Looking at our two calves born weeks ago, you would think they were twins. They are both about the same size, Lily being born about 5 days before Tug (named by a student in Dave's class since the calf had to be pulled out of his mother, though I think Dave would argue it was much more work than a tug). Lily was easy; Dave just walked outside to take care of the animals one morning and ta-da, there was Lily in the field with mommy, born just about an hour before by the looks of her stumbling.
Tug, not so much. Dave walked in after taking care of the animals, proceeded to tell me we would have another calf this morning then left for work. My little one goes to his Nana's (one of his grandmothers) in the mornings on Wednesdays to visit while I sit at home watching soap operas and eating Bon-Bons and the maid cleans the house. WAIT! Sorry, I was daydreaming there...back to reality...we haven't had television since 2008, do they even make Bon-Bons anymore, and oh yeah, I'm the cleaning lady! So about 2 hours later of being told there's going to be a new addition on the farm I decided to go check on mama. I figured I was once a nervous mom going through everything for the first time, let's see how she was doing. Well, she was already in labor with two little white hooves sticking out. She wouldn't let me anywhere near her, so I used binoculars to check on the progress. I called the school to have the secretary announce to Dave's class that our heifer was having her calf, instead of pulling Dave out of the classroom to tell him privately, as I knew that would be a given to get the class all excited/riled up so that Dave had to work twice as hard to keep them on track with their work. Fellow teachers love to do that to each other occasionally. I think they talked a lot about cows that morning after the announcement (you are welcome dear)!
After 30 minutes and no progress with intense pushing on mama's part...uh-oh..."Houston we have a problem". This calf was not coming out on its own. Dave was notified and luckily his students had special with another teacher, so he got on his gear and went to work out in the field. This is what happened for about 1 hour before it was obvious we needed another plan...
For me that entailed taking pictures, making comments, and suggesting things to Dave that might or might not have worked, as I received no response back due to the fact that the heifer walked Dave around the whole 5 acres of field (though it might have been anywhere between 3 to 7 acres, I have no idea how big it is) refusing to let him near her. I, however, was not up for a stroll, so I stayed put and waited for further instructions. To make a long story short, we got all of the cows to the barn bribing them with corn, was able to finally move her into the headgate, get the baling twine around the calves hooves, and pull. Ta-da...hmm...nothing. It's now been at least 1 1/2 hours and Dave learns the calf's head is too big for mama and is what's stuck. At this point I'm thanking my lucky stars our little one didn't have a big head, or wasn't above average in size in general. I am also thankful to be the wife in this situation that has a husband who takes care of these jobs as his strength was tested tremendously trying to get this calf out. I am not ashamed to admit that I would not have been strong enough and I would have had to have called in reinforcements. About 5 minutes later, the head came through and the rest was a piece of cake. The baling twine used to pull the calf out left Dave with slices and burns on his forearms from having to wrap them around his arms to get a better hold.
Two week later, the pain forgotten (isn't that what they say about childbirth), and the two calves are inseparable. If one goes to nurse, the other follows and waits right next to it, until it is finished. They sleep together and are very independent of their mothers, which the mothers do not seem to mind. They are so fun to watch together and if they get separated, you'll hear them crying...for each other, not their mama. They aren't troublemakers or feisty much like Blackberry was, but Tug has learned to duck under the fence to take a shortcut instead of going around and through the gate. This causes a problem as Lily will not follow, and then separated by the fence, they cannot figure out how to get back together. Being Lowline Angus, it is still weird for me to see how small they are compared to the mammoths we have had born in the past. The Lowlines do keep that cuter, calf-look for much longer due to their smaller size.
" It ain't all PROFIT" That could be my grandfather's favorite quote. I hear it often. But how true it is of the entire Agricultural world. We are not here to get rich. It is a good thing. We lost half of our first set of broiler chicks this year to a power outage. While the power was not out long (we got home and immediately put the generator on) it was long enough to affect our birds. They became stressed and in the following weeks had heart problems and water retention causing death to over 30 birds. So much for getting a head start on things this year. We scrambled and managed to add to our next order, but now we are a little behind. It is amazing how 20 minutes can affect an entire set of birds. The strangest part of the whole situation was that with the 60 broilers we also had 100 layer chicks. They were in the same pen. We lost zero layers, but lots of broilers. These broiler chickens are a very fragile bird. They are bred to grow (and that they do) so quickly that they are prone to many problems. To be sure, I sent some birds away to a lab who identified the problem immediately. I was relieved to find out that there were no diseases in the birds. That was my biggest concern. The lab said they were chilled within the first week (which I had not told them about) and that caused the heart situations and "water bellies". Luckily we will be able to make up the missed birds later in the season, but it just goes to show how vulnerable everything is.
We have had our share of these moments (like the cows in the sweet corn last year) and I am sure we will see more. Every day is always a learning experience. As long as we come out of each experience with a new understanding that will help us to be successful, even bad situations can be great learning tools to help us grow.
The birds have been moved out to pasture in the mobile coop, they've been there for some time now, enjoying life on the range. As you might be able to see from the picture below, we have netting around the coop to try to keep them contained for a couple of days. Chickens will venture out as far as two football fields away from where they roost. Within two football fields of their mobile coop is our house and backyard, which has been their home for a while. The containment for a few days was a way to try to keep the chickens around the coop and out of our yard. While I enjoyed seeing them every day, having them peck at the door for some attention/food/etc., and playing "fetch" with them (yes, they loved to chase after dog toys), I didn't miss the grass around the foundation of our house dug up or fighting them off when the little one and I tried to have picnics.
We let the net down after a couple of days and had 4 return to the backyard in the afternoon. The next day we had about 15 return back to the house. Finally, after 4 days, Dave was returning more chickens to the mobile coop than those that stayed behind. (Below is a picture of some of our jail birds as they were making their way back to the coop.) Now, well over a week or two later, the birds are further from the house, but we still have one or two stubborn ladies that after a half-hour of being let out of the coop (we don't use the netting any more), they are back around the house. Let me tell you, that's a far distance for a chicken to travel, so you know those ladies are hustling to get back. Every night now, Dave makes the trip to the mobile coop to lock them in (and keep out predators) with two chickens in tow.
So I broke down for Easter and bought a dozen white eggs. It just pained me to see how much they cost for generic medium eggs in the big box store. Also, I knew they wouldn't taste as good (yes, I am very confident when it comes to the food we raise/grow). However, with Easter approaching, I wanted our son to dye some eggs and get the same enjoyment I did out of this yearly ritual. Because I refused to purchase more than one dozen, I took our lightest brown eggs, held them off to the side instead of selling them with the rest, and had them ready to be dyed as well. Two dozen eggs was not enough for my little one to dye, especially since daddy had just walked in with a new bucket full of eggs on dyeing day.
There weren't many light colored brown eggs in the bucket, so I washed the dark ones, boiled them, and figured he wouldn't care how they looked as long as he was dyeing them. I was quite skeptical that they would look as nice as the white eggs that were dyed earlier. Many people asked me if the brown eggs would dye and I honestly told them I didn't know, as up until this year when our layers started laying, I had never in all of my 30+ years had any experience with brown eggs. *Please note, the + does not stand for too many years after 30...*
The final result of our experiment, thanks to my little one exclaiming, "I have to color more eggs", is that I will never buy white eggs to dye again. (Well, maybe not ever again, it is a neat contrast to see the white dyed eggs compared to the brown dyed eggs). However, the brown eggs were dyed to such deep, vibrant, bold colors that I liked so much more than the pastel brighter colors of the white eggs (though we've always been partial to the deeper colors). I've attached a picture so you can see for yourself. The upper left section of eggs were the colors from the white eggs, the rest are the brown eggs (of varying degrees of brown). The differences in the variation of the brown egg color led to different variations of color which I loved. Not pictured are the 10 or so that were colored over and over again for about an hour after I refused to boil any more eggs (4+ dozen was enough) since the little guy wasn't finished with egg coloring project. They looked "interesting" after being placed in all of the different colors and were cracked beyond imagination from being handled so much, lets just say I don't think Crayola will be adding any of the colors from those eggs to their collection. But that's all part of the fun, including figuring out what to do with 4+ dozen hard boiled eggs!
Well, we have gone from 70 degrees on Friday to snow showers tonight. I was going to plant some cold tolerant sweet corn today, but I think I will hold off. With snow, there is no way it will have a chance. That will probably the end of Fourth of July corn for this year. We do not plant in plastic, so we have to hope for warm enough weather to sustain the corn. Maybe we can get it in this next week.
Our pastures are greening up. We were out of the barn earlier than usual this year, but I like that. The hay we harvest is great, but there is nothing like the cows harvesting fresh green grass. It is like us eating a frozen steak and a fresh one. Both taste great, but the fresh one has a little more to it.
We have the barn cleaned out and are in the process of spreading it on our corn fields. Natural fertilizers create more humus in the ground while adding nutrients to build up the soil. Chemical fertilizers just add nutrient value. Our animals leave us with some great fertilizers.
We have also been building some new pastures and installing water lines with them. That project was supposed to be done this weekend, however the rains did not help that. The plan is to have water all over the farm to hook into. With our system of grazing, this is pretty important. We need to be able rotate our animals to new grass frequently which will be pretty easy as we build paddocks and water systems.
On a side note, This past week we had the Farm Bureau Mobile Ag Lab at the school. It was fabulous. Each grade in K4-8 got lessons on Agriculture in our daily life. The educator (Mr. Burns of Burns Heritage Farms in Ridgeway) did a great job with the children. The lab has already been rescheduled for next year! It is so important that we continue to teach our youth about their food sources.
Last weekend I was going to move our layers into the mobile coop and put them with our herd of cattle. Then I saw the temperatures. I held off until this week and then I ran out of time. With 260 new chicks in the brooder and another 75 on the way this coming week, it was time. Thursday night I loaded all of our hens into the coop to spend the evening. Since they were roosting there, they should call it home easier. Friday morning I pulled the coop out to the pasture and put up some poultry netting to confine them until they get used to their new surroundings. Then I let them go. With much curiousity they crept down the ramp to investigate. They took to the new grass immediately. With the exception of the 15 escapees, they stayed out all day long. Yesterday evening I collected the 15 that "flew the coop" and came home to return them. They all roosted again last night. This morning I will move the coop to a new section of grass and put them back out. They need new grass as they munched their area right down. As soon as the fence is not needed, they will be free to roam.
I also put the cows on new grass as well. With the weather gaining momentum, they will begin their pasture tour. We move them frequently to new grass. They love it. They only problem is that once we start, they expect it. If I walk into the pasture, they want moved. The noisy chorus begins. Once moved, they go about 25 feet into the new grass and eat.
I installed a new fenceline into one of our fields to convert it to pasture. That is now done, I just need electricity to it and to add the waterline. We will put the hogs there for a bit, then I will plow it and turn it into a hog-finishing plot. We are going to plant many delectables and let the hogs finish themselves. Our feeders will be released in the field about October. They can eat all they want. When they harvest their own meals, I use no fuel and they are happier rooting.
We hope everyone has a great Easter and is enjoying this weather!
So this is a little off the topic of the farm and activities involved in farmlife...but it's a taste into our personal life and what makes us laugh everyday.
Dave and I can easily be described as a "boring couple" and truth be told, we have heard that many times. We are very content to work on the farm all day and spend our nights sitting by the pond (when it's warm), having a campfire, or just staying in the house. Socialites we are not. As many of our friends joke, if we leave the "hill" (the word they use to describe our property/farm) it is an outting for us. I did not realize exactly how "boring" we were (though I like to think of it as content) until we had a little one. This leads me to the picture on the Home page...there's a spatula in our fish tank. While running upstairs to get our little guy's socks I was listening to him "make music" with the spatula on various surfaces. I briefly heard his stool move along the floor then heard, "uh-oh mommy." While making a mad dash to the steps to hurry downstairs I asked what was wrong and he told me the spatula was in the water. I slowed my pace relieved that everything was okay and that the spatula must have fallen in the sink or in the dogs' water bowl. Both questions were answered with a "no." Now I'm confused, so I asked where it fell and got an honest answer when he told me the fish tank.
Or when he was a year and a half and feeding himself mashed potatoes. He would fill his fists with mashed potatoes, bring them up to his mouth and cough. When he coughed he flung his hands outward releasing the mashed potatoes, thus making it look like he was coughing mashed potatoes. I'm not sure where he learned that...certainly his mother or father doesn't do that...or does daddy when mommy's not around??
Each day with our little one brings us laughter (even sometimes the temper tantrums) and I wish I could video tape every moment so that one day when he's too old to snuggle after our bedtime story, when the silly mishaps like written above cease to happen, or when mommy's kisses don't heal boo-boos, I can relive those moments all over again. Then again I could look forward to reliving such happiness with grandchildren one day...when he's 30!
After looking at the weather reports, I decided to let the chickens stay home for another week. We will plan on the big move next Friday as the temperatures are beginning to rise again. Today we will begin building some needed fence to pasture our hogs. We will be building a finishing field. We are going to pasture our sows all summer where they will farrow. Once we have weaned the piglets, we will send them to the finishing field where they will be able to harvest their own corn, soybeans, and various other grains, as well as green clover and grasses. Before we plant it, we will put the sows on to till it. In the fall we will plant wheat or rye to serve as a cover and some spring pasture for our animals.