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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Twas a fine St. Paddy's Day, wasn't it?

St. Patrick's Day is more than an Irish holiday. It's a celebration of the end of winter and the coming spring, of life and love, health and happiness and all things Irish. And the non-Irish don't have to be jealous, because everyone is invited to this party. We are all Irish on St. Patrick's Day.

It's funny how some people still feel the need to claim a drop of Irish blood in their veins, however, as if it were a prerequisite to joining the celebration. At the pub you'll hear, "my last name may be Rankowski but my great-grandmother on my mother's side was Irish..."

The McCleery family was in fine form at O'Heaphy's Pub in Kemptville on the 17th, with the men singing along to old Irish ballads performed by Danny (O'Brien) Rembadi. When the tempo picked up, a redheaded girl in green kicked up her heels in a jig. I think we should have this party more than once a year.

I'm "Irish on both sides, all the way back". When I was little, after a summer of playing outside in the sun, my olive skin would tan darker than my friends who had African heritage. I claimed I was Black Irish. Now, this term has a rather ambiguous definition and it isn't used often in Ireland. I always thought my dark hair and tanned skin was a result of the Spanish Armada landing on the shores of Ireland. The mix of Latin and Irish sounds positively passionate and romantic to me. However, it isn't true. The predominant hair and eye colour in Ireland is dark brown, contrary to the Hollywood stereotype of blue-eyed Irish redheads. So I'm just plain Irish Canadian.

We trace our family history back through the Leesons on my father's side and the Cullens on my mother's side. Part of our family comes from The Isle of Man, an island in the Irish Sea. The Manx flag bears the image of the triskell, a Celtic symbol representing water, air and fire. I read that the three running legs signify our bravery, valour, and ability to always land on our feet; no matter how far we fall. I like that one.

Apparently there is a Leeson Street in Dublin. It is home to many "after-hours" clubs, where servers of local pubs and nightclubs go to party after their own places of work close for the night. The Leesons for which the street was named were a brewing family.

Perhaps that explains why I love the taste of beer. A trip to Leeson Street in Ireland is definitely up there on my bucket list.

Having traveled extensively, and having lived among other cultures, I realize that we English-speaking Caucasians of the Western World have many significant differences. I'm sure that when I go to Ireland I will feel as foreign as if I had entered a small village in Africa.

Their lifestyle, interests and priorities will be different from mine. But I would still like to believe that we will share many distinctly Irish traits in common.

Irish people are said to live close to the land. Many of them farm or feel a need to work the earth in a garden. We are also attracted to this trait in others (this explains my falling for the Farmer). Perhaps this is some kind of cellular memory passed down through the generations from a time when our people had to farm in order to survive.

I do enjoy a drink, but not to excess. I love a celebration, and I possess a raucous, self-deprecating sense of humour. I'm not much of a sports fan, but I do love to sing and dance. I don't believe that most Irish people are prone to fisticuffs, although I must admit I have a short temper and tendency to speak without thinking. That reminds me of an old record we used to have, "whenever they got his Irish up...Clancy lowered the boom, boom, boom, boom...."

Maybe the thing I love most about St. Patrick's Day is that the colour green reminds us that spring is near. You can just feel the energy of the earth under your feet.

Tune your radio in to STAR 97.5fm, Kemptville's new station, and enjoy The Big Breakfast morning show with Drew and Diana.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

He who shall not be named shall not be veal

In January all four of our cows calved. Betty had Adam (Lambert, due to his eyeliner), Mocha had Coffee and Julie had Coco. When it became apparent that Ginger's bull calf was not going to suckle, I decided not to name him. The Farmer was able to steal some colostrum from Ginger (although she was not a willing donor) and a bit more from Betty to feed the weak calf. I mixed up some milk replacer and fed him a bottle. At first he needed a lot of coaxing and it took a few days before he would drink a bottle on his own, without me holding it.

Eventually he was trained on the bottle that was strapped to the side of the pen. It was obvious after a few weeks that the little calf had no idea why his mother was even there, except for company. The lambing pen was crowded and Ginger accidentally stepped on him a couple of times, injuring his foot. She didn't want us near her calf and became quite aggressive. We decided to turn her out. We tried letting the calf out as well but he was totally lost and bewildered outside in the sunshine and couldn't find his milk bottle where I had strapped it to the wall. Young Angus the bull kept knocking the bottle down as well, so that operation was a total failure. Back into the barn with the bull calf.

For the past month the calf has done very well on his own in the barn. He has had 4 litres of milk replacer in the morning and 4 more at night. His rumen has developed on schedule and he is beginning to nibble sweet feed and hay. We leave one small light on at night so that he isn't frightened in the dark. When the cows outside are mooing, he stops chewing to listen. Sometimes he answers them.

A few weeks ago the Farmer pointed out how much we were spending on milk replacer for this one calf. It just didn't make good farming business sense. He suggested we consider selling the calf, rather than keeping it alive on expensive milk. I had visions of my calf going to some other farm where he would fail miserably and very quickly be turned into veal. I always want my animals to have comfortable lives while they are with us.

The males are usually around for just under a year but at least I know their time with us is good. I am assured that when they leave here they go somewhere to be fattened up and then they enter a process that is completely humane, before they finally become meat on someone's plate.

I'm okay with the practice of raising cattle for meat. But I am rather attached to this little calf and I don't want him to be sent somewhere scary. He trusts us. He springs up from his hay bed when he sees me approach with his bottles. He allows me to rub his chin and scratch his ears while he feeds.

I don't want him going some place where he might not be treated gently. Even when we rent the bull out to another farmer we ask that he be treated with care. That is why he is now hooked on sweet feed and apples. Our animals are given respect and consideration for their sometimes delicate, sensitive nature.

And so I bought another $70 bag of milk replacer. We have cut him down to just 4 litres a day, because he is eating more solid food. It is getting warmer now and the days are getting longer. Soon he will be turned outside, to enjoy the springtime sun and fresh new grass shooting up from the earth.

He who shall not be named deserves that. I want to see him run and jump and play with the other calves out in the pasture. I want to see him following the herd out on the beaten diagonal path to the shady spot where they lie in the summer. He deserves the same peaceful, bucolic existence as the rest of our animals.

At least until it is time for him to go on that last long trailer ride into the sunset.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My pet is bigger than your pet...

The Farmer bought me two beautiful Belgian horses for Valentine’s Day, 2009. I have always wanted a horse of my own. I imagined myself riding Ashley through the bush around our property, the Farmer by my side on Misty. So far, that dream has not come true. We lost Ashley, tragically, in 2010. Our busy lifestyle is not exactly conducive to horse training so our very large, very untrained horse Misty thinks she’s a pet.
When Ashley, the older lead horse died, Misty was lost. She looked around and all she found was...Donkey. He is now her best friend, and she will follow him just about anywhere: through the gate that Donkey jimmied open, onto the front lawn to eat my daisies, down the road to visit the neighbours. He gets her into plenty of trouble and he is not a very good influence. Donkey taught Misty to chase my lambs and make them bleat in terror. It’s one of his favourite games. I had to run down the field, a golf club in my hand, and rescue my lamb from under her huge dinner-plate hooves before she squashed it. I’m sure she didn’t mean any harm. She just heard a small animal making a very strange noise and it seemed a threat to her. From then on I kept the lambs separated from the horse until they were old enough to get away from her big feet.
Misty taps on the back window of the stable with her nose when she wants in. If no one responds, she pushes on the door. If that doesn’t work, she goes back to the window and brakes a pane of glass for emphasis. Finally Donkey comes over and shows her how to lift the latch. He has also taught her to lift the freezer door and help herself to sweet feed and corn. But just because Donkey can squeeze through the gap in the barn door doesn’t mean Misty can. She’s twice his width.
When I enter the barnyard, Misty comes and stands still in front of me. She puts her head down and presses her nose to my chest. This is how she initiates a hug. When I put her in her stall with a load of hay and a bucket of water, she nods her massive head up and down until I fill her bowl with corn. Then she snorts a thank you at me. I do understand some of her language. We communicate a little.
Monty Roberts, the horse whisperer, says that you should not attempt to ‘break’ an untrained or ‘green’ horse as was common practice in the past. Even Monty’s father believed you had to break a horse’s will and tame his spirit in order to control him. Monty found his own way of communicating with the wild mustangs of Nevada, and discovered that if you invite the horse to ‘join up’ with you, training is a natural process. This man can actually approach a wild horse and go through a series of very patient and methodical steps to get it to trust, approach and follow him. I tried applying his steps in the barnyard with Misty.
Step one: introduce yourself by rubbing (not patting; I learned that lesson with the ram) the horse’s head. Now move away and toward the hind end of the horse, keeping clear of the ‘kick zone’. Next, flick a long line (like a whip but not to be used as a whip) at the hind quarters. The horse will start moving around the pen. When the horse retreats, you advance. Keep the pressure on. After a few rounds of the pen, try to turn the horse in the other direction by flicking the line again. Try to get the animal to canter five or six rounds one way, then in the other direction. Watch the horse. If he tips his head down toward you, submissively, he is saying “I would like to take a break now.” Turn slightly away from the horse and invite his approach. If he does, you have won his trust. If he stands still but doesn’t move, approach him slowly but indirectly, in circular, round-about movements.
I went through these steps with Misty. I didn’t have her running around a pen but I walked her back and forth until she stopped and started chewing something on the ground, watching me with one eye and flicking her ear. I turned my back on her and she slowly approached, resting her chin on my shoulder. Maybe she is trainable after all.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My cows like moooosic

Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast. ~ William Congreve, 1697.

A video on YouTube shows a tuba player and a trumpeter attracting an entire herd of cows in France. "Oh when the cows...come marching in...oh when the cows come marching in...."

By the time the gentlemen have finished their jazzy tune, they have a long line of bovines staring at them, shaking their heads and jingling their bells along with the music.

Dogs will often chime in with their own howling song when they hear their humans singing. The singing really elicits a strong response from them.

They can't help but join in. My cat doesn't particularly like me practicing my karaoke songs (in the kitchen where the acoustics are best), but she certainly does notice. She makes loud comments, but I don't think she's singing along.

Does music truly have the power to soothe animals? The Farmer seems to think so.

When I first moved in to the farm, I was surprised to notice that he keeps his portable stereo cranked up and blaring tunes through the barn all through the day and night. The man is deaf in one ear, so perhaps he doesn't realize just how loud he has made their world. I turn it down when he isn't around.

I have noticed, however, that when it's time to shear the sheep, the music is a welcome distraction. The sheep are quiet and subdued when music is playing.

And it's easier to shear a sheep that is calm and keeping her hooves to herself. The music might also have an affect on the Farmer, who is attempting to hold a struggling sheep down while he relieves her of her wool.

When the chickens are fighting, a little bit of Motown seems to temper their aggression.

And when we are asking cows to remain contained in small sheep pens, a lilting melody seems to occupy their minds.

Just as when my girls were small, I seem to have a song for every occasion. My mother sang 'Oh what a beautiful morning' and other familiar tunes throughout the day. I sing to the calf when I enter the room to feed him, and he steps toward me.

I sing to the horse and she agrees to leave her stall and enter the barnyard. I sing to the ram and he is distracted enough to let me pass instead of butting me in the leg.

Music has a hypnotic, entrancing effect. Some farmers claim that their animals like classical instrumental music, but I believe mine love to hear voices singing.

When they are in solitary confinement, a song on the radio will make them feel less alone. And when they are crowded in pens awaiting impending birth, the music calms their jangled nerves.

As I entered the barn last weekend, Freda Payne sang 'Band of Gold' and Diana Ross asked that we 'Stop, in the Name of Love.' I love the old tunes. I know all the words. And a happy Farmwife makes for happy farm animals.

I have an idea. Chelsea the sheepdog has been barking at nothing for weeks now. It is her new thing, and it is extremely annoying.

Many times I have been summoned outside by her panicked barking, only to find her standing and barking at her own shadow.

I call from the back porch and she looks at me for a moment, then resumes her monologue. I am thinking that music piped into Chelsea's area might distract her enough to make her stop barking.

She is an outdoor dog, and sleeps in her hay-lined doghouse at night, under a tree. Where would I put the speakers?

Maybe I can turn the music on in the stable and put a speaker up to the window so that the music streams outside.

If it stops her incessant barking, it will be worth the effort and extra electricity.

What station do I choose to play, you ask? Why, Kemptville's new radio station, STAR 97.5fm, of course. Nothing but the best for my babies.

Diana Fisher joins Drew Hosick on the morning show at STAR 97.5fm on Feb. 27. Tune your radio in and wake up with the Farmwife!