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Posts Tagged ‘daily chores’

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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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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A few days ago one of our mamas birthed our first set of twins this season, one boy and one girl. The heifer was the definite runt, but (perhaps because of handling the steer) the mama took to her girl and kept kicking her boy off. Brad has been watching them, trying to determine whether we’ve got one to bottle-feed or not. He penned the three of them up together on their second day and tried feeding the steer, fairly unsuccessfully.

the heifer gets to nurse

 

Brad and the steer

At the end of that day the mama was sniffing the steer and seemed to claim him as her own, and he certainly didn’t seem hungry for the bottle, so Brad turned them all back out to pasture so the mama would be less stressed. On the third day the steer was off by himself again so Brad decided to walk him in to the barn, until the mama charged him for taking her baby! So, out they all stayed, and Brad saw the steer getting to nurse too, so we know she has stopped kicking him off. He’ll keep checking them carefully for a while yet to make sure both calves are getting enough milk, then hopefully we’ll be letting nature take its course. We learned last year with our bottle-fed heifer Isabell (most likely an abandoned twin, as we never identified her mother) that the bottle-fed calves never come close to catching up with their naturally nursed mates. And while Angus is a meat breed, the supply-follows-demand biology of nursing should easily keep up with just two calves in a healthy mama like this one. Another lesson in watching and waiting, sitting on hands, resisting meddling and letting nature show us what to do.

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Another powerful thunderstorm last night brought four more calves this morning. With forty-one born now we’re getting close to the halfway mark. Lightning struck close enough to shock Roger at the field gate, sending blue arcs into the air, and the concomitant thunder shook the house hard enough to rattle a copper knickknack off the windowsill, sending it crashing onto dishes in the kitchen sink. All the low places are flooded again, and thick grey stratus blankets the sky horizon to horizon. January has always been one of the wettest months here, but the strength and fierceness of these storms is usually reserved for later in spring.

One calf, 235, appeared to be missing this morning. Carter (my father-in-law) found him on the wrong side of the fence. Back in the herd, all calves accounted for, each endured being followed around until Brad had seen that all were nursing. With mamas and babies all paired up he could come in from the rain and worry about something else.

January with its frequently inclement weather finds me staring at length out windows and thinking. This year I have new medicinal gardens to create, some raised beds to build for a few just-for-us crops that are too labor intensive to produce on a large scale, and then our market and CSA crops to plan. I grew up with a backyard garden but ensuring enough beans come in at once to fill perhaps four hundred boxes is completely different territory. Surveying our back yard, at least five 4 x 8 beds will fit easily just below the patio area, and can hold strawberries, annual herbs, and perhaps a few vining plants that need support. These will make good test plots, too, to reduce the investment risk on a few first-time varietals I’m curious about. I pore over catalogs, make lists and calculations. I struggle to cut enough from my wish list to be economically reasonable while still growing what we want to eat. I am not yet decided…

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After working four new calves this morning, it was time to move the herd. In hindsight it might have been better to move them before calving got underway, but the mamas were grazing well in the eastern pasture and that field was strongest so we waited. Now we need them in the front pasture where we have access to the barns in case we need to help one out or isolate a mama-baby pair. I looked out the kitchen window to see mamas and babies lumbering along in misting rain. One young steer shocked his nose on the fence and barked in surprise. As many as ten of the calves slipped through the wires of the electric fence and into the yard. The herding disintegrated then, with ten mamas calling for their babies, sniffing and shuffling, becoming ever more agitated. Even with four grown men chasing them all, the herd was too spread out. I pulled on my boots and minded the gap where most of the calves were jumping the fence. A couple of calves skittered far enough from the fence to investigate the house:

sniffing the porch column

two days old

Calf number 226 climbed the back steps to lay down on the stoop on top of the cat food bowl, disregarding my prodding and shoving, wide-eyed and foaming at the mouth. I stepped inside the back door to retrieve the dog leash, then sat with the calf for a few minutes, scratching him behind his ears and patting him. After pulling the cat dish from beneath him and shoving pretty firmly to no avail, I slipped the dog’s choke chain over his head and led him down the stairs off the stoop. Of course he panicked then, but I managed to pat him and calm him enough to get him to stand still while I slipped the chain off. He headed for the fence and I followed. We walked along it to the open gate and I followed him over toward the mamas, goading him with a stick here and there to keep him in the lane between the fences. He backtracked a bit when we got to an open space that confused him, then Roger took over for me and I went back in to tend my own offspring.

 
One mama remained behind through all this, with a fifth new calf born today, so in the afternoon they had to be moved too. This calf had to be handled a lot and got separated from his mama, so now we wait to see if they get that all sorted out. Sometimes if a calf doesn’t smell right the mama won’t recognize it, and may refuse to nurse. The possible upside to all this torrential rain tonight may be to wash the calves clean of any strange human smells. Again, we’ll know more tomorrow.

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