Monday, March 13, 2006

An evening in the life...

Stephen took the kids and our visiting company to Austin this afternoon, leaving me to enjoy a rare period of solitude. It was lovely... I read, I napped, I ate ice cream. :-)

Then I went out to do chores. The logistics of the chores this afternoon, for varying reasons, were so complicated, that I actually sat down and wrote out a plan before I started. Here's what ended up happening:

1) filled water bowl currently being shared by goats, dogs and chickens; fed laying hens
2) finished cleaning outside brooder from last batch of chicks so that the batch in our laundry room can finally move outside
3) pulled rubber glove out of goat's mouth
4) noticed red calf on lawn; looked for hole in fence; couldn't find one
5) put dogs in the house because they were scaring the red calf instead of helping me
6) got wheelbarrow (with chicken manure in it from cleaning brooder), took it through sheep pen, and into horse/cow pasture
7) herded cows away
8) put horses in corrals (so they wouldn't eat cattle feed)
9) climbed fence to sheep pen then back to lawn; put goats in trailer (so they wouldn't push into the workshop and eat out of the bins)
10) got cattle cubes (grain) and alfalfa from workshop (saw rat, mental note to tell Stephen)
11) gave goats in trailer alfalfa
12) enticed cattle up to where I wanted them with cubes, threw the grain over fence, saved some to lure red calf to gate, failed because she wanted to be with the other cattle, even if they were separated by a fence (because I was alone I couldn't herd AND open a gate, so I had to really finagle this)
13) got more cubes, tried at a different location, ALMOST got her in, but failed again.
14) got more cubes, tried putting the cubes on the other side of the sheep pen and herding the red calf into the sheep pen (had to open that gate, so now the sheep were on the lawn). Failed.
15) second attempt to get her into the sheep pen... I scared her so badly she revealed the hole in the fence (hooray!). She was through and back with her mom, and I quickly twisted the wire in a lame attempt at a makeshift fix (no time for anything else, to which the gorgeous sunset attested)
16) raced through sheep pen, closing gate so that the black calf wouldn't go out, climbed into horse pasture
17) dumped manure out of wheelbarrow
18) fed horses (I am moving like lightning now because the cattle are going to be done with that grain soon and they are loose in the same area as the horse corrals, and are soon to come begging for grain from the now open barn)
19) threw half a bale of hay into the wheelbarrow, along with the barn broom
20) closed up barn and got through the gate to the sheep pen just as cows started coming around the corner
21) pushed the wheelbarrow through the sheep pen to the yard
22) went back to the workshop, got a bucket of goat grain and a bucket of sheep grain
23) lured the sheep back to their pen, closed them in
24) set up feeders for the goats on the outside of the trailer, filled them and let the goats out.
25) got into the trailer with the barn broom, and cleaned out all the old hay
26) put fresh hay in trailer from the wheelbarrow
27) ran to house, made up 2 quarts of calf milk replacer in huge bottle
28) grabbed flashlight on the way out the door (sun is very set now)
29) went into the sheep pen, and lured black calf with bottle
30) she started sucking and I led her to the gate, then out onto the lawn and to the entrance to the trailer (her current night time shelter)
31) big challenge: she couldn't, or was afraid to, get up into the trailer. I am 5 1/2 months pregnant. I can't lift her. So I finagled it by lying the bottle down on the trailer floor and getting one leg at a time up and in, slowly sliding the bottle back into the trailer. The last leg was the hardest, but we did it.
32) closed trailer door, and went to the end of the trailer so I could brace the bottle against the wall (she is really rough, and I want to protect my own baby)
33) she finished, and really wanted more, but there was none, so she tried to nurse on various parts of me; no time for calf massage tonight (although I did some while she nursed)
34) out of the trailer, back through sheep pen, climbed over gate to horse corrals, bringing broom
35) let horses out
36) climbed back over and turned on water in sheep pen
37) back to yard; fished hose through fence and cleaned out the black calf's water bucket, slid it into the trailer and filled it up through the side of the trailer. I am happy that she has clean hay and fresh water tonight
38) turned off water in sheep pen; moon is full
39) went to shop to turn off light and close up; had to quickly dump some grain on the ground to distract the goats from racing in with me
40) with flashlight walked to check on 90+ broilers (meat chickens) in our newly made portable hoop-coop; all is well.
41) got mail
42) let dogs out and took last look for today's eggs
43) flashlight died, exchanged it for a working one when I put eggs in house
44) moved two roosting chickens off the back porch and into the chicken house; closed it up for the night
45) fed the dogs
46) checked on baby chicks in laundry room
47) washed my hands and ate the last chocolate chip cookie. :-) I think I earned that one.

I believe I climbed over the wooden fence from the sheep pen to the horse pasture at least four times. If you had told me when I was 20 that I when I was 36 years old I'd be pregnant, homeschooling my kids, managing horses, cattle, donkeys, goats, sheep, dogs, chickens, and climbing five foot fences, I probably would have laughed in your face.

What a long, strange (but magical) trip it's been!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Calf developments

This morning we awoke to The Princess crying from a nightmare. While Stephen was rocking her, the weather alert went off with a tornado warning for our county.

Things were still outside, no rain or wind even, so I just went back to sleep. At 5:30 we awoke to pouring rain and gusting winds. The calf! She was still in the round pen with no shelter.

Stephen and I got dressed, pulled on our boots and headed out. We were concerned about the Mama, who has been easing up a bit in her vigilance, but who is still worried about her baby. From the safety of the horse corral I shone the light all around. We could see the horses and donkey, but no cows (although it was pretty difficult to tell for sure since it was pitch black and raining... mostly we gauged by the height of the eyes shining back at us).

Stephen entered the round pen and ran the calf until he cornered her, while I shone the flashlight from the safety of a horse corral. He picked her up, I raced out of the corral and opened the round pen gate, and we stumbled through the mud and rain praying fervently that the mother wasn't about to kill us (where to shine the flashlight? Into the night to find a cow? On the ground to keep from falling?). We made it to the sheep pen, while the dogs brought way to much attention to us (and made us furious) by barking wildly. We made it through the last gate and let the calf go.

After we caught our breath (even a 1 week old calf is pretty heavy; my excuse was purely adrenaline related), Stephen caught her again, and put her into the cattle trailer so she could have a roof (we don't yet have a good place to hold her that is water tight). After checking to make sure the broilers weren't drowning in their coop, Stephen went back and dried the calf off with some towels.

After the sun came up, he took the kids to feed her for their first time. She is finally in a place that I feel is safe for them to approach her (they don't have to go through the mother). She did great! Farmer Boy did much of the feeding, and Stephen wants him to take on this responsibility now (don't tell: I'm a little jealous).

Later in the morning, I was standing in the kitchen cutting fruit, and I heard the mama cow mooing for her baby. I looked up, and through the window could see her standing forlornly at the now empty round pen. At the time we had a Henry Purcell CD on (our composer of the term), and there was the saddest song playing. Between my pregnancy hormones, the music, and the plaintive mooing of this mama whose baby was now not only out of reach, but out of sight, it was hard to keep my own tears in check. The sad music continued as she finally turned away and walked to the other side of the field to rejoin her "sister" cows.

This afternoon the calf was acting weird and listless, and Farmer Boy and I were worried. Stephen wasn't, though, and sure enough, she was fine in the evening. Guess she was just tired (although part of me wondered if she wasn't a bit depresssed as a result of being separated from her mother... maybe anthropomorphising here a bit). We had visitors from MI arrive with their two young boys, so they got to watch the evening feeding, done mostly by Farmer Boy.

The calf is unbelievably soft and silky, and really seems to thrive with a lot of physical affection. This makes sense... her mama licked her a lot. She is one week and 3 days old today. We're going to have to find a better place for her soon; the trailer really isn't a nice place to live.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Adventures in cattle raising

Last week our final cow gave birth to a calf... the first from our new bull! Here they are (at a distance, hence the blurriness) on the baby's first day:

Can you see how full the mother's udder is? Well, it stayed like that, and got worse. As much as we watched, we never saw the calf nursing. Instead she would suck on the mother's dewlap (chest/neck skin flap). The only other place we ever actually saw her sucking was the fold of skin beside the cow's thigh. After a few days we were concerned, but she was still alive and still able to walk around normally, so we figured she must be getting something.

However, as the days wore on, she seemed skinnier and weaker and we began to really worry, and finally, this morning, Stephen managed to separate out the calf from the rest of the herd, into the round pen.

Once again, we are dealing with far less than ideal facilities. The round pen is a) too big a pen for a calf, b) has no roof or shade, c) right in the middle of the field where the calf's mother is. The mother was NOT AMUSED. General wisdom is that it is usually more dangerous to get between a mother cow and her calf than to deal with a bull.

Stephen went out and bought calf milk replacer and BIG baby bottle. He had a rough time of it with her the first time. It took 20 minutes for her to even figure out what to do. The night feeding went a little better, only taking her about 5 minutes to figure it out. Here he is, succesfully feeding his girl:

Mama is having a rough time; she wants her baby! She hovers around the pen, and stays even when the other cows leave. Getting in and out of the pen is scary because in her distress (especially after she's watched the baby being tackled and fed) she wants to charge anything, just to get her frustration out. The dogs have taken the brunt of the chasing.