The Farm on Oak Creek

Morning Chores

First, an update on that epic battle of mine. IPM (integrated pest management) came through! The lacewings and ladybugs, along with more than a few spiders, have disheartened the ants. Although the cucumber looks pretty tatty, it has set on three new cukes. Victory is mine! Now, back to your regularly scheduled program.

This morning, in the middle of my chores, my inner voice got to going. I haven’t mowed the grass yet and it’s once again knee-high. And the garden is waiting to be prepped for winter planting. And I need to harvest cow poop for the resting gardens. And it looks like our spate of daily rains is over, so I reminded myself I have to water the “pretty” gardens. It ended its tirade with “You’re doing too much sitting! You need some exercise!”

My upset with myself lasted for about a second. Exercise? Just a second there, inner voice. Let’s just do a reality check.

I’m up early. For the record, something really strange is going on between me and my clock. For the last month I have woken up exactly at 4:44 AM.  Not 4:43, not 4:45. At 4:44 AM.  That’s my first laugh of the day. I thank the clock, put on my robe and go into the kitchen where I make water for tea, empty the dishwasher, turn on the computer and, most importantly to them, feed the cats.

I’ve recently moved all the cat bowls out of the house. None of my cats, not even the one who has designated herself as “the only house cat” are inside animals. All of them are capable of taking care of themselves out-of-doors and all of them hunt. The reason I moved their food outside is Bear, my 135 pound Kuvasz.  He’s on a diet. I’m not certain how a dog that size manages his level of stealth, but I kept finding completely clean cat bowls, something that doesn’t happen when the cats eat their food. This would happen five days out of seven, and I hadn’t once seen him move. The cats are very unhappy with this change in their daily routine, but so far we’ve had no Bear-malfunctions.

It’s dawn by then and time to start my chores. I feed my barn cats, then I’m off and walking. The first trip is from the barn across the small grassy expanse, my yard as it were, with pig food and a small bucket of Black Oil Sunflower seeds for the turkeys and chickens. For reasons that will soon become obvious, the pigs get fed in my fenced orchard.  If I was alert the previous night, the gate in the fence that cuts the orchard in half is closed. This allows me to fill pig bowls without their help. If not, then I’m dancing over happy piggies. Once they’re eating, I close and chain both the front and back orchard gates, then retreat to my barn where I open the gate between my house and my neighbors’ pasture.

June the Cow loves their pasture. She loves the stalls, even though she can’t get into them, and really loves the old horse corral. She’ll sit in there for hours, chewing her cud. However, before I can herd her into that area, I have to make sure the gate leading up to their house is closed. That means walking about a 100 yards and up a hill to check. On the way to that gate I make sure her water bucket is filled. On the way back, I make sure I still have both dogs. Moosie would dearly love to climb through the corral fence and go hunting in the wild area behind it.

Leaving the gate between our properties open, I once again pass my barn, this time making my way to the front gate of the first pasture, which I leave open behind me. I trek past the pond and open the back gate of that pasture. This is where the sheep are waiting. Each of my ewes gets a handful of Black Oil Sunflower seeds, which they think is almost as good as chicken food, but not nearly as tasty as hog chow. As I open the back gate to pasture one, Tiny, my oldest ewe, makes a beeline for the back orchard gate because she knows that I forget to close it from time to time. Once she realizes she can’t get into the orchard, it’s full speed ahead for the gate into the neighbors’ pasture. That’s because they have mature apple trees and sometimes delicious things fall from the heavens.

I follow, still carrying that bucket of sunflower seeds, to close the gate behind them. Then I again walk past the barn, past the orchard, across the first pasture, then cross the second pasture on my way to the turkey barn. That’s where June is waiting for me, sitting in front of the bigger gate that leads into my back pasture, the pig pasture. June has a sort-of stall there. There is no fence around it; it’s just an open area under the corrugated roof that has a thick layer of (now heavily cow-manured) straw. She likes it there, mostly because it’s an easy dash from that gate to the chicken coop, which she always checks in case I forget to close the door to the coop after releasing the birds.

That’s why I enter the pig pasture from the second gate, the one hidden behind the turkey barn. Then I sneak swiftly around the turkey barn to double check that the gate June is guarding is properly chained. One of June’s most interesting skills is that she can wiggle a fence chain from its slot with her mouth. That’s why all my gates are now closed with latched chain loops.

Once I’m sure she’s locked out, I release the birds, spreading the sunflower seeds for them. Then I walk almost to the end of my property to check that my final irrigation valve is still dribbling. For years my birds have used the Mason ditch as their drinking fountain and ignored their waterers. When I decided to fence them into the back pasture, I locked them away from their water source. To satisfy their desire for fresh, running water, my friend Laurie and I built a tiny stock pond beneath that irrigation pipe. It turned out to be a very attractive answer to the problem, one that I think I’m going to expand on in the future.

Certain that the birds are set for the day, I return to June. After much tugging on her bridle and a swat, because she won’t move without a swat, we start back across the pastures. Like Tiny, June stops to head-butt that back orchard gate just in case I forgot to latch the chain. Then, with a heavy bovine sigh, she makes her way toward her favorite pasture. She has to stop to taste the grass along the way mostly because she knows I want her to walk faster, and she needs to check to see if the people-sized barn door is open. Then it’s a dance to get her into the neighbors’ pasture without letting the sheep escape.

After I’ve chained that gate behind both cow and sheep, back I go to first pasture, where I open the same gate that June head-butts. The pigs are still eating, but I want them to have access to the pond and the grass while they wait for their morning constitutional. Keeping them where I want them means once again crossing that first pasture to secure its back gate, chaining a handy panel to it. Without that, the piggies will knock the bottom of the gate open wide enough to slither through.

With all my gates secured, I make my way back to the house, feed the dogs, drink a pot of tea and eat breakfast. By the time I’ve finished eating, the pigs are eager to get to the back pasture. They adore that space. Lots of tall trees, plenty of soft dirt, a nice mud wallow, and a dribbling snout-sized irrigation pipe.

And I’m off again, walking from the house down to the barn, across my ‘yard’ to the orchard. Once in the front pasture, I start clapping my hands and calling “Pig, pig, pig! Walkies!” And we do. The pigs walk better than the dogs.

They follow me across the second pasture and gather in front of the gate to the back pasture. Once the gate opens, they head straight for the grass while I dart around the corner and put up the barrier meant to keep four-leggeds out of the chicken coop. With that, I begin my final walk of the morning–all the way back to the gate to the neighbors’ pasture, where the sheep are impatiently waiting for me. I open the gate and my well-trained ewes line up behind their shepherdess. Off we go, back to the pig pasture. With all the rain, the rocky hillside above it is lush with the green stuff– I can’t call it grass, because it’s not–that the sheep love. So this time, I walk all the way to the end of my property to make sure the sheep remember where the bridge is. Leaving them happily grazing, I return the full length of my property to start work for the day, a day that will end with much the same routine as it began.

Snort. Giggle. Inner voice, keep your opinions to yourself. I’m getting plenty of exercise.


© Denise Domning, 2023