Country Living Series

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day snowstorm

For the last few days, we've had cold, clear, sunny weather.

When we took Mr. Darcy for his walks, he could chase sticks and romp around on bare, snow-free ground.

But all that was about to change, in a big way. We had weather moving in.

We're pretty much perpetually battened down this time of year, of course, though we did lay in a bit more firewood for the occasion.

The biggest advantage during snow dumps like this is -- we don't have to go anywhere. We just stay home. What a blessing.

It was fascinating, yesterday afternoon, to watch the clear blue sky gradually get blotted out by incoming clouds.

Below the high cirrus clouds, everything was thickening up on the horizon.

Even the sunset managed to look vaguely ominous, if picturesque.

When we woke up this morning, Valentine's Day, the world was transformed. Here are some before and after photos.







The new calves, Hickory and Ferdinand, don't mind the snow at all.

(It helps they have a nice cozy barn to curl up in.)

We're keeping a sharp eye on the other cows with regards to calving. I believe Polly is next -- it looks like she's starting to bag up -- and since we're expecting about a week of nasty, unsettled weather, I'll pull her into the barn at the first sign. At least with Jerseys, it's easy to predict imminent birth a few days in advance.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Yet another stupid idea from California

In the chaos over the weekend of losing Matilda -- and our heartfelt gratitude for all your words of condolence -- I clean forgot to post my WND column entitled "Yet another stupid idea from California."

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Birth and death

Just as we welcomed two new members of our herd in the last two weeks -- Hickory and Ferdinand -- I'm grieved to report we lost our beloved Matilda today.

We're clueless, absolutely clueless, what happened. This morning, as usual, she and Amy (her adult calf) were in the barn, lying down, chewing their cud. She seemed perfectly healthy. I went and opened the corral gate so the animals could get out. When I came back in the barn, Matilda was on her feet; so I scratched her on the forehead and said something foolish and cutesy to her, as I often do. Then I left to do the rest of the barn chores. That's the last time I saw her.

The weather today was chilly -- a low of 19F this morning -- but bright and sunny and beautiful. Then Don came into the house around noon. His nose was a bit red. "Matilda is dead," he said gently. I stared at him, stunned. "I'm not joking," he went on. "She's dead."

I threw on outdoor clothes and went to see. Sure enough, she was a few yards outside the corral, lying flat on the ground, unbreathing. Don thinks she might have had a heart attack. It didn't look like she had struggled much, but she was indisputably gone. Her unborn calf, of course, is gone too. I couldn't bear to take a photo.

A kind neighbor will be here in about an hour to dig a hole to bury her.

Last October, I put up a post on why Matilda was always my favorite cow. Let that be my tribute to her. It happened so quick, I simply cannot believe she's gone.

Birth and death. Life on a farm. Good-bye, dear Matilda. Thank you for so many fine years.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Dehorning Hickory

If there's one thing we prefer to do with our heifers, it's dehorn them. We've had cows with horns, and believe me, life is much easier without them. We usually don't bother dehorning the steers since they invariably have a date with the freezer when they're about two years old, and our philosophy is: Why waste a perfectly good dehorning on a steer?

But heifers become cows, and cows are generally with us for a long time, so we find it's best if they don't have horns with which they push others (including us) around.

We use dehorning paste. Another thing we learned (the hard way) is dehorning paste has a shelf life. Always look at the expiration date. We needed fresh paste this year, and at the feed store I noticed they had some paste expiring in 2018, and the rest in 2020. Guess which I picked up.

The first thing we needed to do was get Sparky and Hickory inside the barn, where we could separate out the calf into a smaller pen. In the absence of farm hands (i.e. our daughters), Don and I parked the vehicles to form a funnel toward the barn door. It worked.

Then we assembled our dehorning kit: Hair clippers, Vaseline, Popsicle sticks, dehorning paste, duct tape, and a light (it's quite dark in the pen). The hair clippers are to shave away the hair over the horn buds; the Vaseline is to draw a circle around the buds to corral the paste; the Popsicle stick is used to apply the paste and keep it off our hands; and the duct tape is to keep the paste from getting on the mother, either her tongue (from licking at the calf) or her udder (when the calf nurses).

There is a fairly small window of opportunity for using dehorning paste on calves. It's best used when the baby is between three and ten days old, and the little horn buds can be felt under the skin. One time we were going to dehorn a calf, but for the life of us we couldn't feel her horn buds; so rather than risk applying the paste and damaging her skull, we waited a few more days until the buds could be felt.

Here's the light we used to illuminate the pen where we worked. A friend gave us two of these lights. They're very bright -- 500 lumens -- and can be propped up or hung up. Very nice to have.

Both of us had our hands way too full to take photos of the actual dehorning procedure (if you're interested, we have an ebooklet on the process here), but it went fine even with Sparky bellowing at us nonstop right outside the pen. Distressed cows are LOUD.

As soon as Hickory's head was wrapped with duct tape, we released her to her mama, who instantly calmed down.

Many calves understandably fight the duct tape, but this little girl was very calm the whole time it was on.

We left Sparky and Hickory in the barn all day until late afternoon, at which point we separated the calf once more and clipped away the duct tape (this takes about 30 seconds). Then we released both mama and baby back outside.

What I like about dehorning paste is it's both aesthetic and painless (at least, if the calf's behavior is anything to go by). As soon as Hickory was released from the barn, she was galloping and skipping around in typical baby high spirits -- and we can look forward to a cow who will never develop horns.

Since we're keeping little Ferdinand as a bull, we'll also be dehorning him in the next few days as well.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Meet Ferdinand the Bull

Yesterday morning when I went to do morning chores, I saw Amy and Matilda standing in the corral with their ears pricked toward the woods. It didn't take a lot of deduction to discern what they heard. Victoria was having her calf. (Always pay attention to the body language of your livestock.)

I arrived literally seconds after the calf dropped to the ground.

It's hard to tell amidst the gooey mess, but that's a little scrotum. We have a bull calf.

As with little Hickory, this fella arrived in a window of very nice weather. Calm, not very cold (about 35F at the time), and some sunshine. We just got finished with a bout of rainy, windy weather, so I'm grateful Victoria held off until things were better.

I left her to deal with the baby. When I checked in half an hour later, she was just starting to pass the placenta.

And the calf was already nursing. Look how identical in color he is to his mama.

Don and I had decided in advance that if Victoria (a purebred Dexter) had a bull calf (which would also be purebred Dexter), we would keep him as a breeder. We've looked at the lineage of our animals and he can be bred to everyone but his mama, of course.

We checked in about an hour later, and Victoria had dropped the placenta and was starting to eat it (a revolting but instinctive practice).

We waited another 20 minutes but she was still trying to force it down her throat, so we decided to intervene. Don armed himself with a stout stick and watched my back as I picked up the calf and moved him out of the woods into the driveway. (At this time of year, the feedlot is too muddy for calves, so we're moving mamas and calves into the driveway, which is rocky and firm, plus they have access to the barn for food and shelter.)

Once out of the woods, Victoria and the baby immediately made themselves comfortable.

This morning the little guy is much firmer on his feet.

In fact, he's at the comical stage where he's steady enough to wobble and skip around, and Victoria -- mooing anxiously, udder swaying -- has to keep up with his gambols. It's quite funny to watch.

Meanwhile I'm noodling aronnd the name Ferdinand, after a favorite children's book "The Story of Ferdinand."

Monday, February 5, 2018

Buried in tankards

Don and I have had a frantically busy weekend. That's because we're getting ready to send out the bulk of a huge order from one of our wholesalers.

For the last few weeks, we've been doing nothing but concentrating on these babies. Most of the shop work falls on Don, and he's been wiped.

This weekend was the final push. We had to bake, test, card, inventory, wrap, and box.

I was going to have a friend and her dog over for tea (and a play date for the canines), but the house was trashed and we had too much to do. (Hopefully next weekend.)

Mr. Darcy is getting used to what a massive production run is like: namely, tiptoeing around stock.

We had 150 pieces or so going in this batch, with another 40 or so to follow next week.

Next stop: FedEx Ground.

We're unbelievably grateful for the order, but it's always a relief when a shipment this big heads out the door.