crazy cat lady.

 

yesterday, d. had a conversation with a neighbour two houses down about cats. turns out this neighbour, let’s call her a., has three cats, three tomcats to be precise. she told d. that the great thing about tomcats is that they don’t get pregnant. turns out she also doesn’t sterilize her cats because she loses too many to the highway, and she said that her cats come over to our barn to « play with the lady cats ». something was perhaps lost in translation in their conversation, but d. said she didn’t seem to get that the « pregnant cat problem » she was avoiding, she was instead bestoying upon us with her tomcats.

it made me incredibly angry.

and then this morning i turned into a crazy lady who yells at cats when as i was giving them their daily ration of milk and kibble, chasing away the sturdier looking cats (who clearly don’t live in the barn) so that the frail female cats (the true barn residents) could eat. as i’ve said to anyone who would listen, i’m not interested in having over a dozen cats, not interested in perpetuating the cat cycle that makes it so there are always too many too sick cats on the farm. and i’m certainly not interested in using our very limited resources to feed the neighbours cats.

i realize i need to speak to a. but there seems to be such a culture of just letting cats breed in misery because it takes care of potential mice problems. (except Mme P., my first friend here, who totally gets where i’m coming from and proudly cares for her cats, despite the financial strain of it).

i feel we’ve cracked the mystery here, though. and between that and some mild progress with the good folks at the SPCA, i might be able to stop thinking and talking so much about feral cats in the nearish future.

 

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‘every year it dies on him’

 

what a day.

i’m glad i stumbled onto this article yesterday. reading these passages, i can come to terms with the fact that the chronic overwork here has nothing to do with our shoddy workpersonship, or lack of know-how.

I just wanted to get across how much you struggle, how much of yourself you pour into a farm. And ultimately the farm dies. Ultimately there’s only so much you can do. Because I’ve watched my dad my whole life completely invest all of his being into this farm, and every year it dies on him. And every time he’s sort of shocked, like ‘Oh my God, really? It didn’t all work out somehow?’

My experience of the farm was always like, ‘Shit, our backs are up against the wall, this farm is teetering, what are we going to do?’

 

maybe it’s just how it goes.

 

the potato beetles have invaded the tomato patch, a newborn calf isn’t doing well, the two herds ended up in the same pasture due to a busted fence (which will mean a good half day of work to get them back into separate fields), the electric garage door is jammed open (also a solid half day’s work to fix), and i have yet to stake the tomato plants. it’s also becoming clear that the laying hens want more space than our chicken tractor can afford. i’m not sure i’m sold on the tractor idea anymore. it’s nice to have different animals doing a rotation on the pasture, but not nice enough to justify cramped quarters for livestock who live on a roomy 270 acre farm.

also, we finished the shade structure i had started for Ursula Franklin, but she hasn’t set hoof under it. it might take a while (and some highly desirable edible being placed there at first), but it’s an underwhelming response, for sure.

 

the saving grace on days like these is really our toddler-adult rotation. i’m with kiddo in the morning, and he alternates one afternoon with p., one with our good friend d. who’s here working with us for the summer. because more than the sheer amount of work to do, the really taxing part for me is the lack of consecutive minutes and hours to do the work (outside of the 1.5 hour of nap, and post-bedtime, anywhere between 8pm and 9:30pm).

it’s quite stellar that this child gets to grow and play in the company of three adults who love and get a kick out of him. and while i worry and wish that he got to spend more time with other littles (we were SO well served in the city with drop ins and playgroups, library storytimes and public parks), i think this rotation at least provides some diversity (and time to regenerate patience for this mama).

 

 

because sometimes when you’re losing the weeding and potato beetle battle, spending a few afternoon hours rocking out and getting some filth off the old inherited ceiling fans makes you feel surprisingly productive.

 

and tomorrow is another day.

 

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here our star head butting calf, that p. affectionately calls ‘Simon’, poses with the laundry.

réflexions du jour.

1. it’s a rookie mistake to tuck your rain pants into your rain boots.

2. milking a cow actually requires a lot of skill.

3. building an adequate roost for an A frame chicken tractor isn’t as simple as it might first appear.

 

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4. tractors can actually almost drive sideways when they need to.

5. solid rain gear is priceless.

6. laying 16 kilometers of cedar post fence (over a summer) is actually really a lot of work.

 

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cat ethics and days off.

 

we’ve decided to take the whole weekend off. (minus milking Ursula Franklin the dairy cow twice a day, corralling the cows back in their pastures, moving them every day, moving the chicken tractor and filling feed and water containers for all, retrieving eggs and processing milk into yoghourt and butter).

 

it’s been a good but a long week. we re-planted the garden rows that saw no germination (i suspect there are some ants eating the bean seeds), we discovered that potato beetles have discovered our potato patch and i’ve been angrily squiching said beetles and their eggs every day since (all six rows of them.. so very time consuming), p. and co. managed to corral the herds into a single file labyrinth in the barn to get their tag numbers (to send them to Agri-Traçabilité Québec, to get our ATQ registration, to finish our farm registration with the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries, et de l’Alimentation du Québec, to get our MAPAQ farm number, to be eligible for the agricultural rates for vet fees, water usage, etc.), and we’ve been settling back into being a four person (three adults) farm team.

the cat situation is still undealt with. my initial hope to trap them in the old chicken coop in the barn (by getting them used to being fed there and then, one day, just closing the coop door on them and getting the vet to anesthetize the sick ones, and spay or neuter three healthy ones that we’ll keep), is proving to be pointless. they are feral cats, are extremely skittish, and even if we did manage to trap them, someone would then have to go into a cage with all of these sick, angry cats. i have called the SPCA to ask for advice but they’ve yet to return my call. all the information we can find seems to point to three options : poisoning, drowning, and shooting. poisoning would mean hours of excrutiating pain for them, so is totally out. and really, the two other options don’t sound very cheery either, so i’m unsure how to proceed. in talking to a previous owner, i learned that they sometimes had up to 20 cats in the summer, that the population would plummet to 7 or 8 during the winter, that given the inbreeding, only about 2 or 3 kittens per litter survive, and doing nothing but feeding them has been a good strategy to keep the farm mouse-free (minus all the mouse poop we found in the cupboards when we moved in). while i’m having a really hard time wrapping my head around hiring someone to shoot these cats, i think doing nothing is basically breeding cat misery, which i think is unethical. we’ve already found a dead cat in the barn, two more are looking really worse for wear, and i want to believe that it’s possible to have a farm with only healthy and cared for animals (and people). plus while f. knows not to approach these cats, i can forsee a situation where a young city friend would come to visit and want to pet the cats here, thinking they’re just like the cat he or she has at home and getting, at best, clawed, at worse, rabies. we’ve been feeding them well, both Ursula’s milk and store-bought cat food, but we’re going to be processing more of the milk into cheese and anyways, we’d much rather the surplus go to a pig. the challenge, of course, is that i feel both the ‘doing something’ and ‘doing nothing’ are unethical. (any chance you want to adopt one or a dozen barn cats?)

on the bright side our four laying hens seem to be adjusting just fine to their new home.

 

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they quite like all the pasture pecking and scratching they get to do, and the calf that’s in that same pasture seems entertained by their presence.

 

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in the garden, i’ve been finding it pretty fascinating how much you have to kill in order to grow food. all the squiching of bugs, the trapping and drowning of insects, the agressive turning-on-of-sprinklers as animals enter the patch, etc. and of course, the sheer amount of work involved in vegetable growing is flabberghasting. on that note, i remember working a farmer’s market for friends who had just welcomed their babe into the world and having to justify the prices of their beautiful, fresh grown greens. i’m not sure how market gardeners do it without losing all faith in humanity, in the good of people. to work tirelessly, to grow organically, and to be met with « i could grow that myself for a quarter of the price! » also, i’m not sure folks of the veg persuasion appreciate all the work and killing that goes into growing their food.

 

*

 

it takes some effort, on these days off, to look around and see the beauty of these surroundings without just seeing all the work that needs doing. we usually end up leaving the farm to make sure we don’t end up fixing, painting, or building something. and i quite miss the city. it was good to go running down our old city blocks with kiddo yesterday. to visit 3 parks, see some friends, order espresso, and find all the forgotten trucks our old stomping ground can hide.

 

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my mozza morning.

 

At 32.5 degrees celcius, it is what I would qualify as ‘sweltering’ today. (This is, sadly, how I know I’m never going to be a true farmer. The thought of toiling in the vegetable patch under a blazing sun is unpleasant to me, and I just don’t see myself ever hoping for the hot days that are so beneficial to tomatoes, peppers and the like.  Sadly, cool windy days don’t really do much for gardens, I’d wager).

So it was the perfect day for our cheesemaking kit to arrive in the mail from Glengarry Cheesemaking.

We opted for mozzarella to be our first soft cheese, thinking it was the simplest.  But we cut corners a bit (which you shouldn’t do with cheese, probably) and we opted for a quicker recipe over the long one in the new cheesemaking book. This one called for citric acid, which we replaced with lemon juice.

It looked right

 

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and clumped nicely

 

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but even after being worked and kneaded in the whey, the balls still looked suspiciously like fresh cheese (the paneer we’ve been making for a while and are now tired of).

 

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Indeed. There was some rubbery squeak to them, but the cheese was still quite paneer-tasting.

 

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A bit deflating. Especially since we also noticed the lack of germinating bean seeds in the garden (and we planted A LOT of beans) shortly after the mozza fail.

 

We’ll try again tomorrow. With the full long recipe this time.

 

power tools, poison control and other lessons.

 

Sprouting tips have started coming up all over the garden. I feel as though I am witnessing a great springtime miracle. The potatoes are up, the sweet corn, the popcorn, the brassicas, the beans, the onions, the leeks, the beets, the winter squash. The summer squash and pumpkins, the peas and the basil. Plus the tomatoes survived the late transplant and the rains of the past few days mean that I get evenings off from running around, moving our single sprinkler around to make sure everything gets a good soak.

(on that note : having an « A » shaped garden makes it really hard to water. maybe there’s a reason people typically have rectangular shaped plots. 20/20 hindsight.)

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The grasses’ slow takeover is hard to keep up with but keeping up I am.

The fields that had been left bare have now been cultivated and seeded, the last of the kitchen wallpaper has been ripped off, and we’re keeping up with Ursula Franklin’s milk production. Busy and good days.

 

Some thoughts and lessons from the last few days.

 

1. there is such a thing as too frugal. sometimes you need to just get rid of rusty, old, bent nails.

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2. no matter how many times i see these pasture pumps, i’m still quite taken with how smart the technology is. the cattle essentially come to the pumps, see the bit of water pooled at the back and, in trying to drink it, they push the lever, which pumps more water into the trough portion.

 

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3. i too can make attractive looking butter.

 

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4. like human beings, cattle love shade on hot sunny days.

 

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5. sometimes, a kick in the ass is needed to DIY. you need to feel quite badly that the dairy cow has no shade to pick up some power tools (for the first time ever!) to build a shade structure some for her.

(and on that note : do me a favour, if there’s a kid in your life who might not otherwise learn how to work tools or machinery (and you do know), offer to teach them. i’d give a great deal to have the same tinker-confidence as the menfolk around here.)

 

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6. Even if you have had a very urban appreciation for animals (as pets), when you inherit 10+ barn cats, you become a bit more pragmatic (especially when a number of them have seen better days. and are in heat. and you spot a litter of kittens.)

 

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7. mixing seed by hand (because the folks seeding have run out and you need to rush to the store to shell out a big lump sum to get more and have it ready asap because the rains are coming) is a very esthetically pleasing process.

 

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8. sometimes you accidently purchase seed that’s been treated with a fungicide. and sometimes that seed will be spread all over the place. and sometimes your kid will put some in his mouth. having the number for poison control on your refrigerator is always a good idea (and man are those people awesome! courteous and quick help. having a few tele-health ontario fiasco phone calls under my belt, let me tell you, those poison control people are fast and pleasant).

 

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9. even if their boots have cracks in them and their feet instantly become really cold and mud-wet, kids will gallivant in a downpour, in the rain, through the puddles for as long as you’ll let them.

 

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10. even if you curse all the laundry that needs to get done (see number 9), you still think your clotheslines look really beautiful in the evening skies.

 

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butter.

 

In other news, we splurged on this fancy machine

 

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we spend a lot on butter (and occasionally find bite marks in our blocks given kiddo’s love for the fat), so butter making was a high priority.

 

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and P. just made our first batch.

 

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(that overpriced splash guard may be worth it after all).

 

urban longing.

 

(a short preamble : i always hesitate to write and share posts like these, the sadder more doubting kind. but given that our new lifestyle is so often romanticized — young farmers living the dream, going back to the land to raise children who know where their food comes from, who know how to tinker and fix things, who take time to breathe in the sweet pasture winds, who can identify trees and edible mushrooms — i figure the myth busting, like the story sharing, is a must.)

 

Some days i feel like this is one huge mistake.

A picture that a friend posted keeps coming back to me : he’s cycling on a sunny hintonburg street, pedaling a beautiful bakfiets with an adorable child in the bucket.

My life used to look like that. And how i love that esthetic. The beauty of a bicycle. The freedom of cycling to your destination. Of deciding on a whim to go stroll about with your kid. To a park maybe. Or to a meeting place. The satisfying edge of being urban alt, of critical and conscious urban living. And to raise a child to embody and appreciate these things too.

 

I just went for a quad ride last night to see the back acres (of our 270 acres) to see how far they got with the tilling and seeding today. Those back acres are FAR. They’re on a seldom used side road. Some kids were parked there and smoking up. That’s what kids do to smoke up in rural places, I guess. They drive somewhere where no one will see them and then they drive back home. THEY DRIVE BACK HOME. Stoned. City kids don’t have to do that. Some probably do but this one didn’t. The point is they can easily choose not to.

 

 

And some days are glorious, of course. But some, like this one, just start out too exhausted, too on edge, too overwhelmed and worried.

 

Our dairy cow has been losing weight. She’s been producing less milk also. She has her twin calves with her, who are, collectively, most likely drinking somewhere around twenty liters of milk, which isn’t a terribly high amount for a Jersey, but still. We’re trying to figure out what she needs to stay healthy. More oats, or some other grain, more minerals. While cows are meant to eat grass, dairy cows need more protein. Anyways, it makes me sad to see her thinned out. And exhausted as I am, I feel I look like that too. Which makes her plight all the sadder to me. Between that and what I feel are really crappy animal husbandry practices going on at the farm next door, and the numerous sickly barn cats we have on our hands, and the work, the work, the work, yet to be done, I’m longing for an urban night stroll right now. An urban anything, really.

 

I undoubtedly need more sleep and more play.