Saturday, October 29, 2011

Just another day on the farm

For reasons I will never really understand, my most memorable times on the farm have almost always occurred when it is either a Saturday morning or late at night or when Stephen is not at home. Or a combination of those. So of course, this morning being a Saturday and just as soon as Stephen left, I decided that would be an excellent time to have over our young lady who has been assisting us with fair preparations to do the grooming of Maxine. (aka shaving-for-the-first-time a 3 month old calf from head to hoof to the tip of her tail, and by first time I mean Maxine has never been shaved and Esther/I have never shaved a calf.) And yes, I have gotten in over my head with this whole fair thing, but we have reached the point of no return and so onward I go. Onward we go I should say. Or downward, really. Down, down, down….

Now let me assure you, I can give a mean buzz cut on a 6 year old boy. Even an almost 2 year old boy if he’s holding a lollypop. So how hard could it possibly be to give a buzz cut to a 200 pound calf? Exactly! ….next to impossible. 

I have to back up here and tell the not so exciting story of us bathing Maxine first. This was required before the clipping was to be done, and since it was a Saturday morning and Stephen was here, that part of this whole thing isn’t nearly as adventurous as the rest of my day. Not even close… in fact I would call it boring in comparison.

Tie up the calf, hose her down with water, rub in some dish soap, rinse, repeat, snap some photos, dry her off with a towel.

Bye-bye Daddy!.......OK, now let’s have some real fun.

Our faithful fair prep advisor Erin comes over a little before 11 am. I’m thinking this whole thing should be done in about an hours time. This was my first of many errors in thinking.

Erin pops open her tackle box full of grooming equipment and realizes that some plastic from the tackle box has melted on to the blade edge of the clippers. They are unusable in this state, so I start picking at the melted plastic with a knife while she and Esther gather up Maxine. Surely this is just a little bump in the road and we’ll be shaving in no time. 2nd error in thinking…but who’s counting.

Due to an extension cord issue, we made a quick (but critically wrong) decision to tie Maxine to a tree in our yard in order to have enough slack in the cord while we were grooming her instead of leaving her in the stall tied up. After all, Erin said she always tied her calves to a tree to groom them and they were fine.

Erin meet Maxine, Maxine meet Erin….

Maxine was not fine. In fact, Maxine decided this whole grooming thing was completely NOT part of her Saturday morning plans so she pulled right out of her halter (which was attached to a rope attached to the tree) and ran away.



Bucking and skipping and frolicking like she had been released from chains of bondage, she took off through our yard, through the cotton field, to the woods, back to the yard, back in the woods, back in the cotton… running. Mooing. Running again. 

Did I mention Stephen was not home? Did I mention he was 30 minutes drive from home?

Did I mention that Thomas-the-almost-2-year-old is also running and skipping and frolicking like he had been released from chains of bondage? And instead of mooing, he is yelling “BAH-BEAN! BAH-BEAN!” over and over and over and over……poor baby thought she’d head his calls and come right on home.

Let me make it very clear how difficult it was to attempt to catch a calf without any halter on. Have you ever tried to catch an animal that is running away from you? Its pretty near impossible. I remember trying to catch our puppy who ran down the road and never looked back. They dart in and out of places. They stop and sniff things for just a few seconds and you try to jump on them and they dart away. Well imagine that same scene…but with a 200 pound calf running from 2 women and 2 children.

The odds were pretty much against us.

Erin, Esther, Thomas and I could not get this calf to do anything we wanted her to do or go anywhere we wanted her to go. Maxine was looking at us like George H. Bush looked into the cameras in 1988 and said “Read my lips: not getting groomed today. Not gonna happen.”

Erin looked at me very seriously and said, “You can’t take her (Maxine) to the show like this. Esther has to be able to walk up to her and put her halter on her without her running away.”  I knew once again, I was in over my head.

So I called Stephen in my extreme panic mode and he responds like he always does when I’m in extreme panic mode…. extreme calm mode. And he always gives me simple and practical advice (Remember when I had to kill the snake and he told me to get the hoe and just “pick it up and put it down?”) He said there was nothing we could do except ignore her, walk back to the pasture, and hope she eventually comes back. And since I truly believed with all my heart there was simply no other alternative, I told the girls and Thomas what we were to do. I wanted to cry because I imagined losing yet another one of our animals. Its so hard on the kids and it has become something for me that is just more confirmation that I have no business doing what I’m doing out here.

So we walked back to the house and lo and behold she followed. I just kept saying, ignore her, ignore her…keep walking. We got all the way to the shed and I got the feed bucket with my free arm since I was carrying my 35 pound toddler with my other arm.

Everyone reading this knows that I’m 18 weeks pregnant with my fourth child, right? And that Stephen is NOT home? Just making sure we are all on the same page here.

I showed Maxine the bucket, walked into the pasture and threw the bucket down. Take it or leave it girlfriend. Well, girlfriend took it. And we slammed the gate behind her.

I started on the clippers again with the knife. I quietly told Erin that I needed to talk to Stephen about the final word on us going to the fair. If we could go ahead and do the grooming now, I would decide later if we were able to go. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell Esther that it was all over at this point. She, being the sweet and helpful person she is, said OK, no problem! But we still had the problem of the clippers not working.

Erin comes up with the idea of taking the blade off and dropping it in boiling water for a few minutes. I go inside to do that while she tries to find a replacement blade. It is after 12 o’clock  at this point. When I come in I find Gannett (oh yeah, I forgot about the 6 year old inside…oops) doing headstands on the couch. I told him quickly that I was very busy outside and I was sorry I hadn’t checked on him in an hour. He said, “Huh?” Nevermind. I started on my new project. Erin comes inside, the replacement blades don’t work. So the boiling idea has to work. It just has to. I am not ready to give up the dream yet.

By golly, the boiling water worked! The plastic peeled right off. Back in business.

I holler over my shoulder as I head out, “I’ll be outside if you need me Gannett”……OK he says….can I have whatever I want to eat? Sure, I say reluctantly….because I know Gannett-his idea of what is appropriate to eat can be sketchy. But the calf was bathed, caught against all odds, broken clippers were fixed miraculously…we are one week away from the fair…sure Gannett, knock yourself out.

We tied up Maxine securely in the pasture so that she wouldn’t have any escape routes. Erin and Esther fire up the clippers and get to work. I remember I have a toddler somewhere around here about the same time I hear muffled cries. Geez Lousie, what now???

I look around frantically and see tiny fingertips sticking out of the 4 ft deep HOLE the kids have been digging with post hole diggers for the past several days. Thomas has fallen in the hole. My baby is in a hole in my yard that my own children have dug. What kind of mother am I? When I ran to him, I found him feet down in the hole first, thank goodness.


At this point, who knows what poor Erin is thinking. I don’t think I really want to know. She helped me pull him out. He was covered in dirt and crying, but that was the extent of it.

Esther starts shoveling back in the dirt that was next to the hole, but it didn’t fill it completely back up. Turn over a 5 gallon bucket and set that in there…back to clipping.

We still hadn’t actually started!

Erin showed Esther how to start, and off she went. Holding that heavy set of giant clippers like a pro. Maxine stood as still as can be. Not one problem at all. Esther was grooming her as if she had done it her whole life. I was so impressed and so proud that my 8 year old daughter was doing this. As I watched her, I realized that throughout this entire morning, which began at 9am with the bath, and through all the ordeals we had just been through…she had not complained one time. She hadn’t threatened to quit, she hadn’t even asked to go inside to get a drink. She hadn’t taken a break. She hadn’t even asked for a break! And here she was, shaving her calf and listening to Erin’s instructions, asking questions and persevering through a process that to most 8 year olds would be way too much work.

Shoot, for me this was way too much work. Believe me, if I was the little 8 year old girl, I would have been back in that warm house in no time, towel thrown in and all.

Esther has always been a hard worker and has always sought out jobs that are truthfully too difficult for her. But she will impress you with her determination, her competency, and her attitude. And I was so proud of her I wanted to cry.

No wonder things were going so well, Stephen was just pulling in the drive!

So I took this opportunity to go inside and get some drinks for Erin and Esther. They were almost done with the grooming but it was also almost 2pm. None of us had eaten lunch, Thomas was an hour late for his nap, and I saw a jar of peanut butter and a salt shaker out on the counter.

Gannett, what did you make yourself to eat?

A peanut butter and salt sandwich, he says.

What did I tell you? His food choices are shady. But he was smiling, so for a kid who had basically been on his own for several hours in the house, I decided if that’s the worst he did during this entire time, I was counting my lucky stars.

They finished grooming about 2:15. Esther came inside with a smile and said, “I’m going to go get a shower, wash all this calf hair off of me, change my clothes, and get IN BED!” I had to remind her she hadn’t eaten lunch yet.

Well this story has gone on too long, and I’m tired of typing. At this point, we are still going to the fair, with one thing that everyone agrees on: Stephen doesn’t leave the dairy barn at any time for any reason. Period. Double period.