Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Horse Heaven

When I was 13 we had a mare with a dummy foal. I can remember loading Cash in the trailer and mom and I putting the pretty little chestnut filly in the bed of the truck to rush her to the closest equine specialist we knew - two hours away. I laid next to that baby, soothing her as much as I could with touch and voice until I could barely keep my head up. If I sit and think about it I can still feel the texture of her baby fuzz against my forehead.

There, I dreamed.

She and I were in a large meadow so lush and beautiful that there aren't words capable of describing its verdance. We stood, or rather knelt, on one side of a crystal clear stream; it wasn't very wide, but it burbled and sang better than any sound machine I've ever heard. Across from us, dotting the greenery like exotic flowers, were horses of every shape, size, and color. They grazed and frolicked with joy that still brings tears to my eyes.

As the filly, Hope, tried to stand one horse peeled off and trotted up to us. He whickered encouragingly at her, with his silken black mane streaming. At the time I didn't recognize the kind of loving sounds a mare makes to her baby when it is first born, but I do now. I sat there in a stupor as she rose on her wobbly little legs and stretched towards that shining ebony stallion, but then I gathered my wits and called her back. I told her about her mama, and what we were trying to do to help her and she came back to me.

Then I woke up. I don't know why. I talked to my mom for a few minutes, and again laid my head down on her neck. 

I was instantly right back by the stream. Hope had wandered closer to it in my absence, but I called her back again. The stallion stood patiently, nickering and whinnying at her in a language that, like many "horse people," I've always wished I could know. 

But there I knew. He was calling her to his side of that brook just like I kept calling her to mine. He had the deepest brown eyes, so full of love and compassion. It is weird to remember them so clearly after so long.

I repeated the process of waking and dreaming three more times before I fell back asleep on her rapidly stilling body. She had crossed the stream then, while I was away and didn't call her back; she was running and playing with all the ease that she should have had in life. Many of the horses greeted and groomed her just like they would an old herd mate - nuzzling and nibbling on her beautifully arched little neck. I wanted to call her back again, to beg her to come back to me, but I couldn't bring myself to take her away from such happiness.

I watched that herd for what felt like forever, their sleek coats reflected the bright sunlight, all of them were in prime condition, and perfectly happy munching grasses amongst the wildflowers and shade trees. I came to think of it as my brush with heaven, and after that dying (which had terrified me before) wasn't so scary anymore.

I came home at lunch and found Gymmy, one of the horses, down. He had a freak accident earlier today that broke his ankle and had to be euthanized.

Gymnasium Joe, I'm going to miss your cantankerous soul and so will your herd mates, but I can only pray that you crossed that stream happily and are gamboling your giant heart out in a body that won't fail you now.

RIP big boy. Say hi to everyone for me.

Morning Ruminations...

When I was in high school I absolutely HATED getting up an extra hour early so that I could feed and water horses before I went to class. There were even mornings that I would feed everyone and then take a nap in the tack room while they were eating. I am pretty sure that there is still a cup and spoon in there from where I ate my cereal on the fly and washed it out, but could spare there extra two minutes to walk it back to the house because that would mean getting up two minutes earlier.

While I’m still bad about not changing shoes after I feed, much to the chagrin of my housekeeper – me, I have found myself greeting the mornings with a lot more ardor lately. Why may that be?

Well, the majority of the cows now live in Illinois! Can I get a whoo hoo?

That was an ordeal in and of itself. The highlights? Watching a calf magically turn boneless and wriggle under the catch pen like a gigantic furry eel. Roping the same calf with the skill of a kindergarten mutton buster and trying desperately to hold onto him long enough for CA to move the trailer into place so he could ship with his mama. It was like a bad version of Gulliver’s Travels – the lariat wound around my legs and threatened to topple me over while I was hauling back on an enraged calf that was lunging away from me like a hound of hell. I’m pretty sure he turned into the Hulk. Like 90% sure. He should not have been that strong… And then there is 32, also known affectionately as “Hateful B!tch.” HB got that nickname from the guy at the sale barn, and boy, has it proven to be true. Not only did she run through panels a few times to escape the move. She ran through me, kicked me as she went by, and then sailed over three fences with skills that I have seen 17 hand thoroughbred hunter jumpers envy. I wasn’t sure if I should be pissed, or just impressed honestly. I’m still not. Thank God she jumped in with the neighbor’s herd. It took them a couple days to catch her and even then she tried to go through people, 6” gaps between trailers, trailer windows… you know, anything. She charges the side of the trailer if I walk by. She has an appointment with the processor because I’m not sure that any fence we have will hold her, and I don’t really want to have calves that are that crazy. Plus, you know what they say: hate is the best sauce… that B is going to be delicious.

Anywho, now that the cows live over here it means I have an hour of watering to do over at my grandpa’s place before I go to work in the morning. I am consistently surprised that I love it. I don’t know what happened to 14 year old me and my avoiding getting up early for any reason, because here I am sitting on a rock pile SnapChatting cow pictures to my friends as I wait for the troughs to fill.

When your friend posts a picture because they look good (Panda),
 and don't really care about how dumb you look (Bertha Mae).

Now if only I could make myself use chore boots. I still freaking hate vacuuming. Perhaps I’m not so different than I was at 14 after all.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

I pretty much spent my summer becoming an alternative cow vet.

Well, you may have noticed that I have been pretty much MIA for most of the summer. That is partially because I’ve got like 10 hours of mowing a week to do (when I haven’t broken the mower repeatedly – but more on that later), and partially because this summer has put me through an emotional wringer and I haven’t been able to share it until now. As you might assume being on a farm brings me into frequent contact with death so perhaps one would think that I would be immune to the pains of it, but I am most definitely not.

Early this summer Sweetie Pie calved again. What you probably don’t know, because I didn’t tell you, was that her calf from last year (Honey Bunch) died and I couldn’t figure out why. Despite being treated by a veterinarian I felt like I had failed her, that if I had just done something differently or noticed something sooner I could have fixed it.

So, when SP calved and the sweet little heifer was just another red calf I was disappointed. I know. The fact that she looked like everyone else shouldn’t have mattered, but I still wanted a redo, and the fact that she looked nothing like my darling Bunches hurt more than I care to admit.

Long story short, Captain America milked SP for a few days but with the distance between us and his work and haying schedule that wasn’t a good long term plan so we started searching for another bottle calf to put on her (since she makes too much milk for one calf to eat and it can lead to health problems to leave her with that much pressure in her bag). He found a beautiful little Charolais heifer off of a Facebook group, and I instantly fell in love even though the guy who had her mentioned to CA that she was “tenderfooted.”

Tenderfooted, my right buttcheek. When CA brought her home she was a textbook case for joint ill; in all four joints, and her navel. I insisted that we name her Sugar, and SP’s calf Cinnamon. My world revolved around her.

What followed was roughly two months of being told that vets “don’t treat joint ill in calves,” “just euthanize her,” and “I could do something if she was a horse.” Bovine discrimination is STRONG, ya’ll.

So I Googled, and read Plum’s and Merck’s, and when they didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear I read books on alternative treatments and got her an acupuncturist (whose treatment protocol included Chinese herbal medication that actually did A LOT to help her). I borrowed my mom’s therapeutic laser and gave her photon therapy every other day alongside the acupuncture, Chinese herbs, probiotics, astragalus & Echinacea, conventional antibiotics, and milk thistle (to prevent liver damage from the conventional antibiotics). I soaked her in Epsom salt baths. I gave her Reiki. I sang to her while she ate (even when she was eating at 3:30 in the morning, because by God that baby needed me so I was up and cheerful about it). I chased her around with a fan during the hot days and carried sauce pans of water to wherever she was laying. I took a thousand pictures of her beautiful little nose. I drove her hours to try (and fail) to get her treatment, and finally cajoled our regular vet into opening up on of her joints. He was amazed at how bright she was and how good her joints looked despite everything.

I started making plans for how to do bovine physical therapy to help her stand and walk more easily and looking into long term options for arthritis care.

Then at 6:30 one morning she started making a very distressed sound, which was odd because she had never even mooed at me. She started to bloat even before I could get her loaded in my car. I rushed her to the vet, but she was dead before he got there. She either threw a blood clot in her lung or had an abscess burst and died in my lap in the backseat while we sat in the parking lot.

I was, and still am incredibly torn up about it.

About a month later CA called me in a panic because Sweetie Pie was down and he thought she was dying. We hauled water to pour over her to cool her down while the emergency vet was on her way. She had no clue what was wrong with her, but treated her for low blood calcium (milk fever). She couldn’t stand on her own; so mom and dad (bless them!) drove a sling made for lifting horses and cows over at 9 pm on a Friday night (they didn’t get home from that trip until like 2 am). We lifted her up and hung her off the front end loader periodically for about two weeks before she started standing on her own again. We gave her tubes of CMPK, probiotics, antibiotics, and I force fed her baking soda thinking that maybe it was acidosis.

Then about three weeks ago she started having bloody diarrhea. I begged CA to bring her over to my house and I got her some sulfa, more probiotics, keto gel, more CMPK, power punch, different types of wormer, and everything else you could think of to give a dairy cow who was showing signs of either an infection of her digestive tract or ketosis. She got better after two days and I poured the grain and alfalfa hay to her. She ate great for a week and then started feeling sickly again. As of last week I was buying spinach, arugula, and baby kale for her because she acted like everything else was making her nauseated. She passed peacefully on Friday afternoon - laying on a pile of straw in the sunshine.

Her blood work came back Thursday. She had Bovine Leukosis, a disease that upwards of 40% (depending on which study you look at) of dairy cows in the Midwest are infected with. Some are asymptomatic, but when a cow does exhibit symptoms it is fatal. It is also probably what killed Honey Bunch. There is no treatment or prevention available. The only good news is that it is only spread through blood and, in limited instances, milk or perhaps by biting flies(the sources I have read weren’t 100% positive on that). We will be testing to make sure that no one else has it. Fortunately we don’t reuse needles or dehorn, which can spread the disease pretty quickly. (For more information look here.)

Even more fun? The DNA of the virus has been found in human breast cancer tissue. They aren’t positive how it got there yet, but I would expect there to be more studies on it in the next few years. The things they don’t tell you before you go buy a milk cow, huh?

Another fun test came back today. Sweetie was Johne’s disease positive too. That one, again, is fatal in ruminants that exhibit symptoms. Many dairy cows carry it, and it is much easier to spread than the Leukosis. I swear. I’m going to have to set up a go fund me page to be able to test everyone for all of these things. 

I love that cow, but I really, really wish that someone somewhere would have told me about all of this before I got a milk cow. We followed regular protocols for including a new cow in the herd – you know, keep them separate for a few weeks and look for signs of disease. When they don’t show any signs of anything you toss them out in the pasture, and in my case inadvertently introduce the cow version of Typhoid Mary to the herd. 

Going forward I implore you to learn from my mistakes. Make sure that any bottle calves you bring home have had colostrum and watch their temperatures very closely. If they start going up don’t mess around with antibiotics. Call your vet and try some Baytril – or  Excenel. There is a pretty good protocol listed here. You’re going to need a broad spectrum solution, and seriously if you have a vet locally who does Chinese medicine too, the herbs helped Sugar considerably. I can’t say they broke her fever, but about a day and a half after she got them she had a normal temperature for the first time in weeks. 

If you are interested in getting a back yard milk cow please talk to your vet about getting a test for Bovine Leukosis and Johnes disease before you bring your baby home. Many cows are asymptomatic for all of their lives, but if they aren’t it is very likely that they will die before age 10, and in some situations they can pass it along to other healthy ruminants. Forewarned is forearmed. 

Oh, and if you have a Grasshopper mower with the rear discharge NEVER BACK UP. You crinkle the metal like tissue paper and blow grass clippings directly towards the engine. And if you do figure out that a crinkled guard is the problem, don’t put a new on on and then back up AGAIN thinking that it had to be a fluke. It. Is. Not. 

It has been that kind of summer.

Sweetie Pie, the day we brought her home.
Sugar, getting her electropuncture.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A french themed bridal shower, because what else does a lady farmer do in her spare time?

In addition to being a writer, B&B owner, and farmer; I have always had this really stupid dream of being a professional party planner. While I mow acres upon acres of lawn I daydream about hosting elaborate Better Homes and Gardens worthy parties.

That’s why I took on my cousin’s bridal shower. Well, that and I was the only geographically local bridesmaid.

My family has a habit of just deciding that someone has a hobby, and then gifting them nearly nothing else until a person gets a personality out of desperation and a lack of places to keep storing all the themed treasures. In my case – wine themed gifts EVERYWHERE. My house looks like I own a wine bar. Which I’m okay with, because hey, who wouldn’t love being surrounded by wine? My cousin? Well, she had the unfortunate pleasure of going to Paris once in undergrad.

So, yeah, her shower theme?

Paris, or “French garden” because she had lots of d├ęcor we could borrow and I’m classy. Or because in addition to wine my other gift theme is garden so… I don’t want to brag here, but I had some stuff. A platter already owned is a platter saved, people. Showers aren’t cheap.

Fortunately the shower was the Saturday before Mother’s day, and my mom worked as a florist before becoming the president of a conveyor company, so I was able to beg my way into free flower arranging of grocery store bouquets and wild flowers. Okay, not really wild, more like along the driveway and out of my yard flowers.

While she worked on the flowers, I had my aunt and fellow bridesmaid cousin helping set up, and I cooked. I had Googled a bunch of French recipes for the party: sauscission en croute, brie en croute, croquembouche, and something that turned out to be glorified French onion dip… damn language barrier.

There is nothing quite like being up at five in the morning attempting to teach yourself how to make caramel to assemble a tower of cream puffs. Caramel is hard. It is also hot. Someone in a forum referred to it as baking napalm, and that is 100% accurate. I had blisters all over my fingertips before it was all said and done, and the damn croquembouche fell over. Twice. I finally stacked strawberries inside it and Saran wrapped it together then stuffed it in the freezer to maintain its shape. It still tasted great, and while not as pretty as it had been initially it looked nice on the buffet.

Damn croquembouche…

Fortunately the fancy term, “en croute” just means wrapped in puff pastry. That I could do easily.  So easily that I will share the recipes with you now:

Lauren’s saucisson en croute: purchase 2 packages of beef kielbasa and a box of frozen puff pastry. Read the recipe and then leave it at home in your rush to move everything to the venue. Cut the sausage into bite sized pieces. Using thawed pastry wrap the sausage pieces and seal them up into small pockets of delight. Realize that you need and egg wash. Nearly decide to forgo it, but then think of what people will say when the pastry looks weird. Panic. Send your aunt to the store for eggs. Die a little because you are using store bought egg yolks to glaze your bundles of pastry and you literally have enough eggs at home to take up egging houses as a competitive sport. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, until golden, in a 450 degree oven. Serve warm with mustard, and make sure to stand next to them so you can tell your family to: “Try one! Please?” Resort to saying, “They’re just fancy pigs in a blanket.” Let your inner foodie sob.

Lauren’s brie en croute: buy round of brie, apricot jelly, and frozen puff pastry. Thaw pastry sort of like they say on the box, but don’t actually read the box until you have already thawed the pastry. It’s more fun this way. Lay out the puff pastry sheet, set brie round on top of puff pastry, take a double tablespoon full of jelly and schmear it across the brie. Wet your fingertips with water, or stress induced tears for added flavor, and seal the pastry. Brush with egg whites and bake until golden brown in a 400 degree oven. Serve warm with freshly baked baguette or crackers. Fortunately people should try this on their own since they liked the saucisson so much. Thereby validating you as a cook, host, and human being.

All joking aside though, the shower turned out incredibly well. I give you a french themed bridal shower picture collage:

Brie en croute, french onion dip, fresh baguette, saucisson en croute,
a killer vegetable tray, crackers, and assorted meats and cheeses.
What makes it even better? A champagne cocktail bar!

Desserts, gift tables, table decor, and games. What more does a shower need?
When you have a shower at the Cohen Memorial home, the answer is nothing.
The venue is a gorgeous home overlooking the Missisippi river in Chester, IL.

And it only took about four hours after cleanup for me to start thinking, “Yeah, I could do this.” So who knows, maybe my B&B will eventually have an event space? Not a bad thought!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

"This Old Rock," the repair show of the future.

Today on This Old Rock, we will be discussing how to determine which type and size of rock to use as a hammer. Before we get started, you should wear some safety glasses and earplugs. When utilizing Stone Age tools safety is very important. Always wear your PPE.

When choosing a rock to use as a beating tool it is important to weigh the benefits of the rock type and the heft.

Now of the local rocks I can easily find laying around my work site I personally prefer a nice solid limestone for a hammering application because the sandstone just doesn’t hold up as well. I have found that they tend to crack when enough force is used, so if you do decide to use a sandstone you should probably keep another one in reserve. Shale types obviously are poor choices for the application we are discussing today, beating a lawn more deck back out so that the blade doesn't keep hitting the guard.

The size and weight of the rock is important too, because you’re going to need one that will fit with what you are hammering. For my particular application I had to be very careful to get a rock that wouldn't hit the blade while I was working on the guard. Could you take the blade off and use a bigger rock? Yes. But that would require tools, and lets face it If I could find those we wouldn't be here today. Anyway, too large of a rock and you can do more harm than help to your application, but too small and you might as well never use the mower again. It will take too long to be a viable repair option. 

So, there is a sweet spot of a rock that is sizable, but isn’t too big to manipulate easily. It may take more strokes to work with a slightly smaller rock, but some of those two handers just aren’t practical. I can’t stress this enough, you need to size your tools properly.

Now, some people are going to be sitting back saying, “Lauren, why don’t you just use a hammer?” And to them I say, “Well, I would. If I could ever freaking find one.”

But I can’t ever find one.

So I’m perfecting my Stone Age tool catalog, and sharing it with you. The great thing about these tools is that they are local, sustainable, and they have no carbon footprint. If you think about it, rocks really are the tools of the future. They’re actually made by Nature. Yeah. Think about that when you’re using your fancy made in China hammer…

Today's episode of This Old Rock is brought to you by:
"Nature and Innovation, Together we will go far."

Monday, May 2, 2016

Barnyard Tales: From Bra to Brooder, a chick story

It was about nine am. The scene looked eerily similar to other ones I’ve seen. White feathers mingled with old hay and dust on the barn floor, a sure sign of an attack. Chickens are locked up at night to prevent this from happening, but somewhere along the line this hen had decided to leave the safety of the hen house and raise a clutch of her own without the added safety. We didn’t even realize that she had a nest elsewhere until it was too late.

Something had carried off the hen, leaving nothing behind but a few wisps of white. It looked like the barn cats had gotten the chicks. Sunday was shaping up to be a bad day.

It hadn’t been a raccoon, because the hen had been taken. It almost had to be a fox, but she had been on the floor in the same stall as the barn dog. How did a fox get in? WTF, Milk Dud? Worst barn dog ever.

Captain America, my dad, and I pondered this as we searched in vain for more clues, or maybe an injured hen. It was then that I noticed the sound, niggling on my nerves. Was it a barn swallow? Did they have chicks yet? But no, it was the insistent peeping of a chick in a horse feeder, across the barn from the massacre. Had she hatched the chicks in stall seven then? Only to have a few leave the nest and she flee the safety to protect them in stall two? It seemed to be so. I wound my fingers around the tiny balls of yellow fluff and gingerly cradled them close. One of them had already passed away, frozen to death; but one was healthy and the other wasn’t quite gone yet. I knew just what to do.

I ran towards the house, “MOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!” I sprinted up the stairs and shoved the handful of chilled chick at her. “I found baby chicks. The momma is missing. Warm these up!”

“What?” She blinked at me and then started examining the golden fluff.

“He needs warmed up. The one is okay, but the other is probably dying. I’m going to see if I can find the hen.”

“Yeah. I think he is dead.”

“No he’s not. He blinked.”

“Okay give them here.” She promptly shoved them under her shirt. You learn quickly as a woman on a farm that the best place to revive cold newborns is in your cleavage. It doesn’t matter what they are: kittens, puppies, chicks… okay calves and foals wouldn’t really fit, but I digress.

I couldn’t find the hen anywhere. It was starting to look more and more like a fox in the horse barn was our culprit. CA and I ran to the feed store for chick starter, and I fought the urge to buy another chick to keep the one little peeper company because I was pretty certain that even the power of nestling in a brassiere wouldn’t revive the other one.

I got home and ran upstairs with my load of chick probiotic and feed only to find mom still in bed. “Thank God. Set up a brooder. I can’t stay in bed all day!” She then pulled down her collar to show two happy little chicks curled up and warm.
“Maybe you should just wear them in a tank top? They would be so happy, and you could use your hands, momma chicken!” She glared at me. “Okay, okay. I’ll find stuff to set up a brooder.”

So, back out to the barn I went in search of a heat lamp and some sort of chick container, but what did I hear? A soft “peep, peep, peep” came from the roof of the tack room. I wrestled a ladder around and what did I find at the top? Another freaking chick. I scooped him up and ran him back inside the house. How in the hell did he wind up on top of the tack room?

I tried to shove him under one of the other hens, but she glared at me and then fled like she had no idea what to do with a baby. Such great mothering instinct…
Back in the house we introduced chick three to his siblings in the mineral tub turned brooder. Mom hung the heat lamp off of her inversion table and fretted over their temperature. My tank top suggestion was turned down, again.

Thinking my good deeds for the day done, I went over to the Hill to meet CA and fix the seeder that I broke two weeks ago. We even got the bonus of meeting neighbors who were four wheeling on land that they thought was theirs, which wasn’t. After finishing up with all that CA left to tend the MO farm, and I started feeding. Mom and dad offered dinner, and we ran in town. So it was almost eight pm when we got home and I was walking towards Guilty Grin with full feed bucket in hand when I hear a very faint “peep, peep, peep” coming from the wall. Yes, the wall. The SOLID WOOD WALL AT THE WHOLE OTHER END OF THE FREAKING BARN. WTF?!

I ran in and grabbed a flashlight and drug the ladder down the aisle way to peer into the tiny crack between the wooden stall wall and the tin outer wall of the barn.

And there was a barn swallow.

And a chick.


I ran back in and told mom and dad that there was a bird stuck in the wall, but it would require property damage to get it out. Bless her soul, my mom looked up from her bedroom brood box and her response was to ask my dad to go out and take a look: “take the siding off, it’s falling down anyway.” Which it isn’t, except for the down spouts that I ripped off with the manure spreader while I was in high school because I have no spatial reasoning ability whatsoever. So, at 8:30 last night we were ripping the siding off a horse barn to rescue a chick trapped in the wall. Still not exactly sure how he got all the way over there.

That’s farm life. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

How to Accidentally Adopt a Donkey in 18 Easy to Follow Steps!

Would you like to know how to accidentally adopt a donkey in 18 easy to follow steps?
1.) Make a friend in Mississippi by bonding over your shared love of horses.
2.) Move back to Illinois and live your life.
3.) Stalk her Facebook page randomly and see that she has moved to Oklahoma and is asking about fence recommendations.
4.) Give her fence recommendations, ‘cause you know, you’re a freaking BOSS when it comes to fencing recommendations.
5.) This causes her posts to show up in your newsfeed so you see that she is rescuing a donkey.
6.) Think that that is cool and follow her progress with the donkey regularly.
7.) See that the donkey has bitten the hell out of her and she wants to put him down.
8.) Be raised by a crazy Chihuahua rescuer so that you think, “Oh, he just bit a little bit. That’s not so bad.”
9.) Call her to try to talk her into giving him another chance.
10.) Realize an hour later that you just agreed to take the donkey.
11.) Curse.
12.) Convince your boyfriend to house a very bitey little stud donkey (which are called Jacks), because the cows need a guardian to protect them from coyotes.
13.) Congratulate yourself on your clever ruse.
14.) Sing Dominick the Donkey, the Merry Christmas Donkey repeatedly for at least a week.
15.) Consider learning to drive a trailer just so you can go get your new donkey friend, who may or may not be possessed.
16.) Panic.
17.) Pay someone to pick up and haul the donkey.
18.) Fall in love with Dominick, your newly adopted donkey.

Sing it with me now!

Hey! Chingedy ching, Hee-haw, hee-haw
It's Dominick the donkey.
Chingedy ching, Hee-haw, hee-haw
Our brand new little donkey.
La la la-la la-la la la la la
La la la-la la-la la-ee-oh-da!
And now we have a little friend, his name is Dominick.
A bitey little donkey, he will sometimes even kick.
When you come to the V-Y, With Dominick you'll be.
Because I could not say no, to adopting a donkey!

See, how easy was that?