It is difficult to realize that almost four years ago I met Cowboy on line though one of the dating sites I was frequenting. I think that I was intrigued with the image of the “rough and tumble” image portrayed by Hollywood for so many years. After all, Cowboy lives in North Dakota and I am 1900 miles away in California. Never did I ever think that I would be visiting the farm several times a year and doing some of the chores that the typical farmer’s wife does on a daily basis. And I never thought I would enjoy the physical labor of doing those chores.
I marvel at Cowboy. If he could fly he would have a bigger “S” on his chest than Superman. He starts very early in the morning – 5:00am at the latest – and works like his horses until 10-11:00 at night. A lesser man would never be able to do the chores on a continual basis as this man does. And he does it day after day after day after day, with no help, in pain from a fall from a 12 foot haystack onto the frozen tundra two years ago.
This past week was the 7th anniversary of my husband’s death. I decided that I did not want to be in San Diego over that difficult day, and keeping busy was important to me so that I did not dwell on the significance of the day. Here is just a sample of 48 hours on the farm. (By the way – Cowboy raises goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, calves, ponies, horses, and even has a llama that acts as a “watch dog” against coyotes.)
We woke up early in the morning to this beautiful sunrise. It was cold; about 47 degrees, and while Cowboy went out to milk the goats and look for eggs – his hens lay about 5 dozen eggs a day – and they lay them wherever they feel like it! – I made breakfast. They are usually big breakfasts – eggs (of course), cooked in a variety of ways; some form of meat; pancakes, waffles and/or French toast. Every now and then I will make potatoes also. There is always coffee and juice.
While he is busy with his chores and I am getting breakfast ready, I also make up a “milk replacer” to feed the orphan calves. I have learned how to call them – in my best teacher voice – and no matter where they are on the farm they come running to me. They are each fed in their own bucket, but as soon as one bucket is finished they move to the next one. It is amusing to watch two calves pull on the ears of the third calve to get him to lift his head so they can finish his bucket.
Today, after the dishes are done, we are going 100 miles to an exotic bird auction. (There is more than just birds – rabbits, pigs, horses, etc.) We leave before 7:00am and see a herd of deer in one of the many fields we pass on the way.
The corn stalks are ready to be picked; the fields of sugar beets have already been plowed for the next crop; the grasses, alfalfa rolled into bales, etc. There are round bales, square bales, and bales of all other weights and sizes. Cowboy tells me that some of the bales weigh 1500 pounds or more!
I am amazed at how many people are at the auction. Two-three hundred maybe. And they are bidding primarily on chickens and rabbits, with an occasional quail or turkey thrown in. Some of the turkeys sold for over $25! Amazing. Cowboy is interested in bidding on two pot-bellied pigs that will be auctioned off at the end of the sale.
The bidding for the animals is not like what one sees on television. Each bidder has a number and when he wants one of the animals he raises that number just enough for the auctioneer to see it. There is hardly any movement at all, and most of the time one does not even know who he is bidding against. (I’ve sent a video of the auction but do not know if it will be printed.) Cowboy buys many animals – including the pot-bellied pigs – and it takes only a short time before everything has been loaded into his trailer and we are back on the road.
It is now about 4:30pm, and Cowboy has made arrangements to purchase some large chickens from a farmer about 25 miles from the auction. By the time we get there it is dark and windy, and after looking at the animals and the price being asked for them decides against making the purchase. We are on our way back home.
We pull into the farm about 9:30pm, and there are chores to be done right away. The calves are bellowing from hunger; I have to feed them. The goats need to be milked; the rabbits that Cowboy just bought have to be fed and given water. One goat got his horns caught in the fence and had to be pried out of the wires. Tomorrow more hay will have to be purchased and all of the feeders filled again. We get to sleep about 1:00am. (We “noshed” all the way home on cheese and crackers so I didn’t cook dinner that night.)
The following morning we got up at 6:00am and the same ritual began. This time the calves were waiting for me, and when I opened the door they rushed at me. I didn’t have a chance to put the buckets down where they usually feed and so I fed them right in front of the house. One calve head-butted me when he finished because he wanted more. Another couple of weeks and he would have knocked me over because it must weigh about 80 pounds!
This day, after doing the regular chores, we are going to drive 40 miles to pick up some hay from a friend of Cowboys. We will also pick up some screenings from a mill to feed the animals. He loaded his hay truck up with another truck pulling the feed wagon, and I will drive that home when as he drives the hay.
When we get to the barn we find that the hay has been loaded onto a very wide trailer so after removing the wagon and truck, he takes his trailer off the truck and hitches up to the one that has the hay on it. We pick up the screening – grain, if you will, and I begin to follow him back to the farm. But alas, he gets a flat tire 7-8 miles from the house. The hay trailer has approximately 200 bales of hay on it, each weighing over 80 pounds. And he has to change the tire. Which he does. In 45 minutes we are pulling into the gate.
The goats see us coming, and no sooner does he park the trailer then they are all over the hay. It should be noted that he will remove each bale by hand, and stack them in his own barn. The goats do not want to get out of the way, and it is treacherous watching him back the trailer into his barn.
Before he can unload the hay into the barn, he must unload the hay into the feeding troughs for the pigs. He has the pigs separated because they will fight one another. One of his largest pigs is lame because when it was younger it “lost” the fight with a bigger and tougher pig. He has 5 different barns with pigs in it that have to be fed. Then he moves over to the goats, where they are also separated by sex, nursing does, and ones that may have pink eye. Now remember that each of these bales of hay weigh a minimum of 80 pounds and he has a bale in each hand!
While he is feeding those animals, I go up into the rabbit trailer and feed each one and give them water. At the beginning there were about 40 crates holding the rabbits. The day before I left he put some of them together and there are about 20 crates now. After feeding them I go out and begin looking for eggs.
And just as I am about to go into the house to start dinner, a group of buyers come buy wanting to purchase a pig and a goat. That throws everything off because he has to take them around and show them the animals. They select a 400 pound pig, and decided to take 25 chickens instead of the goat. His chickens are all “free range” and it is quite comical watching these grown men trying to catch the chickens. And when his back is turned, the goats jump over the gate into the hay barn and there are over 50 of them feeding off the hay he has just stacked. And to make it worse, the winds are now blowing at 29 mph, and it is raining!
I start dinner and decide to make a cobbler using whatever ingredients I can find in the house. (He does have a well stocked kitchen.) It is almost 9:00pm before the buyers leave with their purchase and we have dinner. And after dinner he has to go out and finish the chores that he did not have time to get to earlier.
And so it goes – day after day after day. We tried to hire someone to help him, but that man turned out to be a flake and I will need to fly back to Fargo to take him to Small Claims Court. Cowboy says that in order for things to get done he has to do them himself. He has new pens that have to be built; toenails of the goats that have to be clipped; sick animals that have to have inoculations; repairs to equipment that have to be done – and he does it all himself. I have never heard him complain – I have never heard him get angry with his fate in life.
“Someday,” he says, “he will win the lottery and then he can sell the farm with everything on it.” And when I asked him what he would do then, he answered, “buy a bigger farm.” I only hope that the “bigger farm” comes equipped with other people to help run it!