BillieBoy

Just after sunrise on earth day, I took a walk to check on my herd and found Billie the cow (as in Billie Holliday) in labor. She had chosen a good, comfortable spot in the woods, and was close to delivering. I hung around and within 30 minutes, Billie had delivered a healthy and super cute little bull. All was well, so I headed out, giving Mama and baby time to bond.

A couple of hours later, I went back to check on the calf. His ear tag will be #1905, but this little bull got the nickname, BillieBoy. As I walked up to the spot where he was born, BillieBoy was all dry and sleeping with Mama nearby. A few of the older heifers saw me and took the opportunity to meet the newest member of the herd. Hazel, Heidi and Rita moseyed over and gave him a sniff. Billie was calm and relaxed, letting the younger cows close to her baby. Then for some reason, Hazel started to push the little guy with her nose. Once, twice, and then she rolled him over, seemingly trying to make him stand up. I was astonished, having never seen such treatment of a newborn calf by another cow. Billie was surprised too. She started moo’ing to her calf, calling him to come to her. But he was only a couple hours old, and not as energetic as some other calves. BillieBoy flopped around like a rag doll as Hazel continued to push him. I clapped my hands, yelled at the young heifers. Slowly the crowd dispersed, ending calf introductions before things got completely out of hand.

Hazel, Heidi and Rita checking out the new calf.

Mama Billie let out a sigh of relief.

At lunchtime, I headed back to the field for another check on the herd. This time, no one was in the woods, Billie had moved her baby. As I walked along the path towards the hill top pasture, there were a pair of ears above the grass, on the other side of the high tensile, electric fence! My heart skipped a beat, BillieBoy had scooted under a 16inch high fence. There was no way he had gotten there without being shocked. I had to get him back, without shocking either of us. I hurried through the woods to the Mountain field and threw the shutoff switch. Back to the sleeping calf, I carefully tried to slide him under the wire. Sliding a gangly, 70 pound calf is not as easy as it might seem, and just as I got on the other side, he rolled over. BillieBoy jolted awake and gave out a loud bawl, ‘Meoowooew”. Suddenly, from the edge of the pasture, every cow, heifer and calf came running, straight at me. Bella and Billie arrived first, their full udders swinging from the gallop, skidding to a stop 2 ft away with BillieBoy lying between us. Standing my ground, I explained to the ladies that no one was hurting the calf, that in fact, I trying to help him. Fortunately, my cows know and trust me so I survived the encounter.

Mama Billie gathered up her baby with several load moo’s, and they started off walking toward the waterer. I turned the electric fence on, and came back to the field just in time to see BillliBoy head straight for the two strand polywire on the opposite side of the pasture. At just 4 hours old with wobbly legs, he stumbled head first through the wire, getting shocked for the second time in his short life. I stared in disbelief, then ran all the way back to the Muntian field to turn the power off – again.

This time, after I pushed BillieBoy back through the fence, I let out a tirade directed at Mama Billie, “Take your dang calf away from the edge of the fields! Hide him in the middle where there is a perfectly fine stand of briars! Quit letting him get shocked before he can even properly walk!!”. Thankfully, she got the message, or at least decided to keep her new calf away from the crazy, screaming cowgirl at the edge of the pasture.

For the next 24 hours, BillieBoy spent most of his time in the briars with Mama close by, I was so relieved. By the following evening, he was standing on sturdy legs and starting to play with the older calves, a happy sight!

BillieBoy

Cattle with a View

Spending the afternoon hanging on the hill, watching the storm clouds fly by. What tornado warnings!?!

In contrast, I have driven around the fields, checking all of the fence lines and the watering hole three times after each squall passed. And of course, two of these ladies are showing signs of delivering a calf at any time. Fingers crossed that these babies wait until at least tomorrow when this storm has passed to arrive.

Bovine Bliss

Early Monday morning, after a final check of the perimeter fencing, we opened the gate from the Mountain field to the Bottom field. The cows were so excited! Bella, the leader of the herd with her heifer calf Pearl by her side, immediately began scoping out the perimeter. Some of the younger cows danced with joy at seeing this fresh stand of grass. At this time of year, all of the cows are tired of eating hay but most of the grass is still thin, just beginning to grow. Having a field with fresh, tall grass is definitely a treat for the ladies. Looking forward, as part of our yearly field rotation, we hope to keep the Bottom field set aside during the winter months so each spring we will have stockpiled good grass.

Old Lucy, the last cow to pass through the gate is well into her teens, perhaps even 20 years old. She is part angus and part dairy with a wrinkly, dangling udder much used from years of raising calves. Old Lucy meanders in the new field, takes a look around and then heads for the trough for a snack of sweet grain. I always save a scoop and sneak it to her when the other cows aren’t looking.

Turn on the volume before playing this second video. The sound of cows munching the tall sweet grass is the best!

The Bottom field is about 20 acres of pasture. We sectioned off 6-7 acres, let the cows graze that grass down and then move them to the next section. By the time they are in the last area, the first section will have had some time to recover, before the herd moves back through. By early-May, the cows will be back in the Mountain field, just in time for Shane Jr, our red angus bull to join them!

Five days later, the line between the grazed and ungrazed portions of the field is distinct. Each morning and evening when I drive out to check on the herd, the girls moo and bellow, staring at the greener grass on other side of the fence, then looking at me with pleading eyes.

This evening during a lull in the rain, we headed out to move the fence line and give the herd more grass. The anticipation was palpable, and loud!

All eyes were focused on the new fence line ….

Ready, Set, Go!

Here is an interesting picture of Pearl, just shy of 3 weeks old and already trained on the electric fence. She is perched on the edge of the old and new line, no fence in place anymore, but Pearl hesitates, and won’t easily cross that line.

The Never Ending Project

Fencing – the never ending project on a cattle farm. New fences need to be built, old fences have to be fixed or replace and unused fences must be removed. On TurkeyCrest farm, we always have multiple fencing projects in progress or on the to-do list.

Last year, we were fortunate to rent an adjoining 25 acre pasture from our wonderful neighboring farmer friends. The farm land is on our side of a small river, or large creek depending on the weather. The bottom acres flooded last summer during the months of constant rain, changing the course of the waterway as trees fell and sandy banks eroded. At one time, cattle grazed and hay was cut on here but this land has stood empty for decades.

Making use of this acreage for our herd began last summer by cutting the fields twice to knock down the weeds and encourage grass growth. By this spring, 25 acres of stockpiled, amazing grass were just waiting for our girls to graze. As soon as the winter weather ended, this fencing project began.

Stockpiled grass

Along the creek and up both sides of the pasture to our existing Mountain field, we ran high tensile, two wire electric fencing. The first task was to drive wooden posts at corner locations, along elevation changes and in areas where extra support for the wire would be needed. Then we added metal t-posts to stretch the wire between the wood posts, and finally fiberglass posts between the t-posts to keep the wires parallel.

Along the wood line was an old barbed wire fence, probably put up in the mid-1900’s if not earlier. The original fence posts were cedar logs, the wire was heavy duty, rusted and broken in many places. Through the years, other farmers had added t-posts and new barbed wire to patch the holes and fortify the line. As the pasture sat empty, new trees grew up through the fence, old trees fell on the wire and deer made pathways over and under in many places. We had to clear and fix this fence line to keep our cattle out of the woods, and to clean up any random lengths of wire laying loose on the ground.

Supply wagon

The only chainsaw that I am comfortable using is my “chainsaw on a stick”, a pole saw. I use this 12″ chainsaw to trim limbs, fell small trees and when held horizontal, as a brush saw. This job was especially difficult because the old barbed wire was everywhere, on posts, on the ground and around trees. Fortunately, I managed to clear the line without ruining the chain!

Clearing the fence line
Cleared fence line

This is a typical fence post along the line of fencing that had to be cleared and fixed. An old fence post, with ancient rusted barb wire next to a newer t-post with new barbed wire run between both. The lowest strand of wire is actually at ground level and unattached to the t-post. Over 1/4 mile of this had to be dealt with before our cows could use the pasture.

Generations of fencing.

Where the trees have encroached along the fence, I trimmed the branches and left the stumps. The oldest strands of wire had grown into the trees so removing them would be difficult. And a tree stump with wire embedded in it actually makes a reasonable fence post. Done.

Tree stumps as fence posts

The final and most complex fencing to be completed before the cattle could use this land was to provide access to the water. We decided to install a nose point waterer to allow the cows to drink but prevent them from lollygagging in the stream.

Nose point waterer

The cattle take turns, 1 or 2 at a time, to walk down the bank and get a drink of water. Most of the older ladies have experienced these types of waterers, and they show they younger cows how the system works.

The only downside is if (or when) a huge rain storm occurs. The stream turns into a river, floods the banks and the volume of water through this lazy creek will ruin the nose point waterer. All part of farming, and why fencing is a never ending project.