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Friday, February 19, 2016

Spending Saturday in a feed store (from Jan. 2016)

I’ll bet that is one of the world’s first book launches that involved a newborn lamb. Many thanks to Zachary and Kirstan Bennett for letting us borrow their wee one for part of Saturday. He was quite an attraction and stole the show more than a few times. I also think he deserves credit for selling a few books.
When I arrived at Rooney Feeds Saturday morning, the lamb was happily curled up in a ball at the end of its trough-bed, in a blanket. The resident cat at the store, Peanut Butter, was struggling with conflicting emotions of curiosity and disgust at the new smells in the room. Everything was fine until the lamb demonstrated his ability to leap out of his confines and roam around the room. Peanut Butter leapt to safety on the store counter, craning his neck around the corner to see the lamb as it explored its surroundings. As the lamb bumped its nose into the reflection in the glass showcase, Peanut Butter nearly fell off his perch. Slightly humiliated, he decided to go outside for a while to get away from the little attention-stealer.
There was a steady flow of people through the store, some on regular farm business and some had specifically come to get a book. At the end of three hours, I had had six cups of coffee, far too many Timbits, and I had sold twenty-two books. Not bad for a first book launch event, in a feed store. In January, during freezing rain.
Audrey said it was a quiet time of year, because most things are in the freezer now, their heads cut off.
“The animals,” she said. “They’re in the freezer. The farmers don’t come to the feed store when the animals are in the freezer.”
Oh. I get it. Mini heart attack there for a moment.
Well we did pretty well despite the slow season, as far as I’m concerned.
The best part of hanging around the feed store is the stories you hear from the farmers. Audrey and Quinlan share the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows with all of their customers, and get to know them well. They know who had to put a horse down, and whose sheep just had quadruplets.
They don’t just sell feed in that store. They educate new customers – city folk turned farmers – on how to feed their new animals. They share stories of trial and error, success and mistakes, so that we can all learn from each other. The food store is the hub of the farm community.
For the rest of this mild wintry weekend we stuffed the dogs’ houses with fresh hay and watched as they snuggled in for long afternoon naps. I chopped up some apples and fed them to the cows as they socialized around the hay bales. Mocha swipes the apple sections with her long sandpaper tongue wrapped around my wrist, leaving a rash-like mark. Betty is also greedy with her grabbing. Ginger has just become brave enough to eat from my hand in recent months. She is very gentle with her nibble. But the softest, most timid and polite bite of all is from Dono, the big bull. Normally I stand with a gate between us and toss him the apples. Today I fed him by hand. I had Betty to protect me if he decided to charge. He was very tame with his previous owners and he is very well-treated here so he should be fine but, you know what they say. Never turn your back on a bull.
Gina still shows no sign of ‘bagging up’, preparing an udder for an impending birth. Once again, the first cow to give birth will likely be a surprise. We don’t have any expectant heifers this year so everyone is experienced and, theoretically, it should be an easy calving season on the farm.
My bet is on Betty to go first. She is off by herself while everyone else is eating, lying in the straw, staring off toward the snow-covered meadow, chewing her cud. She probably misses the long walks she takes in the warmer months, sampling different clovers and grasses in every field. With ice under foot and snowdrifts to navigate, everyone moves a little more slowly this time of year. She stands up, does a strange yoga move to stretch, and takes a wander along the well-beaten path around the barnyard.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

A Touchdown on Superbowl Sunday

At least it was a mild day when the first cow went into labour. The Farmer did his morning head count and when one cow was missing it took a moment for him to find her. We could barely make out her dark form in the shadows under some cedar trees, along the fence line.
“Great. She’s way the hell down there,” he muttered. I pulled my boots on and prepared to join him on the ATV. We might have to taxi a calf back up to the barn.
When we approached, Gina stuck her curly black head out from under the cedar boughs.
“What are you doing, Gina?” I questioned her. “Do you think this is a good spot to have your baby?”
Apparently she did. She was carefully tramping fallen cedar boughs in a circle and, I had to admit, it did look pretty comfy. But there was very little wind block, and we needed to get both her and her calf up to the barn, where they would be kept inside for a week or so.
The coaxing and encouraging began.
“Come on, Gina. Up to the barn. Let’s go. Giddyup.”
She just looked at us and blinked with her long eyelashes.
Then the Farmer got off his 4-wheeler and started in her direction. She leapt out of the bushes and started up the well-beaten cow path up to the barnyard, stopping every few feet to turn around and look at her prospective birthing spot. She mooed her intermittent complaints. The other cattle gathered around to see what excitement had her bawling.
“She’s going to have her calf today,” the Farmer announced.
Well I could have told you that.
It would likely be a few hours, so we went back up to the house to make lunch.
And then, about two hours later, the Farmer went to check on his herd.
He popped his head back into the house. “Come see this. And don’t wear your best clothes. You’re gonna get dirty.”
A man of mystery, my husband is. But I appreciated the warning when I saw what he was talking about.
Hurried out of her preferred birthing location, Gina had chosen what she considered the next best thing. She gave birth to her calf on the soft, matted hay that circles the feeder in the middle of the barnyard. In a warm, wet pile of manure.
Remembering last year’s disaster, where we arrived to find her big, beautiful calf dead, we hurried to pull this one into the dry warmth of the barn.
Now, you’re not supposed to get between a cow and her calf, unless you absolutely have to. Depending on the nature and mood of the mama, you could get yourself killed. Or at least kicked really hard. I’ve seen big, fat Betty send a hoof out at a perfect 90-degree angle from her body, like a whip. Lucky for us, this cow was not aggressive. In fact the look in her eyes was pretty terrified.
The calf was already standing, and attempting to walk around its mother. The Farmer took a long rope and looped it into a lasso. He pulled the rope around the calf’s neck and under one leg. He took another lasso and tied it around the calf’s hips. Then he handed the end of the first rope to me and motioned for the barn. My husband is so used to farming on his own he barely speaks to me. It’s all telepathic. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t.
I was pretty anxious to get this filthy, wet little thing to shelter so I used all my strength to hop/dance it over to the old horse stall. The little bull calf was about the size of a full-grown Labrador Retriever but instincts told him to put the brakes on and he was resisting forward motion. It took every bit of my strength to move him over the ruts of frozen manure and mud in the barnyard.
The Farmer had lined the stall with soft, dry hay, and filled the feeders and water buckets. Gina mooed a bit as we stole her calf, then followed closely behind. Good girl. That makes it much easier.
The rest of the herd crowded around to see what was going on. Some of them tried to get in the stall with the new little family. It was a bit chaotic, trying to sort them out, Gina all wild-eyed and panicked.
Finally Gina and her calf were safely locked in, and she set to work at cleaning him off. A mother’s work is never done. He was born on Superbowl Sunday, so we are calling him Touchdown. One down, eleven to go. Let the games begin.

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Learning how to look after Leti

The Farmer and I had the opportunity to babysit our granddaughter Leti for the first time. It was the busiest five hours in our recent history.
Anastasia and Andrew arrived an hour early to settle Leti in for her visit. Annie fed and changed her baby before she left, and left two bottles of mama’s milk behind. Theoretically that is more than enough for a four to five hour stay. Then she decided to leave us a can of formula “just in case Leti is doing her nervous eating.” I thought that was funny – a baby getting nervous and snacking to settle herself. But Mama was right.
Leti slept in her bassinette for the first hour. When she began to fuss I picked her up, checked her diaper and tried dancing and jiggling her around the room. Then I remembered that, like her mother before her, Leti does not often appreciate being danced or jiggled. She likes to be held still. She’s not a candidate for one of those vibrating baby chairs and she doesn’t need to be rocked to sleep. That movement seems to make her nauseous.
Her mother was the same. The first time I went out to dinner and left Anastasia with a sitter, when she was about two months old, I forgot to tell her caregiver how to settle her. I was just so excited to be getting out of the house that I made sure she had enough milk and knew where the diapers were and I left. Margaret was the kindly old grandma from next door – she had run a home daycare and looked after her own grandchildren for so many years that I felt quite confident she would be able to handle all the troubleshooting and problem-solving on her own.
These were the days before cell phones. But we had left the phone number of the restaurant where we were heading, so Margaret could find us in an emergency. I was just getting used to being out on the town without a baby strapped to me when the server approached our table, phone in hand.
Margaret actually sounded quite calm, which was remarkable given that there was the obvious sound of a furious baby screaming in the background. It wasn’t a hungry or scared or pained cry. It was Annie’s angry cry.
“I’m so sorry to bother you. I have tried everything and I cannot get this child to stop yelling and go to sleep. I know she must be exhausted. I tried rocking her, walking her, putting her in the swing and dancing her around the room. Do you have any hints?”
“Yes, sorry. I should have told you. Just put her on her face in her crib and walk out of the room. Make sure the monitor is on, and close the door behind you.”
“Really? Wait. I’ll try it while you are still on the phone, if you don’t mind.”
I heard the sound of the screaming growing more distant on the other end of the line. I pictured the two going into the nursery, Annie being placed in the bed on her stomach, her toys tucked in around her…then I heard the door softly closing. The crying abruptly stopped.
“Well. That worked. I guess she just likes to be left alone! Enjoy the rest of your evening.” And she hung up the phone.
Leti opened her eyes and looked, startled, at my face. The same colouring as her mother, and likely a similar voice…but not the mama. I snapped a photo of her obviously confused expression. Then the nerves must have started because she demanded a bottle. And within half an hour of finishing that one, another. I changed her diaper after each feeding and when she asked for the third bottle I realized we had to start on the formula.
“Stop feeding that kid, will ya?” the Farmer commented. “You’re going to make her sick!”
I explained about the nervous eating and grandpa had to admit, it seemed to be the only thing that settled her. About twenty mls into the formula, Leti passed out. The excitement mixed with the heaviness of the milk to put her to sleep. She was blissfully dreaming of her mother when the real one arrived to bundle her up and take her home.
Grandma’s first babysitting event went well, and we got to know each other a little better. Lesson learned: always have plenty of snacks on hand.

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