Entertaining Articles

  • The Big Snow

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this but I live not more than five miles from the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the Little House on the Prairie books. Her life story is taught in the local schools and I drive by her family’s historic log cabin site every time I head down to Pepin to the little grocery store or the school.

    When I whiz past the tiny cabin at 60 miles an hour I rarely think about what life must have been like for Ma and Pa and little Laura, Mary, Caroline, and Grace. But yesterday as I fought through eight foot snow drifts and the wind bit into my face and tried to freeze my eyelashes together, I thought about it.

    Everyone in the region had been warned about the big snow. The weatherman predicted a snownami, a snowmaggedon, and a snowpocalypse. And, just as it does when he warns us about tornados, it went in one ear and out the other.  They are exaggerating, we Midwesterners say. 20-24 inches of snow? It can’t be that bad. They always say things like that. It will never happen. Life threatening wind chills of -25 to -35 below? We’re tough. We can take it.

    And then we act like we had never even heard the weather guy. Even as the snow started coming down and it snowed for 18 hours straight people continued to try and go about their business. At least the big city and town people did.

    Out here with our mile long driveways and dirt roads that amble and curve up and down the valleys, nobody is going anywhere. At least until the plows come. Our township roadman, Mr. Robert Stein, does a great job of plowing snow. But on days like this we understand that he has to keep the big roads open. And when there are 22 inches of snow and sustained 40 mile per hour winds it makes it a lot harder to get the job done. We are content to sit back and ride out the big storms.

    Living on a farm and knowing that the snow was coming we prepped as best we could. Snow began falling late Friday night. By Saturday morning as we did chores we already had at least six new inches of snow on the ground. We were still able get the tractor out (thank you, John Deere), and we made sure that we fed twice as much hay as we normally feed to the horses so they could eat enough calories to keep warm. We put the older, more vulnerable horses in stalls thickly bedded with shavings and extra hay so they could handle the storm without being harassed by the younger, more dominant ones.

    The sheep and chickens who normally bound joyfully out of the barn each morning, greeted me warily as I opened the door. The lead sheep ran out and, repelled by the blowing horizontal snow, immediately reversed himself and headed back. A few brave chickens who normally don’t mind the snow, stepped gingerly out, and quickly turned tail and fled inside. I put extra feed and hay in the sheep pen and filled the chicken feeders and told them they were on their own. With the door shut, the barn stays pretty warm from the heat generated by the nine sheep, three goats, and the 40+ chickens. Chores took longer than usual as we fought the wind and wet snow. We were happy to finish and go back inside to warm up.

    The rest of the day felt like the snow days we had as kids. My younger boys were disappointed that it wasn’t a real snow day (it was a Saturday) but enjoyed having everyone home together. Even my oldest son, Wes, was home from college for a few days.

    Because I own an animal actors agency and I am also a professional animal lifestyle photographer, I stay pretty focused and try to squeeze the work into every moment I have. But the big snow that had been falling for hours made me want to slow down and just appreciate the beauty of it from the warmth of my cozy farmhouse.

    I didn’t edit any images, and the dishes and the laundry could wait as we watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Wes did his best to imitate Jimmy Stewart, changing the dialogue just enough to make us laugh, and the other boys said the all of the familiar lines with the actors.

    As it grew dark, Wes and Warren started preparing dinner. This was a treat for me, as I am usually the chief cook around here. I smiled as I looked back on the relaxing day.

    But being a farmer and an animal lover and responsible for our animals’ welfare, I knew it was time to go out and check on the animals one more time and feed our two recently rescued Morgans their second helping of grain for the day.

    My two youngest sons, William and Walker, and I bundled up in fleece-lined hoodies, our Carhartt bibs and jackets, and double thickness rag wool gloves. Walker wore snow goggles, vestiges of Wes’s army service. William wore a Russian ushanka hat that ties under the chin to keep the wind out.

    We headed out into the storm. The wind and snow hit my face and eyes like a frozen hurricane as I paused for a moment to survey the scene. Over 20 inches had accumulated throughout the day and the wind had whipped up drifts higher than the shed’s rooflines.

    I sloughed through the drifts, making my way to the new barn to check on the mares first.  They seemed surprised to see me; all four were tucked into the shed. Beauty the Morgan, and the two ponies raised their heads and looked at me as if to say, “What are you doing here? It’s snowing out, Dummy. Go back inside!” And Jenny my rescue Morgan mare, snorted impatiently as if to say, “It’s about time you gave me my grain.”

    I fed Jenny in her stall and broke the ice out of her bucket and refilled it so she would have enough to drink during the long night. I turned off their lights, and told them I’d be back in the morning. I didn’t need to climb over the wood fence as I normally do because the snow had drifted over it and most of it was hidden. I waded through the drifts and made my way over to the granary where the geldings can get out of the wind.

    Although they had plenty of hay inside the barn to eat, most of them chose to continue to chew on the round bale I had placed by the granary wall that serves as a wind block. They looked like the bison you sometimes see in National Geographic. They were covered in chunks of snow and frost lined their delicate eyes and nostrils. The geldings don’t seem to mind the cold. As long as they had hay to eat and could keep out of the wind they would be okay. I checked on Jack, my other rescue Morgan, and made sure he was happy in his stall with his new buddy Louis, one of my elderly horses, nearby. I gave them fresh water also.

    I made my way to the chicken coop, which is actually a small gabled barn that houses the chickens, sheep, and goats. It was surprisingly warm inside; their water had not even froze.  I gathered the two eggs that the laying hens had decided to give to me today and closed them up for the night.

    Knowing that everyone was safe and warm, I started walking the 200 yards back to the house. In the distance, the house appeared to be smiling at me, as all the lights were on and I could see that William and Walker had gone in before me.

    It was just me and the three dogs outside in the storm now. As I forced my way through the drifts it occurred to me how lucky I am that I could see where I was going. I glanced up at the powerful yard light that illuminated the farmyard and wondered about the people who owned this farm before electric power came in the 1940s. I remembered tales of farmers dying in their own yards by becoming disoriented in the blizzard and unable to reach the safety of the house.  They weren’t kidding when it was said that farmers would have to tie rope between the barn and the house so as not to lose their way.

    About halfway up a particularly deep drift I got stuck. After working myself out of it by leaning forward and crawling out, I decided to rest for a moment. I began to wonder what it would be like to freeze to death.

    I lay there on my stomach with my face cradled in my arm in an effort to block the wind. I wondered how quickly the cold that was just beginning to seep through my heavy clothes would chill me to the point of hypothermia. The wind howled and raged around me and blasts of snow came off neighboring drifts and hit me square in the face whenever I looked up. I wondered if anybody missed me yet and what would happen if I were truly unable to move for some reason.

    It was the dogs that discovered me. Hawkeye the Border Collie, Apple the Aussie mix, and Lisle the German Shepherd all descended upon me with a flurry of kisses and much jumping back and forth over my prone body as they tried to get me to respond. When I didn’t move, Hawkeye and Apple gave up. But Lisle lay quietly down beside me as if protecting my head and face from the wind. So it is true that dogs will do their best to protect their masters, I thought to myself as I pulled myself up and told Lisle that she was very good girl.

    I caught my breath and made it the rest of the way to the house. Inside, the warm air was a welcome change from the bitter winds outside. I looked around at the comforts of modern life: heat that pours off the radiators, music coming from the iPod® in the kitchen, food in the fridge, the world at our fingertips through our computers, and I smiled, gratefully. I’m glad I’m not Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family in that little log cabin with no electricity. I am happy sitting in my warm house and just imagining what life would have been like five miles and 140 years from here. Where’s my copy of Little House in the Big Woods?

  • The Mare in the Middle

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    “Some people can’t be trusted.” At least that is what my son, Wes, would tell you about me and my husband, Kevin.  What started out as an innocent, overnight trip to celebrate our 29th anniversary quickly turned into a horse rescue adventure. Now, we need another horse like we need a hole in the head. We were up to fourteen a few years back and were now down to eight. This has proven to be a nice, manageable number with a good mix of young and old.

     

    When we left that day, Wes, ever the eldest, warned us, “Now, don’t get into trouble, you two.” How much trouble could a middle aged, small town couple that didn’t smoke, drink or gamble get into?” I thought. I must tell you, we are actually pretty boring. We usually get a room at a B & B, have a nice dinner at the Branding Iron, and then spend the next day poking around antique shops. I forgot that Kevin and I are dangerous when we are away from the responsibilities of the farm and family.

     

    As we were driving to the Preston/Chatfield area in Southeastern Minnesota I mentioned to Kevin that I had seen a post on one of my horse internet forums about a herd of over 40 Morgan Horses that needed to find new homes quickly or they ran the risk of being sold to a slaughter broker.

     

    It was a just a casual comment, but Kevin was intrigued. He has the biggest heart in the world and this is why he is not allowed in animal shelters. “We don’t need another horse,” I said.  “I only mentioned it because I think it’s sad to see someone lose their farm and have to sell all of their carefully bred horses.”  “Where are they he asked?” “Mason City, Iowa,” I replied. “How far is that?” he wondered. “Only about 100 miles from where we are staying tonight.” I could see him thinking about it. “Let’s go see them,” he said finally. “Why? You know we would want to bring at least one home.” “Com’on, it will give us something to do tomorrow.” His eyes lit up like a little boy who has a wonderful plan in mind. “You don’t want to go back right away do you?”

     

    I need to preface that last sentence for you; you must understand that, because we have kids and animals, we never go on any real vacations. This one night, annual get away to an area only about 70 miles from our home is the only non-work trip we take. We would do anything to not have to go right back. We like to drag out the experience as long as possible, usually not arriving home until well after chore time.

     

    “Besides,” Kevin continued, “you can take some pictures for them and that may help the horses place faster.”  I looked at my ever-ready camera and had to agree. More pictures are always better than fewer. And the rescue group’s most recent pictures were taken during a snowstorm, so they might appreciate a few more with better light.

     

    We mulled the idea over dinner and then I contacted the rescue group and they said they would be thrilled to have us meet the horses. That night, at the bed and breakfast, just as we were about to go to sleep, we both swore that we would only take pictures and not bring home any horses. Absolutely not!

     

    The next morning, we drove to Mason City, Iowa, where Kathi Ring, of Gentle Spirit Horses, the rescue group, was waiting for us. She introduced us to the owner. He was an older gentleman, who, because of a death in the family and facing eminent foreclosure, was being forced to sell the horses. We felt bad for him, as the herd represented over 30 years of some of the finest names in the Foundation Morgan horse world. He had been offered $250 per horse by a slaughter broker, but chose instead to ask Gentle Spirit for help.

     

    Since he had lost his farm, the stallions and young stock were being housed at two adjoining feedlots and the broodmares were in a small grass pasture. With my camera in hand and Kevin ready to assist we went into the lot with the 2-7 year old mares and geldings.  We had been warned that they had not been handled much, but within moments, we found ourselves being mobbed.  Bays and blacks, buckskins and chestnuts and even a grulla came to see what we doing. They sniffed us and many allowed themselves to be scratched. My camera and the fact that I was crouching to get a better angle fascinated them.  Kevin was surrounded by curious youngsters as he unfurled the disk shaped reflector we use to bounce light on a subject.

     

    I tried to shoot as many as I could but it was hard to get individual horses, as they naturally stayed together in tight little bunches. I settled for grabbing a few headshots of as many as I could. The young horses were all very sweet and well bred of course, but it was easy to walk away. With their breeding and temperaments, I told myself, Gentle Spirit would have no trouble placing them.

     

    We then went out to the pasture that held a group of bred broodmares, three young stallions and mare with her foal.  They were also curious about us and came up to be petted. I spotted a mare with palomino foal lying in the corner of the field and managed to get a few shots of them before they got up.

     

    As I left the mare and foal and was framing my next shot, a particularly lovely bay mare walked right up to me. She was accompanied by her offspring, a two year old bay filly and a yearling buckskin stud colt. I scratched her chest and told her she was good mother and then moved on, hoping to get all the horses done before we lost our light. This merry trio, with the bay always in the middle, began to follow me around the pasture. Almost every time I tried to take a picture, the bay mare rudely interrupted me, by nosing my shoulder.

     

    It was then I looked deeply into her kind eye and I knew in my heart it was all over. This mare would have to come with us.  Now, I work with animals all the time. There have been countless puppies and kittens from animal shelters, and I even occasionally help out other horse rescues so I am pretty immune to their plight. I have managed to harden myself to their advances, as I must keep my numbers manageable. It wouldn’t be fair to the animals if I had more than I could love and care for. But this mare was special, and she was doing everything in her power to tell me that she was supposed to be mine. 

     

    Maybe the universe told her that we had lost our beloved bay Morgan mare, Cinder, to cancer two years ago. Or perhaps my first horse, who, coincidently, was a small bay Morgan mare that looked just like her, whispered to her from horse heaven. It was like she knew… and I’d have to agree, I knew it too.

     

    I didn’t say anything to Kevin although I could see he liked her also. She wasn’t even halter broke but she let me pick up her hoof and moved softly away from pressure when I asked. We finished up with the stallions in the front lot and said our thank-yous and good-byes to Kathi and the owner. We didn’t say much on the way home and, anyway, I was doing a rough edit of the images on my laptop. As I viewed the images, I was struck by how kind the eyes were of every horse I photographed. They were intelligent, curious and so typically Morgan. I hoped my efforts would help them get new homes.

     

    My mind kept drifting back to the mare. She was so sweet and kind. Even though she was not broke, I knew it wouldn’t take much to bring her around. Morgans are, as a rule, willing and thoughtful horses. They are the Border Collies of the horse world. Give them a job to do and they will do it. And they will enjoy doing it, too.

     

    That night, after dinner and chores and we were settled in, I said to Kevin, “We really don’t need another horse.” He looked down and slowly shook his head. “Agreed?” I asked. “Agreed,” he said sadly.

     

    I tried to sleep but I was still thinking about the mare. I knew that we were doing the right thing. We can’t go along rescuing every poor horse we see. As one of my other sons, Warren, would say, I was letting my “impulses pirate my thought processes”.

     

    Suddenly, I had the image of Kevin as a pirate in my mind, “Arrgh!! Lassie, she is a fine horse and we should go and get her,” he growled in his best pirate voice. “But we have enough already,” I protested weakly. “No, me fine Lass, you can never have enough horses. Let’s set sail for Mason City, Iowaay and bring her home. Arrgh!”

     

    I tossed and turned and finally fell asleep. The next morning I woke up to a horse snorting and nickering outside my window. It was exactly the sound I hear when the horses have gotten out and are wandering around.  I ran to the window and looked out and saw the bay mare standing in the yard below with my other Morgans. She was flanked by Beauty and Finn, once again in the middle. “How did you get here?” I wondered, and then I woke up. I had been dreaming all along. Was it some kind of sign? Kevin heard me moving and was soon awake himself. I looked at the clock. It was only 5:00 am.

     

    “Barbara?” he said quietly. “Are you awake?”

    “Yes,” I replied.

    “I think we should get the horse.”

    I breathed a sigh of relief. “Me too,” I whispered. “Me too.”

    “Agreed? He said. “Agreed,” I said.

     

    Later that morning I contacted the rescue and sent them the check to bail my mare out.

    She will be arriving just in time for Christmas. When I told Wes about it, he laughed and said, “I knew it! I just can’t trust you guys. You always get in trouble when you go out of town.”

     

    I haven’t named the mare yet. The rescue is still working on identifying who her parents are and who the sire is of the foal she is carrying. It really doesn’t matter to me. I

    know her heart, and she knows mine, and she will tell me her name soon enough.

     

     

    If you would like to help with the Gentle Spirit Horse's rescue/placement efforts you can find more info here:

     

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gentle-Spirit-Horses/149994561712125

    and here:

    http://www.gentlespirithorses.com/

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Telling the Story

    Three dogs on truck hood

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    I had the privilege of photographing some old dogs yesterday.  My friend, Deb, made the long drive from the Twin Cities in Minnesota to our farm in western Wisconsin with her three dogs in tow.  She wanted me to do a photo session for her before she lost one of them to old age or disease.  She was especially concerned for her almost 15 year old Australian Shepherd, Brady. His condition was progressively getting worse. Day by day, she could see his once sharp mind slipping away.

    She arrived and her dogs leaped from the back of her SUV, heads high and eyes bright.  It was if they were saying, “Where are we? What are we going to do? What a cool place, Mom!”  They spotted the cats first and Dilly, her six year old Mini Aussie, pulled hard on the leash as he tried to say hello to the closet one. Brady sniffed the air and her 12 year old Sheltie, Murphy, stepped forward as if he owned the place. After a few minutes of initial excitement the dogs began to settle down, or at least Brady and Murphy did. It is not in Dilly’s nature (not unlike my own) to be still for very long. There was so much to see and do.

    I had my camera in hand so we headed down to the big barn door where a long hallway frames a dog's head nicely with the landscape beyond and tried to get the three dogs into a sit-stay. Being well trained obedience dogs, Dilly and Murphy sat quietly, but Brady couldn’t bear to have Deb out of range for more than a moment and kept breaking his stays to follow her.

    Another photographer may have been upset by this, as it was in effect, ruining the shot, but to me it was just another part of telling the story. Brady was losing his vision and hearing and to an intelligent, active dog like him if must have been a new and perhaps frightening experience. No wonder he would get up and try to follow Deb when she left him. The good obedient dog in him wanted to comply, but his confidence had been eroded by his illness and he knew he needed to be by her side.

    I told Deb not to worry and had her sit down with all three dogs. She gathered them to her chest and they all grew still, comforted by her presence. Even little Dilly stopped moving for a moment or two. I managed to get several shots of them all together before Dilly broke off to chase the chickens.

    He took off after one of my hens. The hen ran as fast as she could, bee lining it towards the safety of the henhouse. Dilly was right behind her, even grabbing a mouthful of feathers as they went behind the barn. We ran after them, positively sure that we were going find a dead hen in Dilly’s mouth. To our surprise, Dilly had chased the hen to the woven wire fence of the goat pen and was making sure the terrified hen did not try to escape as he gently herded her into the corner. Thankful that his herding instinct was stronger than his predator instinct, I rescued the hen and brought a very proud Dilly back to Deb.

    Our next shot was in the hay fields where the dogs ran and played, joyful in their newfound freedom as Deb unleashed them and let them run. Dilly zoomed back and forth through the alfalfa and Murphy, ever the gentleman, stayed right at Deb's side. Brady, grinning his doggie grin, ran from new scent to new scent, just happy to be alive. I could see that Brady was slowly leaving us, and that it would only be a matter of time before Deb would lose him forever. He seemed to have moments of clarity and then  not be with us at all. I couldn’t help remembering that all animals live in the here and now and don’t know tomorrow. As much as it pained Deb to see him deteriorate all that mattered to Brady at that moment was that he was with his beloved owner and doggie companions. He was running free in green fields, smelling new smells and feeling the warmth of the late afternoon sun upon his head and back.

    I still wanted to get a shot of the three dogs together so I took advantage of my son’s rusty old pickup truck that was parked at the edge of the field. We placed all three dogs on the hood and were able to get the group shot we wanted.

    We did a few more shots of Deb walking with the dogs down my long winding driveway and then by the wooden fence of the arena. After that, we loaded up the three tired, but happy, dogs into her SUV and Deb headed off for home.

    That evening as I was editing the images, I was overwhelmed by the depth of the loyalty, devotion and undying love that shown through each dog’s face when they looked at Deb. I felt blessed that I was able to be a part of their story, even if only for a short while. And in time, when her old dogs leave her, I hope that she will find some consolation in the images and the story her dogs told us on that glorious fall day at the farm.

  • Losing Boston but Saving Sarah

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    We lost a good one yesterday.

    Part of the price of having wonderful animals in your life is the pain that comes with saying goodbye to them. We had to put Boston, our 28 year old Quarter Horse, down. He had a fast spreading neurological condition that affected his spine, which in turn affected his ability to walk or keep his balance.

    And even though I believe it was right the thing to do, it is never an easy thing to do.

    Boston came to us many years ago as a Dollar Horse. A Dollar Horse is an older horse that is ready to quit being shown or bred but not ready to be retired forever. Or they can be reliable, trusted mounts that the family has sadly outworn.

    My Son, William, rode Boston those first few years and, although they like each other all right, their connection was nothing special.

    It wasn’t until Sarah, my cousin’s daughter, came to live with us that Boston found his true companion. Here was a girl that understood the best places to be scratched and one that he could follow around the pasture like a puppy hoping for a treat.

    Sarah was fifteen when she came to us, and on the first day, I handed Boston’s lead rope to her and said. “This is your horse. He is yours to ride and care for and just love.”

    Sarah was beginning a journey of recovery when she first met Boston and I believe he knew that she needed him, and if it is possible for a horse to give himself entirely to a person, I think this is what he did.

    She didn’t like riding him at first. Even though she was a confident rider, she didn’t have a lot of experience. Boston quickly learned to take advantage of this. He would trot merrily along, and then stop short and Sarah would tumble off onto the ground in front of him. Thank goodness for helmets and soft dirt arenas and Sarah’s willingness to get right back on.

    We found an excellent instructor and with time and hard work, Sarah’s riding improved enough that she was able to canter Boston bareback through the fields, and for the first time in her short life, I think she felt something akin to pure joy.

    Boston loved Sarah too. She was in charge of feeding him and all other aspects of his care. She would go to the gate and call his name and he would come running from wherever in the pasture he was. Boston knew what was coming and knew it was good.

    He was a good listener and over the next three years, he heard many a story about her life and took it all in with a kind eye and warm head and neck to cry into.

    Boston’s illness came on quickly. I hadn’t noticed anything wrong until I saw his rear fetlocks scraped up with abrasions from the opposite hoof. As I led him up to the barn I saw that he had to twist sideways to stay upright. I put him in a stall and called the vet. I also called Sarah, who was at her parents in town packing to move onto her dorm at college, and told her what was happening. I knew she would want to be there if we had to put Boston down.

    The vet watched Boston walk and we all agreed that his condition was only going to get worse and the decision was made.

    Sarah stroked his head and told him goodbye and after a short time he was gone. We all cried as she clipped some of his mane and tail to keep. She told him he had always been a good horse to her and that she was sorry he was gone and that she would always love him.

    I told her that he would be waiting for her and now he was whole, and well, and running in green pastures with the other horses we have lost over the years.

    Sarah is now 18 years old and embarking on her first year in college. She has overcome huge difficulties in her life and is a strong, beautiful, young woman ready to face whatever life throws at her. I am hoping that in some small way, Boston helped in this journey – that he knew that his work here was done, and she was going to be all right without him.

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  • Eating Crow

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    There comes a time in every parent’s life when suddenly their children are smarter than they are.

    This happened to me recently when I was with my eldest son, Wes. Wes, sadly, has been unemployed for the last few months so he has taken to tagging along with me on my errands and photo shoots. So when I needed to go check out some lambs and goat kids that I wanted to use in an upcoming photo shoot, Wes came along for the ride.

    I have a farmer friend that not only has prize winning sheep and goats, but also breeds prize winning chickens and waterfowl. He has every imaginable chicken, duck, goose and swan and they all announced our arrival, loudly clucking, calling, and quacking as we pulled up.

    You would not need an alarm system if you have even a few African Geese.

    The dog ran up, tail between her legs with her ears back in submission, as if to say, “I am so sorry. They make such a racket. Really, I’ve tried to talk to them about it, but they just don’t listen.”

    My friend came out and took us to see the lambs and goats. I picked out the ones I wanted and we about to leave when he said; “Oh, I have something you can take pictures of.” He led us through a series of pens, each one filled with exotic ducks and geese until we came to a pen with a live trap in the middle. I fully expected to see a monster raccoon, as I knew that raccoons are no friends to a chicken-duck-goose-farm.

    What I didn’t expect to see was a very big, very angry crow. My friend told me that the crow must’ve tried getting the bait and now found himself in big trouble. “You can take him home and take pictures of him,” he said excitedly. My mind began to spin at the possibilities. Maybe I could tame him and teach him all sorts of clever tricks like Uncle Billy’s crow in It’s a Wonderful Life. How cool is that?!

    Wes and I watched in amazement as my friend reached into the trap to transfer the crow to a small poultry carrier. We were even more amazed when the crow latched onto my friend’s tender skin between his thumb and forefinger with his incredibly shark beak and refused to let go. Being an elderly fellow, and the victim of, I imagine, many bird bites, my friend didn’t even flinch as he pulled the crow’s beak away and put the bird in the carrier

    He happily loaded the crow into my van, all the while telling me how neat it will be to take the crow’s photograph. I thanked him and drove away, with really cool shots already dancing in my head.

    I had no sooner left the driveway and hit the main road, when Wes, who had remained uncharacteristically silent, during the entire exchange, turned to me and said, “Mom, this is a bad idea.”

    Now when your 22-year-old looks you square in the eye and says, “Mom, this is a bad idea”, one should take notice.

    “I, myself, have had some bad ideas,” he continued,. “Like driving a car in Wisconsin with expired tags — bad Idea. And quitting my job before I had another one — bad Idea. And dating a girl who was still in love with her old boyfriend……Really Bad Idea”.

    He looked me in the eye to make sure I was paying attention. “My bad idea meter is going off the charts on this one,” he warned.

    “What?” I asked. “What’s the big deal?” I’m just gonna bring him home and take his picture and then let him go,” I said.

    “One, its illegal.” he protested. “You know you can’t keep a wild bird. Two, I know you think you are a pretty good trainer but this bird is not going to pose for you. Three, someone is going to get hurt. It’s a really bad idea.”

    “C’m’on, we could make it work at least for a few shots.”

    “Mom,” he said again. “Bad idea. That bird is going to be terrified and he’s going to fly all over the studio breaking things, perhaps even hurting himself trying to escape. He is most certainly going to hurt you. Bad idea,” he said again, turning his head away as if to say, how could his own mother be so dumb.

    I imagined my sweet tame Uncle Billy crow turning into one of the crows from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and had to reluctantly agree that he was right. I played it back and forth in my mind, trying to get around the reality of owning illegal wild crows, and had to concede my son was smarter than I was. We went a little further to a secluded spot on the road and pulled over.

    We set the carrier down and opened the door. The crow, who had been eyeing us with the blackest sharpest eyes, I had ever seen, walked slowly out onto the road. He didn’t even look back as he took flight, not knowing how close he came to being captive to my creativity.

    Wes, put his hand on my shoulder. “Thanks, Mom," he said, as we watched the crow fly farther and farther away. It was then I realized, I am not so dumb after all — I raised him, didn’t I?

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – www.OmegaFields.com or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes OmegaFields.com and OmegaFieldsHealth.com. Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

    OMEGA FIELDS -- NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY LIFE

  • Beware Ye All Who Enter Here

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    There really ought to be a sign.

    From the road my farm looks safe enough. Green rolling fields and faded red barns welcome you as you drive up the hill and round the corner. Towering maples shade the lawn and the windows on the house seem to form a giant smile. But, there really ought to be a sign, a big wooden one that warns: BEWARE YE ALL WHO ENTER HERE!

    When you live with something long enough it doesn’t seem at all strange to you, but I have to wonder what people think when they come here.

    I came to this conclusion yesterday, when I looked out the window and saw my three goats walk up and into a visiting contractor’s trailer. I ran out, waving my jacket, trying to shoosh them away before the crew noticed. One was on his hind legs investigating a tool bin and the others were already nibbling on a bag of insulation. Goats do not take direction well and it took me a while to make them vacate the trailer.

    Then, there are the cats. Ok, I admit it. We have a few cats. They are my acting cats. I use them for ads and commercials. All are loved, vaccinated and cared for and have what I think, is the ideal life for a cat. But, you cannot step out of your vehicle without being bombarded by at least 5 or 6 running up to greet you, hoping you will pick them up and give them a pet. If you are not particularly fond of them, they find you all the more interesting. “How could this be?” they muse. “This human doesn’t want us.” and like Spock from Star Trek, they tilt their little heads and say “Fascinating.” The cats then stalk their victim, waiting until the person has settled into, a lawn chair ice tea in hand. It is then they make their move, leaping up on to their laps. The more the poor person flails about and tries to remove the cat, the more the cat struggles to hang on, thinking, “Wow! If this guy is in danger then I surely don’t want to be dropped down into the middle of it!”

    And don’t even think of leaving your car windows open. More than one friend has found this out the hard way. The most recent case was a nice gal who came for her dog’s photo session. When we returned, there were 11 cats in the car. They were all lounging about on the dash and seats contentedly licking their paws as they glanced up, as if to say “What?” In the space of a half hour, they had managed to eat a dozen oatmeal raisin cookies and an entire loaf of sour cream focaccia bread that had been carefully procured from the local artisan bakery.

    Whenever a visiting photographer or contractor tries to work at ground level at least two or three cats try to help him by climbing on his back or rubbing against his hands while he works. I warn film crews and contactors alike that if anybody screws up there is a kitten penalty and they have to take one home.

    The cat problem was never more evident than when the TV show, MONSTERQUEST, used our farm and as a location for an episode about Bigfoot. Dear husband, Kevin, and my brother, Kelton, were recruited to portray two old bachelor farmers who, while playing cards one night, hear the dogs barking like crazy, and look out of their ramshackle old house to investigate. The dogs rush in, tails between their legs, obviously terrified. The bachelor farmers discover that the chicken coop door has been ripped apart by something that is really big and really mean. Tension builds as a light sweeps the darkness. An eerie stillness lies over the land, and then we see…we see…. a small orange cat entering the scene. “Meow?” his little voice questions. “Cut!” yells the director and we have to start again.

    The dogs are worse. Lisle, the German Shepherd, believes that all hats and gloves are fair game if set on the ground, and also believes that keep away is the greatest game ever invented. Apple, the Border Collie, is convinced that every person she meets really wants her to jump up and give them many, many doggie kisses.

    The chickens think that if you are walking towards the barn you must have some scraps for them. They spot a human and the boss hen clucks “Red Alert! Red Alert! Here they come!” They burst out from behind the hen house and from all corners as they race to be the first to grab a chunk of bread or an old bunch of grapes. If the sheep spot you, they will amble up the hill to say hello, in the hopes that you might have some heaven sent grain to give them.

    If the horses are up by the barn, they will hang their heads over the fence and snicker softly. Surely, you must have some apple treats in your pockets.

    Luckily, most of the people who visit me understand that the animals pretty much run the place and that all of this is to be expected. I can’t help feeling sorry, though, for the young woman who stopped by with some friends last summer. She probably didn’t know that she was going to be dragged out to a rundown old farm in the middle of nowhere. She was none too happy when Apple leaped up to greet her and chickens began to circle her. She shrieked when, Marcus, the goat nibbled her sundress and she really didn’t appreciate traipsing through the muddy paddock in her flip flops as we toured the farm.

    The funny thing is, I have four sons and with the exception of the youngest (a born extravert) and unlike the cats, you may never see them. The oldest is in college, and the other two would rather remain anonymous. Look at the bright side; at least if you mess up you won’t have to take one of them home.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – www.OmegaFields.com or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes OmegaFields.com and OmegaFieldsHealth.com. Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

    OMEGA FIELDS -- NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY LIFE!

  • All The Ducks Are Richard And All The Hens Are Gladys: Or, the importance of Being Named

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    When you have as many animals as I do in the public eye, the naming of animals becomes of the utmost importance.

    You can’t be on a set and say “Hey, Fluff! Sit…Stay!” It is only fair to name animals with some dignity. Not only does it color how you feel about the animal but I believe it also effects how the animal feels about himself.

    Take for instance, chickens. When I was training chickens for commercials for Gold’n’Plump, a regional brand in the Midwest, I would have as many as 20 white hens at a time. I could not name each one individually, I could hardly tell them apart as it was, so it was easier to name them all Gladys. Of course, certain clever chickens would distinguish themselves and became Gladys 1 or Gladys 2, but in the end they were all still, Gladys. The red hens were all named Ruth and the buff hens were all called Myrtle with the exception of Pretty Peggy, who, after her starring role as the distraught wife of the Perkins Rooster, and becoming the official ambassador for Omega Ultra Egg is a big star in her own right.

    The naming of roosters is a little different from that model. Roosters require names with some flair and presence and to match their appearance and demeanor.

    When I was working on the Perkins commercials and needed a set of Brown Leghorn Roosters I found some through a local chicken fancier and arranged to pick them up. When I asked him their names, he looked at me funny and said, “I don’t name them. They are just roosters.”

    Just roosters! They deserved more than that. They were magnificent birds, with showy feathers of red and black with glints of green and tails that were held proudly as they crowed and talked to each other from their cages.

    I took them home and released them and watched them greet the hens. They strutted around like they owned the place, quickly establishing which hens belonged to whom.

    I decided they needed names with pizzazz. I named the biggest, most assertive one, Raphael, the next Fernando, and the third, Alonzo.

    These names suited them and they were proud of themselves on the set, performing admirably when asked to pose or do a behavior for the commercials.

    All the ducks are named Richard because if you think about it, aren’t most of the Richards you know rather duck like? I mean this with great affection as the Richards I know carry themselves like their namesake king.

    The naming of cats is another matter altogether. Cats are sensitive animals and require names that suit their personality. I do not like giving cats simple names like Kitty or Max. They need names that tell me who they are and so, many of mine are named after famous actors, performers, and politicians. Some of our current cats are named Bullet, after the movie with Steve McQueen. Teddy, after Teddy Roosevelt. Churchill, who came with Teddy. Franklin, after Benjamin. Capra, after the director. The Hepburns, after Kate and Audrey. Cats are embarrassed if you laugh when you say their names, so please be sure to name them correctly. If you laugh and tease them long enough they will go pee on your bed, and then who will be sorry now? Dogs don’t care what you call them. They are just happy you called them at all. Really, it’s true. You can any use words you want and they will still stand there, eyeing you adoringly, because you are… their everything. Unless, of course, you have a naughty dog, (most likely a terrier) that runs away when you call him and delights in checking out the neighborhood while you chase after him in your bathrobe, vainly calling his name.

    That is why I only have herding breeds on my farm. Like good German Shepherds or Border Collies who would rather be with me that anywhere else except for when the sheep are out, and then the Border Collie would rather be with them.

    Horses, I have found, sometimes require renaming so they can begin a new life. You won’t believe how many of my horses arrived with the name, Buddy. A horse can be the best buddy you’ve ever had, but an animal of such size and bearing requires something a little more dignified.

    When my Morgan mare came she was called Bailey, and although it is a fine name, she needed a fresh start with an owner who felt good about her, and so I named her Beauty. By calling her that, I felt that way about her, and over time she blossomed into a great beauty indeed.

    Our most recent addition, a three-year-old Welsh Pony, came with the name Pistol.

    I knew right away that it wouldn’t do. She was spirited and feisty and on her second day here, she opened the paddock gate and let all of her horse friends out to play. I have found that animals live up to your expectations and a horse named Pistol sounded like trouble. I decided to name her Ava, after the beautiful and voluptuous Ava Gardner, who was a strong feisty woman and the perfect namesake for the filly.

    There was no science to naming our three Sannen goat kids. My younger sons happened to be reading up on the Roman Empire at the time and so the goats were named Marcus, Aralias and Tiberius shortly after their arrival last fall.

    Our sheep, being mostly breeds of British origin, are named Nigel, Basil, Beatrice, Victoria, Henry, Feronia, and Fiona.

    I do not have any cattle or pigs here on the farm. If I did, I would have to name them. And if I had to name them, I wouldn’t be able to eat them.

    As for me, personally, you can call me anything you want as long as you call me to dinner.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – www.OmegaFields.com or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes OmegaFields.com and OmegaFieldsHealth.com. Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

    OMEGA FIELDS -- NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY LIFE!

  • Horse Math

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    I have never been very good at math. In fourth grade, when I drew horses all over my work sheets, my math teacher, Mr. Johanson, warned me that I would never learn how to multiply or do long division if I kept it up. I am sorry to say, he was right. I can draw a darn fine horse, but I cannot do long division if my life depended on it.

    That is why it should come as no surprise that I am a master at what, my dear husband, Kevin, calls horse math.

    Horse math is a thought process behind the logic that goes something like this: If I go and see a horse that really should be worth $2000 and the owner is willing to sell it to me for $500, then I essentially have saved the extra $1500 that the horse should have cost. So, when the next horse I want comes along, and is priced at mere $1000, it is a real deal because I saved $500. Doesn’t that make perfect sense to you?

    Kevin says my eyes go all googley and twitchy when I start talking horses. And, I have to admit, he’s right. A while back, I made the mistake of checking out horse ads on the Internet and saw a seven-year-old Morgan Gelding for sale. I recognized the name of his breeder and knew that he was well bred. I looked at his picture and imagined what our lives would be like together. This behavior is not unlike teenage girls who write the name of their intended, over and over again just to see how it looks.

    I contacted the breeder and the delicate process of negotiations began. She sent more photos and patiently answered questions about pedigree, training level, and ground manners. I asked about bad behaviors (there were none) and with each phone call and email the horse sounded better and better. I thought that I better act soon, or she might sell him before I had a chance to see him. Kevin was less than convinced that we had to go and look at him that very weekend, but being the good sport that he is, he agreed to come with me.

    He has a good reason to be wary of my enthusiasm. The last horse that I felt I just had to have, we drove over 400 miles round trip to go see, and it turned out to not only to be blind in one eye, but chronically lame to boot. Now, to be fair to the seller, she may have told me these things, but in my horse lust I may have not heard them.

    We made arrangements with the breeder and headed out on the 150 mile trip to her place. When we arrived, I could see the horse in a paddock by the barn. He was just as described, old style with broad chest, round barrel and good, hard feet. His black bay coat shone in the sun and he stuck his muzzle out to smell me, just as curious about me as I was about him. There was a kindness about him that completely drew me in.

    We brushed him for a while and then we tacked him up. After a few times around the ring and then up and down the driveway, I could see that he had been started correctly and was willing to please. He was everything I wanted in a horse and so we sealed the deal.

    We paid the asking price, (no horse math here), since it was a fair one for such a fine horse and made arrangements to come and get him the next week. He was registered as Redcliff’s Mannington, but I thought Finnian suited him and that is what I named him.

    That was well over 10 years ago and that little Morgan has done it all. He has been shown, I have used him in movies, and he is one of my best photo models. He is still curious and kind, and he is still my favorite.

    Now, because I paid full price for Finn, I had to curb my horse habit for a while and concentrate on the ones I had. That is until a few years later when cruising Dreamhorse, I spotted a Morgan mare for sale across the river. She was old style foundation bred and only 13 years old. Her asking price was ridiculously low and I told Kevin we had better go and see her that evening.

    We drove across the river to Minnesota and pulled into the small hobby farm driveway. I quickly spotted the mare. The owner’s kids were clambering on and off her back while they led her around the yard. Safety concerns aside, I noticed that the mare had the kindest eye I had ever seen and truly loved the children. I began to feel awful that she was even for sale.

    I rode her bareback with just the halter and lead and I could see that this mare had soul and depth and was a keeper.

    We wrote out a check, which according to horse math was about half of what she was worth. I reassured the family that they could visit her anytime they wanted and I just knew that I had done the right thing.

    So, getting back to the horse math:

    It also applies to the number of horses we are feeding. Right now, we have 12 horses. Two are boarders, and ten are our own. Our horses consist of two old quarter horses, two young Half Arabs, four Morgans and two ponies. So whenever I say I have 10 horses, I clarify that it’s really only nine because the two ponies, who don’t eat as much, count as one, right? And Kevin would say that that is horse math at it’s best.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – www.OmegaFields.com or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes OmegaFields.com and OmegaFieldsHealth.com. Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

    OMEGA FIELDS -- NUTRITION FOR A HEALTHY LIFE!

  • The Apple Of My Eye

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    A few years ago a director friend of mine asked me if I knew of anyone that had a farm dog type puppy available. “A Border Collie would be perfect,” he said, “or maybe something with some shepherd in it.”

    He knew that I am well connected in the dog world and I was happy to help him out. It didn’t take long for me to find a family from church that had a litter of Border Collie Australian Shepherd puppies for sale. Since my friend lived in Minneapolis, and I am 75 miles away in rural Stockholm, Wisconsin, I told him that I would check the puppies for him, saving him the trip if they were not suitable.

    So that Sunday, after church, Kevin and I drove out to see the puppies and take some pictures to send to my friend. The family, who home schooled their eight children, lived on an old farm place a few miles out of town.

    After making our way up the long driveway, a red merle Aussie announced our arrival and greeted us with wriggles and kisses. As we climbed out of the truck, the Dad and all eight kids came out to greet us and show us the pups.

    One by one, the puppies poured out of the house until there was six balls of black and white and blue merle fluff rolling around in the grass. They immediately came over to inspect us as we inspected them. We could see that the red Aussie was their mother and the children told us that the father was a black and white Border Collie who lived one farm over. I remembered seeing him, sitting on the porch of their neighbor’s house as we drove by. He was an impressive dog, with a broad old style, Border Collie head and full white ruff that set off his shiny black coat.

    As I took some pictures to send to my friend, one puppy in particular began to stand out.

    She was the smallest of the bunch, a nonstop whirlwind of feet and fur as she ran from sibling to siblings, nipping playfully on one’s ear then going to grab another’s tail. I reached down to pick her up and she flew into my arms, scurrying up my legs and into my face.

    She gave me a million puppy kisses and her little body wriggled so much with excitement, I thought she would burst.

    You must understand that I work with animals every day, and I can assure you, I am immune to the charms of cuddly puppies and frisky kittens. So no one was more surprised than me, when I fell completely, utterly in love with the little blue merle pup. She was friendly, curious and bold. After all of my years working as an animal trainer, I knew she had star quality written all over her.

    I set her down, took a few more pictures, (more now of her, than the others) and made mental note of who would be a good fit for my friend. I tried to ignore her, but my eyes kept going back to her as she fearlessly explored the yard.

    Kevin stood up, brushed the grass off his jeans and asked me, “Do you think you have enough pictures?” It was his signal to me that he was ready to go. I took his arm and whispered to him, “I really want that puppy.”

    “What puppy?” He asked. “We don’t need a puppy. We have two dogs, already,” he said, citing our elderly German Shepherd and our young one who was still somewhat of a puppy himself.

    “I know we don’t need one,” I said, “But look at her. She has a great look. She’s smart. She’s bold. She could be a really good acting dog.”

    “We don’t need another dog. Don’t you think we have enough animals?”

    “Oh, Kevin,” I pleaded, trying to convince him. “I have an empty spot in my life.” I put out my hands and moved them up and down like a scale, “Baby…puppy. Baby…puppy. Baby…puppy.”

    He laughed. “We are not having another baby!”

    I laughed too, “Of course not!”

    We have four sons. But I really wanted this puppy. Kevin sighed and wearily shook his head. “OK… if you think so, go ahead.” Poor Kevin. After all these years, he has grown used to the fact that when I set my mind on something, it’s pretty much going to happen.

    “What do you call her?” I asked the children.

    “Apple,” volunteered one of the younger girls, “I named her Apple because she is spotted like an Appaloosa and Appaloosa’s are my favorite kind of horse.”

    “Apple,” I repeated, liking how it rolled nicely off my tongue. “Then Apple it is,” I replied, swooping her up into my arms.

    “What do you want for the puppies,” I asked.

    “We’ve been getting $30 for them”, the oldest boy told me, being sure to add a serious look to show that there would be no negotiating on price.

    “Great!” I said, “I’ll take her.”

    “Give them $50.” Kevin said quietly, nodding towards the kids.

    “They said $30,” I protested, never one to miss a bargain.

    “Oh, give them $50”, he repeated, “You know she’s worth more than that. I’ll go get the check book.”

    I paid the kids and thanked them and assured them that my friend would want a puppy also. Apple snuggled into my arms during the short ride home and I told Kevin that I was very, very happy.

    Sophie, our old dog, sniffed Apple and looked at me as if to say, “Oh no! Not again!” and then went and lay down on her bed. The young dog, Sarge, was thrilled to have playmate.

    Apple had never seen a cat before and the house cats were quick to put her in her place.

    Trilby even went so far as to sneak up on her and slap her a few times with her paw before poor Apple even knew what happened. I think that is why Apple still feels the need to harmlessly chase any cat that gets too close.

    We only had Apple for a short time, when a film crew for the movie, Midnight Chronicles, descended upon our farm. Every day for a week there were a minimum of 50 people on the set for Apple to love. She was in heaven. The actors and crew were always picking her up and carrying her around like a baby. She would go crazy with delight and lick their faces and they would tell her what a good dog she was. This was ok when she weighed less than 10 pounds, but now that she is over 50, it is not so charming. She still thinks everyone wants to pet her and get a dozen kisses while tries to crawl up into their laps.

    I introduced her to the chickens right away making it clear that chasing or harassing them was forbidden, and if she knew what was good for her, she would leave them alone.

    As she grew, she discovered the sheep and I could see that this was her true calling.

    It became her reason for living. I can just imagine the thoughts racing around in her head.

    “Sheep! Must watch sheep! Must watch sheep! Oh, oh! That one is getting too close to the gate. It could escape. Back! Get back, you naughty sheep! Oh no! That one has moved away from the others! GET BACK! You know your place. I am the dog and you are the sheep. I am the boss of you. Now get back you wooly beasties!”

    Sometimes, when I am working her on a set, I say “sheep” to perk her up and it takes her a split second to realize that we are in a big building in the city and there is no way that there could possibly be any sheep around.

    She wishes the horses would listen to her. She is ever so helpful when I am doing chores. She watches the horses like a hawk and if I say “Hup!” or “Hah!” to get a horse to move, she is right there, weaving in and out, driving them out of my way.

    She is a notorious horse manure eater, a habit we are trying to break her of, especially when she chooses to give the aforementioned kisses right after a yummy manure snack.

    She will chase a ball or a Frisbee all day unless I am using the ball to get her to run for the camera. She quickly figures out that I am not really playing the game like I should and takes the ball and lies down.

    She is a good animal actor having worked for Target, Purina, Cargill and others and is one of my favorite photo subjects.

    When I told my dog trainer friend, who has know me for over 20 years, that I got a Border Collie/Aussie cross she laughed and said finally, “Well it’s about time you got the right dog for you”

    “What do you mean?” I complained, “What’s wrong with my shepherds?”

    “Oh nothing she said, “It’s just that you are a Border Collie.” She paused for a moment and then said, “Totally fearless, ever cheerful and always ready to tackle whatever life throws at you.“

    And as I reach down and pet Apple who is, of course, curled up under my desk I would say that I have to agree.

    For information on premium stabilized ground flax supplements that are rich in natural Omega-3 to help maintain a shiny healthy coat and top performance – for horses in all life stages – please click on Horse Health Products. Order online 24/7/365 – www.OmegaFields.com or call toll-free – 1-877-663-4203.

    Omega Fields® provides premium, stabilized ground flax products for equine, canine, feline, poultry, and human nutrition. Online-based consumer distribution includes OmegaFields.com and OmegaFieldsHealth.com. Omega Fields’ mission is to offer the finest quality, most nutritious products at a fair price and provide outstanding customer service. We want our customers to have exceptional experience with our products, our staff, our websites, and our retailers.

  • On A Cold Frosty Morning

    Written By Barbara O'Brien

    When I woke up this morning my heart was pounding and I was gasping for air. My hands were trembling and I could barely speak. I had a bad dream, I dreamed… I dreamed… that I lived in town! For those of you who wake up in cities or towns across the world every day this is no big thing, but for a tried and true animal person like me, living in town would be a nightmare.

    Where would I keep the horses? And how would I grow enough hay in a backyard that could barely sustain a 20-foot vegetable garden? And how about the sheep, chickens, and the dozen or so cats that call my farm home? And much like the Grinch how could I bear the Noise! The Noise! The Noise! When we lived in town there was always car after car buzzing down our street, smoky diesel buses rumbling past and planes both large and small roaring overhead.

    Oh no, not I. I turn over and take a breath and remember where I am. I am waking up in my old farmhouse with its leaky, frosty windows, rattling radiators and good solid bones. I remember that the house is sitting on the prettiest 40 acres in Pierce County Wisconsin with its gentle rolling fields and patches of woods where many generations of deer and pheasant have found refuge.

    I turn to see dear husband sleeping quietly next to me and think of my four sons and Sarah safe and sound in their beds. I remember that I am a very lucky girl.

    I would like to stay there a moment longer, but Louisa, one of my acting cats, begins her morning ritual of scratching at the bedroom door. It doesn’t matter if she is in the room or out. She knows the scratching bothers me and the old fir bedroom door shows all the signs of her abuse with a hundred tiny scratches about cat high reaching towards the knob.

    Her door destruction rouses the dogs, a clever boarder collie Aussie mix, named Apple, and an equally clever but not as fast German Shepherd named, Lisle. They have been curled up on their plush dogs beds in the corner of our room and now that the cat has signaled that it is almost dawn they snuffle me with their noses and try to get me out of bed.

    It has been cold during the night. I always turn the heat down in a vain attempt to keep the propane monster at bay and I wish I could stay in bed like city people do. I picture them basking in their well-insulated houses and shelling out mere pittances by comparison to the natural gas company.

    But the dogs are persistent and even on this 10 below morning; there are chores to do.

    I go down and feed the house cats, which usually number between 2 and 7 depending who is working that week and make some coffee.

    I listen to the weather for a moment. If I am going to go outside and in the bitter cold, I want to know just how bitterly cold it is so I can brag about it later.

    Checking the time and seeing it is exactly 25 minutes before the school bus arrives, I roust Sarah and William and Walker from bed and set out to do chores. I am still in my jammies. No point in getting my good clothes on just to do chores. I begin to gather up the accruements that will help me in my task. I start with my Carhartt insulated bibs. These are nothing like the stylish, pull on ski pants, that I have seen in James Bond movies. These are heavy insulated bibs with zippers and snaps that extend the full length of the leg so you can pull them on or off over your boots and adjustable straps depending on if you are a tall farmer or a short farmer. Carhartt and others have started making insulated coveralls and bibs just for women and I was one of the first to snap one up. Nothing keeps me warmer and the freezing wind out better. The next layer is my down vest that I picked up on clearance at Lands End 15 years ago. I tuck a homemade polar fleece scarf around my neck. It sports lovely green John Deere tractors. My mother made it for one of the boys but seeing it’s potential I stole it. I pull my equally warm, made for a woman, Carhartt jacket. (Those Carhartt people are geniuses, aren’t they?)

    I then pull on my pac boots. I had been loyal to my 1984 sorrels for over 20 years but when I saw that Sorel had come out with a similar pac boot, BUT IN PLAID! I jumped at the change to replace my old ones. The 1984 boots were amazingly still usable so I put them in the boot box in the granary, which we keep for guests foolish enough to arrive without proper boots.

    I top off my ensemble with an Elmer Fudd type wool hat, the earpieces pulled down and the hat strapped firmly to my chin. I slide my hand into my angora gloves which I quickly top with fleece lined leather choppers and I am finally ready to go out.

    One more sip of coffee and I am out the door. The snow crunches under my feet and a few brave cats leave the refuge of their heated spot in the barn to greet me. They meow and roll at my feet, entreating to me move faster as they are starving. It has been a whole day since they have been fed!

    The horses notice my arrival and began to stir. She and the man are the ones who bring hay! I tell them to finish what they have. They will have to wait for evening chores when we will use the tractor to deliver more hay.

    I feed the cats in a long row on two tables set up n their little cat room, which in its earlier life was used as calf barn and was the original settler barn. The walls are made of thick squared off logs and it has a built in manger for the livestock. Luckily, during the late 1900’s owners were thinking of expanding, they saw fit to keep it and put the barn right over it. It is a small room with a low ceiling and when Kevin bumps his head into the lintel he blames the short, but industrious Swede who built it.

    I move on to the chicken barn, which houses our 40 odd hens, 3 roosters, two mallard ducks and our small flock of sheep. I fill the feeders with lay mash and throw out a scoop of cracked corn for them to pick at. The sheep begin to baa and bleat which means; Hurry! Hurry! Open the door so we can go out for the day! I take their water trough outside which in reality is an extra large rubber feed pan. I flip it over so I can vigorously jump on it to in an attempt to break apart the thick, solid block of ice that has formed in it over night. I repeat this with the chicken water and admonish the hens to produce more eggs even though it is very cold.

    I hear the school bus coming down our mile long driveway and call out good-bye to the kids as they board the bus. The dogs half-heartedly try to chase the bus, but I call them back and tell them to behave.

    I go to the round bale we have placed next to the barn and pull off a deer sled full of hay to bring to the sheep. I drag it through the snow and teeter totter it over the fence and dump it before them. They descend upon it like rugby players after the ball. They pile on top of each other to get at the tender part of the alfalfa leaves and stems.

    I then check on all the horse and ponies. Their muzzles are covered in frost and they are grateful for the horse treats Kevin keeps stocked in each barn, I slip my hand out of my glove and put it under the thick mane of my favorite, a fat little Morgan gelding named Finn, and it is warmed instantly by the full plush thickness of his winter coat. I check the water troughs to make sure the tank heaters are working and I pat each horse and say my farewells.

    My nose runs and my eyes sting with the sharp wind as it hits my face as I trudge slowly back to the house. I am anxious to shed my layers and sit on the radiator while I sip more coffee. The dogs follow me in and the sun is just beginning to peak over the horizon. Kevin is up now, and I can smell and toast and homemade jam. We take turns with morning chores, but we always do evening chores together as they are much more arduous.

    As I sit down with him, I smile and count my blessings that I am right here, right now and nowhere else.

    All is Well and I am pleased that this is real and not a dream.

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