You might think that farm life would come to a grinding halt during a summer like this one. You certainly can't bale much hay when it rains at least two out of every three days.
Chopping is problematic, too. It is very expensive to seed down a hay field. Unlike corn, which is an annual crop that is planted anew every year, hay is supposed to last at least a few years. However, if you drive heavy machinery into a field to harvest it, and the ground is super saturated as it has been this summer, you will leave ruts. Hay doesn't grow well in ruts and they wreak havoc with the delicate parts of haying machinery. Rake teeth, ditto the teeth on chopper and combine pickup heads, mower blades, and lots of other parts succumb quickly to the rise and fall of rutted ground, hidden beneath new-grown hay. It is insanely costly to replant fields, too; especially alfalfa and such.
Thus, crop harvest has to be accomplished during windows of good weather. And as we all know, those have been quickly shuttered this year, as the rain slams down like a window shade, again and again.
However, despite the setbacks and disasters of summer harvest there is plenty going on.
Here at Northview there is the whole orphaned kitten thing. Liz is raising two of them, though neither of them actually lost their mamas. Smog and Miss Fit were born to first-time mothers. Neither of them read the parenting manual. Thus five of Miss Pumpkin's six failed to thrive for long after their birth in mud. Liz delivered the sixth, Smog, and has helped raise him ever since. He is now a fluffy, if not particularly lovely little fellow, clambering all over the horse barn. He does live up to his name, however, being gray, dull, and not particularly sweet-scented.
Miss Fit was born up west o' here on a family member's barn. Same story, different ZIP code. Since Liz was feeding and tending Smog she figured she might as well bring the other one home, too. Missy is much younger and needs kitty milk replacer and a kitten bottle. However, Pumpkin, who was such a horrendous mother to her own babes, has finally figured it all out and feeds and tends her several times each day, which makes for a busy little arrangement.
Meanwhile, new mama cows need special care each day, as do all the little calves. Just waiting for such blessed events presents a marathon dilemma. Cows refuse to calve when you want them to. So you check them morning, whenever you go past the barn during the day, and evening.
Sometimes when you go out early in the morning, dodging mosquitoes and stinking of Off, you find a fine new baby, standing, nursing, gamboling happily around its mama. Sometimes a foolish heifer delivers the goods right before your eyes. Standing up. Into an old pig watering trough. Which thanks to our recent benevolent weather is full of water. Sometimes you are glad for Liz, guru of baby animals of all kinds. She is swift to remove it from its watery almost-grave, and to massage life into its newborn lungs. Sometimes it lives, thrives and is named Curly after the gent of Three Stooges fame. It is nearly as comical as its namesake, too.
Sometimes you wonder, on a rare, clear, summer midnight, what on earth they use to light that train crash site, just across the river and up to the west a bit. I swear it is as bright as a welder, only a welder that lights up the whole valley, even turning the honey locust outside the kitchen into a shining beacon of silver and black, from all that way away. It is the oddest thing to see. How do they do that?
Sadly, birding has been curtailed by the storms and alarums of this soggy, sorry excuse for a year. The usual suspects hang around the yard, a blaze of blue indigo bunting, who sings, and sings, and sings, until you could almost get tired of him. Not quite, though.
Then standing at the kitchen sink, sans glasses. Something is moving the bee balm blossoms, amazing, big, bright, red beauties that they are this year. They swirl and twirl and ripple and bend as if in an invisible wind. A run for those glasses reveals a hummingbird plumbing them for all he is worth. Such diligence to probe every single floret, one by one. It takes a while and if the camera wasn't all packed for camp, I'll bet he would strike a pose.
However, excitement is rare and this year's whole-farm species count lags well behind last year's tabulation of house and barn yards. There are some days though. Once again, one of those clear ones that come along every three or four weeks. Something is happening right in the yard.
Something eerie. The air goes silent while I'm hanging out laundry (such optimism). It is an expectant, nervous silence, pregnant with worry. A robin talks from the tree above, but oddly, wrongly. A cedar waxwing's thin trill of, "seed, seed, seed" echoes, is equally subdued and fearful.
I crane around trying to see, and so get to observe the denouement of the drama taking place among the leaves. The robin pops out of the tree, shrieking an alarm call I have heard on videos, but never experienced live, then out soars a Cooper's hawk, a big, fat, hen, who has been terrorizing the neighborhood.
From out of the heifer barn rips the resident barn swallow, blazing ire and full of temper. Tiny little silken guy, he is so fierce that he routs the crow-sized predator of small birds, like David stoning Goliath and escorts her to the property line. I swear, he is puffed up twice his normal size when he returns to his lady.
So summer is not dull on a dairy farm, even when the weather is.
Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS
is a regular columnist. She blogs