Farm Life in Times of Stress

Yesterday afternoon the wind chill fell from 33°F to 17°F before I realised it. As dusk fell, I heard the goats calling to each other whilst I was journalling, and I thought that all was well. An hour later, fattening night ration prepared, I went to bring Calypso into the barn first, but found her lying prostrate on her side, legs straight and stiff, clearly hypothermic. It was that awful, sickening feeling, when you accuse yourself of being a horrible steward, and pray to GOD not to smite you, and not to lose the beastie you are responsible for.

I brought her into the house without a lead or a tieout, holding on to just one horn as I walked her around the house and up the stairs, and she didn’t even try to fight me. Wrapped her in my fleece barn jacket, laid her on the kitchen floor, and went to rummage through my bathroom stash to find a couple of clean syringes before turning up the thermostat, opening the vent, and shutting the bathroom door. With a quart jar of warm water shaken with a teaspoon of sea salt, I spent twenty minutes shooting water down her throat until I heard her stomach start to gurgle (thanks be to GOD!), and then I laid down beside her on the kitchen floor and started rubbing her down under the thick jacket to stimulate her blood flow and warm her up.

She didn’t really move except in shivers for about three hours and during that time, still lying on the kitchen floor, I called Nancy to let her know that I wasn’t really confident how things would go overnight, Calypso was still so listless; I didn’t want to have to call her later and tell her that I had managed to kill her miracle goat who had survived two months alone on her own in just one afternoon of carelessness….

I put an old down comforter down on the bathroom floor, carried her in, and then went back outside to get Butch, who had been yelling at me for hours since he had first seen me bring his girlfriend into the house. The dogs were very concerned, and whined as I brought pinestraw in from the barn, and a feedbucket in from my messy porch, filled it with bath-warm salt-spiked water and put it in a milk crate (to keep it from being tipped by Butch the Bad) before taking it to the bathroom for both goats which was, by now, the warmest room in the house. I could think of nothing more annoyingly stimulating for a stiff, cold nanny than to be forcibly snuggled by a hot, smelly billie.

It’s times like this that I wish I subscribed to a newspaper, and I made a mental note several times over that a cotton-clad down comforter can be composted, and all carpetless floors and walls can be scrubbed down and mopped clean. I spent the night cleaning the house and watching movies to keep myself awake, so that I could repeatedly set the timer to make hourly visits to the bathroom to check on the ruminants, swipe spinning spoonfuls of molasses under Calypso’s tiny silvery-grey tongue, and make sure there was more water gone from the untipped bucket.

The hallway reeks of goat this morning. My heart hurts from worry, and my head hurts from sleeplessness. We all made it through the night, and Calypso is standing on her own looking no worse for wear, though my bathroom will need to be fumigated, possibly burned to the ground. My nanny kid (I keep having to remind myself that she is not yet a yearling) will be spending the rest of the Winter locked in the barn unless the sun is shining and there is no wind; she just doesn’t have the fat layer she needs to sustain herself outside. Pity, too, because Alpines are so good at foraging in snow, but I’m not willing to risk it. I’ve lost too much the past few years to even take a chance, and the very real idea of losing an animal to cold is just too horrible to bear.

This morning, I put Butch back outside early so that he’d stop making a racket climbing the toilet to look out the window. I didn’t used to be sentimental about stock animals, but I’m obviously getting soft with age. So I sat in the stinky bathroom whilst the perplexed dogs whined in the hallway, and marvelled over the Wonder Goat who seems to be so nearly indestructible, and shed a few tears of relief before trying to sleep for a bit before moving Calypso up to the barn to be shut in for the duration, and feed the chickens.

I can do this. I’m tired, but I’ve still got it. I just need to remember that anything can happen, and being overprotective is always better than laxity. Just never trust the weather; it knows no mercy.

When You’re Wrong, You’re *WRONG*….How I Was Nearly Killed Today.

The morning after I brought Calypso home, I noticed that she’s lame; her rear right leg is heavily favoured. We’ll never know if this happened whilst she was on the lam (<giggles> I amuse myself…), or if she injured herself destroying Nancy’s garage/prison, but one way or another, I’ve got to baby her until it heals. Which is why what I did today was just stupid beyond imagining. Like, STOOpid stupid. After doing my best leaving her alone to settle in and calm down this past week, I threw her down and pinned her yesterday to take care of her hooves, check her teeth out, spray her down for lice, and feel her up for broken bones or dislocations, and she let me do it all without too much of a fight. All is well. So, today seemed like a perfectly good day – being that it was warm enough to sit out in the orchard for longer than an hour without wanting to cry – to let Butch get close enough to do more than sniff out the new nanny. Oh, dear GOD in Heaven, was I mistaken.

See, I’m twelve. I don’t give a flying rat’s ass how many bullshit mailings the AARP sends me, saying that I’m now allegedly ancient enough to qualify for Old People’s Insurance plans, I’m *twelve*. Get it? End of story. But there are days when my fat, overheated, perpetually injured body swears otherwise, and a day like today, when the ground is slick and soggy from snowmelt, and I’m on an inclined patch of pasture that’s been chewed down to nubbins, just happens to be one of those days. Seems like an ideal offortunity [sic] to try and get myself killed. And I didn’t make it up to the orchard to do it, either. Actually, I didn’t even get more than twenty feet from the damned barn.

So, there I am, thinking I’m being so freaking smart about this; I clipped a grazing line around my waist, and hooked the other end of it to Calypso’s collar so that she couldn’t bolt whilst my hands were free, and then I started dragging her slowly up the hill (I’ve become convinced that she might be half mule; she does such a great impression of one) and, just as I’m thinking I’ve got this shit under control, Butch busts clean off his line up above and comes screaming, googly-eyed down the hillside like his hair is on fire. Of course, this startles the still-skittish nanny goat, who takes off behind me and heads back in the general direction of the barn, yanking me off my feet and onto my back head first, whilst being simultaneously trampled by a sex-starved billie goat who seems to have forgotten who has thumbs and primary access to the big steel can filled with his coveted treats. Chickens scattered, dogs yelped and ran for cover. From there, it was just a noisy, screaming flurry of stabby horns and sharp, pointy hooves….I think I know now why Jesus likened the devil to a goat. I’ve met him, and he is pure hedonist evil.

So, then, holding on for dear life, trying – and not succeeding – to right myself and get the hell out of the way whilst Butch loses his everloving mind trying to mount the only woman standing [read: rolling in the mud] betwixt him and his future baby mama. Oh, dear GOD, put that back inside! I mean it! And stop kicking me, you dumbass!

Calypso, being the intelligent one in this three-way wrestling match, had the good sense to lie down, be still and play dead and I decided that this might be my only chance to avoid losing an eye, so I did the same. Butch turned away from me, and started pawing at what he hoped would be a match made in purgation, bleating and bawling at her limp carcass like a drunken, enraged linebacker trying to get it on with a coked-up stripper, then finally got bored, calmed down, and wandered off to graze. I decided that this was our chance to get the hell away from him…I thought wrong.

I’m covered in mud. My hair is plastered in mud, the right side of my face is caked in it, My clothes are heavy and wet. There’s even mud inside my barn boots. I’m going to have to hose myself and this stuff down before I put anything in the washer. So, I finally get my feet under me, and I’m so sore; I feel like I’ve been beaten with a shovel. That’s when I realised I was bleeding, as a hot, heavy stream trickled down the back of my head and down my neck, and I reached up to touch…that’s not blood. Oh, for fuck’s sake! I just got dumped on by a horny goat…AND HERE HE COMES AGAIN!

I heard the pounding hooves before I saw him and sat down hard just in time to miss being bowled over by the charging psycho maniac, who aggressively mounted the poor mewling Calypso, who stood up trembling, then cowered beside me, and then it happened….

Remember how I said I hate the smell of bucks? Yeah, well, this is why. That damned goat stood right beside me and sprayed me down like a overgrown tomcat. In the face. Repeatedly. >: (

So, there I am in the mud, rolled over on my belly, one goat hitched to my waist, one grasped by his broken tether in one hand, covered in mud, semen, blood and fresh, potent goat stench, gagging, nose pouring, hurling and dry-heaving on my hands and knees – Baby whining at a safe distance after I yelled at him to stay away – stinging onion tears rolling down my icky face where I’d been caught by one particularly nasty stream of naughty. Asphyxiation. Oh, my Lord, it reeks! The humanity! Have you been saving this up??? What the everloving hell??? Your treats are gone for a month, Mister! No more molasses balls or gumdrops for you! Damned billie goat….

I layed in the mud for what felt like eternity, gulping in deep hoarse gobs of damp air, trying to catch my breath to not be sick, and snapped a couple of photos (Nancy asked for them) before I tied that bastard to a nearby branch and limped down behind the house with Calypso in tow. I stripped out of my clothes and tethered her to the T-post I drove in last Spring so that I can find the septic vent in tall grass, before pulling the cover off and jumping into the clean, cold cistern above…I’ll bleed and flush it out tomorrow; it shouldn’t be this full anyway, with snow on the way…. I’ve never been so grossed out in my life.

I’ve decided that I’m going to keep the nanny here for a few days, right outside my back bedroom window where I can keep an easy close eye on her whilst we both recover from our shared trauma; the grass is tall and lush here over the leach field, and will keep her busy, happy and quiet whilst the weather holds. I’ve been supplementing her pasture with alfalfa pellets and sweet feed spiked with rolled oats, sea salt and extra molasses to boost her minerals and put some fast fatty weight on her before it gets really cold. I’m just dumbfounded that a beast who can’t possibly weigh more than forty pounds managed to knock me clean off my feet. I’m going to have to work more on my strength and balance, because I want her to weigh in at a solid 70 – 80 pounds by Spring, and I’m not keen on getting dragged around. No one needs to be sickly, here; I can’t afford the vet bill, or an emergency room visit, for that matter. Not only that, but I intend on making buddy-buddy with this willful thing over the Winter, and the next time she gets charged by an oversexed buck, I expect her to kick his fool ass, preferably before I get used as a boot-scraped doormat. Damned smelly goat….

Streamlining Possessions…Like Movies??? Ebay is My New Hub.

Life is messy, and death is annoying. Stuff is torture.

I’m not really certain why a librarian would want to own THOUSANDS of DVDs, but one of the things Mavis left to me when she ran off to the Great Cat Rescue in the Sky was more than 15,000 movies (not kidding; one of our friends counted them as she packed them). And there’s only one thing that’s more annoying than plastic in my house: selling the plastic taking up space in my house. I actually *own* exactly one DVD…I’m considering listing it. There’s a reason why GOD invented streaming. Electronic files. I love them.

I’ve been selling Mavis Ann’s movie collection on Ebay because a lady at Half Price Books told me that I was ripping myself off giving them away to them. But it’s soooo slow.

Like movies??? I keep adding more. And since speaking to Ebay customer service, I’m pretty sure I’m now allowed to post 5,000 of these things at a time (it was 50 total, with no way to add more each month unless others sold). So that’s what I’m doing…every freaking day.

Dirt cheap. Buy them all. Please!!! I’m begging you. Spread it around! Email a link to your cousin Guido! I want them out of my hair.

Proceeds are being used for soaping supplies, animal feed, and heating oil for my stupid piggy furnace. And (bonus!) the sooner they’re all gone, the sooner I’ll have space to unpack my books. My beloved, beautiful, sweet-smelling musty old books….I miss them so much.

Look here, check back often, help me unload this stuff asap:

MikiDaShrew’s Ebay Nonesense

The Accidental Nanny Goat

A few weeks ago I drove up to Youngstown to collect my weaned goat sire, build a half-assed milk stantion in trade – that has since been painted a rockin’ shade of hopeful kelly green – and spend the rest of the day searching for a missing milking dam. Except for coming up empty on the goat hunt, it was actually a profitably good day that ended with me finding a local source for $1 square bales of beautiful, fragrant virgin hay.

The big story that eventually unfolded, though, went that the nanny was bought at the auction the month before I knew about her, and she eloped the moment the car door was opened in the driveway (I’ve transported live cows stuffed into the back seat of a Ford Escort; this is a more common potentially-lethal occurrence than you realise. Hold my mason jar of ‘shine and stand over there…I’ll show you…). Of course, I didn’t know that she’d been missing for a month, already, until I’d spent a couple of hours driving up and down railroad tracks and pasture access roads searching for her. So, I secretly told myself that she’d been eaten by coyotes, and I told her tender-hearted owners how best to coax her into the herd enclosure “when she [came] around,” before I took Butch home to mow my messy acreage. And, then, I promptly forgot about her.

This past Sunday, I’m told, the police called. Turns out that this miraculous marauding nanny had not only survived out in the world all alone, she had recently ensconced her scraggly emaciated, dehydrated self with a commercial sheep herd ten miles away from her would-have-been home, and the rancher in charge wanted her picked up post haste. Not long after, I got a call and a flurry of messages from my frantic friend asking how to get a wild, pissed-off NOT-A-TINY-PYGMY goat to eat and drink. The simple answer to this question is you don’t. Not until she calms down and decides she wants to. But I offered to my tired, exasperated friend that they could drop her off at my place, and I’d work on her for a few of weeks to tame her down again for them. My friend’s husband immediately threw up the white flag of surrender without any hesitation.

I ended up going back up to their place yesterday to rescue the rogue goat from her perceived jailors. By the time I arrived this go around, she had trashed their car, their garage where they had her thankless bony ass quarantined, and obliterated several perfectly good bales of hay and a seriously pricy lawn mower in the process of raging against the looming prospect coerced domesticity; I was tempted to call her Eliza. She had also injured my friend in a fit of thrashing anarchist’s fury (hence my trip to them), and when I arrived, my friend’s husband met me at the truck with a stern look and a wagging finger and told me that this goat is “just no good” and he doesn’t want me bringing her back. Why? Because she doesn’t want to be loved on…. <le sigh> Patience of Job, that one.

After spending the better part of the past three years on my own in the forests, I get exactly where this goat is coming from. People are freaking scary, man. And life is not a damned bit of fun when you’re forced into confined spaces and have to wear clothes all the time…or a collar. So I stuck around whilst my friend did a couple of loads of my laundry for me (to make space in the truck) whilst I made nicey-nice with the feral eloper in short visits, and caught her twice to hold her stabby, horny head whilst the visiting veterinarian did a physical, inspected the long, hairless wound healing along her spine where she had torn the skin off going under a fence somewhere not long ago, and dewormed her. Hours later, after I vaccinated my friend’s shy, rather angry cat (the vet had left long before), we ate together, and my laundry was dry, we loaded the goat into the back of my truck, and I drove her home, radio blaring, Baby whining with concern, in the moonless, starless night without killing anything but Peter Rabbit’s distant fifth cousin, thrice removed. Poor bunny.

I didn’t realise until after midnight last night, when I was reclining with the dogs on the cool, grassy hillside above the house with the strong, rich smell of doe on my hands and skirts, and foehn-feeling winds blowing over us under the deep, roiling sky, just how much I have been missing all of my animals. I love the smell of does (not bucks…*gross*) almost as much as I love the smell of cattle…which I love almost as much as the smell of fresh horse sweat, which is almost, but not quite, as intoxicating as the divine scent of Spring lambing that carries for miles, which is right up there with the heavenly odors of pine forests on hot days, orange trees in fresh bloom, a butt-polished saddle, new-mown hay and angelica wine. It’s not just the smell of farm animals that is home to me, but the feel of them, too; the way they lean into you like a fence post when they show their trust, and lie alongside your lap with their heavy, sweet breath filling the space when they want to nap with you. The rhythm of daily feedings, the sound of water being poured from buckets into waterers and troughs, the sound and feel of the rasp when you’re trimming hooves and capping horns, the growing, radiant heat of birthing – all of it is just warm, sedate, and pregnant with quiet purpose. It amazes me, in moments like these, that society has grown so divorced from the land because the older I get, the more aware I am that I cannot be comfortable apart from it for very long. Cities may glow and twinkle, but it’s a cold, false light that fades to a hardened, sterile grey when the sun comes up; concrete will never be as inviting or as useful as forest litter and sweet, fragrant hummus.

The one great thing I realised last night is that this nanny goat, who lost her original harness and lead ages ago whilst running amok, has managed to keep a USDA herd tag in her ear, and it dawned on me whilst watching the heavy sculpted clouds sail on that the USDA keeps registration records on livestock for 20 years minimum so, early this morning, I called the State of Ohio USDA commissioner to do a herd search. This girl is less than two years old. She’s a purebred French Alpine milk doe with a superior papered pedigree and has yet to be bred. How the hell did she end up at auction? I don’t know, and I don’t care. French Alpines do incredibly well in extreme temperatures, love hills and are skilled at harvesting buried winter forage without destroying the turf…I’ve seriously lucked out. This is a valuable goat, capable of producing the media for some of the finest yogurt and cheese on the planet. If I take care of her well, she can be producing for the next decade or more.

…I went out to water everybody around noon, and Baby and I sat under the ancient, gnarled orchard trees betwixt Butch and the nanny, who still visibly shook with that now-familiar wild-eyed panic when she first spotted me coming up the hillside. The secret to making friends with any animal is something that I learned early on as a preschooler when Daddy taught me to fish at Cripple Creek: sit very still on the big-rocked bank, be very quiet, and watch the wind in the sparkling evergreens instead of the racing water; let them come to you by touch, and when they do, reel them in without hurry. It could take hours, it might be minutes, it all depends on how likeable you are, and that you don’t spook them. There’s an additional step to making friends with livestock, and I was still very young when I learned this, too, but I don’t think anyone ever told me, I just picked it up by instinct whilst wandering around like a fearless idiot amongst the heifers in the dry cow pastures near our house: sit or stand very still so that you’re at eye level, keep your open hands soft and slow, avert your gaze but pay attention, and when they bring their face close to yours, take a deep breath, and exhale through pursed lips long and low directly into their nostrils so that they can pick up your true scent; keep doing this until they’re satisfied and relax their stance. That’s when they decide that you’re safe to be with. When they get to the point that they’ll turn their backs to you to graze, or lie down in your presence, you know that you’ve been adopted.

I made friends with the rogue nanny goat on this blustery day today whilst the sun shone cold. My fingers were stiff and aching, my cheeks stung with tears, and my ears burned like fire by the time she determined that I wasn’t really a monster, I just resemble one from afar. She willingly followed me and Butch to the barn tonight without a fight – which did surprise me, as I was certain it would take at least a week to get her in there at all – and she let me tether her to the loadbeam before lying down in the deep straw to chew her cud and rest until tomorrow. All is well, for now….

I’ve named her Calypso. It means “she who hides.” It’s weird to think you have a lot in common with a goat, but I do.

Starting From Scratch

Farmers, as a general rule, don’t live by clocks. At least the vocational ones don’t. They live by days and seasons. Unless, of course, they have an appointment with the bank, or there’s an auction afoot. Then they’re right on time with a watch and cowbells on, because it’s unacceptably rude to keep people waiting on your sorry butt.

Days are divided Hobbit Style:

Morning Chores

Breakfast with newspaper & Farm Report

Second Breakfast

Noonday Chores

Lunch

Nap

Evening Chores

Supper

Nighttime Chores (especially during Harvest Season)

Dessert & Entertainment

Sleep…Unless the cows get out. Then you’re screwed. Ain’t nobody sleepin’!

Because, historically, farmers were the world’s true Hobbits, they didn’t (and don’t) leave home much. They survey the world primarily from the barn roof, the tractor cab, the front porch and the books they got from the public library, along with the occasional nature or travel show on the idiot box. In so doing, many vocational farmers also double as philosophers and poets without meaning to; you could call it an occupational hazard. When your hands and heart are busy, your mind wanders into deep places, puzzling together the meaning of things.

I’m a packrat so, naturally, I kept all the love letters given to me by the man I should have married in the beginning, a philosophizing farmer. He was a fifth generation dairy farmer with an accounting degree, just in case things went badly one day and he “got crippled up.” Most practical man on the planet. And, of course, his love letters were peppered with the earthy practicality of an eighth generation agrarian. It’s in his blood.

Believe it or not, I can still read that chicken scratch. Basically, it says that he went hunting for another farm to buy for us, but wishes he had made a better offer on the 70 acre one I loved – and lost to an auction – down the road from where I grew up (it’s now a subdivision); he installed a new pressure washer in the milking parlor (watch out!); a cow tore a teat and Doc Lange had to sew it back together (the cow later lost said teat), and his sister crashed the crop duster, dashing her husband’s hopes for a plane trip to a reunion. Mindblowing, eh? That’s life in the big…errr…country. And, man, what a life!

Other letters talk about rain, watching the light change on the mountains, waiting for the humidity to be right to bring in the silage corn, the way ice sheets covered the January windblown pasture like mirrors reflecting the heavens. These letters, at the time, made me homesick and terribly angry. It was like he was baiting a hook, trying to reel me back to the farm. I wanted to leave the city and go home. Screw college, screw the world. Go home and grow some pumpkins under the gladiolas and hollyhocks, make some sweet tea, and call it a life. But I refused to budge. In hindsight, I wish I had.

One important facet of getting back into the swing of agrarian life many years more-or-less divorced from it is learning the simple art of stopping the clock and watching the sky. When the sky is black, to go bed. When the sky is periwinkle, you’re probably late getting up. When the sun shines and the breeze blows, get everything done that needs doing dry. When it rains, clean the house and the barn and maybe sneak your favourite calf into the kitchen when no one’s around to cuddle whilst the bread bakes.

I’m not gonna lie; I’ve been sleeping entirely too much this past year, and it’s cost me dearly. I should have things established, already, but I don’t. Part of it, I know, is lingering depression and loneliness; part of it is the dreadful feeling of being pulled in different directions by the responsibilities of work and classes and making things to sell when I really need to be pounding fence posts. But I’ve been awake and alert enough to find my true North anywhere on this hillside without a compass in any light, even in the woods. I’ve watched the seasons change here and, whilst I’m dreading Winter, I have a pretty good handle on what to expect next year. I’ve walked every square inch of this earth, and I know what grows where, how to find the creek in the woods with my eyes closed, and where the morels and puffballs make their homes. I’m excited for next season, and I’m ready to spend the Winter months planning for new gardens in the Spring.

My friend, Mary, send me some comfrey roots from Georgia. I only got to plant them this morning because it’s been raining nonstop for the last week. The billie goat is pissed at me because I’ve made him mow the lawn during torrents, and I don’t really blame him, but I also want him to have gotten as much varietal herbiage as he can devour before the show flies and his diet is nothing but hay flakes, alfalfa pellets and the occasional handful of sweet feed.

The dogs are more reluctant to leave their beds to go outside…except Baby, he’s ready for anything, and loves to check in on the chickens, and whine at them when they aren’t where he thinks they should be. He likes to sit in the tall grass, all stately and dignified, looking out over the valley like a king surveying his domain. And I like to watch him. I wish I could be that still and focused.

Clouds jet across the sky, turning violent shades of violet and black; more storms coming, snow not far behind. I’m debating about making some banana bread, or zucchini bread; definitely need a chicken in the pot today, maybe some liver and onions. “Grandma” gave me two big buckets filled with apples, so applesauce is on the agenda this weekend, along with a carboy of cider vinegar. Winter is coming, Days are getting shorter, and I’m just relearning how to remember that days were always meant to be lived according to moments in season, not clocks.