Our Thanksgiving weekend did not go as planned. Well, we didn’t really have too much planned, other than having some family visitors. But boy, oh boy, it turned out to be a roller coaster ride!
First off, we were contacted by a friend the weekend before saying that he was available to help us butcher our first cull cow. Since butchers are pretty much booked up these days, we had decided to do it all on the farm (the thought of which had me nervously biting my fingernails…. figuratively speaking) and had asked around to see if there were any knowledgeable folk who could help us out. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we would hang it and then the Saturday after he would bring the equipment and guide us through the steps of cutting it up. The cull cow was one we had dubbed “Curly Top”, underweight, small in stature and not gaining, also a loner in the herd, and unpolled (meaning, she had horns). None of her characteristics were inclining us to continue breeding her, so she had to go before winter. We didn’t want her to eat hay ($$$) and not be able to earn her keep, so to speak.
Needless to say, that was an adventure in itself, though our friend said that it was really “just a big deer.”. She thankfully went down with one shot, and Nathan used the tractor to bring her into the big garage we call the store house. He hung her up there from the rafters and the two of them skinned and gutted her right then in front of a captivated audience of small children. After all was said and done, the cow yielded 163 lbs of meat and probably 7- 10 gallons of rich, tasty, grass-fed broth, not to mention tallow, which can be used for frying, sauteing, candles (as in, stick it in a jar with a wick and you’re good to go), and soap- making.
Mmm – mmm. I will tell you I have never had a steak so delicious as the filet mignon I cooked up last weekend from our own cow. So tender! And then, the Vietnamese pho we made from the broth and one of the roasts was so good, we had to eat it two days in a row (well, that and the fact that I was too busy pressure canning the rest of the broth to cook anything else)!
Thanksgiving morning there was another surprise. Another friend contacted us asking if we wanted any baby pigs! A large pig operation nearby was getting rid of 12 piglets for free. We hadn’t been planning on starting pigs till next year perhaps, but here was a golden opportunity to try it out. So we said yes (and there went my fingernails again). What we didn’t realize though was how small they were, and that they really needed to be kept quite warm! We had originally thought of keeping them outside and Nathan had set up a pen for them in one of the fields, but that was NOT going to cut it. So, last minute, Nathan and his dad put together a setup in a box in the barn with a heat lamp to take care of that.
I think they are all female, and we really aren’t sure how old they are. But, dare I say, they are too cute when they sleep all piled on top of each other!
But it doesn’t stop there. The day after Thanksgiving, Nathan went out as he usually does every few days to give the cows another strip of pasture (we are strip grazing to manage the grass as best we can and make it last as far into the winter as possible). Then, I got a call from him. “We’ve got a new calf!!” His excitement was palpable through the phone.
“What?!?!” This was totally unexpected, as we had been told by the previous owner of the herd that calving might begin around January. I was not ready for this- so I broke out the cattle books to make sure we knew what was normal and what wasn’t as regards post-partum cows and their babies. I was especially concerned, because this calf was born to a cow whose only other calf had died same day, and we wanted to avoid that happening if at all possible. The calf turned out to be a female, and we named her Turkey in honor of the holiday.
The next day, though, Nathan called in from the pasture, and it wasn’t good news. “The calf is missing. I’ve been searching the pasture for 45 minutes and I can’t find her. Rouge is mooing, all upset.” Since he had to meet up with our butchering friend, the rest of us (consisting of two aunts, Grandpa, Tarsus, and myself) organized a search party while Grandma kept the youngest one busy in the house. We were out there looking for a while, with no success. I had just decided to bring Bosco out to help, in hopes the calf was hunkered down in the grass somewhere, when Grandpa called with the news.
Turkey had wandered past the strip grazing line and Momma Rouge couldn’t get to her, and we think Turkey couldn’t see through the (very) tall grass to find her way back. Maybe we weren’t giving the cows enough credit, but we didn’t want to take any chances, so we picked up the calf and brought her back over to Momma. She was definitely thirsty!
All that kept us busy all weekend- and we were so glad we had family to help, and free time to work on the farm. I can’t help but wonder if all these bountiful blessings have something to do with the St. Isidore novena we had been praying… One of the traditional times to pray it in the US begins nine days before Thanksgiving. (For those unfamiliar with the term, “novena” comes from the Latin “novem” or “nine” and refers to a set of prayers that are said for nine consecutive days, usually ending on a feast day).
P.S. More excitement!
Calf No. 2 appeared the day after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception- and it’s a male! Turkey was very interested in the newcomer, but Momma Gemmy wasn’t about to let the little curious calf near her baby just yet.