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Missing Out

10 Feb

Growing up on a farm means you get to do a lot of things most kids don’t. You always have a pet or two, and most likely some cows, chickens, cats and a dog. Snow Days, Sick Days and Just Because Days meant that we didn’t have to go to school since our parents were always home and liked having us around. When we got older and my friends inched the car nervously around the paved perimeter of some parking lot I was finally given the keys to a real vehicle and graduated from driving just the tractor. When my friends were scouring the classifieds for their first afterschool job I already had one, afterschool, everyday, guaranteed—and it paid pretty well, too!

Growing up on a farm means you miss out on a lot of things that most kids get to do. When my friends’ were perfecting their softball pitch, I was working with a pitchfork. When they did swimming lessons I could sink my arms up to my elbows in the cows’ waterer before continuing on with the day. I had friends who took dance classes. The only jig I ever did was when I got shocked by the electric fence. When we got older, and my friends went to the gym, I ran along fence lines instead of on treadmills, lifted buckets instead of dumbbells, and practice resistance training when I lugged a stubborn calf across the yard with a halter.

I am finally taking those swimming classes that I missed out on, and while I learn how to do the front crawl, I am also practicing my gratitude since my friends can’t sign up to be a farm kid but I can for swimming lessons.

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In the Barn

26 Jan

DSCF1494

Yesterday morning a terrible tragedy took an unforgiving swipe at our neighbours, also a farming family. Today and for the rest of their lives this young couple must learn how to cope, and eventually live, with one child less. It isn’t fair and it’s even harder to believe.

If that isn’t already a cruel twist, Life does something even worse: it goes on. Life continues forward when all we want to do is hit rewind, or at the very least press pause and try to pick up the pieces.

This is when farming is a blessing and a curse. There will always be chores to do. The cows don’t hold their milk in sympathy, the calves won’t crack the seal on the milk tank and feed themselves. The barn cats can feed themselves, but they’ll still expect their bagged cat food. New feed must be mixed and the old feed pushed away. Pens have to be forked clean and gates repaired. If there is any place more evident that life must go on it’s in the barn.

Farmers can’t take a break—not indefinitely and that’s a career and life choice. Not on Christmas Day, or Easter, or after the loss of a loved one. There are family, friends and employees who can do a job, take on an extra chore, but eventually we’ll have to wrap our fingers around the familiar handles of the wheelbarrow and lift.

When we want to stay in bed, in the dark, and try not to hurt so much we can’t. We have to get up at four, maybe five, or six in the morning and go to the barn. There’s a routine. We witness the sun rise and realize that it is another day, and we see the sun set knowing we’ve endured another day.

In the barn we can still work alongside our cows and although everything has changed they don’t push the point. They don’t ask questions, or apologize profusely for something that was out of their control (even if we are mad). They still offer a sturdy shoulder to lean or cry on but otherwise don’t treat us any different.

In the barn we don’t have to explain to our boss why we’re quiet and slower than usual—we are the boss and are trying very hard to understand.

In the barn there are plenty of places to sit when we’ve become emotionally and physically exhausted but can’t sleep. A hay bale, the milking parlour steps, a tractor seat. Sometimes these spots can seem as sacred as a pew.

Then one day, while in the barn, we’ll feel the morning sun on our back, or be able to marvel at the green fields outside, or scratch our favourite cow behind her ear and begin to feel okay.

But that isn’t today—not yet—and we must still go to the barn.

The Ups and Downs of 2013

8 Jan

Magoh

Last year there were some run-ins…

Before Christmas one of our best milking cows, Magoe, fell down in the barn. Some fellow Holstein—who definitely ended up on Santa’s naughty list—had ruthlessly knocked her down. We closed off the alley, coaxed her up with grain, and she shakily walked out of the barn into a temporary pen for some special care and attention.

There was the usual hard work and then the extra hard work…

After those first trembling steps, she wouldn’t stand. Her feed had to be forked over, water carried in buckets (she could drink five one-gallon pails in a sitting) and pen forked clean daily. My Dad and brother knotted together a basic sling, looping it around her stocky frame so she could be lifted up—but her front legs were limp.

Then there were difficult decisions…

Each morning when we came out to the barn so had flopped onto her side liked a knocked over bowling pin, kicking her rear legs furiously and making disgruntled snow angles in the sawdust. We would sit her up, then lift her up, and watch those front legs, limp and lifeless, with knots in our stomachs. They say where there is a will, there is way, but we were all loosing will—Magoe included—and could only see one way: we would need to call the vet to put her to sleep.

Some days required a lot of hope…

The New Year dawned, sunny and bright, and Magoe viewed it rolled on her side, looking up at the barn rafters with red, bleary eyes. For a cow that couldn’t stand up she sure could roll-over. My Dad and brother lifted her yet again, two weeks since her fall, and she took a nervous step, her front legs shaking. She stumbled and fell with a grunt. This happened repeatedly—as did our forking of her feed, carrying of the water buckets, and encouraging behind-the-ear scratches.

But most of all, we love a happy ending…

So how did it end? If this is a clue, the picture of this post is of Magoe. I took it two days ago. She stands on her own, is eating like a horse (or is that a cow?) and will join the herd in another week or two.

Happy New Year and, like Magoe, let’s take it in stride!