Sunday, June 30, 2013

It's a Boy!

That's right! Last night Jason went up to round up the cows at milking time and found that Bonnie had had her baby!  In all the excitement, the baby calf got spooked and ran into the woods.  Mama Cow didn't seem concerned at all and went with Jason to the dairy barn for her afternoon treat.

Cows are different in how they raise their babies.  Mama cow will tell the calf to lay down somewhere and then leave for a while to go and graze.  When baby calf lays down in the grass she is almost IMPOSSIBLE to spot.  I'm sure Bonnie had already had a spot where she had had her  baby lay down, and that the baby was going there, but WE didn't know where that spot was and it was getting dark.  We also wanted to lock the cows in the barn for the night, so we could keep a close watch on Bonnie (dairy cows can get a sickness called "milk fever" when their milk comes in that can kill them. It's treatable, but has to be caught early).  Bonnie didn't seem interested in showing us where that spot was either. (I have also heard a rumor that mothering instincts have been breed out of dairy cows.  Most dairies separate baby and mama pretty fast, and breed those cows who seemed to be most okay with that. So, we didn't know if Bonnie was going to step up to the plate to be a good mama, or if she cared more about her evening grain then her baby).

Everyone was searching for the calf. Jason's dad was in town and was covered in sweat as he meandered through the woods.  A neighbor's family came out and helped.  Jason says he wasn't worried about finding the calf but I was.  We didn't know how old the calf was (a few hours or a whole day?) and if he had nursed yet. We also  didn't know if it was a boy or a girl!  I was walking around with the kids and a flashlight and they were obviously done for the day. I wasn't, and I find that is one of the hardest things about being a farmer's wife. Wanting to be a part of what is going on, but knowing that my responsibility first is to the care of my children. So, I was pushing the kids a little bit, cause I couldn't go home knowing that there was a baby calf alone in the woods somewhere.  My daughter stopped whining eventually and started catching fireflies (which by the way are absolutely magical!).

I finally hear a "I found it!," from the neighbors teenage daughter and my heart leaped.  All the men on the search team were amazed cause they had searched that spot numerous times, but I was not surprised that a girl found the baby. :)  A man picked up the baby calf, and put him in the back of Jason's dad's truck and there we all gave the adorable baby calf a rub down and discovered that he was a boy.  We let the teenage girl who found him name him:  Levi.  And no, not Levi like the jeans, but the scriptural Levi.

So, we have a little baby boy and a little baby girl.  My four year old daughter is ecstatic because there is a girl calf for her and a boy calf for my toddler son.  Having a boy calf raises some questions though; what do you do with it?  Our most trusted mentor here told us to not raise him up for meat to sell because Jersey cows are very boney and at processing places, they measure a cow's hanging weight and thats what they charge you on.  With a Jersey cow, you are paying for bones.  But, we could raise him up for meat and process him ourselves?  Or we could sell the calf as humanely raised veal in a couple of months.  Jason says that some good shoes are made from calf leather.

Wich brings me to my last point of discussion.  We have been offered money for our baby girl calf and it took a lot of discernment on what to do.  Our cows will give birth to new calves every year or so, and we can't keep them ALL can we? But, as a nursing mother, I can't stand the thought of separating mama and baby so young.  It seems right and natural to raise up the calves to an older, more independent, weaned age before we sell them (if we do!).  We are really passionate about family milk cows, and decided that we want to raise up the girls to be family milk cows for other families.

An apostolate of milk cows.  The one cow revolution!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Adding color to our kids faces...

Jason, milking away. I love how he trusts Abigail now (and how Abigail trusts him!). At first, he would sit far back and reach his hands underneath her. Now his legs are all the way underneath her as he milks.
The view from above. Yes, there is a piece of hay in the milk. We are beginners here!

Our daughter right after she milked a teat for the first time!  She wants to raise the baby calf up to be HER milk cow that SHE milks.  Jason is wearing protective eye wear because our cow swishes her tail a lot to hit the flies, and sometimes (okay, a lot) she hits him in the face trying to get them.

See the fancy handwork?  Squeeze at the top first and then with each consecutive finger. Jason is holding the milk pail between his legs to protect it from Abigails movements.  She doesn't kick anymore (Praise the Lord!) but its fly season and so she steps back and forth and swings her tail frequently to protect herself from their bites!  We don't blame her!

I wanted to end this short post with a quote from Nourishing Traditions, written by Sally Fallon.  When I first got the book and started researching raw milk and how to make amazing things from it, this quote stood out.  (One of the great things about this cookbook is all the sidebars with interesting stories and facts). The below story strikes such a chord in our hearts, as THIS is what we want to be able to offer our children:

"(The Rosickys) had been at one accord not to hurry through life, not to be always skimping and saving.  They saw their neighbors buy more land and feed and more stock than they did, without discontent.  Once when the creamery agent came to the Rosickys to persuade them to sell him their cream, he told them how much the Fasslers, their nearest neighbors, had made on their cream last year. "Yes," said Mary, "and look at them Fassler children! Pale, pinched little things, they look liked skimmed milk. I'd rather put some colour into my children's faces than put money in the bank." - Willa Cather Neighbor Rosicky


the farmer's wife

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

I have to brag on my husband...

I have to  brag on my husband for a little bit.

When he was born, the doctor pulled him out by his arm because he "had to get to a football game."  This severed the nerves in his right arm and until he had surgery, couldn't lift his arm over his head.  To this day, his right arm is several inches shorter than his left and not as strong. My husband never let this be a disability though;  If there was something he couldn't do because of his arm, he would find another way to do it.

The other night while he was learning to milk our cow,  he looked up at me and said "I don't think my right hand can do this."  We were both sad, cause we wanted to hand milk our cows, but we accepted it.  That night he milked the cow with his left hand and we started searching for machine milkers.

The next milking Jason's one handed milking turned out to be a blessing.  The calf was in a playful mood and wouldn't stay beside us while Jason milked. This REALLY upset mama cow. He eventually had to hold the calf in his right arm and milk the cow with his left.

Before I tell the rest of the story I have to tell you my experience of milking.  It is really easy to milk with your dominate hand.  But, your non dominant hand is a different story. You  have to really think with each "pull" or else  you won't milk the teat right. You milk right, and then you milk wrong. Its very intellectually challenging!  Jason says that he can't "feel things" with his right hand, so I can't imagine the difficulty. 

Well the next milking, Jason looked at me with shining eyes and said "I'm feeling it this time." He sat down and milked over a gallon out of our cow with TWO HANDS!  Apparently, he had been practicing the movement with his right hand the day before in his spare time.

I was pretty impressed. And proud. But not surprised.

Here is a pic of some of our milk. See the amazing gold cream?  Def one the top reasons for having your own cow!  We are getting more cream everyday as we are learning how to milk the cow dry. Today, I was even able to step back and put the tail down.  Jason milked a cow by himself; and the cow didn't kick him! (We did only get a half gallon though.  The cow wouldn't let down one of her quarters, even after we nuzzled her calf up against them.  But that is farming. Always new challenges.)

love, the farmer's wife

Monday, June 17, 2013

"I can't do this... I'm about to be defeated..."

When I first started letting my heart venture towards the dream of farming, I did what any respectable millenial would do - I googled.

Catholic + farming + house + church

You know the routine.  I finally found one farmer with a pretty serious blog and what looked like "the real deal."  So I emailed him.  (There's an interesting "step" when you're doing this, when you stop googling and start emailing... that's how you know your getting closer to the jump - OR you're searching for a reason why you can't go.  You can.)  He emailed me back a very long, somewhat odd response.  But I remember one of the main things he insinuated is just because you think this sounds nice, doesn't mean you can do it, and then he asked, "Can you milk a cow at night that's trying to kick you?"

I remember thinking, "Maybe.  I'm not sure.  But I for damn sure not letting not knowing be the reason for not going." 

Over a year later I find myself on a farm.  I don't own the house, or the land, or the farm.  (We actually did officially start our farm, but that's another story).  But I do own the cows.  I bought them when I was almost out of money, and the pay from my other job a bit sporadic.  I could only do that because of the generosity of some dear friends.  I spent my last dollars on cows because I wanted the kind of security that is the most real.  I wanted my money to be invested in something that didn't mature with an interest rate, but with proper care and husbandry.  Dollars work because we all believe they do.  Cows work because they actually work.  They turn grass into meat, milk and more cows.  They also fertilize the garden, keep the grass trimmed, and give you a new cow every year.  They're fun too.  The excess whey and skimmed milk can even sustain some pigs (because no one in their right mind would drink pig food - skimmed milk).  Cows used to be the basis of every homestead, sometimes even before chickens (read the Little House books).

I've been getting ready for these cows to give birth since December when I bought them.  I've been nagging cowboys and dairymen all over the county to try and learn what to do.  There's no one else around that I know of that just has family cows, but many old farmers remember when everyone had a cow, so I pick their brains.  When it comes to the question, "How do you milk?" the most common answer is, "You'll figure it out."

Today, as we got closer to milking time (the second milking after a very tiny bit the first day), my wife and I grew anxious.  We knew what was coming was going to be hard.  You see, Abigail is a Heifer.  A Heifer is a first-time mom.  She's never been milked.  We've never milked.  She's bigger and stronger than both of us a couple times over.  We were nervous.  I even went out at the last minute to a dairy farm to pick up some utter balm that would assist with the let down.  I think I just wanted something else to be on my side.

We got her in the stanchion.  (A stanchion keeps their heads locked in one place, but not the whole body.)  We put her feed in.  Then I began to apply the utter balm.  She started kicking.  I had been kicked before, during the first milking.  When a cow starts kicking, you're on your toes.  If you're not on your toes she will be. 

My wife grabbed her tail and lifted it high.  When you turn a cows tail up straight, they can't kick, but they can still move.  And she moved.  She tossed her weight to the side, closing me in between a big hay bail and the fence, with my wife following as best as she could while holding that tail high (remember where my wife is standing for this...).  The protest continued complete with anger poops ("Oh, you want something from my backside huh?") and body thrusting back and forth.  Sometimes she got away from the wife and the kicking started again.  She even got down on all fours in protest.  It was intense.  We were panting before a drop of milk saw daylight. 

Then mama cow began to realize she could not see her calf.  So I went and picked the baby up and brought her close.  I think this brought some comfort.  But it didn't calm her.  I kept pushing her back, grunting and sweating.  She did the same back to me.  But she's bigger.  I looked at my wife and that's when I thought...

"I can't do this.  He was right.  I can't milk a cow that's trying to kick me.  I'm about to be defeated..."

I began thinking of what other men I can call to help wrestler her into submission.  I thought of the machines that people promise make the world easier.  I thought of all the things I needed besides just me and my wife. 

Then Katie looked at me and said, "If this were a toddler, we would not let her do whatever she wanted.  We would make her stay where we told her to stay."  My mined quickly scanned through Aquinas, passions, animals, intellect, lower appetites, will, virtue, perseverance, etc. (my other job keeps these things in the mind).  She was right.

I inwardly decided that we would just keep going.  We finally pushed her back into position, put the calf close to where she could see.  I reached under and started squeazing.  She let me.  Or she had given up.  Either way, we began.

And this is hard to describe, the milking that is.  It's not just squeezing or pulling, its a very fine wave of the fingers with a slight downward motion (not a pull) that compells the milk forth.  When you're learning, you'll get one goot squirt and it really feels good, but he next one your rythm is off and you get nothing. But, as I was figuring that I out a realized that we were milking a cow.  I say "we" because Katie was there holding that tail high.

It took almost an hour to get all the milk, and it was only a half gallon.  But it is a beautiful sight in the fridge.  I could milk a cow.  I did milk a cow.  I do have what it takes.

As we kept milking, I had my head leaning on the cow, and every so often I would look up at my wife.  She was sweating profusely with drops running down her face.  I forgot to mention that she had a baby strapped on her back this whole time.  She's amazing.  Then I would look down at the milk.  This was so much work to get to, and there it was in that shiny new bucket.  This is what we're doing here.  Without her, I would have been defeated.  We men are torn away from our homes and wives by the modern ordering of things.  We think they need our strength more - I think we need theirs. 

So yeah, we milked a cow.  I can't wait for my coffee tomorrow...

We have a baby! -from the Wife

No one tells you the joy and pride you feel when your heifer has a baby:

You want to tell everybody, jump up and down and shout to the world:  "Our heifer had her baby! She is so beautiful; her eyes are so delicate.  Her Mommy is doing such a good job taking care of her. She is nursing like a pro..." and then you look up and feel shocked to see total boredom in people's eyes.  What?...not everyone is as excited as we are?  What? Our baby cow's picture ONLY got 20 likes on facebook? What?!?! This doesn't make any sense!  Didn't they see her picture?  Didn't they see how cute she is?  We live and breath our cows around here, and sometimes I forget that not everyone lives that way.  If you are reading this, I'm assuming you will join in our excitement!

We are like first time parents.  We check on the baby every hour or so and Jason even slept in the Van last night RIGHT next to the barn so he could keep on checking on her throughout the night.  We are reading constantly and googling our calf questions on the internet.  We feel a big responsibility to take care of Mama and baby well; and sometimes it feels overwhelming because we know so little.  But, we love it.  We WANT to do things right and we WANT to do the work that it takes to keep them healthy.  We are EXHAUSTED, (prob just as much as first time parents!) and didn't sleep last night. But, we had fresh milk for our extra strength coffee this morning. 

That's right! We milked her!  It involved a lot of kicking, Jason asking me to come hold the cow's tail (it keeps her from kicking), our kids screaming from the stroller (cause I had woken them up to come hold the cow's tail), and brave Jason reaching up under a frustrated cow to squeeze her teats.  After we got about two cups of milk, we were both sweaty and exhausted.  Talk about teamwork!  Jason and I love working side by side. This is our dream: to farm, to have a family milk cow, to (maybe one day) have our own dairy. 

More to come later and I'm sure Jason will weigh in on what its been like for him. He looks like he's been hit by a truck, but I think I like this look even more than him being all cleaned up. There is something about seeing your man work his ass off for a family dream, and then come in and take you in his arms....

Enjoy the pics!

The Farmer's Wife

It's a girl! See her little teats?!?!

The Stanchion Jason built for our girls. (They aren't locked in, but you see how it works).

Friday, June 14, 2013

"There Was a Boy Went Forth"

Riding four wheelers...

Jumping off hay bales in the dairy barn...

Babies in slings while doing cow chores...

"These became part of that child who went forth every day, 
and who now goes, and will always go forth every day."
-Walt Whitman, There Was a Child Went Forth

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Short Update from the Wife

When my husband started this blog, he wanted it to be full of quick updates and tips on moving to the land.  What I think he forgot is that trying to live off of the land, (while having a full time job and a full time family), can take up a lot of time!  We do a lot of chores as a family, which makes for good quality time, but is not very efficient.  Stops to take kids potty, get them water, etc, can double the time it takes to do a regular chore. But its worth it and the kids love playing while their Papa looks on from his bee suit, pulling weeds in the garden, or from building a stanchion for our cows.

They just ADORE their Papa!

Exciting farm news:  we are finally going to start our own farm!  While taking care of the bees and other farm chores are part of living on someone else's farm, the vegetable garden is ours, as well the profits we make from it.  We are toying around with the name "Little Way Farm," what do you think?  Today we are harvesting lots and lots of lettuce (we have three beds full!) to take to market where our lettuce has been chosen to be used in a salad testing. 

Our cows are due any day now!  Their udders are FULL of milk and one of our cows leaks all day.  We wake up each  morning running to see if she has given birth yet.  All the milking supplies (the hand pail, the teat dip, glass jars, etc) have been bought and the stantion is 80% done.  We have been training the girls in it every morning and they love all the treats they are getting! I can't wait to have fresh milk for the kids and fresh cream for my coffee.  We just LOVE our cows. And the bees, we are pretty partial to them as well.

Last but not least is a family pic (except for the baby) that someone took on a recent trip we took.  Praised be Jesus Christ, now and Forever!

Love, the farmer's wife