Category Archives: Farmhouse

A portrait

It’s a tap on the shoulder from impermanence to say, eh, sorry, love, but you haven’t got all day. Sheesh. I know that, on your way, I’ve seen the grey hairs, the little wrinkles that he promises me he loves still. The signs to let me know that on awakening from what seems a ten-year slumber while washing the dishes and changing nappies; I’ve awoken and suddenly I’ve grown older. While sleep-depreived and breastfeeding, spoon feeding and toilet training, I had little time for watching the world or really taking as much notice as I would have liked.

While I was measuring the little steps, their height on my pantry wall, their ability to reach the biscuit shelf, everything else was getting a little bit older too. You’re right, impermanence, time does not wait for any man or woman. Just show yourself out will you?

They’re older now, in fact, they’re all away, at their Nana’s, two nights away and I believe I just heard silence, real silence. There it is again. No sound. No screaming or pushing, laughing, ‘I’m hungry-ing’, no falling, nobody has let the cats in or out, nobody has slammed a door. There is just me and my tap, tap, tapping and head space and oh my, do I have a lot to catch up on.

And empty, the house reminds me of a frame of a beautiful picture, I mean, it’s a very fine frame, a collector’s item really, regardless of the battered edges that lend it a somewhat fine aged contour. But it is an empty picture nonetheless without the three main characters in the picture’s portrait. The little beautiful creatures who take up the foreground of the painting of our lives here. And here, listen to me, me with time on my hands, to tidy in peace, sit still, watch uninterrupted television, to read a book, feed a calf and I’m sitting here thinking of them.

Time without children is time to recuperate, time to recover from the exhaustion of always being somebody’s, some three bodies mother. Where does time go? She’s off to the garden, with a beer and a little music and a bit of appreciation for the finest things in this life.

In gratitude of my beautiful portrait.

 

Anne

 

 

About now

About now, you’ve finished early, taken the tie off, flung it on the backseat or relaxed in your casual Friday gear; you’re off to collect the kids that extra hour early. It might be a Chinese for supper, or that new Asian street food place you like. He puts that wine you like in the fridge and you buy the croissants for Saturday morning or pancakes, he makes pancakes on Saturday morning as a treat. It is, after all, the weekend. I dream of your weekend sometimes, remember, that time when, in a lifetime ago, I clocked out early on Fridays and met up with the gang after hours to exchange out of hours office gossip over cocktails and local beers. Dream of how himself might finish at five, collect the kids while I get my hair done for a night out.

And so to now, how can I describe the weekend to you on the farm? What changes on the Friday, moreso, Saturday to whisper take-that-break? As usual, I can only describe this evenings scene. Friday is market day in our nearby town and myself and my almost four year old make it our business to shake hands with the fish monger (they’ve built up a friendship) and pick up enough fish to feed, let me see, two men, one woman, three boys for dinner.  And then from under her awning, local farmhouse baker, Audrey, who has been up since 5am baking delicious cakes, saves me a job and I carry home dessert for after our meal of fish. The children, like yours, come home without homework and they disappear, to play, shout, cartwheel. This evening they are pirates, all three with hats on as they shout orders to each other while the cows look on, chewing their cud, happily in the sun, until the farmer and his pirates swashbuckle into the field to bring them home for milking.

As to the cats, on weekdays I shoo them out, there are four, Coco and her children Hermione, Harry and Tom (formerly known as Lily) but at the weekend they remain hidden happily in various parts in or out of the farmhouse, in an available basket, basking in the sun on top of one of our collies, Sam and Pepe. I might wash the ware, or not straight away. There’s no rush, the weeks work is done in the farmhouse, I listen to my radio, light a candle, chill that wine, think about writing to you, watch my pirates as they laugh into the Kerry air surrounded by cows and cats and dogs, their family.

The work really doesn’t stop but it might move down a gear, but don’t tell anyone. We continue to milk the cows twice a day, feed calves twice a day, move wires, fence, feed remaining silage to heifers, clean out cubicles for any remaining animals housed, go to the creamery for supplies to keep us going for the weekend, fix water troughs that might need mending, spread fertiliser, slurry, agitate same slurry and an innumerable amount of other chores so that we can have Sunday afternoon off between milking. Phew, you say.

My friends have stopped asking, we’re not really available to meet on Saturdays but we’d love to see you Sundays. We’re great friends on Sundays, between milkings. And yes, it is difficult. But it reminds me to book a babysitter, to remind himself to finish milking early on Saturday. It is our life, one that I know, though it has it’s moments, now, I have come to love. I’ll take my chair and book and tea later and sit outside and watch all my pirates chat with their Daddy as they bring their cows in and delight in the weekend that is here.  Sometimes I bring the cows in but not on Friday evenings let it for Daddy and boy time as they take off along with the cats, dogs and cows to wonder over to the milking parlour all enjoying each others company. And I breathe in the weekend and exhale the busy week that was. Another weekend on a dairy farm as I take my little break.

Have a wonderful weekend.

 

Number 428

On my first married Easter on the farm, I helped deliver calf number 428. It was chaotic. I was only in the yard to remind my newly married spouse that time was ticking and that we had to be driving to my parent’s house in Cork. I wouldn’t ask it now. Come on. But remember, I was new to this and he was still trying to break me in.

So I arrived in the farmyard in my flowery wellies trying to move him on when I heard a lot of mooing; three cows were calving. Himself was helping two cows out in the calving house, one of whom was having difficulty calving (the vet would have to be called) and another who needed some assistance. One nervous heifer (first time mother let’s say) was nervously backing out of a paddock not knowing what was happening to her (in labour). To ease her worry, I, of all people, stepped in, she who had never seen a cow calf before, to help calm the lady down. I shu-shu-shushed her, cajoled her to calm down with my ‘there-theres’ until eventually she settled herself down in a feeding passage (portion in front of the main sheds where silage is placed for the cows to eat) to calf. Not the perfect location let’s say.

When the vet arrived for the cow in the shed, the scene was chaotic, with the two in the shed in trouble, one in the feeding passage in labour, not to mention the new wife in flowery wellies practically singing to the calving heifer. I remember the poor vet asking Dan bewildered if ‘all was alright?’ not quite sure of the scene he had come upon. To be honest, my lady would have calved away by herself but being enthusiastic and fully sure that this new husband of mine could not manage without his new Jane Eyre, I stood behind the cow as she calved. He had given a few instructions. When the crew beans (calf’s hooves) appear and I was sure the calf was coming out the right way, I could help ease the calf out with the cow’s breath. I felt it; and if truth be told, it helped me when it came to my turn in the labour ward. With each exhalation, she pushed her calf further along it’s journey out. I would wait for her to exhale and then pull on the crew beans to help ease her burden. With a breath, a nose appeared, and she’d breathe again; a nose. Eyes, closed. Ears. Shoulders and then slide, the release into the world. She delivered calf number 428.

She was the first little calf I ever helped to deliver. There was so many that Spring and in my quest to impress himself, I spent a lot of time in those days, feeding calves, preparing bedding, cajoling newborns to drink their milk. I remember 428 as a healthy calf. In the years that followed I continued to know her as she was a bit of a pet. They normally don’t but she was one of those who would come over to you for a bit of a rub. If I was hanging out the washing and the cows were grazing in the field behind the house, she would always come over to me. It’s as if she knew.

So Thursday, I got the text. He was selling cows and would I get the cards ready (each cow had a passport that goes with them when they go for sale at the mart)? Her number appeared. There in the list of numbers was number 428. Honestly, the same day was crazy busy. It didn’t have a lot of time to register with me. There was Christmas tree to sort, kids stuff to attend to, I had to milk the cows (me, yes!) so I put it to the back of my mind. Before I knew it, she had left the yard. I can only say that she lived well here. Knowing him, she had always been treated well, ate in fine pasture, sauntered into milk each day for us. But it doesn’t make it easy when a cow leaves the farm. The difference is now though is that I’m not that girl in flowery wellies ‘playing at farming’ anymore. I’m all grown up. Farming is our family business and is our life here. Just like my hands that are no longer soft, I know that we give our animals a good life in return for their produce and then when lameness or old age threatens them, when they don’t go in calf or when their milk supply goes down, it’s their time to leave the herd. No matter what their number.

It’s hard. I’m sad both for 428 and for the girl in flowery wellies who watched her coming into the world. When I finish this post, the thought will be put to bed as I get on with the next chore of the evening. You know, if you’ve read along this while (and I thank you), then you’ll know that I love farming but it really can be a very hard life.

Number 428.

Badabing

You have to be a little bit sneaky when you want something on a farm. There’s always a queue. Look, this year there was a slurry tank, a course and a milking parlour before us. In fact in ten years, there’s been a lot before us. And the luxuries you have to squeeze past like they’re sales pitches.

A trip to New York. Think of it as an investment, in the farm, your marriage, our mental health. We can do it in the quiet of the year. When the cows are dried off. I know, I know, I say, holding the brochures in and around his vicinity for a month, it could be a bad year. Then again. A good year like a bad year in farming is like a surprise. You never know. It’s a toss of a coin.

Then again, you could hold this pitch when say for example, maybe, when, em, he hasn’t sleep in a few nights in the Spring. I know. I know. Sneaky but stick with me. It’s for his (read our) own good.

You’re feeling sleepy. Ten calves have arrived in forty eight hours. Wouldn’t a soft bed in a New York Hotel with your wife be dreamy. Oh so sleepy. There will be Manhattans and fun and New York adventures and so many dreams for a sleepy, oh so sleepy Dairy farmer.

Sounds good doesn’t it?

And before he knows it, he’s sipping that Manhattan in the Tavern on the Green in Central Park and his face is saying ‘Well, ain’t this life grand.’

Well, when you’re married ten years, you get to know the short cuts.

He’s back on terra firma, checking out the cows after I stole him away for five whole nights without the kids to celebrate our anniversary after ten crazy years. And a break is really as good as a rest. And when you’re married to the coolest, calmest man in well, actually, the universe, your holiday is a meditation where you get to enjoy every moment in the company of your best friend.

Back to the grindstone, the hooting and New York twang is just a ringing in our ears as he teaches the three Yankee capped boys how to play baseball (using a Youtube video) and they roar and shout about rules and catches and home-runs in a North Kerry green field basking in the yellow November light. Now in a more New York state of mind. Badabing.

Ooooooooooooooommmmmm

Picture the scene. A farmhouse in North Kerry, Ireland, November, 2016. It’s windy and cold outside. The farmer of the house is milking the cows. Inside, in the main living area of the house, there are three young boys running everywhere while a mother shouts commands. The children in response jump off the couches, scream at lost blankies, pout at the injustice of it all.

They arrange the meditation cushions, fighting all the time about who gets what colour. The mother, determined, pulls the cushions into a circle. There is a crashing noise in the background. A black cat appears from the kitchen looking coy. She’s undeterred. She asks the children to get down on their cushions. They’re going to meditate.

“May we safe from inner and out harm” And by that she means that the eldest takes his foot off his brother.

“May we be happy and peaceful” hoping that her emphasis on peaceful really resonates in their inner sanctum or that they just stop talking long enough for her to get to the end of the sentance.

“May we be healthy and strong” repeating her lifelong wish that they get to adulthood without her losing her mind.

As she sits in the lotus, eyes closed, in this scene of chaos of sprawling limbs and giddiness, she smiles. Maybe just a little.

“What about the om’s Mom” the second boy giggles. Oh God, she thinks, not the oms.

And then echoing throughout the farmhouse, on a rainy morning in Kerry just before schooltime, three boys and their mother hold some ‘Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooms’ for longer than is descent and louder than is possible.

Sometimes, after this ‘practice’, they arise from the cushions having got the crazy out, othertimes, they pull her up willing her to go on. Mostly, the poor woman gets up shaking her head walking towards the coffee machine, dejected. Why does she do it?

She hopes that they remember that in the craziness, that there was for a few moments, at least, a smiling mom in the middle of it all. That they can always find peace in the middle of all the chaos. Repeat.

Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmm.

I walk with you

So I thought I was having a bad week. And then I thought again.

It’s been a tough week. As I type I have one little boy in arm my arms burning up with a fever, medicated to cool down into sleep and there is little else for it but to hold him for a while. His brothers are shivering and feverish on the couch. It’s one of those parental days when you put it all on hold to get them back on their feet.

It comes on top of a lot of other things. The bills, the poor milk cheque that we thought would resolve things, the upcoming anniversary trip that maybe we shouldn’t take. The parlour that looks like it might never be built. Poor me.

And then I think of her. She’s putting layers of clothes on her boys so she’ll have enough for them to survive the Eastern European winter. She can’t carry non-essentials. Leaving photographs behind, his first baby hat that she kept because she couldn’t bring herself to throw it away, the little sheet on the wall with the first scribble of his name. Will they make it? Will they survive the walk? Where will it bring them? Will they make it out of the war zone alive?

Perspective.

He is beginning to cool down. He breathes deeply in his little sleep and of course I know he’ll be alright. The bills, well, you know, they always get paid. Farming is a sticky old business. One year you’re doing good enough to invest back into the farm with a new road, an extra spread of lime, reseeding and then along comes the year that is wet and the market dictates your every move. And we sulk a bit (well I do anyway), adjust the budget and recollect ourselves and count our blessings. In a few hours time they’ll be up and running around, fighting and healthy. The parlour, believe me, will get built. It will Dan, it will. We’ll take that trip because we can. And we’ll laugh the whole time. And continue to count our blessings.

So as I sit and type with my boy in arms, I walk with you. You don’t know me. I don’t know you. But I walk with you. That you and your little boys be safe, that you are delivered to safety soon.

Second Cut Silage

I’m stuffed from cold chips. It’s that kind of a day. You grab meals while you run between the two smallest boys who want a drive on one of the five tractors bringing in silage outside the door and the kitchen where you run getting the tea ready. By now, I can time it well enough. They have another five acres to collect, the sky is holding, so the silage men will eat before they cover the pit. I’ve got a half an hour.

It was an early start. As always, we were in a rush around the farmhouse, our usual tardy selves catching up with the day. I put the bacon onto boil while I made the scones; a dozen brown, a dozen fruit. With the oven still hot, I put the bacon now smeared with honey, mustard and cloves into bake and it’s scent wafts into every corner of the house. I lay the table and have to run to town. I never know when the crew are to eat until closer to the time so I have the food ready to go. Scones covered, ham cooling, salads ready.

All the way home from town the boys ask if the tractors have arrived. I’m not sure. Maybe. Probably. Every five minutes or maybe less, the same answer. Soon. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see. And then as we drive along our road, we can see the big machines in the silage fields sucking up the grass like a straw in a green field with their forage harvesters. To placate the boys who just want to go to Daddy, I set two chairs up in the field so they can watch the trailers emptying their loads of grass onto the pit and see the awe-inspiring packer climb over the grass even-ing it off expertly. I know it would take my boys in wellies about five minutes to get to the gate so I run between them and the kitchen. With the tractors parked up in the yard, I can switch on the oven and fill the kettle all the time running between the children and the oven.

All plates were eaten whilst watching an Irish athlete go for gold at the Olympics. He broke an Irish record as we all watched on drinking the tea and eating the ham, satisfied. No rest for the wicked, the pit has to be covered, the children have to watch on and I have the ware to wash. The cow’s feed saved for the winter. I might just flick that kettle on again before the running starts again. Second cut silage saved.