Archive for February, 2013

Wednesday, February 27:

Yesterday was a very exciting day.  Yesterday we were filled with a sense of great things coming.

No wonder I feel afraid of life today.

Yesterday we had the vet out.  We do not often have the vet out; in order for us to do what we do we have to minimize expenses like veterinary visits, which doesn’t exactly sit well with the vet, although I daresay she understands it.  But we called her Sunday night and asked her to palpate two cows, and Tuesday morning she came.  We brought the cows one by one and put them in the stanchion and she reached them both with the ultrasound machine, and there were calves in both of them.

Well, Mr. M. did try to tell me that an amateur can’t reach a cow reliably.  He gave me the following piece of information which, for those of us with cows, is significant:  a cow can show distinct signs of being in heat – standing to be mounted, mounting other cows, sweaty back, vulvular discharge, being off her feed and dropping in milk production – even when she is carrying a calf.  Polly, our vet, said the same.  She said you just don’t really know unless you have her preg checked, which may mean palpation – feeling the calf in the uterus through the rectal wall – or a blood test, or a sonogram.

Such was the situation with Poppy and Sugar, the two new cows from Mr. M.

Or, another case in point.

Isabel, our lead cow, caused great disappointment around Christmas by going into heat.  She went off her feed, and dropped ‘way down in milk production for a couple of days, then popped back up and was normal.  Three weeks later she did the same thing, showing typical signs of heat.  It was obvious she had either, 1) not taken to the A.I. in October, perhaps from a hormonal inadequacy, or 2) subsequently lost her calf, probably by reabsorption due to a lack of estrogen, the same lack which might be responsible for a failure to take to the artificial insemination.

Three weeks later, she did it again.

Isabel is an old cow, basically a big bag of grass on legs, and her belly is huge.  Polly saw her yesterday and asked when she was due.  We told her she wasn’t.  We explained our disappointment, and Isabel’s calfless state.

“Are you sure?”  asked Polly.

Were we, we asked ourselves.

Another ultrasound.

There was a calf in there too.

Jubilation.  Rejoicing.  Much laughter and elation, and a phone call to Mr. M. to tell him we were sorry to have caused him trouble but we were delighted to find that the lovely cows he had sold us were, indeed, with calf.  Mr. M. is very understanding and encouraging of ignorant beginners, and seems to bear us no ill-will.

Crow tastes good.

And today I am panic-stricken in spurts that this expansion, long in consideration, is actually underway.

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excerpt from our day book:

While we were contemplating this Big Pain (unrelated farming issue), Baby Belle ran herself up against the corner of the duck house roof which should have been bent under but somehow never had been, and made a neat ten-inch gash across her ribs, all the way through skin and subcutaneous fat.  The thing could open and close like a lady’s pocket book.

And we can’t find the suture kit.

Why are we doing this (farming)?  Do we just like to burn money?  — and create messy problems for ourselves?

Sewing needles, we are now in a position to declare, are not sufficiently strong or sharp to pierce thick cowhides for suturing.   And leather needles, while strong enough, are made to be used on inert cured cowhides, not warm kicking ones.  Whether the use of dental floss as sutures, casually and confidently urged by people not presently needing to try it themselves, is really viable, we are not in a position to assert, not having been able to pull the thing off.  We irrigated the clean cut with sterile saline, poured in some seven percent iodine solution, and caulked it with a bead of antibiotic ointment.

Duct tape has only a moderate affinity to hide with the hair on.

All this after the farm store closes on Saturday afternoon.

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Sunday, February 24:

Yesterday was the Day of Destiny for the two pigs up at Barry’s.  They were two of the four we got from F., and they hung at two-hundred thirty and two-hundred fifty pounds, split.  The guys got them on hooks in about three hours on Friday afternoon; on Saturday they started around seven o’clock, and with three of the Fallon boys had both hogs cut and wrapped by three o’clock.  The sample sausage that Barry brought in and fried was of surpassing excellence; tonight we will grill pork chops.

The hams and belly from the black hog the boys killed last week have been brining for a week in a black pepper/brown sugar cure.   To hold them at forty degrees we put them out in the cave on the east side of the house where we store pumpkins, winter squash, and potatoes.  Three times the bacons were brought in, massaged, turned in their brine and put back out in the cave.  The hams require a week longer in the cure, and only had to be checked to make sure the brine wasn’t turning ropy, a sign that bacteria have taken hold.  Today we took the bacons from the brine and washed them; later we will set up a fifty-five gallon drum and smoke the belly for seven or eight hours.  Not wanting to wait that long for a taste, though, we cut a few rashers after Mass and fried them up for breakfast; they were delicious.

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Friday, February 15:

We are tapping trees this week.  Two of the boys went out Wednesday with a brace and bit and a bucket of spiles; now on the hill two-gallon pails hang on the southeast side of ten or fifteen maple trees, enough to produce all the sap our backyard operation can process, all our household needs for a year of pancakes and waffles.

It is a feat to scramble diagonally across our steep hills filling five gallon buckets from the sap pails on each tree and trying not to spill too much or fall fifty feet into North creek below.   The dogs think this is an exercise designed for their personal amusement and stay close to us, showing us deer sign and getting tangled up with our feet.  Bridget the sorrel pony knows we are wasting our time and stands at the pasture fence to show us that we would be better employed bringing her half a bale of second cutting clover and timothy.  Despite her, and despite the way our boots are slipping on the thin wet snow and the mud beneath it, we are purposeful, determined:  the trees have something to give us, wild food to be had for the gathering, and we are out here to get it.

The cattle at the monastery are only half-way through the forage in the very large paddock that was made for them last Saturday.  When they are given too much space they browse inefficiently, stepping on grass they would eat if they thought they were feeling competetive.  Nevertheless we are going to leave them in that paddock for another two or three days, there is still so much grass.  We will not run out of forage this winter, and in the spring, if the gods smile, we must consider buying extra steers just to keep the pasture grazed.

The black hog made the great transition this afternoon, from Fed to Food.  The boys brought home a bucket of casings to be scraped and tomorrow they’ll break down the sides into chops, hams, belly and sausage meat.  No more going without breakfast meat on Sundays.  On Thursday the farm science class will learn to scrape hogs’ intestines and make five kinds of sausage.

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Tuesday, February 12:

The spinach we planted last fall in the high tunnel has been providing us with salad since December.  We make note of two considerations for next fall’s plantings:  1) a variety with an upright habit of growth will make better use of the space in the tunnel, and require less cleaning after harvest; and 2) it does not pay to skimp on thinning.  A crop that will be occupying the same space all winter needs plenty of room; thin rigorously.

We butcher our two biggest hogs this weekend.  Although the pigs make very good use of the forages, fodder crops and dairy products we provide them with, during the last two months the five of them have consumed about three bags of feed every two weeks.  Three sacks times fifty pounds divided by five pigs is thirty pounds of feed per pig per fortnight, or fifteen pounds of feed per pig per week.  That’s about five dollars per pig per week.  It is precisely this five dollars that we hope to save this year by starting our own piglets in May when there is plenty of milk and garden trash, and having them ready to butcher when the weather turns cold.

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Saturday, February 9:

The snow in the yard is thawing today and in places the green grass is poking through.  The paths, where we have trampled the snow down solid going to and from the barn, are slick with rotting ice and slush, and in the wheel ruts in the lane snowmelt runs muddy and yellow under a layer of ice.  Very soon we will have to put the taps in our maple trees; so today we unearthed the bag of spiles and the coffee can of bucket hooks from their bin in the basement.  The girls got into the back of the shed and pulled out all the sap buckets.  The sun was already down behind the south hill but they took the buckets out on the porch and washed them with hot soapy water that cooled too quickly; when they came in at last for chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes their hands were wrinkled and pink, and very chilly.

The greenhouse, crowded with things people had put in there to be out of the way last summer, had to be sorted and cleaned as well.  Cracked buckets went into the recycle pile; broken clay pots were discarded, and plastic pots grown brittle from a year in the hot greenhouse were thrown away.  The shop lights which will provide an extra few hours of energy to the tomato seedlings were raised as high on their chains as they would go, out of the way of the heads of whomever will be starting seeds in there this spring.  All the seeds left over from last year have been tested for germination (see our garden page for instructions), so we can begin sowing those tomatoes and peppers almost immediately.

The new Blue Heeler pup is forbidden the basement so we shush him when he is down there and Papa pretends not to hear.

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Sunday, February 3:

It is beginning to snow again.

I can’t see the flakes, but they brush against my face in a fine dust as I climb the hill from the garden.  Sweeping snow off the tunnels that protect our winter-hardy vegetables is a job that has to be done when it has to be done; and sometimes it has to be done at midnight, or two a.m.  Whenever there is an accumulation of more than two or three inches of snow on the tunnels someone has to go down with a broom and sweep the tunnels clean.  Otherwise we could have another disaster like the one that had us all in the garden on the afternoon of December 26, tearing down and rebuilding tunnels which had collapsed when four inches of snow and ice fell in about two hours time.  Five of us were pulled off tasks which had kept us more or less under cover during the ice storm to spend the afternoon repairing the damage:  sweeping snow from the collapsed tunnels; pulling out lengths of PVC that had snapped off under the weight of all that ice; cutting the wires that held sections of stock panel to the T-posts that had anchored the thirty-foot long high tunnel firmly to the ground, while keen winds and freezing rain chilled us through.

No one is anxious to do the job over again.

For what do we labor?  The best food in the world, maybe; or maybe the security of knowing where it comes from, and that, barring accident, it will be there when we need it.

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