Search This Blog

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The cow clinic is open for business

A couple of our cows are still drooling. The Farmer took another look at the dosage on the Ivomec de-worming medication and realized he needed to give them about five times what he originally administered during his flying leaps through the herd. You have to spray the liquid on their backs. But first you have to corral them and sneak up on them. It’s a lot easier said than done.
Before he headed out to the barn to feed and do chores, I clipped a pedometer on his belt.
“We’re going to start counting our daily steps,” I announced.
“Why?” he shrugged.
“Because we are supposed to walk 10-12,000 steps a day,” I said.
“Says who?”
I convinced my husband that it was a good way to keep activity top of mind.
“Oh and when I get to 10,000 the pounds just fall off,” he said, shaking his head.
We got the cows in the barn by bringing fresh hay bales in where they could smell them. Step one, accomplished. Then we pushed them out the door where they were huddled at the entrance to the metal chute or alley with the head gate at the end.
“Just hold that bucket of sweet feed on your side of the headgate. When she puts her head through, push the gate lever down and it will hold her head in place.”
Theoretically, yeah. But this is a 1500lb Big Betty with an attitude. She wants the sweetfeed, all of it, then she is just going to shake that headgate lever off her neck and shove the whole gate open. And that’s exactly what she did. But by then she had her medication.
We are still learning just how strong our barn infrastructure needs to be to hold a cow in place. A lot stronger than it does to hold a sheep in place, that’s for sure.
This procedure went on for the next few minutes – push the cow into the chute, put the bar down behind her bum so she can’t escape, spray medication on her back, release. I ran out of sweet feed after Betty so she was the only one who got a treat. I’m pretty sure the rest of them could smell it and were quite confused about the trick.
Finally the only cow that remained to go in the chute was the sickest one of them all. Her chin was swollen with parasites and she had a foamy drool on her lip. But she didn’t like being the only one in the chute, so she took a run at the gate and, with all her strength, put her shoulder into it and busted it open.
“She’s the main reason I was doing this today,” the Farmer said, throwing his cane on the ground.
“You can still get her,” I encouraged. “Look. She’s right there, in the middle of the crowd around the hay feeder. Just sneak up on her and spray her back.”
The problem is, you have to pump the spray nozzle five times to get enough of a dosage. I am reminded of our big Belgian horse Misty, how she used to jump, all 1800 lbs. of her, straight up in the air if she heard a squirt from a spray bottle. I used to have to spray a cloth with bug repellent and wipe her down with it because she could not stand to be sprayed.
The Farmer snuck up behind the black drooling cow with the white face. She munched happily away on the hay, oblivious. It wasn’t the feeling of the cold, wet spray on her back, but the sound of the nozzle, I swear, that sent her reeling away from the feeder. She spun around and the Farmer got her again. She kicked her heels in the air and spun around in the other direction, trying to see where the noise was coming from. The Farmer kept jumping to stay behind her, out of sight. It was quite amusing to watch. Finally the startled cow took off toward the open pasture, a man in muddy duck shoes struggling to keep up with her, squirt bottle in hand.
“Run, Fisher, Run!” I laughed.
Mission accomplished, the Farmer limped back to the house, shook off his barn coat and kicked off his shoes. He pulled the pedometer off his belt and handed it to me. It read 5,000.
“Well that’s a good start,” I smiled.


Saturday, October 17, 2015

A grisly discovery shatters the peace and quiet of the farm

We own a mile of Kemptville Creek. The shallow waterway runs along the edge of our 200-acre property along County Road 18 east of Bishops Mills. If you paddle your canoe up to our property line, you can see the bridge over the creek at County Road 20. This is where the body of a young man was found last week. That, as they say, is a little too close for comfort.
I first learned of the discovery through a friend who met the police roadblock on his way home. I went and spoke to the officer on site, who could obviously tell me nothing, except to say there was no risk to public safety. Neighbours closer to the site said they had heard there was a homicide on the bridge. Another friend posted a message online saying a local resident had found a body.
I wondered how the police could say we were safe in our homes that night. How could they know? Did they have the person responsible in custody? No, they did not. For the next two nights I awoke every time the wind moved a tree branch, causing the outdoor sensor light to flash on, and off. My migraine headache induced by too much indulgence on Thanksgiving flared and lasted all week long.
In our secluded location, on a bend in a single-lane dirt road, we often see dumpings of garbage and even hunting carcasses: geese, fish, even a bear. It’s upsetting to think that the beautiful farmland, forests and roadways we call home are considered a place to drop unwanted trash to others. Now someone has turned our peaceful rural landscape into a crime scene. Yellow police tape flutters in the wind where it stretches around the site from tree to tree, blocking vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Crime scene investigators and forensics specialists are on the scene for days after the discovery, taking samples, photographs, and video. Documenting the scene where one young man’s story came to an abrupt end.
On Friday, police revealed preliminary autopsy reports. They had an unidentified deceased male and the cause of death was not obvious. Further testing would have to be done. The description of his attire and grooming was a bit more city than country in my first impression. Maybe he was brought here from Toronto, or Montreal. He had the name of a hardcore band on his t-shirt, “BANE”. They played Montreal last summer. If there was no sign of injury, did he die from drug overdose? Heart attack? The police say the body was in good shape, so it wasn’t in the water long. Tips have been flowing in from the public. Vehicles have been spotted near the site in recent weeks – but they often are. There is a parking area and a groomed path down to the water where people launch kayaks or canoes, or send their dogs in to fetch sticks on a hot day.
Hopefully by the time this column goes to print, the dead man will have been identified. It’s hard to imagine he doesn’t have anyone looking for him. With today’s rapid network of communications between policing partners in Canada and the US, surely they will have him identified soon.
I’ve spent far too much time over the past few days, wondering who he is, what happened to him and who the people are who can fill in the missing links to the story. Like a self-diagnosing sick person, I am online doing research and investigation, looking for clues.
The police said one thing during the press conference that caught my attention. For the first time in my many conversations with police since this case began, when asked if there was any danger to public safety, she didn’t say no. She said they were treating the case as a suspicious death, and we should exercise personal safety. I went home and made sure all windows were locked as well as the doors.
Then I sat and watched the sun go down over the creek, the cows grazing in the foreground, black silhouettes in the twilight. The air was filled with the song of geese flying in, following the line of the water, their favourite place to stop for the night.

Dealing with zombie cows on the farm

The Farmer and I were working in the garden when we noticed the cows. They were standing in a line beside the fence, staring at us. Most of them were drooling. They were very creepy, like zombie cows. I told them to cut it out. They moved closer. My husband said they likely had a wee dose of parasites from the grass, and they needed medication. He made plans to do it bright and early the next morning, before they left the barn.
Unfortunately for my partner, I had to be at work early for a meeting so he was on his own in the cattle-rustling business. He attempted to lure them into the cattle chute with a fresh new salt lick. As it had yet to be licked I don’t know if they could smell it. In any case, they weren’t interested and just by-passed the whole operation. He did manage to catch two of the tame ones – Betty and Mocha – but the rest took off before he could needle them with the Ivomec de-wormer.
Later in the day the cows were crowded around the water cooler at nap time, discussing politics or whatever it is they do at that time of day. The Farmer stood silently, just out of their circle. When they were huddled together he climbed halfway up the ladder to the hayloft and sprayed down onto their backs with the de-wormer that he hadn’t managed to get into them by needle.
A few minutes later he went out to see if he had missed anyone. The rest of the cows were lying down, in the cattle chute. He successfully sprayed them too. Mission accomplished. I told him he should have waited for me to come home with a bag of apples. My luring techniques usually work. But I think he was pretty successful because I don’t see anyone drooling anymore.
We’ve had our first frost now so I guess it’s fair to give up on my garden. I’ve ripped everything out and turned the sod over. I say sod because it was basically a grass garden with some plants sticking out of it. Next year I need to get serious about eradicating the grass and weeds. What an exercise in frustration – trying to find tiny green onions and carrots in weed patches that are twice as high as the veggies.
The Farmer has also requested that I don’t plant quite as many squash or ‘exotic’ (orange, green, pink, and purple) tomatoes next year. They make great photos to post on Instagram but they apparently are not ideal for his traditional spaghetti sauce.
My husband has spent most of his free time lately shoring up the woodpile as we prepare for another long winter. Soon he will install the wind barrier walls on the porch and we will stack cords of wood there, within easy (housecoat and slipper) access of the house.
I am looking forward to the winter, actually. I have just put the finishing touches on my first book (The Accidental Farmwife, due out this spring) and it is time to start working on another.
I will curl up on the couch beside the woodstove, computer on my lap and cat on my feet. Depending on the time of day, there may be a glass of red wine or a cup of green tea beside me. Life is good and there are things to celebrate about all four seasons.
The Junior Farmwife is entering her final trimester with grandchild #1. We are very excited getting ready for this most wonderful addition to our extended family. I have been given a playpen with change table, high chair, bassinet and crib. I am currently deciding on where everything will be installed and set up. Soon I will be more prepared for this child than her own parents are. Well, almost. I just want to be ready for the first time I pick up the phone and hear, “Mom, can you watch the baby for us?” You bet your sweet Aunt Bippy I can. So excited.
Have a great week, everyone, and remember – I don’t care who you vote for: just VOTE.


Why it's Misty the horse, of course

It was a very difficult decision to give up our beautiful Belgian horse, Misty. She wasn’t a trained horse, but we were absolutely positive she had untapped skills and just needed the chance to display them. Unfortunately, the Farmer and I were completely ill-equipped to discover, train or utilize those skills.
Having a horse is a huge responsibility. We considered ourselves lucky to have gone through six years without any major medical bills or disasters. But it was time to find a new home for our 1800-lb pet. She needed to find out what it means to be a workhorse. Traipsing around the meadow all day after a mischievous donkey had to be boring at times.
For over two years we fiddled with the idea. We put an ad on one website or another, and didn’t renew them when they expired. I put posts on Facebook saying Misty was looking for a new home, and as soon as I got a response I took the offer away.
Finally, on St. Patrick’s Day 2014, the Farmer got a call from Roy Sherrer, who raises Belgian horses on a farm near Spencerville. He knew Misty well. Just like that, she was sold. I blame it on the Guinness.
Within a few weeks, Roy had Misty hitched up with another horse and pulling a wagon. We were surprised but oh so happy to hear that she was learning to be a horse.
And then, once trained, Misty was sold. To a farmer in Quebec. Roy came over to get us to sign some papers and he asked us how many times she had been hitched before. The answer was, well, never. Misty had been hitched once for a photo opportunity, at her original farm. But we hadn’t put as much as a saddle on her. He said she learned within just a few hours, to follow the lead of her hitch partner, and pull. We were very proud.
Roy said Misty’s new owner was going to take her to the International Plowing Match in September. I started to think about how I would find out when Misty was competing, so I could attend. I imagined the Farmer and me, in our plaid shirts, cowboy boots and jeans, Misty’s own cheering section.
Then, out of the blue, I got a message from a friend who had an almost unbelievable story. My uncle and his partner Christiane used to enjoy their visits to the farm, and Misty. Christiane was visiting her mother in Val des Monts Quebec recently when she heard a familiar snort from the farm next door. She walked over to take a closer look and couldn’t believe what she saw. “Misty!” The red-gold horse responded to her name. Christiane checked in with the elderly farmer who had just added the horse to his team and he confirmed her name and origin.
Christiane gave me some more info about Misty’s new home. Her owner hitches his team to wagons and sleighs in the winter, complete with jingle bells, and takes families for rides in the village. He has a beautiful spot in the valley and she will be very happy there. I felt much better, knowing where she was. I know I need to let her go and it’s all quite silly to be concerned for her happiness but it’s nice to hear she found a good home.
Next, I received an email from the granddaughter of Misty’s new owner. Sarah explained that her father didn’t speak much English, so she would be our go-between. She told me Misty wouldn’t be going to the plowing match. Apparently she didn’t get along with her new hitch partner, so they were back to square one. Well that was disappointing.
I told her Misty is used to following, not leading. She followed her sister around from the day she was born. And when her sister died, she turned around and there was Donkey.  I’m sure they know Misty’s character by now, but I thought I would add my two cents. Hopefully they will give her another chance.
I think Misty would really enjoy being part of the Christmas celebration in the little Quebec village, jingle bells on her halter, pulling a sleigh. She always loved the attention of people, and the excitement of the crowd. I hope she gets her act together and if they don’t have a strong lead horse, she might consider being one herself.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

It's Turkey time

I went out to the barn to take stock of the flock before writing this column. Actually a group of turkeys is called “a rafter”. So I went out to check out the rafter of fat, fluffy Thanksgiving dinners on legs. They stand about three feet tall now, and greet me as I enter the barn.
Our birds are comfortable and happy right until their last moments, which are humane and calm. We moved our birds to the abandoned horse stable this year, so that we could hear them and their communal gobbling from the house. The sheepdog is keeping a close eye on the comings and goings from the area and announcing the arrival of any intruders.
The turkeys are enjoying the added benefit of social activity in this new location. They can see out through the slats of the stall, to the barnyard on one side and the house yard on the other. When they hear the patio door slide open, they comment. When a car drives up the lane, they comment. It makes life far more interesting for them, I’m sure. The soundtrack of the farm has been turkey song all summer.
In another week we will have fresh turkeys for pickup for Thanksgiving dinner so if you need one, make sure you let us know. We only have a limited number.
The wild turkeys are plentiful this year. The designated female leads the kindergarten troupe in a zig-zag across the road and I have to follow their silly parade as I’m trying to get to work. We watch from the back porch as the males compete in their flamboyant tango moves, fanning out their tails and attempting to impress the women.
September 26th was opening day for the duck hunt and the Farmer launched his favourite time of year with his traditional hunting party gathering. The trucks started arriving at 4am and unloading their gear. The canoes were already down at the creek so they piled everything on the trailer behind the ATV and rode down under the last of the full moon. By ten they were exhausted and hungry so they came back up to the farm for a feast of last season’s wild game. Hunting season is the only time of year that the wine and beer are flowing before noon – because the hunters have already been up for eight hours and they are ready for a relaxing drink.
A dozen men fill the sun porch picnic table, their plates loaded with venison roast, goose bourguignon, wild turkey and lake trout. I quickly toss a salad and add it to the table with potatoes and carrots so it isn’t a total meat meal.
After brunch the hunters retire to the back deck for cigars and coffee and a nap in the sunshine. Some of them head home, while others prepare to head back out to the creek for the sunset hunt.
I imagine I would find it all a bit boring, sitting in the bush for hours, but to them it’s a form of meditation, I think. And they say they solve all the world’s problems out there, in their deep woods conversations.
I think out of half a dozen hunters they got one duck. It was turned over to the host/cook and will be served as an appetizer at Sunday dinner with a side of goat cheese and red pepper jelly.
The Farmer and I sat up to watch the super blood moon total eclipse thingy last Sunday night. He set up our lawnchairs on the front porch and covered them with sheepskins to make them extra cozy. I poured the whiskey nightcaps, turned off all the conflicting lights and we settled in under a blanket for the big moment. We got some visits from the barn cats who were out for their evening hunt. White cats glow in the dark. Finally the moon started to look like something was happening – the eclipsed part started to glow red and if you stared at it long enough it actually appeared to be spinning. Very cool. Then, it was over. For another 18 years, at least. And the Farmer was snoring beside me. I’m lucky the cat woke me up or we might have been there until sunrise.