Tag Archives: cows

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.

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!

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.

IMG_0995

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…

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.