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Starting From Scratch

What happens when the cat’s away

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I, like other moms I know, can usually only schedule time away from the family in small increments, maybe a movie or lunch out with friends. It is too difficult logistically with family commitments to embark on something more than a few hours away. Add in farm commitments and it gets very complicated. However, once a year, myself and a small group of friends venture off to somewhere not that exotic, and recharge with pedicures, movies, shopping and eating food that was not prepared by us.

“Girl’s Weekend” has evolved from “I can leave after my husband gets home on Friday night” to “I can leave in the wake of the school bus on Friday morning.” The number of support calls from home has lessened over the years as well for both husband and children.

Just because I was away from Oxbow Farm for a few days does not mean, however, that there was no excitement to be had. “When the cat’s away, the mouse will play” refers to the fact that when the authority figure is away, things do not go according to plan, things do not always happen as they should. But during my departure it could have been said, “When the cat’s away, there will be new life and death.”

Because of Farmer Jim’s off-farm job, he is not familiar with the intricacies of the farm chores and the individual animals. Before I left, I wrote detailed lists instructing him about which animals needed to be fed what and how much and at what time of the day. Animals are like children, they work much better with a set schedule and rigid structure. But realistically I knew that as long as they had food and water, they would survive.

Earlier in the week, I had noticed that one of our pigs, Olivia was not eating and was pretty lethargic. The first text I received from Farmer Jim was “Olivia is not doing well, we may have to bury her.”

So as I sat in the salon chair having my feet pampered and toenails polished, I was worried about Olivia and my husband’s stress level. Did we need to call in the vet? How was Jim going to move a 400 pound pig and bury her? Was it even legal to bury her on our property? Is that even the best way to dispose of a pig? Wait, had she even died yet?

Later that evening, while eating dinner in sandals showcasing my pretty red toenails, I received a text with a photo of Olivia on her feet, eating with the rest of the pigs like she had never skipped a beat.

The next morning, as I walked along the beach, I didn’t think about farm business at all. I didn’t worry about ordering chicks, sheep rotational grazing schedules, monthly deadlines, balancing the checkbook or much-needed repairs to the truck. I thought about the sunshine on my face and the seashells at my feet.

Then the next text from my husband came in: “Another lamb was born this morning”

What the heck? Another lamb? Our ram must have bred this ewe minutes before we loaded him in the trailer to be processed. We have three female sheep. Daisy and Pinky gave birth weeks ago and now Squiggy is our newest mom.

Here’s the thing, though, we shaved Squiggy’s wool last week and didn’t notice she was bigger than she should have been. I called home to make sure everyone was OK. I found out that Farmer Jim and our 10 year-old son had placed all the other sheep and goats outside, and left the little lamb with Daisy in the stall to bond. That was a great idea, except it was the wrong ewe. In their state of shock and confusion, they had chosen the wrong ewe to bond with the lamb.

“That would explain why Squiggy is freaking out,” he said over the phone before he ran off to fix the situation.

My son was completely confused as he had thought all along that this ewe was in fact a male.

Our fabulous farmhand, Paula, rushed over to assess the situation and texted me that Squiggy — the real mom — was very patient and the little lamb was nursing on its own by the time she got there.

“We lost the ducks and a few chickens” was what greeted me when I got home late Sunday night. It is the spring season after all and neighboring foxes must feed their little pups. Too bad they must take from our grazing, two-legged buffet line.

In the end, one of the ducks magically reappeared-slightly traumatized, but in one piece, Olivia the pig is slow-moving but still alive, and “Little Don” the lamb is chasing around the chickens that venture into his stall. The paint on my toenails is still shining brightly. They really do look good under my wool socks and barn boots.

Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two children. The couple hails from New Brunswick, Canada. This column chronicles their first-ever adventures in farming. For more about the farm, seewww.oxbowfarmnh.com. She can be reached at grahamkimberly1@mac.com.

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