Sunday, July 24, 2011

Human Intervention

We have been waiting for this moment. The thistles are in full swing. They are pouring their energy into these brilliant bursts of color before their seeds mature. They are still sterile now, but they have clearly agreed to lose everything for love. I hear the groan of the tractor. Garth is mowing swaths of burdock, thistles and parsnip that have been towering above our heads for weeks.

When hit at the perfect moment, it can be more than they can recover from. We want to break the cycle that has created a burdock monoculture on swaths of our pasture.

The winter squash has been asking for our attention too.

Meet the cucumber beetle. They eat the leaves of our squash plant, but what is more worrisome is that they congregate and damage the flowers as they're opening to be pollinated. The flower dies back without a fruit forming below it. You can spray them with organic pesticides, but the stores around us only sell the heavy duty insecticides, so I've been picking them off by hand.

They are slower than flea beetles and larger, which makes them easier to handle. I hope that the fruits our squash does produce will be extra potent because these beetles have diminished the competition. Cheers to hoping.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Growing Cows

We recently bought a new bull, Heamour Gerard Cuchulain (Hulie for short), who is noteworthy because he is out of Newbridge Gerard, the only semen from an Irish Kerry bull to be brought to the United States (as far as we know) in the last 10 years or so. Our aim is the broaden the genetic pool of our herd to the greatest extent we can. This is one of his offspring, Mystery. She is shaping up to be a wonderful cow. She has a deep and broad chest, and a warm and curious personality to complement her fine figure. She and her mother came to Cairncrest Farm last November when she was just two months old. When we bought Hulie, we decided to purchase another young Kerry heifer with him by the name of Solanine. Solanine is out of Ebon, the bull we had on loan here last winter.

Standing here next to Mystery she looks like a dwarf. By contrast her whole body is very lean and narrow. She is only two months Mystery's junior, but it looks as though it ought to be more. Although Ebon is one of the largest Kerry bulls, his offspring mature very slowly and begin quite small. When Datura and Lillyvale (Mystery's dame and her full sister), who are both out of Ebon, came here last fall they were rather small compared to the rest of our herd. They have both fleshed out considerably here on pasture. Solanine's mother was sold shortly after she was born, so I'm sure she didn't get the milk that Mystery did. So, it's hard to say whether or not Solanine's diminutive size is genetic or nutritional. It could be both. I have heard that early nutrition can greatly influence how genes express themselves over the life of the cow. As we watch her develop and compare her growth with this year's heifers who are also out of Ebon, we'll get a sense of what the contributing factors were. For now I feel relieved to see proof that we are doing one thing well- growing cows on grass.