Posts Tagged ‘artificial insemination’

The last weeks of October are full and straining at the seams.  Apple cider and pie apples leave only sauce apples to process; when they are done it will be high time to get the cabbages out of the garden and start kraut.  There are still some bell peppers to freeze, and the green beans the frost hasn’t burned could still be harvested; we hope the field corn will dry and the ears drop before the deer get really determined about jumping the fence.

The animals are on a different cycle:  all the cows and heifers have been bred — some more than once — but it remains to be seen whether they settled; we watch the cows through the barn door while we milk, but no one seems frisky.  The heifers, who are at the back of the farm, are wearing heat stickers, which we hope will let us know if any one needs to be re-bred.  On All Saints’ the ram goes in with the ewes; the sow, God willing, will farrow in the next week or so.

What doesn’t kill us will make us strong —


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Friday, August 23:

   The day has been hot and muggy, but at the monastery, high on its own ridge, a breeze turns the sweat to coolness.  The rows of beans, mangels, and turnips stand out in bold green stripes against the bare tilled earth in the big garden, and the Country Gentleman and Golden Bantam corn at the back is tasselling.  The yellow-green of the corn tells us that it is low in nitrogen and will probably bear only marginally; after harvest we will sow that area to some legume or other.  Four of the cows still need to be bred, so we have to spend some time every day at the back of the farm watching for signs of heat.  When someone gets frisky we hope we’ll see it.

   In the garden the onions have been pulled and would be drying if it hadn’t rained last night.  Tomorrow we’ll take them up and spread them on racks in the summer kitchen to finish drying.  We are freezing corn in stages, eating corn on the cob twice a day, and plying toothpicks between meals.  There are okra and squash and beets and beans, peppers and lots of tomatoes, and there are peaches, peaches, peaches.

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This is a story to illustrate just how easy it is to make yourself look stupid, and just how long a country person will let you go on doing it.

I was making up the bed the other morning, pulling up the red duvet and smoothing the quilt that Shawn’s mother made for him forty years ago when I had one of those eureka moments that come out of nowhere when you suddenly understand something that has long been a mystery.  In this case it made me laugh first, then blush.

We have been milking cows for about eight years now, having switched from goats after five years of drinking but not liking goats’ milk.  As you may not know, if you have never thought about it, keeping a cow in milk year after year requires that she calve annually, that is, she must be bred and bear offspring to start the hormonal chain of events which includes lactation.  This, if you don’t keep a bull, means either borrowing a bull, or taking your cow to visit one, or getting an artificial insemination technician to come inseminate your cow.  For those of us without friends with bulls, the last named option is by far the easiest, if you can find an AI guy; you just give him a call as soon as you see signs of heat in your cow; usually things like ‘bulling’, that is, riding another animal, or a drop in milk production, or refusal of her feed, or maybe all of the above.  The technician, comes out within about twelve hours.  If you have Clover already tied up for him, he can usually get the job done in something under fifteen minutes, and if he knows his job, that should pretty much do it.  When you call he asks a few questions, usually about when you saw the first sign of heat, what breed of bull you want, etc.  Our A.I. men have always been prompt to come out, knowledgeable and helpful.  One day when our lead cow, Isabel, was to be inseminated, I got a new suggestion.

“Isabel, is that right?  Jersey, then, and you usually want a Jersey bull.  I’ll bring you a straw from Bowtie, he’s an exceptional Cavanese sire.”

“Cavanese?  Then is he a Jersey?”

“Yes, ma’am, he’s a top-notch Jersey bull.  Cavanese bulls sire small offspring; generally smaller than eighty pounds.  Easier on the mamma cow.”

I had never heard of Cavanese bulls, but as long as it was still a Jersey the smaller animal sounded good to us, so we went with it.  Sure enough, Isabel’s next baby was born without incident, a beautifully formed, medium sized little heifer calf.  In August we called the technician to come out again.

“That’s Isabel, is it?  Jersey semen again?”

“Yes, sir, same as last year.  This year’s calf was a nice little one, no problem in parturition, so we would like to use one of those bulls you used last year, I forget the word.  It means “throws small offspring”.”

Just a slight pause on the other end of the line.  “You mean ‘Cavanese’?”

“Yessir, that’s it, one of those.”

Every year I had to ask that question.  The Cavanese bulls were a great thing because a smaller calf is less likely to cause its mamma trouble in birthing, and every year we asked for them, but for some reason I never could remember that word; at least, I knew the reason:  it goes back to that one year in college when I thought I would major in biology, and before I figured out I would rather be dead in a ditch I had picked up on the fact that scientific nomenclature was always Latin, or at least when it wasn’t it was Greek, and “Cavanese” didn’t sound like either.  The right word, I thought, should be some form of Latin for “small babies” or something.  Every year I had to ask for the word again, and every year there was that small pause before the technician supplied it.  I guessed that somehow it was hard for other people to remember, too.

Until that morning smoothing the maple leaf quilt and the red duvet, when unbidden the word came to my mind, “cavanese”, and I thought, oh, that’s the word, the A.I. word  I can never remember, and as I thought it I heard it in my head, “Cavanese — calvin’ ease.”

The internet, consulted, readily pulled up images for “Cavanese”.  I found myself staring at half-a-dozen postage-stamp photos of an approximately six pound, long-haired, bug-eyed lapdog.  “Calving ease,” on the other hand, brought up farm and ranch businesses, books, and products.

And the A.I. guys had never told me.

“Calving ease”, lady.

Or did I want semen from a small, long-hairedbug-eyed lap bull?

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Sunday, November 6:

   You can find videos on Youtube demonstrating how to palpate a cow, and some of them are very helpful.  Some are just mildly humorous.  Actually palpating the cow is pretty simple, but kind of like working a problem in calculus; when you’re done, you wonder if you got the answer right.  Before we undertook the operation, we asked a friendly farmer for tips.  “It’s pretty simple,” he told us.  “I hire it out.” 

   Our local farm supply store sells obstetric gloves, which come all the way up to the shoulder; finding these for sale reassured us that ordinary people actually do palpate cows, despite how unlikely such a thing seems.  The gloves come in packs of ten, and we hope the one we bought will last at least thirty years.  There is just something about putting your arm in a cow’s rectum that makes you hope it will be some time before you have to do it again. The evening we picked to do the deed was one when we had visitors, family who are themselves interested in cottage farming; we could think of no fitter introduction to the lifestyle.

   We won’t go into the details of the process, already ably set forth in the instructional videos on the internet, but we will say here that it isn’t as simple as you might think.  Imagine trying to find by feel a pair of socks in a very full army kit bag, and you will have a general idea of the problem.  We’ll leave it that Beth felt around for some time, and thinks the thing she settled upon as the uterus contained a small, firm mass about the size of a rat, the approximate the size of a cow’s fetus at around three months.  Feeling what you can through the rectal wall of a cow is like feeling something with your hand in an innertube:  details are fuzzy.  An empty uterus might have been approximately the same size and shape, but should have two horns, or fallopian tubes; and repeated sweeps over the floor of the rectum failed to bring these into evidence.  So, we hope this pregnancy test was positive.

   The refrigerator is groaning with all the cream that has backed up since Friday, when our trusty Sears Roebuck butter churn went on strike.  It is we don’t know how many years old, having been purchased by us at a yard sale in our pre-Isabel days and put away until we had a use for it.  It remained in storage all the years of our goat dairy.  Goat milk contains very fine fat particles which tend to remain suspended in the milk, rather than rising to the top where you can skim them off with a dipper.  One can, we understand, separate the goat’s milk with a centrifugal separator, but we never tried.  One reason is that we don’t have a centrifugal separator; another is that if we did have one, we wouldn’t want the job of cleaning it every day.  So we drank our goat milk, and cooked with it, and made chevre with it, but never tried to make butter with it.  Then we got Isabel, and when she freshened with her first calving, out came our long-stored butter churn, and we were in business.

   We have been making butter at the rate of six to ten pounds per week, for about six years, and our feelings when on Friday the act of plugging in the churn brought no results, were like those of a crew of sailors in finding water rising in thebilge and the bilge pump out of order.  Death by drowning seems the next item on the order of business.  A day’s skimming produces about three quarts of cream, and it doesn’t take very many days for an alarming amount of cream to back up.

   The churn had given us fair warning that it had internal problems.  When in storage, it has the cord wrapped around the churn, and years of flexing gradually broke the wires where the cord entered the housing.  For the last few months the churn has only operated if the cord was carefully draped over the spoon jar and held in place by the knife block.  A couple of times one of our family mechanics assayed to fix it, but the housing is not easy to get into.  On Friday the issue went from academic to critical.  Some fairly cayenne argument then took place about whether it could be fixed, and what, in the event that it could not, we were going to do about it.  Mom was all for building a new one out of a drill and the kind of drill attatchment used for stirring paint, but was shouted down.  Curious.  In the end, S-3 and a pair of vice grips got the motor housing open.  An evening with the parts spread out on the kitchen table and we have a better-than-ever butter churn, and we are stretching the Sabbath to include getting two gallons of cream out of the refrigerator so there will be room for other things.

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Monday, October 24:

   Okay, sometimes we’re not frugal.  This part of Ohio gets cold in the winter, and people who do a lot of farm chores need warm feet.  Muck boots are the best tool we know for keeping feet warm and dry in winter, but warm feet are running $100 a pair now, and there are nine pair of feet on our farm.  We bought two pair for the growing feet which had none, but we are darned tootin’ going to figure out how to patch Muck boots, because we don’t spend that much on our complete wardrobe in a year.  Ouch.

   Ouch number two would be the cost of all the PVC fittings we just bought for the spring development, but it is easier to see that as a capital investment, because God willing we won’t have to do it again in our lifetimes.  Tomorrow we plan to take a bunch of pictures of the ditching, and more as we lay in the pipe, gravel, and geotextile fabric.  If this project means we have running water in the barn all year, or even almost all the year, it will be worth whatever it costs.

   Isabel is down in her production today, and skittish.  This makes us nervous that she may have failed to conceive to the artificial  insemination in August.  A cow not bred will not be dropping a calf in the spring, so her milk yield will not go up; in fact, it will probably go down.  Many years ago we had a failed AI breeding, and in the spring there was no calf.  That time, we didn’t dry her off  as we normally would  before calving, and she continued to give us about five gallons a day for the second year.  We bred her back in the late summer and got a little heifer the next spring, so all was not lost; but she’s not going to miss calving this year if we can help it.  The only way we can be sure whether she’s bred or not is to palpate her, which is to make a rectal examination, feeling her uterus through the rectal wall to see if there is a calf inside.  We can picture this, in theory, but are a little uncertain that we’ll know for sure what we are feeling when we are actually inside.  Don’t expect pictures of this one.

   The threatened frost of last Saturday failed to materialize, saving the green beans for another picking.  The beans are beautiful this year.  We will get all we can off of them in the next few days, but we are pulling three or four plants a day to feed to the pigs, who love them.  We’d like to feed all one hundred row feet to them before they freeze and are worthless as pig food. 

   The pigs are too fat.  They have to go on a diet, which is all to the good, because it means the dairy waste and slops will go even farther.  We would like to reduce their bought in grain feed to the smallest possible number.  To date they have had about one hundred seventy-five pounds of feed since they were bought in early August.  Just for comparison, the four pigs we raise on commercial feed with our wonderful neighbors have eaten over a thousand pounds.  As we get  a firmer grasp on the rate of feed for milk waste, we expect we will be able to make the process even more economical.

   Rain much of today, but the clouds have passed off, and a few bright stars stand out in the misty sky like lamps in far-off windows.  Tomorrow is supposed to be clear, and we hope to move the spring project a long way toward completion.

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