Portrait of a Very Old Fence Post

portrait of a very old fence post

This.  This is a fence post with character.  Don’t you think?

Green (In Photographs)

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Green are the cherry tomatoes, but being cherries, they're just about as big as they're supposed to get, so perhaps they'll get a some roses in their cheeks soon?

Green are the cherry tomatoes, but being cherries, they’re just about as big as they’re supposed to get, so perhaps they’ll get a some roses in their cheeks soon?

Green are the plum tomatoes, too!  I planted lots of these this year, for canning.  My beloved Farmer Dave prefers to grow beefsteaks, and we've got some of them, too, but they are too watery to cook down into sauces.

Green are the plum tomatoes, too! I planted lots of these this year, for canning. My beloved Farmer Dave prefers to grow beefsteaks, and we’ve got some of them, too, but they are too watery to cook down into sauces.

Green are the grapes, growing quite prolifically this year!  I look forward to making jam this summer, as long as the fungus that usually afflicts them stays away.

Green are the grapes, growing quite prolifically this year! I look forward to making jam this summer, as long as the fungus that usually afflicts them stays away.

How is your garden growing?

There She Blows!

davey on tractor lush summer growth
I spy my handsome man, coming home from mowing the fields for the cows, and just in time for lunch!

tire blown tractor
I spy our tractor tire, blown apart, wobbling off the rim. The tractor is out of commission until we get the tire fixed.

davey sad tractor

Poor Dave. It hits a man hard when his tractor goes down.

Artificial Insemination and Planning Ahead

Do you have a cow?  If you have a cow, and you want her to produce milk, she’ll have to have a calf.  She makes the milk, after all, for the benefit of her baby.  And if you want her to keep producing milk for many years, she’ll need to have a new calf about once a year.  That means you’ll need either a bull or someone who knows how to artificially inseminate your cow for you.

We use our local vet, but not all veterinarians are comfortable with AI, so your mileage may vary.  You might be able to find someone to do it for you through your local extension office.  The extension agents know everybody.  And, worst case scenario, you might learn how to do it yourself!  I’ve been assured that it isn’t overly difficult, but there is a knack to knowing how everything feels and when it’s all right.  The vet or the AI specialist gets a lot of practice that you probably aren’t going to get on just your own cow or two.

As I said, we use our local veterinarian.  He’s really good and he makes farm calls, so we don’t have to load the animal to get the deed done!  Our problem is in scheduling.  Sometimes, there are two vets working out of the office, and then it’s not so bad, but when there is only one, like now, I need to know when my cow is going to be in heat so I can schedule him to arrive on time!

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Signs Your Cow Is In Heat

If you have more than one cow, the most obvious sign of imminent ovulation is mounting behavior.  In the beginning, the cow in question will attempt to mount other cows in the herd (or even you, if you aren’t careful!) but she’ll move off if the other cows try to mount her.  Later, within a few hours, she’ll stand while they mount her, maybe turning her head to admire her derriere.  In fact, even without other cows present, she’ll seem overly interested in her rear end.

You can use other signs to determine when she’s fertile, too, even if she’s your only cow.  She will very likely be unusually restless and perhaps moo-ey.  If she’s milking, she may not let down so well for you that day.  You might notice her vulva being a little softer and maybe a long string of mucus.  She may not eat as much as you’d expect, being rather intent on accomplishing a certain other activity.

Pay attention.  You’ll be able to tell!

Planning Ahead

Once you’re noticing what she looks and acts like when she’s in heat, it’s helpful to know how long her cycles are.  The average bovine has a 21 day cycle, but I’ve noticed mine are more like 22.  Each cow is different.  If you are in a hurry to have her bred, you can go with the 21 day average, but if you can pinpoint your particular cow’s cycle length, I think you’ll have better results.

Now you can call your AI guy and schedule him to come to your cow.  I plan, against my vet’s advice, to have him there a little bit before I expect my cow to show heat signs.  His understanding is that the semen, once thawed, have only a 10-12 hour lifespan.  I’m pretty sure we have more like 24 hours, or perhaps better.  Anyway, I’d rather have him there a bit early than miscalculate and have him show up as scheduled, but too late.  Too early, you still have a chance, but too late is just too late.

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The Basis for My Timing Decisions

Allow me to explain my thought process here?

Up until this past fall, I just watched and waited and called my vet as soon as I saw any indication that my cow was in heat.  Alas, a country vet who makes farm calls is in high demand and my small, last minute need often went unfulfilled.  That has a negative effect on my herd family planning and the management of my milk production.

Then, one day late last summer, my husband’s Army friend was visiting.  He grew up on a dairy farm, spent all his leave for twenty years going back to work on the farm, and just retired from the Army and bought the farm.  Which is all to say that he really loves his dairy farm, and he has never gotten out of the business, in spite of twenty years of military service, frequently overseas.  :-)  So this one day last summer, he was talking about how the dairy guys in his neck of the woods were breeding at 19 days and trying for 18.  It was kind of an “aha” moment for me.  I mean, of course!

I know enough about human fertility to know that sperm live for several days in situ, and I don’t see how it would be any different for cattle, who also happen to be mammals.  We do admittedly lose a lot of the little guys by freezing, and then thawing, them, but the ones that do survive the process should have a lifespan of at least 24 hours.

I’ve scheduled all three of my cows to be artificially inseminated approximately 12 hours before they actually went into heat.  Sunshine and Maybelle conceived on the first try.  Annabelle was bred in early May by a different vet and didn’t take, but we tried again this week.  He came in the morning and she was in standing heat by the evening milking eight hours later.  Hopefully, this one takes!  I’ll let you know in three weeks.

A New Tractor and an Annabelle Update

IMG_9523We got a new tractor last week!  There we were, just driving along, minding our own business, when suddenly, we spied this little fella parked enticingly in what we call “The For Sale Spot”.  Everybody’s got one.  It’s up front, near the street, and the item in question is usually posed, so you can always tell, even if you can’t see a sign.  So when we saw this tractor nestled beneath the maples, hay spear raised several feet in order to show off his muscles, well, we knew.

It’s an International Harvester known in these parts as “Dickie Chapman’s Tractor”, though we bought it from Bennie Bruner.  Our hay man, Jeff, recognized it right off.  “That’s Dickie Chapman’s tractor!” he said with a grin.  “I grew up driving that thing!”  Tractors have personalities, I guess, and this one is obviously one-of-a-kind.

IMG_9532We’d actually only just gotten it home when Jeff arrived with our first load of winter hay.  I know.  The last winter is hardly even a memory yet, and here we are loading up for the next one.  That’s farming for you; make hay while the sun shines!  Dickie Chapman’s Tractor handled the job just fine, and David had a much easier time of it because (a) this tractor can lift and then move, unlike Katy Tractor, who had to lift and move at the same time, which is a bit challenging to work with, and (b) everything was going on in front of him, not behind, which is where Katy’s lifting gear was located.  The hay is quite neatly lined up.

Last night, though, Jeff brought over two loads of hay on a borrowed HayLiner.  That was a beautiful thing behold, I tell you.  Seven bales line up single file in the bed, and when you get it where you want it, you pull a lever which releases the bed.  The bed then tips over and dumps all the bales into a nice neat row.  They’re all nestled up neat as a pin next to the first row we set the other day, and no tractor work was involved. We might have cheered from the sidelines.

IMG_9533And I promised you an update on Annabelle!  Her milk has been back on line for over a week.  It tastes fine and there was no milk-withholding on the drug we used to treat her.  She’s still getting topical applications of tetracycline, and the hairy hoof wart isn’t gone, but it’s greatly reduced.  I have penicillin to administer, which would hopefully finish knocking this infection out, but I haven’t given it yet.  When I do, we’ll dose her for three days, and there will be an additional withholding period of three days (and possibly more) after the last dose is given.

My current thought is that hairy hoof wart is so hard to cure because we’re looking at it as an external problem and treating it only topically, rather that looking at it as an internal infection with an external manifestation.  But what do I know.  I’m just a small time farmer with a cow I can’t afford to lose.  :-)

Here’s a paper to read, if you should find yourself interested.  It comes from the University of Illinois Extension.  Hairy Heel Wart

Hairy Hoof Wart and Annabelle’s Milk

Well, we’ve had to pull Annabelle’s milk this week.  It’s been tasting a little off, and I think I finally know why.  Hairy hoof wart.  Here’s my theory.

I’ve been smelling something when Annabelle comes in for milking for quite a while now, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.  It smelled rotten, but upon examination, I could find nothing wrong with her.  Then, months later, as she came into the barn, she stepped on something that hurt her heel, and that’s when I saw what appeared to be a perfectly round but lumpy growth about two inches across.  blog not annabelle lizzie

When the vet came out for another purpose the following week, I asked about it.  Hairy hoof wart.  Highly contagious and she’s surprised we’ve gotten it, having a closed herd and all.  (Either we track it home from places like the feed mill, or the vets track it in on their boots.  That’s the only explanation, as far as I can tell.)  They also don’t think we can cure it.

But here’s the thing.

I think it’s not just affecting her foot.  I think it’s making her sick.

She’s not put on weight like the other cows this spring, in spite of adequate grazing.  Her lymph nodes in her neck were swollen.  She was just a little bit droopy, though not enough to cause concern.  And her milk tastes a little off.

So what we’re trying is systemic antibiotics, coupled with a topical antibiotic wash to try to eliminate the infection from both ends.  Apparently, the recurrence rate is high in susceptible cows, but I think, on Day 2, we’re already making progress.  The wart appears to be smaller, she seems to be walking on it a little better, and the lymph nodes are soft again.

Of course, her milk will be out of circulation for a while, till she’s clear of infection and residual antibiotics, but the alternative is to cull the cow altogether.  The temporary loss of milk is a small price to pay!

Also?  I love my veterinarian.  She’s willing to give this a try, and I really appreciate that.  Our herd is too small to suffer the loss of a good cow.

Chickens in the Field

Each year, we hatch a couple hundred chicks in our incubator.  Thirty of them become next year’s laying flock, and the rest are put out on pasture to eat and grow for about four months.  When they are grown, we harvest them, preparing them for the table.

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We have dabbled with eight or ten different breeds, but we always come back to the one we began our chicken adventures with: New Hampshire Reds.  This is an old-fashioned, dual purpose breed.  They are excellent layers, but still gain well enough to be very good table birds.  And because it takes them around four months to fill out, they are also extremely flavorful.  Once you’ve tasted real chicken, you won’t know how you stand that bland, mealy, grocery store version!

The only other breed we may experiment with in the future is Australorps.  We tried a small batch last year and ended up sending them through our processing line because they were quite small.  They fooled us, though!  The finished Australorps weighed in consistently at 3.5 lbs dressed!  They weren’t big, but they were compact little meat producers.  I think I’ll get some in the fall to mature for spring laying, and we’ll see how they work out.

We keep one other breed of chicken on our farm: Cream Legbars.  They are an endangered breed, and we were gifted with two hens and a roo a couple of years ago.  I have a significant number of them now, after our spring hatch, and I intend to raise up a flock of them in the house we built for the ducks.  (The ducks never use it!)  Why Cream Legbars?  Well, they lay blue eggs!  And I have to say, their disposition is far and away better than other, more common, blue egg layers we’ve met.  I shant mention any names.