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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Exercise in Rural Missouri

In Portland, Oregon where I lived the past 12 or so years it is considered trendy, even necessary, to belong to a gym. When you consider that most people there, as I did, have to work office jobs and sit at a desk for 8 or more hours a day it makes sense. However after moving to rural Missouri going to a gym is something that most of the natives kind of sneer at as being sissy or citified. My husband is one of those natives so I have had to find other ways to burn calories. And really, living here on a dairy farm, even if you don't count chores, exercise is something that kind of happens to you, it isn’t necessary to go looking for it. For one thing there is the house and a real yard and garden to take care of and since I don’t have an outside job there isn’t any excuse to avoid certain things like mopping, vacuuming, picking up rocks and such like. Plus, seeing as how he doesn’t want me to have to join a gym my husband is always on the lookout for a good way for me to burn those pesky calories. One of the best ways he has found is when we wean calves. This involves moving them from the bottle feeding pen to the “weaner” pen, which is about a hundred yards or so away. The first part of the exercise is to get the noose of the rope around the calf’s neck. This not as easy as it sounds as they are not generally agreeable to this maneuver and, without fail, having galloped up and down the pen with me in hot pursuit, they will get into a corner and duck their heads so that I have to try and pin them against the fence and wrestle the rope around their obstinate, bony heads and stiff, sticking-out ears.

Then the fun begins because once caught we then have to convince her to go to the gate, go out of the gate and enter the big wide world. This whole process is easier when there are two people working at it; one to push and one to pull. The calf, being of contrary mind, is not inclined to go in the direction one would like her to go, but when there are two of us there she will automatically avoid us both, so this is fairly easy, we just have to dance around her and encourage her to keep moving in the general direction. This burns a few calories, but it is when you finally have her out of the gate and headed toward the weaner pen that the serious calorie burning starts. Especially when my helpful husband points her head in the general direction we want her to go, hands me the rope and then startles her by swatting her butt. Off she gallops, bucking and jumping all the way with me in tow. “Hang on to the rope,” hollers my helpful husband in the background as the calf and I trot along. “Don’t let her go through the windows,” he adds as she makes a particularly high and graceful leap, landing a bit too close to the milking barn for his comfort. If I can kind of run beside her at this point I can get her to go in the general correct direction by tugging on her when she is in mid-air. But suddenly she will realize that she is more or less cooperating and directly she will put on the brakes at about the halfway point to the pen.
Anyone who has wrestled with a small child to get it to go somewhere it doesn’t want to go can appreciate the dilemma now facing me. A typical 2 month old calf weighs as much or more as I do and has 4 flinty little brakes that can dig in quite sturdily. It’s even worse when the calf decides she has had enough of this and decides to lie down and try to ignore the whole situation. If you are by yourself and want to put your back out this is a good time to do it by trying to drag her; there is very little that will convince her to get up and move again. But usually if my husband comes up behind her and spooks her then she will take off again; hopping and skipping, with me jogging along with her, tugging as we go. It is a relief to get her to the weaner pen and burn more calories trying to get the rope off of her neck. The biggest reward is to watch her realize she is now in a bigger pen and take off running; ears pinned back, tail hiked up high, bucking and kicking ‘til she comes to a sliding halt at a fence. My husband says he has seen them go straight through the fence, at which point I suppose you could potentially burn more calories trying to catch her again. But I hope that never happens on my watch.

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