Irish Grove Farms

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

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Mama Cow…..

…has another calf?

A quick recap of yesterday’s fiasco:

Marcel checked on the Mama.
I went to move the cows to a fresh paddock.
Marcel started whistling, yelling, waving.
I knew something was wrong.
Mama cow had a hoof coming out her rear.
Yes, I said a hoof.
The hoof was upside-down.
Marcel inserted his arm.
Yes, arm.
He couldn’t find the other foot.
I inserted my arm.
I couldn’t find the other foot.
I called the vet.
“The mother cow is having another calf.”
“There is only one hoof presenting and it’s breech.”
“We can’t find the other foot.”
Vet said, “I’ll find it.”
Mother cow is lying head outstretched.
Mother cow is moaning.
Mother cow is breathing abnormally.
Vet arrives, gloves up, inserts arm.
Says, “This is going to be a disaster.”
Vet pushes calf back in.
Vet works for about 10 minutes finding other hoof.
Vet pulls other hoof out.
He hooks it to the calf-puller: a pulley system used for emergencies.
I drive the tractor close to mama cow.
Marcel hooks pulley to tractor and starts cranking.
Marcel pulls dead calf out.
It was a girl.
Mama cow looks relieved.
Mama cow sits upright again.
Mama cow is all swollen on the inside.
I run home and get the antibiotics in my fridge.
Yes, there is a place for antibiotics and livestock.
This is it.
Marcel gave her 2 large injections, 50 ml total.
Mama cow drinks water and eats a little hay.

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.  

This morning the mother cow is sitting upright again.
She is trying to stand.
She is one tough mama.
This afternoon we’re going to try the hip lifter.
Basically it’s a big clamp.
That you hook to her hip bones.
And lift her with the tractor.
To see if she can put weight on her back legs.

When Physiological Becomes Psychological

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.

Water for the thirsty, tired mama.
Ana, attending the mother.
 Madelina and Marcel, rubbing the calf to stimulate blood flow.

More massaging.
Isn’t she darling?  We’re calling her Honey.  Honeysuckle.
Ana, trying to feed Honeysuckle the colostrum replacement.

Making some shade for the mother.

The ending to my psychological problem? A successful calf-pull and darling little heifer named Honeysuckle.

Something Physiological

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.

Left Behind

People have left many things behind when they come to buy eggs.  They’ve left egg cartons and money in the envelope, of course, but also sippy cups, shopping receipts, toys, etc.

Today someone left behind their child

P.S.  We were home, child was playing with the chickens, all was well.

P.S.S. Can it get any crazier than that?

P.S.S.S. Don’t answer that please. I don’t wanna know.

Grassfed Beef for Sale

Currently Available: Grass-fed, grass-finished beef. 

The meat will be available on or around July 14th and processing will be done at Eickman’s Processing in Seward, IL. (All wholes, halves and quarters will be picked up at Eickman’s.) Please place your order as soon as possible, keeping in mind that orders will be filled on a first come first served basis.

___Whole beef, $3.00/lb. hanging weight* (approx. 320-400 lbs. beef)
___½ beef, $3.25/lb. hanging weight* (approx. 160-200 lbs. beef)
___¼ beef, $3.50/lb. hanging weight* (approx. 80-100 lbs. beef)

*Processing fee not included. Processing usually runs about $0.55/lb. depending on how you specify your order. You will need to contact Eickman’s to specify which cuts you prefer.

___Variety Beef Box, $135

Includes approx. 25 pounds of varied cuts: steaks, roasts, round steaks and/or cube steaks, ground beef, etc. Processing fee is included in this price. You will pick up box at the farm.

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.

Send your name, contact information and order to Jackie at Thank you!

Local orders only. We do not ship or deliver at this time.

Farm Events Galore

We’ve been busy this spring.  Busy with farm work, yes.  But also busy with events.  Farm events.

The renewed interest in local food has meant that there are a lot of people suddenly interested in and wanting to visit farms.  So far this spring we’ve been the destination for a local elementary school field trip, we participated in our second annual Openfields Farm Tour, and we hosted a Pasture Walk.  All of these events are a lot of fun (and a lot of work). 

The first event, the fieldtrip, brought 20 1st-graders and their parents out to see the chickens.  Each classroom at their school focused on a different farm animal, organized a field trip around that animal, and then reported what they learned back to the others.  They all visited a large farm and a small farm in the same day to see the differences in production styles, which I thought was a brilliant idea.

The kids that came here had first visited Phil’s Fresh Eggs in Forreston.  There they got to see a video about egg production, they got to see the egg washing machines, the egg sorters, the egg packing machines, etc.  Everything is very mechanized–it has to be when you’re packing 150,000 dozen eggs a day (!)–and must be pretty cool to watch, especially for a 1st grader!  But they didn’t get to go in a see the chickens (disease control) and they didn’t get to touch an egg (not quite sure why–couldn’t they spare a couple?).

When they got here, I let them visit the chickens, taught them about the different breeds and showed them the food that we used.  We showed them the baby chicks and explained the difference between those used for meat production and those kept for eggs.  They got to hold the chicks and gather some eggs.  Every single one of them got to candle their own egg, grade it and put it in the appropriate-sized egg carton.  They then took home a few dozen eggs (the teachers insisted on paying for them) so they could each take an egg home with them.  I joked that I took no responsibility for school-bus-induced scrambled eggs in their backpacks. 

The kids had fun, and so did I, but the best thing that came of that fieldtrip was the packet of thank you letters and hand-drawn pictures I got back from the kids about 2 weeks later.  They were absolutely hilarious.

Next, we participated in the Openfields Farm Tour for the second year in a row.  I seriously considered not doing it this year because the tour comes at the busiest time of year for us.  But it’s an Extension event, and I work for Extension, and my boss and co-worker basically told me I had no choice but to sign up for the tour, the big bullies.

That’s OK, it turned out to be a lovely day, Laura and Rob and family came over to help, and we had about 90 people come by the farm.  Wow!

Look at that farm crew! (Madelina was such a good tour guide she was given a few tips and I even had a lady threaten to steal her away. We definitely have her slated for the marketing and advertising department.)

Here are some happy visitors taking home a dozen eggs.  (This lady is running for the county board!  She likes farms, so she just might get my vote.)

Rob is taking some visitors out to see the baby calves, which reminds me I need to post some pictures of them soon.

And Ana is taking advantage of the fact that we finally have enough people around to make a good go at a lemonade stand. Marketing and development for her, too.

All in all the day was a success.

Our final farm event was a Pasture Walk.  A pasture walk is an informal event for people interested in grazing.  It was hosted by the U of I Extension and the Northwest Illinois Grazing Network.  Extension did a good job of advertising for the event so we had between 20 and 25 people come, which I think was a really great turnout.

I explained our operation, Jim Morrison from Extension provided some technical information about finishing animals on grass, forage values, grazing techniques, etc., and Ed Johnston from NRCS gave the crowd some information about the EQIP program, which we used to cost-share for our fences and waterlines.  There was a nice article in the Freeport Journal Standard about it, so I’ll let you read it.

That’s right, I’m getting tired of typing. Follow this link:

Pasture Walk

Flynn Family Reunion

Every summer we have a Flynn picnic at a local Forest Preserve shelterhouse. Everyone in the family is invited, but usually just those of us that still live in the area show up, eat some good food, play a few games and catch up with each others’ lives. Every three years, however, is the BIG Flynn reunion. The one where everyone makes a little extra effort to come, even those that live across country.

This year was one of those years. The year for the geographically-extended family to come back to their roots and hang out near Irish Grove for awhile. The Flynn’s have been in America for 6 generations and counting.  So there’s lots of us by now.  Here’s a small sampling of the crowd.  Can you still see a family resemblance?

Lots of cousins. 

Lots of Flynn’s. 

Lots of love.

Change–For Better and For Worse

I tend to ignore the conventional side of the farm. On this blog, that is. Truth is, I never wanted to be a conventional farmer. Row crops–corn and soybeans–with their genetic potential and maturity dates, their herbicides and pesticides, their crop insurance and FSA payments, their demand for large and expensive equipment, their moisture levels and storage charges–they’re not what’s got me whistling while I work on the farm, if you know what I mean.

But I want to be very honest with you all about my relationship with conventional row crops, so that you can be honest with yourselves about yours: the row crops on this farm have been financially propping up the organic acres for 4 long years now and they should receive the credit they deserve. And I think I’m safe in assuming that row crops have probably been financially propping up your ability to buy organic and local as well. In other words, we all need to be better about leaving the judgment behind while we strive to do better.

We made some changes this year regarding our row crops. Changes for better and for worse. You see, last year was one of those years that just about breaks a farm. I have already whined and complained enough about the quadruple whammy of last year’s high input costs + lower crop revenue + wet harvest weather + a gazillion dollars worth of drying charges, but the result isn’t pretty. The result is a farm walking a fine line between financial solvency and financial ruin. I think the most shocking part of the whole situation is that it only took one year to get to this point! One year! (Ok, so the quadruple whammy also coincided with some needed equipment purchases and the removal of one field from the sugar daddy row crops to that cute new hussy on the block named Organic Transition.)

Anyways, since I’ve run the farm I had refused to plant GMO anything. Straight conventional all the way, baby. I was filled with self-righteousness and an unending optimism that only new farmers have: if it worked before it’ll work again.

Except it didn’t work. The weeds on our farm are typical of the weeds on most farms that have been conventionally managed for over 50 years–resistant to many conventional herbicides. Yes, we sprayed. And yes, the weeds thumbed their noses at us and laughed all the way to maturity. (Remember those posts that have Marcel and I wielding machetes and felling giant ragweed?) After 3 years of ineffective herbicide applications, low yields and falling farm revenue, I had to be honest with myself that my system wasn’t working.

So we changed our rotation to favor corn in order to level out the farm revenue we could expect year after year. We have 3 fields in row crops, which had meant if this year 2 of them would be planted to corn and 1 to soybeans, the following year 2 of them would be soybeans and 1 corn. Corn makes more money than soybeans–depending on the year it can be substantially more. So the way it was, we would have a decent farm income one year and a bad one the next. On and on and on.

We switched our rotation so that every year we’d have 2 fields in corn, meaning field #1 in 1st year corn (corn after soybeans), field #2 in 2nd year corn (corn after corn), and field #3 in soybeans (soybeans after corn). Revenue should level out so that we know, more or less, how much money is coming in. Better income control means better planning means more stability. Stability means less stress and less risk of financial ruin. Whew.

The bad news: corn on corn requires more nitrogen. (We used the same amount of anhydrous ammonia as last year, but also put on a pelletized, slow release product that will give the corn an extra boost as it grows.)

The good news: I planted non-GMO corn again, because the herbicides you can use on straight conventional corn are still effective and because we feed corn to our chickens and grain-fed beef. Our beef, egg and chicken customers don’t want GMO feed, so no GMO corn.

Soybeans are another story. Our soybean fields have been a horrible mess and our yields have been falling. There are fewer conventional herbicides that can be used on soybeans and our weeds are resistant to them. It has gotten to a point where they control large percentages of the field, crowding out the crops and competing for nutrients.

The bad news: we switched back to GMO soybeans. Round-up Ready, to be exact.

The good news: our weeds will be better controlled, our yields should increase substantially, and we’ll make a little more money off of the field. (More money = more money for that hussy O.T.)

On the fertilizing front, we made a definite change for the positive. A company based in Wisconsin, Midwestern Bio-Ag, sells fertilizers, soil amendments and forage seeds and work with both conventional and organic farmers. They promote balanced, mineralized soils for improved crops. Blah blah blah, you can read more about them on their website.

We have purchased our organic fertilizers and soil amendments from them for the past few years and have had wonderful results, but had stuck with the local Coop for the conventional land. This year I decided that I needed to move forward, even as I moved backward; I needed to give our conventional land some TLC. I gave it a good, healthy dose of readily-available calcium (calcium increase a plants ability to absorb nutrients) and high quality fertilizers with micronutrients and will continue to do so until we get the soil balanced.

What I must do:

1) Get the weeds under control.
2) Balance the soil.
3) Force the hussy O.T. to support herself.
4) Give some loving to the conventional land.
5) Transition the land to organic as soon as financially able.
6) Keep the Repo man far, far away from the farm.

What you should do:

1) Support organics.
2) Support farmers in transition to organic.
3) Support medium-sized family farms, conventional or organic. (These are the ones suffering the most, and the truth of the matter is that conventional farms are better for the environment than housing subdivisions.)
4) Stuff the judgment to the very back of your junk drawer.

Change. It can be good or bad. For better or for worse. But it is what’s called for in these tough times.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. -Albert Einstein


You’ve seen this picture before.  On the left is my Grandpa Lowell, on the right is his brother, my Great-Uncle Donald.  They were the second generation of Flynn’s to live on and work this farm.  They were partners, as you can see noted on the side of the truck, but eventually, as their families grew, they decided to divide the farm between them.  Our road runs right down the middle of the original farm, conveniently splitting it in two, so Donald took the west side and Grandpa took the east. 

This morning I’m wondering if these men ever imagined that 65+ years and 3 generations later their grandkids and great-grandkids would even still live in the area?  More to the point, would they have guessed that their great-grandsons would become great buddies? 

Could they have foreseen that these two boys would run free around the exact same farm where they grew up, and that they, too, will share wonderful memories of working and playing with their cousins on this lovely family land?

Maybe they did.  Maybe they somehow knew that, even in a vastly different time, the bonds between our family and our land were strong enough to keep us close to home.  Or that they were strong enough, at least, to bring us back when we had decided to take on the outside world for awhile. 

I bet if they had thought about it they would have seen the possibility.  At least they would have felt the hope that it could happen that way.  I know that I’m guilty of thinking that way once in awhile.  Thinking about whether this farm will stay in this family past my generation.  Will my kids, or Laura’s kids, or Matt’s future kids come back to Irish Grove after they’ve tried on the outside world for awhile?   What about the Donald Flynn side and their kids?  Will they?  It’s anybodies best guess, really; everyone must make their own way this world.  But I think I’m safe to say that Grandpa Lowell and Uncle Donald would be pretty pleased to see these kids, these boys, in this day and age, tearing around their barnyard.  I know it pleases me.

One question remains, however, and it’s something that haunts me from time to time.  Do you think Grandpa Lowell and Uncle Donald could have imagined this?

Blog Catchup #2: Going Retail

Yes, you read that right.  Irish Grove has gone retail.

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I don’t move too quickly.  I decide to do something and then I have to think about it for awhile.  Some people may call that procrastination.  But for me, it’s my own way of time-testing my ideas to make sure my decisions are sound.  My nature is to be impulsive and I’ve found out the hard way that impulsiveness is a terrible trait to have, usually by making a bloody fool of myself.

So, yes, I finally applied for my egg broker’s license after deciding to do so about a year and a half ago.  Which means this decision must be really sound.  And I’m taking about 15 to 20 dozen eggs per week in to Choices Natural Market, where they are being sold next to some “Big Organic” eggs.  Time will tell how they fare, but for now it’s pretty exciting to see our products in a store. 

If you’re in Rockford and want to see for yourself, look for our label:


Try a dozen and let me know what you think.  I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed! 

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