Downsizing

Penelope feeds a bottle to our Jersey-Angus heifer.

Penelope feeds a bottle to our Jersey-Angus heifer.

We’ve been milking our beautiful Jersey cows for seven years now, and we’re sorry to say it’s time for us to downsize our herd. We’ve never been very big, milking at most three cows, but it has been enough to serve twenty to thirty shareholders in addition to our own large family. Alas, with Fort Knox being mostly vacant, and our farm being located inconveniently far from anything else anybody might want to visit, we no longer have very many clients. In light of that, and the demands of our youngest two children, we’re downsizing to just one milking cow. We’ll still be able to serve the very few shareholders we have, and would be able to take on a few more if no other source is located, but we’ll also have less protection from the things that can go wrong with a dairy cow. That means that if our cow suffers an illness or mastitis or an injury, we won’t have a back-up cow in production, and weekly pickups will be affected as they never have before.

When we first began with the cows, our oldest child was thirteen and it seemed like we had forever. But children grow, and our two oldest are now out doing their own thing in the wide world. The third is getting ready to begin her own grown-up life, too, and there are always fewer hands, but never less work. It has become too much of a burden, too much of a distraction to mind the business and the children. We prefer the children, naturally, and since our only goal with the business was to feed the animals so that our out-of-pocket expenses were minimized, the children come out on top again. Anyway, feeding one or two cows is much less expensive than feeding the six, plus two calves, we have on farm this winter.

Instead of trying to run a business, we’re returning to our original homesteading vision. We have most of fourteen acres at our disposal, and I have always wanted to fill our front fields with orchard trees, grapes and berries. We’ve wanted to dabble in sheep and goats. (The goats might be useful in light of baby Henry’s dairy issues…) We might even motivate ourselves enough to actually weed and water a garden. Or maybe not. Gardening is so not our thing.

Anyway, I thought you’d like to know where we stand right now as far as the farm goes! I’m looking forward to the respite, honestly; having babies around in one’s middle-aged years is quite the adventure, and we do not need to make it more difficult than it has to be!

Here We Are

ducklings at sunrise

Welcome. Welcome to our farm. Isn’t the sunrise beautiful? And look! One of our duck families is on the water! They are a wee bit annoying on land, but they do seem to keep the ticks down, at least. Our dog does a fairly good job of keeping them away from the house, so there’s less mess, but I like them best out here, on the pond.

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We’ve got a new milker around here. Rosie is twelve, and she’s been training for about a month. She’s getting the hang of the routines and rhythms, and it won’t be long now till she could run her own crew, or take care of things by herself, if necessary. We usually work in pairs, both for the companionship and for safety, but it has happened that the whole family has been bedridden with some horrid stomach bug, with only one person (usually me) left to tend the sick and manage the affairs of the farm. And sometimes, it’s just really helpful to have someone else who can take care of things without assistance, especially now that the older girls are getting ready to leave us. We have to keep up-training the younger ones! Nine year old Penelope is next. 😉

raining

Shortly after sunrise, a thunderstorm rolled through, so this is mostly an inside day. The baby is two months old and becoming more predictable, and I am very ready to get back to business as usual. I’m not sure exactly what that is, yet, as this new little one gets folded into our ordinary life, but there’s some kind of normal on the horizon. I can just feel it.

{p,h,f,r} It’s Sunny!

{pretty}

8x10 sun in the cribWinter, in my part of the world, tends to be gray and overcast.  Except when it’s brutally cold!  Alas, like most of the country this year, we’re experiencing unseasonable warm weather, and thus, it is rainy and gray something like 99.9% of the time.  But today!  Today I spied the sun shining on my baby’s crib, and I was filled with joy!  Because I am completely and totally solar powered.

{happy}

8x10 rosie and evieJust my two happy girls.  We decided to go shopping this morning for some last minute Christmas groceries.  The store was crowded, but they had all the checkouts open, and the patrons were remarkably cheerful, so it was not nearly as stressful as it should have been!  That makes me happy.

{funny}

8x10 evie and the baby howsEvie is endlessly fascinated with the calves… but she’s still afraid of them! She walked over, saying to herself, “Pet the hows.  I pet the hows.” (That’s Evie for cows.  She refuses to say the /c/ even though she knows it belongs there!)  But as soon as I snapped this shot, she shook her head and started backing away. “No, no, no, no, no, no!”  (This picture is from a cloudy day.)

8x10 shopping buddyWe were in the store today, and she was riding along, watching me consult my list.  “Let me see dat,” she said, taking it from my hand.  She studied it carefully for a moment.  “Do we need anything else?” I asked.  She nodded and grinned.  “Cookies!”  Cookies were not on my list.

{real}

8x10 muddy feetWell, the combination of warmth and endless rain means… mud.  That’s my reality.  Mud.  There is no place to walk without getting muddy.  The grass is muddy.  The drive is muddy.  The patio is muddy.  And you take your life in your hands if you walk behind the barn.

Let’s just stick with enjoying the sunshine, okay?

More {p,h,f,r} at Like Mother, Like Daughter!

Farm Babies and Other Things

I haven’t written on this blog in quite a long while!  Since August, it seems.  My bad.  In my defense, middle-aged me is happily pregnant with our ninth child, but quite exhausted.  Even keeping up with the daily must-do list has been more than I could manage.  Thankfully, I’m coming into the second trimester now, and feeling quite a lot better.  It also helps that we have sold or butchered all extraneous livestock as we come into the winter season, so there are fewer bodies to tend around here.

If you’ve visited, you’ve probably noticed that all of our chicken crates are empty!  The children helped us process them in three pretty easy sessions, and then we were done.  We’ve set aside a laying flock of about sixty hens.  Around fifteen of them are already laying, and we’re hoping to have a good egg supply for our shareholders through the winter.  Our last crew gave up laying in early August, for some reason.

But we have more important news, oh, yes, we do.

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On Saturday morning, just after 1AM, our heifer, Sunshine, delivered her fist calf!  The birth was uncomplicated, and mother and son are both doing fine.  We’ve named him Oliver, and he’ll be in the barn for the rest of the week.  He’s very sociable, and he’d love it if you’d say hello when you visit the farm.

Sunshine’s training has paid off and she’s milking relatively well.  She’s got a bit of settling down left to do, but her issues have been minor thus far.  Her milk should be in by Wednesday, for which the children are very grateful.  They’re used to drinking about 30 gallons a week, but we’ve been milking just one cow for a month, and supplies have been tight!

Also, I miss ricotta.  A lot.  I dream of warm, sweet bowls of cheese…

Around the Farm

Just a reminder, for long-time friends and readers, that all family blogging takes place here, at www.armyof10.com. I think I only mentioned it once, and so if you haven’t checked that out, please do! I’m trying to get back into the habit of regular blogging, and that’s where I post all things personal. See you there!
ducks in the barn
The ducks are nesting again. Only a few survived from the first round, due to a certain new puppy with an abiding love for eggs. They nest in the barn, some on the storage side, and some in the actual barn space. I try to keep doors closed so the dog can’t get in, but sometimes other people forget. If we can get a good crop born, I’d like to put some into one of our chicken crates for the twelve weeks it takes to harvest them. I really love duckling.

chickens in crateOur chickens, on the other hand, are doing quite well. They’re growing fat and sassy on fresh yogurt, our all purpose grain ration, and damaged tomatoes from the garden. And they eat every green thing growing in their square. They are excellent weeders.

green beans in bloom
So, the green beans. I planted these back in April with the rest of the garden, and they grew so thick and lush, but with nary a blossom. I thought maybe the soil was too rich for them. Some plants favor leaves over blooms in good soil. Well, whatever their problem was, I’m pleased to say they are entirely over it! Perhaps we’ll get some beans this year after all.

hay bales lined upWe have all our winter hay in! Alfalfa, round bales and square ones, too, and, God bless Mr. Roberts for even putting most of it in the barn for us. It is extremely comforting to have that taken care of. Now we just need to acquire a supply of split firewood. I’m not sure why David isn’t splitting any this year, but he isn’t.

chuck eats his breakfastWe have one cow in to the processor who should be coming home this week in the form of ground beef, and our last steer is scheduled for departure on the 10th.

Funny story: When we dropped off the first cow, I scheduled the date for the second. “We’re pretty booked with all the fairs,” he said. “I can’t get you in until the end of August. Is that okay?”
“That’ll be fine,” I said.
“Okay. Then it’ll be Wednesday, August 29,” he said.
“Perfect,” I replied.
“That’s Wednesday, August 29,” he repeated.
“Okay. I’ll remember,” I said.
“August 29. Now remember that’s going to be a Wednesday,” he stressed.
Perplexed, I replied once more, “Okay. Wednesday, August 29. I’ll write it down as soon as I get home.”
It was the strangest encounter. He does not normally repeat himself like that. All the way home, I pondered his strange behavior.
Because I have a short memory, I went to my planner to write down the date as soon as we got in. And guess what? There is no Wednesday, August 29! It’s a Saturday! Wednesday is the 26. Did I remember the date wrong? No, I don’t think so. It seemed like the July date might fit, so I flipped back a few pages. Yup! July 29 is a Wednesday!
I called the processor back to confirm the date. “No I don’t have you down for August,” he said. “Let me check July. Yes, there you are, July 29. It’s a Wednesday.”
Actually, I’m still finding the whole conversation odd, and I ended up having to change the date because I hadn’t taken him off the green grass, yet.
But at least we have a date. I can’t wait for those ribeyes.

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.

Shares Are Available

I’ve gotten some emails in the past few weeks from folks looking for herd shares.  Unfortunately, I just found out today that my email service has not been saving most of my sent messages.  That means I don’t have email addresses for anyone who has contacted me recently regarding shares!

The grass is green and growing and the cows are producing well again.  We do have shares available, so if you’ve expressed interest, and I put you off for a few weeks, please contact me again!

Artificial Insemination: Two Down, Two to Go

“Good morning, ladies!” I called out cheerfully.  I flipped on the barn lights.  Sleepy cows rose and stretched and looked at me curiously.  Except one: she thrust her head over the stall door and mooed.

Here’s a little known fact for you: Cows only moo when they are in need of something.

So I looked at her sharply.  “What’s wrong, Maybelle?  You can’t be hungry.”  She focused intently on Annabelle, who was performing her morning toilet.  “Ah, you’re in heat!”

In order to minimize the chaos a cow in heat causes, we kept her isolated and milked her last.  At the last minute, I decided to leave her in the barn until I could call the vet to see if could come AI her.

AI stands for artificial insemination.  While it’s maybe not the best thing for people, it sure does save a lot of trouble for cows!  Our vet keeps the semen straws in a very cold tank at his office, and when we need one, he warms it, comes out to the farm, and impregnates the cow.  It saves us having to keep a bull, and having to find a new bull every two years when his daughters are ready for breeding.  It also gives us access to better quality sires than we’re likely to be able acquire as a live animals.

Alas, the vet is not always available on short notice, and I didn’t really expect him to make it over.  Then again, it was a rather cold and windy day.  Maybe most of his other farm work had been cancelled due to weather.  I waited impatiently for the office to open at eight, while Maybelle paced and mooed in the confines of the barn.

I dialed at 8:03. (They never answer exactly at eight.)  “Hello, would one of the good happen to be available to come AI a cow this morning?” I asked.

“Actually, yes!” the receptionist replied, much to my surprise.  “Would ten o’clock be okay?”

“Perfect!” I exclaimed.

So Maybelle is bred!  Hopefully.  We’ll watch her carefully for signs of heat in about three weeks, to make sure the AI took.  It usually does, so I’m not worried, but I need to make sure.  And if it did take, that means that two of our four cows are bred for late fall calving this year.  The other two will wait till May for Spring 2016 calving, unless I can catch Annabelle in the next few days.  I’m finding fall calves to be all around better than spring, but I don’t want to deal with it too far into the winter!

The Heart of the Hay: It's the best part, you know! We're storing the hay in the heifer calves' field, and they do a good job of eating out the middles.

The Heart of the Hay: It’s the best part, you know! We’re storing the hay in the heifer calves’ field, and they do a good job of eating out the middles.

The Case of the Wandering Pig

“A little help here!”

Brenna and I were happily chatting away over the steady rhythm and hum of the milking machine when the call, slightly garbled, came to us from behind the barn.  I looked at her quizzically.  “Did you hear something out back?”

She shrugged and got up to check.  A moment later, she ran back in.  “Daddy’s back there with a pig!”  I was in the middle of milking a cow and could not leave her to help just yet, but Brenna grabbed a bucket of grain to try to lure the wayward pig inside.

Miss Piggy was disoriented and scared and having trouble seeing in the gathering darkness.  They were having a hard time enticing her in when I turned off the machine a few moments later.  “Here’s a feed pan,” I said.  “If she can get a taste, she should follow it right in to the stall.”  That did the trick!

Now that the pig was safely secured, I asked, “How’d she get out?”  She’d been grunting for her dinner when we left for the barn, so she hadn’t been out long.

“She went out through the corner by the apple tree,” David panted.  “I called, “Pig’s out!” but nobody came.” He looked at me a little accusingly.  “Then she got confused and she ran all the way down to the neighbors’ house and all the way back again.  I could have used some help.”

“Well, we’d have surely come if we could have heard you,” I said cheerfully, “but we can’t hear much over the milking machine, you know.” He knew, but he’d been distressed to find himself out chasing a pig after a long, tiring day and he’d lost his cool a little bit; that had made the job harder. Escaped animals are already scared and they won’t be caught if they sense any angst.

My baby heifers.  Unrelated to this whole story, except that they slept in the barn, too.  But they're pretty, aren't they? :-)

My baby heifers. Unrelated to this whole story, except that they slept in the barn, too. But they’re pretty, aren’t they? 🙂

So Miss Piggy slept in the barn last night.  Daisy was displaced from her usual stall.  Maybelle was surprised and mildly alarmed at the strange grunting, slamming noises coming from next door.  Annabelle, who gets the main barn floor, poked her head over the door to see what she was dealing with.

I gave the pig a little alfalfa when I fed the cows, and a little more grain, and checked that the door was sturdy enough to withstand her powerful snout.  “Y’all are good hostesses,” I said to the cows.  “Be good, don’t worry and sleep tight.  All will be well.”

Morning brought it’s own problems.  The cows were upset by the change in their normal routine, and the pig was grunting anxiously from the corner stall.  We acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary, calmly cleaning stalls, brushing cows and going about our usual activities.  The cows followed our example and settled down.  By the time we had the third cow in for milking, it was light enough – and the barn was empty enough – to safely move our pig back home.  David carried a bucket full of milk, which she followed willingly enough, but I couldn’t get the gate unfastened in time and she lost interest and wandered off again.  It took David a few minutes to get her back to the gate.  Then, she wandered through easy as pie!  I had the bucket by now, but I couldn’t see her dish to pour the milk out for her.  “Where is your dish?” I said aloud, and she ambled along in front of me with obvious purpose.  “I guess you know where it is.” So I followed.

Meanwhile, David repaired the fence, so, hopefully, she won’t get out again.  At least, not that way!  As we walked back to the house, she seemed to be investigating the gate that she hadn’t known was there…