He who has water and peat on his own farm has the world his own way. -Old Irish proverb.

Category: Farm Life (Page 3 of 4)

Calving Season

Calving season is upon us.

May is the month our calves are scheduled to be born, if the bull did his job right, that is. And how hard is it? All he’s gotta do is be a typical bull and work the crowd, so to speak. He doesn’t even have to compete for the ladies. He is their only option.

I do believe he did a regular fine job, though, because I saw him all frisky and sly, all coy and cudly; I saw him whispering sweet nothings in the cows’ ears and…….umm……maybe I’ll just leave it at that. A bull deserves some privacy, doesn’t he?

In defense of my creepiness, when the future of your farm depends upon one bull doing his thing correctly….well, I’m trying to say that my spying from the edge of the field had nothing to do with any socio-psychological problems of my own. Really.

Lord help me. This farm stuff can be embarrassing.

Anyways, i.e., how can I get myself out of this awkward situation, what I’m trying to say is that I’m really looking forward to seeing this:

and this:

I love how they play follow the leader like that.

I also love how they strike a pose and act all tough like this guy:

And then, of course, there’s this sweet scene:

Oh, dear. Maybe a call to my therapist isn’t such a bad idea.

Sorting Cattle

In Irish Grove, the time has come to separate our young Murray Grey calves from their mommas.

Unfortunately for the calves, this is pretty darn awful. They’ve got a good life…I mean, who doesn’t like a little milk with their hay? Add in a mother’s watchful eye, some playful nudges here and there…..well, there’s no better feeling in the world than Mom.
But the mother cows are pregnant, you see. And if you’ve ever been pregnant and nursing a babe at the same time, you’ll know that it isn’t much fun. And then you’ve got a certain bull with a certain, um….drive to, um……well, you know….checking out those poor little heifers, all innocent and cute and much too young to be initiated into such wordly matters.
Yes, it was time to move the babes onto the next phase of life.
Of course, we picked the most lovely of all late winter/early spring days. It was so lovely, in fact, that more than a few Irish Grove farmhands tried to get out of the job.

But being the whip-crackin’, ass-whoopin’ farmer that I am, I was having none of it. I mean what kind of farmer reschedules a work day because of a little rain?

Marcel and I are all geared up and ready to get working
and yet Marcel’s still stalling on account of the rain, the wimp.
When you separate the cattle herd, all of a sudden space becomes an issue. All the animals need access to a water tank and shelter. We’ve got two barns and two groups of cattle. No problem, right?
‘Cause we need shelter and water for the horses and goats, as well. And if you’ve read this blog for awhile, you’ll know that Lucero and cows don’t mix.
So we spent a few hours moving the horses and goats to the chicken pasture. First we had to get the animals to move, and then we had to move the gear. Or bale cages, to be more specific.
You see, horse bale-cages and cow bale-cages are different.
The tractor has ahold of a horse hay-ring. You can see that the sides are open at the top. In the background is a hay-ring for the cows (on its side). There’s a top bar on that one with diagonal supports. The cows have to stick their heads through the holes to eat while the horses get to raise their heads high and chomp in fashion.
Life is stacked against the cows at most every turn like that.
Anyways, Marcel brought one cow cage down from Mom’s place for the calves, changed the horse cage over into the chicken pasture, and then filled them both with hay. In the meantime, I was very handily opening and shutting the gates for him. Yeah, it’s a no-brainer, but also an immense help and time-saver for the tractor driver.
After everything was in place, I walked the lane down the hill and back up to Mom’s, opening all the gates through which we’d soon be running the calves. Did I mention it was raining?
It’s pretty much not a good thing when your pasture has been converted into a mini river.

Anyways, to make an already long story a little bit shorter, we got the calves shut in the round barn and sorted out rather nicely. I gave my mom the camera to take some action shots, but then we had to ask her to hide around the corner because her presence in the doorway was keeping the calves from wanting to run out. Sorry Mom.

So unfortunately I have no pictures of me manning the exit gate, swinging it open to let a calf out when it came round the bend and quickly shut again to keep the momma’s in. This was pretty hard, seeing as both my boots and the gate were sticking, in that suction-type way, in the ankle-deep “mud”.

No photos of Gordy, our most recent Irish Grove addition (and Mom’s new beau), as he dodged the bull and bravely shoo-ed the calves through the barn

No photos of Marcel, cattle-handler extraordinaire, as he weaved in and out through the mass of cows, calves and bull–31 of them to be exact, skillfully separating the mothers from the babes and telling me when to open the gate, and when to quickly shut it.

Just this photo of us in ankle-deep in “mud” after we had the calves first separated,

and this one, after we had successfully driven them through the pasture, up the lane and into the barnyard at our house:

A job well done.


We’re hearing a distinct clamor in Irish Grove these days.

What began as a few appeals, inquiries, and an occasional nudge, perhaps, has steadily grown to what I might deem a racket, a ruckus, a downright cacophony.

Allright, so cacophony may be a slight exaggeration.

People want chickens. They want home-grown, cage-free, organically-fed, pastured chickens. And I can’t say I blame them.

Most of you know how I feel about store-bought chickens. If not, go get enlightened here.

But raising a couple hundred chickens for these nice, chicken-loving souls who find themselves at the mercy of Tyson concentration camps….well this endeavor holds one very large, daunting, avoidance-inducing problem for your friendly Irish Grove farmers.

The problem is the processing. Butchering. Killing. There I said it. Yes, unfortunately we have to kill the birds to eat them. PETA followers be satisfied.

(An aside: Joe Salatin says PETA stands for People who Eat Tasty Animals. Which is funny for everyone except PETA members.)

(In full disclosure, I used to be a member of PETA.)

(And a vegetarian.)

The only USDA certified processing plant in Illinois is in Arthur, IL. Which is a 4.5 hour drive from here.

4.5 hour drive!!

This would be my day on processing day:

2:00 AM: Load chickens into crates.
3:00 AM: Leave for Arthur.
7:30 AM: Drop birds off for processing.
8:00 AM: Take truck to car wash for cleaning.
9:00 AM: Eat something.
10:00 AM: Try to nap.
2:00 PM: Pick up processed chickens, pack into coolers.
3:00 PM: Leave for home
7:30 PM: Arrive home.
8:00 PM: Move chickens to freezers.
9:00 PM: Shower!
10:00 PM: Collapse in bed.

How much fun is that!?!?!

Seriously, guys. When we talk about sustainable farming, we sometimes forget to take into account how sustainable the operation is for the farmer, as well as for the land and animals.

Can I do this once each summer? Sure, definitely. Would I do this more than once? Not so sure. Would it be worthwhile to invest time and money into the cages, coolers, moveable chicken pens, etc., for one trip to Arthur with 150 birds or so? Yeah, probably not.

And therein lies the problem. I want to raise chickens for ya. I really do. I know the demand is there. So I ask you:

Would you buy chickens that were processed on the farm?

Would you come on a pre-planned day, bring your own plastic bags, bag your own processed birds, and keep your committment to do so?

Most importantly, would you mind buying chickens that have been processed while on roller-skates.

I’m really asking the hard-hitting questions now, aren’t I? But I ask for a reason:

We call this photo Roller Pluck.

Honestly, home processing is really the only way I can imagine raising chickens for ya. Let me know what you think.

Winter Reprieve

February has given us a welcome winter reprieve. We realize that the warm weather isn’t going to last long, so we made the most of it while we could.

This has gotta last us through April. Well, at least according to Punxsutawney Phil.

Thirsty Birdies

I have a part-time job where I work at an environmental center. One of the classes we teach is called Outdoor Living Skills. We use something we call “the Rule of 3’s” to teach kids how to prioritize their survival needs in an emergency. Everyone needs food, water, air and shelter in order to survive.

Let’s put those in order of importance:

You can survive 3 minutes without air. (Better get out of the water!)
You can survive 3 hours without shelter. (Weather dependent)
You can survive 3 days without water.
You can survive 3 weeks without food.
So assuming your lost and also assuming you’re not submerged in water, you’d better start looking for some shelter ASAP. Once you can protect yourself from the elements, then you worry about water.

Should you worry about food? Well, maybe. But most likely you’ll be found long before you’d starve to death.

So what does this have to do with farming?
Well, when you’re a livestock farmer, you’ve gotta be prepared. The animals depend on us to provide them with food, water and shelter. I don’t know if the Rule of 3’s is exactly the same for animals–the time ratios likely change. But it does help me prioritize what needs to be done first.
Shelter in the winter is of utmost importance. Animals have no electric blankets, no heated barns, no tea kettles on the burner. We must provide them with a place to hide from the wind and snow, and a nice straw bed in which they can hunker down and keep warm.
But water is a close second. The animals rely on their metabolism to keep themselves warm. They ramp it up in the cold weather, and it won’t “fire up” without lots of fresh water.

So when I walked into the chicken barn the other day, I immediately knew something was wrong.

First off, the chickens ran towards me, not away. Hmmn. The chickens and I have a pretty cool relationship. They don’t fear me, yet I’m not their favorite person either. When things are running smoothly, they could take me or leave me.

But not today. Today these birdies were all over me.

In fact, they were fighting over the snow on my boots.
Next I saw this:

That’s the heat lamp that keeps their water thawed out in the winter. You see, we have automatic waterers for the chickens. And we worked very hard developing our system. (I use the term we very loosely here.)

We have a heat lamp on the spigot where the pipe comes up from the well. We tied insulation around the pipe to keep it nice and warm. We connected a garden hose to this pipe, around which we have wound electric tape, around which we have added another layer of foam insulation.
(You might do well to substitute he for we in that whole paragraph, if you know what I’m saying.)

The insulated hose runs through a window into the interior of the barn here…..

…and to a water trough equipped with a float:

It works pretty similar to your toilet. When the water levels drop, the float opens a valve to let more water in.

We farmers are an ingenious lot. Cough.

You did notice the cat in the picture, right?

In Irish Grove, we believe in inter-specie-al harmony.

Anyways, someone put a chink in our system by knocking the light bulb out of the lamp. And the float froze to the trough.

Our chickens were so thirsty, that one of them had stuck her head out a little hole in the barn door to eat snow…..and got stuck. I didn’t get a picture of her because I was so distressed.

Her head and one wing were outside in the elements, and the rest of her body was inside, smushed under the barn door. Poor birdy. If I hadn’t checked on the chickens that morning, she would’ve died for sure. I gently slid open the barn door, trying not to break her wing, and set her free. She was OK. Whew!

I knew the birds were thirsty because they all ran outside into the snow and started to eat it.

Chickens normally don’t like snow.

Then I spent the next 3 hours running back and forth from the house to the barn. I was boiling water on the stove to pour into the water trough. I was trying to melt the ice-jammed float.

Finally the ice melted, the water started flowing, and the birds got a drink of fresh water.

Disaster averted. Barely.

When you’re a livestock farmer, you can never relax. If you do, you threaten the very lives of your animals. That’s why I developed the Farmer’s Rule of 3’s:

Check your animals, 3 times a day.

South Pole, Illinois

The local newscaster informed us this morning that our -23 degrees outside was every bit as cold as the South Pole. The South Pole!! That’s right. They woke up to -23 degrees, too.

Now that’s cold.

We’re warmer than the North Pole. Warmer! They woke up to a balmy -8 degrees.
P’shaw….that’s nothin’.
This is what Lucero looked like this morning:

This is what Lucero’s nose looked like this morning:

This is what Chip looked like this morning:

Look at his ears. He looks like a scooter.
I’m probably a bad farmer for thinking that’s funny.

This is what one of our calves looked like this morning:

This is what the farmer looked like this morning:

Yeah….not so smokin’.
Oh well. At least I didn’t freeze.

What Happens When….

What happens when…..

the cows are hungry,

and they’re really giving you the business for not bringing them hay any sooner,
and these are frozen to the ground?
A farmer temper-tantrum, that’s what.

When You Live in the Country

When you live in the country, you can park your vehicle in the middle of the road.

You can leave the keys in the ignition in your vehicle in the middle of the road.

You can even leave the engine running with the keys in the ignition in your vehicle in the middle of the road.

And ain’t nobody gonna come along and steal your vehicle.

I love living in the country.

Random Thoughts for the New Year

Marcel and I have joined the ranks of homeowners, but we are more adeptly described as loan-owers. We are buying the farmhouse, farm buildings and 5 acres from “the farm” (AKA mom).

I giggled as I watched our new horse Brittany slowly and painstakingly slip and slide her way across the icy barnyard. Then I felt like a bad farmer.

What does it mean when I call up each and every Irish Grove owner (AKA Mom, Matt, and Laura), ask them to come over on Sunday to help with the organic certification record keeping, and no one shows up?

Farmer Bill sold the last of his cattle herd. He is officially, completely, 100% retired. It’s the end of an era for the Donald Flynn family. Which makes me sad. And worried about the future of their farm.

I wish one of the cousins would get the farming itch. (Hint, hint.)

We are getting nearly 4 dozen eggs a day. Holy Cannoli.

My grant-writing partner, Andrea, and I have written up evil plans to take over the agricultural world. Bwa-ha-ha. OK, not really. But we are pitching ourselves to the local U of I-Extension Director as the up-and-coming, most perfect alternative-agriculture-education-team she’s ever laid her eyes on. Think she’ll buy into our load of (composted) cow manure?
Correction: The all important Madam Secretary Laura did come to my Sunday meeting, and helped me get started on the all-encompassing, extremely frustrating job of organic certification record keeping. Kudos to you, Madam Secretary.
Can you believe that on the very eve of our new status as homeowners the furnace broke? We fixed it, to the tune of a few hundred bucks, only to have it break again 4 days later. Would this be karma, or a coincidence, or just plain bad luck?
Did you know that the cows and horses both grow a winter coat of fur to protect them from the cold? They’re pretty charming this way, all woolly and fuzzy. Olivia the Border Collie also grew a second layer of fur. On top of a layer of fat, the lazy thing.

Marcel and I bought a new point and shoot digital camera. Which means I’ll be able to take more (and better) photos of the goings-ons around here. Stay tuned.

I didn’t get around to mailing Christmas cards this year. But everyone here at Irish Grove Farms, animals and all, wishes you all a wonderful 2009.

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