Tuesday, April 28, 2015

If it isn't one thing, it's another

We bought two bull calves to help me take Penny's milk.  She hated them on sight, but I put her head in the stanchion, locked it, and put the kicker on her, so she really didn't have much choice.  She still tried to kick them, but with the kicker on, she couldn't do any damage.  That was Saturday morning when we first got the boys home.  Penny didn't seem to feel very peppy, but she'd had a hard night trying to deliver a calf.

Saturday evening Grace and the bull came up from the pasture.  Grace was mooing herself silly.  Penny wasn't with them.  Now, cows are herd animals, so when you see one animal missing, you know without a doubt something's wrong.  Cliff and I searched as best we could, but we're not able to climb the gullies and hills on our place, so it wasn't a very thorough search.  The first thing that came to my mind was milk fever, because it appears Penny is going to be a very heavy milker.  Jerseys are prone to milk fever.  Usually, however, first-calf heifers don't have a problem with that condition.

The grandson and Heather went looking... did a little mushroom-hunting while they were at it... and found Penny at the bottom of a canyon, lying down.  They couldn't make her get up, but their Great Dane convinced the cow to arise, and the kids drove her slowly out of the holler and up to the barn.  

I got her in, but she wasn't interested in grain and wouldn't put her head in the stanchion, so I put a halter on her and tied her securely so she would be forced to let the new calves nurse.  She still fought hard, but they got their supper.  Because she was so lethargic, I was still thinking perhaps milk fever was a problem.  Cliff and I talked it over and I went out several times to check on Penny.  I noticed she was grazing, and at one point she was chewing her cud.  So I decided to wait until morning, see if anything had changed, and call a vet.  

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that afterbirth was still hanging out of her.  Retained placenta.  So we really needed a vet anyway, to deal with that problem.  This time I had a choice in who I called, so I chose Oak Grove Animal Clinic and set up an appointment with Dr. Neal.  He arrived on time (impressive), put some boluses (pills) inside the cow, and gave her a shot to make her cycle, which he said would help get her uterus back to normal.  Then we had a nice visit about Dr. Findley, the guy who established that veterinary practice and is now retired.  When I inquired, I found out it would cost $18 each for him to dehorn our new baby calves; I told him we'd just use dehorning paste as usual, then.  He didn't know about dehorning paste and was surprised that it is supposed to be used on calves under the age of one week.  I told him we've used it for years, but really hate to because it's nasty stuff to deal with.  It did, after all, destroy part of Penny's ear.  But at six dollars a bottle for something that will dehorn at least 15 calves, compared to $18 for the vet to do one calf, I guess we'll keep on doing what we've been doing.  

I liked Dr. Neal.

This morning Penny had a new lease on life.  She came trotting into the barn, went straight to the stanchion, and started eating her sweet feed.  She still didn't like the calves, but didn't fight them so viciously.  I pulled the calves off her after ten minutes or so because I didn't want them to have belly-aches later and then milked her out.  She stood like a statue as I milked her.    The tide, evidently, has turned.  

Now we wait for several weeks to find out if she will re-breed.  Sometimes when a cow has had retained afterbirth, there are breeding problems.  If that should happen, I would raise calves on her until her milk supply diminished and then she would end up in the freezer.  Meanwhile, all is well.

Penny says "good morning".  Notice her right ear, which was damaged by dehorning paste as a calf.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

How much fun can one person have?

I allowed the two new calves to nurse Penny last night.  She fought it tooth and toenail, but with the kicker in place she couldn't kick them hard enough to discourage them.  I noticed she had not lost her afterbirth yet at that time.  Part of it was still hanging out of her.  No big deal, at that point.  

This morning I went out prepared to deal with two cows and four nursing calves, but not a cow was in sight.  Gracie is ALWAYS somewhere close by, waiting, at milking time.  I called a few times, and after about five minutes, here came Gracie out of the dark pasture.  Alone.  That isn't normal.  Gracie is the leader of the three, and usually Penny and the bull follow where she goes. 

I went ahead with Gracie, letting the two older calves in with her to nurse.  By then it was light enough outside to see, so I figured I would follow Gracie back to the pasture.  I had no doubt she would lead me straight to the others, and she did.  Whew.  Penny was just fine, although she still had retained afterbirth.  That's usually not a major problem.  If she doesn't get rid of it in a few days, the vet can take care of it.  So why didn't she come to the barn when I called?

Well, the bull has decided that since she has a different odor coming from her vagina, she must be coming into heat, and he is ready, willing, and able to take care of that.  Of course he's wrong, but the poor runt hasn't had a lot of experience.  One bull, two cows.  

A cow isn't likely to come in heat until at least three weeks after calving, and usually it's longer than that.  

I picked up a dead tree limb and started to drive Penny toward the barn, but every time I tried, the bull would head her off.  He intended to keep her right there.  I've seen border collies that didn't do any better at herding than this bull did.  I did finally get her to the barn and the new calves got to eat; not that Penny cooperated in any way.  

All's well that ends well, and the critters and I all lived through this segment of bovine adventures.

Once Homer-the-bull gets Penny bred, he is off to the butcher shop to become hamburger for the grandson.  I won't be sorry to see him go, although he's really never done anything terrible.  But Jersey bulls have a bad reputation, and even though he's a runt, and still young, I always have one eye on him, wondering if this will be the day he turns mean.  One thing about it, we shouldn't have any problems with calves being too big next year, with puny little Homer as the sire.

Calving problems

Seems like we've had enough problems with cows over the past three years to make me give up.  Some problems were due to my own inattention to detail; some to ignorance or even lack of funds.  The problems still go on, as seen Friday when Penny showed signs that she was getting ready to calve.  We had done the proper things this time:  She was bred to an Angus bull that, according to his owner, sired calves with a low birth weight.  We didn't head off to another state knowing she was soon to have a calf, as we did last year in the case of Crystal.  I was stoked and ready!  

Friday evening Penny got down to business, laying down and pushing for all she was worth.  I was on hand, ready for anything... I thought.  She pushed and pushed, resting between contractions.  At midnight there was still no sign of a calf, so I went to bed.  Every couple of hours when my bladder woke me up, I went out with the flashlight to check.  

At six A.M. I woke up, went running out, and saw a calf's foot... FINALLY!  As soon as I saw that hoof, I knew it was a bull calf, and not a tiny one, either.  Once a foot is out, that gives something to grab hold of and pull on every time the cow has a contraction, so I got a towel to wrap around the foot so the slick birth fluids wouldn't keep me from getting a good hold.  Strange thing was, I only saw one foot.  I stuck my hand inside and felt for another foot, but could only feel the calf's nose.  

I ran to the house and woke Cliff up, telling him I thought perhaps one of the calf's feet was bent at the knee.  He doesn't wake up fast or easy, but he did his best.  He came out, felt around, pulled on the one foot a bit.  "Should I call the vet?"  I asked.

"That's up to you," he said.  He knows that if he tells me not to call the vet and the calf dies, he is the villain.  Once the ball was in my court, I ran inside and looked up the number of the nearest vet, ten miles away.  I figured the heck with choosing a favorite out of four large-animal veteranarians that are in a twenty-five-mile radius, as I often do.  I wanted somebody who could get here quick.  A very sleepy-sounding Dr. Scott answered the phone and I told him what we thought was the problem.  "Have you tried to get the foot out?" he asked, somewhat testily.  Hey, I wouldn't be the happiest person in the world if I'd been awakened at 6 A.M. from a sound sleep either.


"OK, I'll be out."  

I went back out.  Cliff had gotten a rope around the calf's one leg and was pulling, and I pulled with him, and finally the other foot appeared.  It was there all the time.  However, it was too late for the bull calf.  He was already dead.  I ran back to call the vet and tell him to forget it.  No answer, but I left a message.  Great.  Not only did we lose the calf, but we will have a huge farm visit bill to pay.  But about five minutes later the good doctor returned my call.  His son had gotten my message on the home phone and relayed it to him.  I thanked him for being willing to come and assist us and went back outside.  

Penny licked her calf and moo'd to it as cows do, but not for long.  First-calf heifers don't always know what motherhood is all about, and she soon gave up the effort to revive the baby.

By the way, the foot was in the proper position after all.  It was just so big...

Our next task was to find a couple of calves to take all the milk Penny will be giving.  Our hopes were that she would accept a calf or two as her own.  We called the Holstein dairy at Higginsville, but they didn't happen to have any new calves.  I called my other suppliers at Holden, figuring they were done with calves for this year, but thank God they had a couple of nice Jersey bull calves.

The cow wants nothing to do with them, so it will be another case of securing the cow in the stanchion, putting the kicker on her, and forcing her to let the calves nurse.  Whatever.  It's been working with Grace, so I hope it will work for Penny.  

What did I learn?  Don't wait so long to call the vet if a cow, especially a heifer, is taking too long to have her calf.  

When some seemingly tragic episode would happen during my childhood and I would be bawling my eyes out, Mother would say, "Well, it isn't a human life."  

That was of little comfort to a child whose cat hadn't showed up at home for days, but now it makes sense to me.  I think of all my friends who have serious health problems right now and realize that the death of a bull calf is of little consequence.

With so many things going wrong with the few cows I own, you might wonder why I don't just give up.  Obviously I'm not making any money at it, when I'm losing an animal as often as I have lately (thank goodness we were able to eat a couple of our losses, literally).  Well, if you came to visit and sat with me and watched a couple of calves frolicking, bucking, and kicking their back feet in the air after they've got a belly full of milk, you would see why I do it.  I love the calves.  I like seeing them healthy and growing, knowing I had a small hand in it.  They make me happy.  I do it for the calves, and they keep me going. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Penny, the very, very, VERY pregnant heifer

Penny is officially due to calve a week from this Sunday.  I surely hope she doesn't have to wait that long.  

Here's what Penny looked like as a baby, back when we had a contest to name her:
That was before the incident that messed up her ear.  The lesson she taught us was this:  NEVER let any dehorning paste get on any part of a calf's body except for the immediate area around the horn buttons.  

Penny can hardly walk at this point in her pregnancy because her udder is so huge with milk (and edema).  I have been keeping her in the big lot for the last couple of days, fearing that she might give birth early; we never want a cow giving birth in the pasture where a new calf can (and often does) fall into a canyon.  Because Penny was raised alone, she doesn't mind being kept by herself, although Grace, the lead cow, protests Penny's absence often.  Cows are herd animals, so Penny's silence seems very strange to me.  I think perhaps she is the first cow I've owned that doesn't mind being by herself.  Just like me, she's an introvert.

I've been putting Penny in the stanchion twice daily, right after I'm done with Grace, so she will adapt quickly to the routine of being milked (or of having to allow calves to nurse her that she didn't give birth to, alongside her own baby).
She has always been very good about letting me handle her udder, but she's somewhat touchy nowadays, what with the swelling.  

Her rear udder is as tight as a balloon.  At least she is going to have good-sized teats for hand milking.  By the way, I have never heard a farmer say "teats" the way it is spelled.  It's always "tits".  Sorry, but that's the truth.  

Poor baby.  She doesn't even want me petting her, lately.  

Can you see the milk dripping from her teats?  This has been going on for a week now.  I guess there's just not enough room for all of it to stay in her udder.

By the way, I realize my header picture needs replacing.  I'm hoping to get a good picture of Penny with her calf when she has it (God willing all goes well), and I will use that for a header picture.

The garden

Never have I been less enthusiastic about a garden than I was this spring.  I considered just skipping the whole mess, since the weeds are likely to take over by July.  Then I decided to simply make a smaller garden so that if (when) it fails, it won't be so MUCH of a failure.  

In spite of my lack of enthusiasm, I find myself walking the rows at the first light of dawn to see if anything new is happening in my sandy soil, and I can tell you that plenty is happening:  Cliff has been eating fresh radishes all week.  In another week, if we get the predicted rain today or tomorrow, I think the spinach will be ready to start harvesting.  There's a row of green beans up; it was at first a perfect row where every single plant germinated and came out of the ground, but the cats decided that area of the garden makes a perfect potty place and scratched several young, barely-out-of-the-ground plants up.  Meh.  Who cares?  It'll all go to viney weeds anyhow.  The beets, potatoes, carrots and onions are doing fine.  Just for the fun of it I planted some multi-colored carrots, as well as an ordinary orange variety.

I planted two good-sized tomato plants early on, planning to cover them at night if frost was predicted, but I only covered them one night when it wasn't supposed to frost, but was heading for 34 degrees.  That was too close for comfort.  Those plants have blooms now.  There is some sweet corn I also planted too early, just a small planting, that is doing great, about two inches tall.  I've also done a second planting, but that one isn't up yet.  I had great success last year planting smaller areas of sweet corn every two or three weeks, and I'm doing that again.  It's great to have a steady supply of sweet corn coming in!  

I was going to have maybe six tomato plants this year.  Enough with the over-abundance!  I can buy canned tomatoes at Aldi's.  Well, that was the plan, but I ran into the two large plants at Ben's, and then I went to a tractor swap meet with Cliff and ran into some healthy, Amish-started smaller plants at a good price.  Oh yes, and early on I pre-ordered some varieties I've never tried from Burpee (at an outrageous price, but you only live once):  Big Daddy Hybrid, Brandy Boy Hybrid, and Cloudy Day Hybrid.  Three plants of each (sigh).  Then yesterday I called and added another variety to the order that sounded interesting, a Russian heirloom variety called "Black Krim".  So I've done it again, same thing I do every year with tomatoes.  They are my first love when it comes to garden vegetables, and I guess I will always get carried away with them.  One year I found a friend to take my excess tomatoes.  She is now doing her own gardening, but maybe I can find another needy person if it turns out to be a good tomato year.
HEIRLOOM. Medium-sized, very dark maroon beefsteak, with wonderfully rich flavor.
Customer Favorite!
This medium-sized, very dark maroon beefsteak, with wonderfully rich flavor, originated in Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea with perfect "tomato summers". Extremely tasty.

Seasonality: Mid Season 
Fruit Weight: 8  ounces
Fruit Bearing: Indeterminate 
Days to Maturity: 80  days
Sun: Full Sun 

So yes, I've done it again.  Bitten off more
than I can chew.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Brighten the Corner

Because today was the third Sunday of the month, it was my day to sing a song at church.  I'm the one who decided on the third Sunday because people were always asking me to sing, and I don't want to sing too much (I'm not that good, and besides, even Elvis would have had no business singing a solo at church more than once a month) so I'd put them off.  It got to be sort of a tussle, so I just said "How about once a month".  And that works.  Most times I've chosen some song I wrote myself back in my songwriting days of the 70's.  However, by now I've sung every church-worthy song I ever wrote, so today I chose one of my favorite old hymns instead.  I didn't even decide on the song until this morning.  I never bother to rehearse because it doesn't make me sound any better.  I usually don't decide what I'm going to sing until about 24 hours before church starts, and this morning I waited until the last minute.  

"Brighten the Corner" came to mind, and I knew that was the one I needed to sing.  My first memories of the song are from the Hepburn Church of Christ in Iowa.  I recall the congregation singing it when I was pretty small, and even then I loved it; I've never been able to sing it without smiling through the whole thing.  My mom, when she died, left behind four different Church-of-Christ songbooks, and this morning I searched three of them for "Brighten the Corner" to no avail.  Of course I found it on the Internet and printed off the words.  I also read how it happened to be written:   Words: Ina D. Og­don, 1913. Ear­ly in her life, Og­don had hoped to preach on the Chau­tau­qua cir­cuit. How­ev­er, her fa­ther’s ill­ness forced her to abandon her plans for an evangelistic career, in or­der to care for him at home. She wrote these encouraging words show­ing how one can serve the Lord in ma­ny dif­fer­ent ways and cir­cum­stanc­es. In other words, make the best of where you find your­self.

After printing off the words and running through the song once, I started wondering why it wasn't in any of the songbooks from churches I had attended with my parents.  I realized there was one hymn book I hadn't checked, the paperback hymnal from the little country church my grandmother used to attend... the Zion Church of Christ.  And when I checked the index, there it was.  I puzzled and pondered about why such a happy song wasn't in all those other hymnals.  I thought about the words and the happy, toe-tapping melody, and decided maybe it just wasn't "churchy" enough.  There's no mention of heaven or salvation or how hard life is this side of the Jordan... although these lines clearly have a place in any hymnal:  "Here for all your talent you will surely find a need, here reflect the Bright and Morning Star.  Even from your humble hand the bread of life may feed.  Brighten the corner where you are."

Before I sang the song this morning, I asked the congregation how many had heard of "Brighten the Corner".  Very few had.  What a shame.  

So I sang it for them, and as usual, I couldn't keep from smiling.  

Zion Church of Christ was about a quarter-mile down the road from Grandma Stevens' house.  When Big Creek got out of its banks, sometimes the little country church would flood, and all the songbooks got soaked a time or two.  Grandma took them to her house and put them on the clotheslines until they dried out.  I'm sure that's how those water marks got on the book. 

All Church of Christ songbooks have shaped notes, because the church doesn't use instrumental music in their worship, and believe it or not, shaped notes really do make it easier to read music.  They used to hold occasional "singing schools" teaching us how to read shaped notes.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Morning ramblings

Finally it's the time of year when I can stroll around the yard at sunup with coffee in hand and enjoy the morning:  Birds singing, beautiful sunrise, the garden coming alive, apple blossoms turning into baby apples, calves kicking up their heels.  The garden is perfect, because in late April, whose garden isn't perfect?  Weeds haven't had a chance to take over, and if a few of them creep in at this point, a tiller run between the rows takes care of them nicely.  Even with arthritic knees, the tiller is no problem for me to operate.  It doesn't have to be pushed, only guided gently, so I can almost use it as support while I'm letting it do its thing.

Note:  Possible frost warning Tuesday, according to a local weather-guesser.  Picture me outside one evening next week throwing blankets, rugs, and buckets over my tomatoes, sweet corn, and green beans.

We had the strangest thing happen yesterday on the way home from a swap-meet with the baby we care for.  Cora is a healthy, happy child and loves to go places where she can interact with people, so we had no qualms about taking her along.  She had a slight case of the sniffles, but was her usual happy self.  At the swap meet I bought some bedding plants, including some marigolds and salvia in bloom.  The trunk was full because we bought a sand-box, and the back seat was full, what with Cora's car seat and stroller.  I put the bedding plants at my feet.  It was a lovely warm day, so when we got in the car to go home, Cliff turned on the air conditioner.  Cora went to sleep in her car seat.

A few miles down the road, Cora woke up coughing, unable to draw a good breath.  It was exactly like an asthma attack, but she has never had signs of asthma.  She got choked and even vomited a little.  No sign of a fever, but she was really looking panicky.  So were Cliff and I!

Once we got home and got her out of the car seat and in the house, she began to settle down, letting us rock her and cuddle her.  Within 45 minutes, she was her happy little self with no problem other than the sniffles she began the day with.  

We have decided that she must have an allergy to marigolds or salvia blooms:  The A/C was on, the flowers were on the floor with pollen being re-circulated throughout the closed-up car by the air conditioner... that is the only explanation we can come up with.  Never again will we transport flowers in a closed car if that little girl is with us.  

And now, on to bovine matters.

For quite a while, because of Gracie-the-cow's battered udder, I hand-milked her twice daily and bucket-fed her milk to the the two baby calves she had been nursing.  You may recall from previous posts, Henry-the-calf has an under-bite, so his teeth had cut Gracie's udder as he nursed.  Before all this happened,  I turned Grace in with the calves twice a day and they would take all her milk.  Then her udder was cut and she started kicking at them.  

After being hand-milked for two or three weeks, Gracie has decided she prefers the kind, gentle hands of a human to the butting and sucking of calves that aren't related to her.  Even though I am weaning Henry, the original culprit, she will not willingly allow calves to nurse her now.  I replaced Henry with a Holstein from Heins Dairy because Grace gives too much milk for one calf, and I wanted calves to save me from milking the cow, and now she isn't on board with my plans.    However!  If I put her head in the stanchion and put the anti-kicking device on her, the calves can still do my milking for me.  So while I'm stuck at home to milk twice a day (my fault for buying baby calves that grow up to be milk cows, just because I like Jerseys), at least I can be an observer rather than a milker.  

To compound the matter, Penny-the-Jersey-cow is now a heavy springer... that's what real farmers call a cow that's going to have a calf very soon.  Since I overpriced her on Craigslist, nobody bought her, and I will soon have another dairy cow to milk, one that, from the looks of her udder, is going to give a LOT of milk.  As soon as she calves (in a couple of weeks), I intend to buy another Holstein baby to put with her calf.  I'm sure under those circumstances she will accept the foster calf as her own (or I will force her to) and I will be, once again, the observer rather than the milker.  Cliff consoles me with this statement:  "Well, at least her calf will be worth at least $500 when it hits the ground."  

All this because to me, Jerseys are like potato chips:  You can't stop at just one.  

Monday, April 13, 2015

Living with insomnia (and morning thoughts)

Once upon a time, it bothered me to wake up in the night and be unable to go back to sleep.  The minutes seemed like hours.  There always seemed to be something to be worrying about as I lay there awake and bored, and that seemed to compound the problem.    

I still lie awake for major portions of every night, but worries don't bother me any more.  Oh, last summer when the grandson was trying to get the old house remodeled, I'd wake up and get to worrying about one thing or another; but now I'm back to normal.  There are things I could let bother me in the lives of those around me, but I've learned to leave everybody else's problems alone and let them deal with them; my worrying won't change things anyhow.  These days if I find myself obsessing about something that's none of my business, I have learned to turn my mind in another direction.  In my old age, my mind performs perfect, legal u-turns.

Funny thing is, time doesn't even seem to drag when I'm awake in the night, the way it used to.  I've laid awake for a couple hours at a time, glanced at the clock occasionally, and not let the time bother me.  

Another funny thing:  No matter how little I sleep, by the time I've been up and around for a couple of hours, I don't feel any worse for the lack of sleep.  

So I lay awake from 1:30 until 4 o'clock this morning, and it honestly didn't seem like more than half an hour.  I fooled with the IPad for a while, but mostly I just lay there thinking how pleasant it is to lie in bed and listen to the rain coming down steadily.  I often take a deep breath and think what a gift it is to be able to breath deeply:  I have in-laws with asthma who can't get a truly deep breath, no matter how they try.

I often thank God that my knees don't hurt when I'm lying in bed, because I've heard lots of people say that's when their knees bother them a lot.  I do know the feeling, because before I had the meniscus repairs several years ago, I couldn't straighten out my knees when I was lying down.  It was awful!  

Friday night and Saturday nights I slept for over eight hours, only getting up once each night for the bathroom.  I wish I knew what caused the deep sleep, because I haven't slept so well in years!  Last night, I was back to normal, which is OK.  If that's the worst problem I ever have, I'm in good shape.

We are without Cora, as she is still with her grandma in Iowa.  I'm not sure when she'll be back, but Cliff and I will surely be ready for her.  She will have learned all kinds of new tricks and will be saying new words.  It's so cute to hear her saying things in her own toddler way:  "Go-yee" for girl and "mo-yee" for more.  I have ordered her a new "Little People" toy to be delivered to the nearest Walmart, and we will be anxious to see how she likes that when she returns; it will fit right in with the "little people" farm she already has here.  

That child has certainly given us something to look forward to.  

The grandson found out where the cows have been getting out at the back of the place and took a picture.  A tree has fallen on the fence.  This happens fairly often, as one would expect when the fence runs right through the woods.  

He also found this little gray morel while he was in the woods.  It's early yet; nobody has found huge quantities of them.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A funny thing happened on the way to Truman Lake Opry

Last year in mid-summer, I purchased a couple of tickets to see country singer Connie Smith.  I'm sure I paid $30 or $40 each for those tickets, but I like Connie, and Cliff REALLY likes her.  We record the Marty Stuart Show on RFDTV (Marty Stuart is Connie's husband) and Cliff fast-forwards all of the show except for Connie's song.  I think the show at Truman Lake Opry was scheduled for last November, but Connie was sick and couldn't make it.  So they rescheduled her for April 11.

I totally forgot the show.  Well, I knew it was coming up at some point, but I forgot when it was until the middle of last week, when I happened to notice where I had written it on the calendar.  I rejoiced, because the tickets were paid for and we weren't doing anything else.  I knew I would have to milk the cow a couple of hours early before we went, but that's no big deal.

Unfortunately, when the time came, the cows were nowhere to be found.  I walked back to "the point" and called, but got no answering "moo" from Grace.  I told Cliff I'd just have to milk her when we got home at 11 o'clock.

I have been telling Cliff and the grandson for days that I thought the cows had been getting out and then following Gracie back home at milking time.  That might sound like a strange thing to happen, but I can think of at least four or five times I've had cows have do this; one of the times was when Cliff was in the hospital with his gall bladder fiasco.  Arick assured me there couldn't possibly be a fence down because he had been "all over" looking for mushrooms the other day.  Cliff insinuated I was a worry-wort, just like my mother.  In the old days, I would have walked the fence myself, but that is SO painful with my knees the way they are, so I just hoped for the best.  Let me say right here that I don't care how much it hurts me, if I suspect the cows are getting out again, I WILL walk the fence... if I have to crawl.  It would have saved us a lot of grief if I had done that this time, and we wouldn't have missed Connie Smith.  

We got as far as Higginsville, less than twenty miles from home, when my cell phone vibrated.  I don't know how the ringer got turned off, but it only vibrated, which I wouldn't have known if my purse hadn't been laying in my lap.  It was a neighbor down the road.  "Do you have Jersey cows?" John asked.

Well, nobody else around here is crazy enough to keep Jersey cows, so I knew the news wasn't going to be good.  John informed me that he had just gotten three cows off 224 highway.  Those cows had to have gone on a good little jaunt to end up at John's house, because they got out the back somehow, followed the Old Mine Road to 224, and were probably heading home by way of the highway because it was milking time.

So much for our seeing Connie Smith.  Maybe she will make another appearance someday.  

I would love to tell you all the details of our cattle roundup, but it would take more time than I want to spend.  John had gotten them off the highway and was attempting to get them to his barn, right alongside the road, when they decided to go exploring in another direction where a neighbor's cows were grazing.  Thank goodness Grace is a pet and is sort of halter-broke, because with John's help we fashioned a halter out of a rope, I led Grace to the barn, and with some encouragement from Cliff and John, the bull and Penny followed.  The barn sits on a slope, so in order for the cows to get into the cattle trailer, they had to make a two-foot jump.  This doesn't come naturally to cows, and the first attempt to load them was unsuccessful because the stubborn bull was in front.  Cliff jacked up the front end of the trailer so the rear would be lower for the cows to climb into; the cows rearranged themselves so long-legged Grace was in front, and she stepped up into the trailer followed by the other two.  Of course, when they all headed toward the back of the trailer, it went down on that end and it was impossible to hook it back up to the pickup.  It was a "Murphy's Law" sort of day.  Cliff got so frustrated that I seriously thought he was going to have a heart attack.

Cliff went to the house and got a handy-man jack, which saved the day, and we came home with our three cows, who are safely locked in the big lot for now with a bale of hay to eat.  It's raining, but the rain is supposed to let up by noon.  So after church I guess Cliff and I will go find out where the cows have been escaping and see what it will take to fix the fence.  

It sure would have been a lot more fun to see Connie Smith, but you probably know by now that one of my favorite quotes is "man plans, God laughs".  

The good thing about having a blog is that when things go wrong, I have a place to vent.  And sometimes the worst happenings turn into the best blog entries.

One thing I forgot to mention:  We SO appreciate John's help.  He and his wife were hosting a family get-together with children and grandchildren (one son and his family live in Iowa, so they don't have that many family gatherings where everybody is in attendance).  I will never forget his willingness to drop out of their activities for an hour or so and come to our rescue.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A little bit of Stark Brothers history

I have ordered lots of trees from Stark brothers.  In all the times I ordered from them, I only lost one, a sweet cherry tree.  And as it turns out, I really didn't lose that one, but I thought I had; so I asked for a replacement, which I received at the next planting season.  The one I thought had died still had one live little shoot that I found later, and since it was above the point of the graft, I knew it would be the same variety I had ordered.  Had it been below the graft, it wouldn't have been any good, most likely, since root stock isn't chosen for the kind of fruit it bears, but for its hardiness.

Stark came up with the Red Delicious apple long ago.  About 30 years back, Byron Beckner, who established our local orchard (then primarily an apple orchard, but now growing peaches), was working beside me in the packing house when he picked up a Red Delicious apple, turned it upside down, and counted the five bumps on its bottom, saying "S-T-A-R-K" as he touched each bump.  Because of this, the fact that Stark brothers started the Red Delicious line of apples is forever engraved on my mind.  

The Red Delicious used to be everybody's favorite apple to eat out of hand.  If it weren't for one experience of mine at Beckner's Orchard, I would always wonder why, because these days, the Reds aren't so good.  But Byron's son, Larry, handed me a HUGE Red Delicious and said, "This is the old standard Red.  I'll be dozing them out next year."  

I took a bite of that apple and thought I had gone to heaven.  "Why would you take these apples out?"
"Because they don't keep long enough."  

Since then, I have not tasted a Red Delicious apple that was fit to eat.  The skins are tough and the inside is bitter and somewhat green.

Ever since I was a child, I have also loved the Golden (or yellow) Delicious apple.  If those could still be allowed to ripen on the tree, as they did when I was a child, they would be wonderful.  However, because they are the only variety of apple that can be picked green, it's impossible to ever find a ripe one these days.  I have a young Golden Delicious tree in my back yard, and it bloomed this year.  I'm hoping I can once again taste a truly GOLDEN (not green) yellow delicious apple.  Knowing my track record, it will probably be wormy, but I'm going to eat those suckers anyhow.

I get regular emails from Stark, and today the email I received sparked this blog entry.  You can read all about the history of the Golden Delicious apple HERE.  I hope you click on the link and read it; it's a fascinating story.  Notice the story told there is written in 1914, and was an old story even then.

Behind the scenes

I recently told a Facebook friend that Cliff is "clueless" about raising the cattle.  That wasn't really all THAT true; he knows lots of things about cows.  It's the bobby-calf-raising that he has always left to me, as far as making the decisions of when to wean them, when they might need some extra-strong pills for illness, and so forth.  However, when it's time to rubber-band-castrate a bull calf or put dehorning paste on a lively heifer, guess who does the dirty work?  Yep, good old Cliff.

He is also a master at adding a temporary make-shift pen wherever I need one, too, using rusty old cattle panels we've had around for at least thirty years, bent and hard to handle as they are.  We've had pens in various spots around both the front yard and the back one.  Today, once again, Cliff came through.

Since Henry has that nasty underbite that tears up my cow's udder, he is going to be early-weaned in a couple of weeks, which means he needs to be out of the pen the other two will be living (and nursing the cow) in.  

Maybe I don't always give Cliff enough credit.  

I guess these days I am nothing more than a cow blogger

I have things up in the garden, but I am not saying a lot about it because I'm not sure I'll follow through this year.  I let the weeds take over last summer, so of course baby weeds are already trying to take over.  I don't know how long I will keep up the gardening.  Things can change at the drop of a hat around here.  The only thing that remains constant besides the cows is Cliff, and I don't think he wants me going into a lot of detail about his private life.  Besides, my readers would get tired of seeing the details of his restoration of the Allis Chalmers D-17 Series IV.

So.  Remember Penny, the cow I overpriced for Craigslist because I really didn't want to sell her?
I didn't sell her.  And today I took the ad off Craigslist, because I STILL don't want to sell her.  Look at that udder!  And she still has almost a month until she calves.  I had two calls about her... one from a trader in Iowa, and one from someone across the river near Polo or Norborne.  

She is officially due on May 2, if I wrote it down correctly.  She's a little on the pudgy side, but she'll probably milk off all the fat once she calves.    

There's no extra fat on Grace.  She puts all her energy into making milk.  If I'm able to get two calves on her after Penny calves, I may use some pour-on Ivomec to worm her, just in case she needs it.  I don't want to use wormer on her while we are using the milk.   She has turned out to be such a great milk cow; during the winter her milk developed an unpleasant taste after a couple of days in the refrigerator, but that is all in the past now, and her milk tastes wonderful for days.  Now that there is green grass for her to eat, her cream even has a golden color, whereas it was as white as her milk all winter.  She should be due near the end of October.  

That's all for now.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015


Last year I had the most successful sweet corn crop of my life.  Somewhere on the Internet I read that you can pre-sprout seeds before you plant them, and I decided to give it a try.  I've always had a terrible time with corn because moles discover them as soon as I've planted the seeds and burrow right up the row, sometimes devouring 90% or more of the seeds.  Maybe it was coincidence last summer, but the moles never bothered my pre-sprouted seeds in any of the four plantings.  I've already planted a few sprouted corn seeds this week, although it's early for corn and it wouldn't be unusual for us to get a frost or even a hard freeze at any time in April.  That's why I didn't sprout too many for this first planting.  But I always like to try for a few early things.    

This year I'm experimenting with other seeds, just to see how it works with various kinds.  Eggplant seeds are tiny, slow to come up, and easily mistaken for weeds when they do come up.  So in the past I paid the price and bought a plant or two.  This year I have some already in the process of sprouting, so once they are planted they should come up really fast.  I'm even trying some flower seeds.  It's so much cheaper to plant seeds rather than to buy started plants.  I've always planted cabbage seeds directly in the soil without sprouting, and then transplanted them so they are the proper distance apart, and that works fine.

The pre-sprouting is pretty simple, really.  Dampen a paper towel, put the seeds in it, and place the rolled or folded paper towel in a plastic baggie.  Don't seal the bag shut.  If you soak the paper towel to heavily, and/or seal up the baggie, there's a chance of mold growing on the seeds.  I had this happen last year when I waited too long to plant one of my corn crops, and went ahead and planted the moldy, sprouted seeds anyway.  They didn't come up; the mold had killed them.

We'll see if last year's good fortune with the corn was just a fluke.  

There's a site HERE that might help you, if you want to try this for yourself.  It gives various temperatures that are ideal for sprouting different kinds of seeds, but I'm not going to bother with that.

Oh, the wonder of cows

As in, they make me wonder WHY I even bother with them!  

Grace is always waiting nearby at milking time, 6:30 A.M. and P.M.  She isn't necessarily beside the barn every time, but she has always been within calling distance for the six months I've been bringing her in twice daily.  

This morning, no Gracie.  I called and called.  I walked out in the pasture to the point, which is about as far back as my knees want to go these days.  It didn't help that the fog was so thick you could have cut it with a knife, so that even with the flashlight I could only see about six feet in front of me.  It isn't like Gracie not to come when I call, because she knows she will receive some sweet feed when she comes.  

I decided to step inside the house and wait it out.  My knees weren't going to allow me to walk much more anyhow, and I knew the cow would eventually show up, bawling her whispery bellow as always, with the other two behind her.  I was pretty calm until an hour had gone by; it is totally uncharacteristic of a milk cow to stay away from the barn at milking time.  At 7 o'clock the rain started pouring down.  I woke Cliff up so I'd have a shoulder to cry on, and he grumbled and mumbled as he drank his coffee and ate his cereal.  "They must have gotten out," I said.  "I'll bet a limb has fallen on the fence again and knocked it down.  They're probably over on the Westerman property with Steve's cows."

Any time I have missing cows, that's usually where we find them, because they tend to go where other cows are... and oftentimes one of them is looking for a bull, although that wouldn't have been the case this time.  Steve has always been very patient with us when we call and tell him our cows are with his.  He's a nice, easy-going man.

However!!!!  Two-and-one-half hours after milking time, with rain pouring down, I looked out the front door and spotted the cows in our pen where neighbor David used to keep his horse.  Once they are in there, there's no direct route to the barn:  They have to go round-about to get out of that pen, come around through the pasture, and walk into the pen by the barn.  

I donned the most water-proof nylon coat I own and Cliff said, "You're going out to chore in the rain?"

"That's how I've done it all my life," I said.  Of course I don't literally milk in the rain, because I milk inside the barn.  But I did get pretty wet walking out there.  I had to meet the cows halfway down the hill because the poor souls had forgotten how to get out of the pen they were in.  *sigh*

It's OK.  I'm so relieved all is well that I'm not even mad at them.

Thursday, April 02, 2015


Thanks to Daylight Saving Time, I am STILL doing my chores in the dark every morning.  There are lights in the barn, thank goodness, but I have to take the flashlight out to locate the cow and calves, and also just to find my way to the barn.  The only thing more difficult than doing chores in the dark would be doing chores in the dark when it's raining.  Not that I'm complaining, because we sorely need the rain (an inch so far) that we're getting as I make this entry.

It wouldn't be so bad if I was still letting the calves do the milking for me, but since the cow's teats still have scabs on them from Henry (the calf with an underbite) nursing her, I'm milking her twice a day.

Thank goodness Grace was waiting near the barn when I was ready to milk, so I didn't have to walk all over several acres in the rain calling her.  But there is something very unpleasant about milking a wet cow.  Water drips down onto the person milking, and also into the bucket.  Since I wasn't saving any milk for the house, at least the water in the milk wasn't a big deal.  The calves don't care.

We bought a very expensive Holstein bull calf earlier this week:  My plans are to keep Henry, the calf with the dental problem, on the bottle or bucket, and eventually wean him early.  Then I'll let the new guy and Hope nurse the cow.  I was going to simply call the new calf "The Holstein", since he is the only one of that breed on the place and I figured we'd end up calling him that all the time anyhow.  But this morning he named himself.

When I entered the calf lot with a milk bucket, a nursing bucket, and a flashlight in hand, I saw the two older calves out in the rain, wishing they could get through the fence to Grace.  I figured one-week-old Holstein was in the calf stall, warm and dry.  I put my buckets in my "milking parlor" and then went to check on him.  Well, my heart stopped when I saw him laid out on his side, eyes half-closed and no indication that he was breathing.  I nudged him with the toe of my boot.  No response.  $425 dollars laying dead on the straw.  

"Oh come on, don't be dead!" I pleaded, nudging him a little harder with my toe.  He was limp as a dishrag.  I felt his body, and he was warm.  His nose was wet.  "OK, he can't have been dead long," I thought.  "I'll see if I can revive him somehow."  

When I started trying to get him to a more upright position, though, he began to wake up, and struggled to his feet, not gracefully, but quickly.  There was nothing wrong with him after all.  Baby Holsteins have such a huge frame, it seems as though they need a little time to get used to their massive bodies, and they sleep most of the time for a few days.  It seems to take them longer to get used to just walking around.  They are much clumsier than my fine-boned little Jerseys:  They will try to kick up their heels and fall down in an ungainly heap.

However, I have raised at least 200 bottle calves in my time, and I have never seen a living calf appear to be as dead as this one.

So his name is now Lazarus, because he was resurrected from the dead this morning (so it seemed).  Once he was on his feet, he immediately began looking for a nipple and even began bawling to let me know he was starving.