IMG_20140904_143708987Every now and again I have a bad day on the road. A couple of months ago my beautiful drive in the country turned ugly. I had three flat tires; one blow out, one flat, and a nail sticking out of the sidewall of the third tire. With the tires fixed I was back on the road. A few miles later the alternator failed. It wasn't a great day.

Last Saturday we hit a deer. Not a great day, either.

 

IMG_20141215_103711159 3Yesterday it was foggy with rain falling steadily. As I drove down the highway I saw a sign that read, “Next 2 miles...possible cattle on road”

My heart went out to the farmer. His cattle got out, It was very foggy and there's heavy traffic along this stretch of highway.

The next time I feel sorry for myself because I have a flat tire or a breakdown I'll remember that I've never had a day this bad. Even my worst day is better than a herd of cattle who've gone missing in the fog and worrying about the safety of both drivers and livestock on the road.

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Walking of the Bulls

Forget running with the bulls. A slow ambling stroll through the pasture, to reunite the bulls with the cow herd, is relaxing. They grazed their way through the valley, when they got closer they picked up the pace a little, but they were still moving slowly. There's no sense running the bulls, they have a job to do, they need to conserve their energy. The younger bull will service the heifers, the older one the cows. Given today's date calving should start around May 1, 2015.

Red Angus Bull Foresthillfarm.comBulls

Typically, the bulls get turned out with the cows on the 4th of July. For the bulls, it's celebration day.  This year we're thinking of holding them back for a couple extra weeks to make sure we calve when the grass is growing again. Last winter was too harsh. Spring came so late that some calves were born with snow covering the ground.   We'll have two angry bulls, but the cows will appreciate calving later in the spring when the grass is abundant.

Red Angus Bull Foresthillfarm.com
Noooooo!

 The younger bull will run with the heifers, the older one with the cows. Using this gestation table for cattle breeding we can schedule delivery with the forage cycle of our pasture.  If the bulls service date is July 4, then the calving date is April 12. Heifers sometimes deliver up to ten days early, cows up to ten days late. Our target date for 2015 is May 1. The bulls will have to wait until July 23, Sorry, bulls!

Our boys have been raised with certain expectations. They haven't always willingly followed the rules or program, we've laid out for them, but the consequences have been made clear. Sometimes there's a painful shock to them when they realize they're off track. At one time, one of our son's was cutting corners and not living up to his obligations. He was twelve at the time and earned money helping around the farm. He also had his own farm related side business and was earning a nice income from it. Despite clear guidelines he decided to slack off, thinking we wouldn't notice. We noticed. He was given one warning, didn't heed it, and was fired. Eventually he earned our trust and was re-hired and there hasn't been an issue since. Last week we were asked if we'd take a thirteen year old into our home for the summer to teach him responsibility. I'm not sure I know how to teach responsibility to a teenager. We didn't teach our boys, they learned by example. They've worked side by side with us for seventeen years and twenty years, respectively. They've been given responsibility. When they accomplished the small tasks they were given larger ones. The rewards started small and grew larger, as well. Truth be told, we never believed we were raising four year old boys, fourteen year old boys, or even eighteen year old boys, we were raising men. That was our goal, so that's  how we treated them; like men. Being given instruction, responsibility, and compensation they've gained independence. They're capable of helping friends and neighbors without any concern that they're unprepared for the job. They can earn their own money, set their own goals, and accomplish great things, not because we've taught them, but because we've worked with them. This particular thirteen year old is welcome at the farm. We're willing to work with him, too, but at some time he's going to go back home. If at home there isn't an expectation of responsibility, then the time spent here will have been for nothing. He just won't get it. He'll forever  be an adolescent with no direction and when he's out on his own he'll be in for a shock, a painful jolt of reality. He just won't get it.

“A brat is a child that acts like yours – but belongs to your neighbor.”

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The cows are trained to respect the electric fence. The sheep are respectful of it, too. Every now and again we raise a few bottle lambs who aren't loyal to the flock of sheep, instead they bond with the goats who are independent and refuse to follow the grazing plan we've laid out for them. They scoot over, under and through the fence, going wherever they want. They aren't protected by the herd, which makes them vulnerable to predators, so they're kept in a separate pasture and rotated on a more limited basis. The cows get it. The sheep get it. The goats don't, and they never will. I'm talking about our MIG grazing program.

Every now and again we'll have other farmer's cows here for breeding to our bulls. There's always a learning curve with the visiting cows, especially if they have calves at their side. These calves aren't trained to the electric fence and run through before they realize there's a consequence waiting for them; a painful shock. The guest cows follow the herd, learning to wait patiently at the electric fence's gate handle for one of us to move it aside so they can advance into the next paddock. They're moved daily, which makes learning the routine a quick process.

 

Every summer the same few cows return for breeding. As soon as they step out of the trailer they remember the grazing system and follow the herd. They don't challenge the system, they get it, they just get it.

Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?

DSCN1951Electric Revenge

The deep snow pack prevents the electric fence from delivering a shock, so it's turned off during the winter. A five-strand, high tensile wire fence contains the cattle, two of the wires are usually electrified. There's plenty of hay for them to eat, but at the first sight of exposed grass in the yard the temptation is so great that the adolescent steers sneak through the fence. Once they're through they run, jump, and act wild. In the few days since the snow has receded the steers have broken one young oak tree, a small apple tree that was planted last spring, trampled some lilacs, and rubbed on a cherry tree until it cracked. They like to scratch on young trees. The grass in the yard isn't any different than the grass in the field, but the freedom of sneaking through makes it taste more delicious.

The bottom strand, which is one of the hot wires, is clear of snow so the grounding rods are making good contact. The charger is twelve joules, which is strong. Only three of the steers come into the yard, the three oldest. They're excerpting their independence from the herd. Heifers don't test the fence, they're content. Today I got my electric revenge. I plugged in the fence charger and waited for the rogue steers. It wasn't a long wait. The first one hit the fence with his nose, jumped into the air, kicked up his back legs, and ran down the hillside. The second steer leaned through the high tensile, got zapped by both hot strands at once, let out a burst of protest and ran back to the herd. The third one stretched his head through the fence, felt the shock and rushed forward, breaking a few connectors. He ran through the yard where the dogs met him and chased him back through the gate. He tried again, this time he felt the full force. The shock made a loud, crackling, 'POP' as he touched the wires. One good zap is enough to re-train them for the season. Revenge is sweet, just ask Cookie.

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This morning there was a cow off by herself. She wasn't far from the herd, just distant enough to be on her own. She's been on the watch list. Every morning Keith checks the list of cows with their potential calving dates. This morning he said, "Number 105 should have her calf today." 

Our cattle are fed in the evening which means they'll calve during daylight hours.

From a distance we kept an eye on her. After she had her new calf they were moved into the barn where they'll stay for a few days. Then she'll move into a small pasture with the other cows and their calves. They'll have access to the shed, which is bedded down and dry. With luck the pastures will be ready for grazing by mid-April. It's been a long winter.

DSCN1838There was a warm up here last week. The thawing snow streamed down the lane exactly as it was designed to do, but made it into an icy raceway. It's covered in three-inches of thick ice which makes it hard to stay on your feet. Keith has ice cleats for his boots which leave tiny, little holes in the deck. They also leave tiny, little holes in the floor if you forget to take them off, but he doesn't forget. I don't have cleats because I always forget. So, I have two choices;

1) fall on my butt or 2) walk cautiously and scream “Get away from me!” when one of the dogs runs at me.

The dogs are curious when I'm walking soooo slowly. Today, in my frantic attempt not to fall I started flailing at the dogs and I knocked myself down. That's when, always practical Keith, came over to where I was lying and asked, “Why don't you go out the other door and walk through the snow so you don't have to cross the icy driveway?”
Looking up at him I realized he's much smarter than you could ever hope to be. The other door, huh, great idea.

Last fall I was worried about 049 and 005 slipping on ice because they're both fourteen now. They're both doing fine. They're following the sun. In the morning they stand facing east then move throughout the day soaking up the rays. The sheep aren't bothered by the cold. They haven't been shorn yet so their wool is thick and long. Because they'll begin lambing in mid-April they'll keep their fleeces until mid March. Hopefully it will be warmer by then.

 

Our friend Corky is a bird watcher, as is her sister, Storm. Storm lives in Texas and watches her bird feeder all winter long waiting for the Robins to return. When they do she calls Corky and gives her the news along with a report on the number of robins she's seen. Corky marks her calendar and waits. It's usually three weeks until the birds make it this far north. Sure enough, as soon as the robins get here so does a blast of severe weather. Folklore says that the robins will have snow on their tail three times before warm weather is here to stay. Here's where you can track the robins migration.

 There seems to be so much more winter than we need this year. -Kathleen Norris

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Yesterday was the first day in over a month with temperatures above freezing. It was the perfect day for a walk in the woods. The dogs enjoyed the sunshine, too. Especially Eva who's recovered from her accident last spring. I searched the timber for berries, fruit or any sign of first food for the robins. Some of the gooseberry bushes have a few shriveled fruit clinging to the branches, but for the most part the bluejays have picked the timber clean.

Soaking up the sunshine
Soaking up the sunshine

The cattle lined up in the sunshine, soaking the beams into their souls. Their contentment was as visible as the sun itself. The chickens ventured a little farther than the barn yard for the first time in weeks. They cackled and called out with joy. It's amazing how restorative a small temperature inclination, accompanied with bright sunshine, is. Everything seemed to sing yesterday.

 

 

 

 

signs of spring!
signs of spring!

 

On our walk back up the lane in an area where the snow was pushed back so the bare ground was exposed, a small patch of grass was greening in the afternoon sun. Only 28 days until spring.

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. -Henry David Thoreau

 

Life on a farm isn't all sunshine and roses. Sometimes it's tough, but not often, only occasionally. This week we had a heifer who laid on her calf and smothered it. Because she's a heifer with years of healthy calving ahead of her and concern that she'd get mastitis, limiting her milk production or udder health in the future, we decided grafting a calf  was a good option. A neighbor who dairies had a newborn bull calf the same age as the one we'd lost.  Keith cut the hide from the lost calf and tied it onto the new calf.  A cow initially identifies their calf by smell, maintaining the scent of the lost calf greatly aides in the grafting process. The heifer was haltered and tied until the bull calf nursed. This was repeated several times each day for several days. In about one week the heifer accepted the calf as her own and the hide was removed. 

Here are the steps to grafting a calf:

  • Find a calf close in age to the lost calf
  • Let the cow or heifer get a good scent of her calf before removing it from her
  • Skin the lost calf
  • Tie the hide to calf being grafted
  • Drizzle molasses onto the new calf to encourage the cow to lick it. The more you can encourage her to smell and touch the new calf the faster the grafting process.
  • Halter the cow/heifer or if necessary hobble her so she can't kick at the new calf
  • Encourage the calf to nurse safely
  • When the cow/heifer begins to accept the calf, allow at least 3 days, remove the hide
  • The new calf will be accepted, it's just a matter of time. Heifers are easier than a cow, but eventually even a cow will give in.
Grafting a calf
Grafting a calf

 

Are you looking to make a change in your diet?  Grass fed, organic beef might be the answer.

It's important to know where your beef is coming from. Did you know, 4 of the top 5 sellers of grass fed beef purchase cattle who have been fed distiller grains and soybean hulls? What else might these cattle have been fed? Many sellers of grass fed beef are buying, rather than raising cattle in order to keep up with demand. Is your beef coming from a farmer, or someone who procures their beef? It's time to go organic.   EatWild.com has a list of farmers who are committed to raising animals on a grass based diet. Be careful though, some farmers have a few steers on grass, but they buy the majority of what they sell. It's labeled with their farm's name and shipped to them for distribution; however, the steers never set foot on their farm.

Another reason to buy organic beef - Inputs. This story is just starting to unfold. Merck, the maker of Zilmax is trying to downplay the relation of their product with downer cattle. Conventional farms use additives including; hormones, antibiotics, larvicides (the list goes on), to promote weight gain and profits, not health. If you wouldn't sprinkle any of these products on your breakfast cereal why would you accept your farmer using them on their livestock's feed?

Just more food for thought.

Dinner
Dinner