My morning landscape is back to being a farmscape. Around 7 a.m., the cows drift over to this area of pasture, right across a trenched pond from me (behind that goldenrod hedge!), and then drift away out of sight in an hour or two. They’ve pretty well grazed that whole slope by now, so I guess this is just their wandering, miss-nothing routine! It is what I wake up to right now…
Sammy the Steer, born at 4am in the freezing cold barn last January, is healthy and hefty at around 800lbs (360kg), and approaching the end of his arc as a provider of tasty, mainly grass-fed beef. He and his three pals will likely go off to auction in March. They’re heavier than they’d normally be on a mostly grass diet (supplemented with some grain), because Bob didn’t wean them from their mothers for an extra couple of months. Mother’s milk is good. I’ll miss cows on the new farm. Although I’ve never been involved in their day-to-day, they’ve been close neighbors. My real connection with them is through MANURE, tons and tons of 6- to 12-month-old, air-dried, partially-composted, nutrient-rich goodness in a constant, convenient heap, there for the taking. I don’t see cattle in my near farming future. I hope to get to them eventually, meanwhile, putting some animals in the new tiny farm food chain sooner than later is on my mind. Perhaps goats?
A rear-end view of the cows leaving the barn has become a familiar every-morning sight. For the last few weeks, since the weather took a turn for the freezing, I’ve been walking through the dim lower barn, toting buckets of warm water and feed, on the way to the chickenhouse. In nice weather, it’s easier and more pleasant to walk outside through the barnyard. This route has the advantage of no wind and no icy patches. It’s a bit of a winding road: into the minimally heated well pump room (heated so the pipes don’t freeze) where the 40kg (88lb) sacks of feed are stored, out the inner door into the dark and chilly lower barn, head down past the empty milking stalls (from dairy farm days), straight towards the window into the loafing barn where the cows come in at night, hard left, down another stretch between pens, unlatch a side door, head outside for a short walk, and it’s in with the chickens… A new daily routine for my first winter with the birds.
The chickens have been loose by day for a couple weeks in a small, temporarily-fenced run in one of pens just off the barn. Today, the cows were let in to the pen to graze down the long grass. The rough plan was to let the chickens free-range around the whole area, which is about half an acre, and the cows would act as bodyguards, keeping out…predators. Dunno, sounds like good plan, livestock’s all pretty new to me… Consensus was the cows would not respect the chickenwire, so I went to take it down, just as Monty the Young Bull discovered it. I couldn’t help watch, kinda fascinated by the slow motion, low key destruction, as he methodically butted down the posts…scratching.
From one post to the next…
…and now, the chickens, at least, the Frey’s Dual Purpose and the couple of White Rocks that follow them outside…are free as they wanna be!
After being there for their birth nine days ago, I couldn’t not keep track of these guys. For about a week now, during the days, they’ve been in one of the yards just outside the barn, eating, resting and ambling around, exploring. They do grow up fast. It was sunny, but icy cold today, with a bitter wind, but the cows seem unconcerned.
There was action in the barn in the wee hours today. A couple of the cows gave birth. Here’s the first new one, around five minutes after his 4 am delivery into the cold barn.
This is the second time I’ve watched the whole thing unfold. The first was maybe a year ago. In both cases, human intervention was required, which consisted of Bob with a length of chain wrapped around a pair of calf’s feet, pulling.
Last time, he explained it was a dry birth, where the embryonic sac breaks too soon, the head dries out, and, less lubricated, it sticks on the way out. A little feet-planted-firmly tug-o-war type pulling and…a new cow!
This time was a little more complicated, a breech birth, with the calf turned right around so its back end was aiming out instead of the head. Particularly with first-time births, the mothers aren’t relaxed enough to let the bigger back end out first.
To help things along, the stainless steel calving chain was wrapped around the hind legs and attached to a cable with a ratchet, in turn attached to a steel fence post set in concrete.
The long-handled ratchet allows the cable to be pulled with more force than a person alone could manage, as long as the cow stays put and sets herself against the pull (which she seems to do, since I guess she too wants the baby out!).
After some minutes of pulling, out popped the calf. It’s a boy!
There’s lots of bloody fluid and trailing bits, and the calf lies there at first like a limp, wet, bloody corpse. But the mother is right on it, licking away, and within minutes its head is up and peering around, and if all’s well, it’ll awkwardly stagger to its feet in under half an hour. Pretty cool!
The second mother gave birth around four hours later. The first time watching all this was interesting, a little sensational with all the bloody fluid. The second time, it was simply satisfying, another really basic part of life that most of us in the modern world just plain miss (we eat meat and drink milk, don’t we…well, a lot us do)?
I’m not sure about the breeding timing or anything like that, like, Why calves now? With Bob’s cows, I’m an observer, sometime consumer, occasional chaser.
Here’s the second calf, three hours after an 8am arrival, up and tottering around! Sturdy!! It’s fascinating to watch them rapidly get used to their legs, steadier by the hour.