Honey and Honey Colored Calves

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First, I need to tell you that our honey is the most delicious honey I have ever tasted in my whole entire honey-lovin’ life.  It’s wild and sweet and fruity, with a bit of something else I can’t describe, and when Davey shows up with a little bit of honeycomb, I’m one of the first in line for a bite.  I never thought I’d say that.  Where I come from, we do not chew on beeswax, but, oh my gosh, this honey is so delicious.  I think I shall never have my fill of the stuff.

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In other news, Maybelle had her calf on Friday.  I’ve been milking her all along, instead of drying her off, because she’s had a persistent low-level mastitis situation all year, and I was worried that if I dried her off, it’d flare up again.  Well, she dried herself off, and it did flare up, but I had it under control in a few days.  However, Friday morning, as I was prepared for the valiant struggle to empty the approximately one cup of milk from her three good quarters, she surprised me by letting down rather quickly and forcefully, and giving me four cups.  “I bet she has her calf today!” I thought to myself.  I checked on her in the afternoon, when I saw only two of my three cows grazing together.  I found her in that fenced-off sinkhole, obviously not so fenced off anymore.  She looked at me with the same innocent expression I remember from when Daisy was born, so I knew it was time, but a sinkhole?  I shooed her out and fixed the fence as best I could without making any noise that would attract the other cows.  Then I worried she’d break back in.

Alas, that night was also square bale night, so we were out for a couple of hours getting our hay.  By the time we got back, Maybelle had delivered her calf – just outside the mended section of fence.  Even better, it was a girl calf!  Maybelle wasn’t quite done with her laboring yet, but it was late and I wanted to get them up to the barn for milking so I could make sure our new little lady got some colostrum, so that’s what I did.  Mama and baby are doing fine, though I think Maybelle had begun to have some milk fever symptoms by Saturday night; we fed her a tube of calcium gel that I’d thought to get from the vet Friday morning, just in case, and that seemed to do the trick.  For $10, better safe than sorry. IMG_4395

Mrs. Cpt PAO asked a relevant question a couple of posts back:

“Just curious – you take baby calves away from the mamas immediately following the birth? I know you have to wean them eventually, but didn’t realize it was so soon. Would you mind explaining why?  I know I have a non-farmers soft heart, but I really am curious about the whole process.”

We used to be rather soft-hearted, too.  Daisy spent several months with her mama, until I got so frustrated with my steadily shrinking cream line that I pulled her away and bottle fed her for a while.  After that, we thought to leave them together for just the first few days, so the calf would get all the colostrum, and then separate them, but the next calf, Maybelle had such edema in her udder that she wouldn’t nurse her calf at all, and the calf after that was suffering from a mineral deficiency that nearly killed her.  Daisy turned out to be a neglectful mother all around, abandoning her calf at the first sign of discomfort or trouble in order to save herself.  We decided it would be all-around easier to just take the calves as soon as we can and tend to them ourselves.  So far, it’s been working really well.

Firstly, we don’t actually wean them.  While they are not suckling off their mamas, we do feed them the milk of their own mothers out of a bottle. No more than a gallon a day, or else they get sick.  Beyond that, we’ve noticed lots of other benefits of this practice:

1) We can more easily monitor the health of both the cow and the calf.

2) We get the full amount of milk; mama cow isn’t holding back for her baby later.

3) The calves are well bonded with us, more so than with the other cows, and they are very easy to handle, even when they are boisterous adolescents. They also take to the milking parlor more easily, as they trust their people so well.

4) The mama cow is easier to handle, because she’s not overly bonded with her calf and she is not feeling defensive.  Makes for an easier and less dangerous milking experience.

5) We’re able to store the extra colostrum, and though we haven’t needed it ourselves, that colostrum did save the life of a friend’s calf.  Good to have on hand.

6) It is a whole lot of fun to bottle-feed and play with calves!  They are sweet and spunky and affectionate and playful, and if we left them in the field, they’d be mistrustful and skittish, which is a lot less fun.

Many a homesteader has waxed eloquent about the natural beauty of a cow and calf pair grazing contentedly together in the meadow, and we, too, thought that would be just the loveliest thing, but the reality is not nearly so rosy.  So we take the calves and become their surrogate mothers.  The cows only mind for a few days, and then it seems like they really appreciate the free childcare service.  It’s a win/win.

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Today is My Birthday!

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IMG_4267Today is my birthday.  I’m 42 years old, which sounds quite old when I say it, but feels not so old at all. In fact, I really like being 42 years old.  I’ve been enjoying my forties quite a lot.  Forty-something is a really good age to be because you already know yourself inside and out.  You know just exactly what you like and just exactly what you are.  You don’t have to try so hard to figure out what works for you.  You’ve learned how to play to your strengths while minimizing your weaknesses.  You’ve learned how to pick your battles.  You know what matters to you and what doesn’t, when to say yes and when to say no.  And even though we’re in a post-baby slump, the married life is a lot more fun, too. ;-)

Today is Brenna’s first day of college, and we have various other things going on today, and most of the week, but we’re going to squeeze in a bowling party on the only day this week that we’ll all be home at the same time.  That was a real hit last year. :-)

In the meanwhile, I’m feeling thankful for my farm and my cows and the sun shining through the green trees, and especially for the eight children and one husband who make my life so rich and rewarding… and make birthdays more fun!

Hello, There.

What’s up with me? I post every day for a week, then, nothing.  Silence. For two weeks. Little do you know that I front loaded nearly all those posts that week, so, really, you haven’t heard from me in three. :-)

So what’s up with you? Are you back in school, or still doing your darndest to enjoy the last few weeks of summer before they slip entirely away? Do you have any predictions about the upcoming winter?  Do you think it’ll be mild or crazy-cold like last year?

September always feels more like a fresh start to me than January, and I’m busy, busy, busy trying to wrap up all the loose ends of this old “year” so we can move on to something fresh and new.  And I’m pretty much at the end of my rope.  (My friend Joanne says to just hang on tight. And maybe start swinging. :-) )

Let’s talk about something y’all are interested in, shall we?  Like Daisy!  Our prayers (and enormous doses of antibiotics) worked, and Daisy is not only saved, but thriving.  Our vet is flabbergasted.  So thank you very much!  We’re letting her rest and recover her strength for a couple of months before breeding her again, and then I plan to cross her with a beef bull.  Good heifers are hard to come by, and farmers are some of the most untrustworthy people I’ve ever met, at least when it comes to livestock sales, so we’ll just make our own.  If Daisy has a heifer, we’ll keep her and raise her and then breed HER with a beef bull, until we have a good source of farm-raised beef.  This is usually how it has to go around here.  Maybelle was a gift from God five years ago, and all the rest of our bovine goodness flows down from her.

Speaking of which, she had her calf last night.  I suspected it was coming in the morning when I milked out her mastitis-y milk, and I knew it was coming when I found her all alone in a nice quiet spot where she wasn’t supposed to be, and I was pleased to find them together later that evening, when we finally got home from picking up hay bales and settled down to milking our cows.  The calf is a girl (Thank you, Lord!) and she’s beautiful, with lots of white splashes on her legs and back and one big heart shape on her forehead.  She’s smart, too, with a gentle personality.  We’re debating names as we speak.  Both mama and baby are doing well so far, though mama is pretty mad at me for stealing her calf.  She’s not usually this upset.

The girls took their country hams to the state fair this week, where we wore ourselves out and won nothing. (Not surprised or disappointed; how do you pick an outstanding ham from among 800+ hams?  I mean, they’re hams, people!)  We’ve been blitzing thrift stores, because this is a great time of year for thrifting clothes.  And Miss Evie likes to ride in the front seat.  (More on that later.)  We’ve almost got all of our hay laid in, our children are almost dressed for the winter, and then I just have to see to our own stores.  If the winter goes poorly, I’d like to be fully stocked.

You know what I’m NOT ready for is SCHOOL!  We’re scheduled to start just after Labor Day and I have not written down a single thing.  That bodes well, don’t you think?  Yes, indeedy.  Apparently, this is not my year for fancy plans.

I’ll post some pictures for you all soon.  I’ve been having computer problems, and a lack of computer time, and it’s August and I don’t even feel like taking pictures, so there’s that, too.  And I want to talk a little bit about depression and suicide, in light of recent news, strictly through the lens of my own little journey alongside it.  There’s been some backlash about a certain article which did not offend me, even though I don’t agree with the conclusions.  I just think that if we read people’s words looking for a fight, we’ll find one, and if we read assuming some sincerity and goodwill on the part of the author, we’ll interpret in an entirely different way.

My time, lately, has been mostly hijacked by other people, and I’m getting a little weary.  This coming week, I’m planning on a zoo trip, though, if I can get my van for a whole half a day.  Hopefully, Maybelle will remain in good health and my only extra effort will be feeding her calf, which is an enjoyable occupation.  I also hope to squeeze in a bubble bath, because I think I’ve had… two since Evie was born, and I like bubble baths.

Rambly enough for you?  I’ll be back next week (or tomorrow) with photos and more targeted stories, including an inexpensive way to get instagram prints!  Print your photos, my friends!  Your children will be glad to have them. :-)

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Two Funny Stories About the Bee Swarms

I had been sweeping the kitchen floor when Davey called urgently through the door, “Jen!  The bees swarmed again!  I need help!” I ran out the door, broom in one hand, dustpan in the other, to see what I could do.  (Take photos, obviously, although I did get a little bit of smoker duty, too.)  I put down the broom on the porch when I put on my boots, and it was found shortly thereafter easily enought, but I held onto that dustpan much longer.  Two days later, the children were still looking for it.  “Oh,” I said, “I left it on the picnic table.  I had it my hand when the bees swarmed, and then, as I was walking from the garage toward the bees, I was thinking, ‘This dustpan is yellow. It might attract the attention of the bees, and I do not want to be chased by a swarm of bees.’ So I put it down on the table.”  Davey looked at me like I was crazy.  None of the bees, at any time, chase people because they are yellow, or any other color.  “I know it doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what I was thinking, and that’s why the dustpan is in the middle of the front yard.”

~♥~

While I was carrying the dustpan around, I also came back into the house for a bee book.  After all, we’d already caught this swarm yesterday, and since they’d swarmed again, we’d obviously done something wrong.  If we’d done something wrong, we obviously needed some professional advice, and so, the book.  (Anna Comstock – great book.)  Delaney laughed when she saw me carrying the book (but not the dustpan) back to house when we were done.  “What were you doing, reading out of the book while you caught the bees?”

“Why, yes, that’s exactly what I was doing,” I said with surprise.  “How else were we supposed to do it?”  So, yes, I read aloud while Davey followed the advice about second-swarmers, refurnishing their hive with frames from the old one to encourage their interest.  And I read aloud about cutting the whole branch out of the tree and thumping them into the hive box (but not the part about the white sheet under the hive, because it seemed unnecessary) and Davey did just as the book said.

As Davey says, If it’s stupid and it works, it ain’t stupid.

Swarm! Revisited

Oh, no!  The bees swarmed again!  They didn't even stay 24 hours in their new home!  They look kind of scary, up there in the tree, all balled up like that, don't they?  They are actually surprisingly docile, though.

Oh, no! The bees swarmed again! They didn’t even stay 24 hours in their new home! They look kind of scary, up there in the tree, all balled up like that, don’t they? They are actually surprisingly docile, though.

We cut the branch out of the tree ever so carefully...

Let’s try this again, shall we?  We cut the branch out of the tree ever so carefully…

...pulled it out of the tree gently, gently...

…pulled it out of the tree gently, gently…

...and carried it over to the hive.

…and carried it over to the hive.

Davey positioned the swarm over the hive box and gave them a firm...

Davey positioned the swarm over the hive box and gave them a firm…

THUMP!  Into the box they fell, just like they were supposed to!

THUMP! Into the box they fell, just like they were supposed to!

Whew!  That's a relief!

Whew! That’s a relief!

We don't know why they swarmed the second time, but we assumed they did not like their new, unfurnished apartment, and so we added two filled frames from the other hive.  They seem happy now, so I guess it was the right thing to do!

We don’t know why they swarmed the second time, but we assumed they did not like their new, unfurnished apartment, and so we added two filled frames from the other hive. They seem happy now, so I guess it was the right thing to do!  And hopefully, we won’t have to revisit this particular swarm again!

Swarm!

Last Saturday night, Delaney and I were helping to building-sit the Home Life building at the fairgrounds. It was just 15 minutes to closing time when it became readily apparent that a storm was rolling in, and it was going to be a big one. “If it storms, we have to leave the building open for shelter,” they told me. “You get that baby home before it’s too late.” So we flew home. The first lightening flashed just as we pulled into the driveway, and we moved the animals that needed to be moved and opened gates that needed to be opened as we watched the dark clouds and bright lightening move closer and closer.

I’d just gotten the baby to sleep when I heard the wind start to whistle through the tree outside my bedroom window. It was an oddly eerie sound, and I slipped away from the baby just as the rain began. I closed the storm-side windows and comforted the nervous children and distributed flashlights, “just in case,” as the power dimmed then blinked out altogether. Davey and I watched the violence of it all for a while, awed, before retiring to bed, where we watched the lightening flash outside our tiny window.

Later, as the storm died away, we heard something fall. It wasn’t too big, but it was definitely a something. We forgot about it, though, in the morning, as we surveyed the damage that had been done by all the other storms we had that night. One of our trees was struck by lightening; I heard it in the wee hours of the morning, the flash of lightening, the instantaneous crack of thunder, and another sort of crack, too. I don’t know how much rain we got, but judging by the flooding, I’d say it was at least 10 inches. In approximately 10 hours. You may have seen my photos on Instagram, Facebook, and/or Twitter.

Later that afternoon, we found this:

IMG_3838Our swarm trap! Davey’s been worried about his bees swarming, so this has been hanging in our tree for weeks, just in case.  So that was the something we heard as the storm moved off!  Many bees died in the fall, but there were many flying around the area, obviously excited, though not distressed.  So Davey did what any good beekeeper would do…

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He put on his beesuit!  He doesn’t usually wear it, but you don’t really want to mess with swarming bees, right?  Right.  We think.  We don’t really know.  We do not actually have any idea what we’re doing.

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Davey said he’d been checking on the trap regularly and they couldn’t have been there more than a day or two, but when he opened up the trap to resituate the bees in a more convenient (for us) hive, there was quite a lot of honeycomb already built.  So.  Apparently, we’d gotten distracted and hadn’t been watching as closely as we’d planned.  But all’s well that ends well, right?

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But wait!  What’s that that Meggie spies?  Over there in the trees?  Is that… is that… why, yes, it is!

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More bees!  The success of our plan absolutely required that the queen bee be in the hive!  Was she still on the tree?  Had she been in the swarm trap?  We don’t know!

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So Davey, all suited up, calmly swept all the bees out of the tree and into his swarm trap.

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Then he dumped them all into the hive with their friends, put the roof back on, and left the swarm box full of stragglers outside the door so they could find their way inside with the rest of their family.  Bees were flying everywhere, and we watched anxiously for a while, wondering if we’d done well.  By Monday morning, they were all settled in, and no bees had returned to the tree, so, apparently, their queen is reigning happily inside the hive box.  And all’s well that ends well.

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A Funny Story Regarding a Mama Pig

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We borrowed a boar to be Lady Lollipop’s husband back in March.  According to my calculations, her piglets were due in early July at the earliest, but could come as late as fair week.  Davey, however, started looking for piglets in May, and wondering why his beloved sow didn’t seem to be showing any pregnancy signs.

Our pigs reside next to the pond up here by the house.  Did you know that pigs can’t get hot?  Lollipop nearly expired in the 22 minutes it took us to walk her to her new home up here last summer.  That’s why they like the mud so much; it keeps them cool.

Lollipop’s shelter house was up on the pasture side of her pen, but Davey, being anxious about those piglets, decided to move it down into the hollow, where it is shady and there is easy access to the pond.  He didn’t want those newborn piglets to get too hot!  Unfortunately, that area also floods in the rainy season, being actually a shallow part of the pond.

After I saw what he’d done, I looked at Davey perplexedly.  “Why would she want to have her babies in a flood zone?” I asked.

“Just trust me,” he said.

In early July, right on schedule, Lollipop dug a little depression, lined it with hay, and went into labor.  On the top of the hill on the pasture side.  “I won’t say I told you so,” I said, as Davey built her a hasty shelter exactly where her house had been.

“Thanks,” he said.

Her house is half underwater right now.  :-)