Friday I spent the day hauling cows, specifically milk cows, off the farm. Milking on this farm has ended and all of our milking will be happening at our other farm going forward. Unfortunately that means we will be without cow milk from now till August/September of this year when the cows at the other farm have their calves. We are working on a way to have limited goats milk as early as next week.
Our now former milk cows have moved onto other farms, Hedy specifically moving onto a nice family farm in Oxford along with all of our milking equipment. This family had just moved back onto their family farm and they were making a go of turning it into their own style of farm. They were excited and nervous to get into milking. I gave them as good of an explanation as I could, and dropped off an excellent cow. The biggest thing I told them was to not expect to have success for the first week. It takes about a week for a cow to get into a routine and with milking, routine is what you want.
When I checked in with them they of course had the usual problems in their first milkings. Equipment problems, accidentally contaminated milk, etc. Hopefully my setting expectations prepared them so they weren’t too disappointed. Yesterday I received this picture.
Milking had gone well and they’d finally gotten some usable, clean, fresh milk. They are a nice family and I couldn’t be happier that Hedy has gone to such a nice farm.
So we will only have Simply Natural Dairy cows milk in the store for the next few months. Once we start getting raw milk in the store again, we will post and let everyone know.
Wednesday of this week cow #72 had a new little bull calf, #128.
The calf had weak tendons in his back legs, something we’ve seen before on our farm. It isn’t very common and something we don’t normally want to see. It usually goes away after a couple of days, as the calf gets his feet under him and gains some strength. If #72 has another calf with weak tendons, then that will end her career as a mom here. Since #128 is a bull, he will not be used for breeding anyway so he can stay and be part of our program.
Update from Lucy. #72 is a cow that she had to bottle feed because when she was born she had, wait for it, weak tendons in her legs. #72 definitely has to go. She is passing bad genetics down to her offspring at this point and that cannot be allowed. Once this calf is 6 months old, which will be this fall, #72 will be heading to either the market or the processor.
With the cold spring we had this year, we were late in moving our momma cows to our other farm. Normally during grazing season, we separate the moms/babies and the cows we are raising to eat. The eating cows stay here and are intensively managed, moving to fresh grass every day, and handled and inspected multiple times per day.
The momma cows, who are smarter than the average cow, are left to go to another farm where they have the ability to roam freely. They have ponds, trees, and grass aplenty. It is the cow equivalent of going to the spa.
Step one of taking the cows to another farm is to get everyone into our corral. Miguel and Vicente took care of this for us. Then we back the truck and trailer up to the loading ramp and Miguel goes into the corral to begin sorting out who is who. Little calves are easy enough. Big beef cows are easy enough. But what about that 6 month old calf? Is that a male or female? Male? Ok, let’s cut him out and he stays here. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made on the fly, all while 1000 lb cows are pushing and shoving going in circles in the sorting pen.
As we are sorting out cows in the corral lane to walk through our corral, we are again sorting out who is going on the trailer and who is staying. We try to send groups of cows who match. If a batch of moms and calves get sent together, good, just open the cut gate and the trailer gate, and let them walk onto the trailer. But then a beef cow gets into a group of moms, or that 6 month old calf mentioned earlier. Now we have to cut them out again as they walk, trying to hold the beef cow up while we get the moms to walk forward. Except now they don’t want to walk so everyone bunches up. Heaven help you if a calf gets in the mix because they get beside or under larger cows and are next to impossible to get untangled. This doesn’t count for the fact that you get 5 cows on the trailer, then have a pause while another group gets sorted, or a cow who doesn’t want to walk stops. The cows on the trailer are like ripples in a pond. They walk onto the trailer, walk all the way to the front, then bounce off the front and walk all the way to the back where they hang out. That is fine, except there is a six foot gap at the front and the cows now finally walking onto the trailer are met with a wall of cows who don’t want to move. It takes some pushing and cursing to get enough cows on the trailer to call it a load.
Of course this doesn’t take into account the little calves, just born. They can get hurt jammed into to trailer with big cows. So we try to load them on their own load with just a few moms so there is plenty of room for everyone.
It takes three of us to do the job. Miguel doing the cutting and sorting in the sorting pen, Vicente encouraging the cows to keep walking forward through the corral lane, and myself controlling the trailer gate and the head gate, which is our final safety stop for the cattle should the wrong cow get to the wrong section. This is where if the wrong cow goes the wrong direction I can run and slam the head gate closed and keep them in the corral until we can get everyone sorted out where they need to be.
It isn’t anyone’s first time doing this job (except for some of the cows) and it only takes a few hours to get everyone moved. All the moms and babies are at their remote home for the grazing season, already lounging and enjoying their freedom. With the now warmer weather, and this weeks rain, we finally have enough grass on our farm. We also now have half the mouths chowing down on said grass. This means we can finally get ahead on grass and not be running on the ragged edge like we’ve been all spring. That is important because summer is coming.
Grass growth will slow, drought could hit us, any number of grazing issues could crop up. It is important that we have a good stand of grass in place to be ready to weather whatever comes. Now we can finally start growing some grass.
This past week we have been back to milking around here. No, not we as a farm, we as in Spork and myself, and Lucy. Erin and Mark have about 1.5 weeks off from milking so everyone else has jumped in to cover their job.
I milked every day when we first started milking cows. It is fun and it turns into a routine after a week or so, so that you don’t even mind it. It actually is a nice start to the day. We only milk once per day anyway so it really is just an adjustment to your morning. Erin and Mark have taken over milking so 99% of the time they take care of it now, which is awesome. But then Lucy moved onto the farm and she was eager to learn how to milk. Good. That takes care of the other 1%
So when Erin wasn’t available, Lucy would tag in and milk. But that usually meant Lucy and her husband Jason. Either way, it didn’t mean that I had to get back into it, for which I was thankful.
I usually wake up bright and early, and I’m already well behind. There are always posts to write, bills to pay, accounting to do, etc, etc. Basically, I can never leave the office all day, and still never be truly caught up. If I do leave the office, there is no shortage of things to do on the farm. Not needing to go milk too is a blessing and lets me start my day doing something that I really need to get done.
But then Jason hurt his shoulder, as in you’re having surgery tomorrow hurt. So he was out of commission. Everyone else was already doing all they could, so Spork and I had to tag back in on milking. No worries, I’ve done this before. I let Lucy take lead since she was doing the actual milking and more importantly managing Jason, and all the milking gear.
“What time do you want to milk?”
“5:00am. I’m up anyway with Jason.”
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You see, I usually get up between 4-5am anyway. 3am isn’t uncommon. I really enjoy getting up early, having that alone time first thing in the morning to get writing done, office work knocked out, etc. It is the way my dad was (3:30am every day) and it really works for me. However SWMBO HATES mornings. As in, there is nothing more important in the world than her getting to stay in bed till the last minute. If she is forced to get up, she gets up, grumps around till she does whatever she has been forced to do, then goes back to bed. No matter if it is daytime, no matter if everyone else is already up. It is a matter of principle that she stays in bed till her self determined time to get up.
SWMBO has expressed that maybe, just maybe, I could not get up so God awful early and start stomping around the house. And on the flip side, I could therefore actually stay awake through the movie/dinner/board game/whatever that only lasts till 8:30 but I fall asleep through it anyway. And I, through great personal effort, had accomplished this goal. I was staying awake till 9-10pm, and getting up at, gasp! 6:30 or so, sometimes even 7! I felt dirty and lazy, but I was actually seeing my family a bit which is nice.
“Did you say milk at 5 am? Um, ok, yeah, we’ll meet you then.”
The first morning, Lucy was ragged having been up with Jason. Spork was his normal stoic self. I was putting on airs of being normally functional but I was a combination of exceedingly, head achingly tired, and a wee bit hungover. Which is a lot like day 2 at a Deere meeting so really nothing new for me. We carried on a few days like that, nobody complaining, until Lucy announced that maybe 6:30 was a better time to milk.
Characteristically. Spork and I just nodded and said ok. No big deal either way, Lucy. Inside we both sighed with relief. At 6:30 it is light instead of doing this in the dark. It also went from “God I hate winter, why is it still cold in late March!” weather to shorts and flip-flops weather. So milking has become much more pleasant for everyone this later part of the week.
I think that we’ll have this down to a science just about the time that Erin takes back over. Unfortunately, I’m getting up at 4-5am again with no effort. Looks like I’m going to have to work on being lazy again.
Last night just as I was cooking dinner I received a phone call.
“One of your cows is out.”
Ugh, Sunday night during dinner? What a time to get out. I finished up dinner quickly, ate like someone who’d been starving to death for the last month, and then raced out the door to get our errant cow. The fact that it was nearly dark, and that the bottle of wine was nearly empty didn’t add to my excitement over this situation.
Luckily Spork eats faster than I do, and Dustin was up having dinner with us. So the boys all headed over in the increasing darkness. We saw the calf out, walking along the fence line trying to figure out how to get back in. I’d planned ahead and had brought the tools I needed to disassemble the fence. I’d also thought to unplug the fence charger, saving that bit of excitement.
With help from both boys, plus all of the cows who came over to watch the excitement, I took the fence apart. There are four wires that need to be disassembled. I started at the top, because I am old and bending over hurts. May as well warm up on my way to the bottom wire.
I quickly decided that the bottom wire was going to stay attached because if his butt managed to get out through four wires, he could very well hop over one to get back in. Plus that last wire was way down there and I didn’t feel like getting it.
As I was unhooking the third wire, it suddenly snapped out of my hands. I looked over to see that our calf had nearly jumped the third wire coming back into the pasture. Nearly as in not really. Luckily I had it apart already so it just flopped onto the ground. With now ALL of all of the cows looking at us, we went about putting the fence back together. Luckily Miguel and Vicente have been doing fencing the past week and all the fence tooling is in the Gator, including the fence puller which is required for putting this type of fencing back together. Otherwise we’d really have been in a pickle keeping the cows in for the night.
While cursing, laughing, and generally getting things done by cell phone light (thanks Dustin) I managed to get the fence back together and ready to contain cows. While working, I looked over at the cows and noted a calf that looked new. Kinda hard to tell which black cow is which in the dark, but I didn’t think this one was here before. I wasn’t chasing him down in the dark, so I texted Miguel to let him know so he could look in the morning.
Sure enough I got a text this morning, #94 was born Sunday to Sprinkles, #50.
Sprinkles is one of our great moms. A girl calf from her, with Boyd as the dad, should make for a good momma. Hopefully this little girl will be a keeper.
I have no idea how the cow got out. He was young, so probably doing something stupid. There is nothing wrong with the fence.
Yesterday we did our spring workups of our cattle herd. This entails bringing every cow, both bull and baby, into the corral and then one by one into the head gate. There they are inspected, ear tags checked, weighed, and if needed dewormed. All total we have 56 cows between the beef herd and the milking herd.
We used to deworm all the cows routinely when I was growing up. That was just a normal part of having cattle. Then I started managed intensive grazing and found that the professed elimination of deworming was nearly correct. When the cows are out on pasture, moving to fresh grass every day, they simply do not need to be dewormed. Cows gain weight, their coats look good, and overall they are much healthier.
But when we switch to winter time feeding, even if we move them around, they still spend too much time in one place. And therefore by the end of winter some of the cows are showing too much sign of a parasite load. What we’ve found best is one time during the late winter, we bring the cows in and inspect them one by one. For the ones that are needing some help, we deworm them. For the majority, we do nothing. Everyone hits fresh spring pasture in good shape and they spend the rest of the year in a natural cycle. For any cows that we are planning on eating in the next few months, we make sure that they do not get any deworming. If they needed deworming, we would give it to them, but they’d be pushed back to later in the year for their appointment at the processor.
The last thing we do is to publicly show what it is we are doing. To show who got what treatment, how much, etc. Not listed in this list of cows is our two milk cows, their two calves, and Lil’ Bit the belted galloway and the one cow that is in time out for being greedy, #79. All those cows don’t need any deworming or weights (we aren’t eating them), at least right now. Here is our spreadsheet of cows, weights, and what we did on February 28th.
In going through all the recent cow records, I have a number of new calves that have incomplete records. These may have been retagged, born and I didn’t get notice, or most likely born, I got notice, but didn’t get it recorded.
That’s never a problem as I can always go back and look through my texts for these births, except I can’t find any of these numbers in my texts for having been born. This post is to put a record in place for these missing calves. As we work them next time, we’ll get more information and fill in the rest of the info.
#83 weighed 594 lbs on 2-28-18 meaning he/she is probably about a year old.
#96 only weighed 279 so probably less than six months old.
It is calf-a-palooza around here! #46 just had a little bull calf, #93.
Miguel and Vicente grabbed the little calf and made sure he was tagged, banded, and nursing his mom. All was good so they went about the rest of their morning. But of course Miguel went back and checked again just to make sure. He found this cow nursing #46 instead of the wobbly just born calf.
#79 was being aggressive and stealing milk, and the little calf wasn’t able to get any. #79 has a mom and is more than big enough to not need to nurse. She was simply being greedy, at the expense of the little calf. Miguel brought her up to the barn and we put her in the head gate, as you see here. I had something on hand for a greedy calf.
This is a weaning ring. It clips on like a clip on earring and just hangs off the cows nose. They can eat, they can graze, they can do pretty much everything they normally do, except if they try to nurse a mom. The ring is covered in spikes that point up. If the cow tries to nurse, the spikes poke the mom in the udder and she kicks the calf or moves away. No more nursing for greedy calves .
We then turned #79 out in the milk cow pasture to make sure she was away from the just born calf. She’ll spend a couple of days there surrounded by all them milk she could drink and no chance to get any. Seems fair.
We’ll go back and remove the weaning ring in a few months. After our calves are born and this girl has learned her lesson.
Our little Orphan Annie calf, #91 has a new home. Miguel posted a picture of her on Craigslist and had a tremendous response. We found a farmer in Siler City who specializes in animals like #91, who are orphans or their mom doesn’t want to take care of them.
The farmer said in this particular case, he’d just bought a little bull as well so he planned to keep both #91 and the bull and raise them to make their own babies. I certainly hope that #91 is a better mom than her mother was. At least this way she’ll have the chance to be.
Today is the first day that we are back to milking like normal. That means we’ll have a normal days worth of milk in the fridge today, but we don’t have any back stock from previous days to help with demand. So as of today, we are still on the one gallon per family restriction but by Wednesday of next week, we’ll be back to buy all you want.
I’m not sure when the rest of our production will be back in business, but for now we are keeping up, barring any more issues like with #91. Once the rest of the cows deliver their calves, we’ll be back to milkapalooza.