Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Cow Does Not A Pet Make



How now guard cow?

In our 20 plus years of farming together (and he did it for 10 years before he met me) Keith and I have run across all kinds as they have run across us. We have met the coolest Jane and John Does who have the deepest and most sincere desire to run a simple (they hope) and somewhat sustainable small farm. We often have young and not so young folk who come to us for advice (we have lots of that ) or wisdom (this supply runs short) or just to chew the Red Wattle fat about farm life in general.

We learn from them they learn from us and sometimes in appreciation we get cool stuff from our followees like poetry books by Wendell Barry! Thanks again Ben. I did love the one in "The Mad Farmer" titled Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.

Enough off topic verbals, back to the cow.

Another cow
If there was one piece of advice I would give new homesteaders it would be this. Do not make a pet of your cow. Do not think of her as a pet. Do not treat her as a pet. Do not take her with you to school on Bring Your Pet to School Days.

Cows are not pets.

I understand it is easy to make that mistake especially if you come by them when they are calves. Calves are quite stunning with their doe eyes, quivering ears and graceful necks. Once you begin to bottle feed them they will indeed follow you to the ends of the earth and quite possible up the stairs into your master suite.

Milk on tractor wheel. Not your ideal storage place
just a photo op.

But they are not pets, they are...get ready as this next word may be hard to take...livestock. They were made for two key purposes; to produce milk and to produce more bovines. And when they get to that point when they can no longer successfully do either of those tasks they have one last purpose, to produce several hundred pounds of yummy ground beef.

What we have seen happen too often is folks mistake their cow or maybe their two cows for dogs. It's easy to make that mistake. They both have four legs, they both speak no English (Italian, French or Gaelic for that matter) they both enjoy defecating wherever they please, they both enjoy scratches behind the ear but when an intruder pins you against your barn wall demanding all your raw milk be poured out on the ground for a trumped up rule breakage which "pet" will most likely buy that bad guy/gal in the leg?

That's right, it will be Fido, whereas Betsy will merely walk away in search of the proverbial greener pasture. Seriously though, making a pet of your cow can be dangerous to you directly as well. My husband warned me in the earlier years about not rubbing a cows head to hard or for too long. The occasional rub behind the ears and nice pat on the flanks for a milking job well done is one thing but over doing your physical demonstrations can lead a cow into thinking you are her equal and you might very well find yourself on the wrong end of a strong head but, the kind that can land you on your back.

Cows with attitude problems are the cheap ones often up for sale. Women especially love to buy cows based on their looks, their carmel coloring, their big expressive eyes. But after they get then home they realize the animal won't stand to be milked, kicks off her milker or worse yet kicks at YOU or your child.

Folks have tendency to make this pet/livestock mistake with their horses as well. Letting them into your space without your permission, allowing them to be aggressive at feeding time,  rubbing hard against you to get a bridle off. These are not friendly gestures and allowing them can cause you harm.

Other potential issues with Miss Bossy relate to diet and health care. Too often we see folks not taking the time to do real research when they buy their first cow. What is the best diet ? (we think grass and no grain but that's just us) How will you get feed? How will you know the feed is good quality? How will you store all this feed? And remember grass is not grass is not grass. Different types of grasses, hays have different nutritional values.

Have you considered the equipment needed? Too often people have this very romantic idea that they will milk their cow by hand. This takes a long time. If you do get a milking set up do you know how to use it? To trouble shoot it when it fails to work? Do you know how to thoroughly clean it?

Think about vet care. Do you have a vet? Does he/she know cows or just dogs and cats? Fewer and fewer vets want to troubled with actual livestock care especially on those farms with very few animals. Will your vet come to you or will he expect you to bring the animal to him? Some do. Yes, even if it is a 1000 pound cow. Will they come out in the middle of the night if your cow now has milk fever after calving? Do you know how to treat milk fever if he/she won't or can't? What about mastitis? What about bloat? What about hardware disease?

Yeah, cows will eat nails and screws accidentally. Mechanical accidents happen.

Finally there is the milk itself. Cows produce a LOT of milk, anywhere from 3-6 gallons a day depending on breed and feed. That could add up to over 40 gallons of milk a week! Will you sell the extra? Give it away? Feed pigs with it like we do? Do you know how to strain the milk of any impurities, how to cool it, how to store it?

Keith and our youngest GK, Wesley

I am not saying all small homesteaders who want to produce their own milk for cheese, yogurt, long milk baths, etc...must be experts in care of bovines, even Keith and I are still after many decades learning new ways to care for our animals,  but PLEASE I am begging you, do your homework!!  Learn from someone whose been doing it for many years. Volunteer to help a dairy farmer with his chores in exchange for picking his brain or watching him milk.  Purchase the books you need. The Internet is full of them. Mother Earth News is a great place to start. Read all you can, learn all you can  first before you buy the cow and get into real trouble. Have a good conversation with your vet. Farm calls can range from $100 and up. Volunteer to go with your vet on a day he is treating cows. Help a friend who has a cow by taking are of it for an entire week (dairy farmers rarely get vacations.) Eat, sleep and be the cow.

In other words do the work BEFORE you get your four legged dream ice cream machine.

Just another public service announcement from your local Midlife Farmwife. You may now resume regular programming.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Skool is Hard

The Quad at UIUC

I apologize for not blogging recently but you dog ate it.

Not really, he's not that into computers, he'd rather chase piglets and sniff his friend's back end, but I'm working on my excuses for not completing my homework. And boy, do I have homework.

It's funny, not really, how when I first made the decision to go back to college for my degree in creative writing I had this magical mystery tour sort of image in my chunky head. I would be sitting in class (the WISE one they would call me, giving validity to my waist long grey hair and crumbled up face) and I would be just absorbing through osmosis alone, all the knowledge I would need to rewrite my one routinely rejected novel and create thousands more.

I would hang out in smoke filled ultra hipster cool coffee houses where live music played in the alcoves-no dead music please-while I curled up into a decades old leather chair soaking up the creative genius ( and a small amount of residual body oils) left behind by the now famous authors who sat there in the last century.

I would learn and grow and improve as a writer merely though the art of BEING.


It has come to my attention that even though many things have changed since I last plodded along the Quad 38 years ago at UIUC, formally U of I, formally nicknamed U of High, one thing has not changed...the professors expect you to work, as in homework, as in lots of homework.

The biggest challenge for my atrophied brain is finding all the digital and non-digital places where homework assignments may or may not lurk. I have five classes. Creative Composition, Narrative Writing, Intro to Poetry Writing, The American Novel prior to 1914 and then Italian for Remedial Eejits. Italian for Brain Dead Eejits was the prerequisite. This is not a mocking of the course content but a reality check for the quinquagenarian who enrolled in it.

Each of these instructors share their homework assignments differently. Three use an online site called Compass 2g. One uses the universities site and one sort of goes by her syllabus only. Of those 5 folk, one puts all her assignments online and meticulously checks and grades all of them, one puts them all online but doesn't get to all the reading she assigned so class time is quite the gamble, one lists assignments online and then adds more in class and then removes some from the online list after you have already completed it, one only gives you assignments in class (works for me!) and the last one assigns online homework that has to be completed by midnight on Sunday.

Midnight. Sunday. Whatever happened to being able to stay up all night if you wanted and then just turn in your homework the next morning? No wonder the No-Doz company is reporting decreased sales.

I have in the last 10 days of school I've changed my method of tracking my homework at least 5 times. It might has been 6 but I recorded that method online and now cannot find it. I have tried writing out all the assignments in long hand, short hand, on the back of my hand and while watching Cool Hand Luke. I have set timers in the house to go off every 10 minutes so I can check what an instructor may have added or subtracted from her internet site of choice.

I have written them in notebooks, assignment books and address books. I have listed them on flash cards, greeting cards and now defunct library cards. But still I managed to turn in one assignment over 10 hours late, (she wrote "noon" and I read "midnight" because the other instructor said midnight that's why) and another incomplete when I accidently hit the "submit" button as I feel asleep my head crashing into the keyboard. Overall though it's a bit improved this week. Instead of lounging up in the trees swinging from a hammock like so many of my non-gray haired peers, I am doing my homework as it is assigned. Or trying to. I am staying later at school studying in the awesome --I can say awesome now, I'm a college student--library where the International Sciences Section on third floor has a very quiet and secluded group of tables. Last week I was rushing home so I could catch up with farm work. This week my farm work will have to wait until the weekend, when my husband will certainly need a break as he has been picking up all my farm chore slack.

So enough. It's time to summarize because I learned how to do that earlier today in CW 243
Homework is hard and so am I.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Thanks for Everything Aaron!

We lost Aaron the other day. No nothing tragic. Our part time hired hand just grew up and flew the nest. That's him in the picture above bringing in our cows for the last time. Bummer.

We hired him several years ago at the ripe young age of 13. At least I think it was 13 or was it 12? Maybe 14? Well, I know for certain he was a lot shorter then and not as strong but he was always willing.

Willing. Not a common descriptive word for many teenagers. He was indeed willing, and each day he came to work for us he was more and more able. Because our farm is small and for the last 5 years our only source of income, we could never afford to hire Aaron (or anyone else) full time.

Heck, we can't even afford us.

Aaron started with just a few hours once a week and by last summer he had the skills and once again the willingness to manage our entire farm for 7 whole days while we took our very first large family vacation together up in Michigan. Oh he had some help from his also very willing mom, she's another one of those get-dirty-work-hard-farm-types, but the main responsibility was on Aaron's shoulders and he--excuse me for this--shouldered it well. What a treat that was to not only get off the farm but to get out of the state! With the exception of a couple overnight trips it had been seven years since Keith had experienced a real vacation.

We so looked forward to Tuesdays when Aaron worked. While he milked cows and fed pigs I could catch up on the mundane paperwork part of this gig. Keith also had a helper for bigger projects, like fence building and hog relocations. It always seemed that on Tuesdays even though we were just 33% more in the way of help we got at least twice as much done as on the other days of the week.

But, time stands still for no (hired)man...and Aaron moved on to the greener pastures of something even wilder than our farm. He left for Montana Wilderness School of The Bible. He'll be gone a year and with us hopefully vacating these premises ourselves in a few short weeks, the timing really could not have been better. But still we are going to miss our hired help.

Even more than that...we are going to miss Aaron.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Show and Tell

We give tours.
But we do not charge for them.
Because then we'd be practicing "agritourism" and our farm insurance would go up.
So we give tours, we do not charge for those tours but we do accept donations from tour groups.

This group was here just a couple of days ago and what a fun gathering of future farmers they were. Members of Black Oaks Center for Sustainable Renewable Living, they traveled over two hours one way, most of them from Chicago, just to see what it is we do here.

Some days we ourselves have no idea what we're doing here but we do our best to muddle through anyway.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Farm Sale Update...closer and closer.

No blog for a week !  Not intentional just so much going on. After you've  read , if you still haven't decided you have better thing to do, I've supplied you with some current pics (taken just days ago) of The Poor Farm. For your review and of course comment.

Sale contracts have been written and revised by both parties and both attorneys.The next step, signatures. Of course as with all contracts there are contingencies. Like the sun must be shining on the day of closing and all Red Wattle pigs must pass inspection.

I'm certain the pigs will shine, no guarantees on the sun.

And so we are now seriously working on an "exclusion list." That would be a list of all the items NOT included in the sale. And I thought putting together the inventory list of items that were included in the sale was time consuming. HA!

Seems we must be clear about all the items not included in the sale. Critical items like tire swings, hay racks with broken floors, miles and miles of old electric wire, the horse who does nothing but eat too much anyway.  But really, I don't mind, anything for the cause, not to mention a successful farm sale.

It does now seem that this indeed is becoming reality and I am in a bit of a panic.

Frankly, Panic and I are old friends. She motivates me when she is not vexing me. Panic always rears her ugly head when stressors build. She wants me to flip out just because I start school full time  in 8 days, and because we must find some sort of shelter to live in the winter on The Poor Farm, which will require electric hookup and well inspections and hook ups. We must continue to can and freeze as much produce as possible, we must pack up 21 years worth of inventory and then decide what gets moved, what gets stored and where, and what gets used in the short term in the interim home (still not found) before we move it into the permanent home(still not built.) Panic...I laugh in your face. Ha ha ha ha.

All the above talk about a house is of course if we decide to build. Life in one big tent is looking better and better. The animals however are insisting on something more permanent. Which must be built NOW but not really now because there is no money until the farm sale is final. Then NOW will most likely not occur for at least another 30 days which brings us to fall and cooler weather and then frost and then snow.

Which means if we don't get the animal barn built soon and we don't find shelter for ourselves soon we'll all be holed up in my daughters tiny in town garage for a bit. But really, no worries, I'm not panicked.

That happens tomorrow.

And now the walk through The Poor Farm as promised.

Future Soap Shack? Chicken Coop?
Writers Retreat?


The Shed up Close.

Kitchen sink. Just $15 at the Restore
Out with the old and in with...
even older.

View towards the east. Small grove of
non-weeping willows. Happy willows?


Path going south.
Probable future pasture sight.

Look ! Another path. This one on south end
heading west.

And now the path weaves through our
wild flower patch,
aka the weeds.

I like to call this one
"Old post with Wire"
Reprints just $150 each

I call this one
"Old post with old wire and old gate"
Because it has more metal reprints are $151 each

Heading north along west side. Unknown flowers.
I'm sure they are very rare

Wooded spot on west side. Another ideal place for
a writers shed. Of course it would not be
permanent and therefore would not require
any kind of permit...
(just in case IDPH is snooping on my blog again.)

Old pig shed in middle of The Poor Farm.
Circa 1865.
I'm sure Lincoln slept there

Path through the wild grapevine
on the north side

Grapevine out of control

The Driveway.
Gravel donations will be accepted

The Midlife Farmwife wearing her
happy to maybe be moving soon face.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Midlife Farmwife Summer Apparel Warning Key

Example of Code Green Apparel

After a lovely July where temps only occasionally got above 80 and most every night was cool and perfect, we find ourselves heading into August.

I think the party is over. Today it was quite warm, nearly hot and with virtually no breeze this Midlife Farmwife found herself shedding clothes. In order to protect those with delicate eyes, weak constitutions and/or children I am presenting for the first time.

The Midlife Farmwife Summer Apparel Warning Key

     Code Green...All is well. Weather is perfect and Farmwife is appropriately dressed.
     Code Blue.....All is still well because it's cold outside. No way any skin is showing.
     Code Yellow...Caution ahead. Sun is heating up. Legs and arms might be bared.
     Code Orange...It's over 80. Shorts in place. Tank Top mandatory. Flapping arm tissue may
                             cause eye injuries. Keep your distance.
     Code Red.. It's over 90 degrees outside .Farmwife might only be dressed  in old lady swimsuit.                                   Large amounts of skin exposed Visitors should wear sunglasses
                             and/or blinders and will be required to sign liability waiver.
     Code Purple...It's over 100 degrees. MAY DAY...MAYDAY  Farmwife may not be dressed at all.
                            If she is it will be in paper napkins. As she could spontaneously combust it would
                            best to reschedule your farm visit for 2015.

From time to time when I am feeling charitable and wish to provide sufficient warning I will post this key here on my blog and perhaps even on Facebook. Be aware though, if I am really hot and crabby I may not give two cents about warning anybody (too busy taking my fourth shower of the day...outside... with the pigs.) It is best to are visiting our farm at your own risk.

Please once again refer to the above warning scale. I suggest you memorize it.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

If it's Not One Thing, It's an Udder.




The life of a cow here is pretty sweet. Lots of room to roam, plenty of lovely pasture, and you only have to show up to work twice a day for about 20 mins at a time. Yeah it's all fun and games until some clod steps on your privates.

And when they damage your sargeants and your generals as well then it's hardly worth getting yourself upright and into the parlor for a round of equally uncomfortable treatments but our cow Mindy was a trooper recently.

Keith noticed an odd occurrance when milking her yesterday. He put on the four inflations, one to each teat and then, big surprise, milk starts pouring out of the TOP of her teat. Hmmmm, that can't be good.

A quick call to our amazing vet Al Whitman in Piper City, Il and soon enough Mindy is taken care of and Keith and I are even more educated about the bovine we care for. We were offered the option of a referral to the large vet clinic at the University Of Illinois but we opted for Home Care. We knew once in a large vet setting our animal would be more stressed (it's about an hour from our home) and she most likely would be treated with antibiotics which would negate her organic status.

So we kept her here understanding she might not gain function of the teat but since the injury was not life threatening and her immune system strong we felt confident she would heal well on her own. Although originally we thought the injury may have been an accidental horn goring from one of our other cows, doc thought it looked more like a hoof injury. When Mindy was lying down some other big fat cow probably stepped on her upper teat.

For now we do not know if the injury was pre-planned or truly a case of one cow just getting into anothers personal space. The investigation continues but most of the girls are being quiet about the whole deal.

Suffice it to say, Mindy is the new cow in the milking herd group, just having had her first calf a few days ago and inappropriate herd hazing is a strong possibility. Please note the administration of South Pork Ranch does not condone this behavior but we cannot be everywhere all the time now can we?

 Mindy was a real trooper through it all.  She allowed, with no fuss at all, our vet to give her a sedative and a local to numb the area. After a little bit he then oh so delicately stitched closed the wound while our GK's watched and provide emotional support to the patient.

 Mindy "danced" a little but no kick, no struggle. Six stiches later she was allowed to rest and enjoy the remainder of her sedative. We did milk her that evening as letting the milk build up in that quarter would've caused her more pain and possibly mastitis. Her milk will be separated from the rest of the tank until she is better healed.

We were told there was only a 50/50 chance that the teat would function properly so we made the decision right then we would take Mindy with us when we move to the Poor Farm. Her possible new status as a "three titter," as my husband so classily referred to her, would work just fine to meet our future milk needs at our littler farm of the future. We have also come to admire her very calm nature, even when she is not sedated!

So ladies remember. Never jump up suddenly without checking first to see that some fat cow is not standing on your mammary system.