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Posts Tagged ‘cows’

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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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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I knew this phrase as a child reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, but it was not until last year that I gained first-hand experience of its origins. Pa Ingalls wasn’t using diesel-driven tractors and rakes, certainly, but haying bears the same urgency it always has: get it up before the rain, or risk losing a portion of next winter’s feed.

front yard baled

This small pasture had already been knocked down last week, but the risk of rain was finally upon us yesterday, so brother-in-law Drew dragged the rake over it all to fluff it, then Brad finished up behind him with the baler. The kids went out to climb and play haybale tag only to be chased indoors after just a few minutes by the rainstorm that blew in.

running in

Brad and Max also managed to start setting out tomatoes in the veggie patch, following the rows created by planting the sweet corn. They didn’t get far before getting caught in the downpour, but it is at least a beginning.

tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, waiting on the porch

Max went to the patch this afternoon to check the plug trays left behind yesterday and found several cows; fence repair is now next on the agenda, before we set anything else out and absolutely before the corn starts coming up. With the fence wiring grounded out in several places the new calves are learning to come and go as they please instead of learning to avoid the fence like their mamas. They’ll be surprised (dare I say shocked?) after it’s all fixed and carrying the proper amount of current again. I’ll just have to hope it doesn’t take too long to sort it all out. You just never know what’s going to come up.

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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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