Steph and Stacy both warned me not to let Peanut on the loose in the old barn. They had put rat bait out. Peanut is a curious eater, and has already had an incident with the lovely looking green blocks of bait, which resulted in Lynzie coming out to make him puke. As Stacy and Steph cringed, they recounted watching the bold rat family traipse out of the old feed room entrance and right into the middle of the calf pen. Not minding at all that humans were in the barn. This week found Kayla and me in the old barn to put half of a pen of calves back from their adventure in the alleys. After it was all said and done and the gates were upright, I said that at least we were too busy chasing calves to worry about the rats! It reminded me of all the goosebumps and heart pounding encounters I’ve had over the years.
Back in our stall barn, when I milked my special needs cows on one end of the barn, and the step-up parlor and holding area took up the remainder, I was also teaching. Being a teacher meant I had to milk my cows extra early in the morning in order to make it to school on time. My cows had access to the pasture that swooped below the barn and towards the woods, and having walked it a million times, I rarely took a flashlight with me in the morning. Thinking back, who knows how many creatures I missed because I ventured out there in the dark, calling for my cows. That thought alone makes me shiver.
It was the first light of morning that always made me scared. I would bring my girls in the barn in the dark, shut the door, then a while later when I was almost done milking, I would go and tie the door back open. The morning light brought my attention to a skunk on the manure pile in the cow yard, which sent me flying to the house screaming for someone to come out with a gun. But Dad was right, “By the time someone gets down there it will be gone, just go milk your cows.” That experience made me jumpy bringing cows in for the next week.
Then there were the weasels that liked to snitch some of the cow feed that fell behind their bunk (along with a fair number of healthy rats, yuck) and lived in the barn cleaner room. It was bad enough that you had to watch the barn cleaner chain so it didn’t get stuck and throw straw in to get the water out, but you also had to watch for those creepy weasels out of the corner of your eye. They were fast, but still scary.
I also vaguely recall a raccoon in the barn alley one morning, that lucky me discovered right before bringing cows in. I ran so fast to the house and was determined not to go back out until I had the proper sidekick. Once again, by the time one of my brothers was dressed, the critter evaded a certain death and was nowhere to be found. My screams must have that effect on them.
Mice make me quiver, but I have gotten much better at holding my breath and setting those snapping traps so I don’t have to smell a dead mouse coming from an undisclosed location for weeks. Rats still creep me out tremendously; they are pretty high on everyone’s list of creepy things at our farm. This winter I found five drowned babies in my sheep’s water pail and about lost my mind. Peter is still not a fan of rats and mice – the mere mention of the words makes him visibly uncomfortable. My boys do not have this fear; they will chase the rodent down and end its life with whatever tool they have available. I will admit to being so petrified of a dead rat that I once had to call my Aunt Cheryl to calm me down and talk me through picking it up. After we hung up, she slyly called the exterminator and sent them to the farm.
There is a Christmas Eve I will never forget: the one that Thomas put on a pair of extra thick gloves, went outside and came back in with the opossum that had been peering in the window. Now let me do my best to paint this picture for you. I am so scared of those hideous creatures I can barely scream. I shake uncontrollably, and run as far as possible until long after my threat of being within feet of it has passed. When you are in a house on a cold December night your options are limited. Needless to say, I was holed up in my dad’s bedroom with a fishing pole as my weapon trying not to pee my pants.
Oddly enough, though those animals all scare the bejeebers out of me, snakes do not. My brothers aren’t big fans of them at all, but they don’t evoke that level of shaking fear in me. My boys have brought them in, thinking they will scare me, and are so disappointed when I just grab it and examine it.
Now Cora, that girl loves to watch worms do their work and exclaim over their trails, but to touch one – no way! It is so bizarre to me, to watch her touch all sorts of gross things, but not a teeny little worm. Beetles are out of the question, as well; she wouldn’t even drive her bike down the cement when she saw one. That girl! Yet, these stories are the ones she loves to hear told again and again, finding them utterly hilarious.
Keep your rat bait and ‘possum poking pitch forks handy, and I hope you don’t have too many close encounters of the creepy kind at your farm.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wisconsin. Her children, Ira (14), Dane (12), Henry (7) and Cora (4), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.