I just spent my first two weeks on a farm. This is what I woke up to.
Certainly an improvement on this.
So the reason I titled this post “trial by fire” is because–like learning to drive on the left-hand side of the road–my farm career began with a series of difficult tasks.
I mentioned the dead cow last time. (Jen, you have a stomach for this one, but perhaps not for the next…)
I was out feeding the pigs when I noticed one of the older heifers doubled over in a ditch at the edge of the paddock. The terrain is pretty steep here, so the cows–especially when pregnant–sometimes have a bit of trouble, but not usually anything they can’t get themselves out of. But this one seemed to be struggling forcefully with no end in sight. So I went up to the house and got Frances, my host (and the “F” in FMK Ranch).
By the time we got back down to the paddock with rope and gloves to tow the old girl out, she had passed. Frances said she likely drowned in her own fluid. Cows can’t breathe long in a downward sloping position, due to their rumen fluid, which doesn’t have a stopper valve to keep it from flowing into their trachea.
(Sheep anatomy is similar. Adds new meaning to the verse in Matt. 12, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath; will you not lift it out?” In ancient times, sheep–as well as cattle–were capital. Losing a sheep or cow was not only an emotional affair, but an economic one, too.)
Back to the story. Frances tells me promptly to run back up the hill to the house and get two butcher knives.
“We better hope to God that calf is alive.”
We cut the cow open and haul out the calf. Unfortunately, it was dead as well. So we left them both for the pigs.
Then Frances tells me and Mark (an Alaskan WWOOFer who arrives after me) that her neighbor John is going to come over and shoot one of her deer. It was a young male, and since there is already a sizable buck in the paddock, when the younger one grows his antlers, the buck will perceive him as a threat and kill him.
So we’re going to prevent that by having John shoot him (“One shot, now, John. I don’t want any unnecessary suffering.”).
It’s Mark’s and my job to skin and gut it.
So I learned a few things from my first week on the farm. How to save (potentially) a calf from its deceased mother. How to skin and gut a deer.
And finally, how to cook fresh deer liver.
(I hate liver. I don’t care how fresh it is.)