Friday, February 1:
After two days of unseasonably warm weather – unseasonal, but not unusual for this area as we often get a few warm days in January and February – we are back to daytime temperatures in the teens and nights in the single digits. For us who are Texas transplants, that is cold enough. New clean snow has replaced what washed away in Wednesday’s rain, with more expected. Whoever ends up moving the steers tomorrow will need to wear their insulated overalls and two pairs of gloves.
The steers are not half-way through the stockpiled forage up at the monastery. They look handsome, shaggy and still well-fleshed even though we expect to see some loss of condition in late winter. When the ground is covered with snow they paw down to the standing grass, brown but still palatable, and graze; the torn up snow makes it easy to tell where they have been eating and where the grass is still high. The pawed over pasture is well-manured at the same time; we should see the effect of this increase in fertility when the grass greens up in late March or early April.
The two new heifers bought last week are acclimating in the small pasture behind the white barn where we can keep an eye on their transition from their old herd. They are getting second-cutting square bales, and a handful of sweet feed a day like they were getting at the farm where we bought them, but when they go up to the monastery the grain will be stopped, except as a treat when we check their water or move fence. They are gentle, calm animals, both half-Jersey, one by a Friesian bull, one by an Ayreshire. The girls have named them Daisy and Delphi; after the untimely demise of our first-calf heifer Dande, I’d prefer names that were less alliterative.
The pigs are measuring in the neighborhood of fifty inches each way, or rather more; soon it will be expedient to graduate them to the freezer. About time; we have been out of bacon since before Christmas. Our timing was off this year; normally we fatten pigs in the fall, and by now they would be occupying the place of honor at every Sunday breakfast. Last summer, though, our sources for piglets were piglet-less in July when we wanted them, and even when we managed to get a few weanlings in late September they were young and small. They did very well on all the fodder we planted for them in the monastery garden – beets, turnips and beans, and the corn fodder – but what should have been fattening rations were instead growing rations. What is wanted in the fall are full-framed animals to convert garden vegs into flesh, not young pigs with a relatively high protein requirement. This year we hope to have piglets by late summer so as to have them ready for the freezer as soon as the weather is settled cold so we can butcher.