There are deep footprints through the plots of mangel-wurzels, oats and field peas, and Country Gentleman corn, where three cows got through the open lane gate while we were milking and did spring dances in the soft, wet earth. They probably didn’t do much real damage, but beds aren’t as pretty any more. Where the potatoes are just beginning to come up, weeds are threatening to get ahead of them, so we have to begin laying on the mulch trusting to our memories to tell us just where those seed potatoes are. Ten beds, fifty by seventy-five, rotate between field corn, potatoes, mangels and squash, with a cycle of turnips and beans to follow the potatoes, and the squash and corn undersown with clover. The beds of mangels and rows of corn alternate with paths we are slowly converting to Dutch while clover, the small-scale, low-tech version of contour plantings of corn and fallow. The interplanting of clover should shade the soil, hold moisture, slow erosion (a serious issue on our sloping garden), foster beneficial insects and fix nitrogen. It also makes work, since the paths must then be mowed or hand-harvested of their legume crop, but is this any worse than having to weed them?
Friday is my morning to sleep in, since I have an appointment from midnight to two ack emma the night before, but last Friday I was up by five fifteen, not because I wanted to be, but because I could hear a ewe somewhere on the hill saying something about discomfort and unease. It was too dim still to see more than an assortment of white spots against the dark hillside, but I could see that one spot was separated from the rest, so — muttering under my breath, because the girl who usually cares for the sheep was up at the barn milking and so couldn’t be sent to investigate this mystery — I pulled boots and a vest over my jammies and went out to see what was what.
It was Rosemary, last year’s bottle lamb, now a well-grown ewe and trying to birth a particularly large, beefy ram lamb. All I could see was two big feet, and I could hear the thermos of tea in the kitchen calling to me, so I told her she had thirty minutes to make business happen and went back to the house. Earl Grey and milk and a leisurely half hour on the front porch made me feel better, but not Rosemary. Those feet were not moving, or if they were they were going back inside.
We have helped reposition a poorly laid calf, but never a lamb, until now; we’re here to tell you, the lamb is a heck of a lot easier. Two little girls and one medium-sized woman, and five minutes of concentrated attention, that’s all this one took. From our home birth days we diagnosed the problem as shoulder dystocia and a cervical lip, which sounds way more dramatic than ‘stuck lamb’, but we got’er done, and that’s what matters. A lovely boy, name Johann after my father, who died the day before.
If you ever see a cow standing with her neck arched, mouth open, saliva dripping from her jaws, respiration about eighty breaths per minute, get her out of the sun.
These early spring days hit the cows harder than hotter days will do in July, when they are acclimated to it, but what do you do with a cow who has water, shade and salt and prefers to stand in the sun and pant? It was time to take that group of cows across the road to a wooded pasture, so over she went with the others, and after an hour in the shade was frisking with the rest. Still, we don’t like to see a cow get in that condition, and she wasn’t the only one; there were two among the lactating cows which were approaching meltdown. These were on the woods on the east side of the pasture, where the shade is thinner in late afternoon, so in the morning we gave them a paddock on the west side so that they would have the best shade between noon and four o’clock milking time, which did the trick. Thank goodness; we don’t want a bunch of cows with heat stroke.
We walked out to look at Sweetheart this evening before bed. She is four days past due calving, but seems unconcerned about it, a state I can’t appreciate, having always been wildly impatient under such circumstances. The night promises to be cool, and we sat in the orchard with children on our laps trying to stay warm. Other children slid under the hot wire to play with Rosa, the month-old black heifer calf, who came to see what was up and then stayed to play a game of peekaboo with a pair of tennis shoes. The children lay on their backs in the grass and the cows, who can never resist a recumbent human being, came and sniffed their hair.
This year we are moving faster over the pastures, watching the orchard grass head out and trying to make our way all the way around in forty days on the second pass. Despite the scant rainfall, the regrowth has been rapid, and we are teetering between wondering if we will be short on forage in July, or if we should clip behind the cows. Guesswork, really, there are arguments both ways —
This time of year chores take longer, with bigger paddocks and faster moves, and we spent three hours around milking time moving fence, examining pasture conditions, and switching water systems from one side of the road to the other. Setting posts for the lactating cows’ new paddock I almost stepped on a little grey and white creature about the size of a walnut, a tiny killdeer just three days out of the shell. What he was doing in the orchard when the rest of the family was behind the monastery I could only guess, but the wind was blustery in the extreme today, and I would guess he was just blown over there. I marked him with a post so Shawn wouldn’t step on him, and when the paddock was built took him in my cupped hands (I could have held four in the same space) and carried him up the hill. Pretty soon one of the parent killdeer heard his little peeps; I couldn’t see the adult at first, only hear its replies. In the short grass near their nesting site I set down my little baby and backed off. Mama (Papa?) made short dashes toward the place where the baby peeps were coming from, and came away with a tiny shadow.
The hens in the coupe went to the back of the farm this morning so they won’t be getting into the garden for a while. Only half of the potatoes are in yet, a testimony to the lateness of the spring. If it doesn’t rain for two days, we’ll put the rest of the seed potatoes in on Monday. The new potato patch is just plowed sod, so we aren’t expecting a boom harvest, but you have to put something in to break the sod.
About thirty pounds of harvested clover went to the five feeder pigs today, and should have been shared out in two feedings; they ate more than half, but walked all over the rest. Waste of good forage. The clover was harvested off one of the paths between beds in the garden, where it serves several purposes — living mulch, nitrogen fixation, and pig forage. We just crawl down the path pulling tops with both hands; when we’re done it looks roughly mowed.
The price of cow-raised dairy heifers is not knowing how many pounds will be in the bucket from day to day. Cool days little Rosa takes extra; she fits her skin like she’s upholstered.
A little rain would be appreciated; the mid-month paddocks are already velvety-green, but the short grass grazed in the last week or so is slow to green up, even when you can see it has gotten higher. It has caught our eye; there is regrowth, but it lacks that emerald color that means plenty of nitrogen was available for those roots.