Spring Babies, At School, At Home

A hands-on visit at school!

Spring Babies to School

Taking our farm animals to the local elementary school is pretty high on my list of things we want to do.  Especially the young ones… they appeal so much to the kids. We took three calves (2 beef & 1 milk breed), as well a 2 mini-horses to the school.

On the Trailer, to the school

The calves were from 2 days to 6 weeks old. With a neighbor’s help, we loaded them up and a short trip later, they were out on grass being introduced to the students.

It was a chance for the kids to talk about, see, touch, and learn about real livestock. They get to see them pee and poop! call to their mothers, to their friends.  Get tired & lay down to take a nap!

They are able to check out the mini-horses in great detail, as mini’s are busy eating fresh “playground”… and of course, leaving some fertilizer behind as a “thank you”!

I like taking the smaller creatures because I think they are more “kid-friendly” size… as well as having a naturally built-in “baby” attraction that we all seem to have in our make up. We are drawn to babies and want to “nurture” them.

Great Discussions!

We talked about how soon after a calf is born, can it walk.  Guesses from the 3 & 4th graders ranged from hours to days to weeks.

A chance to actually touch a calf

I told them that the calf is born with hooves that are very soft… too soft to walk on. They look white at birth.

Newborn Lowline Calf, still hasn't stood-up yet!

The hooves are soft so that they don’t hurt the mother when the are being born. It’s like having your hands in water for a while; your fingernails get really soft. But as soon as they are exposed to the air, they begin to harden up.

In nature, the calf need to be able to stand, within 30 mins usually, and navigate to the udder to nurse, within a few hours at the most.

There is a “key” window for the calf nursing.  The best is within 2 hours, but 4 hours at most.  That is when the calf’s gut is open to absorbing the immunities that the mom passes on to the calf.  If he does NOT get that special milk, he will tend to be very sickly and not grow well.  It’s important for him to nurse as soon as he can. After 4 hours the gut changes and begins to lose the ability to absorb the larger molecules. By 12 hours that door is completely shut.

We always try to have some of that special early milk (colostrum) saved up in our freezer if we have a baby that has a problem with nursing or a mom that can’t produce the milk.  It’s good for calves, colts, kids (goats), lambs, etc!

This is a “real world” experience.

group discussion, and then hands ON!

It’s amazing what a great time we had talking about the livestock, with the kids. I was impressed at their questions and how much of an in-depth explanation they where able to take in.

They were very excited about learning about all the things that actually come from the milk the jersey cows produce.  They were able to name off quite a few items besides milk; cheese, butter, yogurt, whipped cream, ice cream, but NOT actually chocolate milk! Well, not the chocolate part, anyway. I think it made it very real to them.

As their teacher said, “Most kids see the world through books, pictures, TV, movies, video games, cartoons, computers…. but never REAL, in life!”  I was told that last year, when we brought animals, the kids talked about it for weeks.

first steps of newborn calf

Spring Babies on the Farm

Today we had newborn calf just suddenly appear… I love our compact pastured beef livestock.

They do their JOBS so well.  They convert the green grass and hay for their food energy.  They get pregnant, at the drop of a hat, and then proceed to calve with hardly a murmur. And smart enough to do it on clear, sunny days, for the most part.

Interestingly, the cows/heifers synch their cycles!  What that means is that they will all deliver about the same time.  We had three newborns this week!  Unlike commercial farms we don’t use medications to make the cows ovulate at the same time… but in nature, at least with the Lowline Angus breed, they do it themselves.

Safety in Numbers

Now WHY?  This is a comparatively old breed, Aberdeen Angus, so I think the older drives are much intact. In the wild or out on extensive pastures, it is actually safer to calve at the same time… and it’s usually early spring.  Why would that be safer?

Coming out of winter, the predators are looking for food, and young livestock are a perfect meal.  If there is only one calf… the chances of it being “prey” go up significantly.  If there are a dozen calves, then there is safety in numbers and the odds are YOU will not be dinner.  And by the time predator comes back, the calves are older and able to manage escape! Mom’s who tended to cycle together had more survivor calves. Outliers (those who delivered at odd times) did not have offspring with as high a survival rate.

Bigger is Better, NOT

I feel so sad when I hear stories from other farmers/ranchers who talk about their difficulties.  Having to get up in the middle of a (of course) cold, windy night (or freezing sleet night, or howling winds), … to help a birthing cow. In their stories it NEVER happens on warm, sunny days, mid afternoon!

Calf puller, for those that are too large for the mother

They also have these horrific looking devices to attach to a calf and pull it out, found at your local farm supply store. For those “Too Big Too Deliver Syndrome” calves!  Our calves weight in at around 40-55 lbs.  Standard or large breed calves weight in at 75-120 lbs AT BIRTH.

We have never lost a calf or mother, at birth because it was too big or badly positioned, which is sadly not true of the typical large beef breed ranches. But then, we only have at any time, 5 – 15 cows…

But many ranchers are beginning to see the advantages of the smaller calves, especially for their first time moms (AKA a heifer – never had a calf). They use Lowline Angus Bulls to decrease the size of those calves to make for very easy births! They lose fewer calves and their night’s sleep are NOT interrupted. Makes for a much happier farmer/rancher.

A breakfast surprise... new calf

But for us… Our experience, as our new intern said, “Oh, I was feeding this morning and an extra calf showed up!” I think Big Momma has delivered.

We were able to finish our morning coffee; then go out to see if we had a boy or a girl!

What a life… just love it.

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!

Predators have 2 eyes in front!

When people visit the farm one of the first things we talk about, before seeing the livestock, is how to interact with our cows and horses (& mini-horses).  We bred for temperament so we start out with fairly mellow livestock… but it’s important to understand where they, genetically, are coming from to avoid triggering survival instincts.

First Day on the Farm - Lady comes to Jim

These animals have historically been prey, i.e. food. They have developed some pretty strong instincts that allow them to survive in the wild. Animals (predators) that hunt them down have two eyes, that work together in front, that will stare at them!

Prey (future dinner meal) animals have eyes that look to the side and each eye actually works independently. One eye can look behind and the other can look ahead… almost 360 degree vision. AMAZING.  Their brains can make some sense out of this information. Safety & survival.

If your eyes are in front, you can’t see behind you or to the side very well, without turning your head.  But two eyes working together are better at judging distance, when you are in attack mode!

We had a cow who, I swear had surround vision! She could, with one eye, watch her food, and with the other eye, wait until we were in kicking range while milking. Grrr-r-r-r.

Predators also reach out with a stretched out open paw, claws extended, to attack. Guess what people automatically do? Reach up and out with extended fingers, to touch livestock on the head.

Prey animals are very sensitive to certain movements that humans make so we try to decrease their stress by encouraging visitors to do several things. Our goal is to make “socializing” positive for both sides, human and animal.


One, don’t look directly at the animal (with both eyes) until they have been introduced to you. When


looking directly at them (with both eyes) look away occasionally, to take the stress off them. I’ll turn my head slightly, so they can only see one eye.

I still do this with a “new mom” as she may be extra nervous with a newborn calf at her side.

Two, don’t reach up and out with an open hand, to touch the animal.  Put your hand out down low, with the back of your hand showing (fingers tucked away)… and let the animal reach out to you and sniff your hand.  THEN you can turn your hand over, and touch them. They can be incredibly sensitive & gentle with their muzzles.

Three, talk quietly, slowly, and in low tones. High pitched tones come from bobcats, etc!

Four, move slowly, and give them time to adjust to where you are moving to. ALWAYS let them know, quietly, if you are directly behind them to avoid spooking them. (They cannot see directly behind themselves.) FAST movements are perceived as a threat (predator after them).

Using these techniques works well.  The other interesting thing.. you don’t actually have to go directly up to the animal.  If you stand or sit still, they will come to you. They are incredibly curious and as long as they don’t perceive you as a threat… they will want to meet YOU.

Teasing Chocolate… being a bad boy!

Our Cocker Spaniel, Mick, loves to play with the new calf.  He thinks it’s HIS new playmate.  But mom has other ideas.  Because Mick has front eyes, moves quickly, and makes “attack” movements, she see’s him as a threat to her baby (despite knowing him since he was born!).

He’s making a nervous wreak out of our new mom. Poor Mick… he get’s put on a leash so that he will NOT tease Chocolate.  He’s only allowed to go out “under supervision”!

Newborn calf doing well!

Our area got hit with over 6 inches of rain!!! It quickly creates a river that runs between the house and the barn, and pools into a shallow lake in the pasture.  We’re quite lucky that the pasture area drains fairly quickly.  Despite it being winter this was a relatively warm storm.  No freezing temperatures.

Glad that our newborn calf had a few days of warm, dry weather before the start of the rains.  He handled the change in weather without a hitch.  Kicking up his heels and playing…. instead of curled up in a miserable lump as I fantasized.  It’s a pretty human characteristic, to super-impose our reactions onto animals.

Barns are mostly for people… for storing items like tools, hay, feed, etc. We don’t use the barn for our livestock. Overall, it’s not healthy for them.  Cows, horses, etc. prefer the outdoors and tend to choose a tree or windbreaks for their shelter.  Livestock closed up in a barn are at risk for respiratory problems… the build-up of manure and urine produces fumes that are irritating to their lungs. They have survived for tens of thousands of years… outside.

Well, except for our chickens who are closed up inside the barn at night, but only because it was a convenient place to put an enclosed cage to protect them from predators. Not that THEY needed the barn. It could be in a chicken tractor, outside. Now, our weather here in coastal california is rather mild.

We don’t have drifts of snow for livestock to dig through, looking for food and water.  Instead our chickens, turkeys and guinea hens roam freely, except at night, where we have closed down The Heritage Barn Chicken Buffet that a Red Fox, last year, helped himself to.

The calf did not miss a beat… he frolicked and played in the rain. His coat is thick and water-resistant, seemingly untouched by the steady rain.  We had three days, off and on, of rain.

halter, calf, train

Halter Training

Of course, then it came to the time to put a halter on the calf and get him used to being led around.  You can see from the picture how excited he was about this new adventure. He actually acclimated rather quickly and our intern was able to led him around the pasture.

Niki, our intern, also discovered the easiest time to put the halter ON.  When the calf was napping!

They are almost dead to the world.  You can do just about anything to them and they don’t wake up.  And mom has usually parked the calf, for his nap, and she’s gone off to eat so she’s not there to run interference in putting a halter on her baby.

We’ll try to lead him around a short while each day… and spend time with him, socializing.

Then he is let off the lead rope, races over to mom, and get’s a comforting drink of milk!

from The Heritage Farm…

Ruminations from The Heritage Farm… Something I do, as well as the cows on our farm, ruminate.

We started farming, with real live livestock, less than five years ago.  Turns out that cows are ruminate animals… they have four stomachs, each very specialized. They eat grass/forage and send it off to the first stomach where they have some handy little helpers known as “microbes” that begin to break down the cellulose in the food.  It’s just too tough for cows to digest by themselves.  Instead, they sit a spell… chewing their cud.

The first stomach, called the rumen, is a holding area where the microbes get started with their work.  Then, in a very “earthy” fashion, the cow coughs up a bit and chews it, over and over, until it is broken down enough to send it on to the other stomachs.  There the nutrients and energy are retrieved and utilized by the cow. It strikes me, in a strange fashion, that I also ruminate.

Often, I hear/read something that just doesn’t sit right.  I can’t take it at face value and send it on its way. It bugs the heck out of me.  Sits there like a big lump waiting to be dissected until the parts begin to make sense of the “whole”.   Instead I need to take some time and turn it over and over in my head until it begins to make sense, and make sense applied in the real world. I ruminate, break it down and work it over, until I can pull all the good stuff out of it and use it to make sense of the world unfolding around me.

chewing her cud

If you care to hear about some of the results of those “ruminations” check in occasionally,

or sign up for an email when something gets posted.  It might be interesting to share our thoughts,  as well!

It should be an interesting trip… and perhaps useful in a tangible way.

Rumination in action!

Before cows ruminate, they must first eat some food… hay, pasture, forage (leaves, stalks, etc).


Actually, cattle have one stomach with four compartments.

4 different compartments

Cow Stomach with 4 compartments

They are the rumenreticulumomasum, and abomasum, with the rumen being the largest compartment.The reticulum, the smallest compartment, is known as the “honeycomb”.

Cattle sometimes consume metal objects which are deposited in the reticulum and irritation from the metal objects causes hardware disease.

The omasum’s main function is to absorb water and nutrients from the digestible feed. The omasum is known as the “many plies”.

The abomasum is like the human stomach; this is why it is known as the “true stomach”.

Cattle are ruminants, meaning that they have a digestive system that allows use of otherwise indigestible foods by regurgitating and rechewing them as “cud”. The cud is then reswallowed and further digested by specialisedmicroorganisms in the rumen. These microbes are primarily responsible for decomposing cellulose and other carbohydrates into volatile fatty acids that cattle use as their primary metabolic fuel.

The microbes inside the rumen are also able to synthesize amino acids from non-protein nitrogenous sources, such as urea and ammonia. As these microbes reproduce in the rumen, older generations die and their carcasses continue on through the digestive tract. These carcasses are then partially digested by the cattle, allowing them to gain a high quality protein source.

These features allow cattle to thrive on grassesand other vegetation.

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