Scourge of Summer

Last year was our first summer of dealing with bovine pink eye. Carried by flies and exasperated by tall grass and weeds, pink eye can spread through a herd quickly. The disease is very painful and without treatment, the animal can quickly lose their eyesight. The first signs are a cow or calf that just looks uncomfortable, weeping from an eye which they keep half closed or closed. After a couple of days, the affected eye will turn bright red. Without treatment, the eye turns cloudy and dull and eventually, the cow can lose sight. One of the heifers, Shirley, had pink eye last year. We managed to treat her but not in time, she lost the sight in her left eye.

Baby Shirley. Not very clear but she has pink eye in her left eye.

So in June, pink eye watch begins on the farm. Every day, we walk among the herds, looking at everyone’s eyes for signs of weeping, squinting or the dreaded red eye.

Heifer Eyes

Through the end of June, none of the herd showed any signs. My hopes were high that our ladies, the calves and Shane would be spared this year. Then rolled in numerous summer rains with high humidity, breeding clouds of face flies and encouraging the weeds to grow tall. That first week of July, two of our heifers were struck – Oprah and poor, hapless Shirley. In order to treat cattle out in the field, we use a pump action air gun loaded with a syringe and antibiotics that are appropriately sized for the weight of the animal.

Cow eyes, calf eyes and Shane eyes.

A few days later, Shane the bull began showing signs. His left eye was weepy and he kept the eye half or all of the way closed. Our largest syringe holds 10cc’s, so with Shane weighing a good ton or so, we had to get three darts in him. Luckily, as bulls go, Shane is even tempered and good natured. One dart hit his right butt cheek, and the other two hit the left. Bull’s Eye!! Or maybe that should be Bull’s Butt!

The darts tend stick in their target anywhere between about 5 to 15 minutes. I always wait until they fall out to collect the empty dart so no one steps on or chews on the sharp point. I knew that the three darts in Shane’s thick skin were going to take forever to fall out. So I crept close to the bull as he meandered through the herd, hiding behind the girls until I could get close enough to pull out the darts. Shane did not even flinch!

Two days later during pink eye check, I spotted my prize heifer, Bella’s baby Pearl, lagging behind the herd in obvious discomfort. On closer inspection, I saw the early signs of pink eye.

Poor Pearl with early pink eye.

We made a quick trip back to the shop to gather the dart gun, dart and medication. Bill does the shooting, and I take care of gathering the empty dart. As with most calves, when Pearl felt the dart, she did a little dance and scooted off. Her Mama Bella is a great mama, and followed behind trying to take out the giant “wasp”.

Checking the herd the next day, Pearl was no longer in pain and her eye was completely normal. Success!

The weather has cooperated since early July, still very hot and humid but much less wet, which is fantastic for the cattle although less fantastic for my garden. So far, no more pink eye in the herd. My daily checks will continue because 24 hours can mean the difference between a quickly healing a case of pink eye versus a blind cow.

Thistle

We decided to move the main herd of cattle to the Lower Field yesterday. They had been grazing the Mountain field for three weeks, since that storm took out the waterer on June 26. I keep a paper calendar just for farm events, like what day the cattle move to a new field. With two herds on different fields, the main herd and the heifer herd, Bill and I seem to continuously ask each other, “When did we move these cows?” or “Which calf was born in May?”. Marking farm events on a calendar, which I then periodically transcribe to a journal, helps to keep us sane.

Because the Lower field is fence with wood posts at the corners and high tensile wire between t-posts, the foliage had to be cut under the wire. We set the bottom wire at 16″ and the top wire at 26″. This time of year, weeds and grass quickly grow up to and over the wires which causes the electricity to become less effective.

Trimmed fence line.

On top of the hill is a patch of Canadian thistle that I have intermittently trimmed throughout the spring. The thistle is also known as Californian thistle, Creeping thistle, Field thistle, Corn thistle or Perennial thistle. Since I was on my mower, I decided to take a quick detour from trimming the fence line and cut down the thistle patch. I started mowing the plants when I saw butterflies all over the thistle flowers.

I stopped cutting and sat on my mower, amazed at the number of butterflies. There were dozens, on every pretty, purple thistle flower. Thistle cutting was over, I couldn’t do it. This fall when the flowers are gone, I will cut it down. Even the weeds can look pretty in a field!

Little Whistle Pig

Before we drove the posts for the fence project, one huge walnut tree stump had to be removed. Mowing around it was such a chore and removing all of the weeds nearly impossible so we decided to dig it up before installing the new fence.. Next to the stump was a wood shed we had built to hold wood for the fire pit. I knew there were a couple of groundhog holes around the shed and stump but had not seen any activity this spring.

After a few minutes of stump digging, the wood shed was clearly in the way and had to be moved. At about this moment, Bill mentioned that he had seen something run out from under the woodshed towards the herb garden. We proceeded to load the pile of wood from the shed into the tractor bucket and move it to the tobacco barn. After 4 trips, the wood pile was almost gone when I noticed sometime behind the few remaining logs. I poked at the small furry ball and out ran a young groundhog. Her mama was what had caught Bill’s attention running from the shed when the digging began.

Looking for a place to hide, the little groundhog buried her head under a random piece of wood left lying in the grass. Apparently believing that if she couldn’t see me, then I couldn’t see her. LOL!

As I reached toward the small critter, she peeked out curiously from behind the piece of wood. I just love groundhogs, with their bottle brush tails and piggy ears.

The best nickname that I have ever heard for a groundhog is Whistle Pig. Just give a whistle to these brown, furry pigs grazing in a field and they pop up to listen.

Tired of my company, off she ran to look for her Mama and a more secure place to hide.

I was amazed at how this groundhog blended in with the dirt, stone and roots, perfectly camouflaged. She is standing at about 11:0, close to the center of the photo. No doubt, this cute little critter has reunited with her Mama and they have found a new home somewhere in our backyard field.

Fence Post Day

The fencing project that I have been looking forward to getting done finally began this past week.

Over the winter, we used the drone to help plan the project. Using aerial views over the backyard, we planned where to run the high tensile wire fence and the best spots for placing gates. The aerial view of the cattle working facility was especially useful in deciding how to enlarge the crowding pen for the cattle. After printing a photo of each location, I recorded the distances between the straight runs of fence after we measured the perimeters. From this, we calculated the necessary number of fence posts, gates posts and braces for the project.

Redesign of the cattle working area in the corral
Addition of fence and gate for a barnyard area
Backyard field behind the orchard
Backyard field behind the house.

On July 1, MWP (our local wood store), delivered the piles of posts and boards:

  • 45 – 7ft 5-6inch posts for the high tensile fencing around the back yard field and to redesign the cattle working area
  • 29 – 8ft 5-6inch faced posts to replace the corral fence
  • 5 – 8ft 6-7inch posts for five new gates
  • 50 – 16ft pine fence boards

Of course, no project on the farm is at all straightforward. Before any fencing could begin, all of the old board fence and posts from around the corral had to be removed. As each board and post came down, every nail had to be pulled out. No nails sticking out of wood is a good safety precaution but also if we decide to burn the boards, nothing in the burn pile will be an issue for tires or hooves. This chore took a couple of days to complete and interfered mostly with Sundance’s living quarters. For the duration of the corral work, I set up Sundance with a suitable arrangement in the barn and front field.

Another pre-job job was removing a gigantic walnut tree stump that was along the new fence line in the back yard. Once the fence was in place, the stump would be impossible to remove. This one stump took almost two days to completely dig up. Bill filled and smoothed the area under the fence line. Later this month, I will use the smaller tractor to grade the remaining debris and dirt.

We decided to rent the post hole pounder for just one day, so spent the day before measuring and marking the position of each post with marking paint and then laying out each post in position. When we fenced the Mountain Field, we also marked post locations but used the hopper on the machine to carry a load of posts. Given the tight quarters and terrain of this job along with having only one day to complete, I felt laying out the posts ahead of time made sense. The effort involved to lift a post out of the hopper or to lift one up from the ground is similar … exhausting either way.

Post Pounder #4

As soon as MWP opened their doors, we picked up Post Hole Pounder #4, the same one we used last year. We started the day working on the corral, putting in the faced 3/4 posts. Because this would be a board fence and the perimeter size unchanged, these posts were set in the same holes where the old ones had been. Immediately we struggled with getting the posts pounded in vertically, keeping the faced sides flat to the inside of the corral. Most of the posts wanted to twist. Towards the end of setting the 29 corral posts, we decided to stop using Pounder #4 and set the remaining 6 by hand. We were both frustrated and ready to move on to the round posts waiting for us in the backyard field. From a timing standpoint, I was pleased that we finished most of the corral by noon and then happy day … our friend and farm sitter showed up with lunch for us! Wonderful friends like her make life so sweet.

Corral posts
Posts for the holding pen in the corral. We will set panels between each of these.

After a 30 minute break for lunch, we turned our focus to the 45 round posts along the Backyard field. The majority of these went in smoothly and predictably, only a couple missed vertical because of hitting rocks. We ended the day by setting the gate and brace post to fence in the barnyard. The day was a long one but we powered through, pounding in that last post at 7pm. Done!!

The last section of the backyard fence. The remains of walnut stump dirt pile is visible under the cedar trees.