We had a date. Just my husband and I. Off to check cows.
I would check cows. He came along to see how his wheat fields were looking.
As we came over the hill to the first windmill I was telling him how I had set the break on the windmill so it wasn’t pumping all the time. Just the solar pump with a float so it would shut off when not needed was going. No point in pumping water that wasn’t needed when the cows weren’t drinking out of it anymore.
And there they were. A large bunch of cows laying alongside the tank. Just to prove me wrong. We adjusted the float, checked things out, and continued on to the tank they were supposed to be drinking out of.
There we found the rest of the herd gathered around a slightly muddy tank. Not a drop of water.
The windmill was just repaired barely a week ago. And here it was broken in a new way.
We scrounged through the pickup for my usual windmill repair tools. Fence stretchers, fence pliers, and a regular pair of pliers. It took a bit to convince my husband that fence stretchers will work to pull the rod up out of the windmill enough to reattach it. He’s used to working with real and proper tools.
I found the chain that had been attached, before they ‘fixed’ it and thought we could use that to hook things back together. He doubted my ingenuity and went looking for better. For lack of a large washer he found the piece that used to hold the spare tire on my pickup, up underneath the box. It had broken off one day this summer. At another windmill luckily. I went to check it and there was a tire laying there that I swore I hadn’t even seen there before. Turns out it was from my pickup and had fallen off at just the right place. Now it would work to hold the windmill together.
Holding my set of pliers as he turned the bold with the fence pliers I held to close to the joint. They slipped off and I pinched my finger. Cussing the newly forming blood blister I went back to holding. Then realized I was holding in the same place again. That was stupid of me I thought. As the pliers slipped again and I pinched the other finger. Not as bad this time. That was brilliant.
As we worked Ghost and another cow who had eaten from my hand for the first time last time I was there were begging frantically for food from outside the windmill frame. When I had a moment I gave them some of the cake I had brought along. The new cow hasn’t learned manners yet. She chomped down enthusiastically on yet another finger. The bruising began immediately under the nail.
My hands hurt!
When I turned around my husband was gone. Weird. I thought he had been standing right behind me. He must have gone to the pickup. I gathered a few things and carried them back with me. He wasn’t there. Where could he have gotten off to?
Finally I looked up.
He had climbed the windmill! No breezes were coming along to turn it for us so we could check our repairs so he was tuning it manually. Needs must, make do or do without, and all that. There’s always a way to get the job done when you don’t want to make the rather impressive drive in there to the middle of nowhere again.
It looked good. Guess I’ll find out for sure tomorrow when I make the drive again.
It was perfectly still.
With the fourwheeler shut off the silence echoed in my ears. It was overwhelming, nearly deafening. The absolute lack of sound came as a shock. We get so used to noise in our modern lives. The hum of electronics, radios droning on, people, vehicles. I stood for a moment and listened. I remember thinking how there wasn’t even wind through the few scraggly trees.
It’s my favorite old house. The one I would choose to live in if I could pick any of the houses on the place.The practicalities of modern living make that impossible of course. As much as the completely fallen down state of the house. There’s no road in, no electricity, no hope of internet. Just a house sat out in the middle of a pasture. The roof is gone. So is the floor. Walking upstairs would be suicide, even though the stairs are technically there.
Not too long ago the carcass of a yearling bull had hung from the floor joists. He had found his way in through a missing wall or maybe the door. A part of the house has a cellar. The floor wasn’t enough to hold his weight. With front and hind legs on opposite sides of the joist I will hope that his back was broke when the legs went through. If not, he hung there until he died, fragments of skin held the skeleton there as a grim reminder not to take chances with a falling down house.
Now his bones shine white under the house.
Shaking off the eerie stillness I went back to work. My job was to keep any more cattle from sharing the young bulls fate. We wanted to make use of the grass growing around the house, but keep cattle out of the house. One wall is gone and one door easily accessible. I had to fence them out. Walking about the house, hammering and stretching wire, I looked down and saw a penny! Picking it up I recognized a design no longer used. Peering through the pattena I thought I saw 1929. Excited by my find, but busy at work, I slipped it into my pocket, it could be cleaned up and inspected closer when I was done.
As I nailed wire to the house bits of plaster and dirt rained down on my head. It made me keep a wary eye out above. As the walls begin to bulge out at odd angles it’s easy to imagine the whole thing coming down on my head. More and more pieces of trim and eaves are being scattered across the ground with every wind storm. This beautiful old house only has a short time left. There’s not enough left there to save.
Once home I was telling my husband about fencing out the house. About the silence there. How everywhere else I traveled through the day, fixing fence and moving cattle there had been the noise of wind, cattle lowing, distant traffic. But not there. There had been silence.
Which reminded me of my penny!
Excitedly I dug into my pocket to show him. Searching the depths I found only lint. Then the other pockets just to be sure. Nothing.
They kept it, he said.
We ran out of milk over the weekend.
Driving clear into town for a jug of milk was more effort than I was willing to put in on an already busy weekend. After all, we have a milk cow sitting out here in the corrals. Why not make use of her?
Not that she isn’t already working hard raising a couple calves.
Women are well capable of multi tasking. So I separated the calves for the day. She enjoyed a break from the kids, hanging out and eating in peace and quite. They may have called for her a little as the day went on but she never even came back to the gate to check on them.
That evening I went out to milk her. She came running and didn’t lift her head from her grain even though she hadn’t been milked since spring.
My husband, dutiful but reluctant, came along and gagged in disgust after he mentioned how foamy the fresh milk was and I drug a finger through it, licking the foam off enthusiastically.
Back inside the kids were excited about fresh milk and worked together to make absolutely delicious caramel with the milk striaght from their cow.
The next morning I got the bowl of milk out and set it on the table for breakfast. Ladling it over the cereal was easier than finding a pitcher. Yummy. Milk fresh from the cow!
How could I expect those same poor children to actually ingest milk that didn’t come from a grocery store out of a jug! A reminder that this was the same milk they made caramel from the night before didn’t help anything. That was ‘different’.
Being hungry enough to force down cereal covered in fresh milk didn’t mean they were hungry enough to enjoy it. There they sat all through the meal. Faces turned down in looks of total revulsion. The cereal was eaten if not cleaned up completely.
They walked out the door to school ordering me not to eat the rest of the caramel while they were gone. The double standards are amazing.
It was just a few calves. Surely we could do it ourselves.
The new bottle calves needed their vaccines. One had been sick since we got him. With care he was feeling better but now a second one was breathing hard. It’s hot and dry out.Nothing is enjoying this weather. Better to prevent any more sick as soon as possible to give the calves the best chance.
In the morning after feeding, while the skies were still over cast, the humidity stifling but the heat not awful yet, we ran the calves into the barn.
The children helped get them in with a combination of luring and pushing, mixed with lots of randomly wandering off in circles or the opposite direction away from calve and shed. In the end we corralled them. They went happily into the alley way and we got to work.
There were spider webs. They strongly dampened one child’s desire to help push calves up the alley into the chute. She said she’d help me up front instead. That was fine, she could give the nasal shot. The prospect of that nearly sent her back down the spider web infested alley. In the end she decided she could handle filling the vaccine guns.
My son didn’t mind spider webs. He was gungho to get those calves up the chute.
He pushed calves. We gave the shots. It was all going very well. He needed a little help once in awhile. The calves were very young and also very quiet. They often didn’t feel the need to move. No problem, I could help out a bit.
As we worked one calf over he wandered out to look at the calves in the pen we were letting them out to. Quickly he returned with wonderful news. I hadn’t made sure all the gates were shut before letting the calves out that way! Oh joy. Only two of the previously worked calves were where they were supposed to be. Luckily one more was only partially out. In the wrong pen, not clear out into the yard. He shut the gates. We continued with the remaining calves.
I pushed the last of the calves into the chute. They were the smallest and wanted to plant front feet which worked very well to hold the firmly in place. My daughter was persuaded to give the final nasal dose. We were done. Now time to worry about those wandering calves.
Just then my son popped his head in. He had gotten them! He informed us happily. I admit to having some doubt and went to count heads for myself. Sure enough. All the calves were there. He had gotten them in all by himself.
Calves got worked and will hopefully stay healthy. That is the least of the days accomplishments. The children got worked and learned some important life lessons. They accomplished a job, a real adult type of job. They each performed a task that they didn’t think they could do, preparing medication and getting calves in. They were out there doing it. Even if working with cattle isn’t something they decide to do for the rest of their lives, these accomplishments are a foundation upon which self sufficiency and confidence are built. Whatever the job that needs done, they are capable of doing it. If they just try.
The Goblin Child was playing with one of the calves when I got there. Laughing and giggling as her fingers got sucked on, she was as happy as the kids always are to play with calves. Once I finally forced the children out there.
We laughed and talked about how cute and gross the calves are for a bit. Then I looked at the rest of them. My count came up short one. A second and third count showed the same. With two gates to get through to get out of the barn it didn’t seem possible. We searched the barn. Then counted again. Still one short.
Outside I sent the kids to walk through the tree row while I drove a 4wheeler to look across the big open fields. Maybe he had just gotten out and would be visible as he ran across one.
I knew exactly which calf it was. They had all gotten ear tags the night before. We had named this one Styx. This morning he had refused a bottle. His voice was hoarse from calling for his mom. Not being able to raise him didn’t mean she hadn’t been a good mom, while she did have him. He wanted her back. Of all the calves he was the one who wasn’t beginning to recognize us as the food source and a good thing.
I was positive he was long gone. Running the way scared calves do, blindly and full out.
It made me sick. I knew it was all my fault, no blaming the kids on this one. After feeding I had carried the feeder out of the barn, then gotten caught up in other things. I was the one who hadn’t remembered to carefully lock both the gates.
We searched all morning. I spent the time asking God to take care of of the poor little calf. Whether that meant us finding him or him finding a herd of cows. He didn’t deserve this. Then we had to leave, go to town. Hurrying home we searched the rest of the afternoon. Not that we had any chance of seeing him if he was laying in the yard. A small black calf in a shaded spot would be as invisible as nature intended them to be. Hidden from us as well as predators. In cooler weather a calf can hide for a couple of days and live.
In this heat, without having had breakfast for sure, maybe no supper the night before, he had little hope. Laying in shade, maybe. If he had taken off running, not a chance. Maybe Styx was a bad name choice.
That evening we took milk out to the remaining calves. Finally accepting the smaller number, we mixed enough milk for what was left. They slurped happily at their milk. The children squealed and giggled as calves chased them around wanting a bottle. The ruckus was loud and enthusiastic. Then I had to step out the barn door for some reason.
Out the door I happened to glance up, and there was a calf in the middle of the drive!
It took a bit of looking to realize it was indeed a calf. Then my beleaguered brain had to spend some time trying to figure out how another one of the calves from the barn could have gotten outside. It was a few moments before I realized this was our missing calf!
All day while we drove all over, while we walked through the trees, while we had to have walked right past him a few times, he had been laying there. Perfectly still he blended and stayed invisible, just like calves are supposed to do. It must have been the sound of the other calves getting their meal that drew him out of hiding.
He was curious, but not brave enough to come up to me.
I yelled for a child to come help. Then sent him around behind the calf, to help push him towards me. We herded the calf towards the door to the barn. The calf shot out the side. We cornered him against a gate. My soon opened the gate. I tried to push the calf through.
The calf couldn’t resist the bottle any longer. He latched on and was not letting go.
We lead him back into the barn to join the others. His reluctance to eat from the bottle was gone. He was starving. The bottle got handed to a child while I ran into the house for more milk. Our prodigal son had returned.
My prayers had been answered. God is good.