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Posts Tagged ‘freshening cows’

Thursday, June 7:

Dinner:  eight handfuls of raw sugar snap peas, four bites of cold pork roast, and a hunk of cheese.  Also an iced coffee.

We are busy around here.

Topic:  weed invasions in your pasture

When your pasture is the size of a pocket handkerchief, you really must do something about this if you can.  Two people with eye-hoes and an hour to spare can make a very big dent in the ironweed, curly dock, and wooly yarrow in a small pasture.  Our present definition of an evening out is sixty minutes on the hillside chopping weeds.

Don’t laugh.  Beth’s mom is a retired health professional in the state of Texas who found her retirement interrupted by a call to patriotic duty.  Now she’s an independent contractor working for the Lone Star state, monitoring renal facilities which have been found not in compliance with state standards.  She spends half her week travelling to far-flung cities and standing over cringing or otherwise dialysis clinicians, saying in effect, “my way or the highway.”  She holds all the cards, and the clinics have to clean up according to her specs or be shut down.  No court of appeals.

She says it’s very refreshing.  After an unmentionable number of decades doing a great many things including raising five children, it is a pleasant change to do a job where you can really see the results.

Kind of like chopping weeds in the pasture.

The first planting of corn will soon be knee high, but the second and third plantings are germinating sporadically.  Ditto the okra.  The girls went down this afternoon and put in more okra seed, but we will give the corn a couple more days before we look at replanting the empty hills.  The tomatoes are well over two feet tall, but the peppers are sort of dinky, and we hope they catch up, because ninety quarts of salsa takes a lot of peppers.

The little bulls have been switched to buckets for their twice-daily feedings; buckets are much easier to wash than bottles.  For the first ten days or so, we add a raw egg to the milk for each bought-in calf.  We don’t know if it really does anything – our vet says not – but the theory is that the albumin in the egg slows the passage of milk through the calf.  All we know is that our score with dairy bull calves, not very impressive in the beginning, is now something close to one hundred percent.  Something must have changed.  If it’s not the egg, maybe it’s the pectin (think:  Surejel) we give them in dilute milk when they scour (think:  diarrhea), or maybe it’s that we keep them scrupulously separated when they are small to prevent them sucking one another’s ears and – things – and passing germs around.  Maybe it’s the thick straw we provide for their beds, and the nice stalls we built to keep them warm.  Maybe it’s the egg.

We still need rain.

Someone tell me what to do with garlic scapes, because we have a big bag of them.  The garlic plants will have more energy to put into bulbing out with their flower buds removed.  Two hundred row feet of garlic makes a lot of scapes, but when we sautéed them they were a little on the chewy side.  Tasted great, though.

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Wednesday, March 21:

The unseasonably warm weather has us out in the garden every available minute, hauling compost, raking raised beds, and starting early lettuce and spinach.  Given the heat, I only hope it doesn’t bolt immediately.  The hoop houses are open day and night to keep them from overheating, and the low tunnels have their covers off entirely.  All the fruit trees are getting ready to blossom, which will mean disaster if we get another freeze.  The pond peepers, which usually sing only at night, are so confused that they shrill all day, a buzz almost like that of a locust, making this early heat wave even more surreal.  Only the asparagus, living as it does ‘way down where the soil is still cool, is far enough from the sun that it is still in dormancy.

The greenhouse, I need hardly say, is hot as Tophet.  On Monday we started the tomatoes and peppers in four inch pots and a sterile mix of vermiculite, perlite, and peat moss.  They will like the heat, but the six pots of onion seedlings may find it too warm.  We don’t want the squash and melons to get root-bound, so we usually don’t start them until the end of March, but it we knew the weather was going to stay warm we would get them in, too.

Baby Belle should be calving soon, exactly how soon we don’t know.  We fidget and twiddle our thumbs.  We sigh and turn over out-of-date magazines in the waiting room.  We want to get on with it.  For one thing, when Belle calves we will go fetch some baby bulls, and Mom will be done with cheese making for a while, because when there are calves to feed, what’s left is only just enough milk for the table.  There’s not the glut we have right now with the warm weather increasing Isabel’s production, so that Mom has four and a half gallons a day to find a use for.

In addition to the usual eight-to-ten pounds of butter, two gallons of yogurt, four or so pounds of mozzarella, and all the cream you can think of a use for, this time of year we make two or three four-pound hard cheeses a week, and the dairy refrigerator is getting crowded.  I think there are eight cheeses in there right now – paisano, Appalachia, Belle, and the gouda we are testing – and there’s another Appalachia in the press.  These will last us a couple of months, beginning around the end of April, as they ripen; then in June, when the grass is abundant and the calves are weaned (and, incidentally, the garden is in, the first hay cut, and there will be some breathing space), we will start another round of cheese-making to provide our fall and winter cheeses.

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Saturday, March 3:

Isabel is in heat, proving, if we needed proof, that she is open – in cow talk, she is not carrying a calf.  This is bad news, but not unexpected, since she has given evidence of heat this winter twice already.  A cow which is not with calf will not freshen in the spring, and her milk production cannot be expected to stay high in the second year of her lactation.  This is less dire news than it might be.  Isabel is in a sense an invalid cow, one which would not have survived her own inanition without help, and knowing this we have a young cow in the wings to take her place.  Baby Belle, our stand-in, was bred to a sire which throws small offspring, which we hope is the reason she doesn’t look very fat.  Yes, for those who are wondering, we could palpate her to find out for sure if she is bred, but we can get the same information by being patient, and Baby is a little jumpy.  Anyone who starts groping around with an arm up to the shoulder in her interior might just be asking for a dislocated shoulder.

Another hen has been making a nest in the laying boxes, so we have put her in the suite under the first broody hen and given her a small trove to hoard.  Her clutch will not hatch for twenty-one days, but her sister upstairs will know the results of her labor at the end of the week.  We have small expectation of this first effort, since we did not candle the eggs we gave her, as we should have done after a week of incubation.  This omission is typical of our efforts; we are steady of application, but our attention to detail lacks something.  We began this life without training, as a pleasure and a defiance of the modern wisdom that it could not be done.  Now we believe in it as a fact of nature, the permanent substratum over which our national industrial and economic house of cards is built. When that blows a gasket, or comes down in a prevailing wind, the land and the animals will still be there, to bear a cooperative living to whomever is still there to steward it.

Fine snow is sifting down on the brown forest floor and on the choppy, muddy pasture where the cattle are wintering.  The walk we were about to take is postponed – indefinitely.  Friday, in contrast, was a clear grey, dark, bare hills humped like shrugged shoulders surrounding the stark architectural beauty of the steel mill.  When we came to the Beautiful river twenty years ago, the mills seemed to us tangles of rusty iron oozing toxicity.  Have they changed, or have we?  Jolting down route seven in our old American-made four-door with the brown hills overlooking us like tolerant giants, overlooking with the same tolerance the modern sculpture of the mills, we feel less inclined to judge.  On this day the mill appears quiescent, its mists blowing the other way, and the side toward the river blazoned with the name of a company headquartered in Germany.  When we have completed the list of our errands, combined and truncated to conserve fuel, we will come back up the river to park our rusty chariot on the farm’s gravel drive, and the quiet of the brown hills will close around us as it has closed over centuries of mankind in this valley.  Who are we to name the tenants of the hills?

White snow falling thickly carpeted the hills as I wrote; blizzarded, thinned, ceased.  Now the pale sun shines from a blue sky onto snow already melting.

Maybe we’ll take that walk after all.

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