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Small-Scale Cattle Farming

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.

Peggy – Last Phase of Healing

On Wednesday, Peggy was 21 days old and had been unable to walk normally for 19 1/2 days of her young life. Dr Comyn made one more trip to the farm to remove the cast. In spite of the damaged leg, Peggy has thrived and was definitely a lot more heifer to lift than when the first cast went on.

With the cast removed, her right rear leg was thinner and weaker than normal and the left leg was slightly bowed from compensating and hauling the cast around.

The repair of the break was successful but both the bone and surrounding leg muscles were too weak for immediate, unlimited use. Peggy and Ruby, her mom, had to remain in the small area of the corral until the leg strengthen.

In the confines of the small end of the corral, Peggy was able to slowly and carefully exercise the leg.

With a cow and calf occupying the corral, daily life was modified for some of us. Sundance was a bit sad about his run-in being temporarily converted to a sick bay, but he had three cows, Pippie, Lucy and Heidi in the Front field to keep him company. Pippie was in the Front field so I could work on building up her condition, Lucy and Heidi were there as the last two cows expecting a calf.

I quickly discovered that scooping cow pies twice a day was a lot more work than cleaning up horse poop. Each of Ruby’s pies weighed so much that the tines on my fork bent with the effort. Loaded with a day’s worth of pies, the ridiculously heavy wheelbarrow took all of my effort to wheel to the pile and dump. Of course, Ruby was very unhappy at being alone in the corral. Being one of the herd leaders, Ruby began to occasionally moo loudly, letting everyone on the farm know about her displeasure at the situation. One night, she kept moo’ing well passed 11pm and I worried something was wrong. Throwing on a coat and boots, I grabbed a flashlight to go check on her and Peggy. Thankfully, everything was fine. Ruby was just irritated.

Four days after her cast was removed, Peggy’s leg was greatly improved so I let her and Ruby have access to the entire corral. Peggy loved running around and was putting weight on the leg, improving her muscle tone daily. I fed Ruby a little grain every day to help make her confinement a little easier.

With a healing heifer, Ruby became even more of a protective mama. Several times when I was snapping pics or video tapping Peggy, Ruby would get between us and move me out of the way. She is a very good mama!

This was a tough circumstance from the start. When I saw the broken leg, I knew my choice was between saving the calf but depleting her market value or putting her down and cutting my losses. A vet’s expertise is invaluable at times like this but also comes at a cost. Dr Comyn did a fantastic job restoring Peggy to a healthy, happy heifer who will lead a normal life and potentially give birth to many of her own calves.

I chose to save the calf.

Peggy’s Second Cast

Ten days ago, Ruby’s little heifer, now known as Peggy, had her right rear leg broken. On Monday, Dr Comyn returned to the farm to remove the first cast and put on a replacement. Calves grow so quickly that the first cast was already too small.

Peggy with her first cast

About an hour before the vet was scheduled to arrive, Bill and I began the process of separating Ruby and Peggy from the herd and getting them up to the corral. Neither large or small bovine was pleased about heading back to the corral, but thankfully both cooperated enough that the effort didn’t take too long to accomplish. Of course, the oldest bull calf in the herd decided to tag along making the task a bit more complex. Hazel, his mama, didn’t miss him at all during the 20 minutes he spent cavorting in the corral and was only slightly curious when he finally reappeared in the field.

Looking longingly at the exit gate.

When Dr Comyn arrived, we move Ruby into the crowding pen so that we could work with Peggy and not worry about a protective mama. After giving Peggy an injection of Ketamine to sedate her, Dr Comyn began work on removing the first cast. This morning, Peggy took up a lot more space on the tailgate than she had 10 days ago.

The outer wraps of the first cast were cutaway, exposing the set of wires that Dr Comyn had placed between the cotton layer and the hard cast.

We set Peggy on the ground for better stability, and then Dr Comyn secured each end of one wire to a handle. Sawing the wire back and forth, a clean cut was made through one side of the cast. Then we flipped Peggy over, and the process was repeated using the second wire on the opposite side of the cast.

We lifted Peggy back up on the tailgate and the cast easily peeled off, exposing the soft cotton padding and cotton sleeve underneath. When everything had been removed, Dr Comyn examined the broken area on Peggy’s leg. Her injured leg was a lot thinner than a normal leg and had developed a callous that could be felt along the break line.

And then the process of casting the leg was repeated. Pull on a new sock, add a couple rolls of soft cotton, enclose 2 wires one each side of the leg, add two rolls of wet cast, add a rubber glove on the hoof for water proofing, and finally add a roll of adhesive cloth bandage for extra protection.

Peggy will be back in the field for the next 10 days, walking through grass, rain puddles and mud, cow pies and horse poop. This cast has to hold up and help her leg heal as she follows mama to the water trough, to the shade tree, as she nurses and when she plays with the other calves.

We laid Peggy in the corral on a bed of hay to sleep off the effects of the sedative. As soon as she was awake enough to stand, I let her mama back in with her. Before noon, the pair was back in the field with the herd.

Drowsy heifer.

The next morning, Peggy was fully recovered and comfortable with her new cast. She easily kept up with her mama and all of the other calves in the field.

Peggy sporting cast #2

Next week, the cast will be removed and then Peggy with her Mama will spend a week or so sequestered in the corral while her leg gains strength and rebuilds muscle and bone.

Winter storms and a broken leg

Two days ago on Wednesday evening, there was a cold front moving through the area. Storms were predicted, followed by temperatures dropping into the 20’s. So of course when I checked on the herd one last time before nightfall, Ruby was in the center of the field, tail high and moo’ing. Her baby was on the way. I hung out by the fence for 45 minutes until darkness fell and I could no longer see Ruby. No hooves were present yet, so I knew there was time before the birth. After eating a quick dinner, Bill and I grabbed a flashlight and headed back to the field. Ruby was close to the rest of the herd with a freshly born calf next to her. I was thrilled, but also a bit worried because of the weather. By 8pm, a cold rain was pouring down along with thunder and lightning. Ruby was a good mama, I felt sure the little calf was warm, dry, fed and staying close next to mama.

First thing yesterday morning, I headed out to check on the new calf. Ruby had her baby nestled on hay on the lower slope of the field, well protected from the wind. The baby was a beautiful little red heifer!

As we began unrolling hay to feed, the other heifers realized a new member of the herd had arrived and a few came over to check her out.

In spite of enduring a February thunderstorm just hours after birth, the little heifer was spunky and thriving.

And then this morning, just 24 hours later, I walked into the field to feed the herd and found Ruby and her heifer lying a good distance away from the others. As I took a closer look, I saw the little baby was limping. Ugh!

Bill and I finished unrolling hay, and then turned our attention to getting Ruby and her calf into the corral. I moved Sundance into a stall in the barn, then opened a path through the electric fence to the corral. Driving the mule into the field, we loaded the calf into the back. But as cows will do, the entire herd began following the mule anticipating sweet feed, while Ruby headed in the opposite direction, searching the field for her calf. Sigh. Bill ran to the barn for a bucket of feed to distract the herd, while I desperately tried to get Ruby to realize that her calf was in the back of the mule. After a frustrating 15 minutes (I kept repeating to myself, “to work cows fast, work them slow”), I finally convinced Ruby that her calf was in the mule and she followed me into the corral.

With the calf safely in Sundance’s run-in in the corral and Ruby pacing nearby, I dialed the vet’s office. Dr Pat Comyn was available and could get to the farm within the hour. I was certain the calf’s leg was broken and was very worried she would have to be put down.

Dr Comyn arrived, performed a thorough examination of the heifer and determined the leg was in fact broken. One of the other cows had probably stepped on her. I held my breath waiting for his next sentence, was this fixable or the end after a short 36 hours of life. Because the break was not a compound fracture, Dr Comyn felt the leg would heal with a caste. I was so relieved!

We moved Ruby to the other side of the corral to keep her out of the way while her calf was being handled. Dr Comyn gave the little heifer a shot of anesthesia and once she was sedated, we lifted her on to the tailgate of his truck. Then, Dr Comyn got to work wrapping the first layer of bandage, followed by a layer of padding with a set of wires sticking out on each side. These wires will be used to remove the cast in 10 day. After 10 days, the first cast will be removed and a second cast added. Calves grow so quickly, that a second larger cast is needed before the bones are mended. I learned so much today!

A layer of orange tape was added to hold the wires in place and the padding on, and then Dr Comyn wrapped the leg with the wet cast layer.

Another layer of sticky tape, followed by a rubber glove on the hoof end to help keep the plaster layer dry and clean. Which realistically, will only be as dry and clean as a little heifer’s leg in a muddy field can be kept.

Dr Comyn suggested using a calf coat to help the heifer stay warm in the cold nights forecast for this weekend. With her broken leg securely cast, and wearing a cuddly warm calf coat, we set the heifer on a bed of dry hay inside the run-in to let the anesthesia wear off. I kept mama away from her calf until she was wide awake and back on her feet.

Soon the pair was reunited, although Ruby was a bit wary of the strange attachments her calf was now sporting. Because the heifer was so small, Dr Comyn recommended a different style of calf coat which fit her a lot better than the first. So I replaced the black one with the tighter fitting blue coat.

Ruby encouraged her baby to stand and move with a mama cow’s soft moos and licks.

All was going well except I realized the heifer did not nurse for the rest of the day. At 6:10pm, I checked on the pair to find Ruby laying on one side of the corral and her calf on the other. I knew the heifer had to be hungry and needed to nurse, so decided to get the two together before dark. After stopping by the house to get my farm clothes on, I then headed back to the corral about 15 minutes later just as the sun set. Amazingly, the heifer and Ruby were both standing up with the heifer nosing around for the milk, quite steady on her newly repaired leg. I sent a quick text to Dr Comyn with the good news. Wonderful ending to a long day!

This morning, I could hear Ruby was moo’ing at 4:00am. I figured she was still upset at being separated from the herd so I waited until daybreak to check on the heifer. The baby was fine, curled up and laying in the dry hay.

An hour later, mama and baby were happily starting the day together. Content, well fed baby and calm mama cow, perfect start to my day as well!

Strong enough to get breakfast
She can also hobble back on her own to the dry hay for a nap.

Scarlet’s Twins

With two healthy heifers close by her side, Scarlet’s work has begun in earnest. Neither heifer was very large, which undoubtedly contributed to their successful, natural delivery. The first one weighed a bit more at about 65lbs while her sister was a petite, 55lbs. In contrast, Hazel’s bull born on the same day, weighed in at around 75lbs.

With both heifers up and nursing, poor Scarlet is always busy. She is either cleaning one heifer while nursing the other, or nursing both at the same time.

Once in a while, Scarlet gets a free moment to eat a few bites of hay.

Twin #1 is adorable, with dark red fur and a pink nose.

Twin #2 is also super cute with large ears and bright eyes.

Scarlet is a great mama. She lets us get close enough to touch her babies, but calls them to her with soft mama moo’ing.

In an effort to help Scarlet keep her energy and milk production up, I have been taking a couple of scoops of sweet feed to her every afternoon. I hide the pan as I walk into the field, or the other cows would mob me. In a couple of weeks, I will put up the creep feeder to let the calves access and eat grain as well, and maybe take some pressure off of poor mama.

2020 Spring Calving Begins

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!!

“Let’s Get A Puppy”

Beware of the phrase, “Lets get a puppy”.  

  • 6am. I am up, putting on my coat, hat, gloves and boots to take Puppy outside. 
  • Puppy suddenly thinks the furnace steam vent is a threat but finally takes care of his business . 
  • Back inside as I unsnap his leash, Puppy grabs my glove and races towards the kitchen.
  • I run after Puppy, desperate to get there first to put the gate up between him and mudroom where the cat food bowls sit.
  • Barely in time, I scoot Puppy to kitchen side of gate, while Slick bats and snarls and Louie cowers.
  • I feed Slick and let Louie outside.
  • I feed Puppy.
  • Just as I pour my coffee, Puppy finishes eating and starts chewing on my slippered feet.
  • As I sit at the kitchen table and open my computer, Puppy jumps on me wanting on my lap.  
  • I lift Puppy with his chew toy on my lap, but he continuously gnaws on my sleeves.  
  • I put Puppy in his playpen, just beside the kitchen table.  I sit down and take a sip of coffee.
  • Puppy poops in the playpen.
  • Puppy is out of playpen so I can clean up the poop. Puppy chews on my feet.
  • Slick jumps over the gate and sits on his chair at the kitchen table.  Puppy immediately terrorizes Slick.  Slick fights back.  Puppy goes back in the playpen.
  • My coffee is now cool enough to gulp. I decide to grab a yogurt before I head outside to take care of the farm animals. 
  • Puppy is out of the playpen, finally focused on chasing around a toy.
  • Louie appears at the kitchen door.  I quietly open it a crack to let him in. Well, a bit more than a crack because Louie is a fat cat.
  • Puppy immediately drops his toy and darts out the door.  
  • The chase begins.  Louie bolts, Puppy is in hot pursuit, followed by me desperately trying to catch Puppy before he plummets off of the deck.  
  • Thankfully Louie cowers by the mudroom door.  I pick up Puppy, let Louie inside and put Puppy back in playpen.
  • I sit down at kitchen table to finish my coffee and take one bite of yogurt.
  • Slick, sitting on his kitchen chair, projectile vomits.

Beware of the phrase, “Lets get a puppy”.  

Hugo

Origin of “Bullheaded”

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.