Winter Ice

 
We got ice in the early morning hours. The trees are all dripping diamonds. The pines are bent down to the earth. And there’s a gentle tinkling as the breeze moves through the boughs. We get ice quite a lot in this place that can’t make up its mind whether it’s Southern or Northern. We hover on the edges of both, which makes for interesting weather all year round, but we see quite a lot of ice in the colder winters. Often, it takes down power lines, but not today. Sometimes, the sun comes out and it is pure magic, but not today. Just an ordinary kind of glittery beauty.
Happily, it’s not too cold today, and none of the animals are suffering for the weather!
 
But those steers!  Skinny Jersey steers. Jerseys are excellent milk cows with strong personalities and a classic sort of loveliness, but the steers are just annoying. They eat and eat and eat and never get any bigger. They demand more corn every time they see you, and still never put on any meat. We’ve started crossing with Angus just so that we’ll get some decent steaks. 🙂

A Gracie Update

I was sitting in the barn the other day, watching our little calf practice standing on her stick legs.  “Who are you?” I asked her.  “What would you like to be called?”  She stared at me earnestly for a moment, and then her name came to me.  Gracie.  Just perfect for this little sweetie bravely facing a challenging start in life.

Gracie wore her splints till Sunday morning, but she wasn’t quite finished.  Her left hoof still kept turning under, no matter how hard she tried to use it, but her right, she could stand on a little bit.  It wanted to turn under, too, but she could keep herself up on her toes a little bit, until she leaned forward too far!  So she’s back in her splints for four more days, and then we’ll take them off again and reevaluate.  I’m hopeful she’ll just need the left one by the weekend.  I’m not optimistic enough that she will need no splints at all.

The vet volunteered to resplint her over the weekend, but we can manage that here on the farm now.  This was a new problem for me, and one I did not know how to handle, so the vet was helpful in providing me with a bit of an education on this front.  I don’t believe in paying somebody to do something for me without gaining knowledge out of it!  Next time, if there is one, I’ll be able to handle it in-house from the get-go.

Other than that, she’s eating well, she made it through two quite cold nights, she’s figured out how to frisk about on her little pink legs, and she’s generally a contented little calf.

Also, that photo up there cracks me up.  It’s already showed up on my instagram account, but I couldn’t resist using it again!

 

A New Calf, Unexpectedly Early

In the morning, I went out into the world to take care of the livestock.  The cows were pretty far out in the field, and not even pretending to graze.  They were unusually active, jogging back and forth.  “That’s odd,” thought I, but I could see them both, and they looked fine, so I went on about my day, which involved lots of laundry and the nursing of a great many people with a stomach bug.  In the evening, I went out again to care for the animals, but now the cows were nowhere to be seen.  I shrugged, thinking to myself, “An easy night!”  Well, as easy as it could be, since I was the only one capable of doing any chores, and there were piles of dishes and laundry to be dealt with.  But then, I thought better of it.  I don’t have the best fences in the world, and if they think something delicious lurks on the other side, the cows can actually go through the wire.  Plus, they were acting strange in the morning.  I decided to go find them.

Past the pond, I went, but no sign of them.  Over the hill, I went, and there were, lying down in the farthest corner of the pasture.  “Hm,” thought I again.  “It’s not the laying down time of day.  Wonder what they’re up to.”  As I got closer, I saw something in the grass under the tree, something dark.  “Too big to be a poop,” I thought, and then, “Oh, no.  Do not tell me she had her calf.  Not tonight!”

But a calf it was, three weeks early.  Sunshine wasn’t showing any signs of being ready; her udder was still fairly soft and not nearly as big as it normally gets.  But there was a calf, lying in the grass, cozy and dry, looking up at me.  She isn’t the biggest thing I’ve ever carried across that field, but it’s a long way from that back corner to the barn, especially when you’re being dogged by two excitable and full grown bovines.  We made it back safely, and I debated whether to try to milk Sunshine right then and get the calf a bottle, or whether we could wait till morning.  It looked like they’d maybe already nursed, but then I saw the calf was having trouble standing.  Her front hooves are turned under, so she’s trying to stand and walk on the tops of her feet, basically.

We decided to milk and feed, and a good thing, too.  The poor baby was starving!  Aside for not being able to walk, she seems to be healthy and fiesty.  I checked with the vet this morning, and he says she has retracted tendons from positioning in the womb.  Just a random act of God, it seems, and we’re taking her in tonight to get splinted.  Hopefully we can stretch her out so she can live the full and active life of a normal cow.

I do not know what this means for our milk supply.  I don’t know how well Sunshine’s milk is going to come in, since she doesn’t seem to have been physically ready.  I thought of adding extra milkings these first few days to help it come in fully.  I don’t know.  I’m in uncharted waters.

Winter Vacation

 

We sold off all of our Jersey girls in the spring, keeping just this one lovely lady, Sunshine.  It’s been nice, having fewer chores to do in the barn.  It’s made it easier for me to be the mother I need to be to my two littlest monkeys, and so I don’t regret that decision, but I do miss having all those cows around.  And I’m going to miss having milk for the next couple of months!  Sunshine has been pretty light lately, and milking very poorly in the evening, so we’ve given that one up altogether.  She’s getting milked just once a day now, and it won’t be long until she’s pretty well dried up.  Then, we’ll all be milkless until February.  (More like March, probably, but the time she calves and we get through the colostrum.)

We only have a few gallons of milk going out each week, which is what made the decision to lighten our herd so easy.  At one time, we had nearly twenty shares sold, but when Fort Knox downsized, we lost most of our customers.  It’s a shame, because – and I’m really sorry to have to say this – money makes the effort worthwhile.  With no financial motivation, we quit doing the work, which makes our product unavailable to future customers.  No milk, no cheese, no butter, no eggs, no chicken.  We provide for our own needs and only sell whatever we can’t use.  (With a family of eleven, that isn’t much!)

If you can, support a small family farm!  Buy that CSA garden share, pay a little more for that pastured pork, splurge on those beautiful farm-fresh eggs.  The expense to you is really minimal, the quality is out of this world, and it means an awful lot to that farmer.

Weather Losses

Some years, the springs are mild and uneventful, and other years, we can’t catch a break. This year has been one of the latter, and while there hasn’t been much in the way of tornado potential, we’ve had a lot of rain. A lot. In a sixteen hour span of time, from Saturday afternoon through Sunday morning, we got around four inches of rain. See? I told you! A lot of rain. We’d had a lot of rain the night before that, too, and our young chicks, though they had shelter, decided to panic. They all rushed to one unprotected corner of the crate, got drenched, and then stayed huddled like that until I found them in the morning. Unfortunately, they were stacked three deep, and the chicks on the bottom didn’t make it. We lost eleven that night. They did it again on Saturday, and I went out there twice to unstack them and toss them to the sheltered side. After a while, they seemed to get it, but I kept up a steady stream of prayers for them throughout the night anyway. In the morning, we’d only lost one, but the crate was demolished, collapsed under the weight of the water.

Davey and I repaired another crate and moved them, and the evening’s weather was uneventful, so we don’t have to worry about them for a day or two, but I’ve got to tell you that livestock of any kind takes a lot of dedication! Even chickens.

Our Ducklings Are Hatching

And there really isn’t much more to say than that! It looks like the ducklings are falling out of their original nest, though, and have been adopted by a mama who has not finished setting on her own clutch. So that’ll be a little sad if she leaves her eggs, but there are many more nests in the barn, and they’ll do this two or three times before the year is out.

I Got My Cow Bred The Old Fashioned Way

Yesterday was kind of a quiet day.  We had just as much work to do as ever, but there was a hushed sort of expectancy as we all waited for the wedding time.  After a while, I picked up my camera and went on a little walkabout, seeing the world and making photographs of it.  I met up with my neighbor on the way back, and he nodded toward the camera slung across my body.  “What are you up to?”

“You know,” I said, “taking pictures is probably my most favorite thing in the whole world to do.”

“What are you taking pictures of,” he asked, since I’d just come up his drive.

“Well, there’s this fence post covered in wild roses I saw the other day, and on my way back, I noticed some hooks hanging off one of your trailers, and the barn up there where you’re having the wedding is just beautiful.”

He looked a little doubtful.  Meanwhile, my cow was keeping up a steady bellow a few feet away on our side of the fence.  “What is up with her?” he asked.

“She’s in heat today,” I answered.

“What are you going to breed her to? I’ve got a registered Angus bull over here.”

Well.  I did not know that.  I was going to use Jersey semen, but we’ve had a hard time breeding our cows lately, and I’d not been looking forward to trying to catch her in heat on the same day the vet was open, hoping he was available to AI, and praying it “took” for three weeks till her next cycle, only to find out it didn’t, forcing us to repeat the process until we finally get it right.  A nice Angus bull might be just the ticket.

“You just have to let her in through the gate,” he said temptingly.

So I got my cow, and we let her in through the gate, and we made sure the bull noticed her, and then we left them to their business. Two hours later, I came back to check on her and she was all humped up, with her tail extended like she had to urinate.  “Is that normal?” I asked.  “Or is my cow mortally wounded?”

Normal, it turns out.  So we fetched her back out again and took her home.  He says nine months to the day, she’ll be having her calf.  And I must admit this was certainly easier – and cheaper – than AI!  Also, I’m thankful for good neighbors who don’t mind helping a woman get her cow bred, even on their son’s wedding day.