Sunday, May 31, 2015

I've always talked to myself

Until we left Iowa in 1953, I didn't have a lot of kids around to play with.  Both my siblings were grown and gone by the time I was two years old.  So I learned early on to enjoy my own company, and since I had a rich imagination, that was never a problem.  

By the time we moved to a small town in north Missouri where there were more neighbor kids, I was already set in my ways.  Oh, when cousins and friends were around, I played with them, but most of the time I was fine on my own. I went to the theater in Eagleville almost every Saturday night, where most of the movies were B-grade westerns.  For some reason, I always wanted the Indians to win when they fought with cowboys, although they seldom did.  So when I was home, playing alone, I played Indians, with no cowboys in the picture at all.  I played the parts of many Indians in one session:  I would be the chief for awhile, then a squaw with a papoose, then a hunter pulling a travois I had lashed together myself with baling twine, then perhaps a medicine man.  And believe it or not, all these characters had conversations with one another.  Talk about multiple personalities!

Sometimes I made up some kind of nonsense that I thought sounded like a different language, but most of the time I would talk in the one-word method I saw "Indians" use on the movie screen.  It was a lot the way Cora, the child I babysit, talks.  "Come," she says when she wants my company.  "Sit," she says as she pats the floor, wanting me to join her in play.  "Build," she commands as she picks up the fence pieces of the Little People barn set.  "Reach," she tells me when something is too high for her to get.  

I wonder if my mom ever listened in on my conversations.  Probably not, since all my playing was done outside.  I do recall Grandma mentioning that she heard me talking to myself outside during one of my stays with her.

I don't recall talking to myself so much when my kids were growing up, although I often talked to whatever dog we had living with us in the house.  I think talking to dogs and cats is just a safe way of talking to yourself without having people think you're crazy.

But these days it amazes me how much I catch myself talking out loud when nobody else is around.  This morning in the garden I suddenly realized I had been carrying on a running conversation with various plants:  "Well now, why are you so puny?" to one tomato plant; and, "How come everybody else has blooms and you don't?"  "Whoa," I exclaimed to a beet whose bulbous root I was feeling by sticking my finger down in the soil (that sounds vulgar, doesn't it?)... you're about ready for a pot of borscht!"

The strange thing is that Cliff, who was raised in a large family and never used to talk to himself, is doing it now.  Walking by the shop, I hear him almost daily, muttering to some project or other as he putters around.  

Maybe it's just one more thing to chalk up to old age.  Or maybe he picked it up from me.  If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Around the yard

I set Mama Hen three weeks ago this past Wednesday, and marked the calendar for chicks to hatch two days ago.  Because that hen hatched thirteen chicks last year, I put thirteen eggs under her:  One got broken at some point, leaving twelve, so I was hoping for an even dozen.  Wednesday morning the first chicks had hatched, and other eggs showed signs of life.  By Wednesday evening when Cliff and I were out at the little house that serves as home to Mama Hen and her brood, there were only nine.  I put the other eggs to my ear one at a time, but didn't hear any pecking or peeping.  Still, I placed them back under the hen, hoping for the best.  

"You should have just tossed those eggs," Cliff said.  "Even if they do hatch, they'll be behind the others and might not live."  

I ignored his advice (that's nothing new), and next morning there were eleven chicks, leaving only one egg unhatched.  I did toss that one; I didn't have the heart to check and see if there was a chick in it, though.  I went to check on the family this morning, and had to peek inside their house because it's raining... and the chicks aren't going to be stepping outside into the soaked grass at their tender age.
 Most of the chicks are snugly tucked beneath Mama, coming out only to eat or drink.  While I was in the area, I remembered that a Facebook friend asked me yesterday if I still had Chickie, a chicken I raised in the house two years ago, in a cardboard box.  I did get rid of most of my chickens last winter, but I couldn't let my pet go.  I figured this would be a good time to take a picture of her.  As luck would have it, I caught her on the nest laying an egg!

Maybe you would like to see what kind of shape my garden is in:

The only plants I've had a problem getting to come up are the bush-type cucumbers and melons.  Even after two plantings, I only have two bush cucumber plants.  I think it's time I plant some plain, old-fashioned, space-hogging, vining cucumbers.


So much milk

The heifers I buy and raise as milk cows or nurse cows all come from the same south Missouri dairy where Holsteins and Jerseys are crossed back and forth all the time; so whatever calves you buy from them are a mix, with some of them showing more Jersey breeding than others.  Penny would pass for pure Jersey if you went by her appearance, and her cream is thick and rich as any purebred Jersey cow's cream would be; however, she only gives about half as much cream as a full-blooded Jersey would.  

The only things I care about in a cow I'm going to milk is that I do like the thick cream, and that they have skim milk that doesn't taste skim (Jersey milk has more solids-not-fat).  Also, I love how Jersey cows look.  

Obviously, Cliff and I can't consume a lot of milk, but crazy as it sounds, I do love milking a cow occasionally, and because my other cow, Grace, gives typical Holstein milk (even though she has a somewhat Jersey appearance), I choose to milk Penny.  What I've been doing is stealing the milk from two of her quarters and letting the three calves she's always trying to kill fight over the milk left in the other two.  But I'm interested in knowing just how much milk a cow is producing, so today I let the three baby calves nurse Grace, the other cow, and made the two calves that usually take Grace's milk do without; they're older, and it won't kill them.  In fact, they could be weaned, but I need them taking Grace's milk.  

Then I milked Penny, taking every drop.  I find it interesting that this cow that tries her best to kill those calves when they're sucking doesn't so much as twitch or move a foot while I sit beneath her for twenty minutes or so milking.  The only part of her body that moved the whole time was her tail, because she was swatting at flies. 

I began to think my three-gallon bucket wasn't going to hold all the milk, but it did.

It's a wonder I didn't spill some of it getting to the house.  That much milk in a bucket is almost too heavy for this old woman to handle.  Just think, in twelve hours she will give that much milk again!


No wonder it was heavy!  What you see here is over two-and-a-half gallons of milk, which weighs about twenty-two pounds.  You should have seen me struggling to lift it up high enough to strain it into the jars!  After taking the picture, I promptly poured the partly-full jar down the drain.  The other two gallons went in the refrigerator because I can always use the cream for something.  Most of the milk will be poured down the drain later.  If I didn't mind milking every day, I would get a pig to raise on the milk, but I'm afraid the little bit of arthritis in my left hand would turn into extreme arthritis.  I don't need that.  Besides, I really don't WANT to have to milk twice a day, every day.  I like letting the calves do it. 

By the way, there are cows on dairies that give over twice as much milk as Penny does.



Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The plan didn't work

Here's the result of all our work in the barn this morning, which you can read about HERE.

Penny came in willingly this evening and put her head in the stanchion to eat.  I locked the stanchion in place and put one kicker on either side, figuring one calf could nurse from her left side while the others nursed from her right.  Now keep in mind, she has been nursing these three calves ever since she lost her calf a month ago.  I would let the youngest, the Holstein, in to nurse first, because there really isn't room for three calves on one side and the older two would crowd him out.  Once he has at least the contents of one teat in his belly, I guide him out with the cattle prod and let the other two in.  The kicker was on the right, they nursed from the right.  She couldn't kick them; she did a lot of kicking with the left foot, but nobody got kicked because nobody was on the left.

Well, once she found out she couldn't kick on either side, her back end went down with her head still in the stanchion.  I had a terrible time releasing her from the stanchion, with her down like that.  And then she was sulking, or "sulled up" as the old-timers used to say, and wouldn't get up for awhile even when I let her out of the stanchion and pulled the kickers off.  

This isn't a tragedy:  As I said, I will just go back to letting the calves all nurse from the right side while she kicks away harmlessly with her left.  I AM glad Cliff added the barrier on the right, because now Penny can't keep edging over until she has both calves against the wall while they are sucking.  

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Cows can be a problem

The whole problem boils down to the fact that Penny's calf was born dead.
Although she licked at it for awhile, she really didn't know what to do after it didn't respond.  Heifers need a little help figuring things out.  I was either going to have to milk this cow that I found out is giving five gallons of milk a day, or else I would need to buy some calves to help me with the milking.

So, I bought three bull calves to take all that milk.  The cow gives enough for five calves, but with the price of calves these days, I figured three could eventually handle it.  Believe me, I had a time getting all of them over the scours caused by consuming too much rich milk.  However, that wasn't the biggest problem, because I'm used to dealing with that.  

First of all, let me show you the stanchion:  The cow puts her head in it to eat and I fasten it in place so that her head is locked in there until I'm finished. As you can see in this picture taken before Penny had her baby, I had her trained to go in the stanchion.  She was also trained to let me handle her udder, so I knew I would be able to safely milk her.  

Then her own calf died, so we brought in three bobby calves, and I put them in to nurse her.  I knew she wasn't going to like them right off, but I figured she would learn to put up with them.  Things didn't go as planned, as you will see in this video with two of the calves nursing her.  She has a kicker on to keep her from kicking them (or me, as I try to help); they are both on the right side because if they were on the left side, there's no kicker and she could kick them hard enough to do some damage.  


I hoped she would learn to put up with them, but that didn't happen.  She started moving all the way to the left so that her body was at a 90-degree angle with her head.  Then Cliff put a board from floor to ceiling to keep her from doing that.  So she started moving toward the right, the side from which the calves were nursing, practically smashing them into the wall of the barn.  Cliff modified another kicker I had around that was too big for my Jerseys, so I could put a kicker on both sides.  OK, then she almost fell down several times trying to kick, with her head stuck in the stanchion and her neck all bent at the 90-degree angle.  I was afraid that if she fell in that position, she might break her neck.  This morning, dear, faithful Cliff, who wouldn't have a cow on the place if it were up to him, fixed something to keep her from moving to the right.

Tonight we'll find out how well this all works.   The metal pole and board on the right is set far enough forward to allow calves to nurse and me to milk when I need to.  


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Yes. I'm here.

It's been a week since I updated this silly blog, so I had better play catch-up with some assorted happenings.  First, the cows.  Most of my plans for the cows did not come to fruition, but isn't that how it goes with "plans"?

It was going to be so simple:  Each cow would calve, I would buy some calves to place with the cow's own calf, and they would all do the milking for me, grow like crazy, and make me some money.  HA!  It actually worked that way with Grace, until I sold her own calf and the two that nursed alongside her.  When I brought in new calves, she wanted nothing to do with them.  So she gets put in the stanchion with an anti-kick device on her and is forced to let them nurse.  

Then Penny gave birth to a dead calf.  If I thought Grace hated the two calves she was forced to feed, that was NOTHING compared to the way Penny feels about her three "adopted" babies.  The anti-kick device somewhat limits how hard and how much she can kick on her right side, but she can deal what would possibly be a lethal blow to the left and to the back.  So I bring in the youngest calf and let him nurse one teat dry from the right side, boot him out, and let in the "two brownies" as I call them, who nurse side-by-side on the right and reach under to get to the teats on the other side.  The original intention was to let all three nurse, one on each side and one in back, but Penny was able to put the fear in them pretty quickly when I tried that.  Another plan, foiled.  Seriously, that cow could kill a calf.  Maybe one of these days I'll do a video, because you almost have to see it to believe it.  Meanwhile, I can't leave our property for over twelve hours at a time, because I am the only one who can handle the calf situation.  No vacation for me this summer.

I will admit it has been good for me to see all this action, because for most of my life I have put my trust in those "kickers" that I thought disabled a cow from doing any real harm.  It's a wonder I wasn't killed.  Never again will I assume I'm safe when the kicker is on the cow.  Oh, by the way... both of my cows are sweethearts when I'm milking them.  They don't lift a foot while I'm handling them.  So there's that.

The garden!  I don't care for radishes, but Cliff does, so I always plant some.  This year I had a record crop, with radishes as big as plums.  I took a picture of a gallon ice-cream-carton full of them and put it on Facebook, and my Russian (or Ukranian) friend, Meesha gave me the link to a recipe for pickled radishes.  He's never made them, but says he eats them at a Mexican restaurant.

I like them much better than plain old radishes.  As they soak in the pickling solution, the red outsides of them fade, and the white insides turn a nice pink color.


Because I just came in from the garden before I took this bite out of the radish, there is, indeed, dirt beneath my thumbnail.

My garden often shows me parables while I'm out there.  The most common one has to do with weeds.  I know Jesus told the parable of the tares and the wheat, in which he said to leave the weeds there until harvest.  That might work with wheat, but not with my garden.  Last year I let my garden go something awful, and weeds took over.  Just like in your life, even though you might decide to change your ways and do things right this time, you are still going to have to deal with the problems last years' weeds left behind.  Karma.

On the upper left you can see a couple of green bean seeds that just came up, but everywhere else you can see the tiny weed seedlings that are there because of last year's neglect.  The worst part is that I just tilled between the rows five days ago, so these weeds have come up since that time.  I intended to till again yesterday but was surprised by a rain that came out of nowhere and put me out of business.  Our sandy soil drains fast, so if it doesn't rain today or tonight, perhaps I can get the tilling done tomorrow (but it probably will rain).  Tilling is such an easy job:  You just start the tiller and walk along behind it.  There's no pushing or pulling, and practically no effort at all except to keep it going straight ahead.  A child could do it.  OK, it would have to be a tall child, because you would need to be taller than the tiller

I drove posts beside my larger tomato plants this morning.  Cliff will have to bring the cages up from down by the ditch, then I'll put them over the plants and secure them to the posts.  When I told him I was going out to drive the posts, he asked if I wanted his help.  "Nope," I answered.  "You know we get in a fight every time we go to the tomato patch together."

He agreed.  So there will be no tomato wars this year.  If you wonder what I'm talking about, just click HERE.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Calf poop (You might want to skip this entry)

When I buy baby calves, I have to go on what I call "poop patrol" several times daily, checking the quality of their poop.  When I used to raise calves in individual hutches, it was somewhat easier, because with only one calf in each pen, there was no doubt as to which one had "scours".  
Now I keep two or three together in a pen.  So when I notice a puddle of runny poop, I have to figure out which calf did it.  Sometimes I'm lucky enough to actually see the calf in action, which removes all doubt.  Other times, I can tell by looking at the calf's back end for nasty hind-quarters and tail.  If I have any doubt at all, every calf in the pen gets a pill.  

When you buy bottle calves, they usually do get scours at some point.  You have removed them from a place where they picked up their mom's immunities and brought them onto a property with a whole new set of germs that your own cattle are immune to.  You can almost bet on new bottle calves getting scours within the first week or two, and you can't just ignore scours:  It can kill.

Because I only buy calves from people who sell nothing but healthy babies, the biggest cause of scours around here is the calf getting too much milk.  I bought the current crop of calves to milk my cows for me, and they do a great job of that.  However, before they can get used to so much rich milk, they usually have some diarrhea, and I get to treat the problem.  

Initially, I give them a pill I get from the vet morning and night.  Many times the pill does the job and I am done.  However, if the pills don't fix them, I give them an electrolyte solution and sometimes even take them off the cow until they're OK.  Of course, that means I have to milk the cow.

 Here you see the pills and a "balling gun".  You place a pill in the end of the gun, stick the end with the pill in it down the calf's throat, and push on the other end.  This gets the pill past the point of no return, so the calf can't spit it out.  Now, this was a cinch when I was younger.  I'd corner the calf, straddle his neck facing forward, and do the job.  Picture a 70-year-old woman with bad knees doing this and you will realize it isn't so simple now.  This morning I dosed the wildest calf after he started nursing, because otherwise I couldn't catch him.  

I had to dose the calves because here's what I found on poop patrol:
What you see here is one sample of healthy poop, at the bottom of the picture, and a sample of diarrhea poop at the top.  After seeing this, I checked all three calves.  Two of them had messy tails.  I decided to give all three of them a pill, just for good luck.  The good news is that it's only "milk scours".  I know this because of the color.  So if worse comes to worse, they'll get pulled off the cow and given electrolytes (pedialyte for calves) and I will end up with 2 1/2 gallons of milk tonight.  And then I'll make butter tomorrow!

I apologize to all the mothers reading this.  I'm sure the last thing you wanted to see this morning was a picture of poop, especially runny poop.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Calves, calves, calves


Here are Hope, Henry, and Lazarus. I bought Hope and Henry February 27 after selling Grace's calf and the two foster calves she had raised to the age of five months; I needed them to milk her for me twice a day. When they were a month old, I realized Grace was still giving plenty of milk for three calves and purchased Lazarus, on the right, March 31. He is a month younger, but the largest of the group (because that's how Holsteins are).  In this picture Grace appears larger than she is because she is on higher ground (and closer to the camera than Henry).













I weaned Henry, on the right, at six weeks of age.  That's the youngest I've ever weaned a calf, but he has an underbite and was absolutely tearing up Grace's udder with those bottom teeth.  He eats five pounds of calf starter daily and is about the same size as Hope, on the left, who is the same age and of the same breeding but still nursing on Grace.  Henry has a little tendency toward a pot-gut, and isn't as "slick" as Grace, but he will outgrow all that and be just fine.  



My first-calf-heifer, Penny, calved on the morning of April 25.  Her calf was dead when he was born, so the same day we went to Holden and bought two brown Jersey-cross bull calves, because it was obvious that Penny was going to give even more milk than Grace.  After ten days of them nursing Penny twice a day, I could see it was going to be quite a while before they would be able to take all that milk.  So yesterday we went to Higginsville and bought another Holstein bull calf.  I haven't named these guys, and probably won't.  Even if I gave them all names, I would likely forget the names.  None of them will be around more than five months anyhow, especially if we don't get any rain to grow the pasture grass.  

The new Holstein calf didn't know what a cow was when I put him in with Penny.  It took about ten minutes for me to get him to grab hold of a teat last night, and even then he kept losing it.  Dairies remove the calves from their moms immediately after birth, so he had no way of knowing what was going on; he was looking for a bottle.  This morning, though, I only had to show him once and he understood.  I'll give him a head start on the other two for a few days, since he is slower at nursing than they are.  

It was very comical when we introduced him to the pen with the other two calves.  He was scared to death of them and they were afraid of him.  

Penny had me worried for the first few days after the vet came and removed the afterbirth.  She just didn't bounce back the way I would have liked.  I kept her in the lot, close to the barn.  She has finally started acting like her old self.  She gives the kind of rich Jersey milk I love, with cream that stands up in the spoon.  I haven't churned any butter yet, but I will before long.  Grace, although she is probably half Jersey, gives Holstein milk, with cream that is no better than the half-and-half you buy in the store.  I like thick cream in my coffee!  (Hmmm, wonder why my cholesterol was high last visit to the doctor?)
Now THAT'S what I call cream!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

What caused the spots on the plants?

First of all, let me share some words from a local farmer and long-time Ag teacher at our local school:

 I really don't think it is from a herbicide. If it were, the whole plant would be twisting and wilting, and all I see are spots. This is not the time of year for aerial application of anything. That is normally done in the mid to late summer when the crops are too tall to cross with a spray rig. Farmers do not have to report to any authority when they are going to spray, but they Do Have to spray responsibly. If a farmer does the spraying himself, then his insurance will cover any damage. If he hires it done by a professional applicator (MFA or Ray Carroll Coop etc) then that business has insurance to cover the damage. I would ask around about who sprayed recently, but I still do not think it is spray drift. It is wide spread on your yard, do your neighbors have the same damage? It really is a baffling mystery. I would be curious to learn what it is.

One Facebook friend relayed a story about her relatives having had a grape crop ruined by over-spraying, and my farmer friend addressed that issue:

On the vineyard question, Grapes are terribly sensitive to broad leaf herbicides. If a grape "thinks" it smells 2,4-D or similar products, they will wilt and die. We have a small vineyard right next to one of our fields. We are terribly careful about What we spray, When we spray, and How we spray around that field. We never use 2,4-D, as just a whiff is all it takes. MFA also takes very seriously how it applies chemicals. If they have too many violations, both the company And the driver, who both hold Commercial Applicator's Licenses, can lose their certification. No license, No income, No business. They are very careful at what they do, but mistakes do happen. If they do, then a claim should be filed. They will come out and look at what the damage is, and make a settlement if they caused the problem.

He then suggested I call the University of Missouri Extension office and see if they would come and inspect the damage.  I'm thinking that if they won't, I could at least send them some pictures, or even the link to my blog entries. 

My young fruit trees show brown spots, rather than white ones.

I don't expect to lose any plants, by the way.  But I would love to know what could have caused such widespread spotting of everything on our property, for curiosity's sake if nothing else.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Most disturbing

Something has fallen on our entire property, evidently out of the sky.  
See the little white spots on the spinach?  When I harvested spinach Monday, there weren't any spots.  
Same thing with the beets; see the white spots?  I could take pictures all day, but let me just tell you that every plant on our property has these spots all over, and in some cases, whatever put the spots there ate tiny holes through the plants.  The spots are on the tree leaves and bushes, on every vegetable in the garden.  Everywhere.  Cliff said it looks like over-spray, perhaps from somebody spraying for weeds and the wind caused it to drift.  If that's what happened, it sure did a number on us, and it's on every side of the house.  

That's all.  I'm just dumbfounded that poison could fall out of the sky and affect us to this degree.

Look what it did to this dainty little woodland violet.  

I'm thinking someone had an airplane spraying herbicide to kill the henbit on a windy day.  I wonder if any of the local news people would be interested in this phenomenon.