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

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Amazing Grazing

There is no happier day on the farm—if you’re a grassfed steer, that is—than that day in spring when the farmers finally deem the grazing fields open for business. Today was that day.

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

Hey, it’s St. Patty’s Day!  Luck o’ the Irish to you!

I’ve gathered up a few Irish tidbits for your enjoyment.  The website I took them from–Ireland Fun Facts–calls them facts.  Not accusing anyone, of course, but the Irish have been known to embellish once in awhile, especially when telling a story.  And I’m simply too lazy to verify.  (Now there’s the real truth of the matter!) 

Truth or not, they’re fun to read through…and fun is one thing all Irish men and women can agree on.  Enjoy!

According to some historians, over 40% of all American presidents have had some Irish ancestry.
In olden days, a pig was often allowed to live in the house with the family on an Irish farm. He (or she) was commonly referred to as “the gentleman who pays the rent.”
Saint Brendan is said to have discovered America 1,000 years before Columbus.
The longest place name in Ireland is Muckanaghederdauhaulia, in County Galway.
The original Guinness Brewery in Dublin has a 9,000 year lease on it’s property, at a perpetual rate of 45 Irish pounds per year.
One traditional Irish cure for a hangover was to be buried up to the neck in moist river sand.
Historians believe St. Patrick’s real name was “Maewyn Succat.
The tune of the “Star Spangled Banner” was composed by the great blind harper Turlough O’Carolan, who died about 35 years before the American revolution.
Ireland is the world’s only country with a musical instrument for a national symbol: the harp.
An “An Fáinne” is a lapel pin, worn by some fluent Irish speakers to invite others to speak to them in the traditional language.
It’s not the custom in Ireland to wear green ties, hats or other green clothes on St. Patrick’s Day. A sprig of shamrock in the coat lapel is the preferred display.
Now a few quotes from some famous Irishmen:
“The Irish do not want anyone to wish them well; they want everyone to wish their enemies ill.”
– Harold Nicolson
“I had that stubborn streak, the Irish in me I guess.”
– Gregory Peck
“Every action of our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.”
– Sean O’Casey
“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”
– Flannery O’Connor
“You know it’s summer in Ireland when the rain gets warmer.”
– Hal Roach
“Ireland, sir, for good or evil, is like no other place under heaven, and no man can touch its sod or breathe its air without becoming better or worse.”
– George Bernard Shaw
And my personal favorite:
“This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever.”
– Sigmund Freud (speaking about the Irish)
Finally, an Irish blessing or two…
Wishing you a rainbow
For sunlight after showers—
Miles and miles of Irish smiles
For golden happy hours—
Shamrocks at your doorway
For luck and laughter too,
And a host of friends that never ends
Each day your whole life through
Wherever you go and whatever you do, May the luck of the Irish be there with you. 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  And Happy Birthday, Laura!

Cow/Calf Update

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.  

A New Addition

It wasn’t like we didn’t have anything else to do Saturday. I had 3 coats of primer to apply to my new (!) kitchen walls (a project which of course necessitated two trips to the hardware store for forgotten supplies), the electrician was out to look at some old wires we had unearthed in the process, Marcel and Rob were finishing up a job we had started two weeks ago–cleaning out the barns and spreading manure, my oldest had plans with a friend at 3 PM, and we were keeping my nephew for the night, whom was supposed to arrive at anytime. I had no food and my house was a disaster, but I was going to get to that, too, eventually.

So when Marcel called to say that the young heifer #19 was in labor and not progressing, I had no choice.  Everything else had to be put on hold; we switched gears and jumped into ‘birth-assistance’ mode. #19 had never given birth before and is quite small, so we knew she might have problems. Marcel was already up there cleaning up the manure pile, so he kept an eye on her as I quickly excused myself from the electrician’s conversation about his beagle puppy, grabbed the kids and gathered the birthing-assistance tools: 3 straw bales for clean bedding, rubber gloves for Marcel and I, and the birthing chains.

When I arrived, the chute we use to confine the mother had been pushed out of position during the manure operation, so we had to get the tractor and move that first. At this time the mother was prostrate on the ground, pushing with little progress. Her eyes were strained and her neck outstretched–we needed to help her, fast.

Next we had to separate #19 from the rest of the herd. This is the worst part–how horrible to have to chase a laboring mother around the barnyard, knowing what she is going through and worried about the life of her calf. We separated a group of 5 from the rest and corralled them into the barn. Once in, it was pretty simple to get the others out (they know something’s up and want out of there!) while keeping her in. The nice thing about a round barn is that the cows follow the contour of the walls and don’t get hung up in corners where they might decide to turn around and go the other way. So #19 kept walking until she reached our ‘capture area’.  We have a gate secured in place that runs from exterior wall to interior wall, blocking her progress, at which point we swing a hinged gate around from behind and capture her in a small triangle-shaped pen.

At the wide side of the pen is a door to the exterior with a cattle chute on the outside. The chute is the only way out of the enclosure, so the cows try to walk through it to the outside. As they progress through the chute, we close the headgate around their neck, shut the reargate and voila–we’ve got ’em! Now we can vaccinate them, castrate calves, pregnancy check, you name it. Here is a picture from last year, showing how it normally goes:

In this case, however, we didn’t catch the mother in the headgate–we shut it before she gets that far so that she has some free movement within the chute. And instead of shutting the reargate, we put a large 2X4 board through the back of the chute about thigh-high, preventing her from backing up but giving us access to her nether-regions.

We immediately gloved up and got to work.  Marcel inserted his hand into her vagina to find the calf’s hoove.  I passed him the chains and he hooked one end around each foot, just above the second joint so as not to break the calf’s ankle as we pulled.  This is harder than it sounds, and took him a good 10 minutes.  Once the chains were in position, we hooked handles onto the chain, waited for the mother to push and then pulled with all our might.  Literally.  It is really hard to pull a calf and it takes awhile to get that babe out of there.  We noticed the calf’s tongue hanging out of its mouth–not a good sign.  So I told Marcel to keep pulling as I tore away the placenta from the calf’s nose.  The nostrils were moving!  The calf was trying to breathe, so it was still alive!

If we could just get that head out. I pushed up on the cow’s labia to help widen the pathway as Marcel pulled. All of a sudden the mother gave a good push and the head slipped out. Now we had to quickly change tactics: if the mother sat down onto the 2X4 board, she would kill the calf. We had to let the calf hang there through a contraction to help squeeze the liquid out of its lungs, and then get it down quickly and gently. Here is a photo from last year showing Farmer Scott pulling one of our calves. He is a dairy farmer from down the road and taught us how to assist difficult births.

Isn’t that amazing?  He did this by himself with some assistance from my brother-in-law (my sister was taking photos).  That’s what I call experience.  

Anyways, I stood underneath the calf and wrapped my arms around it (they are super slippery!) as Marcel pulled. The mother pushed, Marcel pulled, and I caught the calf. Well, I helped break its fall to the ground at least. Did I mention how slippery they are?  We removed the board and pushed the mother back into the pen where she went to work licking it, cleaning it, and mooing gently at it. 

It’s a girl!  And she is a strong, spunky little calf.  We stood around and watched her try to stand up, which was the entertainment of the day for my kids.  They laughed and laughed as she stumbled and toppled over, head over feet, more than a few times.  But she did it.  Within 2 hours she was walking, nursing, and checking out her new home.  Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Here they are, mother and daughter, immediately after she was born.  Welcome to Irish Grove, little lady.

Help Us Decide!!

I’ve got a fun little task for y’all to do for me.

You see, rumor has it that we here in Irish Grove just might be going organic on some of our acres next year. Grassfed beef is our main push with those acres, but we won’t be able to certify our beef until the following year. So, in the meantime, we’re thinking of raising some organic, pastured chickens to sell for meat.

This is where y’all come in. Organic pastured chickens will be a lot of work, for minimal return, especially the first year. Organic pastured chickens mean Marcel and I will be spending many winter hours building moveable chicken pens. Organic pastured chickens mean that yours truly will be spending about 2 hours/day, 7 days a week, for 4 long months next summer, feeding, watering, and moving those same chickens to a fresh paddock. Organic pastured chickens mean we’ll be buying organic grain from someone for extremely high prices. And organic pastured chickens mean I’ll be driving 4 hours south, once every 2-3 weeks, for a long, boring day waiting for the chickens to be processed at an organically certified chicken processing plant.

The extra work doesn’t scare us. We’re farmers; the type of people who like to work. What scares us is the prospect of extra work coupled with few customers and a failed business idea.

So, I need to know the following: Do you think organic chickens is a good idea and worth the effort? And do you or would you pay more than $3.00/lb for organic chicken?

This is not a ploy for customers, even though I’d love to sell you a chicken, but a ploy for opinions. You all are very aware of my opinions on store-bought chicken. Now I’d like to hear yours.

You can reply to this post, or vote on my cute little poll that I’ll be adding in the sidebar. It’s as easy as that. We’ll just call today “inform a farmer” day.

Please?

Why So Quiet?

Life’s been crazy lately, leaving no time to update y’all on the “goings ons” around here. And unfortunately today’s no different. My two girls are each at separate day camps in two very distant ends of our nearby city, I’ve got to rake 9 acres of hay and try to get it baled before it rains, again, and then both girls have separate softball games in two different towns tonight. Can you hear me scream, “Calgone take me away!”

So I’m writing here, quickly, to give you a few small hints at what has been happening in our life.

First, I directed a week-long leadership and environmental awareness camp for teenagers which was extremely stressful, but super fun. The camp was held at Atwood Environmental Center, a really great place where I happen to work part-time….part-time, at least, until Eco-Factor started. Then I worked way, way too much. Especially when you throw in the farm (in springtime) and my kids….in my world, that’s plainly a recipe for disaster.
But I love being surrounded by a bunch of really interesting, motivated teenagers….they can be so intense! And intense is a good way to describe the week, as I barely pulled the camp off. Whew. It was one of those times where I felt I couldn’t sit down for even a few minutes for fear of forgetting to do something important. Like feed the campers. Or remember my teaching points for each session. Or re-filling my cup of coffee for the 20th time that day. Which is also maybe why the week was so intense?

When it was over, my legs cramped up so badly I could hardly walk. Probably because I have this way of not eating when I’m nervous or stressed out. And then I spent a whole day on the couch unable to function in any way whatsoever. But I’m better now. And everyone liked the camp. So it was worth it. (I think.) Did I mention I was interviewed and that the interview is posted on a new healthy living website? Go check it out here:

Second, we’ve had lots of visitors to the farm, including my cousin Jenny and my Liberian “sister” Eva and her daughter, Marthaline. I hope to have a post up about that in a few days.
Third, we’ve acquired another tractor, making us an all-powerful, oh-so-important two-tractor farm. And anyone who knows anything about farming knows that’s not really a big deal. But for us here in Irish Grove it’s a pretty big deal.

And finally, something wonderful has begun to happen. Something magical. Something absolutely fun, amazing, and awe-inspiring. Or maybe I should say “Aww-inspiring”…….

We’ve Got Babies!! Three of them, to be exact. And I’ll get pictures up as soon as possible. Which means as soon as I have more than 20 minutes to breath. Ahhhhhhhhhh!!

Luck O’ The Irish (or not)

I live in Irish Grove, I sport an Irish last (maiden) name, and I come from some pretty sturdy Irish stock.

So when during the past two farming years, my first two years as a farmer no less, I’ve been the happy beneficiary of some pretty good ‘Luck o’ the Irish’, I just figured that the luck comes with the heritage. It makes sense. Somehow, I’m just destined to be lucky.

For the past two years, the weather’s held out even when it’s been too dry just south of here or too wet just north of here. The crop yields have been decent and grain prices have been strong. We’ve started a fine herd of Murray Greys and all of our cows were somehow impregnated by a very young, inexperienced bull. (May that be a lesson to you parents of teenagers!) We’ve cleaned up the farmstead, organized things a little, and done pretty well for ourselves, under the circumstances.

We’ve made mistakes, sure, and I’m very realistic about how many more of those are on the horizon. And in no uncertain terms do I deny the fact that there is absolutely no substitute for experience in the farming world. But the mistakes we’ve made so far haven’t held any real, tangible consequences. Everything, thankfully, has turned out okay in the end.

And so that ‘I’m Just Lucky’ attitude wormed its sneaky little way into my psyche, set up shop and hung curtains. At first it was a welcome guest. It gave me the reassurance I desperately needed that I wasn’t going to screw up this whole farming experience and ruin our beloved family farm. But lately, I’m Just Lucky has overstayed his welcome. He’s eatin’ potato chips on the couch, if you know what I mean, and he’s started leaving his dirty socks under the dining room table.

Almost two weeks ago now, I’m Just Lucky finally overstepped his bounds and convinced me to mow the first crop of hay when we had a 4 day window of dry weather. I’m Just Lucky whispered to me that, “Sure, it looks like the storms could push in sooner that expected, but you’re lucky, remember? Don’t forget who you are, my dearest. You’re Irish. You’re lucky!”

So what do you think Miss Under-experienced, Relying On My Luck Farmer did?

I went and cut the hay!!!

Long story short……10 days later, the hay is still on the ground, has been rained on ump-teen times, and will soon be a nice black, slimy mess. The alfalfa continues to grow, of course, and is now growing through the windrows in the places where it’s not getting snuffed out due to lack of air and sunlight. The ground is saturated from the gazillion inches of rain we’ve gotten in the past 10 days, and I wouldn’t dare put the heavy tractor in there, even if we do get a few dry days. I’ve got to go call the farmer that was going to buy all of this hay and let her out of her contract. And next winter, we’re going to have one heck of a time trying to force the cattle to eat this degraded yuckiness. That is IF we are ever able to get this darned hay dried and baled in the first place.

Luck o’ the Irish? I don’t think so.

Now please excuse me. I’m got some spring cleanin’ to do.

Herstory: My Path to Farming, Part I

Nature. Country. Connections. Roots. Family.

These are words that make my heart swell. These words are likely the reason why I’m so darned happy living in a place I never, ever thought I’d come back to.

Sure, Irish Grove was a nice place and all. But as I was growing up, I found it too small town, too Midwestern, and just too ‘ho-hum’ for a girl like me. I was going to change the world, you know….and the world I was to be a’changin wasn’t Irish Grove, for Lord’s sake. I was going to change the world out there, whether that meant out West, Alaska, or some third-world country. I had big dreams. Bigger dreams than could fit in Irish Grove.

As a highschooler, I was one of those rare kids that actually knew what she wanted to do. I loved animals, I loved the rural countryside, I loved wilderness, nature, wide open spaces and the way my heart would soar when in the presence of a beautiful rural landscape. So I knew I wanted to go to college to become a Wildlife Biologist, and that as a wildlife biologist I was going to change the world. What an idea! As a wildlife biologist, I could spend every waking moment outside in a natural setting and get paid for it! Who cares if it doesn’t pay well, or if there are no National Parks close to home? Close to home wasn’t where it was at, anyways. I was going global, remember? Yeah, I was focused, determined, young. I went to UW-Madison, and I became a Wildlife Biologist. No second thoughts. Full steam ahead.

Next I joined the Peace Corps to gain experience in wildlife biology and because I wanted to help the poor in a developing nation. (OK, and maybe for the adventure of it.) But mostly I joined the Peace Corps because I had always dreamed of going to Africa to work on the great savannas, and the Peace Corps was the fastest, most effective way to get there. Africa was where its at for a wildlife biologist like myself. Africa was the the big kahuna. The be all, end all. Africa was my destiny, and I was going for it. I filled out my application, requested Africa as my first choice for location, and didn’t bother filling in my second and third choices. In my mind, there was no other choice.

But you know, those darned Peace Corps people had different ideas, and they valued my Spanish experience–which was nothing to write home about, let me tell you–over my wildlife biology degree. How dare they? How dare they derail my dreams, my life’s pursuits, my ambition to be a Wildlife Biologist and to take the continent of Africa by storm?

They plainly didn’t care. They thought it was much more important for me to be able to communicate with my host country’s people….p’shaw. And they thought it was better to send someone with an agricultural background (a very questionable agricultural background) to agricultural lands instead of vast savannas and grand deserts. The nerve!

But the biggest kicker was that they weren’t even sending me to work in wildlife biology! I was going to Panama–hardly the exciting, exotic African nation I had hoped for–and I was going to work in Environmental Education.

“Umm, excuse me but I couldn’t hear you very well. Did you say Panama? Panama, like in Noriega? And, umm, please forgive me once again, but did I hear the word Education? Education meaning like a teacher, with a classroom, stuck in a building, with a bunch of kids? Ah, yes, of course…. Environmental Education volunteer in Panama. Wonderful, yes that’s perfect. Now will you please excuse me while I go cry myself a river?”

My disappointment only added to the building anxiety (aka FEAR) I was experiencing as my departure grew closer. I literally felt like I was jumping off a cliff into the unknown. Where I would land, or how I would land, or if I would land, even, was a mystery. At this point I wasn’t only leaving behind everything and everyone I knew and loved, I was going to a place I didn’t really want to go to, and I was going to work in a position I most positively did not want to work in. Where were my open spaces? My wilderness? How could I realize my dream of being a wildlife biologist as an environmental education volunteer in Panama?

Yes, Panama is exactly where things started getting off track.

What Was I Thinking?

Ahh, I just love our tractor. Isn’t she lovely? She has the nicest shade of blue, which is my most favorite-est color, and she also has a low, powerful roar when she drives which is music to my country-girl ears.

Most of us in Irish Grove are rookie tractor drivers. I, for one, am extremely slow and cautious when behind the wheel. Even after two years of farming, I always go through my mental checklist before driving: put on seatbelt, engage the clutch, double check the gears, change gears if necessary, lift bucket (while refreshing my memory as to which direction on the handle will swivle the bucket up or down), put the tractor in gear, adjust RPM’s, etc. etc. etc.

I’m such a tractor nerd, in fact, that I make sure to turn the radio volume down, so I can listen closely to the hum of the engine. (I’m learning to embrace my nerdiness.)

Marcel, on the other hand, is an expert tractor driver. (I know, I know….what’s new?) When Marcel’s driving the tractor, we all feel comfortable, secure, and confident that the job’s gonna get done, effertlessly executed and in style, I might add. In fact, with Marcel behind the wheel I don’t even feel the need to run, duck for cover, whisk my kids to the safety of our porch, or call Olivia away from the scene. Marcel’s got it under control.

Which makes me wonder what was in that coffee I drank at lunch yesterday.

Mom wanted to use the pick-up truck, which was parked behind the tractor in the machine shed. So, not only did I encourage (she might say force) Mom to drive the tractor for the first time ever……

but I let my youngest child sit in on the ride!!

What was I thinking????

Springtime Fun

You just can’t beat springtime on the farm.

After an especially long winter this year, the pretty spring flowers breathe life back into our souls and the fresh, breezy days bring out the best in everyone.

My favorite spring flowers are the bleeding hearts. They make me daydream about little flower fairies hosting little flower-fairy parties in my garden, decorating the branches of their favorite plants with sweet heart-shaped jewels and lanterns.

I also love the bright, cheery tulips that bob back and forth in the spring breezes.

Springtime brings the baby chicks, who are always there for you when you need a little cheering up.

And the warmer weather finally allows you to take on a few projects to spruce up the place a bit.

Here’s Marcel, giving the house a much-needed face lift. (Which for some reason makes my thoughts immediately jump to that avocado/cucumber facemask I saw in Walgreens last week.)

But the best thing about spring is that the kids can finally get outside and entertain themselves with the simplest of pleasures.

Like Armando with the water hose. Now that’s bliss for ya, pure and simple.

Madelina has waited for this moment for 6 months, 2 days, 24 minutes and 11 seconds.

Ana has mastered the art of paper-airplane throwing. Just look at that form.

Paper airplanes are the preferred toys in Irish Grove at the moment. The kids played with them for over 3 hours yesterday, and got cousin Jonathan into the act this morning for another couple of hours.

Jonathan’s got a nice, gentle toss that really makes ’em soar.

I just might start a petition to close all of the toy stores over the summer. When you’ve got fresh air, open spaces, and a happy spring-time heart….who needs ’em?

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