New Life

There is so much to catch up on…leaving Sierra Leone, a road trip from Texas to New York, moving onto a new farm, bees, chickens…so much change in a few months.

But I’m skipping ahead of all those stories and introducing you to a new little life…a heifer calf from my most favorite cow. Honey calved yesterday morning in a brushy patch hidden away in the pasture. I found her laboring around 8am and stayed to watch her through it. It’s a really amazing thing to watch such a large animal give birth. She passed the calf just two hours later and immediately went to the business of licking her clean. Honey loves babies and is an exceptional mama. I was hoping for a heifer calf with horns, but it doesn’t look like this little girl has any horn buds. I may keep her anyway…calf

Her name is Pecan. I visited them hours later and they were both laying down in the same spot she gave birth. I let them be and came back to see them two hours later. Honey hadn’t cleared her afterbirth yet and I wasn’t convinced the calf had figured out how to nurse. Honey is older and has a somewhat misshapen udder, not the easiest for calves to figure out.

I went back an hour later knowing I had to get the calf to drink colostrum before nightfall. Fortunately, Honey cleared her afterbirth but was looking very uncomfortable with such a full udder. I cleaned her up (she likes to be a very clean cow) and milked about a gallon out of her to relieve her pain. I tried coaxing the calf onto her, but she just wasn’t getting it. I decided to pour Honey’s colostrum into a calf bottle and see if she would nurse. She is a strong little girl! Fighting being held with everything she had, she also sucked down about a half gallon of Honey’s milk. So, I left them for the night with a  full belly and a little relief. As I was leaving, they were finally making their way out to pasture.

I will have to work with them today to get the calf to nurse from her mama, but hopefully she now has the energy and will to do just that.

honeycalf

Advertisements

Milk Magic

My cows won’t be giving us milk until late summer (IF they were bred successfully in December). I can’t wait to have raw milk coming into the kitchen every day. It’s so comforting to have a jar full of fresh milk.

People who have never tasted raw milk are always a little squeamish. They want to know how it tastes different from the milk on the store shelf. The best comparison I can come up with is the difference in taste between a store bought egg and a fresh egg from a pastured chicken. They are both eggs, but certainly not equivalent. No one can possibly go back to store bought eggs once they taste a fresh egg. That’s my experience with milk.

Raw milk feels creamy, rich and full in your mouth. It’s lusciously thick and sweet.

Please do yourself a favor and find a (clean!) source of raw milk. It will enrich your life exponentially. This is no exaggeration.

With a cow in milk, having it in such abundance on a daily basis means there’s a lot of opportunity to turn that milk into something else delicious-it’s like magic!

Here’s a list of everything that you can turn milk into (well the cheese category is limited to a few, easy to make, fresh cheeses):

Cream (skimmed off the top)

Whipped Cream

Kefir (uses starter grains)

Clabbered Milk (ONLY with raw milk)

Butter (cultured or not, salted or not, pasteurized or not, flavored or not)

Buttermilk (cultured!)

Yogurt (cream on top, skimmed, strained or drinkable)

Creme Fraiche (cultured cream)

Cottage Cheese

Cream Cheese

Sour Cream

Quark (my FAVORITE farmer’s cheese)

Ice Cream (buttermilk ice cream is on the top of my list)

Temple Grandin

I have a far greater appreciation for eating meat now. I am a firm believer that we should be eating less meat and the meat we purchase should be of high nutritional value from animals raised humanely (because of the limits of economies of scale with livestock, this means that in most places quality meat will come from your farmers’ market).

The contrast between animals raised conventionally and those raised with exceptional standards (and the spectrum in between) is really how I came to be a livestock farmer.

Understanding that we are a society that eats meat and that our consumption is not going to dramatically reduce any time soon, the farmer has incredible agency in the system. The farmer can choose how meat is produced and whether s/he improves or degrades environmental factors. That’s pretty powerful.

My priority in raising dairy cattle is to strive to minimize their stress. This means ensuring adequate and proper nutrition (cows are designed to eat grass!), ensuring they have clean, dry, comfortable areas to rest, and ensuring handling techniques are gentle and do not invoke pain or fear.

For dairy in particular, the reproduction cycle is a critical management period, as it is by nature stressful but how the farmer chooses to manage the cow from breeding to drying off her milk production, from cow/calf care to weaning has a dramatic impact on the health of the cow and calf.

One of my heroes is Temple Grandin. She is an expert on minimizing stress of livestock and has revolutionized slaughterhouses in America by redesigning them so they are less stressful for the animal. She is also autistic.

Here’s a video of her TED talk (which is more on autism but she touches on her work with livestock). She mentions the movie made about her with Claire Danes, which I definitely recommend.

One of the reasons I admire her so much is that she chose to work within the dominant system of conventional feedlots. In doing so, she made a HUGE positive change to the lives of millions of cattle. Certainly more than I’ll ever do with my dream of a 20 cow dairy.

She’s an inspiration for sure and a source of technical guidance. I was over the moon when I wrote to her asking a question about the order of cows coming into the dairy barn and whether letting them choose their place was more or less stressful than making them go in the same stall every day. Her answer was simple genius. She said “if the cows seem calm, they are calm”.

Butter May Be Bewitched

milkmaid drawing

Folklore is rife with tales of dairymaids churning and churning and no butter being made.  The culprit was these problematic, obstructive witches interfering in the process. There were many remedies for this, some involving ash and hot irons, and smoking the spirits right out of the barn.

Today, as Butter, was being a bit…difficult, shall we say: too stubborn to get out of the milking barn and too quick to throw her horns, I thought it a bit ironic that she’s named after the most common bewitching product of the dairy.  She’s living up to her name, I suppose.  I just hope I don’t have to try too many remedies to be rid of that witch peeking out from those growing horns. After all, she’s just a kid.

An Incurable Affinity for the Dairy Cow

Farming requires fidelity.

I find that if my attention is elsewhere, things don’t go as smoothly.

I appreciate that about farming. If you can practice giving your full attention to it, it gets to know you.  It responds to you. You become of part of that small world.

For me, I can feel a shift in my being: my breath deepens, my face relaxes, and I smile a little bit.

The cows can sense it. They approach me. They suggest I get some perspective. They remind me to love bigger.

Morning Milking

It was a bright, bitterly cold morning.  As I came in after the morning milking and then handmilking a neighboring farm’s dairy cow, I felt depleted of energy and thankful for a hot cup of coffee.  By 9 am it was 9 degrees.  There’s just no point in knowing what it was when I arrived at the barn a quarter before 6.

The farm down the road always feels even colder.  It has a more open landscape with less protection from gusts of wind.  The cold just finds its home there, it seems.

Even with a bite in the air, the light in the three sided barn where I milk is soft and warm in the morning.  My whole body was clenched in the cold and I felt as though I was being obliged to kneel for morning prayers.

And, inevitably, she listened.

As I crouched beside her, she shared her warmth and my hands began to lose their stiffness with the work. Looking beyond the milk pale as I settled into a two handed rhythm, I found some peace in those few moments and it flooded me with gratitude.