So Tuesday evening…
What a day Tuesday was. What a way to end the day. Allergies hit me Monday night. Wicked sore throat all day Tuesday. Busy at work. Stuff to do at home. No end.
No end. But we can pause.
Look at that sunset. Since we’re standing here, let’s just keep standing here. What’s it going to hurt?
We have hay down. Not much but some. There is rain in the forecast for the weekend and temperatures are a little on the cool side so we didn’t go bananas cutting hay. Just a few acres. Do you know what a relief it is to have hay down? And to just have a hundred or so bales worth of hay down? Knowing my 1.5 scale human 14 year old will be home from a mission trip on Thursday to help put it up? That’s awesome.
Flora left the farm today. Flora was one of our first cows. A Jersey. A beautiful easy keeper with a great attitude and very forgiving of my ignorance.
She always gave us bull calves. Small handles though…like thimbles. Flora must have eaten something this winter…wire or twine or…? We did what we could but she never really came around. Stood hunched with her mouth open drooling all the time. Oh my gosh I don’t want to cry. We could have allowed her to suffer until she died but that’s not fair to her. So we shipped her. And that’s not fair either. But I couldn’t fix her. It’s not fair. But that’s how it is.
Dad asked what I would do with him when he was no longer productive. Cows do not equal people. I value people beyond their productive years. I do not operate a retirement community for cattle. I understood dad’s question though. This was a difficult issue for all of us. Maybe our Old Yeller moment.
Really don’t want to cry.
Flora is not the only cow we will ship this year. There are at least five others. One steer who will be delicious. One poor-doing heifer we will put in our own freezer. Two 3 year old heifers who have never bred and never will. And Mrs. White.
Mrs. White is as big as an elephant. And, with the vet’s help, she gave us a calf that is almost as big as an elephant. Her size (must be 6′ at the hip!) and her calf disqualify her from the team. Plus her calf is just as watchful as she is…eyes wide in shock that we would dare to exist in her pastures.
I knew cull rates would be high early on but…wow. Just wow.
You have these ideals in mind when you begin farming. This vision of how it will someday be. It’s a long way to someday. A long, difficult path full of uncertainty. Every choice seems to require compromise. Keeping my dairy cows on pasture in the winter is good for my pride. Keeping them inside in the winter is good for my dairy cows. Sigh. So now what does that make me? Am I a pastured, humane livestock farmer or am I just conventional plus?
I think I’m just doing the best I can with what I’ve got. And what I’ve got is, apparently not well adapted to my forage, climate and ability.
So now what? I have 5 animals to sell. Do I replace them with 2x the heifers? Do I just replace them with cows? Is there something else I could do with that money to earn a better return?
Heifers or cows? I see the advantages of each. With heifers I get more rolls of the dice trying to find appropriate genetics. With cows I get proven breeders.
Dunno. I really don’t know. So let’s table that for the moment.
Dung Beetles. We have found a few dung beetles here and there over the last few years but this year there seems to have been an explosion of them. Small green beetles the size of a dime, black beetles the size of a nickel or even huge half-dollar sized ones that dig huge mounds of dirt next to cow pies. Amazing. What has caused it? Is it simply that we don’t worm our cattle? Maybe. Is it that we subdivide our farm and encourage our cattle to spread their manure over the whole thing rather than concentrate it in favorite loafing areas? Sure.
But let’s talk about that subdivision thing. All spring we have split 30 acres into 10 pastures and rotated the cattle daily. Early on I was freaked out that the grass wouldn’t recover.
In some cases it wouldn’t have. We had some hard rain in April that forced me back to the barn to save the pastures. That gave us a few days of extra recovery time. In May it dried up and the grass simply stopped growing so we made a 15-day pass by adding a few additional subdivisions. But we have circled the farm four times in 61 days. Not bad. Now we slow it down.
Last summer I had some correspondence with Mark Bader. My cows weren’t shedding out well. He suggested this was not a mineral deficiency but, instead, an energy deficiency. He said I should move them faster around the farm and allow them to be less selective. That’s what I’ve done. Our star players are all slick. The rest…well, I listed them already above. They need to go.
So we are cutting those ten pastures into 20 pastures. More than that over time as the grass slows growing. The idea is to allow sufficient recovery between grazings so we are moving plant succession forward instead of setting up for a big weed crop. Now, I buy into that theory pretty well but not entirely. Not entirely. I have a hill that is covered in goldenrod every summer. I can’t seem to beat it. Maybe I need more cattle but this year I’m going to clip that pasture behind the cattle then spread compost and lime on the hill. I have to admit, though, that there is an incredible clover crop out there in places that have only grown moss before. Let’s hear it for hoof prints! But the goldenrod and I have a date with destiny.
It’s getting dark. Full moon is coming up to the east. I really ought to continue my chores. I first make sure Mable and her calf have water, shut off the water to the cows in pasture and am joined by Julie as I gather the last of the day’s eggs and close up the chickens. She, too was taking pictures of the sunset and the moonrise. We are humorously frustrated that our phones can’t take better pictures.
That’s about as much of a summary the farm as I can offer. Every day is pretty much the same. Right now we are picking at least a gallon of strawberries every day. Soon that will switch to black raspberries and dewberries. More sweat and thorns but basically the same. I’ll still be weighing cows vs. heifers when the raspberries come on. The same moon will be coming up. The same sun will be going down. In spite of some serious setbacks it’s a good life, really. I know I fuss about it quite a bit but this is a great way to raise a family. A fun place to be.