Farm To Farm
by Spec MacQuayde, March 17, 2010
Saturday morning was foggy on the valley floor, but there was heavy frost up in the hills according to some of the folks who drop into town for coffee in the mornings. After the nice rain, I didn't want to venture out to the apple orchards where my 12-year-old and I have been pruning limbs back to make way for cutting hay in May. I didn't want to make tracks, so we shot the bull through the morning, and in the afternoon my son fired up his weedeater while I cleaned up kid stuff around the trampoline.
The previous afternoon my younger boys had constructed a glider airplane that generated electricity, they said. It was a piece of galvanized metal folded like a wing, nailed to redwood 1x8 board or something. The cut hardwire was stapled to the redwood, attached to an outlet harvested from some disintegrated building. It was in the middle of the driveway. I tried to park this latest invention along with all the bikes and trikes in the “kid barn” next to the trampoline while the weedeater buzzed. Then I threw the junk over the fence, into the scrap heap.
For years I have gloated that all my weedeaters have four hooves. In the spring I take heifers or steers and tether them to fence posts or farm implements around our parking lot and driveway, letting them graze a certain radius every day and taming them in the process. The whole deal makes sense except maybe you don't want greasy cowpies next to the trampoline when the other single parents of Anderson Valley are dropping their kids off at the farm for the afternoon.
Some of the parents who stop by the farm aren't even single. They're still married. I don't know how they've managed to keep it together in today's economic and psychological hell, but more power to them. Either way, they don't want their kids jumping off the trampoline in stocking feet and landing in cowpies. Cowpies this time of year are not even pies. They're more like green custard.
So when my 12-year-old son bought his own weedeater I took over the job of clearing all the clutter. I discovered tools that had been missing for months, in addition to mystery items that only a six year-old could explain, like a five-eigths inch drill bit stuck into a redwood 4x4 that was crammed into the end of a 4- inch aluminum pipe, somehow.
I actually took a nap while my son ran the little two cycle motor/weedeater around the trampoline. He dutifully wore his safety goggles. I could rest assured, hearing the existential hum. Work was being done, work that needed to happen. I discovered last spring that there's another good reason to use a gas-powered string trimmer around the trampoline instead of having the lush grass grazed: when steers graze under the trampoline they tend to lift it up, stretching the fabric with their skulls and horns. Not to mention that it is a mistake to tether a steer to a trampoline, unless you are okay with seeing it migrate like a turtle.
Evening chores started an hour earlier on Saturday night, in anticipation of Daylight Savings Time which invaded the countryside like Nazis on the march on Sunday morning. I got the cows milked before total pitch darkness for the first time since October, and enjoyed a few episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show” with my 12-year-old. It's from a DVD titled, “The Best of Barney.” Every time I send my son to the AV video market in Boonville to retrieve the Blues Brothers or Monty Python he comes home with some Don Knott. I guess you can't find Monty Python in Anderson Valley.
“Could we shut off the electric fence charger?” he asked as we were watching the episode where Barney Fife gets jealous of the grade school kid, Opie, for hanging around with Barney's girlfriend, Thelma Lou.
“Okay, sure. It doesn't matter.” That electric fence charger is probably driving all of us nuts. I think it was the main thing that spurred our last woofer, Diana Winter, to split. I keep meaning to move it to the shop, away from the lounge area where we can watch movies while milking the cows and eating steaks, playing cards or video games, what have you. That click is annoying when the fence is operating correctly and the green light is flashing, but when there's a short and it's down to orange or red, it's downright exasperating. “Yeah, we can shut it off for the night,” I said.
After the cows were milked, the milk was filtered, I lit out for the hay barn where the calves are stationed, to bottle feed them. Just about the time I reached the little gap between the dwindling haystack and the hulking steel of the hay baler, I heard a strange grunt from the haystack. There was no moon, and the night was pitch black.
That's funny, I thought. It sounds like the bull. Anyway, I wonder how one of our cows got out here.
Then I heard a rocket at the launching pad, with asthma.
That *is* the bull, I thought. I darted back to the barn, hollering something at my son and at my dog to follow me to the hay shed. First we snuck to the other end, trying to ignore the big guy's bellows, to open the gate at the end of our feeble cattle chute.
We needn't have bothered, though, because when we returned to the other end of the hay barn, my blue heeler lit out for the rear legs of the bull, and the 2000 pound critter leapt over a four foot steel rail, landing in the muck with our milk cows. It was a minor miracle that he chose that direction. The whole scene could have turned into a nightmare.
I was perplexed by the seeming coincidence of the bull's having chosen the hour the electric fence was turned off to blast through, under the electric wire and lifting an entire section of woven-wire fence, posts and all, like it was merely the yellow caution tape of a crime scene. I was mystified until conferring with a scientific mind residing on Lambert Lane who put forth the theory that the electric fence wire, when charged, emits a tone of such high frequency, like a dog whistle, that humans can't detect, that is clear as a bell to a cow who's been shocked from the nose through to the hooves enough times. In the dark, in the absence of the frequency, the bull saw no obstacles.