Monday, October 8, 2012

Non-Consensual Farming

Little Chocolatey Claire
Did I tell you our oven went kaput.  Well, not kaput; it went out in a blaze of glory.  A ball of fire proceeded along the element, leaving a molten puddle of metal as it traversed, shooting lighting to the sides. A new oven wasn't in the budget, so we've been without.  What's the big deal? It was summer and who turns on an oven in the summer time?  I'd just use the dutch oven if necessary, like camping.

Then, in the early hours, early in September a frozen finger of death descended upon our garden and took out 20 pepper plants, 10 tomato plants, 3 watermelon vines, 5 cucumber vines, a row of beans and 7 summer squash bushes. There were reports throughout the region of a few select households, like ours, hit by random acts of Jack Frost. For a light frost, it would have been early, for a hard freeze it was a full month ahead.  And what was the likelihood of this happening again? Zero. Zero, I tell you. Feeling slightly ill about a year's worth of loss (I'd also lost my carrots, most of my potatoes and ALL of my garlic to ravenous gophers. I did get a haul on onions, peas, kale, favas, and corn, however), I fell in to a fitful sleep that night. I awoke at 4am, sure the frost had returned. At six, I finally ventured out and witnesses all of my winter squash frost damaged.  ALL of it.

This would not have been a problem in other years.  Annoying, yes.  But I would have pulled them all in and spent a day or two cooking them up to freeze.  But alas, no oven. I would sell my cow and we would buy an oven.

Hendrika, the big red cow (with cute tiny Yoda!)
My big Hendrika girl was possibly the worst cow known to human kind.  She was ornery with a bottomless appetite. I hadn't milked her since her latest calving, another bull we named Yoda.  I have some things to say about cows: the first is that they're a hell of a lot of work.  99.9% of the population knows this, but I needed actual experience to realize that, yes, as soon as able, humanity ditched the family milk cow and her accompanying winters chipping shit-ice and filling troughs with frozen hoses.

The second thing I noticed was that cow-husbandry involves quite a bit of heart ache.  There was the shooting debacle, of course.  But every year I had to sell a cow, a cute one, a nice one.  And I had to decide who to sell and when to sell it. And it broke my heart annually.

Third: expense. Like most hobbies, it's more expensive than not doing the hobby.  Take knitting: you could buy a sweater on clearance from Target for $15, or you could buy $100 in yarn and spend a couple months making it yourself. Or para-sailing: you could jump off the high dive at your local pool.  But the stress  expense of amassing the chunk of change for a winter's worth of delivered hay was feeling tiresome.

I felt a little guilt.  Bonds had been made and they felt like commitments.  But cows aren't pets.  And I didn't marry Hendrika and I didn't give birth to her.  I have struggled with the boredom inherent in providing a stable home for children and in maintaining a monotonous marriage.  But I realized that I this level of commitment is not required of absolutely every endeavor.  In fact, in order to maintain the commitments I have, I will need to make sure the rest of my life is constantly fresh and moving and flowing with new things coming in.  That's not flaky, that's taking responsibility for my needs for adventure and novelty before it explodes in my face.

It took a few weeks to sell Hendrika. We had a vacation in there and one buyer had his truck break down. But eventually she (and her bull calf) went to a beef farm as a nurse maid.  I was somewhat relieved no one was going to try to work with her by hand. But the look she gave me as the trailer pulled out shriveled my soul: betrayal, disgust, fear, shock.

a neighbor's beet, organic?
And all I had left was the hard-to-find miniature Jersey, Chocolatey Claire, lover of onions and valuable because miniatures (old world size, the size they were when they arrived here from the isle of Jersey) eat so little yet can produce so much milk. This was the cow I'd wanted from the beginning when the closest one was Montana for $2000, ha!  So I figured I'd breed her from what I could get.  And then, once I had her, I felt done with the cattle adventure. Ironic. And now five deals have fallen through. This last one even PayPal'd me a down payment.  Saturday morning they texted me with their plan to ship her to Montana: the vet inspection would be Wednesday, the branding inspection, Thursday.  They'd buy my winters worth of hay (because she was hungry and I was starting to wonder, so with Hendrika's money, I bought hay for her instead of an oven.  Then about five minutes after the delivery left the hay ranch for my place, I'd gotten a call from this latest buyer, but it was too late to back out of the hay I have hay now and because of a math glitch -- despite the fact that I took several years of college math, not because I enjoyed it, but because I was good at it and there was this really hot math professor -- I miscalculated how much hay I would need and I now have 1 1/2 years worth) and I'd have my new oven.  And then an hour later, they called to say that the rules for getting her into Montana had added up to over $500 worth of inspections, plus vaccine issues.  It would actually be easier to bring a motor home full of cats with rabies into Montana that a little hobby-cow.

Images of that stainless steel glass top oven vanished.  And now I have a cow I don't particularly want and I am done with this selling roller coaster. Perhaps I will try in the spring, but by then we'll have bonded. My friend says, "Seems like the universe really wants you to keep that cow."  "Well it seems a little non-consensual of the universe," I pouted. Ah, but Sarajoy, darling, that IS life.  The whole thing's been fairly non-consensual from the get go.  No one here asked to be born, not even the cows.

While trying to sell her, I figured I'd try again to get her bred because anyone would want that in a heifer, plus we need her to shut up. The neighbors were commenting about her noise, and when I explained she was in heat, the lady said, "Oh I get that! I understand where she's coming from now!" So the breeder came out on Friday, in the middle of the daily morning mayhem. And we head out to the barn only to find the stanchion destroyed, strewn all over the field. I have no idea how petite and demure Claire pulled that off.  But after discussing our options, the main one being roping Claire and having me use my body to pin her against the barn wall while he inseminated her with his arm, I decided to pass this time.

I asked him if I was asking too much for her.  My price had started at $2500, because the closest available cow of this rare sort was now Virginia, for the same price, same level of "purity" of breed.  After the buyers at that price dropped off.  I lowered it, got a buyer, she lost her job, lowered it, lowered it, got a buyer who emailed me daily for a week with silly questions then dropped off, got this latest buyer and here I am at $800.  It makes me sick. And the breeder said I could get more than that if I just had the slaughter house pick her up! Being a miniature, she's cheaper to keep than cats, and now that I think of it, cheaper than getting the field mowed. And if I do ever get her bred, once she calves, she'll more than pay for herself milk-wise. But then there I'll be with another calf to hurt my heart as I sell it.

As Artificial Insemination Fred left, I collected the pieces of the stanchion from the field.  As I collected them, I noticed that it would only need a few screws and ten minutes to put back together.  As I noticed this, the AI guy I found on Craigslist disappeared around the corner.  And the whole hobby farming fiasco reached shitti-cane status and I got the giggles.

Chase of butternuts
In the meantime, I started looking on Craigslist for a cheaper oven.  I need to deal with this room full of winter squash before it all goes bad where the frost permeated the skin.  And suddenly, there are all these ovens up there, for free!  And they work and they're newer and nicer than mine.  Brushed nickel? no.  But white and newer and cleaner (I spent all last Sunday scrubbing that thing. I even used toxic cleaner and gloves and finally, a brillo pad and still, there's these black archipelagos across the stove) for free.  But, alas, Huck's calf muscle is torn and my Hercules, or should we say Achilles, is laid up for now.  He won't be lifting ovens any time soon.  So we "opted" to repair and spruce up the one we have, uber-eco re-users that we are. Huck ordered an element for our 40 year old oven. I bought new spill dishes. And in the process of cleaning it, wiped all the numbers off the dials, so I bought new dials. Unfortunately the new dials have a totally different number system, so where once a 5 was medium, it's now high.  And every dinner has been burned since. Lucky me, the element arrived and we found we need more parts to install it.  Still waiting for those.

Let's recap: this year I grew a garden and got little for my efforts.
I have a cow I don't want and
an oven I hate that still doesn't work.

But what am I, some conditional lover of life? If it's conditional, it isn't love. If I have the right conditions, I'll "love" it? So if anything isn't precisely as I ordered, I'm sending it back to the kitchen?  Ah, no.  I'll call this all an (mis)adventure, and I'll say I'm happy on this bull-ride o'life.  Who the hell knows what's coming down the pike?  Today, unplanned cow-husbandry and a garden robbed by weather.  And tomorrow?  Get ready, could be your wildest dream, hard times, frustration, thrills, spills.  It's wild out here in unpredictable life.  And maybe that's all I want really, maybe that's what keeps me happy and rocking along, all this unpredictability even in the midst of what seems like boring old stability.

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