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Friday, May 25, 2012

Growing up 'small town'

When I was born at the Kemptville Hospital in 1968, my parents were living in an apartment above Anderson’s Ladies’ Wear (where To Be Continued Consignment is now). Soon we moved to a little bungalow on George Street, and then my sister Cathy came along. We grew up in a neighbourhood where the kids were outside all day when they weren’t in school, only coming in for meal times. Our neighbours were the Bartletts, the Algers, the Shays, then the Wisslers and the Bosiks. We climbed trees, played Barbies and G-I-Joes in the hedgerow, and put on dance performances on the front yard for passers-by in the cool of the evening.

We walked to the town pool in summer and stopped by Raina’s Mall for candy (and cigarettes for Dad) on the way home. We didn’t have iPods, cell phones or computers. We barely had three channels of TV. How did we survive? A trip to McDonald’s, saved for special occasions, took close to an hour, straight up 44 through North Gower.

Later we moved to the country, where we built tree forts, and rode horses.

Highlights of summer included the summer fair in Riverside Park, and fireworks on Canada Day. Mom bathed us and put us in our pajamas after dinner, and we were laid out on sleeping bags in the back of a station wagon. No seatbelts. After dark, we had a tailgate party, watching the fireworks. If we got tired, we were already in bed. Now that’s the way to do it.

Like most kids growing up in a small town, I couldn’t wait to get out. I married at 19, and moved to the city. But years later, even after living overseas, I always felt Kemptville was my home.

Kemptville has changed a lot in the past few decades, but in some ways it remains the same. I believe we have retained our small-town spirit, although we have grown in size from the 4,000 people who lived here when I was born to the15,000 souls who call North Grenville home now. I do not think we will ever become a Barrhaven-type suburban community, where we don’t know our neighbours. At least I hope we won’t.

If you are raising a young family in Kemptville, good for you. I, for one, think you have made the right choice.

This weekend we will celebrate all of the local talent that blooms in our small town. From art to music to food, we have some amazing hidden talent that is just waiting to be discovered.

The Dandelion Festival is organized by a group of volunteers who are just as proud of Kemptville as I am. They want everyone to know what we’re all about. We have talented artists in this community. Painters. Photographers. Songwriters and musicians. Come to Riverside Park this weekend and experience some of the work they are doing. Bring your lawnchair to the main stage, grab yourself a snack and settle in for the show. A steady stream of entertainment is planned, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.

Rediscover the businesses of Old Town Kemptville. Many of them will have sidewalk sales and specials on festival weekend. On Saturday, I will be live on location for Kemptville’s new radio station, STAR 97.5fm. Come and say hi! I will also MC the fashion show for To Be Continued—one of my favourite places to find great deals.

On Sunday, the Kemptville Kinsmen Farmers’ Market opens for the season. Sample fresh samosas, chutneys and lemonade and stock up on baked goods, or just get to know the vendors who will bring you farm-fresh meats and vegetables later in the season.

If you’ve got children—or if you’re still a child yourself—head to the Kids’ Zone where the Reptile Rainforest and petting zoo will keep you entertained for hours. And if you head over to the dunk tank between 11 and 11:30, for a small fee you can dunk The Accidental Farmwife.

Bring the family out, meet your neighbours, and teach your kids about their hometown. The Dandelion Festival is just one more reason to love Kemptville. Be proud of your little community, and proud of yourself for choosing to live here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Friday, May 18, 2012

Thank goodness for small miracles

The Farmer came into the house after doing the barn chores and met me where I sat at the computer, blogging. "How are the lambs?" I asked.
"Well, that ewe lamb out there is down, she won't get up," he said. I remembered the yearling ewe who didn't know what to do with her firstborn. We had to put her in a head gate to hold her still so her tiny lamb could nurse. And now that they were out of the barn, there was something wrong with her. The lamb was still able to burrow under his mother to steal milk, but if she died, he would have a whole new set of challenges.

The next morning she died. "You'd better get a bottle for that lamb," the Farmer said.
I mixed the lamb formula in the blender and poured it through a funnel into the baby bottle. I went to the barn, plucked the orphan lamb out of the pen and stuck the bottle in his mouth. He just chewed on the nipple, as if he wasn't hungry. I put him down on the ground and looked at him. His hips were showing. He hadn't eaten in a while, except to nibble grass, but his stomach wasn't mature enough for that yet. He hadn't developed his rumen.
I filled a 25-mL plastic syringe and began the process of filling his belly. I filled the syringe from the bottle, held the lamb between my knees, cocked his head back and emptied the syringe into his mouth. Eight times. Then I put him back in the pen, with some hay, water and sweet feed. Alone. Sheep hate being alone. He jumped out of the pen and cried in the aisle. I put him in the pen with the fluffy sheep awaiting their shearing. They kept each other company until mid-afternoon, when the last one went for her shearing, leaving the lamb alone again. I was weeding the garden but the bawling coming from the lonely lamb in the barn was so mournful, I couldn't work anymore. Even the horse and donkey were standing outside the lambing room window, snorting in concern.

"What are we going to do about that lamb?" I asked. The Farmer said I would have to find a ewe and lamb willing to keep him company, while I trained him on the bottle. I was pretty sure he was too old to accept the bottle, but I didn't want him alone and scared so I marched into the barnyard, looking for a couple of good candidates. Lambs were all over the place, climbing onto boulders, farm equipment and their sleeping mothers. Every time I approached a lamb, it would stare at me for a moment and then dart off squealing. Then I found one little bundle of white curled up in the sun, asleep. I put my hand on her and she just lifted her head and looked at me, half asleep. I gathered her in my arms and suddenly had her mother's full attention. I hoped she wasn't the mother who had chased me into the barn a few weeks ago, head butting me all the way. Then I realized the lamb was soiled all over her legs. She needed medicine, in a hurry. It was lucky I found her.

Once in the pen (which was a bit of a rodeo but I did it), the ewe was very interested in the medicine I was giving her lamb. She was not at all interested in feeding the orphaned lamb, who was busily rooting around underneath her. She kept turning and head-butting him right into the wall. I turned to grab the shepherd's crook so I could put the ewe in the head gate and just then, the orphan lamb found what he was looking for. Once latched on, he was pretty hard to kick off. Finally the ewe gave up the fight, and let him fill his belly. I checked on the little family later and she was standing for the two lambs to nurse. She just looked at me as if to say, "I understand. I have two babies now."

The little white lamb was up on her feet the next morning, fully recovered (I hope) from her illness. And the orphan lamb had a fat, full belly.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bouncing lambs a rite of spring

All you have to do is look out my back window and you’ll know why this season is called “spring”. The handful of lambs that were deemed old enough to be released from the barn are bouncing down the field after their mothers. The little males face each other, synchronize their leaps and butt heads together, sometimes mid-air. If there is a boulder, a stone fence or a pile of old lumber, it shall be climbed. King of the Castle is one of their favourite games. We were waking up to the song of spring birds up until a few days ago. Now it’s the song of spring lambs.
Sometimes when they are released from the barn the little families become separated. If the mother isn’t the most caring type, she will wander off to fill her belly with fresh green grass, happy to be out of the lambing pen, and her lamb will be left behind. Yesterday I saw four lambs attempting to nurse under one ewe. She just stood there, trying to keep her balance as they bucked and prodded beneath her. As she locked eyes with me her expression said, “I thought I had two…?”
The daffodils I planted near the mailbox at the road bounced right back after that flash snowfall we had. They are very hearty little blooms. This fall I’m going to plant a couple dozen more of those. There’s something about seeing that little explosion of colour at the edge of an otherwise dreary landscape when the grass hasn’t quite greened up.
The Farmer cut the grass for the first time yesterday and I noticed he decided not to knock down my daffodils just yet, thank you.
In the perennial beds, the pansies, wild violets and rainbow of tulips are in full show. The hosta leaves are up about six inches and ready to unfurl. Sedum is poking through the soil and the invasive bee balm has spread to cover three times as much area as it claimed last year. Flower gardening isn’t as much about planting as it is about weeding and mulching around here—and occasionally moving a plant to a happier place when it isn’t doing well.
Speaking of which…the three twigs of Rose of Sharon that I bought through mail order are not looking very impressive at the moment. Last year they just got a few leaves and this year they don’t seem to be doing anything at all except looking like art installations beside the bird feeder. The Sharon I bought at half the price from Canadian Tire is actually doing much better than the special-order variety. Lesson learned.
Today we will go into the lambing room and graduate a few more lambs to freedom. They will squeal as I chase and catch them and carry them out the door. Once placed on the ground they will run around in circles, knocking into each other and panicking for a few moments. Happily embracing freedom, their mothers will head purposefully in the direction of the open pasture. The lambs will fall into line and follow, commenting all the while on the lovely surprise of the situation.
The Farmer is tackling a few ewes at a time and giving them their spring haircuts before they are released. They also get examined all over for any random injuries and their hooves are neatly trimmed. After weeks of being locked up in the confines of the lambing pens it must feel like going to the spa.
Our farming tenant has spent a few days preparing the back fields and they will be planted soon. My Farmer is busily mending fences so that our sheep are not constantly in the crops when they start to grow. Already I see the herd walking the line of the new fencing, looking for gaps and opportunities. Soon all of the sheep will be outside and our work in the barn will be pretty much done for the season.
Next, we prepare the chicken coop and bed down the lambing pens with hay for the turkeys. And then the baby chicks arrive. We have to ensure there are no cracks big enough for a skunk or raccoon to squeeze through, or we will lose our entire poultry investment.
There is always something going on to keep us busy and to give us a sense of purpose on the farm.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A four-shower day on the farm

I had four showers today. Shower number 1: I woke up covered in sweat, which often happens when you are female, in your mid-forties, and your husband's alarm has just startled you into an adrenalin rush at 4 a.m. because it is turkey hunting season and he has to get outside before sunrise.

Shower number 2 was a result of my playing veterinary nurse to the sheep. One of our ewes has an infected ear, because she caught her ear tag in the feeder and tore it off. It sounds brutal but it actually happens quite often without incident. Usually no one gets an infection. This particular ewe also has a bum leg. Her knee is swollen and the fleece has worn off it. We aren't sure what's wrong with her, but I decided I could treat the infected ear and raw knee with liquid iodine, at the very least. The iodine works as an antiseptic to kill any germs that might be on the wounds. Unfortunately my iodine bottle was clogged and I couldn't get it to spray. I had to take the top off and pour the medicine on the sheep's ear, then flip her onto her back (an acrobatic feat of strength and coordination in itself) in order to spray both sides of her infected knee. Well, the moment after I sprayed her ear, of course, she shook her head and sprayed me with the iodine. I got it on my neck and in my eye. When I flipped her to treat her leg, she kicked so hard she knocked the iodine bottle out of my hand and I spilled it all over myself, staining my leg right through my blue jeans. This is why I needed another shower.

Halfway through the morning, my friend Julia came over with her two daughters and two of their friends, to see the new lambs. While feeding one of the newborn triplets with a baby bottle, the lid opened and I got soaked. After our guests left, I had shower number 3 to rid myself of the stench of sour milk. After lunch I drove into town to do groceries. I came home, completed a few writing assignments, cleaned up after the hunters, watered the houseplants and did some laundry. Then it was time to go out and feed the lambs again.

One of our ewes had triplets but she hasn't been able to feed them at all. Two of her babies expired, and I am determined that the third will survive. I sat on a pile of hay, the lamb across my lap, and encouraged him to suck my finger. Then I inserted the bottle nipple in his mouth. Within minutes he had consumed a cup of warm milk replacer - enough to fill his belly for a few hours. He also peed and pooped on my leg during his feeding, which is actually a very good sign that he is going to be okay. After I put the lamb back in his pen, I went in to the house, threw my clothes in the washer and climbed into the shower for the fourth time in one day.

After dinner I realized I hadn't found the litter of kittens yet. I pulled on some barn clothes and headed out to the hayloft. The two mother cats were poking about up there, but I couldn't find their kittens. If I don't find them soon, they will be too wild for me to adopt them out and I will be stuck with them. I spayed ten barn cats last year. I don't need any more. Once up in the loft, I got hay down my rubber boots, in my mouth and in my hair. Farming is not a job for the faint at heart. I searched under old boards, inside boxes and behind hay bales. I couldn't find the cats.

Now back in the house an hour later, I am sipping oolong tea and trying to write a column. The faint smell of hay and barn is in my nose, and I cannot ignore it. I might have to take shower #5 before bed.

Tune into the Big Breakfast Show with Drew and Diana at STAR 97.5fm, Kemptville's radio station.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

35 and counting...down?

Where there is life, there is death. I know this. But I find it really frustrating when a lamb struggles to be born, and its mother just doesn’t care for it. Last week I went into the barn and a ewe had just given birth in the corner of the big room. I hauled a big gate over and wired it to the wall so that she and her lambs would be sheltered from the rest of the group.
One little lamb was already dried off and sitting curled up in the corner. The other was still in its birth bag, and I wasn’t sure if it was alive. I lifted the mother’s rump off the baby and ripped the bag open. He slid out onto the hay on a tidal wave and shook his head. I took the corner of my lumberjack shirt and cleared his nose and mouth of slime.
Meanwhile the mother got up and walked over to the corner where I had placed a bucket of water and some hay. Obviously the birth had left her hungry and thirsty. But when was she going to tend to her lamb? I placed the lamb in a pile of dry hay under his mother’s nose, and went about the rest of the farm chores. I checked him later and she still hadn’t dried him off so I got an old flannel sheet and rubbed him down myself. The stimulation revived him and he went off in search of food. Mama didn’t like that one bit, and kept circling so he couldn’t latch on. This is one of the saddest, most frustrating things we go through on the farm. A healthy lamb is born, you can steal colostrum from the mom and feed him bottles of milk replacer but sometimes they just don’t make it. In the week since lambing season began in earnest, we have gained about 35 and lost 5.
We do have some great success stories, including two sets of triplets who, although tiny, are strong and healthy. Their mothers are very smart, attentive and protective. One set was born out in the barnyard. The Farmer told me to wrap the babies in a blanket, put them on the flat wagon and pull them to the barn so the mother could follow. That wasn’t a good plan. First, the babies kept wiggling out of the blanket and falling off the wagon. Second, the mother kept circling me and trying to head-butt me in the leg. Sheep don’t have many defenses but when you are stealing their lambs they can get a bit ornery. And man, their skulls are hard as rocks.
Finally I grabbed two of the lambs and the Farmer took the third while holding the ewe off with a stick. I had to repeat this routine again later in the week when another ewe gave birth outside and didn’t trust me with the relocation of her baby. In this second instance I was alone (no Farmer in sight) and Rambo decided to assist the ewe in her attack. By the time I got into the barn (running backwards in rubber boots with a bleating lamb in my arms, whacking at two charging sheep with a stick), my heart was pounding and I was covered in sweat.
The next set of triplets was born in the big room of the barn, but the mother took it upon herself to climb over the gate into the lamb creep area before she gave birth. When I arrived, I just had to block the exit with a board and we had an instant pen. She’s one smart mama, choosing a safe place to have her babies.
Speaking of safe places, Mama Cat has decided the loft is not a good haven for her babies, and she has moved them. I have to search all corners of the barn with a flashlight in search of them. I don’t want them to get too big before I get my hands on them, or I’ll never tame them for adoption. I don’t need any more feral cats around here either, so Mama is next on the list to be spayed. Catching her may prove to be a bit difficult, however, particularly because I caught her once last year and now she is cage-smart.
Tune in to The Big Breakfast Show with Drew and Diana, weekday mornings on STAR 97.5fm, Kemptville’s new radio station! And

Spring Fever Hits the Farm

One of our ewes gave birth in the barnyard Thursday so it was time to take a closer look at the herd. Sure enough, they were ‘baggin’ up’, developing udders. The Farmer ushered the lot of them into the barn with the help of Chelsea the sheep dog, who truly loves her job, and without whom the job would be very difficult indeed.
The Farmer sectioned off half a dozen sheep at a time, hurrying them down the aisle in the lambing room. Once they were all huddled in the back corner he hooked them around the neck with his crook one at a time and checked underneath for the heavy udder. If no udder was found, he would yell “out” and I would press up close to the wall so the sheep could run past me to freedom. If he yelled “in” I held the gate to the nearest lambing pen open and squatted behind it. If the sheep sees me in her path, she will not proceed. I have to hide. It’s actually a fun game and all the squatting is great exercise. This is what goes through my brain.
I think the calf, who was still in his own pen-suite, thought I really was playing, jumping up and down like that. He started to run in circles around his pen, stopping to kick up his heels and continue in the opposite direction. He did a lot of mooing in response to the bawling of the excited sheep.
Friday morning we had a set of twins and when we got home from work another lamb was lying in the field beside her mother. Obviously that one fooled us and was more ready to go than we thought. Most of our lambs this year are either black-faced and booted or pure white, depending on whether Philip the Suffolk or Rambo the Rideau fathered them. This little lamb has a beige face and socks. I call her Sandy. (Yes I know I’m not supposed to name them). Donkey can’t really be trusted around the lambs that are born in the field, and neither can Misty the horse. They are too curious, large, clumsy and jumpy. So I’m keeping a lookout for new, unexpected lambs on the horizon. When they are born I scoop them up and bring them into the barn, the mother chasing after me.
Friday night I fed my tinier, weaker lambs a bit of milk replacer from a baby bottle, then I went into Ottawa for a girls’ night out with some friends. While I was gone, the Farmer had to move a few more sheep inside, so Baby the calf was ousted. It was only about 5pm so he had a few hours before dark to explore the great outdoors. I was a little miffed when I found out that I had missed his big moment of being set free from the barn, but when the sheep need the space, you do what you’ve got to do.
The Farmer said that the calf ran circles around and around the hay feeder. He stopped to sniff it as if to say, “I know what this is, I like it, and I’m glad they have some for me out here.” Then he took off to join the other three calves, who quickly welcomed him into their group.
Saturday morning I went out to see how the calf was doing and he was off in a far corner of the field, munching fresh green shoots of grass with the other calves. When I called and clucked as I always had before, he just raised his head and looked at me as if to say, “but I don’t want to go back inside. I like it out here.” He is the success story of this year so far. And now he has been integrated back into his herd. I can’t wait to see him running and jumping myself.
Everyone around here has spring fever. I have been chased by the ram twice and he decided to chase the Farmer once too. This morning I saw Donkey and Misty running scared down the field and when I caught a glimpse of what was behind them, I had to laugh. A male turkey with his tail feather fan on display was strutting slowly toward them.
- listen to “The Big Breakfast Show” with Drew and Diana on STAR 97.5fm weekday mornings!