After the last 2 weeks of dreary, cold weather I was beginning to wonder about our summer. But slowly the signs are beginning to appear. The first, STRAWBERRIES! We went to Windy Hill Strawberry Farm between Titusville and Spartansburg and picked up 20 quarts of strawberries to freeze. While strawberries are on our list of additions to our farm, we do not have any yet. Windy Hill is an Amish farm that does a great job with their berry plants. They have tons of great looking berries for $3.50/quart! I would suggest that anyone wanting berries pay them a visit. If you need directions, let us know. They said they would have berries for at least another 2-3 weeks.
The second, clear and warm weather showed up. On the way back from the mill picking up feed on Monday I saw it. Even though it was cloudy and going to rain Monday evening, half of the fields on the trip were cut for hay. I did not cut on Monday as our mower was out of service, but Tuesday we did. We baled our first 600 bales yesterday and have another 800 on the ground to get today. We will then take a break until later next week when the threat of rain is gone.
I think that hay is the one thing that mother nature is in full control of. We depend on her for so much, but technology has come so far to help out when we need it. We have greenhouses to extend growing seasons, tractors to make the work easier, and driers to make the grains keep. But not with hay. There is nothing to dry hay, except mother nature. We need warm/hot sunny days to get it dry. What if it is not dry enough? Well, there are a couple consequences.....the hay could go dusty and mold in the barn or it could spontaneously combust and burn your barn down. So, without these dry hot days, you are out of luck when making hay. We load all of our hay on wagons (I stack the bales as we go) and then leave the wagons overnight to unload the next morning. We have 4 wagons right now, and will be adding a new one to the fleet this weekend. This allows us to get lots of hay harvested with just 2 people. Then we unload later. Some people have kicker balers that shoot the bales into the wagons which allows one person to bale, but you get about 50% less hay on a wagon. So you need to be unloading as you go. I also like to see the stacked wagons lined up in a row after we are done.
First I want to say, Happy Father's Day my wonderful husband and father of our two beautiful boys! Now onto the post...
Well, my mom lovingly took the boys for another "spoiling" visit in which my little boys are reminded why Grammy is so much better than Mommy or Daddy. I am not complaining as this comes in handy sometimes. When I want to clean my house for a couple of hours without being interrupted often, I suggest that the boys have a visit with one of their favorite people. Who do you think they want to see? GRAMMY. And who can't say no to my 4-year-old as he lays it on thick on where he wants to go? GRAMMY. So as you can see, it has its perks.
As a result of my boys being gone for the morning, I had the opportunity to get back into the farm work by helping Dave. As I was shoveling feed corn into 100 pound bags (which I leave for Dave to carry), I thought about how much I missed this. With our just recently turned 1-year-old, his attention span allows me to pick up the shovel before he's ready to move onto something else. So repetitious farm work, unless he's eating, is minimal for me. So, the corn is bagged and waiting in the manger for the cows. The cows spot the bags and begin their endless mooing, which is their polite way of saying, "Let me in to eat, or else!" Upon the cows entering the barn, you hear a bunch of loud racket which sounds like 10 people taking hammers to our feed panels. I turn to see all of our little calves walking through the feed panels into the manger to get the first dibs on the corn. Fortunately for them, they are still small enough to fit through the panels and they have not forgotten this. A couple have grown too big, but still try to anyway before giving up.
Now onto the fun part. Dave is going to round up the cattle and get them through the chute to pregnancy check. Now when we do this, we make it a point to get EVERY cow, calf, steer, heifer, etc. through the chute because we want them to become familiar with it and not be scared of the process. If they for some reason need medical attention or we need to breed them, then this is less stress on the animal, and well, frankly, me. I do. however, have the most stressful job in this whole process. You would think Dave does, maneuvering around 40 cattle, the new calves skittish because of the unfamiliarity of what is going on and the possibility of briefly being separated from momma. Mind you, momma is eating corn dropped in the manger and could care less about what is going on as long as the baby does not give out a bellow. But no, Dave DOESN'T.
My job is the "Chute Manager," and yes, I just assigned myself that position just a second ago, but it does have a nice ring to it. I am in charge of closing the chute around the neck of the animal so that they can't go forward or backward because their head and shoulders are just too big. This is highly stressful because if I am too early closing it, they panic and back up quickly, attempting to run over anyone in their path. This is generally Dave...sorry honey! If I am too late, they run through the chute into an outside pen, and I inevitably end up getting "THE LOOK" from Dave. **As I write this, I am reading it aloud to Dave...he questions what look I am talking about...while giving me "THE LOOK."** But don't feel sorry for me, I can give "THE LOOK" as well as I can get it.
After I close the chute around their neck (they can still move forward and backward), I then have to pull down another lever which tightens around their stomach. This helps them to stay in one place so they don't fall in the chute or hurt themselves or Dave who has to walk up behind them to draw the blood. So now they are secured and I turn into "mommy-mode." I see they just want out to eat more corn before some of the bigger beasts take more of their share, so it's my job to rub their head and tell them how pretty they are, and I explain what is going to happen. Usually the response I get is a burp and some gurgling as they chew their cud. Then onto my next job (the Chute Manager has many different roles)...I have to hold the tail. To draw blood, you take the blood from under the tail at the base. This job may be worse than rock picking. Let me give you some background knowledge...
Please note **If you are squeamish reading about number one and number two (bodily functions of cows), do not finish reading the post.**
Cows know what is going to happen. We may think they are dumb, but really they are quite cunning when it comes to these situations. They have this knack to read our minds the night before so they know they are going to be pregnancy checked. The older ones tell the younger ones what is going to happen. I did not know this...remember, it's my first time. So the cows in a form of retaliation "hold it." They eat and drink all night and all day and then hold it until they get into the chute. Upon entering and being locked in the chute, they decide to go to the bathroom...number one AND TWO. They of course do not lift up their tail like they would in the pasture or even in the barn. This is where they prove their sly demeanor. Therefore, all of their waste goes on the tail...the tail I HAVE TO HOLD. Also, it splashes in the metal chute, so not only am I holding a manure covered tail saturated with what I wish was water, but now it splashes under the crack at the bottom of the chute, spraying my legs. Even with two little boys, I have never had so much pee and poop on me as I had after pregnancy checking those cows. Needless to say, I was beyond disgusting. A hazmat crew probably would have refused to go near me. Dave was no better, and at least I didn't need to draw the blood. I did forget to open the one gate to allow the cow into the pen (to go outside). Thankfully this was the last cow and I let Dave figure out how to get the gate she was pushing on open (the gate I was supposed to have opened) as she was trapped in a 8x6 foot area...I figured this was not one of the job responsibilities of the Chute Manager.
Today we had a very busy day (finally outside without rain). First we moved our 250 laying hens to new grass and let them out to roam in the fresh air. Then we moved our next batch of 70 broilers to new grass under the chicken tractor. After that we fed the hogs and checked on our expecting mother. She is busy building her nest and we should have piglets by tomorrow afternoon. That was before breakfast. Then we fed the chicks (70 broilers and 215 laying hens) that are in the coop. After that we had to run our cattle through the chute to pregnancy check them. We are going to be breeding our open (not bred) cows in August so we need to know who is in calf and who is not. In order to check for pregnancy we draw blood from the cows tail and send it to a lab. They check for a pregnancy protein and then report back to us. I am hoping that all the cows we checked (12 to be exact) are open as we breed artificially and if they are bred, I did not do it, so we must have been a little too late removing the little bulls from the herd (if you get my point). Anyway, as long as we had everyone in the barn we ran the rest of the bred cows and steers through the gate just to get a good look at them. That was a 2 hour ordeal, then we washed 20 dozen eggs to pack for sale at Polly's Market. After Lunch we moved the cows to new grass (a new pasture on the other side of the barn). They seem to be very happy now. After a homegrown dinner of hamburgers and salad, I mowed the grass while it was actually dry. At dusk David and I went out to shut the chickens in for the evening. Now here I sit thinking on the day and what we will get into tomorrow.
On Saturday we processed our first batch of broiler chickens. They went very well and we made record time. We were cleaning up in 1 hour and 15 minutes. That is about 50 birds processed an hour. For our operation, that is good time. All but six birds sold. We have only about 40 birds remaining to sell on the year. This was also the first use of our new processing building. We had everything set up and moving along smoothly. The new system has certainly added to our processing. Inside the building we will be washing our eggs and veggies to prepare for sale. We will also be selling our USDA pork and beef (hamburger, bacon, and sausage) from the front of the building. It will be our farm market. The back is our butcher shop where we will be custom processing our own beef this year. We are very excited to have this building in operation. It is a great addition to our on farm processing plan. Pictures to be added soon!