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Posts Tagged ‘calves’

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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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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Julia Child rose, very fragrant and a prolific bloomer

May is already upon us, and the fertility of earth swells forth everywhere. Calico blankets of white clover, buttercup and hop clover soften field road edges, their honey-like fragrance enticing local pollinators. Spiky wands of milk thistle wave their pink poufs high above the grasses they punctuate. The heifers have been inseminated and the bulls bellow and whistle, claiming their respective herds. Spreaders trundled back and forth all through April, feeding the soil that feeds the grass that feeds the cows, and we’ve baled the first field of hay from this year’s growth. Nightshades and peppers grow strong in the hoop house, and corn planting has begun, with the planters now resting mid-field, awaiting the next rain.

when there's rain...

This has been a month of tragedies and triumphs. My first order of chicks got lost in the mail, arriving a few days too late and putting a damper on everyone’s expectations. The unceremonious roadside disposal of thirty-five dead chicks reminded me of the indifference of experience. I was raised to not spend much time grieving over animals; I wonder if I am too cold, too detached. It is what is, however, and arguing with reality wastes precious time and energy; so, onward. The hatchery sent me a replacement order the following week and while the survival rate was not stellar we now have two crested girls that we’ll keep for layers and twenty boys. (Apologies for their blurriness, they wouldn’t sit still for anything!)

"heavies" from McMurray Hatchery

In better news, Brad found one more calf in the field, at least two weeks old, born after the mamas and babies had been sorted into separate pastures for breeding. Thus we have one bull from this year’s birthings, a mother to identify and extra attention to pay in a few months when we’ll need to separate him from the others.

The calves nearest the house have a particular disregard for the electric fence, browsing the field roads and the yard many mornings:

just another pretty face

mmm, figs

in the clover (and perhaps the blackberry canes)

the grass is greener over here

My raised beds are built, filled, and planted; seeds sprout in flats, and we’ve begun preparing the field that will be the veggie patch. If all goes well (this is also the season of tractor repair as things break or malfunction periodically) Brad will put the sweet corn in the patch today, while I am once again headed for market this afternoon, with eggs, cornmeal, grits, and polenta. Happy Beltane!

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I went to the Chattanooga Main Street Market in Brad’s stead Wednesday, quite the refreshing change of pace for me. Market was slow, allowing me to get oriented at my own pace and relax a bit into the rare experience of only taking care of myself for a few hours. I talked about the slow food movement to the video camera of some local college kids that stopped by. When asked about my interest in buying local, my first response was, how much time do you have? So many reasons!

That was the last slow day of the week, perhaps of the season. The mamas and babies have been divided into groups and breeding has begun. The heifers require a different bull and so will be artificially inseminated this year (AI’ed, for short). Gingerly sidestepping the mine field of jokes to be found here, my mother-in-law wrote the astonishingly large check for the good genetic material from a very expensive bull which will be delivered next week. The puns are simply unavoidable…

Fine. I’ll give you one bad joke, told by my sister’s husband when they were visiting last year:

Heifer 1 to Heifer 2: “I got artificially inseminated last week.”

Heifer 2: “Really?”

Heifer 1: “Yeah, no bull.”

Ba dum dum.

In the field it’s still too wet to disk the veggie patch, but the intern, Max, is here and has been building raised beds for behind the house all day. (I am overwhelmed with the urgency of staying on task and providing Things To Do.) Brad borrowed a tiller from his brother to turn the grass under in four-by-eight rectangles, then we’ll fill the beds with purchased and hopefully seed-free soil, peat moss (for aeration), and compost. These beds will be home to a smattering of the veggies and herbs we’re growing this summer, with back-door convenience so when dinner rolls around we can step outside to pick things without having to make a half-mile round trip. The first tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds got planted in the hoop house last weekend, already numbering over a thousand, and now that Max is here we’ll be preparing flower and herb beds and starting even more seeds– zinnias, red rubin and Genovese basil, cosmos, lemon balm– in egg cartons here. Baby chicks for meat and eggs have shipped and will likely arrive tomorrow.

tomato seedlings

Max builds the first raised bed

In the meantime my big kids caught some virus this week and are running fevers and feeling pitiful, missing out on beautiful weather today. Echinacea, peppermint tea, and skullcap and wild lettuce tinctures for them today, waiting for tomorrow already…

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The day of balance has arrived. Now we enter the quarter of the year when daylight increasingly overpowers night, when soil warms and living things of all kinds emerge from winter’s cocoon to fulfill their biological destiny. With the unusually mild temperatures we’ve been having much of the earth is already well awake:

 

dandelions

 

darling little unknown blooming vigorously on the south side of the house, with some clover and wild strawberry

 

dogwood

 

We sorted mamas and babies today. As a family operation, this was the real deal: my mother-in-law, father-in-law, all three sons and Roger all had jobs to do, first the sorting then the driving. They sorted the mamas into pens by their tags, then the calves one by one according to which group their mamas were in. Lastly they loaded the calves onto trailers and moved them to new pasture, driving the mamas along behind them.

Carter driving the calves

 

moving the first group of mamas

 

"What are you looking at?"

 

mama train

 

snack break in the hay barn

All this took most of the day. I of course kept the kids out of the way and took pictures. By next week my seeds and chicks will arrive I’ll be starting everything from Anaheim peppers to zucchini and tending thirty-something new baby chicks. Happy Spring!

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A few days ago my father-in-law and Brad were discussing moving the mamas around to get ready for breeding, “since they’re obviously done,” then Brad went out and found a new calf. This boy was well overdue judging by his size, comparable to others two weeks his senior. I’m amazed the mama didn’t have any trouble with the birth. Then last night another mama which we suspected was still pregnant had hers, so we’re up to 92 live ones at this point. Iris and Finn went out with Granddaddy for the tagging (although they stayed in the truck for safety). Naturally a mid-morning bubble bath was required after getting a few pieces of hay on their wee feet.

The weather has been tumultuous all around here lately, with every rain a thunderstorm and frequent tornado watches and warnings. This farm offers impressive weather watching, with the house on a high place and surrounded by so much pasture and long views. We can see storms coming from all directions here: Rome to the west, Dalton to the north, Jasper to the east (although we send rather than receive them from that direction), Adairsville to the south. Thursday afternoon the storms built up fast all around. Lightning danced through towering cumulonimbus and thick nimbostratus across the southern horizon visible from our kitchen and dining room windows, across the west visible from the veranda. I counted seconds, gauged distance from the thunder’s measurable travel delay. It all stayed far enough from us and eventually released enough energy to wind down, but it got a bit disconcerting to watch for a while.

If anything we were rewarded today, though, with simply stunning (and calm) weather. I’ll chalk that up to the luck o’ the Irish– gorgeous and warm, a day when I don’t have to dissuade my daughter from her precious pink flip-flops. Cousin Maddie came over to play and I had to dig out the sunscreen for them to go out! Spring is upon us, my seed order has shipped and I am soon to be neck-deep in more work than a team of professional gardeners could get done each day. At least it’s good work, and work of my own choosing. Always grateful for that.

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We auctioned off our yearling steers this week. For $1.44 a pound, we loaded all but one of them onto a truck headed for South Carolina. The one that stayed was bloated and required a visit from the vet to intubate his first stomach to relieve the pressure. Most likely he snuck some of the grain used to get them to follow the truck up to the loading area and then ran too much after eating. The man who won the auction didn’t want the heifers so we got to keep all of them as well. This way at least we’ll get to grow one of those steers to full grassfed weight and see what that may mean for this herd, and we’ll breed the heifers. We weighed all the yearlings earlier in the week before the auction; true to the Angus breed, the smallest (Isabel, our bottle-fed calf from last year) was still 560 pounds. So far, these Angus yearlings appear to grow better than other breeds our family has raised.

Our bottle baby seems to be doing alright. He waits at the gate every morning, eager to suck down his morning bottle, but finding him in the evening has been hit or miss this week. Last year we kept our bottle baby up in the pen all the time, but this steer wasn’t acting too terribly hungry in the evenings, so Brad decided to let him stay in the pasture with the others. Quite surprisingly Brad has seen the calf getting to nurse, although it isn’t likely that he gets away with it often. Iris is loving the steer’s tameness and getting to pet him every day.

bottle ready

He trots right up to whomever comes near for nuzzles and scratches behind the ears, until he determines whether or not a bottle is being offered, then in the absence of one he scoots off for something more bovine to do.

feeding 287

We haven’t had any new calves in a while now, and we suspect the mamas may be done for this season. If so, we have ninety live ones, two better than last year from the same herd. Ninety-two mamas out of 101 have given birth (we strongly suspect that 287 is a twin, the most common explanation for abandonment). In another month it will be breeding season again, and we’ll keep turning the wheel…

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