Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lonely Paths

Some people are made for this life style.  Other people would never make.  And yet there are those that are not made for it that try every day to live it for the simple values it teaches.  When you think of farming you think of fields of grains or hay, cattle or horses in the fields, chickens in the yard, and neighbors sitting on your porch with a cup of tea.  You never think of the weeks it takes to plant those fields when you are alone in a tractor for 12-14 hours a day.  You don't think of the trips through the snow to check on a cow you know is close to calving at all hours of the day and night.  You don't think of the lack of sleep.  You don't think of hours upon hours you spend just feeding the livestock or mucking out stalls.  You don't realize that you will be so busy you wont have time to make friends that can come over and sit on the porch with a cup of coffee or tea.  Especially since that cup or tea or coffee is either at sun rise or it is an iced drink in the later afternoon when it is too hot in the summers to be out there working under the sun.  Most people, or maybe it was just me, have an idealistic idea of what a farmers life is really like.  For me personally, I don't mind the work.  I actually enjoy being out there to watch the calves born.  I love to bottle feed the ones we choose to keep for projects.  Milking a cow is very relaxing once you get the hang of it.  It almost becomes your therapy session.  Talking to the cow while you milk, you know you can tell her anything and you will never be judged for it and it doesn't matter what you say.

I was NOT prepared for the solitude this life style has ment for me.  I am not an out going person so meeting people is not very easy for me.  I lived in the city and was raised in a city.  I had neighbors within yelling distance.  Neighborhoods with kids so you met other parents.  Here we are so rural that meeting your neighbor you either get in the car and drive there or you walk the two and a half miles to the nearest neighbor.  If you were a couple farming, you could go out to a club or social event in town to meet people.  With a very young family and being next to a very small town there are very very few things you can do.  Here locally it is either hockey (which we have no children old enough to do) or it is swimming.  Otherwise, there is nothing for a family.  No parks or playgrounds.

It is a lonely path that we choose.  It makes you cherish every path that crosses yours.  For our live style can be as lonely as a path in the snow!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Milking Time Woes

We have several cows to milk daily here, so hand milking takes a really long time and if you have any sort of problems with your hands you cant do more then one, if that.  So, we use a milking machine.  Well here is how our last day has went!

Yesterday we had a new cow arrive.  She came from a dairy and was off the line so she is hand shy, you cant touch her, she doesn't know how to walk on a lead rope, nor has she been hand milked.  So, we put her in a small building that has a head gate in it as a wooden stanchion would not have held her.  She is used to being milked at 5 am and 5 pm.  So we go out at 4:45 pm last night to get her ready.  We have our bucket of warm soapy water to wash her udder, our milking pail and machine, oats, and a brush.  I run the head gate and DH pushes her in it.  Basically that means that he walks behind her and they don't like being touched so she will walk away.  You don't actually push on the cow, that is just what it is called.  So we get her in the head gate.  She is standing still and being really good.  We bring in the milking machine and turn it on so that she can hear the noise.  She doesn't move much.  I take the brush and start to brush her and she does really well.  By this time I am very surprised by her being so calm.  It is extremely unusual for a new cow that comes off the dairy line to be this still and calm.  I have two things going on in my head.  Either we are the luckiest people out there or she is going to explode at any minute.  DH washes her udder. She just stands there.  I get her whole left side (that is the left side of the cow, not my left side looking at her) brushed out.  We put the milking machine on her.  And guess what.....  She stands there!  OK!  By this time I am thinking her exploding is less and less likely.  Then we notice the machine is sucking, but not cycling.  That means that the machine is giving one big suck.  It should suck and release, suck and release.  Yeah, uncomfortable is all I can think.  So, he takes it off and we are trying to see what is causing the issue.  We had spent about 3-4 minutes fiddling with the machine by this time.  Suddenly I see DH lung forward.  SHE KICKED HIM!  Now, if you have ever seen a cow kick you know they can kick in any direction unlike a horse.  They kick in front, behind, and to the side.  DH was standing about a foot away from her to her left and about half way up her body.  So she kicked forward and out to catch him.  I have to admit, it was a well placed kick.  I am torn between laughing from the stunned look on his face and seeing if he is ok.  Of course I do both.  DH isn't very pleased.  He moves slightly farther away and goes back to checking the machine.  No sooner did he get involved with the machine and ignoring the cow, she did it again!  This time he popped her back (it is a light slap on the hip to say "no").  She stood there a bit stunned that she was reprimanded and no sooner did he turn his back, she did it again.  By this time DH is getting very agitated and I am trying to respect him and not fall on the floor laughing.  He stood there facing her.  She just stood there chewing her cud.  So he again turns his attention to the milking machine.  And again, within seconds of turning his back, she kicks him.  Now I have to give the cow a bit of credit here.  She is not hurting him.  She is lightly kicking.  A cow can break bones if they are really pissed or scared.  These kicks are more like she is telling him "come on, get this going".  Sort of a hurry up thing.  DH gets pissed and takes the machine out side to work on it.  No sooner does he leave then she stands there chewing her cud again.  I am laughing so hard inside by this time.  You know, it really is hard to laugh inside without showing it on the outside.  So, he figures out what is wrong and goes to get a tool.  I go right next to her and start to brush under her chin and down her neck and over her dewlap (that part that hangs in the front of a cow).  She stretches her head out as far as she can and leans in to the brush really enjoying it.  So, now I know her soft spot.  Grain and a good scratch.  That is the way to a cows heart!  After getting things fixed milking now goes well.  But this first milking sure left an impression.  I like this cow!

And so, here is Lily, our new cow.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Snow, love hate relationship

It is simple.  Snow and I have a love hate relationship.  I love to hate it.  There are only two good things about snow.  It provides moisture for the ground and it makes things look nice.  Every thing else about snow, I hate.  The ice that forms as it starts to melt and refreeze.  How you have to dig everything out.  Tractors getting stuck.  Having to walk through it sinking to my hips to check the animals.  How the fences get covered and a five foot fence becomes a two foot fence, or less.  You cant open gates.  Cars sliding on roads.  Any one of these can be annoying.  For me, the worst is the tractor.  We currently feed large round bales.  The tractor is the only thing strong enough to move them.  Well, stuck tractors means unable to feed properly, unable to plow driveway, and unable to pull out our own vehicles when they get stuck.  Next it is the fences.  They are five foot fences, we should not have issues with them going OVER the fences.  But guess what.  That is exactly what they are doing.  Stepping right over it.  Luckily the horses don't try to step over it.  The cows are easier to get back in.  The gates are frozen in and so much snow on each side you have to dig them out.  That takes time to dig out each gate and that can kill your back.  Imagine a 16 foot gate you have to dig out enough so that the tractor can get in to put bales in for the animals.  Then you just hope that as you drive the 14 ft tractor through the 16 ft fence it doesn't slide into the fence or secondary gate.

With all of this it makes you rethink how you are doing things.  How to change it so that the snow won't be such an effect on your daily life.  So, here is our order of business   Build covered hay storage lofts in each pasture and stock them with small square bales.  If we just have to walk out and throw hay off into a manger below then we will not have to worry about a tractor even starting, much less getting stuck.  Also, the milking animals are too far out.  Their pasture is 21 acres and across the dam.  Hiking through four feet of snow to go get a cow and then hike back twice a day is pretty hard on the legs.  Especially when you have many other chores to do.  So, we are making a small "winter" pasture up close off the barn for the winter months. When the snow falls we will now move the milking cows up into this small pasture.  Once it is melted we will open the gates and move them back to their summer pasture.  We designed it so that the pasture will have large gates that just stay open all summer to prevent any obstruction of movement.  Once we do the changes then I hope we can just enjoy the winter and the snow.  Maybe take up cross country skiing!  Then photos like this will just bring back good memories instead of having to stand in snow up to my hip!  Happy winter folks.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Life Lesson

There are many lessons you learn living on a farm.  One that has hit home lately is the life lesson.  Not the lesson of life, but the life lesson.  How important life is.  On the farm we have life born often.  Spring and summer is full of new life.  But what about the old life?  We recently had tragedy hit when our best cow suddenly past.  She was in the prime of her life and is a cow that can never be replaced!  With every passing of life you are reminded about how important every life really is.  Annie was our family milk cow and a wonderful nurse cow.  She would take any calf of any age at any stage and raise it.  She never had issues with us touching, catching, or handling any calves that she had.  She was a very important life that cant be gotten back.

Since the beginning of November (four months ago) we have had 5 births here on the farm.  Annie had her calf, then we had our baby girl, then Linhe had a heifer calf, then Blackie had a bull calf (was lost to coyotes), and then the newest one just two days ago is another bull calf.  We are even awaiting another birth from Bella at any moment.  The lesson of importance of life is an ever on going event on a farm.  It is more then a matter of being important because it is a life.  It is more then an emotional reflex saying it is a baby and must survive.  The importance of every life hinges on our very own survival.  We don't just live on a farm, we live off the farm.  The new heifer will be our new cow in two years, bringing a new life into our farm every year.  The bull calves (unless specially kept to bred) will be our food in the fall.  Every chick hatched is either breeding stock or going to freezer camp.  When your life depends on the life of another, the importance of that life is so much higher then you could ever have imagined before.

This was the first lesson I learned when I moved to the farm.  Life of your livestock comes first.  Their lives have to be of the utmost importance for you to eat and live.  The healthier they are, they healthier you are!

How it started

House built by DH great grandparents!

We all have our own beginnings.  It is more about what we do with what we have then how it got started.  But, here is our simple start.  This farm is a fourth generation farm.  My DH great grandfather homesteaded this farm.  His great grandmother followed his great grandfather here two years later.  They had a mixed farm.  They raised holstein cows, pigs, and chickens.  When his grandparents took over the farm, they made it into a grain farm, got rid of all the animals.  That worked well for them as his grandpa also worked off the farm so they didnt have to always be here.  They are passing it on to DH.  I married DH three years ago and moved here.  His dream was always to have it a mixed farm the way his great grandparents had.  This is our story of trying to achieve this now shared dream and raise a very young family at the same time.  And supposedly have time to keep up with this blog!  There will be laughs and dreams, tears and nightmares, but in the end, it will be what it will be.  Hope you at least find it interesting.