The City Slickers
"How do you tell the difference between a cow and a bull?" For sommeone who had always had trouble discerning between girl and boy kittens, or puppies, it was quite a reasonable question. But the Auctioneer gave me the queerest look. It is only now, after about twelve years of farmlife behind me, that I realise how infinitely patient he was as he lifted the tail of a heifer, and then of a bull calf, and gently pointed with his whip to the differences.
It is a generally held belief amongst city dwellers--the naive ones at least--that life on a farm is rustic, carefree and idyllic. Brian and I were certainly naive enough to believe it, and from the earliest days of our marriage we had dreamed of earning our sustenance on our own little bit of acreage. Not yet though. It was something to be dreamed of for the distant future. Little did we realise what fate had planned for us.
Our Sunday mornings were deliciously indolent and self indulgent: always spent the same way: lying in bed, drinking coffee and sharing the Sunday papers. We were smugly content in the belief that it would go on like that for quite a long time. "What'll we do today?" asked Brian
"Don't know." I murmured absently.
"Let's go for a drive and look at farms," said Brian. I was no longer absent and gave him a startled glance.
"Just to look," he assured me. "It'd be good to have an idea of what's available and what sort of money we need."
"It is a nice day . . . " I began, and immediately my brain went into gear considering the appropriate apparel for looking at farms. Brian began circling advertisements in his Sun Herald, and I innocently made preparations for a picnic in the country.
We bought our first farm that very day!
What a joke we must have been to all the locals. We were so green! Having bought the farm and moved in we began to consider what one does on a farm. Chooks! Of course, chooks were an absolute necessity. "We should get some chooks" we agreed, but three weeks after moving we were still getting organized and had no idea of where to go to buy chooks. We met Barry at the local Co-op store. We must have been talking to Henry, the manager, about getting chooks, because Barry, standing nearby, said, "I can get you a few chooks. How many do you want?"
"Half a dozen," said Brian.
"Right," said Barry. "Thing is, though, they're a bit rude!"
"Yeah! They're in a bit of a state of undress."
We looked questioningly at Henry.
"No feathers!" he said quietly.
"Oh . . . well . . . " We didn't want to offend anyone, since we were newcomers. "Okay," said Brian. "How much?"
"I'll let you have 'em for five dollars each," said Barry.
It turned out that Barry was big in egg production in the community, and he was offering us his worn-out battery hens--worth all of fifty cents each. But we happily handed over thirty dollars for six of these sorry-looking worn-out hens, and lavished tender loving care on them. Fortune was with us, however. They responded to our ministrations, and to the freedom to roam about at will, picking and scratching as all chooks should be allowed to do. Gradually their feathers grew back, dark and glossy, and their pale pink combs turned a bright red. Our first egg was cause for great celebration. We turned it into an exotic omelette and gleefully shared it at breakfast.
A neighbour gave us an old cow named Socksey, (she had four white feet), who was still giving some milk. I set myself the task of learning to milk Socksey, and I proudly carried my first half bucket of milk back to the house, planning to make butter, and cheese, and anything else one could do with half a bucket of milk. Unfortunately, my inexpert technique resulted in Socksey giving us less and less milk every day, until she finally dried up altogether. Exit Socksey.
Our next cow was a Jersey with a calf at foot. She seemed like a bargain, but her breathing was very labored, and when we asked the farmer why, he told us that she had a bit of a cold. She was frightfully skinny, and to tell the truth, we bought her because we felt sorry for her. Not the right sentiments for would-be farmers. Anyway, we named her Buttercup, and she proved to be a wonderful milker, although we spent a fortune in vet bills trying to cure her bit of a cold, only to find out that her real problem was nasal granuloma, which could not be cured.
The time came to bid farewell to our battery of hens. We were prepared to be sensible, and use our resources by putting them in the pot, but the problem which presented itself now was how to kill them. "We must do it in a humane way," said Brian. The most humane way we could think of was to shoot them. So off we went to a gun shop to buy a rifle. The shop owner asked us why we wanted to buy a gun, and when we told him we wanted it to shoot the chooks, he gave us a most peculiar look. But after putting our plan into action, and blowing the first of our hapless chooks' heads off with just one bullet, we came to the wise conclusion that using the axe would be far less messy.
We did not remain this green forever. We finally graduated to owning half a dozen cows, and a bull, plus a nice little flock of sheep, and a herd of dairy goats, and, of course, the mandatory hen-house full of chooks, complete with a handsome rooster. We had a wonderful vegie garden which provided excess produce for the local greengrocer. I did finally become proficient at milking, and making butter, and my original hassles with a cantankerous fuel stove ended with a complete understanding between the two of us. We sold our excess eggs, cream and butter. We killed and butchered our own meat. We had, in fact achieved our amabition of (almost) complete self-sufficiency.
It amazes me that we actuallyu survived our initial state of extreme ignorance. Yes, we were taken advantage of. Yes, the locals probably had a good laugh at our expense. But ultimately they were all on our side, and were always willing to give us advice, or show us how things should be done when we humbly asked. In the end we earned their respect because we were willing to learn. "They're as game as Ned Kelly, you know! They'll have a go at anything!" was the concensus of opinion which gave us great encouragement when it finally got back to us. The moral of the story? It's never too late to haave a go, and how do you know what you can accomplish unless you try?