Life with Liz: Life with livestock
While I miss many, many things about growing up on the farm, the one thing I don’t miss is the cold weather. Murphy’s Law was at its finest on the coldest night of the year. The lower the temperatures, the more animals could be guaranteed to go into labor and deliver in the wee small hours of the morning. It was also a given that the births, which were complication free a good 95 percent of the time, would have something go wrong.
I can remember one night when I must have delivered five, or make that 10, lambs. Of course, each mama waited until I was finished with the previous one to decide to deliver, and they all had twins for good measure. That may not sound like much, but it amounted to half the flock and the entire night. It got to the point that I was hoping they needed intervention just so I could stick my frozen hands somewhere warm for just a minute.
Although it seemed like a cruel trick of nature: bringing a small, wet baby into such a frigid world, watching the instincts of the mother and the baby as they worked together for survival. It didn’t matter how cold it was, if the baby could get the mother’s colostrum into its belly within a few minutes of being born, its survival was pretty much guaranteed.
Although winter seemed like a harsh time to birth a baby, the cold helped keep things like infection at bay.
Colder weather also meant that the mornings I wanted to stay curled up in my nice warm, cozy bed as long as I could were the same mornings that I had to get up an extra 15 minutes early to chop ice out of water buckets. Even worse, when it was extremely cold, I had to have two or three sets of buckets in rotation to leave one in the barn and one set in the house to thaw out. There was no way I could get the full water bucket back out to the barn without spilling half of it all over myself.
Most of the animals were always a little friskier when it was brisk. Thanks to the internet, these days everyone can witness playful baby goats cavorting around the barn yard, but back in the pre-YouTube days, it was my own private spectacle. It was especially fun to watch them jump on the backs of the older, slower sheep who were smart enough to remain cuddled up and couldn’t be bothered to chase the youngsters off their backs.
While I’m sure I did my share of complaining about chores back in the day, now I remember them fondly. There was such a feeling of accomplishment that went along with bringing the final lamb of the season into the world, knowing that you helped do that, knowing that you fed and cared for the entire flock, knowing that without your help, they wouldn’t survive long on their own.
Having the farm also helped set priorities that most other kids didn’t have. I remember being late for a basketball game once because in between school dismissing and the report time to cheer at the basketball game, one of the goats had had a complicated delivery. I certainly wanted to help my pet and be at the Friday night basketball game, but there was no question in my mind which had to come first.
I stayed with her through it and got the kid on its feet, and then got cleaned up and into my cheerleading uniform. Luckily, my parents were able to drive me to the game, since I’d missed the bus, and as I got there, I could see the disapproving look on my coach’s face as I crossed the gym. When she said I’d better have a good excuse, I know she wasn’t prepared for me to tell her that I had to deliver a kid, and she had absolutely no response when I did.
My own kids are truly great about taking care of their pets. We’ve gone through what seems like a few hundred goldfish, and I place their shortened life span on just not being the hardiest animals out there, because my kids certainly made sure they were the most well-fed critters out there. Although Taco Cat is fairly low maintenance, her food bowl is always full, and one day, when I decided that the kids were going to take over the litter box duties, they did so without complaining and even had the decency to fight over who was going to get to do it, like it was a privilege or something.
I’m excited to expand their horizons beyond cats, chickens, fish and rabbits and introduce them to real livestock and real responsibilities.
They’re already spoiled with heated water buckets and are quite tired of hearing me complain about how when I was a kid, I had to carry buckets up hill both ways, and always ended up turning myself into a popsicle while doing it.
I’m going to enjoy watching their character develop as they lug a hay bale across the frozen tundra. I can’t wait to see them run out of the barn gagging the way I did when I was about 5 and witnessed my first live birth.
I also really can’t wait to stay curled up in bed for that extra 15 minutes and listen to them pull on all those extra layers and suit up to head out into the cold, not knowing what surprises might await them in the barn.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.