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Young Writers Project: Summer On The Farm

Mon 5/20/13

Here's one of the winners of a Young Writers Project contest in which authors were asked to write on the theme of "What Farming means to you. " Carley's story is one of nearly 100 entries.

Summer on the Farm
By Carley Malloy
Grade Seven, Thetford Academy

I’ve decided that a family farm is a lot like a barbed wire fence; running smooth for a little while, and then running into a twist or barb that slows things down.  My last year and a half has been spent working on my grandparents’ farm.  Each day has been a new adventure, and I often catch myself looking back and saying, “remember the day…”

I like summer on the farm the most; the weather has warmed so the barn can be left open and I can hear the jingling of chains as the cows turn their heads to look when I come in.  Summer on the farm means haying, fencing, cleaning up the winter’s mess, and letting the cows outside to stretch their long legs.  Kittens and calves are born and you have the fun of tracking them down every morning to see where their mothers have decided to move them.

We spent much of our time fixing fence, but I was on crutches for a few weeks, which meant there wasn’t much I could do to help.  One hot summer day, my grandfather, mom, and two of my cousins were all working down the hill from the barn, next to the road.  My grandfather, unlike most farmers, fixes fence with an excavator. It works great; one person holds the fence post up and he pushes it in with the excavator bucket, and two or three others go behind and start stringing wire.  

I usually occupied myself with my own chores, like washing down the milk house or reading my book in the hay in front of the heifers. Today, though, I had a new calf to train. She was born on Cinco de Mayo, and we named her Lola, which suited her right away.  I walked to the end of the barn where she was hitched with her mother. She jumped up when she saw that I was coming to see her and came over to start sucking on my fingers.

I smiled and took the halter off the nail and we fought each other as I tried to tighten it over her ears and around her muzzle for the first time.  She was so young that she didn’t pull like some calves do.  She would run to the end of her rope and come to a quick stop until I had caught up to her.  We headed down the hill, Lola on the halter and me on my crutches, to where the fencers had stopped to take a break.  My grandmother and brother had brought lunch and we ate on the ground in the shade of the excavator.  After the kids had fought over sandwiches and drinks, it was peacefully quiet, and I looked over at Lola, to see that she had curled up and fallen asleep in my mom’s lap.  She looked so content.  I nudged my cousin and he smiled, as Lola’s eyelashes shivered and she sighed heavily, sinking deeper into sleep and the lap she was taking up.

Soon I was off my crutches, against my doctor’s wishes, and pushing my knee to the limit. I had tough competition with two 15-year-old male cousins and me being only 12. Everything we did was about who could do it the strongest, or the best, or the fastest. I kept up and learned everything quickly.

A week or so later we were attempting to get the cows out into the recently finished fence, but they were more difficult than we expected. Holsteins are big, strong cows, but one of ours, Jenna, is even bigger and built well.  She has long legs, a firm foundation, and some extra weight.  When you open the stable door and look down the backs of all the cattle, she towers over the others.

“Jenna!  Just go, big girl!” I said with an exasperated shove.  We had gotten five others unhitched and turned around in their stanchions.  All they had to do was walk down the aisle and outside to where my grandfather was waiting to head them into the field.

Jenna had no intention of leaving.  We pulled and pushed, but of course, she was much stronger than all of us combined.  She needed a little motivation to leave. Finally, she stepped over the gutter and started down the aisle, and we hadn’t even gotten around to begin shooing her out, when Jenna swung around and started fighting with Freckles, another cow we had unhitched. Apparently Jenna had to teach her who was in charge before they had even made it outside. The heifers that were still hitched began bellowing and getting riled up by the fighting. We started running and hollering and Jenna and Freckles took off outside and into the pasture.  We stood panting and shut the gate for the day.

Haying began shortly after the heifers went out, and I quickly learned that being able to drive was a big perk around the farm when you were 12.

“Can I please, please, please drive?” I begged my mom.

“Oh…I guess,” she said as we climbed in the truck.  I raced down the hill toward the hayfield, trying to outrun the dust that was building into a cloud behind me.  I had been practicing driving in the fields for a couple of years, and was pretty good at it.  When I found out how useful it was around the barn, I tried to drive as much as I could.

When we came to the strip of land beside the river where my grandfather was haying, we saw a wagon half-full of bales, and rows of hay everywhere. Things were going well for a few minutes while we watched, but soon you could hear a stream of curses and the tractor being revved up as my grandfather rocketed up the hill, slammed it into park, and started to climb down. The wagon was now full of loose hay and more was seeping out the kicker.  It was hard to hear over the tractor and the baler, but we didn’t have to hear to tell it wasn’t working.

We walked over and climbed up to look into the baler with him.  The baler had decided to stop tying the bales and was just kicking loose hay into the wagon.  My grandfather and mom were standing on the tire picking twine out of the gears and cleaning out the knotter, while I ran to get tools.  When my grandfather climbed back into the tractor and started down the rows, the baler worked again, and kicked the tied hay into the wagon.  My mom and I looked at each other and sighed in relief. Only five or so bales later, though, it started all over again.

We fought with the baler for the rest of the afternoon, until all the hay had been tied.  I rode on top of the hay up to the barn where we backed the wagon into the shed, too tired to unload it that night.  We sat out in front of the barn for a while as the sun went down, and you could feel the air getting cooler.  The cats found laps to sit on, and the heifers wandered up to the edge of the fence to have their necks scratched.

One of the hottest days of the summer started with us finding a big section of our new fence lying on the ground, where someone had driven through it overnight.  We only had three people that day, and a lot of fence to fix, tearing up fence posts and taking down a lot of wire.  It took a couple of hours to fix, but it was just so hot and a little depressing to be rebuilding something we had worked so hard on.  When we headed back home for lunch, I was covered in cuts where the barbed wire had gone through my jeans.  It was worth it, though, when we drove by at night and all the cows were grazing on top of the hill with the moon coming up behind them.  It was beautiful and you felt good knowing that they weren’t still inside.

Summer came and went.  The heifers that had gone outside had been bred and shipped… except for Jenna. She was my favorite and I know that my grandfather pretended to just forget about her so that she would be too close to calving to ship. I walked down the hill to where there were about 10 grazing. Jenna was huge and had bagged tremendously over the last few days. Her due date was coming soon and she needed to come back inside. I hugged her and we started up to the barn together. She was so pregnant that it was too much work for her to object.

We debated whether to try to get her in the barn without my grandfather’s help, and decided to give it a try. I gated her into a feeding bunk and put a collar on her. My mom and brother came out with a bucket of grain and a halter. They opened the back door of the barn while I put the halter on Jenna. She preferred me over anyone, but wasn’t too happy to have a halter on. We took a deep breath and opened the gate. I half expected her to take right off, but she followed the bucket of grain for a while. We were right in front of the door, when she started to get upset. She began swinging her head and pulling, but we had already wrapped the halter around a pipe and she had no other place to go, but in.

Jenna calved a few days later and had a heifer.  She’s as pretty as her mother and growing like crazy.  We kept only three calves that summer, including Lola and Jenna’s and, had lots of kittens. I can’t help but look forward to going and seeing the animals every day.  I like seeing the heifers grazing on the hillside and the smell of the freshly cut hay, being able to lean against Jenna when I’m tired, and just hugging her calf when I need a hug. Even though the work can be hard, and full of frustrations, there is something special about being here. Maybe on the farm, as with the fencing, the twists and barbs you face each day are the things that make you stronger.

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