Monday, September 13, 2010

Hay You!

It's a little lonely here on Lucky Farm.  Some one didn't do the math until the morning Coyote finally trotted off to school.  Turns out it's 9 hours a day, here, me, myself, and I, alone.  I miss my kids.  I kind of want them back.  When they get off the bus, I'm there, waiting with snacks and games to play and books to read together and questions and songs to sing together (with motions!) and art projects and fun chores to share in. But all they want to do is eat the snacks and then lay down and zone out.  Unrequited enthusiam.

When my mind finally calculated that big, lonely NINE, I swooned with fear.  What will I do for NINE hours a day, all by myself?  Well... a lot, it turns out.  A hell of a lot.  And I'm not really bothered by NINE hours a day of hard farm labors.  I'm fine.  There are bets wagered on how long I'll last before I break down and get a job, just for the social aspect.  Fortunately, for those on my side who think I'll be fine (there's only one of us), the job offerings look really terrible.  I'd require a bucket of anti-depressants every morning to take any of them.  ANY OF THEM.  Let's hope I can figure my way through this without a real job.

My life here isn't the LONELIEST ever.  Hired people come by some times.  For instance, we recently had our cows inseminated.  And the camera was in the shop... darn.  Fred was a nice guy, creepy, as you'd expect for someone who's chosen profession is to drive around with a smorgasbord of frozen semen in his truck... and then get that stuff into the appropriate cow orifice.  Hendrika gave a low, sultry moo as Fred's arm reached in an impossibly long ways.  But Sukey thrashed and nearly shattered the stanchion.  I saved 40 bucks 'cuz they were, oddly, in heat on the very same day. 

At my request, Fred, a man I found on Craigslist, brought miniature Jersey sperm.  I'm not sure if the lil' swimmers were miniature themselves, but I do hope they contain miniature genetics.  Actually, officially they're called "Low Line".  Which sounds more like "Low Life" or like valley-specific cows.  You might imagine miniature to be a new thing, a breeder-fancy genetic-freak cow.  I prefer the term "Old World," because the Jersey's originally from the English channel island called Jersey were smaller. All the cows were smaller 400 years ago.  Much smaller.  But we here in the the U.S. of A like BIG BIG things.  So we supersized our cows.  With a dairy cow, all food in excess of maintenance goes to milk.  So... if less food goes to less cow for maintenance, then there's more to go for milk.  Economically, a smaller cow can produce more milk as a ratio to food that a larger cow.  And thereby reducing my hay costs.  Bigger isn't economically better in a milk cow and logic has never stopped the American psyche from it's obsessions.

And this brings me to a sad fact that I've not wanted to face.  Cows aren't pets, really.  They are our pets, for sure.  And visitors marvel that they didn't expect cows to have personalities.  But they do.  And to keep the milk coming, we have to keep producing calves.  This would add up to a lot of cows soon.  Very soon.  We neither have the space nor money for such an unculled herd.  And so, I have come to understand that after Sukey gives me my miniature Jersey baby, she will be sold.  Along with Ginger, most likely.  And since they are nearly pure Herefords, they will be sold to someone who will kill them.  It chokes me up.  Sukey is the most beautiful cow in the world.  Her toes still look like ballet slippers.  And she still has the sweetest personality.  I wish I could take her to school with me.  And Ginger sports goofy tuft on her head and a silly littly kick.  And to think, some day I will sell them to someone who will not, should not, care a whit for personality.   Hopefully, my new calves will ease the pain.

I could choose to not do this, this most horrendously expensive hobby.  I could just kick the death and reality down the line and do what worked before... go to the store and buy a gallon of milk and let someone else deal with the calves and the bulls and loss and sorrow, someone who doesn't care all that much for the individual cows but has so many that the losses are cushioned by never having had much to loose.  And there would go all the fun I'm having, all the connection to my food, and the joy of relating to another being. 

And the raw milk!  I was listening to a medical radio show and someone called in to ask about raw milk. And boy!  Sheesh! Did they ever get the riot act!  From a doctor who would NEVER say that canned carrots are just as good as fresh, raw ones.  He actually said that all the hype about raw milk is just that.  And there's nothing different from safer, pasteurized milk.  And then, without the slightest acknowledgment of irony, he went on to discuss the 1500 sickened by eggs recently.  There are these people out there who seriously believe that the industrial food chain is safe, safer in fact than home made stuff.  These people always astound me with their blind faith in our food system and with their ignorance of how many people are truly sickened by contaminated, mass produced food.  The radio doctor suggested this woman look up the DEATH statistics on the CDC website to see how bad raw milk is.  Not as bad as getting in your car and driving to work, but who would recommend against that? It was a vitriolic and ill-informed tirade based completely in fear.

Now... it's true that mass produced raw milk could be a bigger risk than I am taking now.  I was imagining having a certified raw dairy (does not pencil out economically in any way, shape or form...as far as I can tell) and it would be very different than what I am doing now.  I would be quicker.  I would use machines.  I would have a few more cows.  I would have customers with scheduled pick-ups of raw milk.  This would all be incompatible with my current methods of carefully, thoroughly cleaning the teets.  Of milking by hand, and watching every molecule enter the bucket.  And finally, when I strain the milk in my kitchen, if anything dropped in, I can pasteurize.  If I had customers expecting raw milk, I couldn't do that.

I offer my milk to my friends and visitors.  If they're into it, they jump forward.  But at the slightest hint of apprehension, I rescind my offer.  The last thing I want is someone blaming the common flu on me and my cows.  I've also stopped gifting my canned goods and Huck's cider.  I recognize that look, that terror of home made goods... and I ain't tossing pearls before swine any more.  Go to Jack-in-the-Box and eat your burgers.  Get your eggs from the store.  Fine.  It's your funeral. Not my funeral.  Tra-la-la-la-la!

So to feed these beasts, I ordered two tons of half grade Timothy hay to get us started.  This hay-guy was sported interesting bumper stickers.  Ate weeds, just like me.  Knew a lot about animals and gardens and wild plants.  I asked him so many questions and hung on his every, experienced word that Huck began to wonder if I'd really ditch him for an aged, crippled farmer with an ax to grind against Amtrak.  

But it's funny, all these farmers HATE the industrial food chain too.  They even school me on the crap they know goes down, and I am highly, probably overly, educated on the food chain.  They only eat their own beef.  They grow a lot of their own food.  You'd think these conservative farm folks would be all about crappy fast food.  But they've surprised me with their knowledge and care. 

The next load was good Timothy, seven tons.  And this was delivered by the most torn-up, red-neckiest crank I have ever met.  He shows up three hours late.  His matte black truck chugs and stalls in the driveway.  And right on the front grate perch two, shiny, silver mud-flap girls with stiff nipples and tilted at a most unrelaxing angle.  I've seen a lot of these around Spokane.  One was riding a Chevy symbol.  OUCH!! And another was a mid-weight woman reading a book.  COOL! 

On this hay-guys back window were Confederate flag stickers, "RED NECK PRIDE" stickers, and "Welcome to America.  We speak English here.  Learn it or leave."  The irony of that last one being written in English was apparently lost of this guy. However, the irony of it written in Spanish would be interesting too. Around here there's big pro-English sentiment.  The theme for an neighboring Idaho County fair had been "Fiesta at the Fair," until someone noticed that Feista was not an English word.  So it's now "Party at the Fair,"... "in solidarity with Arizona."  And I can't figure out what the big deal is with English anyway.  I mean, didn't we have a big, giant war with them?  And now we all speak their language, like we were conquered or something.

Anyway, this guy was really out of shape, missing most of his teeth, large bruises of his face.  I thought I'd paid for someone to stack my hay, but it turned out he needed my help for two hours!  90 pound bales are NOT my forte.  And on my injured ankle too!  I'm still in pain.

Despite his crazy politics and truck (which is why -I think- no less than three neighbors stopped by to check on me during his visit), I felt a lot of humanity towards him.  And he had this hip thing he did, a swivel/cock reminiscent of nearly every gay man I've known, and I found it endearing.  In fact, the mud flap girls combined with the hip swivel made me think he might be gay.  I'm almost certain he would beat me to death if I mentioned it.  ... but it seemed really likely.  The problem with homophobia is more than that it's dangerous for out gays.  If he weren't so scared of gays, be might have, at some point, asked himself some important questions about who he really is. But instead, every moment from bull-riding (which broke two disks and a knee) to his truck is all about screaming to the world that whoever he is, whatever he is, he is NOT GAY!  I don't really know, of coarse. 

And, in the end, it turns out Huck is deathly allergic to Timothy hay.  Last year we had orchard grass, which was fine enough.  I mean, he was never going to roll in it or anything.  But the Timothy has sent him into near anaphylactic shock twice now.  Instantly, he's covered in welts and unable to breath.  Asking around since these incidents in which Huck only touched one bale for five seconds, I've heard that Timothy is known for that sort of reaction.  Huck can't go into the barn now.  And guess who has to do ALL of the cow care for the next year?!  Guess who?! 

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