Tag Archives: small farm life

Fun on the farm

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I really wish I didn’t suck so much at blogging. I’m constantly noticing, even photographing, things I mean to tell you about, and then I forget or get distracted and don’t write them down. Meanwhile I’ve reached that life stage where you start reconnecting with your old (holy cow, some of them are ooooold) friends from school and university years, and they say, “So what are you doing these days?” and I want to say, “Oh, too much to squeeze into one Facebook comment – but go take a look at my blog!” So this post is for old friends.

Vos rolling

Vos takes a bow on my hugel-mound

Right now it’s about noon on a pleasant summer day – not too hot, a bit windy. Sitting at my computer I can look through my window and see, in the distance, the Columbia River with its fringe of trees … closer in our north pasture with cows lazing about on the green … and, closer still, an expanse of dirt that will, when we get around to planting it, be lawn, because the Hubbit doesn’t share my desire for wild grasses and other native plants and I’m tired of arguing about it. In any case, to be honest, when it comes to gardening I’m better at conceptualizing than doing. Meanwhile, we have a flat expanse of dirt that the horses visit about once a day because they’ve decided it’s the best place to roll. In the middle of the flatness is a mound – dirt piled on compost piled on logs – because I read about hugelkultur and wanted to try it. Vos loves rolling up against this mound, the better to scratch his back, and he really doesn’t care if it gets flat and misshapen in the process.

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I’m quite sure digging the pond had nothing at all to do with a boyish desire to play with a large machine…

I can also see what we call the pond area. When we bought this property the Hubbit took into his head that he wanted a pond. A big pond. I mean, he was talking a quarter acre, and although he didn’t quite manage that he did his best. He spent an entire day digging dirt out of the pond and dumping it in a large pile in the middle of what is now the south pasture, and then we got involved in a whole lot of other things, and there the hole in the ground and its matching heap still sit, waiting for inspiration to strike, energy to surge, and pennies to rain down from heaven. One day we will have a swimming hole, and also a raised up picnic spot. For now, the cattle mosey up to the pond area to get water, hay and attention, and it’s where we keep them in winter.

We have seven cattle at the moment. The three cows are Tumelo (Faith), Tshepo (Hope) and Lerato (Love, who is also Tumelo’s mother). Last year Tshepo and Lerato gave us two heifers, Obie and Kitty-Kat. This year we were expecting three calves, since Tumelo was old enough to be bred, and I was all excited to blog about it, but thought I’d wait until the third one came because I just knew that, sooner or later, I’d get to be up to my armpit in a cow’s vagina – which is exactly the sort of experience one wants to blog about – and I didn’t want to jump the gun.

Jonathan, Pi and Lerato

Our young helper Puck, with Pi and Lerato. Pi is maybe 10 minutes old here, and weighs around 100 lbs.

Well, first Lerato gave us Pi (born March 14, aka Pi Day), and he was huge. It took two of us to pull him out of her, and she’s a big cow. So I was worried sick for the following couple weeks, waiting for Tumelo and Tshepo. It was Tumelo’s first and Tshepo is a small cow, so there was real potential for trouble. Every night we’d go out several times to check on them – and this was in March, in Washington, so we were sliding and crunching through ice and snow. One evening I went out and nothing seemed to be happening, and quite by accident my flashlight illuminated a small black creature who had arrived with no fuss at all. So that was Tumelo’s rent paid; I named her calf Eezee. Two down, Tshepo still to go. Every day I fed her treats to win her trust, so that if she had difficulties she’d let me get close enough to help her. Day after day, her belly got bigger and bigger. And every day nothing happened. Nothing at all. Eventually we realized she was just fat. The bull had stayed only three weeks instead of the usual four – we let him go early because he was bored with so few cows and kept breaking out of their pasture – so evidently he’d missed her Magic Moment.

I was going to tell you more, about chickens and plowing and other fun farmy stuff – but that will have to wait. There is a Smell. On a farm it is not unusual for things to smell, but this is different. This is a Smell riding a Harley. It rumbles. It is going places.

Aaand … here comes the Hubbit to tell me about it.

So apparently the pump in our septic tank has died, and he is going to fix it, which will involve crouching over the open drain with his head inside … and this Smell isn’t merely riding a Harley; it’s wearing a Hell’s Angel jacket and carrying a ball peen hammer. Therefore I have to be there. To fish him out, if he falls in.

This is what happens when you marry Senior MacGyver and then go live on a farm. He can still fix pretty damn near anything, but his knees don’t bend as well as they used to, and sometimes he gets a little unsteady. It’s just as well I still think he’s cute.

 

So what are you doing these days? Have you ever been tempted to give up city life and go live on a farm? If your significant other fell into a septic tank, would you pull them out?

 

The pooping peacock

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I haven’t had a lot of sleep just lately, because I’ve been stressing over my cows. We have three, and until recently they were all pregnant. We now have two cows, two babies … and one cow who still hasn’t bloody popped … so sleep continues to elude.

You have no idea how many things can go wrong during cow childbirth. And the longer I have to wait, the more I google, and the more I google, the more convinced I am that, sooner or later, I’m going to be up to my armpit in a cow’s vagina, wondering what the hell to do next. And then – I know this will happen because I have been present at a few calvings by now – the cow will poop on my head.

When this happens I will tell you all about it, assuming I survive, but for now I want to share something that gave me my first belly laugh of spring: a WhatsApp message from my niece, the intrepid Princess Swan, who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.

And so the adventure goes: I am sitting in reception and I get a call from one of our boardrooms. Grace, one of our cleaners, screams, “SWAN! COME HERE!”  I run up the stairs and see, in the passage, a magnificent beast. 

A peacock.

And that peacock had shat everywhere.

How did it get inside? you may ask. It came from the roof, is our only guess. Swaggered down the stairs and into our lives.

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Peacock, looking a little ruffled

I call Free Me, an organization that rescues birds. (I have called them in the past with dying baby birds and they always come get them and make sure they survive.) But a peacock is not an indigenous bird, therefore they can’t help. They tell me to call the bird vet in Bryanston.

The vet is more than willing to take him in until the owner comes looking. Good – problem solved … almost! “How do you catch it?” I ask.

“Oh, simple. You merely put a towel over its head and it will sit down and calm down.”

Oh, if it were only that simple. Reuben, our IT guy, turns out to be not very good at this. He doesn’t want to get too close, and the towel keeps missing the peacock, which starts to get flustered. There is poop. And feathers. Eventually I, being an animal whisperer, intervene. I take the towel from Reuben and gently drop it over the peacock’s head. The peacock promptly panics.

But only for a minute. I guess the vet people know their stuff, because he does calm down, and I pick him up and cradle him like a baby. “Now what?” I ask Dalize, my center manager.

“We take him home,” she responds. But … where is home? We call around and learn he lives at the British International College just down the road. Dalize and I hop into her car. I am still holding the bird. For some reason no one else seems to want to have anything to do with it.

When we arrive, Dalize steps out of the car and walks to the security guards’ booth near the gate. “We have your bird,” she says.

Puzzled look. “You have our bird?”

“Yes, we have your bird.”

“Where is our bird?”

“Your bird is in the car.”

I get out of the car, still cradling this peacock wrapped in a towel like a newborn, and place him on the grass. Immediately about fifty kids run up, screaming, “Gerald! They rescued Gerald!!” Apparently Gerald has been missing for weeks.

Back at the office I run straight for the bathroom, because I have poop aaaallll over me.

So that is what happened to me this morning. What’s new with you?

After reading about Princess Swan’s adventure with the pooping peacock, my tribulations with the popping (and non-popping) cows pale into insignificance. I am left with two questions – and these may be among the Great Questions Of Life:

  1. Why do all true animal stories essentially revolve around poop?
  2. Who the heck names a peacock “Gerald”?

So what do you think? And what’s new with you?

The horse in my mud room

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This morning the Hubbit woke me with the news that Pal, my old horse, had pooped all over the clothes dryer. “Oh, that’s wonderful!” I exclaimed, and rushed to put in my contact lenses so I could see for myself.

A little later he (Pal, not the Hubbit) let rip with another explosion of liquid so gloriously voluminous that I think even Donald Trump would have admired it. That one hit the wall. Shortly after that, he started squealing for his buddy Vos, so I piled soft throws onto his body, added a horse blanket, and let him out into the snowy wastes of our backyard. He immediately headed to the corral, where he and Vos had a touching reunion. (Vos is also old – they’re both somewhere north of 25 years – but he didn’t succumb to hypothermia, which is why he got to spend last night in his stall as per normal.)

So I called the vet again to bring him up to speed, and we agreed that he didn’t need to come see it for himself, and then I told the Hubbit that it was no longer urgent, or even necessary, to clear the driveway, but by then he was bundled up and sufficiently pissed off with the weather that he didn’t care what I had to say. He sent the boys off down the driveway with shovels, and carried on trying to get his tractor to start – not an easy task in the kind of cold we’re experiencing.

I came back inside and fed the dogs. (They’re back on a meat diet, to their great, if flatulent, joy. Today they had lungs that were floating around two feet above our pasture just a few weeks ago. Yum!) Then I contemplated the mud room. I thought of taking a picture to share with you, but decided even the Hubbit’s fancy Canon Rebel T3 wouldn’t be able to do it justice, and anyway some sights are better left to the imagination. Instead, here is a snapshot the Hubbit took with his phone last night, after Pal warmed up enough to start showing an interest in things, but before he recovered enough to explode.

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For alternative views of the mud room without a horse in it, go here.

After pondering the mud room for a while, and wincing at the kitchenly chaos next door, and contemplating the muddy footprints and furballs all over the floor in the rest of the house, and musing upon the various increasingly urgent projects piled up next to my computer, I decided that the only rational thing to do was to write my first blog post of the year.

I know it’s been a long time. Shit has been happening, and I’ve been thinking about Stuff, and also working on a new novel series, and I got sucked back into Facebook, and frankly I’d got to wondering whether there was any point in continuing with this blog. I mean, what exactly am I trying to do here? I have lots of thoughts about all sorts of things, but I’ve come to realize that most of them have already been articulated – usually more coherently – by other people. Do I really want to add to the noise in the world? Of course, most of my bloggish writing is random bits and pieces about my life, and I’d been thinking that’s not so special – why would anyone want to read about the daily musings, amusings and doings of some bint on a not-quite-farm just outside Smalltown USA?

This morning I realized that I may be the only person in the world who is happy that a horse shat on her clothes dryer. That has to count for something. So … no promises regarding content or regularity, but I’m back. Happy new year, y’all! It’s shaping up to be interesting!

 

That nip in the air

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I’ve been feeling that jittery itch, that scratching between my shoulder blades and nipping at my nose. Cold weather is on its way. Rain, freeze, maybe snow, definitely slush, all coming. Wind that snatches your breath before you can inhale, yanks your foot before you can step. It makes the horses knock-you-down crazy.

One minute it was August. The next, it’s September – supposed to be a mellow month, but today we woke to unexpected and heavy rain. I’ve spent much of the day fidgeting, making lists. I’m suddenly aware that time is running out, and there is much to do before winter. If we fail to do it, we’ll stumble into spring, crash into summer before we’re ready, and lose yet another year of production, growth and beauty.

We’ve done that too often. This has been a painful year of loss and disruption … Last year was eaten by ill-health  … The year before it was something else; recovery from burnout, I think … Enough.

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Some good things happened this summer. Like, our swallows came back, for the fourth year in a row, and raised two families of five babies each all crammed into their tiny nest. It’s so much fun when the whole flock of them flies around the house, snatching flies out of the air and gobbling them down.

We’ve entrusted our lives to this place – in this small piece of land in the crook of the Columbia River. What we have here we made out of an empty and untidy field, and wishes and dreams. But then we ran aground – we poured ourselves into rescuing dogs (and sometimes people) and the work gulped us right down, along with our wishes and dreams, and the strength of our bodies and determination of our minds.

At the beginning of this year, I named it my Year of Reclamation. (I told you that already, didn’t I?) And quite apart from all the sad and hurtful things that have happened this year, it’s been a year of taking stock. Considering options. Choosing priorities. Making lists.

Now it’s September, and I’m fidgety with the need to Get Things Done, and frustrated by the slow, painful inefficiency of my unwieldy body.

Oh well. I guess that makes my body, yet again, the first priority. After a year of try-fail-try-again I have quit trying to ease gracefully into health and wellness via intelligent eating, and am currently ramming myself into ketosis by means of a three-day fat fast. Oh my word, it’s horrid! Start the day with a gigantic strong bulletproof coffee, listen to my heart race until lunchtime, chow down on cream cheese and just a little salami, remember remember remember to drink plenty water, nibble a few macadamia nuts in the evening. Think about food all damn day. Huddle under a blanket feeling cold and shitty and try to distract self with a book.

That was yesterday and most of today … and then there was this … tremor. My synapses blinked and took a peek at the world. I took a pee, and … yep, that unmistakable ketone smell. (TMI, I know, but it made me so dang happy!) My toes wiggled and demanded a walk, so I took a couple of the lunatics out into a pasture and threw a ball until they lost it.

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Sweet summer days down at the river. Argos has finally learned to swim!

And then I came back inside and … I feel so good! I’m making lists!

Things to do before winter:

  • Finish building the raised beds in the veggie garden, fill them up with horse/cow/chicken poop and weeds and some old tree branches and yes, of course, also some dirt. Snuggle them under a good, thick layer of straw. Yank the weeds out of the existing beds, repair as needed, and give them a nice straw duvet as well.
  • Prune the grape vines and the apricot/plum/nectarine/pear trees – but only after the pears are done. The pear tree is inside the chicken run, and every evening when I put the chickens away I pick up the windfalls they haven’t eaten and throw them over the fence for the horses. Vos eats with calm authority, but Pal gobbles and foams pear-drool in his effort to get his before Vos takes it.
  • Transplant the asparagus, and fill the old asparagus bed up with berry bushes.
  • Clean the hen house and give the girls a nice deep bed of fresh hay.
  • Pick up and burn the pile of trash wood that the Hubbit insisted on keeping “because it’s useful” – only now it isn’t, it’s just nasty, and – happy day – he agrees it’s time to let it go.
  • Clear and plow and seed the front yard. Let there be grass!
  • Plow and seed the six or so acre field our neighbor has offered us for winter pasture. I wish we’d managed to do that earlier in the year – we’d have grass there now and would be able to use it in January. Well, no matter. If we do it now, we’ll be able to use it for a little while in summer, and give our pasture a rest.
  • Put up hot wire to subdivide the north pasture.
  • Protect what’s left of the weeping birch from the cattle.
  • Repair the divider the bull broke in the horse stalls.
  • Cattle-proof the fence around the pond-to-be.

So that’s my list. Most of it I can do alone. Some requires the Hubbit’s help. But less all the time! Yesterday, for instance, he taught me to drive the tractor, thinking to set himself free from plowing. It was so much fun … until I killed it. I have no idea what I did, but I’m sure he’ll figure it out. Poor guy! I’m lucky he’s so forbearing.

Do you get antsy when the seasons change? What’s big on your to-do list right now?

 

 

Lights in the sky … they pass me by

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The moon did a beautiful thing last night. It bulged hugely over the horizon, as immense and awe-inspiring as the Great Pumpkin Himself, and then slid majestically into the earth’s shadow, where it lingered and glowed with an unearthly radiance…

Supermoon (source)

Supermoon (source)

… which is pretty much what you’d expect, given that the moon is off in space and not, in fact, on earth. But I digress. The point of this post is that while this was what I expected, it wasn’t what actually happened. By the time the moon rose over our part of the world it was already pretty well eclipsed. And anyway, I didn’t actually get to see the moon rise, despite having spent the past several days in a fizz of anticipation, because I had to go help someone who had just rescued puppies, and then when I was headed home it suddenly occurred to me that I had to go to Costco because we were out of dog food, and so I hurtled into our house five minutes before moonrise … to find Himself immersed in some or other entirely non-cosmic activity and not ready.

By the time the shouting was done and we were tearing up the road to and into the hills in search of a good viewpoint it was 10 minutes later, but there was still no sign of the bloody moon because the Pacific Northwest is still smoldering and there’s a thick band of smoke along the horizon. (Yes, of course I know the sufferings of the fire victims is way more important than my disappointment at missing an event that won’t happen again until 2033.)

Suddenly I saw a thin slice of moon poised over the river, and Himself pulled off the road and drove a short way through the sagebrush. We got out, and he set up his camera while the dogs moseyed about and I watched the silver sliver slip into darkness. In the cool evening air the fragrance of crushed sagebrush was … well, out of this world.

Then we came home, because we were hungry and also there were critters to feed. I was throwing hay over the fence at the steers when I turned my head and realized that we had a marvelous view of the sullenly glowing eclipse right there. I leaned on the corral fence and watched it for a while, and it was lovely, but I have to tell you I’m getting just a tad bit fed up with the way events of an astronomical nature never quite match up to my expectations, no matter how eagerly I wait, or how carefully I plan.

This isn’t the first moon experience I’ve managed to ditz up. The first time I even heard of the harvest moon was while my parents were visiting in 2008. (I’m sure harvest moons must happen in South Africa, but I never heard of them, growing up in Johannesburg. Was that because no one notices the moon in a big city? Or because the African moon is always spectacular?) For the 2008 harvest moon with my parents I fixed up a picnic supper and we took it down to the river, where we sat on the beach and waited for the moon to rise. And waited. And waited. And I kept telling them it would be worth the wait, because harvest moons are huge. And then up it came, somewhat south of where we were looking, a very pretty but otherwise quite ordinary full moon that had used up all its special effects while it was still behind a nearby hill.

This kind of thing has been happening as long as I remember. Take Halley’s Comet, for instance. I was 14 when my grandmother told me about how its tail swept across the earth in 1910. She described a spangled sky, and light so bright you could read by it if you were soulless enough to look down, and her eyes sparkled at the memory. Later my mother told me my grandmother was only two years old in 1910, but I didn’t care. That conversation was the beginning of a 14 year countdown until it was my turn to witness the glory first hand.

There was a tremendous amount of excitement in the lead-up to Halley’s arrival on February 9th, 1986 (just a few days before my birthday). Every supermarket had shelves full of comet-themed merchandise. My editor sent me on a balloon ride in the Magaliesberg, maybe hoping a close-up view of the comet would inspire Deathless Prose – or, at least, advertising.

The balloon ride was fun, and the champagne breakfast afterwards was even funner … but the comet? Let’s just say it’s good that I’d bought a mug, because the actual comet was a whole lot smaller than the one I had on my kitchen shelf.

I’ll be 102 years old when Halley comes by again. Perhaps Sam Clemens will let me hitch a ride … if I ever write anything more worthy than nonsensical blog posts.

Then there was the year I learned about the Perseid meteor shower in August. (We don’t see this in the southern hemisphere, so I’d never heard of it.) I invited a couple friends to go out for an evening picnic on our jetboat, and I promised “fireworks”. My friend Wonder Woman loves fireworks, so she was pretty excited. So there we were, floating in the middle of the Columbia River at about 10 o’clock at night, full of wine and assorted munchies. Wonder Woman – who is in her eighties – was starting to think about bedtime, and the friend she’d brought with her – who was jet lagged, having arrived from New Zealand just a few days previously – was dozing off, and Himself was muttering fretfully about having to find his way back to shore in the dark.

Wonder Woman turned to me and asked, “Well? When will the fireworks begin?”

“I don’t know!” I replied, scanning the skies with a feeling of impending social doom. “The newspaper said they’d be happening about now. And they’re supposed to be amazing!” I then explained that the promised fireworks, far from being made in China, were being sent direct from the heavenly realms.

“Oh, the Perseids!” she said … and that’s when I learned they came every year and that, when she was younger, she used to enjoy watching them quite often. So we sat and the boat rocked and about 15 meteors zipped across the sky(although not once across the piece of sky I happened to be watching at the time) and then Himself started up the boat and took us home.

I tried again last August while the Girl Child was visiting. We drove up into the hills and found a stretch of dirt road that ran through a cutting that blocked off all light from the town, and we plonked down a blanket and a couple of pillows and lay down on the side of the road. Immediately the breeze that had been bebopping about, playing with our hair, picked up its skirts and blew. So of course I got sand behind my contact lenses, where it commenced grinding my eyeballs. I just got up and got into the car and took the bloody lenses out and put them in my mouth to keep safe, and then I lay back down next to the Girl Child. Every now and then I saw a blurred streak, but in the half hour or so that we lay there until we could no longer ignore the wind, she saw 50. Or maybe it was 100. I forget. What I remember is being there with her in the blustery dark, with rocks pressing up through the blanket and into my spine, mumbling when I spoke because I was scared the wind would blow my contact lenses off my tongue.

It was beautiful.