Animals played a major role in the lives of children growing up on mixed farms, but sometimes the reality was hard
The three-week-old calf we named Green wobbled to the rail fence bawling as she tossed her head.
She saw us approaching with a bottle of skim milk. As I placed the nipple in her mouth, she tugged and pulled it back and forth, managing to guzzle most of it, although some dribbled from the mouth and nose and left a trail of slobber.
After her dinner, we rubbed her spotted head and neck and romped with her in the small, fenced-in section of the pasture.
Every morning and evening we fed and watched this healthy calf develop and mature. It was our job on the farm in our pre-teen years — and our joy and entertainment too. We fed the calves and pigs, and collected eggs. My siblings and I gave names to the calves born every spring, usually they were named something like Green, Daisy and Schammel.
I grew up on a small mixed farm — 80 acres of cultivated land, including a vegetable patch, pastureland and a wooded area. We grew grains, such as oats and barley, and we raised chickens and pigs. The dairy cows had to be milked morning and night.
Collie was our faithful watchdog and cow herder and the cats managed to earn their keep by catching mice. Frank and Cloney, our horses, pulled us in a sleigh to and from school during winter.
We shipped some of the milk to the local cheese factory in town. About half of the whole milk we kept back on the farm for drinking, meal preparations, and for skim milk and cream we would get from the separator.
The cream added a rich flavour to coffee, gravy for mashed potatoes and perogies. Dollops of cream enriched our cabbage soup, summa borscht and myriad desserts. We gave the skim milk to the baby animals, such as our pet calf, Green, and the piglets. The pigs, chickens and cows provided us with meat. Occasionally we ate deer and rabbit.
In spring, when baby chicks, young calves and piglets arrived, we helped feed them. They became endearing to us. I remember one cold spring, the chicks, which were usually kept warm, safe and comfortable under mother hen’s wings, were brought inside close to the wood stove while a cold snap lingered.
The piglets also nestled close to mother sow to catch an extra dessert. Depending on the size of the litter, some of the hogs went to market; others became bacon in the fall.
The spring hatchlings soon followed mother hen, running free all summer, scratching for insects and seeds in the grass that grew in the barnyard. An occasional fledgling sometimes lost its way and became a feast for a slinking fox.
Many chicks became laying hens, while others lasted only until they became roasts and chicken soup.
The farm also provided us with vegetables. The garden a virtual salad full of tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers and lettuce.
When we strolled through the garden or helped with the work it entailed, we snacked on peas, carrots and tomatoes.
We stored root vegetables in the cellar, pickled the cucumbers in jars, canned the corn and the beans and pickled our own sour cabbage for sauerkraut soup and as a side dish. Sunflower seeds were dried and roasted with a little salt for Sunday afternoon snacks. Earth cherries were picked and husked for jam.
Chokecherries, wild plums, blueberries, wild grapes, high bush cranberries and saskatoons grew in abundance in our vicinity. These, as well as pin cherries, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, western sand cherries and nanny berries were eaten raw and turned into pies, crepes, jams, jellies, syrup and moos, a sweet fruit sauce. Choke cherries were dried for snacks in winter. We spent hours picking, cleaning and canning the fruit for preserves, and freezing.
Green, our favorite heifer, now grazed with the other cows in the pasture and in due time became a milking cow and we watched her offspring grow.
One day when we arrived home from school, Green was nowhere in sight. At the supper table, Mother broke the news as she pulled the roast out of the oven. Our dad had decided we needed fresh meat for the winter.