Resource for people keeping small herds of cattle of any and all breeds.
TurkeyCrest Farm is our platform for outdoor living. The primary activity on the farm is raising a herd of beef cattle. We restored the 1799 vernacular farmhouse and continuously work to improve the surrounding pastures and woodlands.
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.
Last summer, a nasty storm brought down a large red oak tree on the edge of the Mountain field. Two large branches stuck in the ground holding the trunk about a foot off of the top line of the fence. In the fall, we trimmed out the top of the tree leaving just the large central trunk and a few branches. Since then we cordoned the area from the cattle just in case the tree gave way, if or when, the cows rubbed against it.
Last week, felling the remaining trunk of the tree finally bubbled to the top of farm to-do list. With the two limbs holding the trunk high off the ground, we decided to use the excavator bucket to get high enough to cut the trunk. This was my first time running the excavator and I was more than a little nervous. My job was to lift Bill up in the air close enough to cut the tree but far enough to avoid the falling limbs from hitting the bucket.
I took a few minutes to practice with the controls. The last thing I wanted to do was confuse up and down while he was standing in the bucket holding a running chain saw. No pressure.
Let the chain sawing begin! We follow many safety practices such as ear muffs, gloves and pre-job planning, but the harness was too constraining so Bill took it off. We also reviewed our own personal hand signals before beginning. Closed fist is “STOP”, thumbs up is “Raise The Bucket”, thumbs down is “Lower The Bucket” and middle finger is “Put The Phone Down And Move the Machine”.
Suddenly, as the chain saw cuts and tree limbs fall, the cows begin to take notice – a cow is basically a very curious creature. At first, two of the young heifers Rita and Pearl, gather to watch the activity happening at the end of the field.
Then the two Wise girls join in, not wanting to miss anything. The grass around the fallen tree has not been grazed all summer so as soon as they realize the line is down, all of the cows move in, excited for the fresh food.
I think this is an example of why farming is one of the most dangerous occupations. There is always so much to take care of around the farm that farmers learn to just get it done.
Soon every cow had gathered to oversee the tree removal and sample the fresh grass. As if removing a huge, dangerous tree was not enough to concentrate on, we suddenly had to deal with a whole herd of curious cattle milling about the work site.
As I drove the excavator from one side of the tree to the other, I liberally used the horn to startle the cows out of my path. Otherwise, they would just stand and stare at me, not moving at all.
At the end of the job, Shane decided to check out the remaining stump and rub his neck against the rough bark. Before we left the field, I put the posts and line back up to keep the cattle away from the remaining tree trunk. Just in case!
In early June, when we moved the herd from the Mountain field to the South field, Crazy Heidi balked at the gate. She turned and ran the back the length of the field, taking Billy and her calf, Billie Boy with her. Those three spent weeks alone, not being vaccinated or fed sweet grain and without the protection of the herd. The lack of being with the herd bothered Billy but Heidi’s fearfulness was infectious so there they remained.
Fast forward a few months, the time came to again when we moved the herd from the Mountain field to the Front field, and this time Crazy Heidi cooperated. She and three other cows were separated out to join the heifers in the Front field, close to the working facility.
My initial plan to get Crazy Heidi to market was to tranquilize her in the field with a dart gun, lift her into the trailer with a tractor and then take her to the auction. After running this plan past Dr Amanda, I learned that there is a multiple day waiting period to allow the tranquilizer to exit the cow’s system before she could be sold. I had to come up with another way to get rid of this cow.
My next idea was to hire a few expert cattle handlers to help us load her into the trailer. After Crazy Heidi twice chased me up and over the fence the day we moved her to the heifer herd, I was not looking forward to another rodeo. Unfortunately, finding this kind of help proved difficult, there is not a “Cattle Wrangler” category on Angie’s List or Care.com.
The day before the next cattle auction, I sent a text to our friend and neighbor, the cow whisperer who helped us deliver Scarlet’s calf, to ask for his advice. Later that afternoon, he stopped by the farm and listened as I described the harrowing experience of separating the fearful Crazy Heidi from the herd.
He liked our corral improvements and felt the pens were mostly sufficient to contain the wild cow, suggesting we add height to one section of fence to discourage any thoughts of jumping. He also strongly encouraged us to load Crazy Heidi ourselves, without anyone else helping. Crazy Heidi had grown comfortable to me feeding her so adding an unknown person would make her wary. He reminded me to move slowly and quietly, using just my presence to calmly pressure Crazy Heidi to walk in the direction where I wanted her to move. The goal was to move her from the corral and into the trailer without any running or jumping cows, without any extra cows in the trailer and with no one (me) getting hurt.
Later that evening after we fortifier the corral fence by adding old gates on cinder blocks for more height, I snacked the herd sweet grain inside the corral. As everyone was enjoying their feed, I slipped around behind them and quietly closed the gate. The herd of 4 cows and 6 heifers spent the night in the corral.
Just after daybreak the next morning, I filled two buckets of sweet grain and again snacked the herd in two troughs, one in the main part of the corral and the other in the crowding pen. While the cows were distracted, I opened all of the gates from the working area through to the head gate. The 4 older cows, Crazy Heidi, Pippie, Garnet and Gilley began wondering where this breakfast was leading while the young heifers kept their noses in the feed, oblivious to the activity.
When there was not much grain left in the corral trough, Crazy Heidi moved into the crowding pen, joining a few heifers to eat there. I quietly followed her into the pen and closed the gate, one step closer to our goal. In this picture, the extra gates we added temporarily extending the fence height and the blinds to block the view through the gate are visible behind the trough. The white face heifer at the trough is Crazy Heidi’s daughter from last year, Aretha. Thankfully, she did not inherit her mother’s fearfulness.
As she surveyed her situation in the smaller pen, Crazy Heidi grew suspicious but not yet frightened. Seeing the second trough of sweet feed, our oldest cow Gilley stood by the panel gate wanting inside. Having a seasoned companion cow in the pen would help keep Crazy Heidi stay calm, so I opened the gate and let Gilley into the crowding pen.
Keeping our friend’s advice in mind, I stood in the crowding pen without even a cattle prod, using just my presence to encourage the cows to walk towards the alleyway. When the feed was gone, a few of the heifers meandered through through the alleyway where Bill let them out into the corral. Crazy Heidi saw this and wandered into the bud box and then hesitated, looking around for direction. I had slowly followed her and now stood blocking the exit out of the bud box. And then Gilley, as if knowing she was there to help, walked past me and basically showed Crazy Heidi the path into the chute. Seeing the opening through the head gate, Crazy Heidi walked down the alleyway where Bill caught her in the head gate.
With Crazy Heidi finally securely captured, we opened the gate so the rest of the herd could head out of the corral and into the Front field.
This next two pics tugged at my heart. Crazy Heidi turned and watched as the cows and then Gilley left the corral. As difficult and dangerous as Crazy Heidi was to move and work, all of her actions came from fear not meanness. I felt sorry for her.
Bill backed the trailer up to the head gate and I opened the latch to load Crazy Heidi for her trip to the auction. At one point, she had her hoof up on the wall of the trailer trying to escape.
At 8am after just a 20 minute ride, we arrive at the auction barn.
To limit her movement and keep her safe during the drive, Crazy Heidi made be trip at the front of the stock trailer behind the cut gate. Even in that smaller space, she moved around so much the trailer felt like it was swaying.
Heading off the trailer at a trot, Crazy Heidi moved on to her next adventure.
Before leaving the auction barn, I checked in on her one last time. Her ears were not pinned back, she had calmed down and was more relaxed. Even seemed to be making a few new friends.
Pippie has been limping for a few weeks now. She and her 3 month old calf, Annie, were with the main herd all of the way out in the farthest field, 3 fields away from the working area. Last week, we moved the herd all of the way back to the front field and separated four problem cows from the herd (Separating Cows). Once we safely added Pippie and Annie to the heifer herd in the Front field, I called Dr. Amanda and scheduled a farm visit to diagnose Pippie’s limp.
Beforehand, I did some research on my own and found that there could be 3 probable reasons for a cow to a limp:
a foreign object stuck in her hoof
a stifle injury or leg joint swelling
After examining her hoof in the field and not seeing any foreign object, I mostly ruled out something stuck in her hoof. From my research, although most bovine limping is caused by a foot problem, either a stifle injury or upper leg joint swelling would be very serious for Pippie. Unless the problem is not very severe and easily responds to antibiotics, the ending is a trip in the trailer to auction. With a young calf still needing nursed for a few more months, Pippie had to see the vet so I would have a better understanding of the problem.
Dr Amanda arrived with her bovine tilt table in tow. She backed up our chute and head gate, aligning the tilt table to the left side. This was going to be interesting!
The tilt table extends the chute so the cow walks through our chute and then right into the tilt table. Pippie is so tame (she loves a good neck scratch and pat) that even with her calf waiting in the crowding pen, she confidently walked through the alleyway, through our chute and into the tilt table. Dr. Amanda watched Pippie walk and saw how she held her hoof off of the ground and the way she hitched her hip each step. Her preliminary diagnosis was a foot issue and not a stifle injury – good news!
With Pippie securely inside, Dr Amanda locked the gate and strapped her in. The look on Pippie’s face seems like she is thinking, “Well, this is something new!”.
The table rotates clockwise a quarter turn and Pippie finds herself in a position that she has never experienced before, laying on her side, about three feet off of the ground. With chains securing each of Pippie’s legs, Dr. Amanda begins her examination.
After the ride to horizontal, Pippie becomes a bit more concerned about this whole new adventure. Her eyes were open wide with surprise but she never really struggles and only lets out a moo when she catches a glimpse of Annie, pacing in the background.
There is swelling in her injured hoof, her ankle and a bit up towards the knee. Dr Amanda shows me the swollen areas and we both can smell the foul odor coming from the hoof, clearly indicating hoof rot. Having Pippie so far away from the working area delayed treatment but hopefully we will get it dealt with in time to get the rot under control. The tilt table is perfect for this type of examine, not to mention that this was the first time that I have seen a cow’s udder from this perspective.
With the examination and diagnosis for the limp completed, Dr Amanda plugs in the grinder and trims all of Pippie’s hooves, a bovine hoofi-cure. With bits of hoof flying all around, Pippie’s feet have never looked better.
The treatment for the hoof rot is a slow acting antibiotic, Exceed. Interestingly, this medication is injected into the cow’s ear. In case the cow’s condition worsens and she becomes unable to easily walk, the medicine moves out of her system and the cow can be taken to market reasonably quickly, after just 15 days. And since the injection goes into the ear, any site damage is irrelevant as the ears are not used. We are all fairly optimistic that Pippie will not have this fate.
And now for the rotating dismount! The tilt table rotates counter clockwise to set Pippie back on her feet.
With a look of stunned disbelief at what just occurred, Pippie regaines her composure and exits the tilt table.
Annie watches closely from the crowding pen, but is also keeping her distance in case she might be next.
Pippie, now with beautiful hooves and hopefully with the infection under control, takes one last look at the contraption she just survived. If cows can communicate, I am sure she will be telling tales in the field to the herd later in the evening.