Posts Tagged ‘Gertie’

Last week, while driving home from York with one of the now fixed feral cats, the feline couldn’t hold its bladder, leaving a small puddle of pungent liquid on the back bench of the F150 — despite it being adequately covered. The next morning, the odor was unbearable, forcing me to abandon the vehicle to the wife in a fit of rage. “You’re responsible!” said I, as if poor Tammi had been the one leaking in the back. I went to work angry, worried about how it was going to be cleaned.

Late in the morning, I became so worried it was going to be cleaned improperly, I called Tammi to no avail. So, I headed home to see what was up. I also needed to vacuum my car a bit to make it presentable to some coworkers who were to be lunch partners. As I arrived in the driveway, there was no F150 — no Tammi — and no Brandon (who was now off school for the summer). Perplexed, I set about cleaning my car when the large animal vet pulled into the driveway for his scheduled visit. Tammi had forgotten to cancel the meeting meant to review the health of our goats and sheep — especially the pregnant ewe.

I showed the doc around myself, apologizing for Tammi’s absence.  Fortunately, the doc was able to see Twinx and Nellie, the old goats. He was not able to see the sheep, who were out in the field. After a few minutes of examining teeth, hooves and front legs, the doc declared the pair as “very old” – especially Twinx. Apparently she had worn her teeth down to nothing. Both were diagnosed with arthritis and possibly encephalitis. Both were given less than a year to live. “I will prescribe some pain medication to keep them comfortable,” he said. I had no idea they were both in such horrible shape. “They both have lived well past their normal life expectancy” he continued. I was relieved to hear the prior owner had taken great care of them. I knew we needed to tell him of their pending demise.

I returned to work, not having seen Tammi or Brandon. The vet left not seeing the sheep – especially the pregnant ewe.

About an hour later, I received a call at work from Tammi.  She reported Brandon had been out in the field looking for the sheep and stumbled upon a newborn lamb with its mother!  All appeared well.  Tammi jumped to action to find some way to separate the mother and baby into a holding area to be sure they bonded. It turned out this was unnecessary – the bond was obviously strong and the mother was providing more than enough nourishment, though we did worry a bit on the second day.

We discussed the fact that dinner may just have been born. Given my mood about the cat odor and the missed vet appointment, I was still not happy. But, when I returned home that evening and saw Tammi pick up the newborn lamb, I knew another bond had just occurred. There was no way we could butcher the poor thing (I am talking about the lamb, not the wife). It was just too damned cute and my wife had found something else to care about. I realized, some day Tammi will be a wonderful grandmother. Her mothering instincts are amazing!

So, the talk around the farm and at the office was all about the baby lamb. Brandon had declared it was a boy and that he would name it. I suggested we wait until the sex is confirmed. In the meantime, if it is a young ram, my stepson has declared it to be Ram Bam — an appropriate monicker if he should be anything like his father.

That Saturday my parents dropped in to visit from Alabama. They looked about the farm and were enamored with the baby lamb. After some small talk and a tour, we headed out to an antique mall to look for some items and pass some time. One of the items I found for less than 20 dollars was an old metal chicken feeder painted with a Taneytown (Maryland) Feed Mill advertisement. It was a legitimate old antique with a lot of eye appeal. “What better to feed our chickens than an antique feeder!” I declared, confidently carrying it to the check out. “I am actually going to use this,” I said the the clerk with a smile.

When we got back to the farm, Dad, Tammi and I filled it and hung it in the coup. We then continued our visit. After Mom and Dad left, Tammi and I settled in for a movie — The Descendants.  We highly recommend the film, but about halfway through, there was a huge boom outside — almost like the Battle of Gettysburg was being relived in our front yard.  Poor Gertie, who had been laying asleep on the wood plank floor, jumped awake, startled and confused.

“What was that?” asked Tammi.

“Township fireworks!” I replied. We headed to the porch and watched a spectacular display of pyrotechnics lasting a good 20 minutes. “Impressive for Monroe Township!” I declared.

“Sure beats Harrisburg!” said Tammi. Both of us reflected on that comment — realizing it meant a lot more than just the fireworks.

After it was over, I quickly went to close the chicken coop and returned to the house for the remainder of the movie.

In the morning, I went out to retrieve the Sunday paper and open the coop. I was surprised to find all but three of the chickens out in the yard. “What the…?” I thought. I realized I had not checked them before I closed the door. I went inside to tell Tammi.

“The chickens were out all night!” I said. “They were probably spooked by the fireworks.”

Later that day, Tammi noticed none of the chickens were going in the coop — not even to feed.

“It wasn’t the fireworks, Baron,” she said to me. “It’s that damn antique feeder!”

“What?” said I in disbelief. “Get the f*ck out!”

We went to the coop and switched the familiar plastic feeder back in for the antique.

“Money well spent!” said the wife, sarcastically as I hid the blasted thing in the corner.

“I guess this metal contraption scared the hell out of them!” I said. “To them it probably looked like a robot from outer space!”

While the chickens did return to eat, they did not return to sleep. So, we were forced to catch them in the barn, where they were roosting and returned them to the coop. The next day, the same thing happened — chickens did not return. So, we caught them again and cooped them up — this time for three days. We’ll know the results soon…

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It’s not long before a “back-to-the-lander” neophyte farmer discovers the real meaning of farming — waste removal — as in the shoveling, hauling and otherwise cleaning of one’s barn, coop and/or self of sh*t!

It all started with a squish under the foot one evening — that soon revealed a very fragrant and acrid odor that could be only one thing — dog sh*t. Apparently the farmer’s wife had been training Gertie, her puppy, that it is perfectly fine to do her business at the foot of the stone steps that lead to the upper pasture. Scatological Ruminant #1 – Do not train your dog to sh*t where thee tread!

Next was the realization about the little lady leghorns. We had them in a kiddie pool until they outgrew it. Every day, we would change the newspaper. When they were tiny, they left cute little poops — imagine little fluffy yellow balls emitting tiny little pellets — essentially the chick feed they were eating just passing through. Of course, as they migrated to the coop, things got a little more complicated. We spread straw on the floor and let them loose. As the birds grew rapidly, so did their excretions. Thank God, we eventually let them out all day! I can’t imagine a coop of cooped up poop! So, I had to empty the growing pen, where our little pullets grew from chicks to maturity. It was a dusty affair – straw and pungent poo. But, I managed to get it all into one wheel barrow. Scatological Ruminant #2 – When someone says “chicken sh*t!” in anger, and they are not a farmer, they have no idea what they are really saying or complaining about. If they are a farmer, then you know they are referring to a real mess!

The previous owner of our farm stopped by one day to ask permission to remove some of the goat and sheep sh*t in the barn. “Good for the garden,” he said — and proceeded to shovel as much as he could into the back of his pickup.

“Take as much you like!” said I.

I imagined a conversation between Cheech and Chong — the former farmer was an old hippie-type.

“Yeah, it’s good sh*t, man — really good sh*t” said imaginary Chong farmer.

“What do you call this ch*t, man?” said imaginary Cheech farmer.

“It’s goat sh*t, man,” said Chong farmer, “like Nubian or something like that!”

“Hehehe!”, giggled Cheech farmer, “Let’s do some Nubian Doobian!”

Scatological Ruminant #3 – This ain’t the kind of sh*t you can smoke, unfortunately!

Back to reality — he was taking a portion of what was in one stall. There was an entire other stall where our critters were currently living — full of the stuff!

So, this Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, like a good farmer and his wife would, Tammi and I headed to that stall full of straw and goat and sheep sh*t and began to break away at it and shovel it. We had set our sights on clearing the whole thing this morning, but soon realized we could barely get in the door — after three loads.

“Oh my God!” said Tammi, “I hope the whole thing isn’t this deep!”

I felt like an archaeologist digging up a  Mayan Temple in the Yucatan — removing layer upon layer until we hit stone — or concrete.

“It’s six inches thick here!” said I “It’s going to talk all summer!”

It was getting hot, so we resolved to return a couple times a week to chip away at it.

Scatological Ruminant #4:  Don’t let your sh*t pile up too much — gotta stay on top of all of this sh*t — gotta keep up with the sh*t….God this sounds like work!

Just one more humorous item. While Tammi was scraping with the blade, she accidentally sprayed my face with a splattering of poo and straw…

“Gives a whole new meaning to sh*t-faced…” she said.

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Tammi and I were shopping for antiques recently at Bedford Street Antiques in Carlisle.  If you’ve never been there, we highly recommend it === a nice little surprise on a back street in town. The place is full of interesting items at great prices. We happened upon four old painted benches priced very reasonably. We bought them — two went into our master bedroom to line the back wall. The others were stacked in the bathroom to provide some interesting shelving for towels and such. Besides a few other collectibles and knick knacks, I picked up an original copy of the Country Gentleman magazine dated May 16, 1914 – exactly 98 years old!  Tammi pointed to it and I was instantly drawn to the painting of a mother leghorn on the cover tending to her dozen or so peeps.

The other day, I picked up the old magazine and flipped through it, admiring the ancient advertisements — for the Columbia Grafonola record player or Cleveland Grindstones – or Panama hats for $1 – just write to Geo. T. Bungay, 28 So. William St. New York. (I am sure he’ll be happy to part with his hats for a buck each!)  On page 15 was an article entitled “Shall I Begin Farming at Forty-Five?” Obviously, I could not have picked up a better issue!  Here was a “clerk” who lived in the city, contemplating moving to the country to take up farming at age 45. Two writers at the magazine responded to his query.

Here were the gentleman’s concerns:

He has been a clerk in the city and ‘worked indoors his entire life. ‘ He thought working outdoors would be healthier for him and provide a better setting to raise his boys, without the many ‘temptations’ of the city. He asks if the experts felt he could make a decent living to support his family. Interestingly, he never mentions his wife’s feelings about the matter!

Responder #1 – You Can!

Referring to the clerk as a ‘back-to-the-lander’, he encouraged him to do so, suggesting he study up on the scientific methods of farming now prevalent. ‘It is also a fact, however, that a surprising proportion of the pronounced successes in American agriculture are town-reared men…” (I am beginning to be encouraged, here!)  “They have not had the disadvantages of being full of the notions of father and grandfather.”

“…the city man who really studies his job and applies initiative and common business sense is in the position of real advantage…”  (Yeah!)

The writer then went on to ask the man what his wife was thinking – most city women don’t fancy being a farmer’s wife…. (no problem here — it was her idea!)

“…twenty years of close observation and a rather wide knowledge of the United States causes me unhesitatingly to say that the farm is today the place where a man of brains has the least competition…”  (Ha!  I suspected as much – figured that out at the livestock auction!  We’re on a roll!)

The author even goes on to suggest buying his farm in Central Pennsylvania — done!   He encourages him to start now with a garden and to raise chickens!

“…you almost MUST raise chickens…start with twenty-five hens…”  (WTF? That’s what we did!)

Responder #2 – I Did!

“…I say emphatically that the man of forty-five, with $3000 to $5000 in money, with a brain that will work, with a well-made plan and a firm purpose, certainly ought to succeed on the land. Even if he meets with no more than a part of the success he hopes for, in dollar profits, he will be able to realize something infinitely better — a share, right here on earth, in the peace that passeth understanding.”

Clearly, there is no better peace than looking out over one’s parcel just as the sun is coming up – and seeing the chickens beginning their day, enthusiastically pecking in the grass, and the goats and sheep heading up the hill to the high grass, and the barn swallows flitting about, and our puppie Gertie taking a squat — oops — sorry to ruin that scene for ya…

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First it was Brandon, Tammi’s 9-year-old son, who ran to the bathroom in the middle of the night to lose his dinner into the watery bowl.  Hoping this an isolated incident, Tammi and I planned our wedding anniversary at the Hotel Hershey — dinner with her cousin Zach and his friend — and then the new Johnny Depp movie.  It was a wonderful meal, but Tammi was unable to partake, the next victim of the stomach plague.  We never got to the theater, as I drove Tammi home, curled up on the front seat in agony. When you realize you are the only one in the house who wasn’t sick yet, you know your time is coming — like a dead man walking!  And, sure enough, I received my due on Mother’s Day evening – a nasty bug that lasted  two days.

We had planned to be out quite late on our anniversary night, and were willing to take a chance on the chickens.  To date, we have had to coax a few of them back into the coop at the end of the day.  When we arrived home that evening, well after dark, as soon as Tammi was comfortably inside, I checked on the little lady leghorns and was pleasantly surprised to find all 25 back in the coop — all by themselves.  I realized, had I just been a little more patient the last couple weeks, the birds may have done this sooner — on their own. I filled their feed and water and closed up for the night.

The next day, we were scheduled to photograph a wedding (we are the owners of West Shore Gallery, a local photography studio).  Realizing later how I felt the day after the bug hit, I do not know how Tammi managed to pull this off. It makes me think she has a much stronger constitution than I!  The young couple never knew anything different as we carried out our duties at what was a wonderful affair. We came home that evening to find the birds back in the coop again – all by themselves. All seemed well in the world.  I was beginning to think I was going to dodge this bullet.

The morning of the wedding, a hired hand stopped by to till our garden.  The job turned out to be quite a bit more than he expected — the plot was bigger than I had remembered — and it was covered in grass.  I paid the gentleman twice as much, and he went at it.  When I checked in the morning, he had done a fantastic job.

So, it was Mother’s Day. Tammi and I headed off to Tractor Supply to pick up some gloves and seeds for the garden. Along the way, I called my mother and wished her a happy Mother’s Day.  After returning, we took Gertie along to Lowe’s to buy some live plants – tomatoes, peppers and strawberries.  We then began planting the live plants.  About half way through, I could no longer help – feeling very washed out and queasy.  I went in to take a shower and lay down.  Within a couple hours, I was the bug’s final victim.

I was in and out of consciousness into the morning — visiting the bathroom a number of times.  At some point, late in the morning, I heard the dog yelp in pain and Tammi cry out for me.  Barely able to sit up, I wondered if it was a dream. Tammi called again, and this time I could make out what she was saying — “Baron! The ram is out!”

I pulled on a shirt and hobbled downstairs — pulled on some boots and headed out with my shepherd’s crook. Gertie was laying by the backdoor, completely uninterested in following me. I looked up from our puppie to see my bride chasing our ram in the yard.  I started to make an end-around to help her out.  Just then “Rambo” jumped back over the fence, into the corral.

Apparently Gertie had been teasing the ram and had run from it.  The ram chased her to the gate.  As Gertie has grown, she has been less and less able to slip under the gate.  This time she got stuck, and the ram pounded her – and the gate – with his horns, sending her sprawling and the gate bursting open.

The rest of the day, Gertie and I laid around in the house while Tammi cared for the both of us.

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“The chicks are growing so fast, we can’t keep them in the pool!” Tammi reported on the phone while I was in Greenville, SC on business.  “I had to put up chicken wire in the hearth.”

I immediately had visions of chicken wire stapled to our ancient fireplace — filled with chirping birds and newspapers full of droppings.

“Uh — ok,” I said.

“Oh, don’t worry,” replied Tammi, sensing my anguish.  “They are still in the pool — but I added a cover for them.”

“I guess it’s time to move them,” I said.

Upon my return that week, the wife, Gertie and I drove in the F-150 to Tractor Supply.  I thoroughly enjoyed riding with my wife and my dog in my pickup truck, driving down 174, through Boiling Springs, and then up Bonnybrook Road to the store, just south of Carlisle.  The whole experience felt like a country song in the making —

Drivin’ my F150

Wife at my side

Dawgie in the back

Goin’ for a ride

Down to the Tractor


Oh Lawdy, it’s enough ta make yew cry!

I immediately turned up some metal on 105.7 the X — banishing the rural country demon to the nether reaches of my brain.  Where did that come from?

“OK,” I began, “We’re going to need some heat lamps.”

“Are you sure it will be enough?” worried Tammi, concerned about the night temperatures in the 30’s.

We had planned to move the chickens into the enclosed room in the pig sty.  It had been somewhat insulated and provided a nice 8 x 8 pen for the chicks.  We walked into Tractor Supply — what has to be the greatest little store on the planet for neophyte farmers like ourselves — and immediately found an endcap full of heat lamps!

“Looks like we’re not the only ones needing these things,” I said, comforted that I was not the only one lacking a source of heat for my little birds.

We grabbed two lights and four bulbs – just in case – and headed home.  We spread hay on the floor of the pen and mounted the lights.   We then set the feeder and water bottle in the middle and transferred the rapidly increasing peeps.  They went right to the heat lamps and fell asleep.

“Do you think they’ll make it through the night?” asked Tammi, almost wanting to stay with them.

“Oh yeah – sure – don’t you worry about them. They’ll be fine.”  I reassured her like a doctor talking to a terminal cancer patient.  It was another one of those moments when I acted real confident, even though I hadn’t a clue what was going to happen.  I fell asleep with visions of little white birds frozen in place staring out at me through unmoving black eyes – like the end of The Shining when Jack Torrance (Nicholson) gets lost in the maze during a blizzard – or like that scene in Guyana when Reverend Jim Jones forced all of those people to drink the Kool Aid – little white birds laid out like a quilt of cotton — neatly arranged in rows — just as they fell asleep…

“They’ll be fine…” I whispered to Tammi as she nodded off.

I didn’t sleep much that night.

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I could not imagine us trying to survive on our farm with my company car — a Ford Taurus and Tammi’s Kia Sorento.  Which one could carry sheep or haul a trailer?  How would we haul wood or furniture or….?  It was clear that rural living requires the right tools and vehicles.  Thus, I began my search for a used pick-up.

“Get a Ford F150,” advised my father.

“Get a Ford F150,” advised my friend Gary.

“Built Ford Tough…,” advised the TV commercial, “the new Ford F150…”

My initial inclination was to just find a beater truck — something 10 years old or so — just for times when we needed to carry something.  After searching the web, making some phone calls and test driving a couple such high-mileage vehicles — all with lots of problems, I settled onto another idea:

Let’s trade the Kia and replace that payment with a truck payment!  I had $3500 in the budget for the beater and could use this as down payment money to exit the Kia lease and get into the truck.  I also received a timely email from PSECU enticing me with a 3.9% interest rate for used vehicle loans.

The folks at McCafferty Ford were very fair.  I was able to get into a 2010 Ford F150 with only 10,000 miles on it — and get out of the Kia for only $1,000.  Plus, my monthly payment was very close to the Sorento.

As someone who has NEVER driven a pick-up truck — someone who drove Hondas and BMWs and Nissans and Pontiacs, I was very impressed with this vehicle.  It is big and roomy and comfortable – and has a great ride.  Plus, it has plenty of utility for the farm!  Dare I say, it is my favorite vehicle — ever!

Of course, it quickly became Tammi’s too.  The next day, she was driving to Tractor Supply to pick up more chick feed with Gertie in the back seat, sticking her nose out the window.  Now the dilemma was — how do I get to drive the truck most of the time?

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“No, you may not get a dog — not yet!” I said to Tammi, who was very disappointed. “Let’s wait until we are on the farm, then you can get your puppy.”  I was concerned we’d have a puppy failing miserably at its potty training while we were trying to show our home to prospective buyers or renters — let alone the 25 chicks in the kiddie pool.

Little did I know, like any good wife, Tammi already had the perfect pup picked out — a rescue nonetheless.  She was a mixed collie / great pyrenees — great herding dog potential.  She had already begun the paperwork and was just waiting to pull the trigger.

A few days passed until 3-20.  I was in Boston, on business.  Tammi woke me in my hotel room with a phone call.  We chatted amicably – the usually good mornings and I love you’s.

“Don’t you have anything else to say to me?”  she asked nonchalantly.

“No — just that I love you, dear.  You’re amazing!”  said I, not taking the hint.

A few hours later, I called her again, this time from my desk at our Quincy office.  We had a similar exchange ending with that same question. Again, we ended with pleasantries.

Over the lunch hour, I sat down in the cafeteria with my tray and immediately thought I would call my wife, like any good husband would. This time, the conversation was a wee bit more tense and ended with the same question.

“Don’t you have anything else to say to me?” she demanded.

“Uhhh — obviously I’ve forgotten something,” I said, “but I have no idea what it is — I’ve already told you I love you and miss you and would give anything to be home with you…”

“Try HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” she bellowed.

At that moment my pulse quicken.  Beads of sweat formed on my brow and under my arms.  My cheeks went flush and my jaw dropped.  Someone walking past asked if I was alright.  I nodded slowly.

“What?” I tried to recover. “Isn’t it tomorrow?  Wait — what day is it?”

I was completely stunned.  In less than two years of marriage, I had already forgotten my wife’s birthday!

“Ok — Ok,” I said, thinking quickly, “how about you go pick up that puppy right away…”

The voice on the other end perked up. “Really?” she asked. “OK! You are forgiven!”

When I returned home the next evening, I was greeted by my wife and our new puppy.

“Think of a German-sounding name,” she said, beaming.

“How about Gertie?” I suggested.

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