This blog is a forum for those who keep small scale herds of any breed of cattle. Share your ideas, experiences, learnings and best practices from daily life raising and selling cattle.
As well as a place to posting photographs of your cattle, use this blog is a resource for asking questions and initiating discussions within the cattle community so we can learn, improve our herds and have fun!
There are many pleasures and rewards that go along with keeping a small herd of cattle.
Working with fewer animals can be easier than a large herd, and in a small herd, you get to know each cow personally. Some, especially bottle babies or difficult births, can reach pet status. Many small herds are a wonderful mix of animals, like a bag of skittles, while others focus on just one breed.
Small herds can bring a unique set of challenges to the farm. Large equipment expenses are harder to justify, and deciding on which cows stay or leave may cause more heart ache. Having enough pasture space to separate the bull from the cows when his job is done for the season can be a struggle, as is keeping young heifers separate from a bull until they are old enough to breed.
Of course, the best made human plans are at the mercy of the rhythm of the farm. Last May, “bull-in day”, the day that Shane joined our ladies, meant that the earliest start date 2020 calving season was February 18. Even with 3 heifers, the chances that any of the ladies would have their calves in mid-February were slim. In past seasons, I was always anxiously waiting for weeks past the earliest start date for the first calf to arrive. So when my daughter asked if I would babysit my grandchildren in Massachusetts the week of February 16, I had no worries. Our calves wouldn’t arrive at least until early March, or so I thought.
As my departure day approached, a few of the cows began to show signs of their impending motherhood by “bagging up”, looking “floppy” or “springen”. Three ladies in particular, Billie who is an experienced mama, Scarlet who’s first calf we had to pull last spring and a heifer Hazel , a first time mama. Last week, we moved the herd closer to the house into the front field for easier observation and to be close to the working area in case of problems.
As I left at daybreak to begin my all day drive, I saw Hazel already up and grazing, away from the herd. Certain she might already be in labor, I texted Bill to keep an eye on her. Hazel is one of our Braunvieh-Angus crosses, and has a beautiful, chocolate brown coloring. An hour into my trip, Bill sent me an update text and a photo. The first calf of 2020 arrived but not from Hazel, from Scarlet. The season began with an easy birth and a healthy calf.
The weather has been oddly mild for February, heading north there was no residual snow on the ground and the next few hours of my drive proceeded uneventfully. Just before noon, my phone buzzed with another picture from the farm. Wait, what? Two red calves next to Scarlet, she had delivered twins! I immediately called Bill to get the full story. Apparently, when he and TA fed the cows and checked the gender of the calf, the older heifers were all hanging out at the far fence line, staring at something on the edge of the field. Walking closer to investigate, they heard a small moo and found a second calf, hidden in the grass nearly under the fence. The guys carried the second calf all the way up the field to Scarlet, where she immediately cleaned and nursed both little heifers, happily accepting the pair!
Bill kept an eye on the trio through out the rest of the day, making sure that Scarlet was tending to both of the babies, nursing and licking either one or the other. Scarlet herself was our first pure bred, red angus heifer born on the farm, and her calf last year was the first calf we had to pull. This year, she gave us our first set of twins!
Eight hours into my trip, I received yet another text and pic from Bill. I was almost afraid to look at my phone. Sure enough Hazel, the first time mama, was in labor. Bill had to call and ask TA to come back to the farm and also called our neighbors, Bev and Paul to come over to help bring Hazel up into the corral. With daylight dwindling, he also put in a call to the vet to give her advanced notice in case help was needed. Once safely inside the corral, Hazel’s water broke and labor began in earnest.
One of the best sights to see when a cow is in the process of delivering a calf is two hooves, pads down followed by a nose. This means that the calf is in the correct position to be born. Heifers still may need help delivering a correctly positioned calf, especially a large one, but the job is more straightforward with a calf in diving position. Hazel was thankfully delivering a correctly positioned calf.
I arrived in MA after an uneventful, 10 hour drive but without hearing any further news from the farm. As the day turned into evening, I began to fret.
Well passed dark, I finally received the update call from the farm. After 2 1/2 hours had passed without Hazel making any further progress, Bill contacted the vet and said her help might be needed. As if on cue, Hazel gave one more push and out popped the calf. Needless to say, both Bill and our vet were delighted and relieved. Hazel was the proud mama of her first calf, a healthy little bull!
Three calves arrived days early to start our 2020 calving season off in a flurry. Fingers crossed that the other expecting ladies wait until the end of the week for me to come home to the farm before delivering their bundles of joy!
The next morning, just 12 hours later, Hazel’s boy in the morning sun all dried and well fed. He is beautiful!!
Shane’s 2019 work at TurkeyCrest has been completed. He spent the summer with our main herd of cows and the fall with five heifers. Sunday would be the day for Shane to head off to his second job, to our friend August’s herd just a few miles down the road. Sunday was also the day when we were hosting a holiday dinner with friends at 5pm. From prior experiences loading on to a trailer, Shane had a reputation for walking on before the gate to the field was closed. August agreed to bring his trailer over around 9am in the morning. Expecting Shane to be moving down the road by 9:30, we decided there would be plenty of time to also separate and work the three youngest heifers before combining all of our cows into one herd for the winter.
In retrospect, we should have moved the young heifers into another field a few days prior to Sunday, giving Shane time alone to grow bored and restless. But that didn’t happen, so at 8:30 the bull strolled into the corral while the heifers watched from the field just over the fence.
August arrived on time and skillfully backed his trailer into the corral and opened the doors. Shane took notice but did not make a move towards the trailer. Hmm, not what I was hoping to see. I grabbed a bucket of sweet feed, held it to his nose and led this huge bull to the edge of the trailer. And that was as far as he would move, not one more step. So much for Shane jumping right on the trailer. Thirty minutes passed with everyone trying to entice this bull on to the trailer, only to have Shane return to the fence and gaze at the heifers. I jumped in the mule, grabbed another bucket of feed to lead the heifers to the backyard field and out of view. The girls followed me gleefully, kicking up their heels and running along side the mule, happy with the change of scenery, which was the polar opposite behavior from the stubborn bull in the corral. I had a nagging feeling that the backyard field was not completely fortified since the last storm. With 5 excited heifers in tow, I discovered nearly 100 feet of missing fence. As nonchalantly as possible, I quickly set up a dozen step in posts and strung a poly line before any of the heifers noticed the gaping hole along the creek. As the morning was quickly sliding by, I hurried back to the problem of the bull.
The guys had not made any progress loading Shane in my absence. Everyone was still calm, including the bull, but it was clear he had no intention of jumping on the trailer. At one point, I found myself next to the fence and too close to Shane. He took a step towards me, turned his head and rubbed me against the wood boards. No real harm was done, but I took that as a clear warning to remain cautious and stay in the moment.
Shane became more and more obstinate, which is safer than more and more excited, but fairly frustrating to the humans. We decided to change strategies and run him into the working area, down the alleyway, through head gate and then onto the trailer. Shane slowly moved to the working side of the corral, and August repositioned the trailer close to the head gate.
“Run” turned out to be the wrong description of the actual event. Shane had grown bored and tired of the sweet grain. Where as a cow will turn away when you walk up to their shoulder, Shane instead turns and faces you. Standing in the working pen, I started googling “how to work with a bull” but didn’t find any good tips. We spent over 45 minutes getting him into and through the working area. When he finally decided moved his 2500lb body into the chute, everyone was hopeful but then again, all progress ground to a halt. Shane refused to move any further. We curled his tail, poked his hooves, scratched his back and pleaded with him to try and push through all to no avail. The chute was too tight for his shoulders and he wouldn’t budge. As I stood between the head gate and the trailer, just a foot away from this huge, unmoving head in the chute, all I could envision was Winnie The Pooh, stuck in Rabbit’s front door.
There was nothing else to do except remove the chute. Bill went to get the tractor, swap out the hay spear for the fork lift while we undid the chains and moved the palpatation cage. But first, we had to move Shane BACKWARDS out of the chute and back into the alleyway. As I lightly pushed on his curly head, I realized how ineffective pushing on a bulls’ head would be to move him backwards. Obviously, a bull’s inclination when pushed on the head is to push back. August used a board as a lever against Shane’s chest to slowly edge him in reverse. A couple of steps backwards was all we needed to have enough room to move the chute. TA closed the palpitation door then put a board behind Shane’s butt to keep him in the alleyway.
In place of the chute, we chained a panel on each side of the alleyway to the trailer. Shane waited patiently for all of these modifications to be completed, not at all upset or anxious. As the minutes steadily ticked away, the time left for me to accomplish my long hostess to-do list dwindled. I was not quite as calm as Shane.
Before opening the door to yet again try to entice Shane onto the trailer, I double checked that my escape hatch was opened. The last thing I wanted was to be trapped in the trailer with Shane.
Finally, more than 2 1/2 hours after our first attempt, we opened the alleyway and Shane slowly but steadily made his way onto the trailer. I realized that the adjective “bullheaded” was based 100% on working with real bulls. The four of us breathed a huge sigh of relief, Shane was loaded and no one injured.
With Shane heading down the road, there was still the small detail of 5 heifers lollygagging in the Backyard field with a flimsy fence, 3 little heifers that had to be worked and then the two herds combined together in one field for the winter.
Working the cows was almost refreshing after dealing with one stubborn bull. After putting the chute back onto the alleyway, we separated the three little heifers and ran them through the working area.
I removed Pearl’s weaning ring, and put another one on Annie so that Pippie, her mama, will be able to put on some weight over the winter. Rose’, our last calf of 2019, finally got an ear tag and her vaccination.
With Bella leading the way, we moved all 15 cows of the main herd including the three young heifers, back to the south field.
Then, we gathered the 5 rowdy heifers from the backfield and combined them with the main herd. There was some jostling and posturing, but everyone settled down after a few minutes.
One last move of all 20 cows and heifers to the Mountain field before we called the day’s work complete at 2pm. Well, at least the cattle working was done. After feeding the horse, pig, goat and chickens an early meal, I was finally able to turn my attention to preparing for our dinner guests. That evening, with just 10 minutes to spare, I relaxed and enjoyed a wonderful time with great friends, who fortunately also have cattle so our conversations always involve cow tales.
Because Shane is a new bull for us, we have replacement heifers that will be bred over the next two years. A number of the heifers are already between 17-20 months old and definitely mature enough to breed. After his work was done with the cows in the main herd, Shane has been hanging out in the Front field with two steers and the horse, and has grown bored. So we decided to choose five lucky ladies to keep Shane company during his last weeks on the farm before he heads off to work as the herd bull on our friend’s farm.
In order to sort out these five heifers from the main herd, we setup a small corral in the South field using step-in posts and polywire, and made a makeshift sorting point at the entrance gate to the field. As the main herd walked from the Mountain Field through the gate to the South field, the polywire would be repositioned, directing bred cows and calves to right and the five lucky heifers into the corral on the left. We had placed troughs with sweet feed on both sides so everyone had a view of snacks. Bill lead the move driving the mule, TA walked behind to keep any stragglers going, and I did the sorting. The plan worked well and after sorting out a couple of cows, we had all five heifers isolated from the main herd.
Next, the three of us set up an alleyway from the small corral to the Front field, opened the gate and led the five heifers into the field where Shane was eagerly waiting. Breeding these heifers this fall is beneficial for a number of reasons. First, with Shane at our farm until December, this is a good project to keep him busy. And second, the heifers will calve sometime between late August – September when not too much is happening on the farm. Our bred cows will have their calves in the spring, so we will be able to focus all of our effort on safe deliveries for these first time mama’s.
Shane takes his responsibility seriously, and was very pleased to have more work to do. These heifers were all born in the spring of 2018 and after just a couple of days, everyone began acting more like a herd of grown cows. A cow’s job is to have a calf, and these heifers seemed happy to finally get the chance.
Getting the farm ready for winter always starts with the selling of our spring steers. We had planned to have delivered the 2019 steers in late October but one of them came down with an eye infection. We kept the boys until the infection cleared up and the antibiotics wore off.
Having the bull and heifers in the Front field made sorting out the two steers a little more challenging, but finally off to camp for the 2019 boys!
This spring, four more heifers, Willow, Pearl, Aretha and Annie will be old enough to breed. And then our last replacement heifer, Rose’ will be ready in the spring of 2021.
My cowboy took the opportunity to go on a bird hunt this month, leaving me alone on the farm, alone at least in terms of human companionship. With four whole days to fill with things I wanted to get done before winter, I made myself a list:
wash and detail my truck
redesign the garden beds
build the fire pit by the cabin
organize the guest bedroom
work on a friend’s website
mow the backyard field
In the middle of my first solo night, I awoke to the wonderful sound of rain hitting the metal roof. The rain was steady but not torrential so no worries about the cow waterer on the Lower field. This was also my first night alone since losing Thelma, and I found myself was missing that dog so much. She was such good company and my stalwart protector when Bill was away. Sigh, maybe the time has come to find another dog.
In the morning, the rain was still falling at a steady pace. As the sky lightened, I put on my rain suit and headed out to check on the cows. Happily, in spite of 2 inches of rain, the waterer was intact and all was well. I headed home to feed the other critters and eventually make a ghetto breakfast for myself. Cooking is not a high priority of mine.
Then the storm intensified, the skies darkened and the rain poured, harder than ever. While waiting for a break in the weather, I picked one of the inside tasks from my list and started to organize the guest room. Just a couple hours later, the storm ended and the sun began to shine.
Changing again into my outside work clothes, I headed back to the Lower field hopeful that the waterer had withstood the onslaught.
When I arrived at the gate, there was Bella looking at me, almost tapping her hoof as if to say, “Yes, the waterer is ruined again. We need to be moved.”
I opened the gate so the ladies could move back to the Mountain field and the security of water from a fountain. This is when I noticed that Lucy was limping. She had been walking slower for the past for days, but now had a definite limp. I suspected another case of hoof rot.
At first I thought that I could load my pole syringe with Draxxin and give Lucy a shot in butt in the field when she was preoccupied eating grain. But the dosage needed would take two injections and Lucy was way too smart to stand still for two needles. Then, as I was consulting my very good friend and experienced cattle farmer Janet, she heard that LA300 was a better medicine for foot rot. A dose of LA300 was even more of an issue because for a cow the size of Lucy, she would need 4 shots! With antibiotics, only so much of a medicine can be put into each injection site. Without any LA300 on hand, I drove to the local co-op to purchase a bottle, and they were out, as were the co-ops in two neighboring counties. Seems the manufacture tweaked an ingredient that caused a label change which then caused a delay in shipping. My very gracious friend offered me a bottle that she had, but if the drug was in short supply I didn’t want to leave Janet without medicine in case one of her cattle needed it. Ugh, the morning was sliding towards noon before I finally procured a bottle from a co-op over 40 minutes away.
Back at the farm, job #1 was to fix the waterer and then move the cows back to the Lower field. The grass there was much better than the too-grazed Mountain field and I was hoping to isolate Lucy during the move. With the mule packed with every supply that might be helpful, I headed off to the farthest field from the house that the cows graze.
When I inspected the mess, luck was on my side as the poles were pulled up and the line tangled but everything was still usable. The cow’s hoof prints stopped just before the wire blocking the path, they had walked down as far as possible . I sure Bella was the one who had checked out the sad condition of the waterer.
I dragged everything back upstream, removed the debris, pounded in the posts on the far side of the run and then re-attached the polywire. After driving to the top of the field to flip the toggle to restore power, I drove back to the waterer and checked the current across the polywire, 6.3kv and ready for the ladies!
Taking my fencing tools back to the barn, I headed back to the field with a full bucket of sweet feed to move the cows, with the hopes of keeping Lucy back. The day before, when I had hurriedly moved the herd out of the Lower field, I remembered that there was a round hay bale, still wrapped, sitting in the field waiting for winter. Not able to pull off the wrap without a tractor and the hay spear, I decided to roll a hay ring over the bale to keep the cows away. Of course, when I drove into the field, most of the ladies were standing around the feeder, nibbling on that bale in spite of the still attached wrap. My mind flashed with images of dead cows scattered about the field, their intestines all tangled up with bale wrap. I started calling for the cows to follow me, and drove off toward the gate to the Lower field. Everyone followed at a trot, happy to change fields. After pulling through the gate, I left the mule in the field and then doubled back to close the gate before Lucy got there. Shirley, the one eye heifer balked at crossing with Lucy limping along close behind. I crept behind Shirley, convinced her to move through the opening and then literally closed the gate in Lucy’s face. The herd was back in the Lower field leaving Lucy alone in the Mountain field, closer to help for her hoof.
Next, I wanted to move Lucy as close as possible to the corral, just a mere 3 fields away. On my way driving back from the barn gathering a small bucket of sweet feed, I opened the gates to the South field. As the Mountain field came into view, I was pleasantly surprised to see Lucy walking towards me. I parked the mule, grabbed the bucket and met her in the middle of the field. After letting her taste the grain, I headed off walking towards the corral, and she followed like a puppy!
We walked out of the Mountain field, across the path into the South field, past the shop, and all the way to the gate at the Front field where Shane, the two steers and Sundance were hanging out.
My major miscalculation of the day came when Shane noticed the “new cow” coming down the lane and decided to meet her at the gate. The two steers, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, had to be part of the welcome committee and of course Sundance is never one to miss a party. I had to manage moving those four animals away from the inside of the gate and let in Lucy from the outside. With a lot sweet grain spreading and bovine enticing, everyone finally ended up safely inside the gate, although Sundance managed to get himself a full portion of sweet grain. I breathed a grateful sigh of relief.
Enlisting the help of another good friend, Bev, we decided there was still time in the day to get Lucy into the chute and treat her for the hoof rot. Hopefully, the sooner she had the medication the more successful her recovery would be. Before starting, we took a few minutes to gather the needed equipment, review cattle injection procedures online and setup the game plan.
After another round of sweet grain to isolate Lucy from the steers and bull, we got her into the working end of the corral. I opened the gates of the crowding pen and Lucy calmly walked straight through to the chute. Bev closed the alley gate behind Lucy and then I caught her in the head gate. Four injections later, Lucy was happily finished with all of the nastiness and had a reward of some sweet grain. She was such a good cow!
With Lucy returned to the Front field, I said goodbye and thank you to Bev before beginning cleanup and feeding. The chute had to be hosed down after Lucy liberally sprayed it with cow muck. She had also dropped a patty in Sundance’s run-in and drooled in his water bucket. With the corral was back in order, I brought Sundance in from the field, fed and watered the pig, goat and chickens, and took feed and hay to the other limping cow, Pippie, and her calf in the Backyard field.
Already, half of my time alone was over and nothing had been crossed off of my list. Maybe tomorrow will be less cow intensive, unless it rains of course. Such is the wonderful life of a cattle farmer 🙂
Cows LOVE moving to a new field especially when the grass has been stockpiled just for this time of year. Soon the sweet, green grass of the warm summer months will be replaced with swaths of hay from round bales. Always makes me smile seeing the girl’s enthusiasm.
All of the calves born last spring are well on their way to becoming teenagers. Last week, the little bulls became steers and then were weaned, filling the air with moo’ing both day and night for a couple of days.
Pearl was our only heifer old enough to wean. Physically, she was almost old enough to breed but we don’t put our heifers with Shane until they are at least 14 months old. Pearl would stay with her Mama in the main herd, so she had to wear a weaning ring. This contraption has sharp points facing up, so when the calf tries to nurse, the mama is jabbed with spikes and discourages the calf. The ring just slides into her nose and is tightened to stay in place. It doesn’t interfere with grazing or drinking water. After several months, Pearl will be weaned and the ring can be removed.
We moved the main herd of cows back to the Mountain field, leaving a potpourri of occupants in the Front field – the steers, Shane, Gilley and Sundance, who seems to enjoy the company of the cattle. Being weaned is hard on young cattle, so we devised a creep gate area where the steers can get a snack of sweet grain and hay whenever they are hungry but the larger animals can’t fit through the gate. Our neighbor loaned us an old, hand built creep gate that is adjustable to the size of the calves. We added a panel on each side with t-posts in the corners for stability. The whole structure is connected to the field fence posts using large eye bolts that the panels hang on.
The two smallest steers were the first to find the food inside the enclosure. Gilley tried to squeeze her large self into the pen but our design withstood the test.
The calves ate while Gilley watched on forlornly. I didn’t have the heart to let the larger cows go without any snack so I put a few scoops in a nearby trough. Fortunately, Sundance is usually at the far end of the field during feeding time. If he hears grain hitting the trough, he will race up and chase away the younger cows. However, Shane and Gilley stand their ground with him. Feeding time can be quite the show.
Shane LOVES the sweet grain, almost to the point of being a bit scary to feed. He has no problem trying to give me a head butt if I am standing around in the field with an empty bucket. A few days ago, I was late feeding one evening and when I opened the barn door, Shane was waiting … in Sundance’s stall!
During September’s vet visit, all of my cows were checked to determine who is pregnant and the approximate due date of calf. A cow that is not bred is said to be open. This year, all of our cows were carrying a calf except for one, Gilley, and this was her second year in a row to be open. Without the demands of a calf, Gilley had grown fat from grazing which lowers her chance of being bred even more. I always give my ladies two chances, so sadly, Gilley’s time had come to move on. The local auction barn held a cull cow sale last week. Early the morning before the sale, we loaded her in the trailer and headed down the road. My “two strikes and you’re out” rule is keeps the farm a farm and not a petting zoo but saying goodbye is always hard on me.
As a younger cow, Gilley enjoyed jumping over and onto gates, escaping from the crowding pen. As a result, there is a 8 foot high, almost solid wood wall known as “The Gilley Wall” that we built it to keep her in during vet visits. I think of Gilley each time I look at that wall.
A happier example of the farming circle of life is that Gilley’s last calf was a heifer, born in the spring of 2018. Oprah is the spitting image of her mama, and I look forward to her giving us many calves throughout her time here. Gilley’s legacy should live on with generations of beautiful cattle.
Weaning is a stressful time for the calves. For some reason, Billy Boy did fine for the first 10 days and then suddenly became listless. He stopped coming to the creep gate to eat and laid in the field looking sluggish. We brought the three steers and Shane into the corral and tried unsuccessfully to separate Billy Boy from the gang to get him into the chute. While he was jogging around the corral, I saw that he also had diarrhea so suspected a case of scours. We loaded the dart gun and gave him a shot of strong antibiotics. Finally, I was able to separate him from the others and isolated him in the crowding pen with food and water to rest. After a day and a half, the antibiotic should have begun to work, but Billy Boy grew weaker and stopped eating. We gave him a different antibiotic, one more specifically designed to treat pneumonia, and hoped for the best.
Despite all of our efforts, Billy Boy succumbed to his illness on Thursday. We buried him with Old Lucy very near the spot where he was born. Experienced farmer friends always tell me that you can’t save them all. I know this is true, and despite all of one’s efforts, some lives end too soon. Billy Boy’s mama is carrying another calf that will be born next spring. Through the laughter and tears, the cycle of the farm goes on.