Friday, April 25, 2014

So Many New Faces

There are a few new faces around here. I heard that a grass based stocker operation near us (stockers are weaned beef cows that are sold to people who want more animals when the grass is abundant) had a number of steers available at a price below what people were paying at the auction. I thought it would be interesting to compare our new Kerry/Angus crosses with these pure-bred Angus cows through a growing season or two. After looking at their age and weight charts we decided on these two because they were middle of the road. One of them has a Simmental for a great-great grandfather, so even though he is Angus from every other side, he still wound up with a white face like his ancestor.

These steers were weighed before they mounted the trailer on their way to us. We don't have a cattle scale (yet), so the other perk of them coming was getting to guess the weights of our own animals of a similar age based on their numbers.

The other new faces are our brand new calves out of the robust Mr. Winchester (pictured in the background below). In fact, Garth walked in as I was writing this to tell me Vona just calved. These are the first crosses to be born here. It's hard to say how they differ in apperance with our pure bred Kerrys when we don't have any pure bred calves to compare them to, but their features will grow starker as they mature. 

We are naming the heifer calves after counties in New York. There's a different scheme here every year.

The biggest surprise was that a cow we didn't think was bred gave birth to a heifer calf. Sibley, who was herself the accidental product of an evening rendevous with her own father, had been small from the start and very slow growing. We attributed that to her onerously inbred genetics. She was the size of last years calves even though she had 8 or so months on them, and so we slated her for the slaughter house and fed her with the young stock over the winter. Low and behold, she too had gotten in with Mr. Winchester without our supervision and now we have a cow we didn't expect to. Not too shabby. It also changes Sibley's future here, at least in the short term. We are eager to see if her calf expresses unbridled hybrid vigor, coming from the combination of such a limited gene pool with a much broader and unfamiliar line. 

The season began badly, but thankfully it wasn't a foreshadowing of things to come. Garth saw something strange hanging from the back of Acorn one evening. She wasn't having any contractions and the herd was not displaying the same anxious excitement that usually accompanies a birth. Garth took a photo and we called the vet. We sent him the image and he called us right back. He thought it looked like an unhealthy placenta and that we should go out and look for a dead calf. Garth scaled the pasture and finally found a dead heifer calf over the hill. Acorn was having trouble cleaning so we gave her some Caulophyllum in her water (a homeopathic remedy that is meant to encourage uterine contractions) and perhaps that helped. She seems fine now. 

And now a great mystery has come to my attention. Garth tells me minutes ago that Butternut, last year's calf born here on 4/8/13, just gave birth to what looks like another heifer calf. That means that she was bred at 4 months old while she was still nursing under her own mother. We had been told that was impossible. What are the fertility gods doing around here? Her calf is up and nursing. This worries me though. We didn't separate the bull from the very young stock last year for the reason I mentioned above (it's not meant to be possible) and so what if all these babies have babies on us? Do they think it's some kind of animal farm over here? Oh my. I don't know what we are in for.  

- Alanna

Friday, April 4, 2014

Thaw On

Although the world was white again on the morning of April first with a fresh inch on every surface, the sky was just playing us the fool. The thaw is officially ON.

Look, they are barely wearing coats.
The well water to the farm house has greater allegiances with the stream than it does with our comfort or preference. As the stream goes, so goes the well. When the stream is churning brown, we pour tea colored baths. Cleaning the toilet doesn't offer the same satisfaction when dark water stares back at you. Judging from my view out the window, it should be clearing up soon.

And water isn't the only thing clearing out. We've seen several living examples that 'spring cleaning' is no cultural artifice. Everyone and everything has something to do away with this time of year. Garth mentioned to me a week or so ago that the field mice had simultaneously decided it was time to clean house. They broke through the icy crust and neatly piled the winter's poop at the snow's edge. Evacuation en masse. Hole after hole in the snow, each with it's own waste at the door. Even the soil is heaving unwanted contents up for the taking - bones, rocks, detritus, a civil war era medicine bottle. I joined the crowd by giving several ill-fitting shirts away. 

The full inscription reads: DR. WISTAR'S BALSAM OF WILD CHERRY, PHILADA 

Birds are making faint noises in the early morning now, too. I heard them a month ago on one occasion and then they fell silent as the last wave of cold nights swept in. But now two Robins are bouncing off the ground in a tryst with hoards of grackles looking on, covering the bare trees like leaves.

Maple sap is only just running. Mud creeps in between the cows' 'toes.' Bare earth lies everywhere. Spring, you have kept us waiting.