Archives for posts with tag: cows

Country Fresh

A.V. Walters

Even while I lived in the city, I hung onto my rural roots. I gardened and produced most of my summer fare from a postage stamp-sized back yard. I canned jams from the plum tree, and I hung my laundry out in the sun, to dry. So, it should come as no surprise that, when I moved to the farm, not only would I want to continue these patterns, but there’d be some room for expansion. But when I explained my plans to Elmer, he seemed a bit alarmed. Not at the gardening, that made perfect sense. And, like a lot of country folk, he fully supports canning. The problem arose when I asked Elmer to put up a clothesline, of all things!

He squirmed at the notion, “Why the heck would you want to do something like that?” I was ready with my environmentally friendly, power-of-the-sun, low-carbon-footprint, Pollyanna diatribe.

“Well, we have a lot of wind, you know. It whips up the dust, and all. So, you’d want to be sure to bring it in before the afternoon winds start up.” He didn’t sound convincing, and it seemed like a strange response—a little wind would be exactly the ticket. In what better environment could there be to dry laundry? (I’d failed to note the almost-complete absence of clotheslines, in the area.)

Elmer never did help out with getting that line up, and given his reaction, I didn’t press it. After a while, I bought the materials and installed it myself. And, he was right about the wind and the dust. If you left the laundry out, late in the day, you’d have to wash it, again. But our mornings were still, and my line was set up to take advantage of the morning sun.

One morning I pulled a fresh towel from the line and headed into town for a swim. (There’s nothing like a vigorous work-out in chlorinated water to clear your head.) As I walked back into the changing room, I caught the unmistakable stench of cow manure. I laughed to myself and thought, somewhere there’s a farmer in here, for sure.

I’ll have to admit, here, that when you’re exposed to something a lot, you become, well, desensitized and… I live next door to a dairy. So, when I grabbed my towel, I almost choked. That farmer was me! And that certainly explained why they don’t hang their laundry out. Oh my! And that was the end of my energy saving foray with country laundry.

Someday, I’ll live somewhere with a different background aroma—and I’ll go back to the clothesline. (Rick said he thinks he knows the perfect location.)


We have settled into our normal summer weather pattern. That’s warm (80s) days and cool nights, fueled by ocean fog. It slows down the garden some, but makes this valley extremely livable. You can watch its magic, just before dusk when the winds from the west sweep in a low ‘cloud’ layer, that’s really high fog. Some evenings the sunlight streams in, below the fog, and its raking light illuminates the fields, revealing things you never see in mid-day.

This pattern lets us reap the benefit of old-fashioned air conditioning—we open the windows at night and close them in the morning before the first glimpse of sunshine. It keeps the house in the 60s and 70s, regardless of the daytime highs. Each day the overcast, fog really, clears by about 10:00 am. This gives us marginally shorter daylight exposures, and, sure, that makes for a slightly longer number of days to harvest. It’s worth it. Because our daytime temperatures are also mediated by the ocean, we don’t get the blistering summer temperatures of the inland valleys. It keeps the grapes away. The grapes like really hot days.

Now, doesn’t that sound catty? The NorthBay area, famous for it’s stellar wines and acres of rolling vineyards, has agricultural flair, but sometimes lacks the depth of real farming. It is boutique and/or corporate. Throughout the north bay counties our organic farmers and Farm Trail participants keep it real. It’s only my opinion, but to keep the farm atmosphere, I think the investment side needs to have a stake in the game. Put simply, I like to see dirt under the fingernails. Elmer doesn’t do dirt, but, at an age when most would’ve retired, he still sweats the details of chickens and sheep. If the coyotes yip and howl at night, he wakes up to listen—are his flocks at risk? And he’ll roll out of bed to pull on his jeans and shoes if there’s something to be done about it.

I’m not against vineyards, but when I head inland and see those valleys covered with endless rolling fields of vines, I wonder just who is going to drink all that wine? And, from a gardener’s perspective, monoculture often means too much of a good thing. I believe in diversity.

These past four years have been telling for the grape growers. In this economy, who can afford twenty-dollar bottles of wine? It’s been a boon to cheap wine drinkers, but has put the squeeze on the vineyards. As the high end wines lost market share and reduced their ouptut, the quality vineyards have been forced to sell their grape juice to some of the lower end producers. For the savvy shopper, that spells pretty damn good wines at very reasonable prices. (She smiles as she licks her lips.)

Still, I like that our valley’s climate has kept us in more traditional agriculture. Even though we have great soils, our cooler climate makes real crop/vegetable farming a challenge. So these rolling hills are still host to chicken farmers, rangeland for beef cattle, and dairies.

A dairy is a strange kind of range. Around here we see old-fashioned dairies, where the cows primarily eat grass and the size of the operation is limited to how far a cow can walk twice a day. The dairy next door rotates its fields, and has extra land for harvesting hay. That hay feeds the cows once our dry summer hits and the green drains out of the landscape. We watch out the windows as the cows move from field to field, and every night and morning head in for milking, like city commuters. Right now the only green grass in sight is in the very bottom of the valley, which currently is crowded with cows.

The garden is in. Now we just water, weed and wait. We are behind, but I’m not worried about it. It’s not like last summer, when the fog lasted through the days and the garden just didn’t mature. Even with our late start, things are perking along nicely. We’ve had a couple of crook neck squash, tomatoes and cucumbers so far, with the promise of many more—copious flowers and many many baby green vegetables in sight. It’s a nice time to pause, count our blessings and catch our breath. After all, in a few short weeks we’ll be starting in with some of the winter vegetables, and there’s harvesting and canning to come. For now, we can let the bees do the work.

Gadabout, TMI

A. V. Walters

I spend more time than most, watching cows. The view out my back window looks out over the valley–which is peppered with cows. My front window looks across the land to the  dairy paddock, next-door,  for birthing cows. It’s essentially a cow delivery room. So, I see a lot of cows.

Still, I don’t quite get cows. It may not look like it, but they’re always doing something–ambling along with a lumbering gait in some kind of quasi, synchronized cow ballet. When I first arrived I noticed that the cows all faced one direction in the morning and the other in the afternoon. I watched for several weeks until I’d confirmed that, in fact, cows (like most of us) don’t much like the sun in their eyes. (It was news to Elmer, too. He’d never noticed, being a chicken farmer, and all.)

Often cows at rest, without any apparent provocation, will suddenly all head off together as though something’s up. Maybe there’s a feed truck, or not. Sometimes the cows will just get it in their heads that right now is the time for all of them to move, suddenly (though lumberingly), en masse, to the other side of the pasture, where they’ll proceed to do–absolutely nothing. It defies comprehension.

One day I noticed that a single cow at rest, would suddenly kick-up and bolt across the pasture. It happened over and over. This was new. I asked Elmer about it. He shrugged, “Maybe it’s heel fly season.”

“Heel flies?”

“Yup. They bite and lay eggs, right here,” he pointed down, to his ankle.

“Yeah, and then…?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t run cattle. But I know it’s not good for them, makes them cough. You watch’em, when they lay down and tuck their feet under, they’re protecting their feet. It’s not too bad here, real bad in the central valley.”

Of course, I had to look it up. Sure enough, there are heel flies. (Not that cows have much in the way of heels, mind you.) They’re also known as cattle grubs or warble flies. The story is, the eggs hatch and the larvae migrate through the body, feeding off the cow. Usually they mature in the chest cavity–making the cows cough. The parasite interferes with respiration and, in dairy cows, cuts down on milk production. With beef cattle (we have both around here) they fail to gain weight and, when the larva matures, it eats it’s way out, between the cows shoulders, ruining the hide. And I’m sure the cows aren’t too crazy about it, either.

This little, agricultural-science education was more gross than I was ready for. But wait, there’s more…

The term gadabout? It comes from gad, or gadding, which is “to be on the go, without a specific aim or purpose.” It describes the behavior of cattle taking evasive maneuvers from the damn heel flies. So a gadabout is a person who flits about socially. And a gadfly is either “any of various flies that bite or annoy livestock,” or, “a person who stimulates or annoys, especially by persistent criticism.”

And all that comes from the desperate sprints of righteously annoyed cows. More than you wanted to know, eh? Sometimes, that’s life on the farm. Makes ya kinda wanna settle in with your feet tucked underneath you…