Making Hay

Week of October 25th, 2009 | The weather was gray & rainy.

I may not always be there, but I've still got it

By Sarah Holm

One extremely cute calf.

One extremely cute calf.

"Define Selective Incorporation," my laptop screen flashed at me. I sighed and looked out of the student mall café window at the drizzly campus lawn. I wish I was outside, I thought, as I tapped my pen against my pile of textbooks. But looking at the students rushing through the cold air from building to building with their shoulders hunched up and hands deep in their pockets made me change my mind. At least it was warm in here. "Define the Gender Gap," my screen demanded. Slightly annoyed, I reached to answer the question for what seemed to be the hundredth time when a loud buzzing noise made me jump.

I scrambled through my papers and found my irately buzzing cell-phone. I normally hate talking on the phone, but I was getting tired of studying for this exam. Anything was a welcome break. "Hello?" Dad's voice came over the line faintly, crackling in and out. "Hey! Sarah? How's college going?"

My mom and the baby Daniel, Laura, Andrea and Erika were out of town, so only Mary and Rachel and my cousin Rebecca were at home. Dad was experiencing some delays at work, and he wanted to know if I could go home for barn chores. "Sure," I said, actually quite happy. "Let me finish up my work first and then I'll go home and help them. They ought to be able to get a good head start."

An hour later I pulled into the driveway of our farm. As I drove past one of the pastures I looked at the cows. It was an odd feeling for me not to be able to know immediately which cows were dry and which were milking. I started to realize how long a week is when it comes to farming. So many things happen and so many changes are made, that I can feel like I haven't gone to the barn for a month. Getting out of the truck and carrying my things to the house I could hear the milkers running in the barn. It was amazing to think that only three young girls, ages eleven, twelve and thirteen, were out there milking thirty five Jersey cows.

I hadn't eaten for several hours so as soon as I got in the house I threw a couple eggs in a pan and let them cook while I put away my things and changed into my barn clothes. After I laced my boots up, I ate my eggs quick, threw a sweater on and ran through the rain to the barn.

I must have smelled like eggs, because as soon as I stepped into the warm barn, I was attacked by a tribe of cats and the dog. "Sarah!" cried Mary, Rachel and Becca and they ran over to give me smelly wet hugs. I tried to reciprocate the hugs, but had to keep pulling cats off of my pant legs. Puppy shoved his muddy body against mine and almost knocked me over. I almost stepped on a kitten, and then almost stepped on five others. After I had regained my balance, I took in the pack of screeching felines. I had never seen so many shapes and sizes of cats in my life. "Meow!!!" they screamed at me in chorus. Slightly deafened, I turned to the girls. "Holy cow," I said, stunned, "How many cats do we have?" "Twenty-four," Rachel said matter-of-factly. Since when did that happen? I thought and looked up to assess the cows. Only one milker was on a cow at the end of the milk line, and half the cows were outside again already. "Hang on," I said slowly in astonishment, "You guys got all the cows milked? By yourselves?" The last I had known, Mary and Rachel didn't even know how to set up or take down the milkhouse equipment.

"Yep!" they all grinned and tried to convince me to go back in the house so they could say they did chores by themselves. They finally let me stay though, after I promised not to tell anyone I helped.

My part of chores was rather interesting. Since I didn't know exactly what was going on, I got to be ordered around by my little sisters. They naturally took advantage of the situation and gave me all the jobs they disliked the most. I didn't mind. I was proud of them, and it was all rather amusing.

Just as I was beginning to feel outdated to the point of needing to be replaced, Dad called. I needed to set up some water tanks for the dry cows. "Hey Sarah," Rachel said coming out of the breezeway as I hung up the phone, "You go feed the littlest calf that is in the youngstock shed." "Okay," I said, "but I have to do some things first."

I walked out behind the youngstock shed through the cold rain with ten cats at my heels. "Meow!" the kittens cried as they got stuck in the mud. The cats finally gave up and disappeared, I presumed to the shelter of the shed. I dragged the tank into position and hooked the hose up. Then I followed the hose to the Y hook up and turned it on. I walked back to the tank to check the water flow. No water. Hmm, I thought, maybe the water in the youngstock shed is off.

I slipped through the wet sand and over the fence to the shed. A mass of enormous hay bales reared up before me, blocking the way to the spigot. Hey, I thought, I didn't know Dad had bought hay for winter already. I eyed the bales. Over there was a dark spot that must be where I could get to the spigot. The cats had found me again. They meowed and did their best to trip me as I walked to the small crack. I reached in as far as I could, but I couldn't reach anything. I jammed my hat down farther over my ears and pushed my way in between the bales. My hands groped around in the dark until they found the spigot, and I tried to remember which hose went where. I fiddled around with it some until I was sure it was on, and then squirmed out of the passage. I emerged from the bales and while trying to brush the hay off, almost twisted my ankle on a cat.

I walked back to the water tank. Still no water. Shucks. What am I doing wrong? I followed the hose to the Y again. There was my problem. The hoses were twisted and I had turned the water flow to the wrong hose. Feeling rather silly, I fixed it and was rewarded by the sound of water flowing into the tank.

Then it was time to feed the calves. Since I was no longer able to go to the barn, Dad had bought two mob feeders so we wouldn't have to feed bottles by hand. The mob feeders are kind of like big buckets with nipples at the bottom. "Here Sarah!" said Mary as I came into the milkhouse, "You can carry the milk." Have you ever tried to carry two brim-full five gallon buckets of milk past two dozen cats? It is not easy.

Mary set the feeder up and I went to pour a bucket of milk into it. "No Sarah! Stop!" she yelled, "You can't put it in yet, wait for the calves!" I tried to set the bucket down carefully, but a cat got in the way and I ended up filling my left boot with milk.

So my capable little sister ran off with her cousin to get the calves and I was left behind to guard the milk from the cats. I stood there in the rain, feeling rather foolish. It was hard to get used to. Here I was making all these silly mistakes, and my little sisters were running the place..

The calves stampeded past the gate several times while the girls chased them. I quickly got tired of standing in the rain and watching the girls chase the calves. I moved the mob feeder, making sure I made a lot of noise with it. The calves stopped their shenanigans and looked up. I put my hand inside the feeder and banged it around. It made a loud clanking sound that carried up the hill to the calves. With a few joyful kicks, they came running down the hill and right up to the feeder.

I laughed at the wet girls who came following after the calves. I felt better now. I may not be as involved as I used to be, but I haven't forgotten all the tricks I've learned.

Farm Fact: The mother cow makes a very special milk for her calf that is called colostrum. Colostrum has extra vitamins and protein and is very good for the calf. A young female cow is called a heifer and a male is called a bull.

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