Country Living Series

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Calves popping out everywhere

Holy cow (no pun intended), we've got calves popping out all over.

Late Saturday night, around 10 pm, Victoria had her calf in the pasture. I tried to get a flash photo without much luck.


Sunday morning we went to fetch the calf to the barn. It's a boy, so we needed to have him close to castrate.


Out came Don with the faithful calf cage on the tractor.


The calf cage has made life much easier for us. Here's Victoria and her baby in the barn...


...which adjoins the corral...


...where Lucy and her baby are still residing until the baby is old enough to castrate.


This meant the two calves got to play. Very cute.


Meanwhile Matilda's calf, I'm pleased to report, found the faucet after only two days, relieving me of twice-a-day milking and bottle-feeding the calf.


We've kept Matilda in the driveway area until such time as we could castrate.


Then Monday morning, shortly after Younger Daughter came stumbling out of bed rubbing her eyes, she looked out the window and said casually, "Looks like another cow in labor." There's a country kid for ya.

Sure enough, Sparky was having her baby.


She was at the "two hoof" stage. Birth is usually within half an hour at this point.


No privacy for a cow. Everyone wandered over to offer moral support.



Finally, after a lot of pushing, straining, and groaning...


...she delivered the calf.



As well as all the amniotic fluid.


Immediately Sparky started licking the calf. Licking accomplishes three things: It cleans the calf, it stimulates circulation, and it familiarizes the mother with the calf's unique scent. (Trust me on this. With multiple calves gamboling through a field, I've seen a mother sniff one calf and move on to another it since it didn't smell like hers.)

Lots of curiosity about the newcomer.


It's a little heifer, a rich chestnut brown.


After fifteen minutes or so, her first shaky attempt to stand.


We gave Sparky and her baby a few hours to rest, then out came the calf cage once again. The heifer won't need castrating, of course, but we'll dehorn her.


Here's Sparky and the baby in the barn. The calf is a good strong nurser.



This makes six calves so far -- four bull calves and two heifers. We've steered the bull calves and dehorned one of the heifers (we'll have to wait about five days for Sparky's calf).

You'll notice, however, with the exception of Pixie (Polly's calf) I haven't given any names to the calves. That's because I thought I'd run a calf-naming competition among all of you, dear readers. We're waiting on one, possibly two mores calves, and when the full cadre has arrived, I'll post pictures and genders and invite reader participation.

We've had so many calves popping out that frankly we're dry on names; but it will be fun to hear all of your clever suggestions.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

On this Memorial Day, I'd like to draw your attention to a set of remarkable photos taken a few years ago by a reader (Katie) and her husband, who were formerly stationed in Germany. Katie learned that Don's uncle, Donald Sowers, who was killed in World War II, was buried in Ardennes American Cemetery in Liege, Belgium. She and her family visited the cemetery and sent these photos.


Later a reader named Kathy left a comment on that blog post which I like to share:

I searched for 2 years to find my mother's first husband Harold Norris, killed 4/4/44 @ 2:04 PM over Romania. I received a photo of his grave from Belgium and walked over to my mother's home and said, "Mom where is Harold buried?" She said, "New Jersey". I said, "Mom, sit down, we need to talk."

Her mouth dropped open when she learned that her first husband was buried in Belgium! He has been there for (then) 65 years. All I started with was his purple heart, his name and service number. It has lead me down a path filled with new compassionate friends and a new understanding of the word sacrifice. Harold was an airman, navigator and top turret gunner. His plane the Miasis Dragon was shot down after delivering a fatal blow to an oil refinery in Bucharest Romania. The plane was hit at the waist by a land-to-air missile. The plane nose dipped, the pilot pulled it up, then it went nose-over-tail to the earth in a fireball. 4 crew were "carbonized" and were buried together in one grave by Romanian Monks. Later, in 1949, with dental records my mother provided, the US was able to locate his remains from the others and he was buried for the 9th and final time in Ardennes. The other 3 airmen are still together buried in the US.

One of the beautiful things I noticed was that each man's life is symbolized with a marble cross. They all worked and sacrificed as a group and from above, all of their individual crosses make up a larger cross. This collective larger cross can only be seen by people in airplanes and God. 3/5ths of the graves hold the remains from airmen who lost their lives....it is to those who fly that the larger cross is visible...a beautiful way to honor them.

The other thing I learned in 2010: the people of Belgium, France and other countries meet and honor our heroes. At Ardennes in 2010, there was approximately 100,000 people present, not many were from the USA. It seems that in life, we considered these men to belong to us, but in their death, the European people consider that these men belong to them, whom they thank and honor every year. Most graves have been adopted. Harold's grave was adopted many years ago and now the lady who adopted his grave is teaching her young grand daughter to care for it. She obviously does not want her grand daughter to forget the gratitude she has for the men who lost their lives saving hers.

I wrote to a man who was age 7 when the bombs were falling on to his town. He was scared and saw more than a 7 year old should see. He remembers the American forces and he remembers liberation. For those who know what happened, who saw the cruelty and oppression, who had no hope, our US Military saved them, their children and their grand children. The maximum gift was given, freedom was restored at a great price, those receiving the gift are grateful....and other airmen and God can see their collective cross, a memorial for their sacrifice, from the air. This has put many things in perspective for me...I hope it will for you too. --Kathy

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A mighty "thank you" to our past and present veterans, whose sacrifices too many of us are willing to overlook, dismiss, or forget.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Straining honey and buzzing bees

When we got our hives set up a couple weeks ago, we were tasked with gleaning the honey from last year's bees.

Our beekeeping mentor, Mike, has an extractor and said he would be happy to do it for us for a modest fee. All we had to do was bring him the frames.


To do this, I took a plastic tub that used to contain potting soil...


...and gave it a good scrub.


The frames fit neatly inside.


Most of them, that is.


Fascinating stuff, honeycomb.


The total weight of the frames, comb, honey, and crate came to 53 lbs.


We brought the crate to Mike when we picked up our bees. A week later, he called to say the extracted honey was ready.

I don't know what I expected, but it sure wasn't this mess:


It was a glutinous mix of honey and wax, and frankly looked revolting. Ewwww.


It needed to be filtered. Duh.

After consulting some YouTube videos, we set up a crude initial filtering system with double colanders.


This got us, almost literally, nowhere over the next 24 hours.


Clearly we were doing something wrong. A bit more online consultation, and we realized we needed to heat the honey. Again I say, duh. (Can you tell we're new at this?)

So I set up two large pots, nested, to make a double boiler, and gently heated the honey. I was careful not to get it too hot since I didn't want the wax to melt. I just needed the honey to soften.


All the difference in the world. I did an initial crude straining through a mesh colander.


It filtered through very readily and took mere minutes.


Then I put the rough-filtered honey back in the pot to warm...


...and set up a finer filter using cloth.


Once again, it took mere minutes to go through the entire batch of honey in this manner.


I made sure to capture every drop!


Then came the fun task of decanting the filtered honey into quart jars, which would allow us to more accurately measure how much we got.


It's just so durned pretty, isn't it?


Final tally: two gallons.


Afterward, I took the messy bucket and rough colander...


...and set it next to the hive for the bees to clean up.


However we had a spate of cold, windy, nasty, rainy weather, and they never got around to it. In fact, there was so little activity around the hives that we wondered if the bees were okay. After several days, we smoked and opened the hives to top off the feeders, and saw the bees were fine, just sluggish with the cold.

The ugly weather took several days to run its course. On the afternoon of the first warmer day, Don came into the house and said, "There are bees all over the rose bush." I grabbed the camera and hurried to see. Sure enough, the large wild rose bush growing next to the chicken coop was thick with bees. What a glorious sight!