Monday, December 2, 2013:
The first significant snowfall of the year blanketed our valley the day before Thanksgiving. Temperatures around thirty-two degrees meant a layer of ice between two layers of wet, compacted snow, more difficult for the cows to feed through than a deeper layer of fluffy white stuff would be. While it was falling – it snowed for most of two days – we supplemented both the lactating cows and the dry cows with square bales, which they ate with appreciation; when the weather settled, cold, but without precipitation, we left the dry cows to their own devices and supplemented only the mama cows. This morning, finally, temperatures above freezing are rotting the ice over the stockpiled pastures, and we turned the lactating cows onto a new paddock; the enthusiasm with which they turned from baled hay to ice-crusted standing grass is a lesson in cow nutrition.
Although their production has dropped as winter approaches, the cream line in the bottle has remained a constant two-to-three inches, further testimony of the high food value of judiciously stockpiled pasture grass. Thank you, Eastern Ohio Grazing Council, for your absolutely indispensable information, example, and advice – may many such farmers-helping-farmers institutions spring up around the globe, to the benefit of everyone.
Posted in dairy cow, grass | Tagged cows graze in snow, Eastern Ohio Grazing Council, stockpiled forage | Leave a Comment »
Friday, November 15:
The dogs have been killing sheep.
Some predator killed a ram lamb a month ago. Since then the pony has shared the sheep’s paddock and there had, until two days ago, been no trouble. But we are approaching the season when we feed hay out on the pasture, to spread fertility (noun concrete) more evenly and to spare ourselves the chore of moving fence all winter, and for the past two days the sheep have had the run of the home pasture, sometimes wandering far from bossy, cantankerous Bridget.
Our six-year-old, who is small and moves softly, sees things which change or move away before we larger, heavier folk arrive. He saw two coyotes and a skunk on the wooded edge of the back pasture Monday night while two of us were up there mending a water line. He walked up on a hawk with one of our half-grown ducklings clutched in her talons, giving us later a description of the event which might have come from a naturalist on a field expedition, his prose lucid and untutored, guiltless of plagiarism since he cannot read. Today he witnessed canine pack predation.
Narrating events from the dogs’ hunting spree this afternoon he draws a animated picture before the mind’s eye: the three dogs spread out, closing on the sheep flock, pressing it here and there; the lead ewe taking two steps out and stamping a warning foot; the dogs’ dart and bark; then the lead ewe steps too far and they cut her out, drive her down the hill. They hound her up and down the creek bed, biting, pulling, the six-year-old shrieking and bringing down his stick on any dog within reach; the chase grows hotter and the ewe more exhausted until she collapses in the shallow water under the bridge. The son beats away the dogs with his stick.
When we arrived, summoned by his shrieks, the ewe, less hurt than terrified and exhausted, scrambled to her feet. At once the dogs closed in again, chivying and biting like animals possessed, deaf to shouts and threats that would under normal circumstances have sent them into retirement under the front porch. Even when by our combined efforts we beat them away and the ewe, limping and shivering, took refuge with the two June calves, who sniffed and licked her in stolid reassurance, the dogs still circled, half an eye on us and the greater part of their attention on their prey, looking for a chance to dodge in and cut her out once more. Like the drive to reproduce which consumes the male dog in proximity to a female in oestrus and enables him to overcome any obstacle, the feral instinct overcomes domesticity.
We know of no cure for the dog who hunts livestock. We are in mourning.
Posted in sheep, the daily grind | Tagged dogs kill sheep | 1 Comment »
Wednesday, November 13:
Updates. The lactating cows are still on the front pasture, and it looks like they will be able to graze there another two or three weeks, making two months in all. This pasture was only worth a month of grazing in July. The conclusion to these facts is that the second-growth forage has a higher feed value, due in part to the beneficial effects of rotational grazing. This is predictable, but still gratifying.
The dry cows are moving across the back half of the farm, where there is still about five weeks’ grazing before they must be moved closer to the frost-free spring tank. Even paddocks that were grazed only a week or two ago show green regrowth, and the west side of the hill, over which the cows passed in September, is emerald green and smooth the fuzz on a peach. This area is remote from the monastery; a six-year-old boy with a golf-club and no interest in the work at hand returned from a dusk stroll with reports of two coyotes patrolling the wood’s edge, and a frenetic skunk doing the hoochi-coo in the naked raspberry canes. It is an interesting life.
Eight small piglets were moved to the monastery garden last Thursday, where they patrol an area some thirty by thirty-five feet, grubbing for whatever pigs grub for. We have not yet put them in the barley patch; right now they only have access to frozen beans, which are of only slight interest, and the beets and turnips, which have more appeal. Unforeseen is the disparity in size between the turnips – many are larger, considerably larger, than a softball – and the tiny mouths of these fifteen-pound baby pigs. The tops of the vegetables are eaten with relish, but the roots themselves are just too big for the babies. Shall we cut them up? – lengthy job – or pull them and cart them back to the barn for Hunk and Porca, the parent pigs? Actually, Hunk, who lived his first five months on commercial feed, shows little interest in roots, but Porca, who has been with us since she was a little piggy and knows all about vegetables, loves beets and turnips. Come to think of it, it will be nice to know that there is at least one food Porca will get to enjoy without having to compete with Hunk, her ungallant lover. At any rate, the pig garden looks like giving us a good deal of pig food, one way or another.
Our first snow of any consideration fell late on Monday night, and the cows’ consumption of water went down to almost nothing. Who needs water when every bite of grass includes a good mouthful of snow? But paddocks have to be bigger now, when the cows require extra food just to keep warm. The two-year-old steers that have been out on grass an hour west of here on the farm of a friend with more grass than livestock, were fetched home yesterday and put in with the dry cows. The grass must have been good where they were; they are huge, for Jerseys, solid, with a look of meditation in their dark eyes. One will go to the locker on Monday, his karma being to provide fuel for the monastery’s prayers. They knocked down a fence this afternoon, so I, for one, will not miss him.
Posted in dairy cow, garden, grass, homestead pigs, water | Tagged feeding beets to pigs, feeding roots to pigs, rotational grazing | Leave a Comment »
Saturday, November 2:
Three nights ago blew in a gusty rain, southerly, but shredding the rusty leaves from the trees and revealing the brown backs of these Appalachian foothills. In the ditches and along the riverbanks, though, the sumac is still red, if it is the small, five-year variety, or gold, if it is the tall, twenty-year kind. Five-year sumac has cones of dark red berries held upright over drooping compound leaves like palm fronds; twenty-year sumac trails wads of winged brown seeds like dirty cobwebs. Both are weed trees which spring up in rocky, sour, or waste soils, and add brilliant color to our autumn show.
We burned the late fall bonfire last night, the weather giving of its best, dry, cool, and windless. Along the lane the torches that topped each fence post smoked and flared, and the bonfire itself sent sparks seventy feet in the air. The summer kitchen was the center of a crowd gathered there for hot doughnuts, cider, and cocoa, and on the lawn people sat in folding chairs and on blankets and held long conversations about the dead, and the future. Prayers were offered for both. It is almost winter.
Today we planted hoops over the winter beds of greens, carrots and beets; next week these will be covered with plastic sheeting to protect them from the frosts that are getting more frequent. The pig pens had to be forked out, and the Massey-Ferguson in its big shed swept free of chaff and dead leaves and covered with tarps to keep off the snow.
The three little children went out to shift the home paddock and were gone an hour and a half. Bridget, the sorrel mini, was feeling the seasonal shift and broke out of the paddock where she is nominally in charge of the sheep to go charging up and down the south pasture chivvying chickens and squealing like air escaping from a balloon. The sheep got out, too, to go surging up and down the hill, and even the two July calves got into the act, galloping to the top of the steep pasture and requiring to be brought down again when the new paddock was ready. The animals are grazing their way up the middle section of the pasture and have grass enough for another two or three weeks; when hard frosts put the grass into dormancy we will begin feeding them hay. The sheep are due to begin lambing in a couple of weeks, anyway; time to go into the barn, out of reach of coyotes and stray dogs.
Posted in fence, garden, grass, sheep | Tagged lambing | 1 Comment »
Wednesday, October 30:
We had seen young male pigs castrated before – once – forty years ago – and there is nothing to it, at least, not for the party of the first part. We had, however, a little trepidation about doing it for ourselves. Our beloved vet, while admitting that she herself would do it with the help of anesthetic and stitches, reluctantly advised us to watch a farmer do it as a field operation. We watched a video. Nothing to it: cut, pinch, yank. Twice. The first little guy was so outraged at the time, and looked so discouraged post facto, that we left him to the sympathy of his family and let the others wait, until we could see for ourselves how he recovered. Lo and behold, two days later he could not be distinguished from his fellows, not at a casual glance. So, today the men finished the job. Three more little pigs joined the ranks of those “not needed for breeding purposes”. We learn a lot of new tricks on this job.
Now I’m going to go bait the mousetraps in the kitchen; something has been gnawing the baseboards.
Posted in homestead pigs | Tagged cutting pigs | 2 Comments »
Monday, October 28:
We brought up the pumpkins and summer squash to cure in the yard where we can cover them at night from the black frosts. The squash vines, which had run amok until they covered the whole garden, we pulled up and piled in windrows to be fed to the pigs over the next couple of weeks; frost burns those on top, but the vines below are still leafy and the pigs devour them. The beans were pulled and the last ten gallons or so are waiting to be canned; the bean plants, like the squash, are windrowed for pig fodder. Soon the gardens will be empty except for the low tunnels, long hoops of plastic sheltering carrots, lettuce, spinach and beets, and the straw-mulched rows hiding late-planted garlic.
We buried Eric on Tuesday. After the pine wood coffin was placed over the grave, Mike filled shots with Jim Beam and toasts were drunk before the men secured the coffin lid with fifty ten-penny nails, the hammer going around the circle like a loving cup to friends, brothers, sons. Mike held up the youngest son, shielding the child’s face from the hammer’s claw. “Careful, Clemmie,” instructed a waiting five-year-old. The wall of men in suits surrounded the grave like a posse, concentrated, purposeful.
There is that about these people makes death transparent, as though they can see through it to something on the other side. It is related, somehow, to the cold, black, star-pierced mornings when we tramp down the field leaving a path of deeper darkness in the frost, to break ice in the stock tank and lead the cows up to the barn for milking. It is stepping out into what is inhospitable, even hostile, to fill our hands with warm, nourishing life.
Posted in garden | Tagged death | Leave a Comment »
Sunday, October 20:
Something killed a ram lamb at the bottom of the pasture. Parallel slashes across the ribs and a single bite, low on the shoulder, from a small set of sharp canines, do not look like the signature of the coyotes who sang to us this morning at five-thirty while we were milking, nor do they explain why, when we skinned the lamb for the hogs, the abdominal cavity was ruptured in three places where the hide was still unbroken, evidence, it would seem, of heavy blows. Three new tunnels on the hillside, with three long heaps of clay and rock, like tailings spilling from a mine shaft, inform us of new neighbors, but as of even date no one has seen them, and we are left to speculate without adequate information.
We hung the carcass in an empty box stall to keep it from the dogs until we could find time to skin it out, which being two days later the thing smelled pretty high, but we quartered it and boiled it in the big slop kettle, which will take care of the hogs’ protein needs for several days.
Posted in the daily grind | Tagged coyotes kill sheep | Leave a Comment »