Today, I said good-bye to my Thelma. Thelma has been with me for over 7 years after I adopted her from a shelter when she was 8 years old. She was my wonderful, happy protector, constant companion, farm dog and friend.
A couple of years ago, I had her dna tested … amazing how accurate the results were.
Thelma was, at heart, a protector. She almost never barked, except at the occasional UPS delivery person whom she thought might be suspect. And once, when she was getting on in years, she forgot that Bill had left the house. When he returned unexpectedly through the a different door, she heard footsteps and ran barking. When she saw the intruder was Bill, she skidded to a stop, with an almost horrified look on her face. I just smiled, patted my dog on the head, “Good Girl!”.
Thelma was also an all weather dog. She loved the snow, and would always be ready for an outing on a cold winter day. I liked to keep her fur cut short, and had a number of winter coats to help keep her warm.
Thelma had so many friends, both 4 legged and 2 legged. She liked company but was not overly needy, close enough companionship suited her fine.
Thelma LOVED riding in boats. With her ears flapping in the wind, she enjoyed every voyage.
Most of all, Thelma was my constant companion at the farm. She loved to ride with me in the kawasaki mule, walk through the fields and canoe on the pond. She was my ever stalwart protector and friend. I will miss her strong spirit and I loved her beyond words.
On Sunday, Bella delivered a beautiful heifer that I named Pearl. She joined Josie’s day old heifer as the first 2 of 9 for 2019. Almost immediately, I realized both of these Mama’s were hiding their babies under a single strand of electric poly wire, meant to keep the herd away from a stand of woods. We decided to spend the day moving the herds around to get the cow herd into our South field where the fence was more protective and so the ones still due to calve would be easier to watch.
Our cattle love to switch fields, so everyone happily settled into their new pastures by Sunday afternoon. Three of the ladies were close to calving, Scarlet, Ruby and Patty. Scarlet is Ruby’s daughter and at 3 years old, this was going to be her first calf. Last year, she bred but was not able to carry that calf to term. I was excited for this one because it would be the first 3rd generation calf born to our herd. This is a pic of Scarlet on her birthday in April 2016.
Early yesterday morning when I checked on the ladies, sure enough, Scarlet was in labor. She was pacing around, having mild contractions, but generally looked fine. I guessed within 2-3 hours the calf would be on the ground. As the morning passed, I checked on her every hour or so, and things progressed but at a slower pace than I anticipated. By 1:30, Scarlet began harder labor, started to repeatedly lay down and then get up, but still no hooves presented. When a cow gives birth, the best sight to see is the calf coming out in the classic diving position – two hooves with pads down followed by a nose. Anything else is a problem, and with Scarlet, no hooves at all after so much time, was becoming a problem. I texted a couple of cattle friends, and both said definitely time to get her up (aka, move Scarlet to a corral) and call the vet.
The stars had aligned for us with our decision the day before to move the herd to the South field. The panel corral was already setup, all we had to do was add the head gate. Of course, the other cows and new calves found all of this activity super exciting, and took the opportunity to play with every piece of equipment, oblivious to poor Scarlet’s uncomfortable predicament.
Our large animal vet would not get to our farm for a couple of hours, but gave me some advice over the phone. Fortunately, one of our good friends and and an experienced cattleman whom I had texted earlier, stopped by to lend a hand. By now it was late afternoon and Scarlet had been in active labor since 7am. The calf had to be examined to determine it’s position in the birth canal, and would then probably have to be pulled out. Scarlet seemed to know that she needed our help and moved easily into the head gate.
One funny side story is that we had most of the basic supplies on hand for this event, except we needed iodine and lubricating ointment. Bill ran to the local farm co-op where he found the iodine but they were out of cattle lube. So he went to the dollar store down the road, and had to buy two tubes of K-Y personal lube. He said the clerk just smiled at him. LOL!
I have done internal examinations on cattle before, but never during a birth. I put on the shoulder length gloves, disinfected with the iodine, lubed up and attempted to discern how far along the calf was in the canal and what part was presenting first. And then Scarlet started to lay down in the head gate. Argh … not convenient at all. We did everything possible for the next 30 minutes trying to get her to stay standing, but she kept laying down. In spite of the steep angle, I managed to feel two hooves and a nose, and the little thing actually licked my fingers from inside his mama. We still had a live calf! I almost cried, partly because this yet unborn baby licked my fingers and partly because we were a long way from a successful birth.
This is when the picture taking ended. All three of us, including our friend in his good work clothes, were covered in cow muck. Getting my arm well inside of Scarlet, I wrapped a chain around each hoof of the calf, above the hock, but could not get any traction because of the position of Scarlet. We had to let her out of the chute, chains dangling from her back end and then catch her again in the corral. This time, we let her stand in the alleyway with a board behind her to prevent my getting squashed if she backed up. Our friend and Bill cobbled together a makeshift tensioner using a ratchet strap and boards. With steady pressure, alternating pulling on each hoof with the chains, Scarlet suddenly realized she could help us by actively pushing as we pulled. At last, we saw the nose, then the eyes, the head and finally with a big woosh, out came the whole calf. I rubbed him down, cleaned out his air ways and the big, little bull calf took his first breath – a live calf on the ground!!! Time was 5:30pm.
Scarlet suddenly realized this little thing was hers. After some time alone, she began tending to him, licking him dry and encouraging him to stand. Scarlet was going to be a good mama.
When our vet (who I consider a friend too) arrived, about 2 minutes after the birth, she examined Scarlet to make sure there was no tearing or issues created when the calf was pulled out. All was well with Mama and baby. We are so fortunate to have the help of a wonderful friends in times like these.
Two days ago, we had torrential rain that lasted all day. Which was followed by hollowing winds throughout the next day and all night long. Thelma, my rickety old dog, woke me at 4am needing to go outside. As I laid awake trying to fall asleep and listening to the wind, I knew checking the fence lines would be job #1 as soon as the sun rose.
At 7:30am, after feeding the herd of heifers some grain, we jumped into the kawasaki mule to check for weather damage. As we rounded the corner of the South Field, there was an old cherry tree blown down across the path and onto the fence. The top electric wire and the woven wire fence were intact but crushed under the weight of the tree. Fixing this would definitely take a couple of hours. Before we tackled this mess, I wanted to check on the cow herd because several of the ladies were due to calve any day.
As we approached the Mountain field, I did a quick count of the ladies: 5 red angus, 1 charolais, 2 black angus, Old Lucy, 3 heifers, 3 baldies ….wait, there were only 2 baldies. Josie was missing and she had been very close to calving. We walked through the field to a small grove of trees at the far end and there was Josie, with her brand new, still wet calf. Josie herself was born on our farm and is a calm, trusting cow and a great mama. I lifted the leg of the little baby, her first heifer! The calf was just a few minutes old, Josie had work to do to get her baby dried her off and standing, so I didn’t stay too long.
On the way back to tackle the fallen tree, I looked down at the muddy path and noticed several large sets of prints – hoof prints, and they were on outside of the fence! Earlier when feeding the heifers, I was distracted thinking about potential storm damage and did not count heads. Obviously, someone had escaped through the wrecked fence.
We hurried back to the South field, and sure enough one of the Red Angus heifers, Reba, was missing. I started to panic wondering how I was going to find and return a cow who was roaming around 80 acres of woods. Then I heard mooing coming from the direction of the pond. There was Reba, standing on the other side of the fence, desperate to return to her herd! She must have watched me feed grain earlier and had a bad case of FOMO. I grabbed the empty grain bucket (it still smelled like grain – cows aren’t THAT smart) and walked to the nearest gate. By now the other heifers were milling around, interested in the unusual activity and curiously wondering why Reba was on the other side of the fence. Willow helped out by walking through the open gate, encouraging Reba to return, which she did at a trot. I was so relieved that I didn’t even remember to take any pics of the reunion.
With the heifer safely returned to the field, we went back to the fixing the fence. First, we cut up the cherry tree, saving the logs to split for firewood. I used the bucket of the tractor to hold the tree off of the wire while Bill cut it up. This fence is woven wire with a hot top line and is very resilient. Using the hooks on the tractor bucket for tension, we straightened and stretched the fence back into position and stapled it up.
With the fence fix complete, we drove the perimeter of the other fields and thankfully found no more damage. Before heading back to the house for breakfast, I stopped by to check on Josie. She had her calf completely dried off and had moved her to a sunny spot in the grass.
On facebook, a friend nominated me to post one picture a day for 10 days without any description, that represented something about farming that impacted me. I take pictures almost daily, capturing moments and memories, so choosing just 10 photos to post was difficult . Below are the ones I selected, along with the short version of their story.
Day #1 – Springtime Exuberance. One beautiful spring morning, these two young calves celebrated life, running and chasing each other all over the field. While their mama’s grazed close by, they darted among the herd, kicking up their heels and leaping into the air. Every year on the farm, a crop of newly minted calves signals spring has arrived.
Day #2 – Pig Tails. These three piggies were the cutest ever! Well, actually, all baby pigs are adorable. A basic piglet weighs about 20 lbs at around 10 weeks old. And then, after a mere 6 months of grazing, sleeping and wallowing, each piglet sprouts into a 250lb HOG.
Day #3 – Grandbabies and Calving Season. Two activities that should never intersect on a farm. This pic was taken during our first calving season, during which we agreed to mind our two grandsons, then 2 years and 7 months old, while their parents went away for the weekend. Of course, Bella who was then a heifer, had a difficult birth requiring the vet, chains and extraordinary measures to save her and her calf’s lives. We spent 2 full days, toting grandsons along while desperately working to save Bella and her calf. This pic was taken as we transported the calf to our corral, grandsons in tow, where we worked with his mama to create a motherly bond with her new calf.
After this weekend, we made a new farm rule – any grandchildren visiting during calving season had to be accompanied by at least one parent!
Day #4 – Installing a box of bees. A task that is so full of hope and anticipation. New boxes of bees are always so mild and well-behaved. To this day, I always review the installation process on a YouTube video that I have bookmarked.
Day #5 – Round Bale Fun. No worries, Mama was just behind the bale in case a baby decided to roll off. Nothing better than introducing grandchildren to the full scope of farming 🙂
Day #6 – Snake Wrangling. To me, this picture emphasizes that not everything on a farm is warm and fuzzy. Hens lay eggs => snakes like eggs => snakes will find the hen house. So, there are a few lessons to learn from this experience. 1: Don’t collect eggs in the dark 2: Look before reaching inside the box 3: Black rat snakes are good, relocate but don’t kill them. And I always give the snake an egg or two whenever I relocate them.
Day #7 – Fat Pet Pig. Here is Sammie at his summer time best. Obviously, he has put on enough weight to live through a Virginia winter.
Day #8 – Willow’s birth day. My first orphan calf and bottle baby. Raising her has been such an amazing experience, I have learned volumes from her about cow behavior and calf rearing. Willow is now 8 months old, and she still comes to me for rubs, pets and ear scratches. I go to the filed, call her name, and she comes running. Love this heifer!
Day #9 – Willow meets Sundance. Not much to add to this picture, it just always makes me smile.
Day #10-a and #10-b – Jack. What more can I say other than grandchildren are so much fun, and Jack is one of a kind. Both of these pictures are among my favorites, and neither was staged or setup. I was just lucky enough to capture the moment and the sweet memory.
Round bales of hay are a staple at TurkeyCrest farm, typically from December through mid-April. A number of best practices call for minimizing the number of hay bales fed, relying on pastures of stockpiled grass. We have one neighbor who is an expert at this, he rarely feeds hay to his cattle and grazes pastures all winter long. His cattle are healthy and happy. However, we are in the group of many farmers that feed hay throughout the winter months.
There are many methods to feed hay to cattle, including unrolling, hay rings and feeders. We like to unroll bales to spread out the hay on the ground, giving all of the cattle easy access and avoiding the lowest cows in the pecking order from being crowded out. Unrolling also avoids the moats of knee deep mud that are unavoidable with stationary rings and feeders.
Every morning, we feed the main herd in the Mountain Field first. There is definitely a pecking order with the cows, so we always unroll a long line so everyone has space to eat.
After the cows get their feed, we unroll hay for the heifers in the South field. Here, everyone gets along better so there is not as much pushing for the best position.
There is always a stub left over after unrolling bales for the cattle. I save the stubs for the other animals. Sundance gets hay from the best bales.
The pig and goats get the leftovers, which they love!
Sammie, my miniature pig, is a late sleeper in cold weather. He gets apples, bread and kibble so does not mind letting the goats have the hay.
Fingers crossed this was the last snow of the winter!
The weather forecast yesterday called for mostly rain, with a mix of some wet snow, from noon-6pm today. So the plan for today was to dig some stumps, work on fencing the new pasture, and then feed both herds of cattle around noon.
At 7:30am, a light snow began to fall, and has been falling all day. So much for well made plans. The cows had to be fed early, and with a few inches on the ground by noon, all other projects were cancelled. We unrolled hay for both herds, gave the older ladies a new protein bucket and fed them some sweet grain. The heifers just got unrolled hay. With all of the moving between the herds, they have become spoiled, so I am cutting back their expectation of sweet grain each morning.
Yesterday, we loaded the last steer of 2018 into the stock trailer and took him to “camp” at the base of Old Rag mountain. We are fortunate to have a relationship with a beef finisher who buys all of our steers, typically when they reach 7-9months of age and at about 500-600lbs. The finishing farm keeps the steers for 12-18 months before their final step to becoming beef. Harsh, but that is where burgers and steaks originate.
No cattle pictures with this post – I was so focused with moving the steer and dealing with the weather that at the end of each day, I realized no activities had been captured. Next time!
As I watch the snow fall and accumulate, I am thankful for the beautiful views, my cozy home and that calving season does not start until the end of March this year.