Who takes care of them when your not there???

It’s a common question. WHO takes care of them when you aren’t there? In this case, our two horses. Jim always looks at me with a twinkle in his eye, as he replies, “what makes you think they need taking care of?”

treeBeing on the farm, usually just 2-3 days a week at this point in time, the horses are on their own. Most people want to know where the barn is, as well, and are taken back when we say, “Hmmm, we would never put them in a barn! We like our horses healthy. We DO have some awesome trees for them to stand under, though.”

If you consider the nature of a horse, it makes better sense.

FRAME OF REFERENCE

Jim’s reply is telling.  It’s telling because it reflects our frame-of-reference which tends to be a bit different than the current traditional mode.

In the past, on our 65 acre ranch, we fenced the house & garden in, and let the livestock pretty much run free. (It’s a little different on our 5 acre farm, but the principles are the same.)

A side note: Well, except for the miniature milking goats…  but that was partly because they were such appetizing morsels for the local coyotes & bobcats, and the fact that they would work hard to get INTO the garden instead of utilizing the acres of pasture available to them. They were kept confined and when I had to make a choice between the Jersey Milk Cow or the Miniature Milking Goats, Bessie’s 2 gallons/day won out easy over 1 cup/day of goat milk.

Bessie, the cow, came out way ahead in productivity compared to the goats. On top of behaving herself, by utilizing the pastures and leaving my garden alone, she provided the basis of some awesome pastured products: butter, cream, ice cream, whipped cream, and cheese.

Let me tell you, it wasn’t a tough decision, choosing her over the goats. Made Jim much happier, too!

CREATING PROBLEMS for yourself (and more work!)

But back to the horses.  We believe in working toward decreasing one’s work load and working with nature as much as possible. So often we humans create a whole series of problems, by not understanding natural processes, that we then have to solve.

Historically (one of my favorite words), i.e. for tens of hundreds of thousands of years, horses have managed quite well on their own.  In the last 10,000 years we took them from ranging on the land, fending for themselves, and put them into tiny boxes.

In those enclosed boxes they are exposed continually to noxious fumes (from the ammonia build up from their urine & the dust it combines with), and unable to travel the miles and miles that kept them in good shape,  wearing their hooves down naturally. They tend to be fed diets that are too rich for their confined existence & minimal exercise. They would easily travel 20 miles just to get a drink, in nature, while grazing on grasses.

PREDATOR or PREY?

Out in nature, If they are “spooked”, they run.  They run for at least a quarter mile, and then will stop to look around to see if they are ok.  They have survived by running first, then reassessing, as horses are prey animals… other things would hunt them down, so they only feel safe/OK within a herd, as there is safety in numbers.  Humans often isolate them and keep them from interacting with each other, which increases their stress levels.

A horse, give a choice, will choose to stand under a tree, in the rain, rather than go into an enclosure. We have seen that over and over. Horses & cows… will choose to stay outside, as a rule of thumb. It gives them the option to run, if they feel threatened, decreasing stress levels. They just need to have protection available to them, from wind and available shade. Trees work quite nicely, thank you kindly, as well a providing access to good ventilation.

MANAGED INTENSIVE GRAZING (MIG)

Pasture for livestock

Pasture for livestock

Their normal diet includes a broad range of forages (grasses not grains), including access to trees & shrubs (leaves) to supplement their diet for micro nutrients they need.

We do supplement, when needed…. because we don’t have the acreage to fulfill their ranging needs.  Ever notice that almost all horse enclosed pastures are stripped down to the dirt?  It’s called over-grazed and basically strips the soil of it’s natural cover.  We seem to think it’s suppose to be that way and that it’s OK. It most definitely IS NOT.

Jim & I have learned a bit more, since being on that 65 acre ranch in 2005-09, about pasture/soil/land management. It’s all a learning curve and I have to say, we’ve been doing a heck of a lot of learning. At present, we are beginning work on creating our “managed intensive grazing” setup (MIG) on the farm in Cotati.

Livestock confined in a space will go eat what they like FIRST, then move on to the less appetizing, less appealing stuff (sounds about right!). But as soon as the forage they value begins to grow again (from the root’s reserve), they take that next bite of their favorite tasty morsel, which kills the plant. It had no time to rebuild the root’s reserves.  When no reserves are left in its root system to regrow it’s solar panels (i.e. leaves), the plant dies.

Over a relatively short period of time, the only thing left alive in the pasture will be the least desirable plants (to the horse).  And in desperation, they may even eat the nasty stuff till nothing is left…  and they are left standing around waiting for “man” to bring them food.

With MIG, we will create small paddock areas where they will only have access to forage briefly.  They will take a bite from everything available because they won’t have the leisure time to pick and choose. In a well designed system, you would have several species follow in order, as they all tend to eat different forages, so you get maximum use out of a pasture, without allowing it to be degraded.

TRADE OFFS

People say, well doesn’t that take a lot of time? Actually NO, not in comparison to the alternative, and it keeps the forage & soil & livestock in excellent condition, as an added benefit. It conserves water.

Stored hay, for the off season

Stored hay, for the off season

Otherwise, we would have to buy off farm feed/forage, haul it in, store it, haul it out to the livestock, make sure they share, and deal with stripped bare soil/dust/mud.

Much easier to just open an entrance to new pasture and have the cows/horses/chickens, etc., move themselves.  They get to spend a day or so there, and then are offered a fresh paddock.  They are kept from moving back to the prior used paddocks by a single electric tape line (that they highly respect!), which allows the forages to regrow, protecting and maintaining healthy pastures.

It’s so easy, even older kids and teenagers can do it… and us seniors!

FOR NOW…

Currently we are not setup properly but we know where we are headed, on this farm property. Now that we have the well drilled, we need to get some irrigation in, rebuild the soil & forage quality & diversity, and create our MIG pattern.  The neighbors cows ranged the land for years and have stripped all the quality forages from it.  We have to do a bit of work to reverse that.

Presently the two horses are allowed to range freely on the acreage, utilizing the trees for shade/shelter as needed.  They are building up a nice stockpile of fertilizer for us to use in rebuilding the nutrients in the soil (and spreading it around themselves for the most part)! But soon they will be introduced to MIG, and restricted from over grazing the forages we will have introduced.

Right now they are stripping out the less desirable stuff, right before the California rains should appear, to facilitate the growth of the new pasture forages. In case this severe drought continues, we now have access to water to get the forages going.  As we rebuild the quality of the soil (humus) and keep it covered with forage, it will naturally retain more water as the humus percentage increases, decreasing the need in the future for ongoing irrigation.

RETURNING TO THE PAST, it’s easier by far!

Bell eating, Lady

On the Cotati Farm, Bella (head down) & Lady

Our 2nd horse, Bella, came to us just recently.  I swear she had not been in a free-ranging pasture for years.  She immediately raced out to start grazing, and I don’t think she lifted her head from the ground, for more than 2 seconds, in the first few days she was on the farm.

Lady & she bonded, but bonded with Bella’s head to the ground grazing! It was a pleasure to see her start to race around the pasture acreage as she stretched her “wings”.

So, who takes care of the horses when we are not there? They do….

and they do a fine job.

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She Delivered! We’re waiting on the last calf…

Bessie, our standard Jersey who gives wonderful milk, is expecting any day now.

Products from Bessie's milk

We’ve been without her milk for several months because we wanted to give her time to build her system up before she delivered.

Bessie was purchased from a local commercial dairy in our area, that had been in the business (family) for over a 100 years.  They were fairly close to organic in the sense that they did NOT use antibiotics, hormones, or and steroids to increase milk production.  They did some pasture grazing besides the grain they fed. Definitely were not certified, which is just about the only way family dairy farms can survive these days.

Organic certified milk brings a premium but the  middle man will only buy so much organic milk.  The rest may still be organic but brings a much lower price because it must be sold as “regular” milk, once the “quota” has been filled. On the other hand, dairymen have found that their VET costs are much less with their pastured dairy cows… so there is a payoff for them.

Cows in a standard commercial dairy are kept on the average, only 2 1/2 years before being sent to the slaughterhouse (for hamburger).  That makes them about 5 years old (2 years before their first calf and then 3 years “on the line”), before the are out the door.  Bessie was almost 5 when we bought her from the family dairy that was closing down after a 100 years.

Hand-milking Bessie, as she patiently waits

Bessie  was perfect for us beginners. Mellow and fairly patient…. except she MUCH preferred being milked by machine (10 min) vrs us hand-milking (45 min). Yep, 45 minutes… you gotta have hand strength, and she has to be happy enough to let down her milk.  After about 20 minutes she would get a bit ansiy… looking back, wanting know what was taking so long.  My 1-2 cups of milk was not enough to get me through the door and face the waiting crowd who wanted to try her milk! We’d keep plugging on… until I could get at least a gallon.

When our “portable milker” arrived, we suddenly

Portable milker, YEAH! says Bessie

jumped to 3-4 gallons of milk.  Amazing! Raw milk, at least Bessie’s milk, has a sweet fresh taste to it.  Very different from commercial milk.

I used to wonder why milk came in different prices.

Now I know (and can taste) that often milk is “made” with powdered milk.  It’s cheaper to transport (and lasts longer) when the liquid is removed… and then added back later.

Sometimes the milk is a blend of powered and whole milk.

Powdered milk + water =

I used to do that myself when we were dirt poor, 40 years ago, and raising a family.  I would mix the milk at home and chill it. It’s now not an uncommon practice in the industry…

A2/A2 Milk

But back to Bessie.  We did some testing on her and found that her milk was A2/A2… just means that one of the amino acids in the milk is slightly different, and people who have trouble digesting milk, can handled A2/A2 milk without any problems. It’s actually the older gene and a mutation, known as A1/A1, occurred about 6,000 yrs ago… which most dairy cows carry.

Portable milker on a cart, to the barn

We’ve had several non-milk drinkers (because they were lactose intolerant) handle our milk just fine.  Glug-glug-glug… a gallon later. Did I mention they have NO problem with the milk, other than keeping some for tomorrow!  Now my daughter, who has a RESPIRATORY allergy, get’s worse. For her there is something else in the milk that she is sensitive to… and  with A2/A2 milk it gets worse.

When it came time to have Bessie bred we opted to A.I. (artificial insemination) with an A2/A2 Jersey Bull so we are very anxious to see if she will have a heifer that will someday give us A2/A2 milk!

Bessie is now 9 years old and has given us good service… but her genetics are telling on her.  For the last two years she has developed weepy areas where her skin is thin.  Never an infection… but I think, just the long time stress… she’s almost twice as old as her sister cows got to be; while my Old World Jerseys should be good for 20 years… I don’t know if it’s because of the actual genetics or because commercial cows are really pushed to produce in those early years.

We take it very easy and only milk once a day… because we would rather have the longevity, than quantity. I also dried her off three months prior to her delivery to give her extra time to build up her reserves.

But to my story…

The calf is checking on Bessie

Bessie is due any minute..

her bag has filled up and it was leaking. We put her in the fresh pasture between the house and the mini horse paddock… to keep an eye on her. Chocolate and her calf are with her to keep her company.  

The next morning, she stopped eating or chewing her cud.

 She laid down and started “laboring”. I raced around and grabbed my camera and cellphone.

I patiently sat quietly for at least an hour. Her companion cow, Chocolate, and her calf, would come over and nuzzled her occasionally, as she labored.  She would pant, and then rest.

And then she started stretching… she began a slight amount of pushing… passed a bit of stool;
I assumed that the calf was moving down the birth canal & called our intern and a neighbor the the imminent birth.
About 30 min later she stood up and did it! She delivered a nice, big, huge… cow pat.
Boy, did I feel dumb.  She stood there for a moment. Looked around.

she delivered a rather large cow pat

She’s so big (not huge, though) and when she lays down there is so much pressure from the calf, on her bottom, that everything swells up. You can see the calf shifting on occasion, and mom shifts around trying to get the calf in a more comfortable position (after having four kids, I remember THAT feeling very well).
Bessie looked around another moment… then she started on lunch….
If she’s feeling good enough to eat, she’s definitely NOT delivering.
Back to the house…. no more excuses not to do MY chores!  I remind myself that a “watched pot” doesn’t boil (or something like that)! I’ll leave her buddies to “labor sit” for now.

He & mom will keep Bessie company, but continue on with their "business"


Bawling Calves….

Did you know cows have families? I mean, like real family structure. They really do form family groups and an outsider is definitely odd man out. Anybody new is suspect… even if they “used” to be part of the social group but have been gone for a while.  At least for a time, while  the pecking order is re-established.

several members of the "family" watch carefully as Jim checks out the new calf!

Mom cow, and her “sister’s”, aunts, uncles, &  their babies can make up a group.  It appears to be a matriarchal grouping.

The bull is there but not really the dominate member.  Besides, he may be “covering” 30+ females (well, not in our herd… but in some of the big ranch operations).

We don’t keep our herd bull separate.  It’s good for the young bulls to have a role model, and to be part of a hierarchy as they get older. They learn manners, work out their pecking order among the other young bulls before they can hurt each other, and respect for the “head” guy.

Courting the Ladies 

Our “herd” bull is quite a gentleman.  He courts the females… nuzzles them, sniffs, and will keep them company.  He can tell by sniffing when she is coming “into heat” (i.e. going to ovulate).  If you watch closely they do this really weird funny thing with their nose & upper lip.  They breath in the females smell while curling up their upper lip… he is breathing her pheromones (chemical odors) across special sensors in his nasal cavity that tell him if she is getting ready to ovulate.

PMS is not JUST a human behavior!

The females go through very specific phases as well.  We call them 1) PMSing (pre-menstrual syndrome – irritable), and 2) Lovey-dovey. A cow does NOT have a “human cycle” although she will produce a thick mucus when she is ovulating.  But first she gets very irritable… butting others around her, bawling, and maybe “off” her feed.  If she is milking, her milk production may drop a bit.  Then she does a complete turnout about; she changes into a NEW woman… nuzzling other cows, rubbing, and nurturing behaviors.

If you are driving by herds of cows out to pasture, and watch carefully, you can see some of that behavior.  It’s not all just eating, and chewing their cud.

Special Breeding program

The assigned babysitter, for the calves, while the mom's go eat!

Any females we do not want bred by our herd bull, we will pull out and separate her. We do make sure she has company, as cows are by nature, herd animals and are very stressed when alone. We try not to separate for to long, or else she will be an “outsider” when she returns to her herd.  Everyone will try to “kick her a_s” and try to push her around to see who will be at the BOTTOM of the pecking order.

The adult female who is at the bottom of the pecking order will have to do “guard duty”, i.e. watch out for predators, baby sit the youngest calves, eat last, etc.  Sometimes a “teenager” cow will be assigned to baby sit the calves while the mom’s go off to eat.

Panic

Remember, the young calves are just practicing to eat, for the first couple of months, and they take LOTS of naps.  And when they fall asleep they can be almost impossible to wake up.  The first time I tried to wake a calf up, it scared me to death. I thought it was dying… it would not budge . When I tried to pick up the calf (gal durn it, even the babies are heavy), it’s head just rolled around.  I was sure he was deathly ill and that somehow, I had missed the signs.

Collapsed on the ground, unable to wake up!

An hour later, he “woke-up” and raced off to play with the other calves.  I felt pretty stupid… I had called Jim at work, panicky, and wondering if I  should call the vet out. Thank heavens we decided to give it a few hours.  Besides, our general policy was to let nature take it’s course.  If a calf was not meant to survive, there is probably a good reason for it.  And we are in the mode of raising livestock that DON’T require coddling (frequent vet visits, medications, etc).  Mother nature produced livestock that could survive without human intervention.  It’s often our human  interactions that cause the problems.

 How BIG is YOUR barn?

People ask about “the barn”. We don’t have a barn for the cows or horses.  They are very stressful environments for them (and un-natural).  They build up accumulations of urine/manure that is not weathered away back to fertilizer.  The ammonia (from the urine)  and dust (from the hay) that accumulates can cause respiratory problems for them.  In nature, cows and horses will seek out trees/brush for wind & shade protection. If a lean-to is available they often choose NOT to use it… even when we have heavy rains.  Of course, we don’t get snow where we live, so we need less infra-structure for the livestock.

Where there is heavy snow (as in several feet of snow) & the water is frozen, barns are utilized.  For some, a deep bedding method is used, where straw is put down, and added to on a regular basis.  It absorbs the “outputs” of the livestock.  Some folks throw some corn/other grains in when the different layers are added.

At the start of spring, when the livestock are back out in the pasture, pigs are attracted to the germinating grains and used to “work-up & compost” the material in the barns as they “hunt” for the treats. Then it’s put back into the soil to return the nutrients and fertilizer.  I think I heard that Joel Salatin uses something like this technique.

Our BAWLING Calves… and their worried moms!

But I was going to tell you about our calves.  They are 4-8 wks old and it was time to tag and band them.  AND to pull tail hairs (but I forgot 😦    , for genetic testing).  Luckly,  their genetics don’t actually change… and it’s not to hard to pull tail hairs.  The trick is just to make sure you get the “roots” where the DNA is accessible for testing.  Much, much easier than drawling blood for testing. We DO NOT BRAND our cows.  Lowline Angus are fairly valuable, so we do DNA testing.  If one were “stolen” it is easily identified through their genetic code.  It also confirms who the dam & sire are, for legal purposes.

We do TAG them to make it easy to identify who is who.  My system: green tags are fullblood lowline angus.  Blue tags are percentage lowline angus. Yellow tags are Old World Jersey Heritage blood lines.  Because we have a small herd, we number by the birth year (’12) and the order of the birth (i.e. 1,2,3).  We have 121, 122, 123, 124, and 125 is due any day.  Hopefully, an A2/A2 heifer (Jersey milk cow).

We had to “band” one calf (yep, thick rubber band) to convert from a bull calf to a steer.  We do this rather than castrate by cutting.  I think it’s less stressful on US… not sure about the calf.  But he just races back to mom and nurses.  Does not even bawl, so I think it’s just being restrained that they don’t like.  Scary, I’m sure.

Tagging takes about 2 seconds, and again, they don’t really seem to mind it.  I think at this young age, it’s like getting your ears pierced as an infant. The nerve endings don’t seem to be “active”.  They never seem to actually mind it.  It’s just being forcibly separated from mom (all the moms) & being restrained, that they get shook about.

Mom calling to her calf....

The mom’s are worried about EACH baby. They race around, kicking up their heels (literally), and search to find a way to the calf.  Not just their own… but all the calves in their family unit.  If a calf starts bawling, each mom tries to locate it, and when they do, they come over and sniff & nuzzle the calf.  When the calf is finally released, each cow must reassure herself that the calf is actually OK by physically interacting with it. Their own calf will nurse… comfort food and some TLC (tender loving care).

Positive Management

It’s been absolutely fascinating to watch and learn about this whole process.  If we have to do something stressful, we try to group it all at one time. Only ‘one” event and not several spaced out over weeks. We don’t want them to become apprehensive at our  approach.

We are learning to live in synch with our livestock, and to try to respect their systems.  Some people might scoff but I think happy, unstressed animals make healthy animals.   Dollars NOT spent on a vet, equates to more dollars in MY pocket… so it’s in my best interest to take care of their best interests!

 

Eggs, Eggs, and More Eggs…

Who would have thought that I would be awash in eggs.  Just a few short months ago, people were calling for our farm fresh eggs, and I had to tell them that our hens were in a “drought” situation.  We hoarded each egg they produced and kept only the very smallest eggs (virgin eggs we call them) for ourselves. It was the holiday months and everyone had guests and wanted to serve up some truly free-range pastured eggs.  My newest hens, mostly, had not kicked into laying yet… a few were starting to lay but not reliably.

Large, regular, & "virgin" eggs

The first time I had brand new hens start laying… I thought I had made a mistake and gotten the wrong kind of hens.  I was getting MICRO eggs! I was so relieved when someone told me that they often start out with tiny eggs, but they should get larger. And sure enough, they did! We started calling those eggs, “virgin eggs”.

Laying Hens

A hen starts laying around 5 months old. Daily (or almost daily) egg laying is triggered by the amount of daylight hours… so in the winter months hens typically stop laying, or greatly reduce their production.  On top of that, they are using their food energy for staying warm with the colder, wetter weather.  We do provide a balanced layer feed because if a hen’s on forage & don’t get enough of the essentials, they stop laying.  But besides access to extra food, to keep our hens laying, we have a light and timer in the barn that serves two functions.

One, it provides a light that the hens are attracted to, so that at night they head to the barn where their protected coop is located.  We have had predators come through an avail themselves of the “Heritage Farm” buffet. UGGGH. We got away with letting them roam completely free and then nest in the rafters of the barn, for quite a while, but then paid the price.  I lost most of my hens… and had to BUY store-bought eggs.

An Egg SNOB

OMG, that was an education.  Organic ,free-range, cage-free eggs, hmmm. Nada. I was really surprised at what a snob I had become.  First off, all the labels say “vegetarian feed”… sorry, chickens are not, I repeat, NOT, by nature, vegetarians. Eggs from hens fed that kind of diet are, to me, bland & blah.  We were fairly new to the neighborhood, so in desperation, I had to hunt out someone who had real live free-range pastured eggs… and the difference was total. I was back to the rich tasting nutrient dense eggs I was used to. But my hens, now have a light they are attracted to at night, and they go into LOCKDOWN until morning.

Second, the light encourages egg laying during the winter months. Still not as prolific as the rest of the year, as they are using extra energy for their own needs. A hen needs roughly 14 hours of light to produce eggs. She will produce the most eggs her first laying season, molt (shed feathers) & take a break, before picking up again. Each year thereafter she will produce fewer eggs. Most hens are no longer “used” for laying after two years.

Darker yellow legs

Pale leg color

Interestingly you can tell who has laid a lot of eggs by the color of their legs!! Hens, of the same breed, have  legs of a certain color yellow. The hens with the lightest shade of that yellow will have laid the most eggs. The yellow (beta carotene) gets pulled from the chicken to go into her eggs.

EGG Production

All the eggs the hen will lay, are already there at birth. Just not developed but the germ cell is there. A chicken will have several eggs developing at various stages at once, like a production line. We’ve had a couple of new hens who haven’t gotten the process quite worked out… out pops an egg WITHOUT the shell (just the tough membrane encasing the egg), or all white with no yolk, or double yolks inside one shell. From start to finish, 25 1/2 hrs to produce an egg:  It takes about 20 hours for an egg-shell to form around the yolk/membrane, and only 1 minute to actually lay the egg.

I have been told that pastured eggs always have deep, deep orange/yellow yolks.  Since all our hens have the same diet, I know that this is NOT true.  It depends on the breed of the chicken… they will have varying shades of yellow to deep orange.  I do know that veggie fed hens have very pale, tasteless, almost watery egg yolks!

Rhode Island Red hen, laying champ!

Historically hens would lay up to a 100 eggs a year.  Some of the breeds today will lay up to 300-350 eggs; almost an egg a day.  These hens have NOT been genetically modified via some scientific voodoo magic; just simple selection for a specific trait. The best bred to the best producers… some traits are left by the wayside.  Going broody is definitely a trait NOT bred for.

Some hens will “go broody” meaning they will lay a clutch of eggs and after collecting up to a dozen, will then “sit” (i.e. incubate them for 21 days). She’ll hatch out her chicks and then spend the next two months raising them. But for this three-month period, she is not laying any eggs. You can see why in the commercial industry this mothering behavior is not useful. Me, I WANT the mom to do all the work, because she is MUCH better at it.

Most turkeys cannot breed on their own or raise their own chicks, due to the intensive breeding used to  produce big breasted turkeys. They physically cannot do the “deed”.   We raise heritage chickens and heritage turkeys to encourage specific traits; breeding and raising their own chicks.

Another stunning egg producer, A Golden Wyandotte

Heritage chickens are fairly easy to get that will go broody and raise a clutch successfully.  We’ve had a warm winter and I had TWO hens who marched out from the barn with a clutch of chicks… that I did not even know were nesting. We put a green bracelet on a hen that does this, so I know who I want to keep for eggs production.  Some hens will start but not finish, or can’t seem to figure out what to do with the chicks after they are born (sad).  I’ll put a yellow band on her so I know she should be discouraged from going broody, and that I do NOT want to incubate any of her eggs.

Turkeys are a basket case

We raise heritage turkeys so they can at least bred and produce fertile eggs. But those eggs we set aside and incubate.  I have one turkey hen who is interested in setting so we’ll see if she can manage a clutch this spring.

Right now we have three different breeds of heritage turkeys: midget white, heritage bronze, and what looks like to be a variation on the Royal Palm (white, with some black markings). We have them separated so that we can prevent cross-breeding.

I have had one Heritage Bronze, when we were on the ranch with lots of acreage, that went broody, disappeared , and came back with a clutch of turkey chicks.  We were so excited to see this, but the downside of her “disappearing” is that she & her chicks became coyote food. Circle of life, I remind myself! But here on the farm we can have more control.

I’m keeping breeding pairs to encourage egg production… but had to separate the males because they began to fight among themselves.  Only the dominate male will mate… with all the available hens. Whoops, not in my plan…. so we had to separate the breeds. Now I just need to get more females of each breed… but that’s a plan for this spring.  We have a couple of dozen turkey eggs incubating right now, so we’ll see what we come up with.  The extra toms will be on someone’s dinner menu.

Eggs Galore

But now that we’ve past spring equinox… I have eggs galore!  Seems like I somehow (I have no idea how.. well, wait.. there were some broody hens last fall…) ended up with close to 40 hens.  Rhode Island Reds, Golden Wyandottes, and Dark Cornish who are all great layers, it turns out… and mothers, as well!

Eggs, eggs, and more eggs!

It’s time for me to learn how to make mayonnaise! All you need is egg yolks, oil (canola oil, olive oil, etc), and some seasonings (salt, mustard) & a bit of lemon/vinegar with water. And deviled eggs, Quiche’s, egg-cheese casseroles…

Anyone need a few laying hens? I’ve got some to sell!

Cocoa’s introduction to milking…

It’s always an unknown, how a cow will respond to being milked.

When I think of a milking cow, I see a picture in my head. It’s of a mellow cow slowly moving to the milking trailer, browsing around inside the head stall, searching out her treats & munching away on a bits of hay

Extra fine hay & a bit of grain

while she stands patiently, and is milked. I don’t even need to lock her into the headstall to prevent her from backing up.

She knows, and is comfortable with the whole routine.  It’s an expected part of the day. If I don’t come soon enough, she will stand at the gate waiting for me, with large patient eyes. No fuss, no mooing, no impatience… she just “waits”.

I open the gate, and she marches right in.  I don’t even need to put up a paneled run to make sure she doesn’t “escape” and go somewhere else.  She knows right where she wants to go, and we are on the same page.

A Different Kettle of Fish

But now, a brand-new cow to milking, is whole different kettle of fish.  As I’ve mentioned before, we like to leave the calves on their mom’s full-time for the first few weeks, and then we will start to share milk with the calf, milking once a day. She has recovered from the birth and bonded with her newborn. (In the industry, she would never see her calf again, after the delivery.)

I run through my head of all the possible “problems” and things I need to get ready “just in case” we run into one of those problems. She could be frightened of the milking trailer… you go from bright sunshine into a shadowy area; it’s spooky to a cow.  The smells should be OK… calm cows have been in there before her so have not left the “scent” of fear/anxiety/stress.  (Under stress a cow will shoot out a VERY icky, smelly, liquid poop! guaranteed to tell the next cow, DANGER).

Competition & other misc matters…

Panels confine the space, for milking in the protected trailer

She might not like the confined feeling of the trailer, or she may not like the hen who is trying to nest in her food/hay in the head stall (a BIG problem… I have no idea why the hens seem to think that is the optimal place to lay their eggs)!

I have even seen a hen squawk so much, when her “laying time” is getting interrupted that Bessie will back out and WAIT until the hen is done!

Quite funny to see a 7 lb hen, dictate timing to a 1000 lb milk cow!

And then the big problem that must be ready for… what if she’s a kicker? or a tale swisher.  We’ve had a cow before that would just wait (and remember… they can keep one eye on you AND one eye on their food, AT THE SAME TIME)…until you are in position and let loose a kick or swatch your face with her tail. (Oh yes, they can hit a fly at 30 paces, I swear! they are so accurate with that tail). Heaven help you if that tail is a bit yucky with manure… ’cause you are sure to wear it, if she’s that kind of girl! 

Our 9 yr old standard Jersey…  Bessie is as mellow as they come, and she is a treasure to work with… very, very good for beginners to start with. But like I said, a new cow is just unknown territory.

A beef cow… you can’t get anywhere near their udder… unless you have them locked down in a squeeze chute where they absolutely can’t get away from you.  Amazingly… they never have ANY problems with their udders… tiny, petite, and absolutely functional ’cause their calves grow like weeds. At least, that is our experience with our Lowline Angus… great moms & healthy calves.

Breeding Stock for small family farms…

Because we are working on developing stock for the small farm, we decided to branch out a bit from the traditional milk cow and beef cow.  Each have been bred for a specific purpose and if you have lots of room, they are generally your best bet to utilize.

If I want a beef cow to give milk… I’ll probably have to give up milk quantity.  If I want a milk cow to be good for meat… I will probably have to give up high-end quality  meat (i.e. tenderness & taste).   It will still be good, just not 5 star rated!

And then there are temperament issues.  Like I said, a milk cow tends to be mellow and gives up her calf easily but a beef cow is very protective of her calf (and her udder). She may not want to be separated from her calf or follow you dociley into a metal box and just stand there.  (Remember, her world is the wide open pasture and she must protect her young from predators!)

Jersey/Lowline (aka Jer-Low)

Cocoa, is our first result of crossbreeding a milk cow with a high-end mini-beef bull.  She was a bit taller than we expected, her coat is darker than her mother (but not solid black like the Angus), and she has more of the dairy build with a more pronounced udder and excellent teat size and placement.   Something you don’t really know until she has her first calf. (Bessie has teeny, tiny teats which makes hand milking very difficult!).

I was running over in my head the need to take her into the milking trailer and just feeding her there a few times to get used to the space, adding the milk strap that goes over her back (which will hold the milk bucket under her), and in a few days, actually turn on the pump (noisy, although it IS placed outside the stall)… but letting her build up a tolerance to all the “new” stuff.  All the while rubbing, brushing and sweet talking her.

In the meantime, Job (our intern) goes out to the pasture, brings her into the stall. He just skips to the end and gets it DONE.

Now I grant you, she needed some rear pressure to get her in the first time but once she discovered the fresh hay and a bit of grain she was a convert! The next day, she headed in without missing a beat, and Job, with his long legs stretched out under her, proceeded to hand milk her. I think, after milking her, he did turn on the pump so she could near the noise from it and realize that it wasn’t going to hurt her, or take her food!  The next day… you guessed it, Job put the portable milk machine on her and that was that.

Except, bless her udder, she gave more and more milk each day. Luscious sweet raw milk, with a rich yellow tint that speaks of lots of vitamins,  from the pasture she has been on. When the milk “settles” it has a layer thick with cream that we will harvest to make butter (or ice cream or real whipping cream).

All my worry and problem-solving down the drain… Job just goes out and does it.  Did I mention that he is brand new at this game?  Awesome!

It was wonderful to find that Cocoa has kept the best traits from her dairy side… while her bull calf will be valuable to the small acreage for very usable meat… he is 3/4 Lowline Angus and will have excellent genetics for quality beef. A Two-for-One package deal: milk and beef. We call that success!

Ear Piercing Squeals

It occurs to me that Mother Nature has selected for the loudest, most piercing squeal possible, in piglets.  Those with the loudest voice got the most results.

All Momma Sow's piglets lined up to nurse

Mellow, easy-going guys fell by the wayside (or in real world pig terms “got squished or eaten”). If you didn’t speak up for yourself… you might pay a pretty deadly price (literally, of course)!

Those who squealed the loudest and the quickest, got a response, whether it be a 300 lb mom trying to sit on you, or if you got separated from the “herd” and needed finding…because alone, you were food for the predators!

SHARING…

We invite our visitors (or maybe twist their arm to come see our newest babies!), but anyway… take them out to the farrowing pen. Take them to see all the little ones racing around, burrowing into the hay piles, and trying to chew on each other ears or tails to see if they give milk, or crawling on top of other sleeping piglets to join in a group nap-time! At least until mom gives out the special grunt that says, “come and get it, kiddos… lunch is ready!”

Until that happens the piglets enjoy exploring their world. Job, our farm intern, scoops up two little guys and hands one-off to visitors so they can feel how soft the skin is, and generally, just get a chance to cuddle one of the babies. Who ever gets to actually touch a piglet!

Only, once the piglet realizes it is off alone, all by itself, with unknown creatures stealing it away from  his siblings… he lets out an ear-piercing squeal, and doesn’t stop. If you didn’t know better you would think he was being tortured instead of cuddled! And let me tell you, it’s a non-stop squeal that just gets more tortured sounding each moment it continues.

It’s all the same… you can turn it off… at least, on YouTube!!!

Mom perks up immediately to see just what is going on.  Job is standing in the pen, still holding the other piglet (who hasn’t yet figured out he’s all by himself & thus has NOT started squealing… but will shortly, I assure you).

OH NO, Momma begins her investigation and notices that Job is holding one of her babies.  She makes her way up behind him, and very carefully (I tell you, she IS a good mom, but a GREAT family farm pig) puts her mouth around his calf and gently mouths his leg.

HISTORICALLY…

Now this is impressive… because my husband freaks out.  In his teenage years, he was responsible for 400 pigs and learned to jump a 5 ft high fence, from a standing start, in a micro second. His experience was that a momma pig would take a hunk out of you without ANY warning… if they were even a bit concerned about a piglet.

A warning nip was just not in their repertoire! But a trip to the hospital would be in your immediate future, if you ever lost sight of where and what that mom was doing. Our pigs are bred for a better temperament, but it’s always better to take NO chances.

Job reached back quietly and put pressure on the mom’s shoulder, pushing her away, as he put the piglet back on the ground, all the while talking quietly to her.

Our visitor quickly handed the noisy baby back to Job who got him back to mom, as well. Job continued to keep pressure on the mom, and then began to scratch her.

What an intuitive touch… she responded to his returning her babies and then the treat of a good scratch.  Rather than lose his cool, he worked with the mom and reassured her. Elements of an excellent farmer… one who tunes into the needs of the livestock he is tending.

A FARM EXPERIENCE…

Going out on the farm, to milk!

I have to say that one of the greatest pleasures on our farm is being able to offer hands-on learning experiences at various levels.  Whether it be kids coming out and seeing a momma hen, roaming freely, gather her chicks around her and teach them to scratch, or young adults who want to learn how to milk a cow, make butter, or experience what it is like to care for animals on a day in,day out basis, it each has its own value.

In our lives today, we really live very disconnected from real things. We watch life. We watch movies, reality TV, play video games, interact on-line. We are, for the most part, passive participates in life watching other’s live a fantasy.

We don’t get too hot, too dirty, too tired, too anything.  We are always somehow “connected” (or is that “wired”) into the world and yet, not.

We bike, hike, sail, swim, skate, ski, play baseball, tennis,etc., but it’s usually very recreational and for our own pleasure. Somehow in doing something that is actually productive, there is another quality that comes into play. A sense of connectedness with the world that reaches into the soul. How can you explain color to the blind man?

Ever just stopped to listen… to see… to feel…? We’re always so busy on the way to something that we never stop and actually experience life.  Take that moment out to “just be”. To stop being in control of everything around us.

THE QUIET TIME…

One of the things I enjoyed about milking was the forced quiet time.  I could check out of the rest of the world… and just spend the moment with Bessie as she chews her hay, the milk machine clicks away, and the sounds of the barnyard drift into the milking stall. Bessie’s warmth and smell comfort me in a way I can not really express.

Probably because our culture has lost the words that express those experiences…. sadly.

Quiet time in the day, to milk Bessie

This little piggy….

Whoops: Change of Plans

We were headed out the door to head to town when our intern alerted us.

He walked by the pregnant gilt’s farrowing area… and saw three baby piglets!

Newborn piglets, dozing in the sunshine

One was still wet and working on figuring out which way was up. He was that new.

I grabbed a towel, my cell phone (to call and delay a meeting), and checked to make sure I was wearing something that could get grubby… very grubby. No telling what I would need to do… stand by and just watch a normal labor process, dash in to grab a piglet who was in trouble, or even help deliver babies if the gilt’s labor stalled out.

I say “he was that new” just because I don’t want to check the sex and upset the newborn, and trigger ANY squealing. Turning a newborn upside down and poking around, for some reason seems to initiate an ear-piercing squeal that WILL not stop until he is put back on the ground.  Our new momma has VERY strong instincts and will immediately jump up to defend her newborn.

Unique

Pigs are very interesting creatures as they deliver their young in a totally different way.  Cows, horses, cats, dogs, etc. all deliver and to some extent help their young… usually by licking them to stimulate, to clean off, and to help dry them. But piglets do it all on their own!

Mom lays down on her side and labors.  She gets up occasionally and may go check on the babies delivered (just sniffs them) but then she goes back and lays down.

The critical part is that if there is a newborn where she lays down, he must have an escape route! 300lb momma laying down on a 3 lb newborn can have some very distressing results.

Jim designed and built (with intern assistance!) angled areas in the corners of the farrowing stall.  Enough for a person to stand behind & in.  The angle area cross pieces are NOT all the way down to the floor.

Job, making sure the newborn piglets are safe!

If the momma sow lies down next to the angled area (which of course she does), there is a space that allows the piglet to move away from mom, and she is blocked from that; the piglet can shift into the protected angle.  We have flakes of straw in those areas so the piglets can burrow in and get warm.

Momma pig lays down and breaths/ pants with her labor and then will give a push. Out flies a piglet still encased in its amniotic sac & still attached with the umbilical cord.  As the baby “hits” the ground the sac is pulled away from its snout.  Sometimes the cord “snaps” (i.e. breaks at the delivery & sometimes not).

At first the newborn is totally still. My heart always stops until I see a little wiggle or flip of an ear. I have to consciously “STOP” myself from helping out!

Finally, real movement. The newborn is “shaking off” the shocking introduction to the world! As he begins to move around, the sac encasing him, breaks away.  As he wiggles around, and then finally finds his feet (usually less than 3-4 minutes), he is pulling on the umbilical cord and it  breaks away so that he is free to move away from mom.

On average piglets delivery every 20-30 minutes. We’ve even had them deliver an hour apart.    Our new sow proceeded to deliver piglets at the rate of one every 10 minutes! That includes taking a break occasionally, getting up, nosing around to sniff & nuzzle her newborns.  After a brief check, she goes back to lay down…  carefully, so that any piglets in the way can move, and if they are trapped under her, squeal. A good mom whe will immediately jump up to prevent any squishing of newborns!

Cautious, is the name of the game!

Job, our intern, had never dealt much with livestock (thus part of the reason he is at OUR farm).  Jim had gone over a few techniques to use when working with the laboring mom, and he went right to work.  If mom gets a little bit shook or worried, she can be calmed by rubbing her belly.  Initially he stayed in the protected angled area, where he was in place to rescue a piglet if he needed to. He was just a hands-breath away, and had a clear view of what was happening.

It’s an unknown situation with a first time mom. Some sows can become confused, very aggressive and protective.  We had a sow who started to attack her first baby (it was her first litter) because it was squealing.  She hadn’t quite made the connection that it was her baby squealing but thought the baby was “attacking” her newborn.  We quickly had to scoop that newborn out of momma’s reach & calm her down by rubbing her belly.

As this was a new sow, and this was her first litter… we had no idea how she would act.  I must say, we were really impressed. She will be a keeper. First off, she had 12 healthy piglets (no runts & no super big piglets)… all pretty much 3-4 lbs each.  She was mellow during her labor and very careful of her newborns, even in the middle of labor.

Some TLC for the babies…Nursing

The first group of piglets are now quite hungry and search for a teat to nurse on. Momma sow has a minimum of 14 teats, seven on each side, but getting on for the first nursing can be a challenge. Job works out a method.

Piglets first nursing

When all 12 try to nurse and get to the upper seven teats, nobody gets to eat! Oh, I’m sure eventually they would but to short cut the drama, and make sure each piglet has gotten a good first nursing of the colostrum, we  assist. Remember?  that first milk which has lots of goodies in it for the baby – immunities passed from mom to babe. If a newborn does not get a good nursing within hours of birth, he will tend to be sickly or just not grow well.

So Job divides the group up into two parts, each made up of 6 piglets.  He corrals up one group away from mom, and then makes sure each piglet finds and attached to a teat.  Over a few hours he has made sure all the babies have had several good nursings. What an outstanding start!  And whenever mom would get a little anxious, he would just rub her belly and she would flop back, and snooze.  When Job brought her sweet cob, grain, and curdled jersey milk (her favorite), in a low bucket, she didn’t even bother to get up. Just picked her head up, pushed on the buckets edge until it tilted toward her, and munched away happily on her treat.

In the past, when we’ve had a sows labor stall out, we’ve put piglets to the teats to nurse, to stimulate more contractions. The nursing process releases hormones that trigger the let-down of  milk, and uterine contractions.  I think it’s Nature’s way of making sure the labor process is completed and the placental tissue is passed.

Nighttime…

Enough for now; we’ll leave the babes & mom alone and “pray” they get through the night OK.  I always worry about the little ones getting squished but this mom is very careful. She moves slowly, watches, and nuzzles the straw before she lays down.  If she hears someone start squalling she will immediately jump up, and then carefully try again.

Mom and babies sleep separate! All the babies bundle together, overlapping each other, usually burrowing into the straw… and keep each other warm.  When mom carefully lays down, she will then call to her babies and they all come running, to nurse. But when done, the babies gather together and sleep in their little angled protected area, or huddled together under a flake of straw.

Reducing Losses

If you don’t have a “good mom” you could have a 25-100% loss of piglets! That’s why in the swine industry, in their confinement system, the moms are put in farrowing crates, that barely allow her any movement.

We have lost several piglets in the past, with different sows, because the moms were not careful enough during and immediately after labor. We switched breeding lines to see if we could improve our delivery numbers and survival rates.  In the past we would have 8 piglets, with 6 surviving delivery. Generally never lost a piglet after the first day.

Selecting for Survival

But our approach is different from the industrial model. Instead of using every sow, even if she is not a good mother, we selectively choose who will breed. That way our stock will get better… need less intervention, be healthier, and more productive. Strikes me that the industry method is decreasing the quality of the breeding livestock, over time.

We aim toward a sustainable model, where livestock don’t actually need humans to survive!

Seductive Spring Garden Trap

I was seduced. Yes, definitely… against my will (i.e. my better judgment). The warm sunny days worked their magic on me.  I KNOW better than to plant a garden too early in the season.  It’s really an exercise in futility to try and outwit the “weather gods”!

Transplant starts

Spring Starts for the Garden

Yep, I went down to our local nursery (key word there is “local” nursery)… and perused among their garden starts.  Trays of tiny plants just waiting to be snapped up and placed into a warm nurturing environment so they could explode into growth, providing me with feeling of satisfaction of having something growing.

When I asked at the counter for some assistance in finding some “Sweet 100” tomato starts, they chuckled and said, “Don’t you think you are just a couple months to early!”  It’s too cold  at night and they will just shrivel up and die with the first frost.

Season extension

Simple Greenhouse- Hog Panel

But boy did that tune change when I said the magic words…. greenhouse. Lovely, lovely, warm, protected, sheltered greenhouse.

Now mind you… nothing fancy.

Just an ol’ hog panel (it’s 16 ft length arched over to form a tunnel) with some heavy-duty plastic over it and some coverings placed on each end.

Not fancy but definitely functional. We did build some raised beds (lined with chicken wire to protect those delicious roots from munching gophers) to plant into.  In a raised bed the soil warms a bit earlier which gives another advantage to planting in the greenhouse.

Inside a hog panel greenhouse

Simple Season Extension - inside

So, while I did “buy” transplants way too early, by the time I got home, my better judgement did kick in and instead of planting into the ground  I placed my starts in their temporary waiting place. And sure enough, that night for the first time in weeks, the nighttime temperatures dropped into the 20’s!

I’ll be watching the weather report closely.

But I did exercise some common sense, and MOST of the starts that I purchased, are for cool season. Peas, snow peas, spinach, kale… all things that can handle a light frost.

The warm season starts will need a longer stay in the greenhouse… but  if I do move them out a bit early there are some short-term solutions!

A gallon milk jug, with the bottom cut out, makes an excellent in place micro greenhouse.   They provide some protection from frost as well as a slightly warmer environment that is plant friendly. Just be careful to NOT cook the plant on days that get really warm.  Nice thing about the gallon milk jug… you can just take the cap off and presto! you are venting the extra heat. Talk about cheap and easy… instant success.

mini greenhouse - Milk Jugs

Gallon Milk Jugs for mini greenhouses

How’s YOUR grocery bill these days?

“It must be wonderful to not have a huge grocery store bill!” I’m told many a time, by people who know we have a full-cycle farm (i.e. milk, meat, chickens, gardens, etc). I laugh and tell them that at this point, I don’t pay the grocery store, I pay the feed store!  WE won’t REALLY have it together until we can feed our livestock.

Fresh from the home garden

We bought some apples (a health food right?) at a small market, rather than buying junk food .  Took one bite and had to spit it out… you could taste the chemical coating on the apple.  I don’t know if I’m getting more sensitive or if it’s getting utilized in heavier doses.

I know that I’m reading you can no longer wash the stuff off… it’s absorbed systemically.

Producing your own food, overall it is NOT cheaper;  just a lot, and I mean, a lot better quality.

Quality in value and in taste... and probably even more importantly… not exposed to so much “crud” that is used to produce industrial food (neurotoxins, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, etc). Upfront it’s not cheaper but we won’t have the same health issues, and as those costs are sky-rocketing, we are saving tons of dollars long-term. Not to mention, just the additional quality of life in not being sick.

Because it's the better choice!

Buy Fresh, Buy Local

OK here’s my spiel: find an organic farmer/market/CSA.  Not because they need it, but because YOU need it, especially your children! Most of this “toxic crappola” did not come on the scene until the 1980’s and has escalated since then. An occasion hit of “crap” our systems can generally detoxify and cope with.

It’s the day in, day out constant onslaught that is creating the epidemic of chronic diseases.

We are working toward becoming a “sustainable” farm, meaning that the farm will provide for our needs in general.  Not everything.  Traditionally one would trade for other services/products. But all the same, farms were not mono-crops.

“Doing” just one thing would exhaust your soil over time, whether crop or a particular livestock.  Just raising corn, just raising pigs would overload you: you would pull out too much of one thing, and dump to much as waste, of one thing, to be healthy.  Farms that did that would eventually exhaust the soil (or contaminate it), people would move on to new territory. The “westward movement” was a significant part of that process with all the “new world” land available.

Think of just eating french fries, or just broccoli, or just chicken. UGGH. That would get old real fast. I think it’s a built in safety mechanism. Your body won’t let you eat just one thing, on purpose. It’s the satiation factor. You know how the first chocolate chip cookie, out of the oven, is heavenly… but by the 4th one you’re starting to feel FULL (OK, so for some of us it’s the 10th cookie)!

home produced

Typically, in the 1800’s, there was the family garden (food raised to be utilized by the family) and then the main crop that would be used for selling (cash trade) and then food raised to be utilized by the livestock.

People often ask why we focus so much on miniature/compact livestock. Mini-horses, mini-cows, & mini-milk cows, in particular. Historically at least one third of a farms products went to feed the livestock.  That means if you had a 3 acre farm (which we basically do), one acre would be in full production just to feed the animals that would provide your power labor such as transportation, pulling a plow, hauling things, or provide meat, milk, butter, cheese, etc. The other two acres are what supported the farm.

Stored hay, for the off season

The problem in the USA is that bigger is better, except when you have to feed it!

Then the food bill goes through the roof, either in terms of producing it (maybe half the acreage would have to feed the livestock instead of one third), or purchasing it.

By downsizing our larger livestock we feel like it is more cost effective in general plus the supporting costs are less. Less fencing, housing, trailer size, pasture damage due to weight, etc.

How much is an acre of land valued in California (an hour north of San Francisco)? An easy $100,000 acre. If we try and feed our livestock from our land… can you imagine covering the cost of $100,000/an acre to produce feed.

Smaller livestock mean lower food needs! We manage much of the cost by importing feed grown on much “cheaper valued” land.  But it used to cost us $5/bale of good feed and now it’s up to $15-20/bale.  In FIVE years.

We americans have been so spoiled in the last 50 years… typically one third of a family’s income in OUR country, went for food.  That dropped to less than 10 percent ! Those “extra” dollars went into buying other things (house, clothes, toys – childrens’ and electronic)! It provided a huge growth factor in our economy… but it was “bought” at great long term personal cost. The economic value of land near a city went through the roof. The farming land itself was turned into strip malls and housing developments.
Be glad you are an american though, as many other countries have reached the point where more than 50% of their income goes to food… if it is to be had.
A full load... 120 bales

Moving the Hay

We reached a turning point, as the cost of oil escalates.  Currently we spend about 10 calories (energy, fertilizers, fuel, transportation) to produce ONE calorie of industrial food.

The REAL questions is NOT, “Why is organic food so expensive”,  but “WHY is industrial food so cheap?”  But I don’t think industrial food is going to be “cheap” much longer…

And that “grocery bill” is going to get a heck of a lot more expensive. Cultivate your local farmer… he may be the best value to be had, in the near future!

Calf on the loose – A Subverted Milking session

Chocolate is usually quite amenable to going into the milking trailer, and if she seems to balk a bit… a little shake  of a scoop of grain has her right up to the head stall & feeding trough! Not today… she hemmed hawed up to the entrance, and then backed off.  Her tongue reached out as far as it could to dip into the scoop but no amount of tempting her, would get her to come in.  And then I looked a bit closer. UGGGGH.

milked out

Deflated udder

When one wants to milk the milk cow, it really helps if she has some milk to give! I realized that Chocolate’s calf had been left in the paddock with her, with the morning feed, instead of being left in the main pasture.  We have mom & calf together at night.  At just under 4 weeks I want the calf to be able to nurse during the night and early morning, when it is cold.

Jim does the early morning feeding (ah, what a husband!) before he heads in to work.

Usually, the mom & calf are separated (calf left in the main pasture), and then I milk mid-day, or thereabout. Her udder has filled and there is a “pressure” that needs to be relieved.  Between the grain, high-end hay, and the udder pressure, she is usually very happy to get milked. But not today; in the rush, the calf and mom were together and I’m sure his tummy was quite full ’cause Chocolate’s udders were pretty deflated.

calf on the loose

Calf, tummy full of milk!

Discretion is the better part of valor!

I decided this was one battle I did not need to fight.  But as I was getting Chocolate BACK into the pasture, the calf slipped through the gate, to the outside.  OK… chase the calf, or finish with Chocolate. Whoops, here comes Bessie.

Decided the calf would not go far from mom… so dealt with getting Chocolate back into the pasture. All without Bessie slipping past me… she would LOVE to go to the milking trailer for all those goodies… but she hasn’t delivered yet, so no go. As a standard jersey she was very used to getting grain, in the old days.

So let’s see… here I am, dancing around with three cows trying to get them elsewhere. I just take a deep breath and laugh.  The sun is shining, the momma hen is out with the chicks, and the day is good.

And then…

Under Mick's watchful eye, baby chicks

Phacelia checking out the chicks

My current assistant (10), a young chicken entrepreneur(she has a flock of 9), has stopped by to see what is going on, on the farm.  She volunteers to help me out.

Sad that she doesn’t get to help me with the milking, she is more than happy to help me collect eggs and socialize the calf!

One of the best parts of the farm, letting kids (and adults) have the “experience” of a farm.  Our chickens are free-ranging (oophs, watch where you step!), the mini-horses, and the cows are fair game for interacting with.  Only the hogs are kept contained; one boar and two gilts. (Gilts are female pigs that have never birthed piglets. After they have their first litter they are called a sow.)

But back to the calf… he is having the time of his life running up and down the fence line that separates him from his mom. But oh, what things to explore.  He’s checking out the turkeys, the benches, the chickens, and down to the mini-horses. After 30 minutes of playtime, he’s quite easy to “walk” to the gate.  I barely get it open and he slips through, back to mom.

Phacelia making friends!

Calf socialization in progress

Interestingly, cows have pressure points and if you know the “points” you can move them fairly easily, as long as they are not scared! It’s important to move slow and be MELLOW! You just stand about 45 degrees to the left or right of the REAR of the cow, and move slowly toward them. They will move away, generally in a straight path. How close to the rear of the cow depends on how well they know you.  So the calf is “in training” and he responds very traditionally to the “pressure points” and we are able to walk him to the gate entrance.

We went on a round-up one time… a real-life cattle roundup, to bring the cow-calf pairs in from the range.  It was time to brand, castrate, vaccinate, etc.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-40 cows.   All the horses were brought out and everyone mounted up (except me… I was helping with the medical supplies) & 92-year-old grandpa, just recovering from heart surgery, was in charge (but NOT allowed back on a horse, yet). He was one tough guy… and quite together! This was his cattle ranch.

kids, adults, all have "jobs"

All hands on board to help out

A 4×4 was sent out with its usual load of hay, which brought the cows into the vicinity.  And then the horses surrounded the cows and moved them into the paddocks. Gates closed… sorting and work began.  James & I just looked at each other. We could have done the same thing, without the horses.  Just pressure walked them into the paddocks. But as someone pointed out… NOT NEAR AS MUCH FUN for all the horsemen (kids, etc). It was a big annual event/party. And the chance to practice roping & cutting skills. The horses were definitely a BIG asset when it came to catching and pinning down the calves.

bringing a calf down

Round-up in action

On our farm, we do things a bit differently.

  • We don’t brand… we ear tag.
  • We don’t vaccinate because our livestock don’t travel (no fairs, shows, etc) so they are not exposed to “bugs”.  If there was something endemic to where we live, we would vaccinate. The horses do get vaccinated for West Nile, spread by mosquitos, which has shown up in our area.
  • To convert bull calf to steers, we band when they are very young.

But we are able to do things this way because we are a very, very small operation. Size changes the methods of operation. Size, numbers, skills, tools at hand, staff, temperament, all factor in.  On each “farm” there is a lot of trial and error, to find the best fit. Farmers and ranchers are real life problem solvers on a daily basis, which of course, makes things quite interesting!

Here on The Heritage Farm, we’re still fine tuning our operation.

This morning, we are a little low on fresh milk and cream… but we had a VERY satisfied calf yesterday, I’m sure! But I’m learning… and fine-tuning our set-up.

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