Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Winter in Manitoba

I am a southern girl who is learning to have peace with the cold, snow, and ice. Canada is the coldest place that I've been to, and I usually have icicles on my eyelashes from just going outside. The moisture from my breath freezes on my eyelashes and on the fleece gaiter or ski mask over my face. The cows have white frosty beards from breathing, and when I'm working near them I can hear several coughs in the crowd of fury bodies. They itch their bodies on corral rails, and slurp up the heated water from the troughs. A fuse blew in the barn, and the heaters turned off last night. The texture of the ice on the calve trough fascinated me this morning. I tried to break it with my foot, star shaped ice crystals were woven thickly together like fiberglass and it wouldn't break without the ax. The cow trough was frozen all the way through, they were thristy this morning and had to be held back in a line that reminded me of us kids standing in line for the drinking fountain in school, each small group of cows taking their turn to drink.
My dog looks at her paws, wondering why they hurt after walking on the iced over roads. She digs in the snow with her great nose and I'm afraid she will dig up one of the two dead barn cats that lost their ninth life while warming up on the tractor engine and staying too long that it was started again with them still in it. The old tom cat sits in his barn window just like summer, wise and still alive after many years of barely missing tractor fan belts and fat with summer barn swallow chicks and left over breakfast bacon.
Ice fishing villages popped up on top of lakes out here, and Canadians curl and play hockey to enjoy the weather. Old trucks and cars are buried beneath the snow on the ranch, a sports car is barely visible at all. All the roads have a sheet of ice under the snow, and the ditches on the sides of all the roads have disapeared completey. Someone not from the area would be surprised if they tried pulling over on the side of the road, they would realize too late that their truck fell into a five foot drop off veiled by snow.
The flower pots sit on top a disgarded stove, full of sticks and snow instead of the summer marigolds. Nine hay bales remain stranded in a field, almost forgotten after last fall's first snow, pulled out now with a tow strap and a tractor to feed the cows. The rubber on my snow boots cracked, the liners sit ontop an indoor wood pile next to the stove to dry. The windows have plastic on them to prevent frost from blocking the view and light. The farmhouse is warm and cozy, like summer, with card games and puzzles to pass the time indoors.

Monday, February 7, 2011

My Cowdog

Ayla studies my calf Clover in front of the barn.

I can see the sparkle in her eye, the wag in her tail, my dog is happy. In fact she hasn't stopped wagging her tail since we came back to the ranch after several months of her being sad and depressed. She loves the snow too and likes to eat it and run around in in, and mostly likes to dig in it for treasures like droped sandwiches. Canada is so cold though that she keeps looking at her feet like they hurt after running around outside, something I never saw her do in cold Wyoming. I will make her some socks, and the real cowdogs will probably laugh at that. She is a mix of border collie and German shepard, with a thick fluffy fur coat that keeps the rest of her warm, and actually pretty hot and panting when the temperature is above freezing.

I opened the gate to a pen holding cows for the winter to let the tractor in with a straw bale for the cows to makes their beds in. I held most the cows back, but one escaped and Ayla sprang to action after hours of watching them through the corrals. Instinct had her running behind it, nipping at the surprised cow's heels, she gave a bark and the cow ran back inside. Then me and Ayla moved the cows to the other side of the pen, and she helped me hold them back away from the tractor bringing hay bales for feed by lying down in front of them to keep guard. If a cow tried to walk forward towards the hay, she would bark at it or stand up and chase it back. She did get distracted a bit while she discovered that chewing on frozen cow shit was fun, but overall she did a good job. She is as green to this ranching stuff as me though, and she got to warm her paws in front of a fire while real cowdogs only have a cold doghouse to sleep in outside.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Making Perogies From Scratch

The dining room table was half way covered with a large linen towel that had been floured, and on top where hundreds of finished perogie triangles ready to be thrown into the boiling pot of water. My hands were covered with sticky flour and mashed potatoes, and it was hard to clean it off in the sink with just the well water that I drew from the washroom bucket. A hot facet might have worked better, but this ranch house doesn't have running water.

I had learned the art of making perogies from a real Ukrainian grandma last week, and the recipe is quit easy. Today we made them again, half filled with mash potatoes, half filled with the Saskatoon berries that me and Jimmy picked fresh last night in the bush when he was done with moving hay bales for the night.

Ukrainian Perogies:

10 cups of flour
1 margarin tub full of water
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cooking oil

Put flour, oil, and baking soda in a large bowl. Pour in water a little at a time to the flour while mixing it with your hands. I keep one hand clean to be able to grab stuff. You will have to adjust the amount of flour and water that you add to make a soft dough that doesn't stick to your hands. Once it stops sticking, cut the dough in half and put one of the halves on a floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes until it is soft and has an even consistency. I'm a potter, so I kneaded it like I would knead clay to get the bubbles out and it worked. Kind of rotate the dough as you push down on it repeatably. Roll out dough, not too thin, then cut it with a pizza cutter into about 2 inch squares. You can also cut out circles for cleaner consistent perogies. You might have to clean the flour off your hands between all these steps.

You can fill the perogies with mash potatoes (cheese can be added), or berries with sugar sprinkled on them (I suggest Saskatoons). Don't add anything greasy like meat, they won't stay closed when you boil them. Once you have your filling ready, dab about half to a quarter of a spoon in the middle of a square of dough. Fasten two ends of the square on top forming a triangle pinching the sides shut without getting the mash potatoes or berries stuck in between the dough you are pinching together. I usually push the filling in a little while pinching. Sometimes I put the triangle on the table and press down on the two sides of the triangle with my whole finger to make sure it will not open in the pot.

Lay your finished triangles on the table in rows until you are ready to boil them. The baking powder helps them to float to the top when they are done. Scoop out and add your favorites on top of them. For the mash potatoes perogies you can melt butter over the top or them, add bacon on top, and even sour cream. For the berry perogies you can sprinkle sugar and add milk to the bowl and mix them around until they are all covered in it. If you have left overs, freeze them, then fry them in butter a little at a time. They should be slightly crispy and brown when they are done.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Meeting the Cattle

"HEY GIRLS, COME GIRLS! KA-YAAAAAA KA-YAAAAAA KA-YAAAAAA!" Jimmy shouted across the large field near the bush as he dumped buckets of "chop", a mix of oats full of nutrients.

Slowly the heifers and calves made their way across until one black cow started shouting herself, her loud calls echoing, telling everyone that we were dumping oats. It then looked like a stampede with red, white, and black cows racing across the field, with loud splashing sounds coming from all the standing rain. A white cow beat everyone to the oats and greedily stuck her face in several piles of them, white dust blowing out of her mouth at each one, her long tongue working fast licking up as many oats as possible. The other girls caught up to her and they started fighting with each other over the oats. The cows were racing in between piles until most the herd had arrived. There were over 80 of them, heifers, their calves, one young bull, and a lucky steer named Bar-B-Q who escaped last fall's round up to the auction house.
"He's been eating for free!" Jimmy complained, since steers already have their balls chopped off and don't add to the herd in any way other than cash for beef. Him and his dad kept dumping buckets of oats on the field that I pushed toward the tailgate. "The young bull probably has bred all the girls already, it's been too wet to get the grown bulls out here. They are already a month late."

I already met the bulls, there are five others. The two big ones have a huge field all to themselves and have spent their days lazily grazing, impatient I'm sure to meet up with their heifers that graze out by the bush. One is a red angus, the other is a black angus. The black one is a scary beast, the toughest bull here. We gave him several hundred yards one day when out in the same field with him. The red one lost half his balls last winter because the guy taking care of him didn't put enough straw in with him to keep them warm, he will be sold "down the road" this year, since he might not be able to do his job of breeding anymore. No one eats for free on this ranch, except maybe Bar-B-Q, but even his time will come to pay up. The other three bulls are next to the barn with a huge pile of fresh hay everyday to eat. The black one has the other herd of heifers, and there are two young replacements that have another year to go before they get to help breed.

The other herd of heifers are Jimmy's most beautiful cows, and he is very proud of the pretty young ladies. They have been grazing by the barn with their calves, about 50 maybe in all. We had to chase them my first day here since they opened a gate to another pasture on their own. All the calves were in a big group and me and Jimmy chased them first to the distress of the mothers trapped in another field. They all started shouting at us, a very scary sound indeed with so many raised voices. I thought they might have a stampeded and run right through the fence and over us to get to their calves. It all worked out, and they followed us to a new pasture to eat. He had to chase one cow far, and I told him later that he needed a horse. His dad almost died on a horse several years ago when he was dragged by it for a long way, so they haven't kept horses around the place. He pointed out a few prize worthy heifers, said he is working to make his whole herd look like them. He is working to add more heifers to the herd, and wants to separate the herds by their color once he has enough for three herds.

There is one orphan red angus calf that he named Angela after me. It rained so hard that all of her smell ran off of her and her mother wouldn't accept her anymore. They found her alone and skinny out by the bush and brought her into the barn to hand raise her on powdered supplement milk. She was lucky that she didn't end up timber wolf food. Every morning and evening I go out to the barn and give her milk. She calls "MAAAAAAAA!" when I come in and greedily sucks down her milk. When it is almost gone, she goes into a panic and I have to fight her a little to give back the nipple bucket. Her long tongue grabs my shirt and pants, desperately searching for more milk as she slimes me. She again yells "MAAAAAAAA!" and I go out and pick fresh grass for her. Lately I have been putting her on the home-made harness Jimmy's dad mad for her and have been dragging her outside. She kicks, pulls and falls down the whole way, but has been learning to follow me. I've been letting her suck my fingers, and she trusts me more afterward saying a calm "Ma". Yes I am her Ma, since her own rejected her.

One day Angela was out grazing by a gate were the heifers were. The red ones started to get concerned at her baby cries and kept coming up and sniffing her. When they saw she wasn't their calf, the would go on grazing. The black bull by the barn called out to the ladies to get their attention, then started grunting and breathing heavy like a horny prank caller. A few cows were flirting back, but lost interest with him being so far away and went on with their grazing. He spun around in his pin a few times, fed up with his sexual frustration I'm sure. I was worried he might even try to jump out like he has done before to reach his ladies. The other two young bulls strained their heads to get a look at the heifers, then one mounted the other bull until he was quickly bucked off.Bruno looks lustfully at his pretty heifers nearby.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Welcome to Canada...Eh! You Can't Stay

I was nervous about my dog Ayla crossing into Canada as I approached the small checkpoint about 10 minutes north of Fortuna, SD, a town so tiny that there is only one bar, a post office, and a senior center in the shadows below the large grain towers. Tubby and slim were bored and kind of excited to see two vehicles at their checkpoint. Slim went to my boyfriend's truck in front of me, and Tubby questioned me. My boyfriend was fine to go inside and waited to the side. Tubby carefully looked over's my dogs rabies papers and said she was fine to go to Canada, but he wanted to see me inside after I admitted that I had a can of mace. He took the mace, but let me keep the large jumbo sized can of pepper spray called "Bear Spray". Then he started questioning me about how long I was going to stay and how much money I had, and asked me what my plans were if I broke up with my boyfriend. They kept me about an hour and a half, and even had me talk to an immigration officer on the phone in the big city who made me sign a paper saying I would leave Canada in exactly two months.

Tired and hungry, I was free to go into Canada and I immediately noticed the difference. South Dakota is grassland with thousands of hay bales lined up on the road and on pretty green fields in the middle of July. Canada, especially Saskatchewan, seemed to be one large canola field. Sure there were hay bales too, but the bright yellow fields were beautiful to look at. There were also a lot of oil rigs scattered across the land, most the profits going to Canada since they bought all the mineral rights out from under farmers years ago. Most the oil goes to the US while Canadians pays European prices for oil. We stopped in a big town an hour from the border to fill up on gas which was a couple dollars a liter (ouch!) then had "dinner" at A&W (that is what they call "lunch"). They gave us real mugs to drink out of and the whole menu was so different from the ones in the states. I got Poutine, French fries drowned in gravy with bits of cheese curds, and twin sirloin burgers that were covered in mustard instead of ketchup. We drove a few hours into the lake covered state of Manitoba. I started to notice that the canola fields weren't as bright and full because of the flooding. It seems that someone up in heaven has forgotten to turn off the rain in Manitoba. Some fields weren't even planted at all, and were a muddy mess.

Me and my boyfriend were talking on the radio back and forth the whole drive. He pointed out that people cleared most "the bush" (that means "forest" for you Americans), except for the trees surrounding the houses on the farms. They need the trees because the wind in winter is so horribly cold, the trees block it. It was weird seeing the swampy sad canola fields and small patches of bush that hid the farm houses.

We arrived late at night, and I was greeted first by the Canadian Air Force (that is what they call their mosquitoes) then the whole family.