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?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Tractor Troubles

I am beginning to feel cursed, ya’ll. Like some outside evil force has focused its unholy powers on us and the planting project, determined to prevent us from finishing seeding the hillside. The last two weeks have been a series of misadventures…

It is like my life is an overly dramatized radio show: “This week, Captain America and his gal try to plant a field. Will the duo overcome the Nazi plot to burn the tractor down? Tune in to find out!”

Spoiler alert, we didn’t foil the plot. The Kubota caught fire, and CA had the most mellow delivery ever. Below is a dramatized transcript of this phone call.

“Uh, Lauren?”
“Yeah, hon?”
“Are you almost back?” (I had gone to get more fuel for the tractor.)
“No, why?”
“Oh, well, when you get back can you come straight out to the field? There was a minor tractor fire.” (Please note that he was completely calm.)
“A what?” (Imagine a note of hysteria building.)
“A tractor fire.”
“Are you f***ing serious?” (Full on hysterical uptick at the end there.)
“What? How? Are you?! Ah! I’ll be right there!”

I love that man’s delivery to bits. Only he could be calm in the face of a tractor fire. Unlike me. I am the woman who called my mother when the house caught fire when I was 14. What do you do when the house is aflame, you call your mommy. Not the fire department. That would make too much sense. She was thrilled by the way. I believe her response was something along the lines of “Why the hell did you call me and not 911?” What can I say, I don’t do so well with panic.

It turned out to be a minor tractor fire, as far as tractor fires go. It was still drivable, but it was losing coolant like crazy through one of the charred hoses. Luckily the fire didn’t make it to a fuel line, and miraculously the tractor was in the field when this happened and not oh, say, in the hay barn surrounded by a ton of flammable material.

See, only a little fire! AH!

Life lesson/ Public Service announcement: When you inherit a tractor – please make sure to examine it carefully and see if there are any dust screens that need to be cleaned regularly. Dried grass can accumulate and spontaneously combust when you treat a Kubota like the good old Ford, that has no dust screens or actually, much protective shielding at all. You can lose a hand with ol’ Blue, but by golly, she isn’t a fire hazard.

She has her own issues, beautiful old gal.

Blue is such a good tractor. 

Like this past weekend when I was trying to finish planting with her (since you know, the Kubota is now in the shop…) and hydraulic fluid started shooting out of the back like I had driven over a green Old Faithful.
Did I mention that I don’t do well with panic?

I did manage to remember to turn the tractor off rather than just stare in abject horror. So, there is that. I then did the ever popular unplug the hydraulic hose and stare at it, plug it back in and look at the leak. Unplug the hose, re-plugin the hose, unplug the hose, re-plugin the hose, unplug the hose, re-plugin the hose, unplug the hose, re-plugin the hose, and repeat until I finally called CA.
“Hey, so, if the tractor had started to geyser hydraulic fluid and I wanted to troubleshoot it without calling my dad, and unplugging it and plugging it back in again didn’t work, what could I do?”  I am admittedly horrible at mechanical things. I take full responsibility for that. I’m trying to be better, but it is not my strong suit yet.

CA, who was shopping for birthday gifts and home remodeling components at the time, was unable to diagnose the problem via the phone and my crappy pictures.

I don't know why he couldn't diagnose it.
I mean, there is even a drip forming and everything!

And yes, given my lack of mechanical aptitude it is weird that I was the one in the field with the tractor and he was out shopping; but we have a weird relationship. I grant you that. Maybe in retrospect it might have been better to conform to gender roles there.

But then how would I learn? I can tell you that after having to call my dad to help me, I now know how to diagnose a blown O-ring (dang thing had dry rotted)  and will never miss that one again.

Especially not after having to buy all the replacement hydraulic fluid. That stuff ain’t cheap. But O-rings are! And we now have a stockpile of them. Take that Murphey and your stupid law, or Hilter and your evil plot, whatever it is that is making this planting thing WAY too difficult.

Ah well, as mom said, “That’s farming.”

And as I say, “This is why I drink.”


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Happy National Agriculture Day!

Apparently this year's National Ag day theme (Yes. It has themes. Who knew, right?) is "Agriculture: Stewards of a Healthy Planet."

Fitting. That pretty much sums up why Captain America and I are raising our cows the way that we are. 

Would it be cheaper to fatten them up on grain? Yes. It takes a lot more grass to add a pound of weight than it does corn, soy, or industrial food byproduct. In fact, grass fed beef cattle frequently take longer to mature for this reason.

Would it be easier to dose with preventative medicine? Yes. Feeding them a few rounds of antibiotics to prevent infection (or just promote weight gain, because that is a common use of subtherapuetic doses of some antibiotics - usually penicillins and tetracyclines) in with their feed ration, also known as medicated grain, would be much easier than monitoring them and then separating and working the sick animals to provide them with individualized veterinary care based on what illness they have. 

No one who hasn't worked cows in a head catch without a squeeze chute can truly appreciate just how much anger a 1,500 lb animal can manifest. Watch your arms folks. They can snap them easily while you're giving injections. Sometimes I think rodeo cowboys have nothing on farmer's reflexes.

Would it be better to do that? For us personally the answer is no. There is a place in the world for that model - I'm not throwing any shade on the family farms that have to do things that way to stay afloat here. But for Captain America and I the choice is simple. Before he and I even met I started asking myself the tough questions.

How do I do my part to help prevent super bugs, or keep bee colonies alive? How do I reduce my carbon footprint? Is row cropping really the only profitable way to farm the land I have? Could there be another way to be able to afford my property taxes? Is all that round up runoff really safe? How would I have to care for an animal to not feel guilty about eating it if I were to be haunted by its ghost? How do I take the best care of the land that I have? 

For me, and for us, the decision to create 200 acres of rolling pastures out of some pretty severely ditched up farm fields in order to support a thriving herd of grassfed cows was the perfect solution. 

By planting a mixture of endophyte free fescue, orchard grass, and red clover all over the hillsides not only will the cows have good forage; but we will stop sending so much topsoil down to Louisiana every time it rains. Plus, we won't have to worry about spraying it with pesticides and herbicides that could wind up in the waterways along with the soil.

Unless we get a creeping buttercup infestation. Then they shall be purified with fire, 2,4-D, the wrath of God, whatever it takes to get rid of those toxic little suckers. Damn buttercups... not even goats can eat creeping buttercups. Ugh.

Anyway, the clover will also feed bees, which will help out the local colonies and maybe even pave the way for a hive or two of our own one day.

Isolating our herd on our acreage and using rotational grazing not only is better for the grass it helps to reduce exposure to some pathogens and will help keep the cows healthier, so even if we do get a bug coming through it should be easier to monitor and treat. 

Basically what all of those decisions boil down to is CA and I doing our part to live this year's Ag Day theme: "Agriculture: Stewards of a Healthy Planet." every day. I encourage you to go out and think about how you could improve your stewardship. 

After all, just a pot full of flowers could help a bee or butterfly, and just buying from a local producer could help a small farmer pay their property taxes and keep working to be a better steward himself or herself. 

Healthy planets are better with healthy grass, which grows some pretty healthy cows!
Make sure to follow farmingfoible on Instagram to see more of our daily adventures.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The seedy underbelly of inheritance.

There is something that I have been thinking about blogging about for a long time now; and I have been hesitant because, well, frankly I’m ashamed and I feel almost that I shouldn’t because it could be considered ungrateful or speaking ill of the dead. However, I was talking to a good friend of mine a few weeks ago about this subject and her comments and commiseration really helped me, and I’m hoping that maybe if anyone else is going through this it will help them too.

My grandfather passed away a few years ago. I have been extraordinarily fortunate in that I have inherited his farm. Purchasing land is very expensive and is the greatest barrier to entry for people my age to get into farming; so my grandpa’s generous legacy has given me, and CA, one hell of a leg up in being able to make our own custom fed cattle farm a reality. I am frequently overwhelmed with gratitude as I’m trying to lay out fences, or while CA and I are seeding out future pastures and hay fields like we did last weekend, but I am also frequently overwhelmed because like many people of his generation I think my grandpa’s thrift bordered on hoarding.

That is gonna be some gorgeous grass! Happy cows!

No, I shouldn’t mince words, keeping what I believe to be every newspaper printed since the 1990’s doesn’t boarder on hoarding – it is hoarding.

So, bonfire you guys?

I am pretty much the only one who can sift through it all and sort the trash from the treasure. Well, I suppose my parents could too; but it isn’t their burden to bear so much as it is mine. So I have been spending a lot of my free time sorting through things and playing a very fun game I like to call: “WTF, Grandpa?!?” The game consists of me finding either a giant quantity of something or something random placed in a location where you would never think to find it; such as finding two large black garbage bags worth of those free return address labels, or the box of quilts stored in a leaky and pretty much open greenhouse so that they have turned to sludge and muttering “WTF, Grandpa?” to myself as I shovel loads of junk and what were potentially precious heirlooms into garbage bags because there is no saving them anymore.

I think that sorting personal possessions is the seedy underbelly of inheritance. You can truly take nothing for granted. I’ve learned so much of my family history in just a few months since I have started this undertaking. That one pen in the box of non-working pens? That is the last remaining giveaway from your great-grandpa’s company. Don’t throw it away! That tiny piece of rusted wire that looks like junk? That is the Lone Ranger’s lasso and goes to your dad’s childhood toy. Better sift through that pile of wet and molding newspaper because in it is what was once a box of family photos. You can’t save many, but you can cry because, of course, they are the one damned box of photos where someone had actually labelled them. Unlike ALL the other photos you have found… Thank you great aunt Della. Those 14 photos I was able to save are precious.

I have taken loads upon loads out of the greenhouse and house. Looking at it you would never guess that I have touched it.

On a good note, I shall never need to buy planters again.

I haven’t even started in on the sheds yet. Oh, the sheds. Oi.

In his later years my grandpa didn’t devote much time to upkeep on the buildings that my great-grandpa built out of already salvaged materials (that giant stringer with the sweet curves came out of a bridge that was being replaced) in the 1980’s. Many of them are hazardous, and if they aren’t they’re just plain leaky. It sucks, but one of my sheds does have a sun roof now, so, that’s a fun design feature? Just kidding. You can’t really walk on the floor in that one anymore. It is pretty shady. And by pretty shady I mean abandon hope all ye who enter here...

The light streaming from above makes it look so heavenly.
"Ahhhh, ahh, ahhh." <-angelic noise

As you can guess there will be a lot of repair by replacement going on in the next few years. Which, frankly, is overwhelming AF; despite how excited I am about fence lines and my sunroof shed becoming a loafing shed for the cows with a permanent working pen next to it so I won’t be slipping and sliding around when sorting calves or worrying that they will get smart and dive under the panels and wiggle to freedom. It does give CA and I a fantastic opportunity to build something the way we truly need it and in a way that it can last the next 30, 50, or 100 years.

After all I don’t leave my grandkids playing an exciting round of, “WTF, Grandma?”

Just kidding. I should totally start stocking up on return address labels now. ;)

The cows are sorted!

According to my FaceBook newsfeed, yesterday was International Women’s Day.

I never really considered myself a feminist, but I am coming to realize that that is because I grew up in a small bubble where I never had any reason to. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by strong female figures, especially my mother who never let “That’s a man’s job!” be a thing. There was never  “men’s work” or “women’s work” there was always just work. When we would square bale she was always out stacking the bales as my dad threw them. She was the one who would correct dystocias if a horse or cow had one. Heck, she’s the one who would run the 2,500 lb bull into the head catch to doctor him when he got a wire cut around his nethers that swelled him up as big as a softball so he couldn’t retract it, and the vet said we might as well put him down. Soaking it in Epsom salt and covering it in cut heal twice a day made him so hateful towards her that he tried to kill her every time he saw her, but she did fixed him. She also helped load that big ole boy in the trailer when we had to ship him. Ungrateful sucker. She is the one who runs the family business (as president) and self-taught herself everything from veterinary medicine to accounting whilst keeping the house clean and the grass cut, and clearing a fence row or two with her chainsaw.

In short, I’ve been incredibly lucky to rarely see the discrimination against girls that I read about online. I never watched Disney movies and thought that I need a prince to come rescue me, or thought that all I was meant to be was a Barbie doll. I always knew that I could be an engineer, or a farmer, or a whatever the hell I wanted to be if I wanted to and worked at it. I’m beginning to see how incredibly lucky I was with that.

Case in point, CA and I helped a friend of his work cows the other week, and even though I was probably the one there with the most experience moving cows I got the “girl job” of record keeping. And I resented the hell out of it. Well, I should have known better than to open my big mouth because as we were working cows last night I got the “girl job” again. As in, I was the only one in the pen herding the little buggers. What can I say? My family doesn’t discriminate. Mom, Dad, and CA all stood outside the pen (read as: not A$$ deep in mud) and encouraged the calves towards the trailer while I waded around in the muck and hit them in the butt with a stick. It was glorious. Until one of them went cray-cray and I fell down and almost got trampled to death. Damn heifer. At that point CA jumped over the fence to help corral the crazy one to get her gone. I am super grateful for the help.

I think that’s one reason that farming appeals to me, at the end of the day I think mom and dad were right – there isn’t "my work", "your work", "his work", "her work"; there is just a job to be done, and you work together to get it that way. It is a great equalizer.

So, happy belated Women’s Day, and I hope you don't have as much rain and mud as we do right now!

Hey guys, the cows are sorted!

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Chickens, well, they're kinda gross.

I feel like I just blogged about this...

Fun fact, when allowed to eat whatever they want chickens eat grass, bugs, dig through manure, and sometimes even eggs if you forget to collect them for a few days.

Also, I did watch in horror as the survivors of our butchering day fought over the hearts of their fallen brethren. You know, to absorb their power. 

Free range chickens are kinda gross. Delicious, healthy, and nutritious; but still kinda gross, and DEFINITELY not vegetarian.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Agvocacy, Heinlein, and chicken butchering

I’ve waited awhile to publish this, because I know that it reflects a pretty delicate topic. That being said, I think that it is my responsibility as an agvocate and a person to try to explain to others where I’m coming from.

Here goes: growing up on a farm I’ve always been fairly in touch with my food sources. I knew that hamburger came from cows, and that chickens are in fact, made of chicken. So, I guess compared to many I was already more involved with my food than a lot of people nowadays.

That being said, I had never knowingly eaten one of our cows. (Who knows what happened once they were shipped – surely they ALL went on to become someone’s herd bull, right? RIGHT!?!?!) Or any other animal that I had grown. I can remember scoffing at an acquaintance when she suggested that I butcher my own chickens. “I could never do that!” I thought it was horrible. She was horrible. She was heartless. She was cold. But she was right. Somewhere along the line my thinking changed. I guess I’ve got to eat some crow, or more literally chicken.

That’s right. Captain America and I butchered 20 chickens.

Based on the reactions of the two friends I have shared the experience with already I’m guessing that you’re either going to tell me that I am “as extreme as the people who climb Mt. Everest”, or stare at me slack jawed in abject horror. So, before I get started, let me share with you WHY it was important to me to butcher chickens.

A few years ago I went on a cruise with friends and the captain of our little catamaran caught a fish for dinner. I had never seen a fish killed before. Actually, I had never seen anything butchered before. It was a very eye opening experience. I said a prayer for that fish and I swore I would never again take any life for granted – fish, fowl, bug, or beast. Previously I was content to live with a nice protective layer of cellophane shielding me from the reality that there is a smidge of accuracy to the whole “meat is murder” bit, but no longer. I decided that if I was going to continue to eat meat it was my responsibility to make sure it was as ethical as possible.

Basically, if I couldn’t stomach seeing a cow turned into burger, I needed to stop eating them. If I couldn’t actually be a part of my food chain then I didn’t respect the creature that had given up its life for me. I don’t think this is right for everyone, but for me being raised around and loving animals it was a choice I had to make. I felt like I owe it to them.

That’s the number one reason that I had to do this. I love those critters, and I want them to have great lives and then suffer as little as possible. I can eat those roosters and know that they spent their days running around the yard, eating bugs, annoying the dogs, and doing rooster things without ever being locked in a tiny cage or treated cruelly (except by each other because roosters are MEAN). I know that their deaths were as swift and painless as we could make them.

That cellophane wrapper on a frozen package of chicken breasts is the best insulation from reality that I know. Thin clear plastic sanitizes the world. It keeps the messy reality at bay. Those tenders were once living, breathing creatures. Every bite of chicken wasted is a death in vain.

After watching them die and doing my part to turn them from roosters into packages of chicken, I feel like I can better appreciate their lives. My life. The world. How delicate life really is. The careful balance of things.

Yeah. I’m kind of a melodramatic hippy about it.

**Warning: Things might get a little graphic and disturbing from here on in, so if you’re the kind of reader who would respond to butchering chickens with abject horror you should probably not keep reading.**

So, what was it like? This was our process: CA creates a headless chicken and my job is to simply grab the chicken corpse and hang it up so that the fluid drains. That sounds easy enough, right? I got the easy job. The clean job. I didn’t have to murder anything so I thought I choose correctly. Ha. By the end of it I looked like an axe murderer, and CA (the actual axe murderer) wasn’t even stained. Go figure.

I had always pictured “running around like a chicken with your head cut off” to mean running in circles, maybe some zigzags; but the first time I saw a chicken with its head cut off I understood that what I pictured when I heard that colloquialism was dead wrong. Chickens don’t run with their heads cut off, not even a little bit, or at least ours didn’t. They leap four frickin’ feet in the air and flop all over the yard like bloody Koosh balls. Have you ever tried to catch an uncooperative dog? You know where you’ll run up to it and then suddenly it practically teleports 20 feet away? It’s like that, only ickier. Much ickier.

Heinlein was right, the purpose of laughter is to keep from crying

Faced with the horrible landscape before me I started cackling like a mad woman.  I’m pretty sure it was either that or start sobbing uncontrollably.

After the fluids drained out, we would cut one down, dunk it in 165 degree water a few times to loosen the feathers and drop it in CA’s homemade chicken plucker (that worked like a fricking champion). If you ever plan on doing this I would highly recommend looking into a Whiz Bang Chicken Plucker. It made the process much more efficient. The spinning tub with rubber fingers removes the feathers very easily. I plucked one by hand in my great-grandma's memory, and that was enough to convince me that some things are DEFINITELY glorified in the sustainable living magazines.

After that, I would remove the feet and pass it on to CA to clean it the rest of the way. He has been field dressing deer and other wild game for years, and I’m guessing that’s a transferable skill because he rocked. We discarded the organs to become dog food. As my grandpa would have said, “waste not, want not.” Also, by home butchering we were able to be sure that every usable bit got used.  That made the hippy part of my head very happy. 

The next step was to place the chickens in a circulating cold water bath until we finished cleaning them. Then we wrapped each one in butcher paper and put it in the chest freezer.
We easily could have added another step and boned the birds, but I prefer to roast them whole so that I can toss the carcasses into a crock pot and make my own broth. Plus, truthfully, I was exhausted. It was only about six hours of work, but it was pretty draining. Though, now I have enough chicken to last for about six months which is pretty cool.

So, yeah. That was my weekend. How was yours?