It’s either soul-crushing or wing-soaring around here. With all these sentient creatures, there are no regular days. As I’ve said before, you either want to put everything you can’t bury on Craigslist and move to a condo, or you want to double (triple?!) the size of your farm. There are no medium temperatures.
But in the spirit of life lived hard, and dedicated to a few girlfriends who really feel they aren’t having the hottest year on the ranch, here are the Top Six (Buckets) Moments So Far, where farming made me feel like I could disarm a nuclear weapon if I had to. (And you can, too!) :
Buying hay. It was 2011 and the day Rose the Goat came home to roost. We had to feed her, so I drove my new-to-me 1987 Dodge truck to a farmer down the road who loaded me up with hay. I remember I just stood there as he threw bales at me from the loft in his barn. And then I drove home. Hay flying everywhere. Elbow resting out of the window. Feet BARELY reaching the pedals. This ain’t no Harvestfest hayride, people. I’ve got MOUTHS to feed!
Bad. Ass. To the MAX.
SHOTS!: The first few weeks of Rose the Goat, I was blissfully unaware that livestock required occasional medical treatment or vaccines. I was under the assumption that a veterinarian would assist should problems arise. But one day we brought home a baby companion doeling for Rose that died in 24 hours, and I was sent into Turboshock Reality that vets were expensive, never available in the middle of the night, and if they were, they knew nothing about goats. I was out here on my own. It was up to me to tend to my ladies’ needs and keep them un-dead. So I had to learn how to give an animal a shot. Like, with a needle! Into their bodies!!!
It’s very intimidating to poke a needle into an innocent animal. Even when they need it. I remember standing out in the field, hemming and hawing to myself, with poor Rosie pinned up against the side of her hut for an hour or more until, at some point, I grew a pair. I pinched a fold of her skin and injected medication inside. Sub-Q injection for the win! Farming is easy!!!! Bring me a scalpel!
I have to put that where?? Things got a little more real with the addition of pigs and cattle. Particularly, the kind we weren’t going to eat in 6 months, but rather, the kind we would keep. Healthy. And impregnate. But damned if I’m not overconfident enough to buy a tank of liquid nitrogen, order frozen semen, thaw it in a complicated series of steps that involved a stopwatch, put it in a corkscrew-shaped straw and shove it into a pig’s hoo-ha. In all honesty, this part was not actually that big of a deal, but when my pig GAVE BIRTH to babies from A STRAW OF FROZEN SEMEN I PUT IN THERE, I was all flag-waving in my sports bra, screaming “AMERICUHHHH!” to Possum Street passers-by for like five days.
Not the fun kind of Tubing. Much of a man’s character is built by shoving tubes of stuff into animals. I was caring for my friend’s sick baby goat when it became apparent that this kid was not suckling, and would die if it didn’t get some nutrients in its belly. After a lesson from a friend and professional baby-goat tuber, I found myself alone in my bathroom with an animal that needed milk to live but could not drink it. And a long piece of plastic. With tubing, if you miss the stomach, you hit the lungs, drowning the goat instantly. No pressure, farmer newbie.
The audible contrast between a tube stuck in the lungs and a tube stuck in the stomach is not as stark as I would like, but eventually, I worked up the courage to pour the milk in. And the goat didn’t drown. She lived! I just saw her alive earlier today! You’re welcome, universe!
Feedstore Cred. Sometimes saving or fathering baby animals doesn’t feel as good as getting acknowledged by your peer group. I’ll never forget the moment I pulled into the co-op drive through, and the feed guy took my signed receipt and said, “Now that’s the sign of a true farmer.” I had no idea what he was talking about (“One who buys feed with a credit card?!”) until he pointed his clipboard toward the semen tank buckled into the passenger seat. I can’t remember who the lucky swine lady was that day, but the whole scene was not even staged! I had an actual AI tank in my vehicle! I don’t know if he was mocking me or what, but in my euphoria, I sat 7’2” in my “true farmer” minivan. Nod to the ladies in town as you pass them on the street, won’tcha?
Tail blood. The most intimidating thing I’ve done so far is to locate the elusive vein inside a cow’s tail. Those familiar with anatomy know that a cow’s tail is toward the business end, home to all sorts of blunt trauma and biohazards. Standing behind a cow while stabbing her with a needle? Well … It goes against everything I’ve ever been told … from being a kid at the fair to milking Claire when she first arrived. DO NOT STAND BEHIND THE COW OR YOU WILL GET KICKED AND DIE. But there I was on Sunday, needle in hand, holding her tail straight up in the air and praying to Jesus that my last moments on Earth would not be spent estimating where, exactly, was 3 to 6 inches up from a cow’s butthole. After agonizing about placement until my arm went numb, I stuck the needle in, saw red and came racing inside to show Seth 2 ccs of actual bovine blood.
I had done it.
I am a miracle!!!!!!!!!
All this, and I haven’t even mentioned the 13 piglet testicles that I have removed — surgically. Or the horn buds that I have burned off with a red-hot iron.
There are cowboy moments, girls. We forget these as we’re digging holes for something we’ve just watch die, or as we’re diving into thorny mud piles to retrieve escaped piglets. Or as our cow comes back into heat for the 15th time or as we, you know, are panic-searching open wounds for that missing pig testicle.
It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come and how much we can tolerate. We are tough old birds. Stew chickens, basically.
We can achieve everything.
Up next: A list of sentient creatures I have killed. And not even on purpose.