Tag Archives: bull calf

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 πŸ˜‰

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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Farm Visitors

Every year, during the time when the local kids have spring break…we start getting visitors. Friends and family members bring their youngsters out to play with the cattle, chickens and turkeys. This is always the time of year that reminds me of the biggest reasons why I raise, care and tend for animals the way I do.

Two days, two families. Smiles and laughter shared that no amount of money can buy.

Our first visitor that came this week was Sue and Ava. If you follow this blog on and off, you will know that Ava came out last year and the year before. Ava is a favorite, loyal visitor.

Ava loves spending time with the youngest calves.
Ava loves spending time with the youngest calves.

Last year, one of the calves kept trying to eat her hair. So this year…she was worried about her hair and kept telling them all “Please don’t eat my hair.” It is really amazing to watch kids with the animals though. This is what makes my job working with the cattle so important.

Not only with the kids…but with the adults it’s important too. You have no idea how many adults want to get “cow kisses”! It’s strange…but I get it. It’s that moment when you feel special with an animal. It’s that much greater because it’s a cow!

Cow kisses
Cow kisses

The following day after Ava came, we had new visitor for this year. A father (Pat) and his two sons (Logan and Connor). I didn’t know who was more excited when they pulled in…Dad or boys.

I haven’t seen smiles so big and so full of joy as when the calves started licking fingers and trying to get rubs on the head.

Pure Joy and Excitement
Pure Joy and Excitement

To those that don’t know me…this is the most important thing about what I do. Yes, I love raising our own beef, dairy and poultry. But, I LOVE sharing my passion for farm animals with KIDS! It’s an experience that I feel every kid should have.

There are really moments sometimes that almost bring a tear to my eye when I watch animals that are fearful of everything, nose up to a child. It’s one of those things for me.

To anyone in our area reading this…you are more than welcome to come visit, anytime. We love to have people stop by, young or old.

In the meantime, I will be out working (more like playing) with the cows…gotta get that next generation trained for cow kisses!

 

 

 

Lots of Activity

I thought life was crazy before! I have changed my mind. Currently, we have added in the woes of fence construction, new seeding, grazing management, frost seeding, and relocating temporary fences.

Let’s start with the temporary fence. A great deal of our fence areas are set in with step in posts and braided wire. I hasn’t been a problem until now. The issues that have come up now are long-haired animals (see photo below) just walking through the fence. Hair seems to NOT conduct the electricity within the energized wire. Needless to say, about two to six times a day…I am putting cattle back inside the fence or getting a phone call while I run errands because the cows are out.

Two Irish Dexter calves on the wrong side of the fence.
Two Irish Dexter calves on the wrong side of the fence.

It really doesn’t make much sense. As you can see, the grass is very low to the ground in that area. Inside the area fenced in, some of the grass under the laid over hay is several inches long. In this case, the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence!

This shows the grasses inside the fence
This shows the grasses inside the fence

Now let’s talk about this photo a little more. This is part of our pre-spring grazing management. We have an area fenced in that needed some “work”. The area gets very steep and doesn’t allow for any type of tractor work. So we are using the cattle to do the work for us. As you can see in the photo, the old forage growth within the paddock has provided a sort of blanket for the new grasses underneath to sprout and grow quicker than the worked up field areas that we grazed last fall.

This is just part of the area that we are "working" with the cattle
This is just part of the area that we are “working” with the cattle

The standing stalks of weeds will get eaten, trampled and the ground develops as the cattle hooves dig into the ground. We have already seen improvements…in 2 days! Take a look!

This is at the end of day one in this paddock. Note how the stalks are broken or eaten. Also note the addition of cow pies for fertilization.
This is at the end of day one in this paddock. Note how the stalks are broken or eaten. Also note the addition of cow pies for fertilization.

I will be posting follow-up photos with before, during and after shots. We are trying this as part of an experiment for land reclaiming. They are eating the briars and the weeds! Proof in these next two photos.

Here is Tommy eating Golden Rod stalks that grew last year (2012)
Here is Tommy eating Golden Rod stalks that grew last year (2012)
Cow clipped briars!
Cow clipped briars!
Here is Tommy, sniffing to see if he wants to eat the briar.
Here is Tommy, sniffing to see if he wants to eat the briar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next stage for us will be fencing in the 90 acres we will be using for rotational grazing this year and for many years to come. It’s a big job with over 14,500 linear feet of fencing, posts, wires, etc to have put up! Once it’s all completed we will have enough area to grazing 45 animals. To someone like me with an obsession with cattle…it means I can buy more cattle! (Reminder: I like to buy cattle like most women like to buy shoes!)

We also have 30 acres to get seeded for another grazing area too. Rich has been researching, reading and learning what types of grasses and legumes will be best suited for both the soil and the cattle. He thinks he has finally figured out which blend (a custom mix with lots of plant diversity) he wants to go with. In the meantime, we will be frost seeding clover on last years pastures to start building nitrogen in the ground. Did you know that clovers are nature’s way of providing nitrogen? I didn’t…but it’s very cool! No more synthetic fertilizer for nitrogen!!!

Saturday, we will be headed to a grazing seminar that will help us learn how to become more adapt at managing our grazing plan. I am super excited to go and I will make sure I take LOTS of pictures!

For now…it’s back to chasing cattle, taking more photos and reading more books! Thanks for stopping in to read about my adventures and sharing our little piece of Heaven!

 

 

Tommy Gun

What a name for a calf huh? Well, that’s his name and how do you tell an 11 year old that you bought him from that you are going to change his name??? You can’t. So, I call him Tommy.

Tommy is a one month old Jersey bull calf that we purchased from the grandson of a nearby Jersey dairyman. I wish I had taken photos while I was over to their barn….but, I was kind of like a kid in a candy store with the 70+ jerseys cows in that barn. I even asked Merle, the original owner, if I could rent a room. For a jersey lover…it was paradise. For a dairyman…it’s a beautiful barn with perfectly clean stalls.

Lawton’s dairy is one of the nicest barns I have ever walked into. It’s bright and well light. The girls are all so clean. There is no poop built up behind them when they stand in their tie stalls to be milked. If there is even a spot of poop on the cow, she gets cleaned. It’s a beautiful thing!

I know all this may sound strange to someone who isn’t involved in dairy operations so let’s compare it. It’s like going into a beautifully designed home with all of the newest and prettiest features compared to a rundown single wide mobile home owned by slobs. HUGE DIFFERENCE. My barn seems dark and dingy in comparison…but ours isn’t finished off on the inside or painted yet either. Lawton’s barn is what I envision for our farm.

Back to the animals…while we were there, I got to take an inside peak at the cows they were sending over to the Spring Jersey Sale too. They are all such beautiful cows but one…I would have taken her (and I just might if I can get the winning bid)! Β It was amazing to see how gentle they were with them and how similar their cows are to the ones we have here. No fussing, no fighting…just a gentle walk up onto the hauler.

Another thing that was going on while we were there is the one grandson, Nathan, was doing his chores. Nathan is 11 years old and on his own decided to start raising steers from the bull calves born on the farm. HE does all the care for them expect the morning milk feeding of the young stock on school mornings, then grandma does help him out but when he isn’t in school, he is doing all of the work. He is currently up to 18 steers that will be ready at various times after the summer months. He does a great job! He works on all of his own equipment, including the tractor. He is exceptionally intelligent and I am so impressed with him!

Thinking back now to the Department of Labor proposal to the Farm Kid Labor Laws, it really hits me when I watch this young man who is so dedicated to building himself up with minimal assistance from his family just how a law like that would change the scope of farm families. Nathan is a kid with a bunch of energy but he has the ambition to do something. Could you imagine the type of trouble he could get into without the daily routine of caring for his steers? I know, I have seen it personally.

So…to all of my readers and followers, let me know if you are in the market for some excellent quality, tender Jersey beef. I know a kid who will be selling some this year!

Goin’ Crazy

Things have been kind of busy around here lately. Cheese making has become a high priority item lately. I think we have made about 10 lbs this week alone….

The animals are all doing well. Two of the Dexter’s have lost their mucus plugs this week…so within the next month or so we should have a couple of new calves floating around here! I am so excited. One of the Dexter’s has hit the extremely uncomfortable stage of her pregnancy. She is exhibiting that maternal instinct to remove herself from the herd and spends most of her time nosing the hay to create a “bed”.

My chickens are doing really well. I think the additional whey they are getting from the cheese making process is making them lay more eggs. I have been pulling on average about 35-36 eggs per day. That means I am running an overall group laying ratio of 80%. Of course if I deducted the 8 hens that are too old to lay….I would be at almost 100%!

Unbelievable, all of our eggs are being sold locally to a few neighbors but the majority are going to the Amish….Crazy huh? Who would have thought that? Not me. Not ever.

Our milk cow is producing milk like crazy. All three of the calves are still drinking milk, which is much longer than I normally would give them milk…but it’s cheap food for them. They are really growing well too. The bull calf that was born this last fall is going to stay on milk for most of his time here as we are attempting our first calf as rose veal.

It’s almost time for the turkeys to start laying their eggs too. The toms have starting battling for dominance already…just doesn’t seem possible that it’s that time of year already. Tonight I am going to tackle the ordeal of getting the saddles on the hens to prevent skin tearing when the toms breed them. They are handy little “capes” that go around the wings and protect them from the base of their neck to their tail. I hate putting them on but, it is better than allowing the tops to tear out their feathers and ripe through the hide on their backs.

We will be heading off to the NY Farm show tomorrow…so hopefully, Saturday I will be able to find some time to share the photos and highlights of the day. It also means that I have lots to do today to make up for the lost farm time tomorrow….need to get more hay in the barns, pick up feed and make sure that everyone is well stocked so that all we need to do in the morning is get up, do milking and feeding and then be able to get ready to head out the door…..

Phew….I am tired already just thinking about it! Anyways, time to make a run to the feed store so I can get my cheese started before it gets too late and I end up staying up half the night to finish it…..

God Bless and Have a great day!