Posts Tagged ‘cattle’


Sitting outside watching the grass grow this morning I found myself reflecting on my trip to Manitoba in 1999.  Often when I mention to someone I hail from Nova Scotia I am greeted by a puzzled look so for those of you wearing a similar expression with regards to Manitoba I will further describe it by saying Manitoba is a Canadian prairie province situated between Ontario and Saskatchewan above North Dakota.

I still find it surprising after living in the U.S. all these many years Americans seem to have so little information about their nearest neighbor to the north. On arriving here in the middle of my fourth grade year it became clear to me almost immediately American geography teachers didn’t spend much time discussing the ins and outs of my native country. Our first stop in America was Southern California. After a few weeks of acclimating ourselves to the incredible difference in climate and culture my stepfather and mother purchased a home in Fullerton, California close to where his new office was located. Once settled in, I was enrolled in an elementary school close by to resume my education.  Curious about the new arrival from the far north, my new classmates bombarded me with questions asking if I had lived in an igloo or hung about with polar bears which I found incredibly uninformed trains of thought. The fact I knew so much about their country coming from Canadian schools and they knew so little about mine struck me as odd even at that tender age. Still does. However, I digress.

In 1999 I was single. Over the span of the previous year I had developed a solid long distance friendship with a widowed farmer named Bob from Manitoba who I had met on line. Emphasis on the friendship here. Neither of us were looking for a relationship at the time. For my part I was already casually involved with someone and had a busy job demanding most of my attention and for his he and his family ran a working farm that left little time for much else. This made our friendship both comfortable and tangle free. We had spoken often by phone and even more often on the computer finding we had not only our country but many other interests in common.  Bob was a middle aged widower with two grown children and several young grandchildren. The entire family, including his elderly father, lived and worked the farm in Northern Manitoba. The crops and cattle raised on his acreage served to both put food on their table and provide income for their family. During the summer months extra hands were hired to work the fields and help with the cattle.

For whatever reason the idea of farm life has always fascinated me. So, when Bob suggested he send me a ticket and I fly up and work the farm for a couple of weeks and get acquainted I jumped at the opportunity. Now, mind you, I believe family and friends thought I had slipped a cog. In truth, Bob, as genuine as he appeared to be with what I’d gathered of him, could well have been a serial killer or madman for all I knew. In my defense I did run a background check on him before boarding the plane and other than some driving infractions couldn’t find anything damning in the report. However, though I returned to the bosom of my family unscathed, I would caution you not to try this without considerable more research. Often in my life I have been a prime example of the verity of the old adage, God takes care of drunks and fools.

Foolhardy or not I boarded a plane in San Francisco for a ten day stay in Manitoba. The Air Canada flight landed late evening in Winnipeg, the capital of the province, where Bob and his entire brood waited at the gate to greet me. What a lovely family. Though entertaining some active butterflies before landing, after meeting everyone who appeared on the surface at least to be a normal family unit helped to settle things down to a manageable flutter. Our destination, I was told, was a three hour drive north from the airport. Whew. After a long flight I could have probably dozed off in the back seat if not for the animated conversation coming my way from Bob’s daughter-in-law, Chris, and her two small children riding up front to keep me entertained. At last we pulled into the long driveway leading to the ranch compound just as my eyes were preparing to do a forced closing. Once my gear was unloaded I was shown to my room and how to locate a guest bathroom in the main house (there were three houses on the property) and left to my own devices. I woke up the next morning to the tantalizing aromas of brewed coffee and bacon doing a dance in my nostrils. Throwing on shorts and a tee shirt I followed my nose to the kitchen.

The front yard neatly framed by the large bay windows in the living room seemed to extend forever ending at a fence barely visible in the distance. Tall grass waved in a brisk spring breeze and abundant sunshine poured in across the carpet. Lovely. Since I seemed to still have all my viable body parts and hadn’t been murdered in my bed I relaxed into my adventure excited about what lay ahead of me.

The kitchen was a generous comfortable room which included an eating area furnished with a long well loved table and eight mismatched chairs. Behind the table a stone fireplace took up about a third of one wall and next to that was a door I would learn later led to a mud room leading out to the back yard. The large island dominating the cooking area was where breakfast was being served. A tall stack of steaming hot griddle cakes rested next to a Spode blue china plate piled high with sausages and crispy bacon. Maple syrup, real Canadian maple syrup (yes there is a difference), sat in a pool of it’s own making in a glass pitcher at the end of the counter next to dishes of sunny side up eggs and fried potatoes. My people. Breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day and these people knew how to bring it to the table, so to speak. The eggs, I was told as well as the breakfast meats were farm fresh. I tried not to picture the piggy who had given up so much for my enjoyment and concentrate on how amazingly delicious everything was. Chris had even made the jam sitting in colorful pots in the center of the table out of berries from her garden. Being a person who seems to recall everything she’s ever done by the food she ate, I had a feeling this was to be a memorable vacation. Bob said to expect generous meals during my stay, which was happy news to my stomach which was already feeling celebratory. Working on a farm, he went on to add, requires long hours and plenty of hard work so keeping my strength up was important. Okey dokey.

After filling myself nearly to the top with Chris’s delicious meal, it was suggested I change into more appropriate work clothes such as jeans and closed toed shoes to keep the insects at bay before meeting Bob and his son-in-law, Ray out by the barn. While waiting for instructions with Ray while Bob was in the barn, I asked him why I had heard him refer to his father-in-law as Bob J. Ray told me the family referred to the younger man as such since he shared the same first name as his dad making things less confusing when calling one of them out in the fields. Bob emerged from the side door of the barn wearing knee high boots and paint stained coveralls looking a bit like a Jackson Pollock painting. A crooked finger over one shoulder indicated we should follow in the direction he was headed. Walking in silence through the yard gave me a moment to take in the scenery around me. To the left was a tall open structure apparently used to shelter an enormous stack of round hay bales that reminded me of the shredded wheat my grandmother used to serve for breakfast. A forklift was parked at an angle next to the storage area and behind that a tractor and a variety of well rusted farm equipment. Beyond the white fences was a long pasture where cows were grazing. Four or five plump chickens were chucking around the ground by the fence scratching and picking at the dirt. I found myself wondering if they were for eggs or would I find one in stew for dinner during my stay.


Heading to a wooden corral towards the back of the barn I was handed a pair of coveralls an told to pull them on over my clothing. K. Four or five cows wandered about in the paddock area which Ray informed me we were going to move to one of the outer pastures. From what I gathered from the conversation between the two men the cows had needed some sort of attention before rejoining the herd. What I know about cows you could put on the head of a pin and have room left over so my learning curve was to begin at the zero mark while participating in this process. An old work truck hitched to an equally well used trailer was backed up to a chute. Bob J. said this was what we would use to get the animals onto the trailer. We? What do you mean we kemosabe? He went on to say cattle could be resistant to this procedure. Oh goody. The coveralls, it appeared, were there for my protection because when cows get excited their digestive systems join in and send a delivery out the rear which may come in my direction. Let me preface this by saying I have always had a sort of a poop issue. When babysitting as a teen I would get a total gag reflex going when changing a dirty diaper. I remember when pregnant with my daughter someone told me “when it is your child, it won’t bother you at all”. Hmmmm. My stomach didn’t read that chapter in the Baby Book. There were days when I thought I was going to have to hire someone to complete the process. At any rate, I wasn’t going to admit this to these two men so, “damn the torpedoes full speed ahead”. For what seemed like the next four hours the three of us gently muscled five cows up the ramp. At one point Ray and I were at the rear portal of one animal literally shoulders pushed to its flanks shoving it in the right direction. At the same time the cow was yelling what appeared to be obscenities and pushing fecal matter out at a rate I had yet to have seen prior to that day or since. Ewwwww. Not quite what I’d read in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

Once the cows were loaded we all hopped in the cab of the truck and headed out of the yard. The countryside around me was absolutely breathtaking. Wildflowers bloomed prolifically in every direction alongside the dirt road. Overhead a bright blue sky entertained a few puffy white clouds as well as several birds flying lazily above the trees. We passed growing fields I was told were planted with hay and alfalfa. Next we came to a long row of what was obviously corn even to my uninformed eyes and then the fields opened up to long verdant pastures. Arriving at our destination Bob J. hopped out and opened a gate allowing us access to the expanse of grassy area where some of his cattle were grazing. It was so much easier convincing the cows to exit the trailer than it had been getting them in there thankfully. Once they were unloaded we drove along the parameters of the pastures. Feeding and watering were next on the list. Ray explained they supplemented the cows diet with a mixture of hay grown on the farm plus vitamins and minerals.

By noon the sun was high in the sky and I was starting to get both hot and tired. Water containers were loaded in the truck bed for our use but it was decided to head back to the house for lunch. I couldn’t believe I was even considering food after the amount I’d eaten earlier in the day but I bellied up to the bar as they say and managed to put away my second meal of the day. At that point I thought a nap might be in order but it seemed our day was just getting started. For the next five hours I worked helping load hay in another work truck, cleaning out the barn and then I drove the fence line with Bob J. while he repaired several areas of the fence threatening to allow the cattle to escape.

At one point he lifted his shirt up. My mind immediately went “whoa neighbor”. Turned out he wanted me to check his back for ticks and sure enough one was evident. Handing me a cotton ball soaked with rubbing alcohol he asked me to dab the little bugger until he backed out. Okay poop and ticks simply too much for one 24 hour day. Sure enough it worked. Feeling I’d had enough learning for one day I was dropped off by the men at the house to get cleaned up and get ready for yet another meal. Sleep came quickly that night with my alarm set for 5 a.m. to begin work again. Check please.

Thought I’d write this trip in segments as each day brought something new. Never for a moment have I regretted this experience, though as I mentioned I probably could have done more research before heading out. Have a great day. Day two coming next.


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: