Busy, busy, busy

My eyeballs hurt!

It’s these darn toothpicks I should have sanded off the sharp points!

It’s been a whirlwind week for our family.

From last week Tuesday, until this past Tuesday, it has been non-stop action.

From chopping corn, purchasing a house, have a Mutant calf being born and our guests from Wales arriving, it makes me feel like I am running on less than fumes.

Steve and Russ and several other men worked most of the weekend to chop corn into silage for filling the long, white bags and the two silos. If I add correctly in my head (re-read the beginning part of this sentence and strongly emphasize correctly), we hauled nearly 150 wagons full of silage to the farm from the field.

You should be able to tell when a farmer has chopped corn to be used as feed.

When driving out in the countryside, observe fields where a portion, about 8-inches, of the corn stalk is still sticking up out of the ground. Those are the fields that have been chopped to be used as feed.

To be even more specific, if you don’t see any plant leaves and such laying on the ground, it was used as feed for animals. If you can see evidence of leaves and other plant parts scattered in the field, more than likely it was a sweet corn acreage.

When chopping corn for feed, farmers use then entire plant.

On top of chopping, last week I took ownership of a house in Searles. It’s an investment property for me. It’s a good way for me to be my own boss, which seems to be the better way for me to work.

I enjoy being alone and fixing things.

Purchasing a house to be used as a rental is perfect! I have already learned how to fix a faucet and rip a towel holder off the wall.

OK, so the towel holder snafu was a mistake. How was I to know the towel bar wasn’t strong enough to hold my weight when I used to balance myself when I reached down to paint the wall? All I can say is I better practice fixing holes in plaster walls.

Saturday morning, I quickly recruited the testosterone in my house to move furniture to the house in Searles. Oh, it’s an elaborate set up there. I mean, that 1970s Formica table with unmatched, paint-splattered chairs; the mattress-less futon and headboard-less bed all make for high-class living! And the Buzz Lightyear and cow-cartoon pillowcases just top it off. (The mattress did arrive Wednesday.)

So Steve and our boys finished chopping Sunday evening and immediately started working on the house I purchased in Searles.

I really needed to get the house prepared for Gwenno and Gwion Pugh and their daughter Anni. (It just struck me as odd that both their names start with “Gw.”)

I call them “The Foreigners.”

The Foreigners arrived from Wales Tuesday evening. We couldn’t be more excited! Steve and our boys haven’t seen them in approximately nine years.

According to Gwenno and Steve, we all look the same, except “we’ve all gained about a stone,” said Gwenno.

For us non-metric Americans, that would be 14 pounds.

I think I have put on three stones!

Well, that’s what my jeans tell me anyway. I feel like an over-stuffed mutant.

Speaking of mutants.

We had one born on the farm Sunday evening. One of our cows gave birth to a Red-and-White Holstein calf. That’s very unusual for a farm that doesn’t own any Red and White Holsteins. Farmers can use bulls with a gene for inseminating a black and white Holstein for producing a Red and White calf.

According to Zach, the herdsman, this calf is a mutant because there is no evidence of that genetic trait in the mother or the bull he used. So somewhere along the family tree of bulls, there was a rogue bull that had a mutated gene. It’s like finding out there’s an infamous villain in your family history.

Zach named her Mutant at one point; now he calls her Red. I call her Big and Steve calls her Big Red.

It’s been a crazy week again, but it’s been a good crazy! We are surrounded by good friends, cute calves and harvesting. (Bean harvest should start next week.)

For questions, or comments, e-mail me at kahoffman@newulmtel.net.

We’re finally empty nesters

Starting today Steve and I are starting another chapter in our life.

And we couldn’t be happier.

I have spent the better part of this week preparing to take both of our sons to the University of South Dakota in Brookings.

Russell is easy to pack for this year, as he will be a freshman and his mother refuses to help him pack. They have been packing their own suitcases since they were youngsters. Why would I start now?

I think we can fit all of Russell’s needs in one vehicle. That’s how boys are – pack just enough to survive.

Joe on the other hand will require a little bit larger vehicle. He will be moving into a house this year with several other guys from the New Ulm area. But then again, this is Joe that I am speaking of. All of his belongings will fit into another vehicle.

So yes, Steve and I will finally be empty-nesters. Woot! Woot!

I am so happy to finally be sending both of our sons off to college. I have written it before, but we started increasing our work force on the farm as soon as we were married. When we celebrated our First Anniversary, we also celebrated being new parents the week before. (It works well. I can always remember Joey’s age, which helps me remember how many years I have bene married.)

Both Joe and Russell are so ready to be out on their own.

I know Steve and I have prepared our sons well to be out in the world making their own choices.

Heck, I am ready for my newfound freedoms.

I will no longer be greeted by a huge pile of laundry sitting in front of the washing machine because Russell cleaned his room.

I won’t find 27 glasses in Joey’s room when I go looking for an HDMI cable to use on my computer.

OK, let’s face reality. I may find a few glasses and bowls in Joe’s room when I go in there to clean it when he’s gone and I may create a pile of laundry when I go into Russell’s room to do a sweep.

I am prepared for that.

I will admit, I am afraid to open their closet doors.

            So I don’t think I am going to shed any tears when we do finally leave the two Hoffman brothers in Brookings. I know they are ready to move on to this next chapter of their lives and I couldn’t be more excited for them.

            There are so many new doors for each of them to open.

On another note, I have passed many people in the streets of our lovely city. Pretty soon I am expecting to pass many lovely chickens in our city. Just remember, chickens can, and do escape, and in Hawaii, feral chickens are a problem. Chickens are all cute and fun and then they celebrate their one-week-old birthday. It’s all fun and games until someone loses a chicken.

My chickens are finally earning their keep. A chicken must be about 6-months of age before she will lay eggs. Sadly, the macho rooster is not needed for a chicken to lay eggs. Now, if you would like to hatch your eggs into one-week-of-cuteness, Mr. Macho has to do his duty. Eggs that are not fertilized by a rooster, are, well…eggs. Fertilized eggs turn into fluffy, noisy baby chicks.

 

Other folks have also asked me about our little Tiny and how she is faring. I am so happy to report that she is doing just absolutely mahvalous! She still gets to come out of the dome and romp around on the grass.

Joe did notice that she wasn’t feeling all that well the other day and he gave her some medication to help lower her fever. She is still eating and making just as much noise as a tub full of baby chicks.

Tiny is big in our world

IMG_0350[2]The miracle of birth on the farm amazes me.

How can something I cannot see with my naked eye turn into something as amazing as adorable as a baby calf?

In the case of Tiny, I don’t think there will ever be another calf born that is as adorable.

Tiny was born a wee bit early, according to our record keeping. In fact, Tiny entered the world an entire 42-days before her due date. Tiny was also born out on the pasture, without any human interaction, which makes it real unusual. I would think any calf born this early would need to have some sort of help in surviving.

From what we have learned in speaking to our vet, it’s very, very unusual for a baby calf to be born this early and to survive.

Apparently Molly, a co-worker of ours, found Tiny as she was checking on the pregnant cows in the open-front barn.  

We have had tiny calves born here before, but Tiny is well…really Tiny.

The average weight of a newborn Holstein calf is 90 pounds. I know how heavy 90 pounds of black and white fluff is. Lifting an average-sized black-and-white calf makes me grunt, and then I usually give up and call over a strong teenager.

But Tiny is another story. I can lift her with nary a joint cracking. One bag of feed or barn lime weighs 50-pounds. One rather large bag of dog food to feed five hungry dogs weighs 46-pounds. I can easily carry all three of those items and it gives me something to compare the weight of Tiny to.

So when I asked Joe, “How much does Tiny weigh?” and he answered, “Less that 50-pounds,” I knew I had to go and lift her off the ground.

It was amazing. I am guessing her weight to be right around 30-pounds. Without hardly any effort, which means no grunting or sweating is involved, I can carry Tiny across the yard.

I questioned whether Tiny’s due date could have been off by six weeks. I guess it’s possible, but Steve didn’t think that was the case this time.

“She has really short hair,” Steve said. “Think about it, when a new calf is born, it has loads of long, fluffy hair.”

He’s correct. I love how new calves are so fluffy after the mother cleans them off. The vet also questioned us on the length of Tiny’s hair, which is nice and white and soft, but without any fluff.

Tiny’s legs are also a bit funky.

Normally a calf is born with straight front legs that look the way we all think a calf’s legs are supposed to look.

Tiny’s front legs have a strange backward bow in them. In fact, I commented to Steve that Tiny and I have the same back bend in our legs.

“She is going to have terrible knee issues when she gets old,” I said.

Tiny can barely reach the bottle holder in the Polydome in which she lives. She still gets exceptional attention when it comes to feeding time. Everyone sits and watches her eat like it’s her last request.

Occasionally, I let her out of the dome in the middle of the afternoon. I think exercise does her body good. Her legs don’t look as peculiar as they did her first day.

Our dog Ole seems to think Tiny is another dog and he tries to get her to play with him. It’s quite charming to see the two interact. Ole runs straight at her and she juts to the left or right. Sometimes she gets the rodeo thing going and kicks her back legs into the air. After that little stunt, she usually ends up on her belly in the soft green grass.

Tiny is going to be just fine; it’s just going to take her a bit longer to catch up in size to all the other calves.

For questions, or comments, email me at kahoffman@newulmtel.net.

It’s getting to be show time

It’s the week before the Brown County Free Fair, which means it’s time to start getting heifers and cows trained to walk while wearing a halter.

Most 4-H students have figured out that having one week to train an animal really isn’t enough. I would like to think most 4-H members that have worked all summer long getting their animals ready for the county fairs throughout Minnesota.

I am sure Russell’s girlfriend Sabrina has been walking her big Brown Swiss cows every day since the beginning of time. Well, OK, maybe not since the beginning of time, but I do know she trains her cows way more than anybody I know.

Most of the4-H livestock participants also know that taking the same animal from year to year makes for an easier summer trying to train an animal. Cows, once tamed, are very affectionate for the rest of their lives. That’s why they become pets.

Russell figured this one out a long time ago. This year he is taking his beloved Silky-again. If you would have been here, you would see just how difficult it is to train a cow. Russell was training her while he was lying on the ground. (I uploaded a video to my facebook and it was one of my most popular posts.)

She really is a great cow, she may win the pageant, but she is the sweetest cow on the farm at this moment. It’s all about what’s on the inside that counts.

So, Tuesday afternoon was the day to start refreshing Silky on her show ring manners. It’s not all that hard.

All a person has to do is walk up to Silky, put a halter on her head and walk around. Usually we bring the cows over near the REA light pole in our yard and tie them to a metal post. We don’t tie Silky to the post, but we leave the leash on her. When she starts to wander, she often steps on the leash, which makes her think she is tied.

I was out sitting on the retaining wall, watching and talking to Silky, when I decided to go get a brush to groom her a bit. Cows love to be brushed.

Silky followed me over, and into, the garage. Then she followed my back to the light pole. All I had to do was talk to her. I did give her one quick swipe with the brush to bribe her back to the grassy area.

The reason I was supervising Silky was because Russell was retrieving Si, Silky’s daughter. He was going think of taking her to the fair and that means we had to start training.

Yep, no big rush on time there!

Si is a rebel; she has never been on a leash. We trapped Si between two gates and managed to put a halter on that small head.

The minute we open the gates, Si started trying to pull Russell around the open-front, dry-cow barn.

It takes a lot to pull Russell around a barn.

Russell and I managed to get Si out of the barn. He was pulling from the front and I was pushing from the back.

How is it that I ended up with the back end? The back end of a cow is dangerous in so many ways.

We managed to push and pull Si near the four-wheeler and tied her lead to the rack.

That’s when the fun begins.  

We very slowly started moving forward; Si puts on her super-sturdy, heavy gripper brakes and locks them, and the tug-of-war begins.

I just pray she stays on her feet. My cow Pogo, may she rest in peace, would be playing the wet-noodle trick at this point and throw herself on the ground.

Any normal animal is going to figure it out that if she just walks along with us, it will be a much nicer walk. I will admit, Jersey’s don’t always act normal.

Si continued to apply the brakes the entire way over to the REA pole by the house. And she continued to keep the rope pulled tight after we stopped. Doh.

After a half hour, we pulled Si over to the calving barn and put her in her specially-created pen. This time, when we were physically pulling and pushing, I had the front end and Russell had the back end, which was good, because Si let him have it. And I don’t mean she kicked him.   

Russell wasn’t pleased. I silently laughed.

We will continue to work with Si every day. If her attitude doesn’t adjust she won’t be going to the fair.

I’m driving semi now

I’m always up for a challenge.

So when Steve dared me to drive the semi Wednesday morning, you can bet I was in 100 percent. Daring me to attempt something always ensures that I will participate. (It just dawned on me that Steve has probably figured that out!)

I have actually driven our personal semi around our farm yard, but this was a special semi that I needed to drive.

It belongs to Steve’s brother, Don.

So I had to be extra careful, even though Don’s semi doesn’t have a cartoon cow on the door like ours does, damaging it would still sting, and prevent me from ever driving it again.

“I will go get the semi from Don’s and then honk the horn when I drive past the house,” Steve said, which made me feel so special. “You can bring the tractor to the field.”

When I heard the horn, I rolled off the couch, walked out to the tractor and climbed in. I turned the ignition, pushed one lever out of neutral and put the other lever in “C” gear.

We didn’t move. The dashboard display kept flashing “Neutral” at me. I felt like it was laughing at me. How insulting. I knew there was a way to get this thing moving, I just needed for that rude light to quit snorting at me!

I’ve never been tutored in the skill needed to drive this tractor or the inferior feelings it left me with. I may have to discuss this with management. Oh wait ? I am management.

As it flashed that naughty word at me, I thought, “Well, duh, if I were not in neutral I would be out in the middle of the field already.”

Eventually I figured out that you can’t put that little one lever into neutral before you put it in gear. You have to wait until after. then the neutral light goes silent! Take that, obnoxious neutral light!

Once I met up with Steve at the east end of the alfalfa field, we switched implements.

It was time for my 20-second lesson in the “art” of driving a semi. I couldn’t help but silently sing, “Eighteen wheels and a dozen roses. Ten more miles on this for day run.”

Who was I kidding? I had the eighteen wheels, but the dozen roses was a long stretch.

“Here’s the diagram of the gears,” Steve said as he pointed to a blue and white decal on the dash. “When you need to go, you need to take the brakes off. This one here” he said pointing to a big red button, “will release the trailer brakes. The other one releases the brakes on the semi.”

“The tricky thing is this,” he continued, “they work together, so if you set the semi brakes, the trailer brakes with engage too. So you have to pay attention to that. And if you’re taking the brakes off, make sure they are both off.”

I could handle that. (I was still waiting for my roses.)

Did you know that air pressure is used to release a semi’s brakes? I learned that today. I knew air was involved with driving semi’s, but not to release the brakes. I thought it was just used to raise the cab off the air bags on the frame.

“Open the windows a bit and I will honk the horn when I want you to stop,” Steve added.

Horn be damned! I like horns, but they are not my preferred form of communication!

That was the extent of my tutoring in the proper semi-driving technique and I was on my own, which is the way I prefer it.

When it was time to move forward, I pushed in the clutch and struggled to find first gear. I pushed further down on the clutch and still couldn’t find first gear. Steve was already loading bales onto the wagon.

First gear be damned! I wanted to honk the horn!

Much later I figured out that if I didn’t push the clutch down so hard, it would slip right into first gear.

I was on my way, tootling down the length of the field.

Eventually, I heard the wimpy toot from the tractor horn. (Seriously, for being a tough machine, it has a horn that belongs in a Volkswagen.) I stomped on the clutch. I stomped on the brake. Two rather large round bales of hay came rolling off the wagon, toward the cab.

All I could think was, “Oh my gawd, I’m going to die by hay bale crushing. I mean, I wish my belly was flatter, but being rolled flat by hay bales was not in the plans!”

Eventually, I looked out the back window and breathed a sigh of living-relief. There, in between the semi-tractor and wagon, were two round bales of hay.

I felt my plump belly and breathed a sigh of relief.

Well, that threw being careful out the window.

I was never tutored on the proper pedal pressure when applying the brakes.

Tutor be damned!

I was most proud of myself for bringing the loaded wagon back to the farm without having the semi die on me as I drove up a hill, or losing any cargo.

My tutor never covered the prevention of bales rolling off the back of the wagon either.

 

Kerry Gaylord Hoffman's photo.

Photo: This chick is learning to drive semi! Johnny Cash just came on the radio. Steve's loading bales on the trailer. Doesn't get any better than this!

Dogs rock

1406237609350Not only do dogs provide us with love on the farm, they also provide fun and rodent control.

Between Lilly, the black and white Great Dane; Ole, the rust-colored Pit Bull and Bob the Chocolate Lab, there is always something going on. Ole has such an expressive face. Lilly is just a big doof and Bob is always fairly serious; she’s a senior citizen.

These three dogs love to go swimming in the river. Not that Lilly and Ole are any good at it, but they do have fun. Bob still loves to do the infamous doggy paddle.

Our dogs keep away rats, cats and any other varmint that wanders to close to the farm. I KNOW THEY keep skunks at bay too. They come home smelling like Peppy le Pew often enough.

We love our dogs as if they are family because they are family.

Riff – raff returns to our area

Well, I thought I lived on the safe side of the Minnesota River.

I mean, I know that the area of St. George is considered “God’s Country,” but I didn’t think the area around Searles was too far behind the land of amazing corn and soybean harvests.

We have pretty good harvests in our neighborhood too. By the way, a neighborhood in rural terms encompasses everything within a 10-mile radius of a farmer’s homestead.

It’s true, I have friends that live near Sigel ballpark that I consider neighbors. I would like to think Sigel residents feel the same way.

But I digress, which happens a lot to me when I sit down at my computer. Back to the matter at hand.

I feel like I live in a rather unassuming area. There is very little riff-raff that enters my expansive circle. If there were, I would have to create Steven Spielberg’s story “Under the Dome.”

Sure, we have the occasional wayward soul that seems to think it’s OK to dump garbage, animal carcasses and appliances in the neighborhood, but even that ugly activity has decreased as time moves forward.

My two theories concerning the decrease in riff-raff activity is this: 1. They are too old to lift the appliances out of the pickup bed; 2. We have actually caught one of these souls dumping garbage and he ended up getting ticketed for something way worse that littering. I bet word spreads fast in their “neighborhoods” on safe dumping grounds.

So, the other day, when I decided to take my two capable dogs for a run, using my bike, I was a bit dismayed at what happened to me.

I have one rather large Great Dane, who needs to diet and exercise. According to the latest dog medical magazine, Lilly is 20 percent overweight and obese. She passed that milestone over the winter. I tried to hide the story from her, but she is too tall and she managed to see all those pictures of overweight dogs.

All she could do was look at me with those sad-dog eyes.

“I’m obese?”

On  the other hand, I just adopted a pitbull-lab cross, and he has problems with too much energy. He subscribes to Dog Fit magazine. Ole needs to always have somewhere expansive to run and play. Usually he chooses to visit the Schlumpberger residence, which is only one mile away from the home fort in my 10-mile circle, to play with their rat terrier.

In an effort to appease both dogs, I hopped on my bike and took off down the road. Not soon enough. Steve came driving up behind me in his pickup and told me I had a flat tire.

No wonder it was taking all my energy to pedal my bike.

I was sweating like a dog! You do know dogs sweat by panting, right?

I hopped off my bike, laid it in the ditch for later retrieval and kept walking with my dogs.

Soon enough, Russell came by in his Jeep. He had our chocolate lab Bob in the backseat. He said, “Bob wanted to go for a walk too.” (She’s old and very slow.)

“Just wait,” I said, “I’m riding with you and running the dogs like city-folk do.”

I stuck my head out the window and offered cheers of support for both Lilly and Ole, while the wind blew through my summer-blonde hair.

Bob sat in the back seat happily panting as the breeze blew through her Hershey-colored dog hair. She was in heaven. This appeared to be her favorite walk EVER!

We ventured to Grandma Tadpole’s house and visited with Steve, Grandma, Russell, myself and three tired dogs.

One the way back home, I hopped into Steve’s pickup, because I wanted to pick up my bike on the drive home.

I couldn’t believe it! I couldn’t find my bike. Within that hour, someone had lifted my bike!

Riff raff!

I’m OK with that. I figure once the person uses it, they will put it back in the ditch.

If said riff-raff wants to return my bike, believe me, the only question I will ask, is this, “Why did you have to bring it back?”

 

Look out London

So we made it to London.

But not without some much un-needed drama at the customs station in the Paris train station.

The last time we went through customers in Great Britian it was just as ugly.  Some dude getting his jollies off ripping Steve and I up one side and down the other – twice.

This morning, at 6 a.m. no less, Emily and I were given the third degree – twice.

First we walked into the customs area. Emily stepped forward before she heard me say, “Don’t go to him, he looks grumpy.” 

As I stood in line I noticed a friendly-looking woman at another window, so I went over to her.

All of sudden I hear Emily calling my name. I smile and wave my hands and walk over to this dude that was spitting invisible fire.

Apparently, he was grilling Emily as to why I went to the other agent. All she could do was say, “I don’t know why.”

Well, I guess I was supposed to stay by her because she’s a minor. I didn’t know.

So, he’s ripping me a new one about how I should have this letter and it’s possible that he may not let us go on to London…blah, blah, blah. 

I tried answering his questions and he wouldn’t listen.

Meanwhile, the nice male agent to the right was poking fun of the one berating me by shaking his finger at me in the naughty gesture – while I was being told that my attitude sucked!

Eventually, a person stepped into the enclosed security area, turned off the mic and proceeded to talk to both of the agents. 

I was so mad at the dude by this point, I was tearing  up. 

I was imaging the supervisors telling bad ass to be nice. I was also imagining a customs agent without security glass and my two fingers poking into his eyes. 

Eventually we made it through customs. We arrived in London and walked all over the area near Big Ben, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace. I am bushed.