It’s Springtime on the Farm!
For many people, the sight of a robin is the first sign of spring. But for me, the first sign of spring is a bucketful of Zip’s hair.
Zip is one of my three horses. Over the past eleven years, I have discovered that Zip can predict the severity and duration of winter better than any groundhog ever could. This year, Zip developed the coat of a polar bear. Unfortunately, the predictive capability of his outer covering was, once again, spot on. We had one of the coldest, bitterest, snowiest winters that I can remember in a long time. The photo of Zip’s frosty ears is proof positive that his fur coat was not for naught.
So now, with the lengthening of days and the onslaught of southerly breezes, Zip has decided he no longer needs his protective coat. I first noticed that he was beginning to shed when I saw him rubbing his neck along the edge of the horse feeder. Shedding makes him itchy and miserable. So, I sighed, got the horse comb – and a bucket. It’s not my first rodeo with Zip.
The first day I filled the bucket twice, smushing down the hair each time. The second day – two buckets full again. I am now down to about half a bucket per day, but then I fill the bucket the rest of the way with hair from my other two horses. They never get the furry coat that Zip does, but they also don’t tolerate the winter the way Zip does.
The horses love being groomed in the spring. It’s like a horsey massage. Their eyes half close while their lower lip relaxes and their heads drop. They will actually nudge and push each other out of the way to get closer to me and my grooming tools. (“It’s my turn!” “No! You went first last time!”)
Then its my dogs’ turn. They are Labs. You know, from Labrador. Way up North. They love the snow – frolicking in it, licking it, rolling in it. They start panting when the thermometer climbs to the low 70s. The next bucket is filled with their undercoat.
I, on the other hand, am a human. My protective winter coat has a zipper. And I am absolutely thrilled when I can, once again, shed it. This past winter, there were days when it literally took me five minutes to put on all the outer clothing needed to do my chores. Dressed in my indoor pants, long-sleeved T-shirt and wool socks, I then added: bib overalls, sweatshirt, wool hat, neck and face scarf, coat with attached hood, glove liners, fur-lined boots, and finally outer gloves. And then I had to pee. Just kidding. That’s a rookie mistake.
There are other signs of spring as well. My tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and peonies are all sending up shoots. Early spring grasses and weeds are turning green. The cottonwood and native creek elm trees are all budding. Water fowl are migrating. The dry, cold winter air is gone and the morning air, while still chilly, now has a dampness to it. And the sunrise is once again visible from our bedroom window.
I like to tell people that, although we didn’t know it at the time, when we built our farmhouse ten years ago, we built our own personal Stonehenge. Our bedroom window juts out to the north of our garage, and our kitchen window juts out on the south. As it turns out, on the spring equinox, we catch our first glimpse of the sunrise through our bedroom window as the sun shifts to the north. Then, on the autumn equinox, we catch our first glimpse of the sunrise through our kitchen window as the sun shifts to the south. The position of our house was determined for other reasons, but this side benefit has turned out to be my favorite.
Yesterday, I planted my beet seeds. Beets are an early spring crop, and resistant to light frost. I will plant other garden seeds later, when all threat of frost is past, but beets are always my first and favorite. I still have a few jars of canned beets from last year’s crop, but by the time my new crop is ready to harvest, I’m sure they will be eaten.
Yesterday, I also hosed down our garage floor. There are sooooo many benefits to country living, but I would be lying if I said there were no disadvantages as well. First, and foremost, is unpaved country roads. Most of the county roads around our farm are sand roads. A few in our county are chalk or fine rock, and some of the really poor roads are just plain dirt. The level of maintenance is dependent upon the level of traffic use and number of homes nearby. This past winter, it was impossible to keep the roads in good condition. I would have been unable to travel the roads at all, had I not had a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Snow melted, then turned to slush, mixed with sand and mud, then froze again. Then we got more snow, then more slush, then more mud, ad nauseum. Frozen chunks of this mixture clung to wheel wells, then melted and dropped to the garage floor overnight. Yesterday I cleaned out three-months-worth of county road debris from our garage floor.
Every new season brings a new list of farm chores with it, and I love it. Just when I get tired of tending my garden, it’s time to harvest. Just when I get tired of mowing, we get our first freeze. Just when I get tired of the snow, Zip starts shedding.
(One of my most memorable springtime stories from my childhood is about a calf named Cinnamon. It begins in March and finishes in October of my first book A Year on the Family Farm.)
Next week: What is that smell?!