Most people don’t tend to think of spring as a date on a calendar. Sure, March 20th is the first official day of the season, but if it’s a blustery, wintry March 20th does that really count? And if it doesn’t, what does?
And what gardener doesn’t joyously exclaim “Spring is here!” when they see the first daffodil, with its bright yellow petticoats, adorning the yard?
But on the farm? On the farm nothing quite says “Spring is here!” like the first calf of the season.
In Irish Grove, Spring officially started on April 8, 2011.
At 9:23 a.m. to be exact.
It feels like fall today, which means it’s the season for pot roast, chili, beef stew and round steak over buttered noodles. Yum. Or perhaps a few grassfed rib eyes or hamburger patties are just what you need for your upcoming tailgate parties. Either way, now’s the time to place your order for Irish Grove Farms’ delicious 100% grass-finished beef.
Our cattle are rotated through organically-managed pastures and have free-choice access to an organic salt, mineral and kelp supplement. They are fed absolutely no grain, hormones or antibiotics.
You can order by the whole ($2.75/lb hanging weight), the half ($3.00/lb. hanging weight), the quarter ($3.25/lb hanging weight), or a 25 lb. beef variety box for $150, which contains steaks, roasts, round steaks, hamburger patties, ground beef, etc.
Email Jackie at firstname.lastname@example.org to place your order. Or call (815) 742-6781.
I’ve always loved playing tag. It gives you a reason to sprint, which is an exhilarating feeling. I mean, how many opportunities do you really get to just full-on run as fast as you can?
Except this game of tag is a little different. This time, we’re tagging calves. As in ear-tags. And these calves can not only run super fast, but they can jump, bellow, kick, flip-flop, wiggle, scream, pant, and foam at the mouth like nobody’s business. Which in and of itself isn’t so bad until you add in an angry, over-protective mother who weights 1200 pounds who also knows how to sprint.
We try to tag the calves when they’re little. 5 hours old? Perfect. 2 days old? Not bad. 3 weeks old, like last night’s bullcalf? Not a great idea. At 3 weeks, these suckers are big, strong, fast and super stubborn. They also can make a noise like you’ve never heard before.
Last night presented the perfect opportunity, though, as the mother had walked down to the pasture and left her calf resting peacefully in the barnyard. Ha! The fools! We shut the gate to keep the calf in and the mother out, and the fun started.
Marcel was on lasso, I was armed with the ear tagger. The calf was running wild around the barnyard, but made the mistake of heading into the barn. Ah-ha, gotcha! Marcel caught him around the neck and the fun began. This bullcalf was strong, and started whipping Marcel around the entire barnyard. Marcel was hanging on, trying to get ahold of him to trip him up, but there were hooves flying every which way–and let me tell you, these little calves kick HARD. Finally the calf jumped close to the round bale cage. Marcel took advantage and pushed his body against the cage, wedging him in. I ran up and tagged him as quick as possible: #39. The little bugger.
In the meantime, the kids had entered the barnyard to see if they could help. They could not. But they left the gate open and Honeysuckle escaped into the yard. First off, she was scared to death from all the bellowing and bawling coming from her buddy. And second, she’d never been anywhere outside of the barnyard before, so was immediately disoriented.
Rodeo #2 formed, trying to catch Honeysuckle and get her back in. I yelled at Ana to grab a bottle, the one comfort she knows, while Marcel and Rob were trying to keep her out of the road. We live on a blind hill, the calf was about 6 feet from the road, and we could hear a car speeding in our direction. (A good reason to SLOW DOWN on rural roads, people!) Honey kept running erratically towards the road, then back again. Luckily she froze when the car got close–it was a full-sized van.
How traumatic would that have been? Shudder.
Marcel finally lassoed her, so was able to keep her from the road, and by then I had the bottle in hand and led her back to the barnyard. Whew! What an evening!
One more to go, though. We had to drive down to the pasture to find this one–a heifer calf, about 10 days old. She’s still pretty sleepy, though, so tagging her wasn’t the issue. Keeping the mother away was. After Marcel lassoed her around the neck, we slowly chased the mother and babe around until they were close to the fence. I drove the PUG inbetween the mom and babe, at which point Marcel grabbed her and tried to tag her.
Only problem? The tag didn’t clasp correctly. So now he’s trying to get it to clamp down and secure itself while the mother is chasing him around the PUG. I’m warding her off with a stick, but don’t want to use it forcefully unless she’s really going to attack him because we rely on trust to move these cows from paddock to paddock. Thankfully she’s calm enough to not attack, and only wants to know that her babe is OK. Job done, Marcel tired, excitement had.
We really need a sophisticated corral for these jobs. Any anonymous donors out there?
Anyone? Yoohoo! Hello!? Tap-tap-tap. Anyone?
Our downed mother cow is still down. It has now been 2 weeks and we’ve lost hope that she’ll get up. It’s heart-wrenching to see her. She’s getting sores on her legs, and her front legs have lost their muscle tone as well.
We’ve gotten her up using the hip lifters a few times, to no avail. When we lower her to the point where she has to support her own weight, the legs just melt underneath her. They are useless.
The sad truth is we are going to have to put her down. It is a painful decision to make, but we don’t want her to suffer any longer. We’ve kept her as comfortable as possible, with a shade tent over her, fresh grass and water every 2 hours (many thanks to Mom and Gordy for taking over this job for the past week), fly spray to keep the darn things off of her, and some green apples for treats. But she is fading and it is obvious she is giving up hope as well–her ears are drooping and she’s no longer making an effort to stand. We are going to have to help her along in her journey so she doesn’t suffer any longer.
Honeysuckle, her calf, has given us a few scares as well. For the first week, she would hardly wake up to eat. When we’d call her, her eyes would open and she’d start to lick her lips but she wouldn’t raise up her head. It’s quite alarming when you grab her by the ears, lift her head up, and then let go only to have her head flop backwards in an awkward position. There were many times where we had to check her breathing to make sure she was still alive. When she’d finally wake, she would eat only a little bit before lying down again.
The past two days, however, have been a different story. All of a sudden she’s perked up. Marcel gave her a strong dose of vitamins in the form of a paste and I read online that perhaps I was making her milk too strong. I’ve diluted her milk-replacer a bit and she’s chugging down 2 bottles, twice a day and still asking for more. What a relief!
She really is adorable. Madelina and Armando have taken it upon themselves to be her playmates–riding their bikes around in the barnyard with her, jumping around and teaching her how to kick up her heals. It’s pretty hilarious. And she is now my personal alarm clock, mooing loudly at the gate first thing in the morning, awaiting her breakfast. She gets going at around 5:30 a.m., not caring that I don’t like to get up that early. Marcel just laughs and says, “Your newest daughter is calling you.”
I’d rather he said, “Don’t worry, sweetie. I’ll feed her.”
Oh well. She’s doing well and is the one positive outcome from this situation, so I’m not going to complain. OK, so maybe I’ll complain a little.
I wish I had happier news to share with you about the mother. If there’s one lesson that farmers learn early and often: there isn’t always a happy ending.
…has another calf?
A quick recap of yesterday’s fiasco:
I’m stuck with the nagging thought that we failed this mama and the poor dead heifer calf. Did we think she could have twins in there? Actually, yes we did. Did we check for a twin after the first heifer was born. Actually, yes we did. But we only stuck our arm in up to the forearm. We should’ve stuck our arm in up to our shoulder.
The vet said the calf died about 5 minutes after the first one was born. We have learned a very costly lesson. Again.
The mother cow’s physiological problem has played nicely into my own personal psychological problem. Namely, my fear of having to pull a calf on my own.
So when the mama cow went into labor yesterday, and little hooves were sticking out her rear by 1:00 pm, and the vet told me she wouldn’t be able to birth lying down without assistance, and she was literally butted up to the barnyard fence with no way to move her and no room for the calf to come out…..the reality of the situation washed over me and put me into a minor tizzy. It was just me, standing there in the barnyard, swearing a little, realizing I was gonna have to do this by myself, alone. Well, my kids were there of course, you know, but I was basically alone. It was all me.
(This picture was taken after the fact, but shows just how close the mama cow was to the fence.)
What’d I do? I called Marcel and told him he needed to come home from work NOW. Having some backup on the way relieved a bit of my anxiety (i.e., psychological problem). Then I got to work. I hooked the chains around the babe’s legs and stretched open the vagina to see the calf’s nose. Her tongue was hanging out and her nostrils were not moving–I needed to get the baby out right away.
Since I couldn’t get behind the cow, I had to pull on the chains from the other side of the fence. I pulled, the mama pushed, and we got the calf’s head out! The calf shook her head a little, she was alive, but now came the tricky part. How do we get her all the way out when there is no room for her? I was worried the mother would break her back when she moved.
So I called in reinforcements. No, not Farmer Scott. Not the vet. Not Marcel–he hadn’t gotten there yet. I called my girls.
“Ana! Madelina! You’ve gotta help me, NOW!” I had them take over my position with the chains on the other side of the fence as I stretched open the mama cow’s vagina. The girls pulled as hard as possible, saying things like, “EW! The chains are all goopy,” and “This is really HARD,” while I stretched the mother open, pulled on the calf’s slippery shoulders, and rearranged the calf so she wouldn’t get squished. The cow started to accept the help, gave a few good pushes, and the whole calf slipped out.
Thanks to the help of my girls, we got that calf safely out of her mother. 5 minutes later, Marcel arrived. Just in time to help us celebrate our small victory and get to work caring for the mother and babe.
The mother cow can’t nurse the calf lying down, so the little heifer has become a bottle calf and has moved up to a stall in our barn. The mother is still down, but she’s doing OK. She is eating and drinking water and hasn’t given up yet, so we aren’t giving up on her either. We fashioned a sort-of tent over her, using a large tarp and some round bale cages pushed up on their sides, to shade her from the hot sun. We’re hoping that with the calf born, the pressure on her nerves will be relieved and she’ll get up within a few days.
That’s our hope: a double happy ending and the end of the mother cow’s ‘physiological problem’.
Here are some pictures, taken by my sister and Ana, after the calf was born. Enjoy.
We are caring for an injured mama cow. We’re not sure what happened, but she started limping about two weeks ago, taking care to not put any weight on her back left leg. We called the vet, thinking she had foot rot–a fungus that can cause painful sores on the hoof, but after giving her a thorough hoof cleaning, clipping and check-up he found nothing. “I’m worried it could be something physiological,” he had said.
“Something physiological” sounds awfully vague and pretty scary to a beginning farmer like myself. So we locked her in the barnyard with some fresh hay and water which was effectively like sending her to bed for a little R & R.
Fast forward a few days and the poor thing can’t get up anymore. She’s lying upright and rocks back and forth as if she wants to stand, but then settles back down again, obviously frustrated with her inability to move. We called the vet out again to see if he could better diagnose the problem.
This time he said she must have a pinched nerve in the hip that is making her back leg useless. It could be that the almost full-term calf inside her could be pressing against a nerve. Or, it might be a “physiological injury” for which there may be no cure. He gave her a shot to get her labor started, with the hopes that we can assist her in giving birth, save the calf and hopefully relieve the pressure on her nerve.
Or, we might save the calf and have to put her down.
Or, we might lose them both.
In the meantime, I am visiting her every 1.5 hours, taking fresh cool water to her to drink, bathing her with a little water to cool her down (she’s lying in the open sun), and bringing her hay to eat. It’s the least we can do to keep her comfortable until her labor begins. Please wish us luck.