Tag Archives: agriculture

What is it about cows, anyway?

What is it about cows, anyway?
Something about their lumbering grace
Their propensity for grazing on the
side of hills, or just outside the fence.
Their limpid curiosity, or the hint of feistiness displayed
in a bit of a buck and a running start
to where?
Another patch of grass. The watering hole.

Is it a barnyard full of pungent muck?
Is it the way their great tongues would deftly scrape up the
chop my dad laid out for them
on the flatbed trailer in wintertime?
Is it tiny calves riding in the
passenger seat to the vet in Ogema,
with me in the middle?

Is it old Bossy and Lulabelle (a hard milker),
cows I never knew, but they lived on the farm before I did,
they called the same view home and
they were acquainted with my dad
long before I was ever thought of,
and I feel like I know them personally?
Their names live on at the farm, even with the barn long since burned down.
Their spirits must be here too, still.

Boss outside
Not our Bossy, this is another Boss, a Jersey from Arvid’s place, one of the last known milk cows within a 50 mile radius.

Is it that dairy barn in northern Iceland? Full of those Viking cows all
jostling together in an overwhelming mix of manure,
clattering hooves,bellows, and improbably, gallons and gallons of
rich, white milk that made the best
butter and cheese I’ve ever tasted?

Is it that time I drove into Alberta on the back roads,
nothing but me, the open graze land, the cattle, and the road?
Was it that time I was rambling (with permission) through
a badlands pasture when some skittish Black Angus steer
decided to spook and set the whole herd thundering away,
so that I’m sure I felt the ground shake?

Is it that time in rural eastern Quebec,
close to the border with New Brunswick
when traffic on the highway was halted while
some naughty runaway cattle were chased back home?
Or how about that time south of Val Marie when I had to slow
to a crawl behind about fifty head, two ranchers on ATVs
and their Border Collie (who rode on the ATV)?

Calf
One of Stacy’s calves.

Is it all the times I went with Dad, sometimes just me and him,
other times Janelle and Mom crammed into the
maroon Ford pickup too, up to old Joe’s pasture
to check on the cattle, when it always seemed to be
the golden hour and we bumped our heads on the roof of the truck
as it rumbled and crawled over those southern hills?

Is it how when I was a little girl they were always there,
part of my life and the landscape as much as the sun or stars?
Is it because they were the “moos,” as Janelle called them,
and you could hear them day and night
going about their lives, just out there in the barnyard
(still called that even though the barn was 15 years burned?)

i00642
A Hereford bull somewhere in the Big Muddy, seemingly relaxed.

Is it that vague memory I have of a golden morning years ago
before school when some neighbours did a roundup and the cows
went galloping past the farm, down the road and in the ditches,
urged on by horses and riders wearing cowboy hats?
(that really happened, didn’t it? Or was it a dream?)

Is it Charlie, the black and white Holstein,
or Friendly, the good-tempered Charolais,
or perhaps all those curly forelocked red-coated Herefords,
or the calves I named after my cousins,
that made up our moteley herd?

I don’t know what it is about cows, but there’s just something, isn’t there?

Angus
A well-tended herd with a well-developed capacity for curiosity,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gleaning

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.”
                                                                                                                             – Leviticus 23:22
Glean
1. to gather slowly and laboriously, bit by bit.

2. to gather (grain or the like) after the reapers or regular gatherers.

3.to learn, discover, or find out, usually little by little or slowly.

4. to collect or gather anything little by little or slowly.

5. to gather what is left by reapers.

All life is a gleaning, especially when you’re a Virgo.
In the Middle Ages, when all agricultural work was done by hard labour, it was the women and children’s job to go out into the fields and glean. Every grain was precious in those famine-ready times. Nowadays, giant machines can do in one day what once took weeks. But still, there are gleanings left behind. No women and children out gathering them, except for me today.
Born in an exceptional year when harvest was already done (drought), I am nevertheless borne of the harvest season and so every year on my birthday I go out to gather my own small harvest. I like to have a bit of wheat around the house, if only  for decorative and symbolic purposes. I take only a tiny amount from the field – that which stands at the fringes, or was missed by the swipe of the combine. There will be lots left for the geese when they come in their huge flocks next month. They are master gleaners. For them, like it was for medieval peasants, gleaning is a matter of survival.
For me it is nothing more than a past-time. A bit of a hobby. I’ve been fortunate to always be well fed. I work hard, yes, but not in the way the medieval peasants worked. I do not toil from dawn ’til dusk.
But even in this easy society I found myself born into, I have come to realise that all of life is work, or at least it should be. It’s a constant gleaning, a continuous methodical gathering of information, of facts, of flotsam, of flashes of insight. It is about taking the time to bend and stoop and squint and figure out what is good and what is not. To not take everything, but to leave some behind, for the geese, for the wind, for the earth to break down and absorb. For the poor and the travellers. To glean is to find out who you are and what it means to be you in this world. And to try to be the best you can be.
Wheat
On the ripe. August 12, 2015.
Gleanings on the home quarter. September 16, 2015.
Gleanings on the home quarter. September 16, 2015.

Farming by the Light of the Moon

Image

Waxing moon. Kristin Catherwood. September 15, 2013.

 I recently came across a treasure trove of farming folklore related to the lunar cycles in the R.M. of Key West’s local history book. The folklore was embedded within the Dewey Johnson family history. Henry “Dewey” Johnson was born in 1898 in Selby, South Dakota. He married Leoda Baird, born 1899 in North Dakota. The family history mentions that both of Leoda’s parents “wore guns because of the outlaw Jesse brothers and others who rode through there.” Dewey immigrated to the Ogema district in 1910 where he helped his brothers with their well digging outfit. In this job he “used a willow to witch for water veins.” Dewey and Leoda raised their family in the Ogema district, and their descendants live there still. At the end of their family history, Dewey included this store of farming advice timed to the lunar cycles.

“In an effort to improve productivity, Dewey and Lee were always aware of growing conditions relating to time of year, degree of moisture, methods of tillage, as well as the phase of the moon.

Through constant experimenting and noting results, they arrived at some definite conclusions which assisted them in their day-to-day activities.

Of particular note were the moon phases. They concluded that to promote life, activity should be performed in the light of the moon, preferably two days after the start of the ‘new moon’ phase – i.e.:

1)      Transplant all plants in the ‘new moon.’ (Note: most nursery trees have a clipped branch clipped on NORTH side of the tree, plant with this to the NORTH.)

2)      Wean and castrate animals in the ‘New Moon’ (Note: Dogs are more gentle, pigs don’t have scabby backs or droopy tails and young animals develop better)

3)      Plant vegetables which bear fruit above ground (i.e. peas, beans)

4)      Swath crop in the ‘new moon (even if green, it fills and ripens in the swath – peel back the hull and if starting to ripen, swath now in the new moon)

5)      Pick vegetables and fruit in the ‘new moon’ (they are crisper and sweeter)

6)      Butcher in the ‘new moon’ (meat is tender and will not shrink and splatter when cooked)

DARK of the moon – last three days of last quarter.

1)      Prepare ground for garden and field (kill weeds)

2)      Spray hard to kill weeds (sow thistle, dandelion, wild oats, mustard)

3)      Plant vegetables which produce underground (i.e. potatoes, carrots).*

 

*Johnson, Henry “Dewey.” 1982. Prairie Grass to Golden Grain, Ogema and District Historical Society, Ogema. 138-139.