April is a funny flip-flop month on a farm. The farmers, and the farm horses, go from tender beseeching moments to wild heel-kicking moments in the bat of an eye.
In April, Betsey, oldest and wisest workhorse, stands at the paddock gate. Whenever a farmer comes into view, Betsey lifts her head high and pricks her ears.
This starts a rumor in the herd: it’s time, it’s time, it’s time! Three more horses barrel over to the gate. Now there are four big horses standing in a row: Betsey, and Ben, the black Percherons, and Molly and Moon, the Belgians. And they are all gazing beseechingly at the sympathetic farmer.
“Not yet, “ I say, “I’m sorry, oh, not quite yet. There’s not enough green grass yet.”
The horses gaze and gaze. As I back out of their view, wishing I could give a different answer, there is a sudden reckless thundering: four big horses, wheeling around, kicking up their heels, and racing around the paddock. Oh, blast! I can almost hear them saying. Blast this winter paddock!
It’s been a long season, there in the paddock. Sure, there’s breakfast, lunch, and supper to look forward to. There’s sunshine to soak in on warmer days. There’s a barn to tuck in on colder days.
There’s also the fun of causing a winter ruckus: figuring out how to get the barn door open, to sneak a snack of hay. Knocking the metal manger over, making an enormous crash, and alerting the sleeping farmers that breakfast must be past due. Working the water trough over, another banging good time.
And then there’s the water delivery: what’s more fun than flipping the hose right out of the tank and watching the water run down the driveway? And then watching a frantic farmer come bolting out of the house and running to the paddock to remedy the wasteful, oh-so-unsustainable situation?
Some days, between meal or water ruckuses, the two geldings, Ben and Moon, will wrestle and rear and nip and chase each other for big chunks of time. Betsey and Molly, the mares, are not wrestlers, but Molly is the most talkative horse we’ve ever had, and she causes commotion in her own way: the big squeal.
Molly saves all her squeals for Betsy and Ben (the black Percherons, who happen to be auntie and nephew, and good pals). Moon is favored, because he and Molly were raised together, and are siblings and good pals, too.
According to Molly’s squeal-o-meter, Ben is way too close to her in the paddock. Or Betsey is way too close to her. Or Ben is way too close to Molly’s hay. Or Betsey is way too close to Molly’s hay. Or Ben and Betsey both are getting ready to be too close to Molly and/or her hay. Molly handles all these dreadful possibilities with a big squeal and a little buck behind.
But all four horses are in agreement about one thing, in April: it is time. It must be time. Time for green grass, big pastures, lots of room, warm days and nights.
We farmers agree. We want to buck off this winter weight, too. No more filling hay mangers, no more filling water troughs, no more beseeching horses. It’s time. It must be time.
And yet: the green grass isn’t green enough until May. Everybody wants to be out in the pasture, but if we go out too soon, the pasture isn’t likely to provide enough grazing for the next six months.
Sometimes sustainable, green farming means we just have to sit tight with all the beseeching. And give an occasional buck and squeal, until it really is time.
Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Apr 17 – Apr 23, 2013