Saturday, June 11, 2011

Of Mice and Women

Chocolaty Claire getting a scrub down
I could have stopped it.  I knew what was going to happen.  I knew what I needed to do. But I hesitated.  I sat down in my thinking chair.  And I sighed.  Because I am a mother.  And I give life.  I encourage the thriving of children and friends and plants and cows and even, yes, mice. When I saw that baby mouse, blindly feeling it's way across the barn floor, I had my opportunity to kill.  I held in my powerful hands a pitch fork with not one, but four, stabbing points.  Yes, I knew, I was unearthing a mouse nest in the barn.  I could foresee the mice, scores of them, scurrying in all directions, even over my feet and up the pitch fork handle. I could see myself screaming and running out into the rain.  I know that some day they may even give me hanta virus, and yet, I did not kill. They will eat my grain and chew off the bark of our fruit trees.  Yet I did not kill. 

I am cleaning out the barn because, as we have discussed before, Huck is deathly allergic to the 8 now-vanished tons of Timothy Hay I bought last year and hasn't been in the barn since.  So with self-interest in the forefront of my mind, I set to take on one of Hercules's Herculean labors: a full-on, no-straw-left-behind barn excavation. Whereas I was daily getting the chunks, the straw matted several feet thick.  A process so gradual, I didn't notice until now.  And so I am shoveling and forking and huffing and puffing because this stuff has become concrete and I am not Hercules.

I am also cleaning out the barn because we have two new babies who need clean nurseries!  Hendrika's came a week ago and after much fighting and a confusing Facebook vote, we've named her Chocolaty Claire.  Not my favorite, but I know when to stick Helen back in my pocket.  (Some day!  Some Day!  I will have my Helen!) Hendrika birthed loudly (she gets that from me) and seemed confused by the small size and brown color of her baby.  Unbeknownst to her, I had her bred with miniature Jersey.  I mean, I'm pretty sure she was aware of Frank-from-Craigslist having his arm all the way up her tush. I just don't think she would have picked a miniature Jersey if she'd been in charge of the mating process.  She'd probably gone with ye' old standby, vanilla, Hereford.

She and Sukey and Ginger all seemed confused.  "Brown?!"  Said my red cows, "Who ever heard of a brown cow?!"  And when she didn't get up quickly, the cows became even more skeptical of her worth.  And when she finally went to nurse on Hendrika, Sukey stepped in and started ramming her.  By the time Huck got Sukey and Ginger into solitary lock-down, the baby was scared to death of cows.  Huck fed the front end of Hendrika, while I helped the baby up and put her on a teet.  And then the bonding and happiness and joy of a new babe happened and Hendrika accepted her calf   Hendrika also ate the birth sack and placenta, raw.  She gobbled it up, belching and grunting.  And... omg... I can't even talk about it.  Because the whole process and the memory of it starts my digestive tract going the wrong direction.  NEW TOPIC!

Chocolaty Claire getting some colostrum
I read with great envy that cows give birth ON their due date.  That is almost all wrong.  Whereas Chocolaty Clair came on her due date, Beignet was nearly a week late.  Sukey gave birth quickly and quietly to an enormous bull calf who got up right away and started nursing within 1/2 hour of birth.  Sukey daintily snacked on her afterbirth... which still sent my dinner in the wrong direction. The next morning I couldn't find Beignet and set out to check on Sukey, laying in the field.  Did she have the dreaded milk fever?  Had she overlayed him?  But there he was, curled alongside her belly.  And there they stayed.  It was interesting watching Sukey become a mom for the first time.  She too seemed to have an "OH SHIT!" moment shortly after the shock of birth had waned.  That "Oh SHIT! This is mine!  I'm responsible for it!" clearly crossed her face.  Unlike Hendrika, she rarely leaves her doomed little boy.  She stares at him constantly and keeps him cuddled up next to her.

You may call this anthropomorphizing, however, if one holds evolution to be at all true, then certainly our emotions, their expression, as well as bonding hormones, et al, did not just blossom at the the moment homo sapiens sapiens became a distinct genetic entity.  These things came from somewhere, emerged at some point before the HSS human and it is only logical that such feelings would both exist in other mammals and also be expressed on their faces, much like ours are.  Unless, of course, you believe in ex nihilo creation via divine edict.  In which case, skewer me for my anthropomorphizing as you wish. 

And thus begins the season of culling.  Five cows are way too many for five acres.  I wept when I thinned my corn and I'm not sure how well I'll weather the thinning of the herd. So when the mouselet emerged, I sat in my barn-based thinking chair.  I am not well suited to the brutality of farming.  I think I would do better if I did not suspect that humans evolved with emotions and that our close genetic cousins, the mice, also have similar electrical and hormonal states.  I think farmers must believe in God and must believe in their divine right to rule these lesser beings and must believe that humans are a giant step away from animals both emotionally and spiritually.  Because when a farmer-ette does not entirely buy that line of thought, she is somewhat doomed in her efforts to dominion-ate the earth. 

I gathered my courage and I destroyed that mouse mansion made of cow crap.  And I endured their lightening quick zip over my toes by screaming and dancing.  And then there was one, toddling along, cling to life.  And he paused and crouched and appeared to put his paws together and pray.

Dear God,
Where is my cat? Where is the owl?  Where are these things born to kill? 
But for me and my shovel, we must serve the living, the children, the corn, the cows, the mice. 

We must go inside and have a nice calm cup of tea and forgive ourselves even as we forgive those that trespassed over our toes.


  1. hmmm.. what a timely post. For me anyway. We are trying to decide if we want milking goats.. We just got chickens less than a week ago and a new dog and now our cat has gone missing and we are falling apart. I am wondering just what we are doing with this whole animal thing. I have so many mixed feelings. Some of which you expressed so perfectly. Thanks for sharing. xo

  2. I helped raise goats and helped impregnate a young female. She was terrified so she needed to be held (really?). I landed that job while the male humped her looking at me. It freaked me out but not as much as having to kill the male offspring of the 10 female goats we had. I love the idea of homesteading but am ok trading with farmers down the road for meat/ milk.



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