Tag Archives: small farm life

Kill day

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We usually do it in late fall, after the flies are gone but before we start feeding hay.  It felt weird to do it on Labor Day, wrong to rob them of the last weeks of summer. But at a time of year when our pasture should be lush it is looking tired. That’s why I scheduled kill day early – supposedly next week Monday, but Shane the kill guy and I got our wires crossed and he came today.

Today we killed the first cattle that we’d raised from birth on this land. I know, gruesome … but it kinda feels like a milestone.

We used to buy steers from auction and from private sellers, buying in spring and pasturing them until fall of the following year. But I didn’t like them being taken from their mothers so young, and also we kept buying duds – not every time, of course, but often enough a steer failed to grow as expected, which meant less income from meat, which meant less money for hay through the following winter. So I started niggling at the Hubbit about making our own baby beefs, and he rolled his eyes in that resigned sort of way and bought our first heifer.

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Tshepo became more friendly after she learned about treats.

Her previous owner told us she used to keep her on a halter, tied up to graze in different areas of the yard, so we thought she’d be easy. We were wrong. She turned out to be a bloody-minded baggage, who took one look at our nice big pastures – bigger than a backyard, anyway – before she stuck her tail in the air and refused to have anything to do with us. Undaunted, we added another cow and her heifer. I named them Tumelo, Tshepo and Lerato – which are Sepedi words meaning Faith, Hope and Love.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not a sentimental idiot. I don’t name the steers. They are food, and you don’t name food. The first steers we brought home we named Mac and Arby, but that was a joke. Also, naming them after hamburger chains was the Hubbit’s sweetly subtle way of reminding me that they were beef, not pets. He seemed to find it necessary to make a point of this. I’m not sure why … Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I couldn’t bear the way my nannies looked at me after we murdered their kids, and eventually insisted we deliver the whole lot of them to a goat rescue 300 miles away. But that was then, and goats are smarter than steers. In any case, I don’t name the meat.

Of course some of them have names when they arrive. When that happens, I have to respect it. Like the little guy who liked to stay quietly by himself in a corner of the field – obviously he was Ferdinand; I didn’t just name him after some book character. And the goofy one with a sickle moon on his forehead was Moonboy, as clearly as if he’d been wearing a name tag.

Okay, there were also last year’s calves, Kitty and Obie – but Kitty was the first calf to be actually born here, so obviously she had to have a name by way of acknowledging the event, and the Hubbit named Obie; I had nothing to do with that. And … okay, fine, this spring’s steers are named Pi and Eezee, but there are good reasons for that.

Usually I don’t name the meat.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me get back to telling you about today. It started fairly leisurely. I yawned and stretched and thought about getting out of bed, and at about 7.15 I noticed that Shane had left me a voice mail yesterday evening, to say he’d be here between 7.00 and 7.30AM. It sounded like the kind of message he always leaves the day before he comes … not the week before.

I called him. “Shane?” I said.

“I’m sorry, I’m running late, I’m on my way!” He sounded stressed. As for me, I went straight from “Ho hum tra-la-la” to “Fuckadoodledoo!” and rushed off in search of the Hubbit.

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Lerato, expressing an opinion.

Here’s the thing: we have a routine – more of a ritual, really – for kill day. A few days ahead of time we split our small herd. The doomed go into one pasture and get special treats, not because they need to put on weight but … just because. Meanwhile, the others get used to being without them. On kill day, before Shane arrives, the Hubbit puts the horses into their stalls, while I stay in bed with a pillow over my face and one ear exposed, tensely listening for rifle shots. After a while I phone the Hubbit and he tells me everything’s okay, it all went according to plan, yes they are dead, no they didn’t suffer, yes the others are fine. Then I can get up and get on with the day. But I wait until they no longer have faces before I go outside to thank Shane personally, and admire the marbling in the meat. (I like Shane. He never has to shoot twice.)

Well, there was no time for any rituals today. There wasn’t even any time for me to get used to the fact that I’d condemned my favorite cow to the freezer. There definitely wasn’t time to feed her treats. That made a crappy situation even crappier. Sometimes I hate being a grownup!

For a while the Hubbit had been quietly insisting that three cows plus their progeny plus two horses was too much for our pasture to carry, and I’d been loudly declaiming, “But we can’t live without Hope!” (Tshepo, aka Hope, was the smallest cow, so least likely to produce a large calf and most likely to get into trouble if trying to birth a large calf.) Well, last week I accepted that he was right, which is something that happens more often than he likes to admit (me accepting, I mean; the silly fellow thinks he’s always right, hahaha). But it made me sad because I’d become fond of her, and she was supposed to grow old with us. Her independence, her bossy way of marching over to see what I wanted if I went into the pasture, her enthusiasm for treats … they reminded me of me.

Well, anyway … At about 7.30, Shane’s white truck rumbled down the dirt road and through our gate. All the cattle in our neighbors’ pastures clustered in groups behind their fences and watched. Our girls and their two little boys were relaxing together at the far end of their pasture, but they got up and thundered alongside the fence, keeping pace with the truck. I don’t know why they do that. I’ll swear they know what he’s there for, but they act like it’s a holiday every time.

I was already up; it was too late to stay in bed so I hid behind my computer. Through the window I watched the horses galloping up and down their pasture, snorting and stamping, their tails like banners. After a while,  I went outside to say hi to Shane. The carcasses, clothed only in thick jackets of fat, looked enormous. The heads, skinned and staring blindly, lay in a heap to one side. The Hubbit and his friend Cool Dude were busy sorting various inside bits according to whether they were for human or canine consumption. Between the dogs and various friends, very little is wasted.

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Men at work. I’m glad I get to hide away!

After Shane was done and had left to deliver the beefs to the butcher, Cool Dude brought a wheelbarrow heaped with innards up to the workshop. It always startles me how hot meat is even several hours after killing. We loaded it into big plastic bags and put it inside a chest freezer to cool, because warm meat is rubbery, making it difficult to cut and also disgusting. Later the Hubbit backed his truck up to the shop door, and while he and CD cut the almost-chilled meat into manageable lumps, I slapped away swarms of flies and stuffed it into Ziploc bags, which went into the dog meat freezer.

So that was my Labor Day, and I know it probably sounds completely horrible to you, but I liked it. Not the killing, and not the betrayal – I don’t really think cows feel betrayed, but I feel as though I betray them. The price of their contented existence is their lives, which is better than most farm animals get, but undeniably a one-sided deal. At the same time, eliminating anthropomorphism from the equation, I like that, having chosen to eat meat, I can also choose to ensure that the creatures who provide it experience lush pasture and sunshine, companionship, peace … and, at the end, the grace of a single bullet while grass is still sweet on their tongue.

How about you? Do you eat meat? Do you care what kind of life it lived before it became meat? Would you eat it if you knew its name?

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Skunked

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The problem with skunk spray is, once you have the smell of it in your nose, everything smells skunked.

Yeah … not so much about flowers.

Take this morning. Around 3.00AM Argos woke me by blowing in my ear. Usually he just stands next to my bed and s.t.a.r.e.s at me while breathing softly on my hand. He’s trained me well; even though I fully expect to sleep through the apocalypse, I faithfully stagger out of bed and let him out to do his thing while I bumble around in the dark until I find someplace appropriate to sit down and do mine. Then I let him back in and we go back to bed and the night continues as usual.

This morning, apparently, the need to go out was urgent, hence the ear treatment. And this time Flurry, the Hubbit’s English setter, went too. A few minutes later I was in mid-bumble when the Smell wafted through the house. No wonder they’d been in a hurry to get out. We had a visitor.

I said something profane (I’m trying not to say fuck in here because it’s tacky and unimaginative, so just apply the profanity of your choice – it’ll work fine) and rushed to open the door. Argos and Flurry rushed into the house and rushed around in circles, Argos shaking his head vigorously. I said another profanity (or maybe it was the same one) and grabbed him, and got some kind of oily substance all over my hand. I kicked him outside and grabbed Flurry. By now my nose was well and truly skunked and I had no idea whether or not she’d been sprayed. I didn’t feel any goop; however, full disclosure, it’s possible that some of the goop on my hand was transferred to her. Or maybe not. I still didn’t have my contact lenses in at that stage, and between skunk spray and three o’clock in the morning my senses may have been blunted.

This is my first actual encounter with a skunk, and I hadn’t the faintest idea what to do. However, I’d heard that tomato juice came into play when one was dealing with a skunked dog. We do have some tomato juice, but what was one to do with it? Pour it over the dog? Throw the can at the skunk? Add vodka and swallow?

Sometimes life demands a bloody Mary.

I woke the Hubbit, because this is what I do in moments of crisis. I didn’t like waking him, mind you – not because it bothers me to disturb his beauty sleep (which doesn’t work, by the way) but because I’m not speaking to him at the moment, owing to the fact that even the best of Hubbits is sometimes an asshole. That’s all I’m going to say about that; I provide the information purely for context – which in this case is that I was sufficiently discombobulated to swallow my pride and ask for help.

The Hubbit started rambling about hydrogen peroxide, so I went off to look for some. More context: about six weeks ago when I was frantically trying to finish my novel before the PNWA writers’ conference I realized that it was imperative that I reorganize all the pharmaceutical, toiletry and random shit supplies in the bathroom, so I emptied about half of them into boxes, which I dumped in the tub. I then realized that I was procrastinating, and went back to the book. So looking for hydrogen peroxide involved tipping out boxes and scrabbling through crap in the tub, while using profanities.

I found an old bottle that had about a half inch of very old (in other words no longer functional) hydrogen peroxide. While searching, it occurred to me that maybe I needed to empty the tub in order to wash Argos, and I was halfway through doing that when it occurred to me that one might not want skunk residue in one’s personal bathroom. So I went to ask the Hubbit, who was still rambling about hydrogen peroxide and was pissy about being interrupted. I explained for the second or third time that we didn’t have any profane hydrogen peroxide and what about tomato juice? He got more pissy and said the tomato juice thing was an old wive’s tail, and started reading from an internet source on his phone that explained scientifically how hydrogen peroxide worked and why tomato juice didn’t.

I headed out into the dark and windy predawn to find hydrogen peroxide. The Hubbit, ever helpful, texted me directions for how to use it when I had it, and went back to bed. I found some hydrogen peroxide at the little gas station store a few miles from our home, and bought up their entire stock. This is a country store; the assistant didn’t even blink … and as I was leaving, with a completely straight face, she wished me a lovely day.

Back home, I set myself up in the only outside place that wasn’t in the throes of a gale – the far side of our workshop. I mixed up the solution as directed and applied it generously to Argos, who explained that he didn’t like that and would prefer me to stop, while yanking my arm out of its socket. The instructions said to let it stand for ten minutes, so I waited for fifteen then dragged him out into the gale and profanely hosed him off. I stuck my nose up close … relief; he no longer smelled skunky.

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I can’t help it … I love this dog so dang much, I’ll forgive him anything!

We went back inside and … oh my word. Gahhh!

Flurry was on the bed, cuddling with her daddy, and – now that my nose had had a chance to recuperate – it was clear that while she didn’t get a direct hit, she definitely qualified as collateral damage. Well, she’s the Hubbit’s dog; he can deal with it. I don’t care any more. My home will forever more smell of skunk, but it doesn’t matter; my nose is now permanently disabled, which means I never again have to invite uninteresting people to dinner. (Interesting people, aka my kind, take the occasional whiff of skunkiness in stride.)

I’m going back to bed. You please have a lovely day on my behalf

Have you, or anyone near and/or dear to you, ever been skunked? Did the smell ever go away or did you happily adapt to life as a social pariah?

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.

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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.

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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!