Category Archives: farm safety

Weaning and Training

Well, life sure has kept me busy lately. I think I’ve eaten more breakfast for dinner lately than I ever thought possible. I have been super busy trying to keep up with my son’s wrestling tournaments, photography work, a new writing job, the farm and filling in for another farm while the owners went on vacation. It’s been a rough few weeks to say the least.

Now as we sit, discussing upcoming changes and events, there is so much to get done for 2014 on our farm. My head seems to swirl in a hundred different directions at just the thought of it all. Dividing animals, separating bulls from cows and last years calves from their momma’s, is next up in line. I’ve had a few people asking me lately what we do, how and why. So I guess it’s time to discuss it. First off, our beef breed (Irish Dexter) are really good mothers. We like to leave the calves with their mom’s as long as possible. It helps the calves continue to grow good and gives them the availability of having fresh warm milk from their mother through the cold of winter. Normally, we start pulling calves away from their mothers just about the time spring comes in March. This year, spring hasn’t even showed any signs of arriving anytime soon, unfortunately. That being said, we are still going to need to take the calves out of the paddocks. They will be shifted to the calf pens.

I know this sounds cruel but it isn’t. Once calves hit a certain age, they really don’t need the milk anymore and the majority of their diets come from the hay or pasture grasses. A good cow will reproduce every year but in between each calving, she needs time to rest and gain a little peaceful time. This helps her build her body stores back up and gets her in shape to provide for the next calf. This is very, very important to give cows this rest cycle or as I like to call a vacation from kids 😉

The calves are typically between eight and ten months old when we wean them from their mothers. This is when they hit what I like to call the adolescent stage of their lives. Any parent knows that teenagers can drive a mother insane. It’s no different for cows. Half the time, the calves are about 50-75% the size of their mothers and way too big to continue nursing. We have only ever had one calf that didn’t need to be “removed” from the pen with her mother. She weaned herself, amazingly enough.

Here we sit, right now, on the verge of separating animals. We have paddocks set up for housing just the calves and we do what is called “fence line weaning”. The divider between the mother and calf is a 5 strand high tensile electrified fence. It is rather noisy but is the least stressful way to separate them. They can still see their momma’s and talk back and forth. They still have the chance to get licks through the gate too. Most people outside farming don’t understand the bond between a cow and a calf. It’s an important one. The cow teaches the calf how to graze, what to eat and how to act. Sometimes, this results in animals passing on habits we really don’t want but that’s how it is until they are separated.

After a couple of days, the bleating starts to calm down and everyone transitions into the quiet they are used too. Once the beef calves are inside the calf pen, we start working with them to break some of the bad habits their mothers have instilled in them. The original dexter cows are the only ones who really have this issue and that’s really only two of them. Each year, we have one calf that is a little more “friendly” than the others. Not always from the same momma either. When we start working with them, it’s basically to get them used to having someone human upfront and in their face on a more regular basis. This happens because the barn they go into is a much smaller area and they are forced into the area each end of the day. It takes weeks before they stop running from one end to the other. As time progresses, we shrink the area they are allowed to move around. We sit with a hand out, allowing them to smell us or lick our fingers. Once they settle down and stop running in fear, then we attempt to get a halter on them. Sometimes this takes several weeks or even months. Once they are haltered, they get a collar. The collar makes it easier for us to reach out and grab them. The halter training continues until they are used to it…most of the time. Some never become accustomed to it.

Why halter train? There are a great many reasons to halter train a calf. One is that it’s easy to move them from one location to another without the exhibition of a typical “cattle flight mode”. Other reasons include being able to move them for vet visits, physical exams, potential pregnancy checks, and even transportation. Halter trained animals are much easier to handle. It’s builds their trust in you and teaches them that YOU are the boss. Halter training isn’t typically something that happens overnight either. Some do pick it up quicker than others but typically I would say it takes roughly 15-20 minutes daily for about two weeks before they really start grasping the whole concept of not pulling, tugging or attempting to run. The beef breeds seem to be a little more pig headed and stubborn than the dairy breeds too which doesn’t help. Some of the calves have picked up halter walking within the first two attempts. Others, well…let’s just say that when they see the rope come out that flight response goes into overdrive.

Both the fence line weaning and the halter training can be very dangerous. You can get run over by a calf that is running the fence line. You can get angry mothers who get rather nasty when you take their calf. You find out where every crack in your fence line is too. Halter training an animal that weighs in somewhere around 400-500 lbs and you weigh in less than 200 can be a trip too. I’ve seen one of these calves drag a full grown man like a rag doll on the first attempt. Staying calm but understanding the reactions of the animal are crucial. It isn’t recommended for the weak of heart. You have to be calm but just as stubborn and pigheaded as they are. You also have to understand that not every animal will be successful every single time.

As we go through this process, I will attempt to take some videos. I will forewarn you, it is rather difficult to get video when you only have two working hands operating the farm. I am going to see if I can enlist the help of a teenager who is showing some extreme interest in farming, even if only to video record. It would be a great learning experience for him and would benefit me with a video.

Until then, I need to start preparing for our first calf heifers to start having calves the end of the month. We keep praying that the weather will break and we will start getting some warmer weather by then. I’d hate to have calves come in this bitter cold. It’s below zero right now. I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen if it’s that cold when the calves come. I don’t think Mr. Farmer will like it much if I bring three calves in the house to keep them dry and warm. So, now I’m off to plan the “just in case” to ensure the calves get off to a good start, no matter what the weather.

I’ll update when I can. Sorry about no new recipes lately…. unless you want to know how to make toast, sunny side up eggs or oatmeal, I’ve got nothing new and exciting to share.

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Classes

It’s hard to believe but I have started taking classes as part of the 2013-2014 Holistic Management Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program for women in the Northeast. I wish you could all understand that this is an honor for me to be accepted into the program and become part of such a great group of women from all over the world, not just the Northeast.

I wouldn’t have even filled the application if not for a couple ladies encouraging me to do so. I know that many people have different opinions on what is the right way and wrong way to live life, run a farm or business but I have my own ways. Since 2006, I have been forced to continue looking forward and at the bigger picture. The Holistic Management training will help me do all that with new key insights and with better tactics.

Life has been floundering. Two different people involved in farming with two different aspects. One who has been around farming and ran a day to day operation in the past and another who may have grown up on a small dairy but has no clue about grasses, soils, fertilization, etc. I’m the second. One area that I handle is the cattle and small animals around the farm. I work with them to be friendly, halter trained and care for them. Sometimes, I have felt disconnected from tasks that I just don’t understand. My opinion is kicked to the curb because I just don’t know what I need to know to make a viable choice. These classes will not only give me a crash course in some of these steps but will also help us plan better for open communication and planning.

I have been reading and studying Allan Savory’s book titled Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making since January of this year. We have been actively putting these management practices to use since 2012. We just didn’t know it until a copy of the book was borrowed from the library. I think I have been using the same concept of planning and life choices actively since 2009 on a regular basis. Was it done right or with an intention of doing so? Nope, it wasn’t. Could/can it be refined to use and help eliminate planning issues, work issues and more? You bet it can! That’s why I’m taking these classes.

In section One, the topic was how to enhance success, meeting challenges effectively, addressing environmental issues and how all this works together inside your “toolbox” of management. The key is knowing who’s involved, what you are managing (an inventory of what you already have) and then knowing what quality of life you want and what you need to have or do to get there. The key is to PLAN-IMPLEMENT-MONITOR-CONTROL.

Section Two takes you from principles to practice and really starts digging into your Holistic Goal, defining what you manage and testing your decisions. It makes you take a look at who are decision makers and what human assets you have. It makes you look at the “stuff” you already have, including equipment and money.

If you want to test yourself on creating a holistic goal, it’s also important to know how you want people to see you. By people I mean your neighbors, vendors, suppliers, customers, etc. You also need to think about how you want the environment around you to look and how you want your community to be. I will admit, this task was rather daunting for me. I spent time talking with my advisor and one of the key things for me was to develop not one, but two holistic goals…maybe even three now that I think about it. Having the farm and knowing that this is something I am extremely passionate about is one things, but my own personal goals and even my photography have overlapping goals but ultimately, they are very separate and on very different levels.

My Rant!

Do y’all remember back when I did the “13 Questions” blog post and I talked about how differently women get treated within the Ag sector. WELL….let me just explain how different women are treated!

A little background first…I am no stranger to digging deep to get what I want. An example of this is the grant we just received. I have done my homework, spent countless hours researching and networking to learn all I could about rotational grazing. Even went to the extent to build a small area as a “test plot” to try the whole concept out. I was told by our local NRCS and Soil & Water representatives to NOT move forward with permanent fencing until we were completely approved for the grants being filed. Alright, I will admit I am not a patient person and I drove them crazy with phone calls asking for updates, double checking on dates, etc, etc. BUT, low and behold we finally got approved for a $60,000 project that includes new seeding, soil amendments, perimeter fencing and a water system to ensure water supply to the cows.

Problem one: I don’t really know the first thing about high tensile fence. It has been a SEVERE crash course in construction, post holes and rock formations. But in the end and after several serious conversations, I feel equipped to talk to people about what I want. Five strands, three of which will be “hot” or electric strands with two that work as grounds on posts every 50 feet or so; 13 gates, 10 are spring gates while the remaining 3 are tubular steel….Does anyone notice anything too difficult yet? Didn’t think so. Now there are 26 corners and 22 ends. I can even give you a rough estimate of the number of posts. Then there are the extras like tensioners, the gizmo to supply juice called an Energizer, ground rods, crimping sleeves and some other odds and ends. Still don’t see anything too difficult, do you? Nope me either.

Our allotment of funds is equal to around $2.09 per foot. Okay, well that’s a little low so I know I am going to need to put in some line posts myself and that I will need to also string the wire myself…with a little help here and there of course. During my conversations with these various fencing companies, I have been continually asked if I want it done the right way. Seriously? UMMMMM….NOPE I THINK I WANT IT TO FALL DOWN IN A YEAR!

Okay, well what is the worst is that I actually had a contractor tell me he would be willing to come in to do the job for around $2.00 per foot, completely installed. NOW that I have a quote in hand, the price is more like $2.50 a foot. I ask how much for just corner post and end post installation…to which I seriously got this response: “I will pay you $14 an hour for any work you do.” Okay, you are billing me at $30 but you are going to “knock off $14” and if I get hurt too bad because I am the landowner? And I’m using my own equipment (ie: four wheeler and the spinning jenny to unroll the wire)? What’s wrong with this picture? OH MY GOD wait…this is for 4 strand, not 5!!!! Did you listen at all? Apparently not!!!

The issue above is just one of many but it continues over about four different companies. Alright fine. I’ll start calling locally to find out just what equipment is available. One guy, Bub, has a post pounder I can use for FREE. Another guy, Troy, has a post hole digger with a rock bit (we have lots and lots of shale rock) that I can use. SCORE!!!! I have a tractor, truck and four wheeler. I CAN DO THIS! So I sit down with Rich and we come up with a lengthy list of supplies needed. I make a phone call on a price quote for just the supplies (which will total around $15,000 prior to shipping). Yup, they will send me a quote to turn in. Yup, I think you have everything listed you need. Yup, we will email you the quote. SIX HOURS LATER another fence company CALLS ME.

Oh, we are the fence company for this supplier. I’ll bid it all out for you. We understand you are extremely upset over the way other fence companies have been. I’ll get you a quote directly. Give me an hour. THREE HOURS LATER STILL NO QUOTES FOR THE JOB OR THE SUPPLIES.

So let me explain something to all you MEN out there! Listen close because you are really starting to wear on my last nerve and Tractor Supply is about to get my business. Be respectful of the ladies when you talk to them. We are a growing sector within the industry and YOU DO NOT NEED MY PARTNERS APPROVAL FOR JACK SHIT! It is my fence. It is my project and the fence is going where I WANT IT TO GO. I know what I want and I will get. Don’t want to work with me…FINE! I have no issues with that. I will do the whole damn job myself! No big deal. I am sure there are enough people out there I can offer to pay $14 an hour and they would love to have the work. Or maybe I will just be greedy and keep all the money in MY POCKET SINCE IT’S OUR TAXES THAT PROVIDED THE FUNDS ANYWAY!

Seems to me y’all would want to work with someone who is having issues keeping animals inside a fence. I would have been forever grateful to anyone who could have pulled their egotistic male head out of their own ass long enough to actually be respectful.

End of my rant!

13 Questions

13 questions that were posted on another blog called An Irish Male in America asked recently for people in Agriculture, inspired a couple other people I follow to write their own responses. It got me thinking about the answers. As I read through several other blogs linked below, it got me thinking about what my answers would be and wondering if they would be different. Considering all of us in farming do different things for different reasons, I decided that I would take the time to put my own answers together.

Megan Brown writes her blog The Beef Jar. Even though her operation is in California, I agree with many of her answers. Ahnna writes her own blog Ahnna On About Anything and also answers the questions with much different answers that I would come up with. And Jenny Dewey writes her blog j.l.d. photograph and answers the questions from her perspective of being a butcher’s daughter.  Her blog gives a great insight into what it feels like being behind the scenes at her parent’s butchering business.

I’m sure by now, there are more blogs than these out there but these are the ones that made me think about doing one myself to answer these 13 questions.

13 Thursday Presents…

13 Questions I want farmers/ranchers/AG people to answer (or even blog about!) (Update, I’m now editing this for content…… mainly because there was a real lack of content before… !)

1: What is the worst time of year for you?

I would have to say the worst for me is winter. Not because of the snow we get here on the East Coast in Central NY because I actually like the snow. I just don’t take the cold well. I don’t like getting bundled up in layer upon layer of clothes to go hang out in the barn. It limits my time in the barn too because I can’t take the cold. I manage but it makes me wish for the warm spring days.

2: What is your favorite farm job?

I love all of my jobs on the farm but the one I like the most is caring for the babies. It doesn’t matter what kind…cattle or poultry, doesn’t matter. I’m just a mother at heart.

I even share kisses with the cattle! I love them THAT much!
I even share kisses with the cattle! I love them THAT much!

3: What is your least favorite farm job?

Without a doubt, it’s cleaning out the bedding pack in the spring. It stinks to high heaven and takes days for the smell to come out of my hair. It’s a pain to get it all scooped out and you can’t do it by hand (packed too tight). I hate using the tractor for this job. It’s seriously the one job I really wish someone else would do!
4: What type of truck do you drive (on the job) and why did you choose it? (this one is a must know, not only do I find American trucks awesome to look at, but with all the truck companies trying to advertise themselves as the “biggest toughest” truck out there, I think it’s about time we round out the truth from the people that put them to use!)

I drive a 2004 Dodge 1500 Extended cab 4×4. I absolutely love this truck! I probably use it harder than I should but I haven’t had any issues with it to date. It’s a tough truck to beat down. Not only that I LOVE the dual exhaust rumble!! I’ve hauled two big ol’ round bales in the back more times than I can count and more animals inside than I have people. I’ve towed wagons loaded down with 10 round bales during hay season. It gets me through wet fields and slings a little mud. Hands down this is the best truck I have ever been fortunately enough to drive. Even overtop of those Chevy’s I used to swear by.
5: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned in your line of work?

This might be lengthy! One of the hardest lesson I have learned is that farming is still a man’s world. Women might be nurturers by nature but men still seem to control the destiny of what happens. I can’t tell you how many times I have called for parts or in search of equipment to have a man tell me he will get back to me and never return the call. I can’t tell you how many times I have stood on a tractor dealers lot to have them tell me what I wanted and didn’t want. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have almost been over charged for a good/product/service because I am a female. Being in this man’s world takes BRAINS AND GUTS…enough so that you know what you are doing, what you want, why you want it and know what to expect. It’s tough for an independent woman to learn that not everyone will see anything but the exterior.
The second hardest lesson I have learned is that sometimes you need to check your emotions at the door…this is one that I am still working on because I get emotionally attached to EVERYTHING! Emotions also tend to take over my conversations because most of the time I lead with my heart, not my head. It gets me into some tight spots sometimes too. Of course, if I was male I probably wouldn’t have this issue. Just sayin’
6: What do you think is the most valuable tool you have, the one you probably couldn’t live without?

As Megan Brown put it on her page, THE INTERNET! I honestly don’t know how I would educate myself to have the brains to stay on top of things happening in the world. Without the internet, I wouldn’t have met all these great women out there across the world that are struggling to fit in, education consumers and agvocate. I also wouldn’t have kindred spirits out there that I could talk to about the struggles, trials and tribulations of life either. I wouldn’t have a great network of advisors who have helped me set goals, learn different methods of production and give me some encouragement along the way.
7: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your business/what you do?

Personally, I think too many people lump all of agriculture into a tiny little box when in reality every farm is different from the next. Neighboring farms operate differently. I also think that people tend to think that micro and small farms are inherently better when in reality, many of them are worse than some of the biggest operations in the country.
8: If you could invest in a new piece of farm equipment tomorrow, what would it be?(and I mean it, just one!  let’s not get greedy!)

This one is simple! A new tractor that I would be comfortable with. I even have it all picked out. Massey is her name! She’s a red-head too…just like me!

 
9: What was the most serious injury you ever suffered in the line of work?

Hmmm, probably the most painful was the time a steer dislocated three bones in my hand. Hurt like hell when they had to reset the bones back in place.
10: Least favorite animal to deal with?

YEARLING BULL CALVES! They are still playful like calves and don’t realize their size. They are also the only brats they escape the fence…in turn demonstrating to the whole herd how to get out~GRRRR
11: (excluding all of the above) What’s the dumbest question you’ve ever been asked?

Hmmm….I guess it would have to be about the cattle horns. Most visitors think that only bulls have horns. It usually goes something like this….”What are those calves doing under that bull?” Which is actually a cow…but I’m sure you get the point.
12: Favorite beer? (come on, out with it!)(I’ve seen people take their beer pretty seriously, and it’s time to know what a real working persons beer of choice is!)

I, personally, love LaBatt’s. Honey Brown used to be another favorite. But, that being said….I haven’t had a beer in about four years and I think that was a Corona on a very hot summer day after working out in the sunshine all day.
13: Thing you’d most like the public to know about what you do! (I admit you do this every day on your blogs no doubt, but was looking for something addressing maybe a misconception you hear the most about your business!)

I wish people could understand that I am not just an animal care giver. I’m also an agronomist, soil specialist, mechanic, book-keeper, accountant, marketing specialist, graphic designer, writer, photographer, housekeeper, landscaper, consultant and much more. I wish people could understand that being in farming doesn’t mean that life is simple…it’s actually very complicated and complex. Many of us don’t only work on the farm but do other things outside the farm. It’s hectic. It’s chaotic. But we still love it! But just because we love it doesn’t mean that we are sitting back enjoy a 9 to 5 job. It doesn’t mean we get paid every Friday either. It means we go without to do the things we love the most. THAT said, I wish the public would also realize that all I would like to do is get paid (in a timely manner) what it costs to produce our goods with a little bit left over for me…to buy a pair of boots that I would probably wear to the barn. 90% of the time, 100% goes back to the farm in one way or another. We aren’t rich. We don’t have loads of money but we are building memories to last a lifetime and property to pass down through the generations.

Extreme Weather Calf Care

All of us across the country have seen some extreme weather this year. Farms with animals have to pay extra attention under extreme heat and cold, not to mention high winds and heavy rains.

Here in Upstate NY, we aren’t facing winter colds as low on the thermometer as some of the others across the country but we are still facing morning temperatures of negative 6 and some wind chill factors.

As any person would, extra care needs to be taken to ensure safety in such extreme cold. This is one of the reason we make sure that our animals have good shelter and a warm place to rest. Cold stress in cattle is very difficult to deal with and should be monitored for.

Cold stress in cattle is just like the stress of hypothermia in a human. Treatment is very much the same. It involves slowly warming the body to get body temperatures elevated without reheating too quickly. Cold stress slows heart rates down and often makes animals very latargic. To rewarm an animal here on our farm, it involves many trips from the house to the barn; blankets being warmed in the dryer for several minutes and then tucked inside a coat to be run to the barn; it involves warm water (often electrolytes to prevent dehydration); and hours before an animal is back on it’s feet again. As you can imagine it is a very daunting task.

Calves are the most easily effected by cold stress. Without fat stores or long haired winter coats, they aren’t equipped to deal with these freezing temperatures. Calves can be stressed in temperatures at 40 degrees if the wind is blowing and there is high humidity. This is one reason why calf care is crucial. By closely monitoring how a calf acts and/or reacts to environmental conditions, you can determine a method of prevention. Many times, something as simple as a calf coat is enough to 1)block air movement and prevent body warmth from escaping and 2)provide a layer of protection against air moisture.

Adding a calf coat for cold temperatures in an attempt to keep a calf warm.
Adding a calf coat for cold temperatures in an attempt to keep a calf warm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paying attention to bedding is also crucial. A calf will not retain body heat if it is laying on damp or wet bedding. We pay extra close attention to this detail year round but will add extra bedding with the use of additional straw to keep them warm. Wheat or Oat straw is important to have within our bedding mixtures because straw is actually hollow. Standard hay is finer and is natural a solid “stalk”. The hollow core of the straw will absorb body heat and help retain the heat. We double load bedding area with straw during colder months to ensure that the animal is nested down inside…much like the shape of a dog bed.

What happens if the bedding and a coat aren’t enough? Sometimes we use heat lamps. The heat lamps, just like the ones used for keeping baby chicks warm, create a warm area under the lamp. Most often, this step will assist a calf from getting cold stress.

Have we had animals with cold stress? Yes, we have. Last, we had a couple of calves group housed within the main area of our barn. We provided them with thick sawdust bedding and lots of straw in one area inside the barn. Unfortunately, overnight on a sub-zero night one of the calf decided to be a jerk and keep the other calf off the bedding. Calves do get territorial from time to time and this does happen. We did not anticipate it happening with two calves over a very large area…but it did. The calf rejected from the bedding then laid down on the concrete floor. Needless to say, as she slept her body temperature dropped and continued to do so until I made my way to the barn.

After seperating the calves into different areas and getting her off the concrete floor onto good bedding…I started treatment for hypothermia. Warming blankets every 20 minutes, dribbling warm electrolytes into her mouth because she had minimal body function and a visit from the vet to make sure I was doing the right thing. The vet administered a shot of Vitamin B and told me to keep slowly warming her the way I was. Proudly, I can say that over the course of 12 hours, her body temperature elevated back to normal and she was back on her feed drinking and eating normally again. Today, she is one of my favorite girls and will be having her first calf this coming spring.

Ruby is one of the friendliest dairy heifers you could ask for
Ruby is one of the friendliest dairy heifers you could ask for

What are we doing different this year? Well, we have a calf that is just days old now hanging out with me inside. With zero fat stores, a wet and slimy newborn coat and the temperatures continuing to drop…we were keeping close watch when he started to show signs of hypothermia with uncontollable shaking that didn’t stop. Not wanting to expose him to the other cattle yet…one option remained. He is a good boy. He lays on a blanket (with an absorbtion pad much like those used for puppy training). He comes into the living room a couple times a day to jump and run around so he stays flexible. When the weather gets warmer, we will start getting him used to cooler temperatures and slowly start working him back to the barn a little more each day until he is back in the barn full time.

Is this the right way? Maybe not…but with me being unable to do some of the normal barn activities, I feel this was the best choice for his chance of survival. Personally, I rather enjoy the little guy being around. I will miss him when he goes back to the barn.

I will miss all of his "help" with paperwork
I will miss all of his “help” with paperwork

Winter Blues

They say the life of a farmer slows down in winter. I beg to differ. Winter time is usually the time we catch up on reading, sit through forage classes and plan out for the coming year. This year isn’t much different for me other than I am reading more on Holistic Land Management and taking some additional business and financial planning classes online. The extra course work, which takes a couple hours per week per class, really isn’t that much but it still takes time.

I have some other classes that I am taking too. Ones on the food system in the US and another on human nutrition. Why am I taking these classes you ask? Looking at from my perspective, I feel as a farmer who works extensively with consumers about food production, it’s my job to be as informed as possible about how food impacts choices when it comes to how you eat. It’s also important for me to know and be able to express how food moves and travels because you never know someday we might be selling our goods all across the US. As for the business and financial planning classes, no matter how you want to look at farming or agriculture in general…it’s still a business where we need to make sure that we are planning and spending funds appropriately but also ensuring that we are making enough money to stay afloat too.

Farming doesn’t have the profitability of many other jobs but it is rewarding in other ways. That’s one reason why it’s important to look at management from a Holistic standpoint since those methods also take a look at lifestyle too.

On top of classes, I am still doing all of the same stuff…dealing with frozen water, cold stress in cattle, feeding hay bales, changing bedding, filling water jugs several times a day, gathering eggs, feeding chickens, caring for calves, keeping the fires going, cooking the old style home cooked meals and still trying to keep up with laundry, dishes and housework.

Life doesn’t slow down for much on the farm. Sometimes we are forced to take breaks from the daily routine due to illness (and believe me, I have to be SUPER ill to keep me away from the barn) but it isn’t often. Even if we aren’t doing the manual labor involved for the farm, there are still other things we do. Research, reading and formulating crop charts, rotational grazing map or looking through seed catalogs…there is always something that can be done.

I have been down and out for a couple of days with one of those illnesses that prevents me from standing too much…but I still didn’t miss the birth of the first calf of 2013. I even managed to capture a video!

I didn’t get to stay out there too long and I am thankful for a cow that is awesome about birthing. I missed the first steps and the first suckle, which happen to be some of my favorite moments on the farm. It’s rather depressing to miss such moments too but, sometimes we have to take care of our own health first or we won’t be any good for anything at all for a very long time, if ever again. So for now, I will deal with my winter blues the best way I know how…learning, researching and communicating via books and the internet. I have to say, I have had some awesome conversations over the phone too about our grazing plans, the success we have had and why I think it’s important for others to consider rotational grazing. Being down isn’t all bad…it just takes some adapting.

I will write more soon about extreme animal care and welfare. I want to give some details about how we cope with winter months when temperatures hover around ZERO with freezing cold wind chill factors, what we do to ensure animal safety during winter, and how grazing has also been incorporated during the winter months. I may have to write up a series of articles but, I think it’s important that people see just how much care and planning goes into animal care during extreme weather.

Hope you are all staying warm…and I will leave you with a photo to contemplate for the next blog! Have a blessed day!

Here is Abel...warm, relaxed and sound asleep. What's "off" about this photo?
Here is Abel…warm, relaxed and sound asleep. What’s “off” about this photo?

Working with Cattle

The month of November has had lots of twists and turns. Sometimes when you work in on-farm agriculture, you have to sit back and think about why you do what you do. For some it’s the love of the land and doing the best we can to preserve it while making it better and then to others, it’s just the love of cattle, poultry or whatever other animal is on the farm.

Today, I want to discuss the cattle end of things. Working with cattle is not an easy job. They have attitudes and temperaments just like a teenager would/does. Then on the flip hand, they don’t trust easily. If they don’t trust you, your job is that much more difficult. Working with cattle is not the job for everyone but those of us that do know how rewarding it is when you love them enough and are patient enough to earn their trust.

I was inspired to write this blog today after reading the full story of Norma the cow by Dairy Carrie. Norma was a special cow to Carrie. Her first cow actually. Please take the time to go read the blog post. It is an endearing and true testament of a dairy woman’s beginning and learned passions from a single cow.

During the blog, she mentions that it took some time for Norma to trust her enough for her to get close to her. As a fellow woman, who has close to the same disposition and passion for animals, I understand the frustration that not being able to truly “care” for an animal can bring. Cattle might  be considered a form of pets to some of us, but in reality they aren’t. People like Carrie and myself work hard to get our cattle that way…but they still aren’t dogs or cats.

Cattle by nature have a natural flight response to anything different or unusual. They like pattern and routine almost to the point of having what is similar to OCD in humans. Anything not consistent startles them. When you move cattle, even to a different pasture paddock, they become full of nervous energy.  If you change entry ways into pastures or barns, they almost become confused. Small things like a piece of grass swaying in the wind, if the wind is higher than normal, can spook them as well. Temple Grandin explains some of these characteristics best.

Understanding now that changes can alter how cattle acts and reacts, you can also understand that after purchasing cattle, loading them into a trailer, relocating them into a new environment and also having new people with different mannerisms around can severely affect the “trust” level of cattle. Calves adapt easier than older cows as you can imagine but even in young cattle, there is still a flight response.

In older cattle the time until the “trust” level is established all depends on the cattle, the environment and the handler. We have two examples here. Our Belle, the Jersey rescue, only took a couple of days before she became trusting. After not being fed properly, I think she just innately understood that we transported her to provide her with a better life. She adapted to the barns, the pastures and us extremely quick.

Myself and my rescue girl Belle who trusts me and loves me enough to give me kisses.

On the other hand, our Dexter Cattle that came to our farm the end of last September still do not trust enough to allow you to walk right up to them in the pasture. They will come to you for treats but you can’t touch them. They do not allow you do scratch the ears, chin or back. If you are really lucky, you might be able to touch a back hip if they are super calm that day. The three calves they had this last spring have also been taught to not “trust”. You also cannot just walk up to them in the pasture….BUT if you are patient and kneel down, one of them will come up to have his head and horn buds scratched. You still can’t touch any further back than the base of his neck and you can never touch his legs.

Beefy, the Dexter calf, who likes to have his head scratched

The Dexter cows will come up to take treats from your hand but any type of movement or noise shoots them off in the opposite direction. I will admit…after almost a year of waiting for them to just trust me enough to get within reaching distance, I am elated to have them come to me for treats now. If I go out and sit in the pasture, they will come stand next to me instead of automatically running the opposite direction. Every time they do get close enough to touch which I don’t even attempt (remember: I am trying to earn their trust), I can’t keep the smile from my face.

Mini, the oldest and shortest Dexter cow, getting grass clippings from my hand

Just imagine not having any human contact for your whole life…and then all the sudden there is a person that wants to spend time with you. What kinds of reactions do you think you would have?

Cattle are big and potentially dangerous. BUT to those of us that are lucky enough to earn their respect…we know just how gentle and loving they can be!

This yearling dairy heifer trusts us without question