Barnyard Banter

By Michelle Martin in Rural Stories

We all have memories from the past that are impressed on our minds. My children enjoy stories from the late 70s and 80s (the station wagon era) when mom was a girl. To them, those are the old days, when in fact, life was already quite modern.

Growing up on a farm brought countless opportunities to use our imaginations. Exploring neglected corners revealed much potential. “Let’s play house!” we’d say.  If we found a pigeon feather to stick in our hair we’d be Indians. All we needed to do was trample down the long grass and we had outlined our house. If we were lucky, some old tires or parts of a rusty cultivator revealed themselves, serving us a fine set of furniture.

Every year, precisely on May 1, was the first day to “air out the cows.” How exciting to watch these domestic animals show a side of their wild bovine relatives as they skipped and ran through the new grass, tails in the air. What an exhilarating sense of freedom. But they always seemed to remember to halt at the electric fence, which already reminded them of the greener grass on the other side.

Having cows in pasture also meant we had to bring them in at milking time. Most seemed to know when that time came, as there was always a group already huddled by the big door. They knew our blue heeler cattle dog was just around the corner, itching to show his authority to any cow who hesitated to make its entrance.

Even then, there were always the loafers that lay in the back end of the pasture, taking advantage of the sun’s last warm rays.  Dog or no dog, life wasn’t a race.  “Hy-yah!” A foot in the rump would finally bring their lazy bones into motion.  I can still see her, the last dawdler.  Udder swaying, she’d meander her way along the dusty path. She had all the time in the world, that ruminant creature.  I guess there was nothing new to look forward too. Same stall. Same food. Same people doing the same thing.

I enjoyed this job; I’d shuffle along behind her in my bare feet.  Cow pies weren’t always avoided, but deliberately stepped on. How delightful when the squishy warmth oozed between my bare toes. A few hours baked in the hot sun formed a crust that only enhanced the sensation. No big deal, I’d wash them at the outdoor pump before bedtime.

Stone picking was a family highlight. Adrenaline rushed when the POP! POP! of the old WD Allis was heard coming. Chores done, we’d scramble onto the old dump wagon and off we’d bounce to the back 40. Most times stones were few and far between, so our stone picking consisted of long and fast wagon rides through the field.

Once we were big and strong enough to handle the clutch on the “POP” we could take our turn at the wheel.  What a grand feeling once I was the one sitting up there!

“K!” was the signal to go. I would reach way down and slowly pull that long, steel clutch, lurching it forward. This was easy, I thought, until someone shouted “go straaaight!” All airs dissipated. I gripped that huge steering wheel with intense concentration in efforts of making a straighter track.

“Whoa!” Someone had spied a big stone and I wanted to stop the thing before my brother (who envied my position) all too eagerly yelled the second “whoa.”  I bent forward and pushed that clutch way down, bringing it to a halt.

A few more rounds and we’d finish with the setting sun. This was the best part, as we bumped our way back home in full throttle, dog running behind us in the dust. Once we reached the barnyard the old Allis would finally have her rest, but not without backfiring at us with the most tremendous “POP!” as we raced to the house for milkshakes.

Laughter was an important ingredient in our home.

When dad came into the house for breakfast one winter morning, I had no idea what was up his sleeve. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary as he walked into the kitchen where mom was cracking the eggs. He looked out the window that faced the barn and exclaimed in surprise.

“Hey, there’s a calf out!” I took a look and sure enough, there it stood, the poor thing, in the cold, snowy barnyard. “You  wanna run out there and chase her back in?” he asked my younger brother. He knew his junior herdsman could do the job. It was just a small calf.

From the warmth of the kitchen we watched him trudge towards the calf on that cold bitter morning, sleep still in his eyes. Careful not to chase it further, he approached it slowly. Warily.  The funny thing was the calf didn’t move. Not an inch. It didn’t even blink its eyes. Barely had he reached the runaway when his suspicions were confirmed. This calf was dead! The very same one that lay frozen as ever just last evening outside the barn door.

He turned and ran back to the house to face the culprit – and our reaction.  I don’t recall if he found it amusing or not, but I guess we did. (It took a lot to get my brother really laughing.) After all, it was just another one of dad’s pull-overs. Maybe the stress of having one too many dead calves was getting the best of him and he decided to make light of it. (It’s always more satisfying if the joke is on someone else, right?)

Sometimes we need to find the humour in the bad and the fun in the work to keep the spice in living. Like the old saying goes, “if you love life, it will love you back.”