So – I could make a lot of enemies, and begin this by saying “Hello from sunny, warm Arizona”!
Or I could be pessimistic and talk about global warming, which seems to be more than a myth this year – here it is December, and it still hasn’t frozen. The temperatures are down to the high thirties or low forties – unheard of, this time of year!! The leaves still haven’t totally fallen off the trees, and even the mesquites, which are normally the first to lose their leaves – and the last to leaf out in spring – are still more or less covered – a very unusual winter.
I remember the first few years we lived in this valley, my ex-husband, Pete, and I were farming on a large farm outside of McNeal, some 40 miles south of Pearce, and one year we were short an irrigator. We had planted winter wheat to pasture cattle, and it was important that the irrigating routine not be broken, so I inherited the job. At the time it seemed a bit hard to be rolling out of a cozy bed at 5 am, climbing into layers of warm clothes and rubber boots, but even then I would not have traded those early mornings for a million dollars. I remember one particular morning glancing at the thermometer on the way out the door, and it showed 0 degrees F. Nowadays, this kind of temperature would be talked about for weeks – then, it seemed fairly commonplace. Of course, it was much colder in the valley than on our milder mountain slopes of the Dragoons, but there is no denying that the temperatures have warmed considerably over the past 40 years.We would get out of the house around 6:30, and I would climb into my irrigation wagon, an old jalopy of a car which trundled happily over the rough ground, till I reached my particular patch of field. In those days the most common method of irrigation was by a system of ditches from which the water was transferred to the thirsty earth by means of siphon tubes – long, curved black plastic pipes – and the routine was as follows: you took one end of the siphon tube in your freezing hands, placed a palm over one end, and then sloshed it in the icy water until the tube was full – then, with a practiced slosh you threw it on the ground, and the water commenced flowing through the tube into the furrow. There used to be around twenty-five or so siphons in a setting, so to do them all took a bit of time, a lot of bending, and very frozen hands. But, as I said above, I would not trade those memories for anything in the world – the rising sun just creeping over the Chiricahuas, the misty steam rising off the warm water – warm compared to the freezing air – the first rays of sunlight glinting on the tops of trees, and the faint green of the just emerging winter wheat in the furrows ….
Then, at the end of the time that it should have taken the water to meander down the half mile long field, I would drive down to the other end to see which furrows had come through, and so which pipes could be pulled, so as not to waste the precious water. Because you had to know which pipes to pull when you got back to the head of the field, using binoculars you would count how many pipes from the beginning of the setting, marked by a pole with a flag on it, your “through” pipe was, and write it down – there were usually several – then drive back to the head of the field and pull those pipes. You can see that this was very dependent on being able to identify which furrows had come through, and the only way was to count them from the beginning of the set, the one furrow with the flag on it. One year we had a farm hand who assured Pete that he could, indeed, drive the tractor, and set straight furrows. He turned out to be not only a liar, but an inventive liar. When he found (as we deduced long after we had fired him for some other stupidity) that he was veering to one side or another, he would simply lift the lister and begin again, so making one furrow into two, or two into one, as the mood took him. This, of course, became maddening when trying to identify which furrows were the ones with the water through – I remember many a time having to slosh through the field in order to identify what was what, and more than one time when the wet mud would suck the boot off my foot and pitch me face first into the cold, muddy water. I hope Tim’s ears were ringing then – he was remembered – and cursed!! I will add that long before that, we had privately renamed him – he was known on the farm as Dim Tim.
There are other memories, too… We had 500 crossbred steers on that wheat, once it had grown, and they were in smallish pastures, being rotated into fresh ones as the wheat was grazed down. All this sounded really good in theory, but often the theory was somewhat messed up by the bovine boarders – they ate a great deal more than they were supposed to, and when they weren’t eating, they were getting into trouble. I remember one memorable day when they stomped down the pvc water line, which broke, and had to be repaired. I don’t remember where exactly my husband was at the time, or any of the hired hands, but I do remember that it fell to me to fix the line. So – try and imagine 500 jostling, thirsty, 600 lb steers trying to get to the non-existent water and wondering why this puny human was in their way. I had to dig up the broken line, then cut the ends, splice them and glue them together with a fast setting glue – sounds simple enough, done in the quiet setting of a garden, say, or some other unpopulated place. Not fast enough, however, for a horde of thirsty, curious bovines who just have to see what the heck you’re doing, jostling each other, snuffling down your neck, stepping on the tools and repair materials – and then doing their best to step on the newly glued water line, testing it to see if they could break it again. So – in view of all this, taking care of several hundred range cows and calves is a snip! Not only do they take care of their food supply, they are content to drink out of muddy water “tanks”, and they have a healthy respect for a human, on or off a horse!
Some time along then, our Mexican hand by the unusual name of Salome, opined that it would be lovely if we had a milk cow. “A milk cow!” I said, “whatever for!!” “For the leche, señora, for the milk – lovely fresh milk, how lovely, muy sabroso!!” said Salome – and for some stupid reason, I listened. It so happened that someone up the valley was selling some Holstein cows, and, as generally happens to me, when I went to look at one, I came home with two. This was great for a while – we had gallons of milk – which neither of us drank – and daily entertainment watching Salome milk them – until one day, he said “Señora, ya me voy por Mexico!!” ….. his mother was sick – really? With promises to return, he left – and I was stuck with the milking. Not only that, but now there was nobody to drink the milk, and it seemed a futile exercise to milk the cows and pour the milk down the drain! About then our veterinarian, Dr. Gary T. (who is still our vet today, some 42 years later, I’m so happy to say), came by to doctor someone or other, and, on seeing my plight, told me that a friend of his had solved the same problem by buying baby calves at the sale, and putting them on his cows – one for each teat. No sooner said than done – I went off to the Willcox sale and came back with several bovine orphans. Of course, it transpired that the cows – named, if you please, Fifi and JouJou – wanted nothing to do with other cows’s calves – and so a milking stanchion had to be built, whereby one would entice the cows into it by means of some goodies to eat, then catch their heads so they couldn’t get out, hobble their feet so they couldn’t kick, and then install the hungry mouths to fill their bellies. You can see that this was quite work intensive – but profitable. I began to calculate how many cows at four calves per cow for two months at a time would it take to make a decent income out of this (this was years before I realized that there is no such thing as a decent income from any farming venture!!) and came up with some horrid figure like 50-60 cows. That in itself was bad enough, but there are other factors associated with so many eating mouths – the result of all that eating coming out at the other end … its volume is considerable … and something has to be done with it.
As I was pondering this, it happened that I heard of a gizmo named The Maternal Robot. This was a machine which, hooked up to water and electricity, automatically mixed the proper amounts of calf milk replacer powder and warm water, and dispensed the mixture through two tubes run through a wall to a face plate with a teat on it – and so fed up to 40 or so calves, with a lot less fuss than fighting with ten cows. So of course, I got one….. but that’s another story.
I don’t even know how I got here to talk of this – actually, it was because I was thinking of a pig named Sarah. During all this bovine feeding venture, I was buying hay from a local farmer, and, one day while driving to the farm to get some, I passed a truck and almost wrecked my own, because, looking out the window, trotters crossed, and an interested, benign look on its face, was a small pig. It was standing on the back seat, leaning on the shoulders of the driver, a very pretty girl, and it happened that she pulled into the hay place also, so we got acquainted. Her name was Linda and the pig’s name was Sarah. We got to be friendly and when she asked me, some weeks later, if I could take care of Sarah while she spent a month in Tucson on some business, of course I said yes. I had, by this time, lots of calf pens, and there was always one that was being left empty, to be disinfected by the sun. So Sarah came to visit. Along with her feed, Linda also brought a small children’s wading pool, which we placed in the shade of the ramada. It was this pool that accorded me a glimpse into the intelligence of pigs. One day I went to visit Sarah, and saw that the pool was in the sun – and there was Sarah, busily pulling it by her teeth into the shade! When she had it in the right place so it was comfortably shaded, she grunted with approbation and climbed into it, to wallow in the pleasantly cool water. Now, that’s reasoning!! That’s reasoning – the planning and execution of a plan – I thought it quite amazing. Sarah had a good life with Linda – until, when she was grown to some 1200 massive pounds, the family moved to Naco, a little town near Bisbee, and Sarah took to meandering through the suburbs, terrorizing people and ruining their gardens. After many complaints from neighbors, and fruitless efforts to keep Sarah penned in, she finally had to go to the happy hunting grounds. Sad – but large pigs are not animals to be argued with, and Sarah, once grown, was undeniably, a bad tempered sow. I remember even when she was still a piglet and visiting with me, one time when she tried to snatch at her food- and when I pulled it away and slapped her, she backed off, thought it over and then deliberately lunged at me in an effort to bite – “Take that! human!!” she seemed to say. I didn’t think I would want to argue with her when she weighed 1200 lbs!
And as a final note on animal behavior – on Danny’s days off, it’s up to me and Jimmy to do the feeding. So this last Sunday we fed all the horses and then finally the group from the Horse Pasture – the 100 acres where the Grapevine vacationing horses used to be turned out. This pasture leads into the old lane which has been turned into a corral, with four large hay feeders, and even though there are only five horses there now, they all get filled with hay each feeding – not only for the food value, as there is a lot of green grass still out there, but also so that the horses come in daily, and we can look them over – a bit difficult to do on a hundred acres of trees, bushes and washes! When Jimmy and I fed this last Sunday, I noticed that one horse was missing, and it was Hank. Thinking that it was unusual for just one horse to be off by himself, I decided to wait and see if he turned up after we had fed all the others – but he hadn’t. This was a bit worrying – if two are missing, you think they couldn’t be bothered to come in, but one horse by himself was a bit odd. Because I am a good, professional worrier, when we didn’t see him then, Jimmy and I decided to drive down to the end of the Lane to see if he was there – but no, no Hank. This was now really beginning to get to me. We drove out the front gate and down the fence line of the Horse Pasture, to see if we could see him someplace – no horse. Now I was really worried – we drove back home, me thinking I would have to saddle up and ride the pasture – but there the monkey was, filing his face at the feeder! I bet he had been hiding in the bushes by the lane gate as we drove out looking for him, probably peeking out to see we had gone before legging it up to the feeder. I soon thought of the reason – I had had some friends here for a week, and one of them had ridden Hank pretty consistently – and he was making sure he wasn’t going to be available for another ride! When I told Danny about it, he said it often happens when there are people here, for, say a round up, and several horses are required, they take to staying out – so we have got the point that when we plan to use them, we have to close the gate at the end of the Lane the day before, so they can’t go out to the Horse Pasture. Who said horses are dumb – that they don’t think, don’t plan! Whoever he was, or is, he doesn’t know horses, hasn’t lived with them enough to know their scheming ways!!