up to the mouth of the barn. With Dennis’ help, the Farmer let the female cows out. They were very happy to be free, and made a b-line to the feeder to see if the hay was any different from the stuff they had been eating on the inside.
I stood out of the way as Dennis ushered the bulls into the back of the truck. They obediently hopped aboard without any bait. When the metal doors swung shut, however, they began to bawl a little. This got their mothers’ attention. I went over and consoled my cows with kind words and a bucket of grain as the big white truck and trailer took their babies away.
This morning, the cows all stopped chewing and stood frozen as they heard the sound of the trailer rounding the corner again. Maybe they thought their bulls were returning, or maybe they thought they were the next to be loaded aboard.
“Young Angus is home, girls!” I said, cheerfully. Mocha turned her head quickly and looked at me, eyes wide. I opened the gate and the trailer backed into the opening. Dennis stepped down from the truck, walked around back and swung the doors open. “You’re home, buddy,” he said softly to the black bull, who was significantly bigger than the last time I saw him. I swear he grew another 25% in the short time he was gone.
We rented Angus out to one farmer in the spring, another in the summer and then he was home for just a day before he was rented out again for the fall. Some of his keepers fed him apples, while others fed him grain. His coat has a glossy sheen and he is far from the small calf that we first met a year and a half ago.
I stood between two large trees as the bull was released into the yard. Immediately he snorted, pawed the ground and then curled back his upper lip and sniffed the air. The girls came over to greet him, and he walked with them over to the pasture field, as if reacquainting himself with the property.
The cows are carrying his babies again and they will give birth in January and February. He will breed them one more time in March, and then we will probably sell him, possibly to one of the other farmers who have been renting him these past two years. He is a good bull, gentle natured, and he makes nice calves.
Next week we will start taking some of our bigger lambs to market. I know which one I want to say goodbye to first. He is a big Suffolk lamb, with a black face and white body. He used to jump in the feeders as soon as we filled them with hay. Not only will this soil the hay but the stupid lamb gets stuck in the feeder and it’s very difficult to get him out. We put him in with Rambo and his mate Gretel and he jumped out of that pen too. The Farmer put fences up over the feeders so he couldn’t jump into them anymore. The next day I found him on the highest stacked bale. I guess he decided to skip the feeder and go to the source.
Philip has been released to mate as many ewes as he can. He is wearing a red crayon block in a halter on his chest. I can see that he has marked more than half of the herd so far. His babies will be born in early April.
The population is ever-changing on the farm.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Farmwife Rant

I have been to at least ten countries in Europe, I’ve travelled Australia and I lived in Asia for three years. Sometimes I was mistaken for an American, because I was speaking English. Once I was told I wore my hair like a woman from France. On more than one occasion my roots were showing, because I was thought to be an Irishwoman. I was always proud to identify myself as Canadian. Everyone loves Canadians. And many people wish they were Canadian.
In my first posting in Asia, one of the other teachers actually posed as a Canadian because he felt he was accepted and treated better that way. He travelled with the Canadian flag emblazoned on his jacket and backpack. He was actually from New York. Part of the reason Canadians are loved so much, I think, is because we are so polite. It is in our nature to consider others, to follow the rules, and to put ourselves last. Sometimes our law-abiding nature makes us the brunt of jokes. I remember being teased in Melbourne because I didn’t want to cross the street until the electronic sign said it was safe to go—even though it was well past midnight and there wasn’t a vehicle in sight.
Well, if we are known the world over for being polite, we should live up to everyone’s expectations, shouldn’t we? Lately some of my fellow countrymen have been dropping the ball. Here are some examples of particularly impolite and rather non-Canadian behaviour I have noticed in the past week: 1. Rushing the traffic circle. Just because you are heading straight down County Road 43 does not mean you have the right of way through the traffic circle. That funny little upside-down triangle sign means yield; 2. If you are entering a gas station and you notice other vehicles waiting to enter the service bays, do not bolt ahead of them to take a spot. They were there before you. Just because you can steal the spot doesn’t mean you should. This rule also applies to parking spots at Bayshore; 3. If you have a cart full of groceries and someone approaches with just a handful of items, you should let them go ahead of you. It isn’t going to slow you down by much. And you weren’t in that much of a hurry anyway; you had a cart full; 4. If I am speaking to you, put your smart phone away. You are supposed to be listening to me, not reading your emails and text messages. 5. (This one really gets me) If there is even one person behind you in line for the cash, do not play your lottery tickets while everyone waits. More than once I have watched a line form while some petty gambler plays and wins, plays another and wins, plays another and wins, etc.
Okay, I think five rants are enough for today. I will save the rest up for another time. I don’t want to sound like a complainer. Because along with self-deprecating humour and ripe sarcasm, complaining is another thing Canadians are supposedly known for.
Honestly, it’s the little things that count. If you make a point to consider the people around you and to sacrifice a moment of your time for them, you will make the day better for at least two people and probably many more because that goodwill spreads quickly. And what are you in such a rush for anyway? More than once I have actually pulled over to let a tailgater pass, thinking to myself, I guess he’s late for his next car accident. Oops, I guess that was another complaint. Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Have a great week and remember: I’m watching you on the traffic circle.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

November thru the eyes of the hunting widow

November is not just a grey, chilly and blustery preamble to winter. To the wife of a hunter, November is about the absentee husband. Now, this can be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s all in how you look at it.
Some hunting husbands look forward to their two weeks of deer hunting all year long. In the months leading up to November, they troll outdoors stores and websites looking for the latest in new gear for watching, photographing and otherwise capturing wild game. They watch hours of hunting shows on Wild TV, learning new tips and techniques for bagging the big one. Then they wait.
As the opening day of the hunt approaches, many hunters will kiss their wives and families goodbye as they head out for a weekend, a week or even two weeks in the bush with their comrades-in-camouflage (or, in the case of deer season, flame orange). They have packed bullets, beer, bacon and baked beans. It’s been proven—you can live on that for several days. There may or may not be a toothbrush in their travel bag. It isn’t always deemed necessary. And anyone who dares to shave at a hunt camp would not only risk ridicule from his cabin mates but he might also throw the luck of the hunt.
The wives of these hunters are known as ‘hunting widows’. Knowing that their husbands are gone for several days, they may take up redecorating the living room, or at least moving furniture around. Some hunting widows will go shopping, with their husband’s VISA card. This might be just something she was planning to do anyway, or it might be a bit of a dig at the husband who has left her alone with the kids while he goes off to play in the woods with his friends.
My hunter doesn’t go far from home to hunt. He may take a day trip to the St. Lawrence for geese, but mostly he stays on our own 200 acres, which he has mapped and laid out with trails cut through the woods and stands in the trees. He rises at 5am, kisses me goodbye, and slips downstairs to put the coffee on for his thermos. Then he goes out to the bush, climbs up onto his tree stand, and watches the sun rise. Now that the leaves are gone, I can often see his orange coat through the trees from my kitchen window, 50 acres away. When the girls were little, he would leave a walkie-talkie beside their beds so they could talk to him when they woke up. I’m glad my hunter doesn’t go too far from home. I kind of like having him around. We don’t get to see each other much during the season, however. He goes from the sunrise hunt to work to the sunset hunt...and then he falls asleep on the couch.
A friend of mine has a hubby who takes two weeks off work every year for deer season. He hunts in Quebec, as he owns property there. One year it was unseasonably warm and the deer were not moving. The forecast predicted more of the balmy weather for the next week. He called his wife after a few days to say that he would be calling off the hunt and coming home.
“Oh no you aren’t!” she told him. “You can stay at the cottage until the weekend!” Apparently she had been looking forward to the time on her own, and didn’t want him to come home to wait out his vacation loafing about the house. When he did arrive home, she handed him a list of chores to keep him busy until he returned to work.
It was another warm one this year, and I haven’t heard of many lucky hunters returning with buck or doe trophies for their wives. Oh well, at least it keeps them happy, busy and out of trouble.

Philip, Gretel and the twins

We have a new addition to the Fisher farm. The Farmer brought a Suffolk ram home in the back of his truck last week. As he put the tailgate down and the ram hopped out onto the grass, I asked my husband what we should call our new sheep. Funny how this is always my first thought but it doesn’t occur to the Farmer that the animal needs a name.
“Uh, let’s see. He has floppy ears,” the Farmer replied. Well we couldn’t call him Floppy. That would just give the poor ram a complex. So I named him Philip.
We put Philip in the horse stall for now, after installing additional barriers so he couldn’t hop out over the feeders to freedom. The first night all he did was bawl until he was hoarse. We should have thought ahead. Sheep hate to be alone. The next morning we found a nice little ewe to keep him company. There might be a lamb or two born ahead of season in February–March.
Philip is very tame. He likes to have his nose rubbed and he comes right over to the side of the stall to be petted. I brought him a handful of sweet feed this morning to reward him for his good behaviour. He will have to stay in his stall until December, when he will be released to breed the females. We can’t put him in the barn with Rambo, or they might start fighting in the aisles. Love is in the air this time of year. The animals can smell that strange perfume and it makes them a little crazy.
Speaking of the ewes, we found the ringleader who was encouraging the herd to go running down the road on a daily basis. Gretel was easy to spot, as she had burrs all over her head from crawling under fences. She’s also extremely loud, with a voice that sounds suspiciously like my old enemy, the lamb squasher. I should get the book out and compare ear tag numbers. Anyway, she is currently serving as a companion to Rambo, who doesn’t really mind being alone but certainly prefers to have the company of a female if possible. And just like that, he doesn’t seem to stink anymore. It’s as though he has stopped applying that awful ewe-attracting cologne, because it worked. He caught one. There might be another lamb or two born in February–March.
I know I said I wasn’t going to write about my cats anymore but I feel this is the end of an era. I have no more tiny kittens in my basement. Since April, I have adopted out no less than 43 kittens after stealing them from ten female barn cats. Sheila, our barn cat-turned-house cat, was a real trooper. Not only did she nurse her own four kittens but she also nursed kittens from two other litters that I had stolen and brought into the house to tame. As I adopted them out one-by-one and sometimes two-by-two, Sheila would sit at my feet and let out this litany of complaints. I think it went something like, “you bring these cats in here, force me to feed them when they don’t even smell like mine, then just as I start to get used to them you take them away.” I learned to let her smell each kitten just as it was being packed up and shipped out. That seemed to work, and she no longer spent the evening calling and checking under furniture for her missing charges. And now it’s just Sheila and Shamus, a 6-month-old male (has had all shots and is fixed if you want him let me know!) in the house. They have similar markings and are probably siblings from two separate seasons. I call them the twins. With all the babies gone now, the twins spend their days lying on the sheepskin covered window seat in the sunroom. I think Sheila misses the kittens though. She has carried three stuffed animals upstairs, and is currently lying next to them on the rug.

Coyotes at Cocktail Hour

The Farmer had been cooking for more than 2 hours. A farm-raised chicken and roast of beef sat side-by-side in the oven. My husband ran upstairs, took a shower and emerged well-dressed and refreshed as our first dinner guests arrived. He poured them each a glass of wine and we all retired to the porch to watch the sheep come in from the pasture on their diagonal, well-beaten path.
A few minutes later the Farmer pointed out the window and said to me (his eyes when his glasses aren’t handy), “what’s that in the middle of the field? What’s that? Is that a coyote?” My eyes searched the view for what he was pointing at. Suddenly it moved and came into focus. Camouflaged perfectly against the sandy grass and rocky ground, a young coyote ambled across the field.
Just two days earlier, a bold and brazen coyote came right into the barnyard and stole a fat lamb. The Farmer had been out hunting in the middle of the night but could not find the thief. Now here it was, at cocktail hour. And the Farmer couldn’t find his bullets.
The entire dinner party gathered at the porch window and yelled out the coyote’s movements as the Farmer ran upstairs and down, searching frantically for his bullets. I couldn’t help but think this wasn’t a recommended pre-dinner activity in any Martha Stewart or Good Housekeeping party guidebook. Finally, the Farmer found his bullets, loaded his gun, located the coyote (who had waited patiently at the corner of the field) and let ‘er rip. His shot was true. Moments later we had dinner guests pulling on boots to go and inspect the mangy mutt.
My husband the multi-tasker came in, washed his hands, served the veggies into the chafing dish on the buffet table and began carving the meat. And what was I doing all this time? Playing hostess with the mostest, of course.
Earlier in the week I had done my share of farming, I figure. I came home from a client meeting in Ottawa to a message on the phone from the neighbour: ‘your sheep are on the road again. They have been in and out of the pasture all day.’ Great. I took a shortcut through the field and opened the big swing-gate to the pasture before heading out through the bush to the road. There were my sheep, in two different groups. One was heading up the hill to the neighbour’s house. The other was heading toward county road 20. I emerged from the forest in the middle of them. I decided to get the ones headed for the highway first. I cut through the cornfield, headed them off on the road and managed to turn them back the way they came, waving my arms and making menacing growling sounds. I’m sure this activity is most confusing to Gracie and the other sheep who know me as the bearer of good things such as sweet corn and apples. But they willingly headed off into the bush. Next, I ran down the road to get the other bunch. Just as I reached them, the neighbour’s dogs came off the porch, barking. My sheep turned tail and ran towards me, bleating in fear. I jumped into the ditch and let them pass, hot on the trail of the first bunch of sheep. Now I had 100 sheep wandering through thorns and brambles in the forest. I could hear them complaining. I picked my way back through the bush into the field and lured them through the gate very slowly, with a bucket of sweet corn. The last sheep came through just as Mocha the cow noticed the sweet corn in my hand and came bounding over, tossing her head and hips like a bull in the ring.
The sheep broke out three days in a row last week. They can see meadows and corn fields through weak fences and leafless trees now. I guess this kind of bad behaviour is to be expected until snow covers the ground and sweet hay fills the feeders.