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Archive for the ‘cows’ Category

Spring has sprung, and farm life is busy. It has been busy for a while, really, with calving season now almost finished. It has been a good season, with only three losses so far and well over a hundred calves born. One mama who had twins last year– and nursed both– did it again! We are quite proud of that mama!

Two donkeys, mother and daughter, joined us in January for coyote control. We have them in with the mama cows, in pastures on opposite ends of the farm.

Cocoa, the mama donkey

Cocoa, the mama donkey

The mamas and babies don’t seem to notice the new guardians. They were very curious, however, about me in the farm truck:

Sniff, sniff... got any hay in there?

Sniff, sniff… got any hay in there?

Mamaaaa...

Mamaaaa…

Today I planted the hellebores I bought yesterday, and potted the lemon balm and rosemary so I can bring it inside until well past the last frost.

 

rosemary and lemon balm

rosemary and lemon balm

This afternoon was gorgeous, bright and cool, but this weekend promises more freezing temperatures and possible snow. Seriously? Snow?

spring sky

spring sky

apricot blossoms

apricot blossoms

our wild yard (mint family)

our wild yard (mint family)

 

sunset over the shed

sunset over the shed

Whatever the weather, happy spring!

 

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We welcome winter this morning after a night of blistering winds and a high for today of 44 degrees which has already passed. Outside the blindingly bright sun belies the frigid temperature as we begin our return toward longer days once again. As high cirrus clouds sail across an icy blue sky I find it hard to believe that today is this blog’s one year anniversary. Although life has had its twists and turns (as it always does), and I have not met my goal for the number of posts over the course of the year that I had hoped to achieve (as I never could), I did at least carry on. Sometimes that is the best we can do.

Last month we finally put Lumpy down, the mama with the swollen jaw who lost her calf last year. The swelling never responded to any treatments and had finally gotten so big that she could no longer eat. Still it was hard to accept; I suppose culls always are. You just can’t help wondering if you did everything you could. In better news, we bought two new bulls at the last sale to increase the genetic diversity of the herd. We have been feeding hay on a daily basis for some time now, the grass in the pastures dying off a little early from the dry fall it seemed. Winter wheat has been planted and now struggles to come up. All the mamas-to-be have been sorted into pastures near the house and barns for the upcoming birthing season. I hope to bring two donkeys onto the farm before birthing begins to help keep the coyotes at bay. Driving on nearby roads I see other herds with some new babies already, brown, white and black packages of bovine adorableness. Although I appreciate the black Angus breed for what it literally brings to the table, at times I wish we had a little more diversity in the field, if only for visual interest…

My middle child is pestering me for her garden gloves. Soon we’ll bundle up and head outside to set out a few pansies around the blueberry bushes. I am tempted to postpone this task because of the wind; our Christmas lights clattering wildly against our front windows scold and warn like crows taking flight. I know myself, however, and one postponement will lead to another and another. Eventually the pansies will not forgive me, and then I will not forgive myself for not just planting the stupid things. So, out into the ripping wind I go. It isn’t that many pansies.

pansies waiting

pansies waiting

Happy Solstice everyone!

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Rain and damp continue to keep us out of the last seventy-five acres of corn. Nearly forty trucks have come and gone, the fields studded with fractured and moldy stalks to show what grew before.

post harvest

 

The signs were right for weaning recently so we separated the most stressed mamas from their calves, across a fence from each other. This “fence line weaning” reduces stress on both mama and calf. I came home late to hear a great deal of complaining from those fields the day they were separated, but by the next evening all was nearly quiet. We’ve moved herds around and weaned another group while waiting for the corn to dry out again.

newly weaned calf

 

With drought damaging the grass over the summer, we started using hay a good bit earlier this year. The Bermuda patch is all baled up and ready for the shed.

bermuda bales

A cold front came through yesterday, making it finally feel like October. We loaded another truck this morning and hope to finish picking here soon, so the harvesters can go start picking on the family farm down the road. Then it’s fence repairs, picking beans, and waiting for calving to begin in a few months…

 

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Today saw 104 degrees. Stepping outside, the breeze that normally cools the porch felt instead like the rush of heat from an open oven. Crossing the yard, grass crunches underfoot like leaves in fall. Yield losses mount as we try not to watch the skies. Even the corn looks to be holding its breath, folding itself up against the oppressive heat and high pressure. A quick walk around the field roads left me drenched and exhausted.

the popcorn patch

The milk thistle shows its evolutionary wisdom: to survive, it must die.

milk thistle, fully dried down

 

Although the air was so hot it felt difficult to breathe, the drying clover along the field ditches smelled like honey, and even the browning grasses held their own special beauty.

We celebrated our daughter’s fifth birthday on Tybee Island, Georgia, earlier in the week. We returned home to discover the chicken pen project was complete! Notice the windows on the coop!

chicken fence and coop

The fence is secured along the ground, with trenches dug out and PVC pipe stabilizing the bottom edge so that our next batch of chicks will be just as safe as the larger birds. The compost is contained inside the fence so the birds will have access to it.

meat chickens

These boys are nearly grown; almost all the birds are contained now. Tonight Brad hopes to catch the three remaining rogues and put them in with the others.

I passed the heifers’ pasture at the end of my walk. Some had ventured out from the shade for a drink:

thirsty pregnant heifers

Brad and Max waited for the sun to go down before working in the veggie patch, staking tomatoes until they couldn’t see. Tomorrow we’ll all continue where we left off today, stopping when it gets too hot and waiting for the rain.

 

 

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Now it is summer!

Dinner on the longest day, all from right outside the door except the tomatoes (from a fellow farmer, ours aren’t quite ready yet) and the dressing ingredients:

summer solstice salad

Cherokee red and romaine lettuces, borage and nasturtium blossoms, and a bit of yellow tomato made this hands-down the most colorful salad I have ever eaten. I mixed up a simple honey yogurt dressing to balance the spicy nasturtiums and the slight bitterness of the lettuce. Vibrant!

We are in a hot-and-dry spell here, making hay and waiting for rain.

walking east toward the hay barn

stacking up for winter

Different patches of corn indicate planting dates by size. The popcorn patch went in last:

popcorn patch in front of the house

The sweet corn in the veggie patch is a bit older:

bicolor sweet corn in the veggie patch

The field corn, planted first, stretches skyward from the veggie patch to the Coosawattee River, obstructing the long views afforded by soybeans in the same fields last year. I wondered whether it may be literally as high as an elephant’s eye, but had no elephants on hand to test that hypothesis.

field corn, this much of it over my head, about two feet

hot, dry sky

around five months old

Corn isn’t the only thing growing in these fields– the calves are getting big, and most of the mamas are bred again. We have been waiting anxiously for the veggie patch to dry out before losing more tomato and pepper plants; now we wait for rain and enjoy the longest day.

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We were the first in the county to get our corn planted. When Brad told me this I asked, “Is it a race? Are we winning?” But perish the thought, as the grasses have grown so tall all around that our electric fences are nearly useless; the mamas and especially the babies have been going whither they will, and delighting in the fresh new growth of Zea mays. The drone of the weedeater clearing the fence lines has accompanied the birds for a week now, and we moved one of the breeding herds to different pasture away from the corn so they wouldn’t be so tempted.

Meanwhile, heavy rains hammered the farm three days in a row, and the veggie patch has yet to dry out. The tomatoes and peppers are suffering, cows have been in and out trampling transplants and eating tomato plants, and the whole patch looks to be a pitiful mess. And, lest there be any area untouched, we’ve lost even more of our chickens thanks in part to having no time to fence them in because of the cows running amok. Let no one tell you farmers aren’t gamblers. This gambler is discouraged and awaiting the locusts…

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Ferdinand, one of our three black Angus bulls, is almost five years old. For those who are cattle-familiar, I don’t need to tell you that he is a bit on the large side. When the vet visited last summer to check last year’s calves we weighed our bulls as well, out of curiosity. The other two were large at around a ton apiece, but Ferdinand here was over 2400 pounds. He got slightly stuck in the chute and there was a moment of wondering whether he would take it with him. And yes, he does love flowers.

Through the winter the three bulls were together in the large pasture behind the house. Each would wander off into a different corner, then when they would all find each other again they would repeat their process of determining who was in charge. More than once I watched the two “little” ones try to take on Ferdinand together, all their heads pushing together, their bodies in a Y formation. Ferdinand would surely and very steadily plod forward, pushing both bulls backwards until they gave up. I wish I had thought to film them.

Ferdinand’s sheer size made me nervous when we first moved here, but as I watched him ignoring absolutely every living thing passing by (including a coyote) I realized he could not be bothered by something so small as me, even when clattering past with my own noisy offspring in the double stroller. Earlier in the year, before his lady friends had joined him in his pasture, he would lumber up to the fenceline right behind the house and bellow at me. He was most definitely complaining, perhaps for lack of company, as he is now too busy to bother me anymore. He walks slowly, somewhat stiff-legged, perusing the fresh new growth for a snack or a meal. What a creature to build from grasses!

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