Category Archives: Farm Life

New Home-ward Bound

The maple lined driveway of the farm on a frosty morning

Well, we can relax.  We found a house on Kijiji. And today we get possession of it.  Thankfully we have 2 weeks to move, which is great because it turns out I’d rather do other stuff – like write blog posts – than help move.

*Disclaimer – the pics in this post are kind of random – photo albums are already packed so not much to work with.

This major life event, causes me to reflect on our other homes of our married life.  All three of them.   When we got married, I moved half a block away from my parent’s home, into a cute little house we had rented. We thought it was a palace.  It was tiny, without a basement, and had two little bedrooms. When I put stuff away in the cupboards, I could also do a weather check, because there were huge cracks where I could see outside – that is unless they were too iced up.  Our castle had a “portable toilet”, which was especially pleasant since we hosted lots of parties with our 20-something pals, where mass quantities of beer were consumed.

We stayed there 3 years.  Hubby had always wanted to have a bit of property, so we found ourselves looking ½ hr north, at a 10 acre piece of land with a cute little bungalow.  It had no basement, but the toilet wasn’t portable so it had me at hello. The young couple who were selling it had built it themselves, and we were young and naïve enough to think that was a good thing.  In hindsight, Mike Holmes would have been apoplectic.  The young couple was extremely good at staging and had really nice furniture.  We were dazzled by the charming décor, and so excited at the prospect of our “hobby farm” that we failed to notice that the house itself kind of resembled a double-wide, and that parts of it were held together with fence staples.   The reason I know this, is because fast forward a few years, when we had 3 little kids, and those 3 little kids had 2 little friends over to play. It was a windy afternoon, and they were all 5 playing in the living room, and the drop ceiling got real literal and “dropped” on top of my happy little toddlers.  After that, helmets were mandatory as we searched for our new home.

By now my hubby’s appetite for land had become insatiable. He wanted a farm, and he had a list of attributes it had to have – bank barn, maple trees, creek, etc, etc.  We started looking another ½ hr north, and looked at so many places that I eventually stopped going with him because it was too hard to haul all the kiddies along.  One day he came home and said he thought he’d found the place. It was a January day, and I remember riding in the car to look at it and driving for what felt like hours through frozen tundra.  The house had been empty for a year, so the staging was a little less inviting than our first house.  Each room had a charming little pile of dead cluster flies under the window.  And there was a decided “hill” in the floor of master bedroom.

Winter morning view from the barn.

On the bright side, this place had two toilets of the not portable kind, and it had a basement.  So what if it was the kind of basement you don’t want to go into unless under threat of a Wizard of Oz category tornado.  I had chronic fatigue also known as numb-y mummy syndrome in the 90s, so robotically signed the papers, and we moved in on June 26 1992, with a 1, 3 and 5 year old.  My biggest concern was how I was going to keep them all safe, with a pond and a creek, and a barn with a ladder up to the rafters. I had visions of a well-worn path down our driveway from emergency vehicles, and being on a first name basis with all the 911 operators.  Hubby was enthralled with all the fields and dirt and trees that we could call our own.  He saw past the insulbrick and the long grass, and fell deeply in love with the maple lined driveway and the white board fence and the big red barn and the bush out back. He thought this was a great place to raise the kids.  Turns out, he was right. (I can admit that, because he hardly ever reads this.)

Move in day, June 1992. Note the well manicured lawn and my future fashionista sporting the toga look.

The hard farm life

After 20 years, we’re moving on.  It’s bittersweet – it’s a small town and most people have lived here FOREVER.  The folks in our community who eyed us suspiciously for the first 10-15 years, have started to warm up. (Mercifully we didn’t realize at the time how sorely we stood out at our kids athletic and school events.  We thought we were anonymous, and really we might as well have been wearing sandwich signs that screamed “stranger danger”.) Now ironically, we will  be making trips back to the old hood to visit. We will miss our pals.

Even though we’re empty nesters now, the kids are having a hard time with saying goodbye to the old place.  I tsk tsk them and tell them how great the new place will be … but secretly I’m dealing with flashbacks of 3 little curly headed imps fishing through the cracks in the bridge at the creek, or all 3 sleepily listening to Tom Petty songs while crammed into a tractor cab with dad as he plowed fields, or 3 teens huddled behind the driveway trees waiting for the bus, or countless family barbeques with spectacular sunsets.

I can’t think about that too long.  Instead I choose to focus on the fact that the place we’re going to has an unprecedented 3 normal toilets, and a basement that I will willingly spend time in, even without weather network alerts.

And the best part is, the family moving in to our old house has 3 little kids under 5.  The dad is visibly excited about the fields and barn and trees and bush.  The mummy is not at all numb-y, and is thrilled about calling our old farm home.  They think it’s going to be a nice place to raise kids.  They have no idea.

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Filed under Family, Farm Life, Home and Garden, Memories

Our Old Yeller Cat

I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with living out on the farm.  When job hunting as I am now, I always take the address off my resume because it could be perceived as a disadvantage, and employers will think I won’t be reliable because I live in the snow belt.  They don’t know that I will drive through anything, and that I’ve come to terms with spending at least 5 years of my life in my car.  Which explains things like my “travel chips” tucked under my seat, and my door pockets that resemble a medicine cabinet.
 

But I have had to deal with issues that none of my urban based co-workers have.  There was for example, the great Rabies scare of 2006.   We had a cow that was sick and bawling, and hubby had the vet come.   He checked it out and eliminated a bunch of stuff, and then said that one remaining possibility was Rabies.  By the next day he was fairly sure that was the case, so we had to put the cow down, and when the test results came back the diagnosis was confirmed. 

I am a bit of a hypochondriac at the best of times, and learned a long time ago that ignorance is bliss in the area of ailments, as I immediately begin to observe the symptoms in myself or the kids the minute I read about any disease.  We’ve had everything from Malaria to  West Nile to Lyme disease to Meningitis, and that’s just from news stories that I couldn’t turn off fast enough.

The vet said as long as our cats were up to date on their shots there was nothing to worry about with them.  Except that I had let that slide a tiny bit … and they weren’t exactly up to date.  I’ll never forget the feeling in the pit of my stomach as hubby was reassuring me that it was probably very unlikely that we would need to worry about the cats, and that we should schedule them immediately for their shots.  As we chatted, our cat Furbert appeared, purring and rubbing as per usual.  Furbert innocently looked up at me, and he had one single long strand of spit dangling from his lip.

Well, that did it.  I was full blown hysterical, in Old Yeller mode.  Hubby was reassuring me once again, saying that he saw that the cat had pine pitch (sap from a pine tree) on his fur earlier and that he probably just licked it.  That wasn’t good enough for me though.  I called the emergency number of Rabies Control and shrieked into the phone calmly informed the guy  that our cat was foaming at the mouth and demanded to know when I should expect that we were all going to succumb.  Since they had been vaccinated in prior years, he thought we were okay, but suggested we isolate them for a couple of weeks, just to be sure. 

We gathered up the bewildered felines and unceremoniously locked them in the basement, where they all huddled on the top step, protesting loudly. (I understood their outrage though – our house is over 100 years old, and the basement is pretty creepy.  I refuse to go down there, even under threat of impending tornado — I’d rather take my chances going with the house, Dorothy style.)

I didn’t sleep a wink that night, and I had a work meeting in the big city the next day.  I remember groggily sitting around the  table in the glass office tower with my co-workers and agency partners, thinking about how they would feel if they knew that they were sharing a working lunch with a Rabies sufferer.  I avoided looking at the pitcher of water on the table just in case I was already in full blown hydrophobia. I wondered if and when I would be overcome with the urge to bite my colleagues.  I thought about how bad that was going to look on my Performance Review.

As it turned out, hubby was right this one time and we didn’t have to worry.  The cats endured their basement banishment, and got their updated shots and were fine.  We didn’t have to shoot anyone, and none of my co-workers had to get a bunch of needles in their belly because of their proximity to me.

But it sure confirmed one thing for me.  Cats are demented and have very warped senses of humour.  I’m almost sure this is how it went down: Our three cats were all lounging it up in an adjoining room, trading stories about tormenting rodents and licking butter.  Suddenly, Furbert’s pointed ears perk up as he overhears the conversation where hubby is informing me that the cow Rabies test is positive.  Then Furbert probably stretched and said, “Watch this” … and proceeded to work up that single spit strand, then casually sidles in to where we were and was all  like,  

“Purr, Purr, What’s up guys?”  

Of course, he couldn’t have known that it was going to backfire and he was going to go into lockdown for three weeks, or he would never have done it.  He’s not a genius – just a smart aleck with a wicked sense of humour and occasional mean streak .  If he were a person he would be Ricky Gervais. 

Furbert, always the comic, ready to go play Squash

I’m almost sure that’s exactly what happened. Or, I guess there is always hubby’s far fetched theory for the infamous strand of spit – the  “he licked pine pitch” scenario. (Sometimes I think he has an overactive imagination.)

 As always, life on the farm has provided lots of valuable life lessons. Now the kids haul out the old “Time we had Rabies” story as an example whenever they are trying to make the point that I may be just a tad overprotective and perhaps even mentally unstable. And they may be right – I saw a public service announcement about that recently. I  have many symptoms.

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Filed under Animal Stories, Farm Life, Memories

My Son the Chick Magnet

First week of school, and it made me think about the impact that peer pressure has had on our family life.  We produced these adorable, angelic little cherubs, raised them up all wholesome like out here on the farm, and then at the ripe old age of 4ish had to turn them over to “the system”, where they were immediately led astray by what we liked to call “those town kids”.

 On one occasion though, it was a fellow farm child who led my dear little boy down the wayward path of buying contraband and smuggling. You always live in fear of the day a schoolmate comes to school “selling”, and on this day my innocent 12ish year old young man was lured into “buying”. He paid his classmate $2.00, and came home on the bus with the contraband well hidden, stuffed under his denim jacket.  He sauntered down the driveway, high on the adrenalin rush from the transaction and covert smuggling operation. 

 His sisters raced ahead, anxious to be the one to squeal on him:  “Richard bought some baby chicks at school”.   Of course he did.  An enterprising (some might say shifty)  kid brought in some baby chicks to show the class, and Richard’s change purse was bulging with that $2.00 Pizza Day money, and I’m sure there was a heck of a sales pitch, and suddenly he’s the proud owner of 3 chicks.  Why you ask?  Believe me, I asked too.  “Because they were cute, and I like them.”

 Chicken farming was never in our short or long-term plan.  But you hate to stifle when they have an interest, so we set about building a coop of sorts, and going to the Co-op to buy chicken feed.  However, there was one small issue with our approach.  These chicks were somewhat urbanized (perhaps from their brief stint as celebrities at the school, or their whirlwind school bus ride), and they never really acted like normal chickens.  For example, they were Houdini like, and could not be contained by any “coop”.  They would consistently stage breakouts, then liked to wander the driveway, behaving like 3 clucking little Walmart greeters to anyone who stopped in.

 As they grew, it became apparent that one was indeed a rooster, which posed no problem at first.  He was just a bit more interesting than the others to look at, with his nice red fascinator thing on his head.  But then two bad habits developed in quick succession. 

  1. The group of three decided that the place they wanted to sleep at night was not in the barn, but instead on the step, right underneath our bedroom window.
  2. The rooster discovered his ability to crow.

 The idea of a rooster crowing to some is so appealing, so folksy, having a built-in alarm clock that lets you know when the sun is rising.  But this guy was messed up. He was definitely an overachiever.  He thought we should be alerted to things like “the wind is picking up” or “it looks like rain” or “the moon went behind a cloud” or “the sun is going to come up in about 4 hours”.  And for the record,  all you city dwellers who know your animal noises from a Fisher Price “See-n-Say”, it doesn’t sound like “cock-a-doodle-doo” either.  That sounds cute.  This sounded like a deafening :

ER-ER-ER-ER -EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW

–  which shakes you out of a sound sleep. Approximately every hour or so.  All night.  On work nights.  Plus, fun fact – chickens don’t care if you yell at them, or throw stuff at them from a second story window. Parents of colicky newborn triplets were getting more sleep than we were. Needless to say, they had to go. 

The booming metropolis where we live has a semi-annual “Fur and Feather” show, so in the fall we packed these three up in a cage and dropped Richard off to see if it was true that there was indeed one born every minute, and he could make a sale and recover his costs … which by now were considerable with all the chicken feed and the spectacular, yet unused chicken coop.

 We arrived to pick him up at the end of the day, and he was smiling a victorious smile, and there were no chickens in sight.  He had made a deal.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that there was another one of his fast talking “peers” at the fur and feather show, who browbeat (I’m speculating) him into trading the chickens rather than selling – and he was now the proud owner of 3 rabbits. 

 The only thing the rabbits had in common with the chickens was that they too could not be contained, so we now had these little creatures hopping about the lawn and gardens.  I won’t go on … but let’s just say that this episode ended rather badly, and eventually over the next year, due to the conscientious efforts of our three cats, we did not have to attend another Fur and Feather show to dispose of this purchase … and at our house the phrase “the rabbit died” took on a whole new, less devastating meaning than it had previously. 

Eventually he got better at resisting peer pressure and sales pitches – although I think he may still be a sucker for cute chicks, especially if he likes them.

Hope I'm not inundated with calls from MTVs "Cribs" show now.

 

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The Powers of Austin

Driving to work these days, I keep seeing a lot of newborn baby animals in the field.  It always gets me thinking of a certain little calf that had a pretty rocky start at our place.

My husband always says, “If you’ve got live stock, you’ve got dead stock.”  That particular spring we had a tragic incident of a cow that died while giving birth.  The thing was,  on top of having to deal with the trauma of the scary dead stock truck coming, there was  still a little matter of a newborn calf to contend with.  In a previous life I had worked a vet office for almost a decade, and I knew that there was virtually no chance of us hand raising the little guy.  I tried to break it to the kids, who at that time were about 6, 8 and 10.  The little calf, while cute as heck, had very little chance of survival, unless we found him a surrogate mother, which seemed unlikely within our usual social circles.

My 10 year old son was totally accepting and matter of fact about the calf’s impending demise.  In true male form, if it wasn’t going to affect him in a negative way, he was fine with it.  (This is the same boy who, when he thought his little friend Zach who was over for a playdate had been completely swallowed up and met his end in the “quicksand” near our pond, stated simply “Well, guess I’ve got no more friend to play with.”)  His sisters however, are caring nurturers (just like their mom), and they were staunch in their determination to save the little orphan.   My husband humoured them by going to the Co-op and buying a big bottle with a nipple on it, (which for some reason my son found hilarious)  and something called “calf starter”, which sounded appropriate.

I came home from work the next night and here was this calf (now named “Austin” – as in Powers) casually lounging, tied to the tree in our front yard.  The girls were taking turns mixing up his formula, and feeding it to him in his big giant bottle.  I was very surprised to see that he was looking quite perky, and certainly seemed to be loving all the fussing and petting he was getting.   He really gave that bottle a workout over the next few days – the nipple got longer (and funnier) every day.

The girls continued their TLC, and Austin never looked back.  He grew stronger every day.  The only issue that he developed was an identity crisis.  He had no idea he was a cow.  He hung around the house and the yard, like the dog and the cats.  In fact, if you threw the Frisbee for the dog, he would run alongside the dog to get it.  If he arrived at the Frisbee first, he had no idea what to do with it  — but I think he may have derived satisfaction from humiliating Riley by making him come in second to a cow in a footrace .  It was a classic case of  bullying. (Sorry ... couldn’t resist)

Once it became evident that Austin may in fact survive, we attempted to initiate him into the herd of cows.  He trailed along behind us wherever we went, so we would walk out to the field where the cows and their calves were, and we would stand there quietly and wait until he became interested in grazing alongside them.  Then we would sneakily tiptoe away and then run toward the house.  Without fail, he would race past us on his way back to the house with a terrified look on his face that seemed to say “HOLY CRAP – WAIT UP YOU GUYS –  you almost left me out there with those COWS!!”

Sometimes my husband would be out barbequing steaks, and the dog always hung around the BBQ, but now Austin joined too and  it was super awkward. We always felt the need to apologize, and assure him that these delectable cuts on our plate were no relation to him …or  that they “had it coming”, or that this one “ was quite sick anyway and we just had to put it out of its misery .” He seemed unconvinced.

I knew things were completely out of hand one day though, when I was out on the lawn talking to the kids, with the dog and calf sprawled nearby.  The phone rang, and I ran into the house to get it.  Austin liked to chase anything that ran…. and I made the mistake of leaving the door open behind me.  I grabbed the phone, and then I heard the distinctive sound of the pitter patter of hooves on my kitchen floor. Who knew that cows could run up steps?  I’m sure that the insurance lady on the phone thought I’d lost it.  I screamed, and then muttered something incoherent about having to call her back because I had to get the “stupid cow” out of my house . (Probably thought I was just having a Coronation Street style brawl with a crazy female acquaintance.)

But happily, one day out of the blue, Austin became a petty thief, and our days of having to bottle feed him ended.  For no apparent reason, he simply one day decided to join the rest of the bovines out in the field.  He strolled out, ducked underneath the electric fence, like he’d been doing it his whole life.  He waited in the shadows until one of the calves was nursing beside its mother, and then he casually walked up behind her and without so much as a “how do you do” he proceeded to start nursing on her other teat from behind, sticking his head between her back legs.  She couldn’t really kick him away because if she did she would kick away her own baby too.

It was a most successful venture.  So began his life of crime as a milk stealer.  He wasn’t particular about which cow-mom he stole milk from, whoever was handy.  He became part of the “cool calf” gang in the field, and forgot about his brief stint as a Golden Retriever wannabe.  He was lucky he had little calf friends with MILMs – or “Mom’s I’d like to Milk”, and he grew fat and strong,  and like most adolescents, forgot all the civilized manners we taught him and began acting like he’d been born in a barn.

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Post Traumatic Farm Syndrome

It’s spring, and usually when you were raised on the farm, this time of year would conjure up all kinds of happy memories.  However, some of my kids’ family memories from their “farm life” are probably going to result in some psychotherapists making a fair bit of coin somewhere down the road.

For example, when the kids were about 7, 5 and 3, we had a few cows that we would breed every year. One of our mother cows evidently skipped Lamaze classes and didn’t know the part about you have to stop pushing once the baby comes out, so when I went out to check on her during the day when my husband was at work, she had delivered the calf just fine but she also had her entire uterus spread out behind her like a giant gross parachute.  I was home with just my little 3 year old daughter… and I had to call the vet.  He arrived alone, and announced that it was a classic case of  “prolapsed uterus” and that I was going to have to help him put it back where it belonged.  He also warned, “It’s going to be messy”.  Luckily, when you live on a farm you have cool functional fashion choices like coveralls, so I put those and my rubber boots on and we headed out.   Little Laura had to accompany us to the barn – we had learned the hard way that she liked to dial 911 when left unattended for any length of time.

First the vet washed the giant parachute very carefully using a highly sanitary boot brush and sterile bucket of water with some iodine squirted in it.  Then he announced that I would need to “lift it up and hold it up high” so he could stuff it back in.  There were 3 problems with me “lifting it up and holding it up high”:

1.  It weighed approximately a thousand pounds.

2. The “right height” turned out to be at exactly my head height, and the right position turned out to be about 1/2 inch away from my own face.

3.  Holding “it” up and keeping it there required both of our combined strength and we had it pinned between our bodies so it didn’t touch the ground, meaning that I was plastered right up against this guy, far closer than I had ever been with a stranger before — at least without the benefit of drinks and dinner.

Throughout all of this little Laura sat on a bale with her “green baby” (her favourite doll)  and looked on, with eyes the size of saucers.

We finally had everything put back in its rightful place and the vet stitched things closed  — he had me put my finger on each knot as he tied it, like we were wrapping presents at the mall (I think at this point he was just taking advantage of my good nature).  When we stepped out into the daylight I looked down at myself to see that I was completely soaked in blood, right through to my bra.  I should have opted for the garbage bag poncho instead of my super absorbent coveralls.  The vet handed  me the bill and drove off, and then I remember walking toward the house looking like Carrie after the pig’s blood scene at the high school prom – except for I was walking hand in hand with a toddler.   Little Laura  seemed unphased at the time, and just wanted to get into the house to have cookies and watch Lion King, as was our bargain.

She seemed unphased, but who knows when these memories might make their way back into her consciousness.  I’m on a first name basis with enough esteemed doctors of the human psyche (Both Dr.  Phil AND Dr. Drew) , to  know that the human mind is a mysterious thing, and nothing ever really goes away, but is merely suppressed. I  fear that I will ultimately be featured in some investigative episode of 20/20 or something when my famous daughter (it’s inevitable, eventually – she’s awesome) starts having flashback memories and goes public with them.   The thing with flashback memories from when you were 3 years old is that they are known to leave out critical details.  I’m afraid that Laura’s revisionist recall might just leave out the key elements of the cow  predicament– and only retain the terrifying image of me, and my blood splattered sweaty face,  looking like a homicidal maniac, bribing her with promises of snacks and a Disney movie.

PS – The cow and the calf went on to live long happy lives – at least long as long as can be expected when your lot in life  is “beef cow”.

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