Farm Tour Rescheduled; Sale Extended

Due to the weather forecast of all-day thunderstorms, we need to reschedule our farm tour. The format will be much the same, but we’ll meet on Saturday, July 24th in the evening instead. The animals should be much more active this time of day, vs the middle of the afternoon, when they are hunkering down away from the heat.
RSVP on Eventbrite
(We’re also extending our stock-up sale; see below.)

This event will be picnic style, so please bring a blanket or chairs as you may need! With good weather the plan is to be on the lawn, and there is a great indoor venue (large, clean pole barn with good lighting and concrete floor) which we are welcome to congregate in weather permitting.

What better way to build community than over a good meal? Bring a “WAPF-friendly,” dish (prepared using natural/traditional ingredients and methods, i.e. no grain-fed beef, artificial colors, GMOs or soy etc, but rather fermented foods, sourdough bread, organ meats and pastured chicken, foraged salad, etc.) If you’d rather just bring your own food though, that’s fine too.

Families are welcome and encouraged! Let your children know where their food comes from. Be aware that this is a working farm, so bring appropriate footwear if you want to come along on the farm tour.

We will have pastured eggs and frozen chickens available for purchase. I’m hoping to have fresh chicken available too, but that will depend on weather and rate of weight gain for the birds between now and then.

EVENT TIMELINE:
5:00 – 6:00 – Meal and Fellowship
6:00 – 8:00 – Chicken Butchering Demonstration followed by Farm Tour

Driving Directions:10658 N Stephens Ln E, Sunman, IN 47041We are located behind the American Legion in Sunman. Take Stephens Ln down past the Legion and across the railroad tracks where it will dead-end into our driveway.

Stock-Up Sale Extended*
(Cornish Cross Chicken Standard Price – $5/lb, Average 4-5 lb Weight)
Stock up your freezer!
5 Chickens – $4.50/lb
10 Chickens – $4.50/lb + free heritage bird ($27 value)
See our poultry page for additional options like organ meats and feet.

You can pick up at the farm by appointment, or consider coming to our free Farm Tour and Chicken Butchering Demonstration on July 11.

* Offer good through 7/24/21

Bulk Chicken Sale, and Meet your Meat Chickens

[Scroll to bottom for SALE details if you don’t want to “Meet your meat birds”.]

“Did these chickens lay those eggs?” A passerby points to a 3 week-old meat bird which a small child is playing with at our booth. It’s Saturday morning at the farmers’ market, and I welcome the question with a smile. It wasn’t too many years ago that I wouldn’t have known the difference, either! We field a regular stream of such questions, but I’m delighted to talk about my birds to anyone who wants to understand where their food comes from. I then proceed in my explanation that the modern chicken industry has meat birds and layer birds, and ne’er the twain shall meet.

As far as grocery stores are concerned, there is only one kind of chicken: the Cornish Cross, but such was not always the case.

Traditionally, dual-purpose breeds such as the Rhode Island Red were highly valued. The females (pullets) were kept for laying eggs, and the males (cockerels) were fattened up for meat. Eggs were served year-round, and chicken meat was a seasonal treat.

Fast-forward to the 1950’s. Selected strains of Cornish chickens were cross-bred with selected White Rocks. The result was the cheap, modern chicken that we have all come to love for its economic qualities, but despise for its lack of flavor. It’s a terminal cross breed (can’t reproduce), grows crazy fast, touts superb feed-to-weight conversion, and looks and acts nothing like a chicken. Chicken meat could suddenly be raised in less than half the time on half the feed as previously. Entrepreneurs soon discovered that they could cram thousands of birds in long barns like sardines, give them unlimited access to food and water, and send them for processing at only 7-8 weeks old. This, unfortunately, is the only kind of chicken that most Americans have ever eaten in their lives.

So let’s review our chicken grades. We’ll look at Conventional, Pastured, and Fence-Free Heritage.

Conventional

Cornish Cross birds are packed in long barns like sardines. They stuff themselves full of grain under artificial lights, and can barely walk by the time they are butchered. Each bird is allowed 96 in2, the size of a piece of standard paper. And those “organic” birds you may have seen at the store? Yeah, they’re raised the same way, just with organic feed. Bland meat, but dirt cheap (Americans value cheap, convenient food).

Pastured

These are typically Cornish Cross as well, though you will occasionally find someone raising Freedom Rangers. The Freedom Rangers forage a little better than the Cornish Crosses, but not a whole lot. Birds are moved regularly, so that they are always on fresh grass; they eat some plants and bugs, and live outside. Most operations raise them in tight, 12×10, 2-ft high cages, or something similar. We prefer to put electric netting around them instead, as it gives them more space. They take a bit longer to reach butcher weight (8-9 weeks) due to burning calories from exercise and coping with the elements. Taste, texture, and nutrition are far superior to conventional.

Heritage

Remember those dual-purpose breeds we talked about? Very few producers raise them for meat, but we raise small batches for ourselves and for anyone else who values them as we do. They are fence-free all day and closed up in the barn coop at night for protection. These are true chickens. Losses from predators are much higher. They take 17 weeks to reach butcher weight (instead of 8), and consume at least double the feed to do it. Why raise them then? Truth be told, most Americans living today don’t know what a real chicken tastes like. Roasted slow and low, the flavor is unparalleled – these are the kind of chickens your great-grandmother made. The birds live naturally healthier, happier lives. Most importantly, these birds are true foragers, spending the majority of their day hunting for bugs and plants. You also benefit from the higher vitamin content this naturally produces. Ask us if you’d like to taste a delicious piece of history!

Questions to ask your Farmer…

  • Do you rotate your birds on fresh grass?
  • Is your feed non-GMO?
  • Is your feed soy-free? (Yes, soy DOES come through in meat and eggs.)

We only raise Pastured and Fence-Free birds. While we do raise Cornish Cross, I would prefer to only raise heritage birds, and that is something which we may gradually transition towards. Help us celebrate healthy chicken meat, and stock up for the summer with this sale!


Stock-Up Sale*

(Cornish Cross Chicken Standard Price – $5/lb, Average 4-5 lb Weight)

Stock up your freezer!

  • 5 Chickens – $4.50/lb
  • 10 Chickens – $4.50/lb + free heritage bird ($27 value)
  • See our poultry page for additional options like organ meats and feet.

You can pick up at the farm by appointment, or consider coming to our free Farm Tour and Chicken Butchering Demonstration on July 11 (see separate email or message us for details.)

* Offer good through 7/11/21

Just the Headlines

There’s never a dull moment on the farm… which translates to “there’s so much happening to keep us busy, we have no time to write about it all!” And so, here are the headlines from the past few months. Each of these truly deserves its own post, but I must be content to catch you up with just the tidbits!

Sundance Farm Acquires 7 American Guinea Hogs

Jan 31, 2021- These are in addition to the three Yorkshire piglets we were given around Thanksgiving. They are good at foraging, and so should do well on pasture. One died in February from pneumonia, but we “hospitalized” (in the heated garage) and saved three others who also contracted the disease. YES! *fist pump*

200 Baby Chicks Arrive and Die Like Flies

Feb 2021- Not quite as dire as it sounds, but despite all our heroic efforts to feed several sick chicks with an eyedropper of electrolyte solution, we lost 40 of our new Whiting birds. A pile of little dead chicks is a terribly depressing sight. The survivors are now laying beautiful green and blue eggs, though!

24 Out of 25 Turkey Poults Survive

February 2021 – If you ever learn about turkeys as we have, you will know just how miraculous that headline is! Baby turkeys are incredibly cute, but terribly stupid. They are so curious, they would walk right into a fox’s mouth just to see what was in there. They also can’t seem to figure out where their food is, or how to get water, or how to get away from the heat lamp if they are too warm. No sense of self preservation at all! And yet, they survive… This was our trial batch – the next batch, which will be ready for Thanksgiving – just arrived!

Turkeys are a -growin’!

4 Out of 6 Eggs Hatch in Incubation Experiment

March 2021 – We tried out a Christmas present from Grandma – an egg incubator! And of course the first chick hatched while she was here. 🙂 In a subsequent trial of 30 eggs, only four hatched as well. However, a homeschooling friend also hatched some of our eggs, and out of twelve eggs, 9 peppy little chicks popped out! It is such a fun thing to do, I highly recommend it!

Flock of Hair Sheep Added to the Farm

March 2021 – Aah, the irresistible draw of livestock for sale on Craiglist! Well, Nathan drove down to Kentucky and came back with 13 ewes/ lambs to add to our 2 rams from December (we did mention that we traded processed and frozen chickens for two Katahdin rams somewhere on the blog, right?). These are meat sheep, and they do not need shearing. Since that time, 4 lambs have been born here, and they are the SWEETEST animal I have EVER seen.

Local Beekeeper Sets Hives on Sundance Farm

March 2021 – After meeting at a local Weston Price chapter, Nathan agreed to let a local beekeeper bring some hives to the farm. It’s delightful to know we are helping the bee population, and we have a kind new friend, Jim, to tell us all about them, too!

Greenhorns Steer Two Bulls Flawlessly

March 2021 – Nathan and I teamed up, prepped meticulously, and castrated (by banding) two of our year-old bulls all by ourselves (after the vet appointment fell through twice). God spoiled us by letting it all go swimmingly. 🙂

Enormous Grain Bin and Eggmobile Projects Completed

April 2021 – Nathan, with much needed help from his amazing Dad and brothers, built a huge grain bin in an oversized lean-to next to the barn to keep all of our organic, non- GMO peas, oats, and corn safe and dry. He now mixes and grinds all our own feed fresh daily. Did we mention our animals are a little spoiled here? The Eggmobile is a large chicken coop built on wheels (an old trailer frame, actually) that now houses 230 egg laying chickens. Inside are roll away nesting boxes that are kept quite busy with the occupants of the coop; but when not laying, the birds spend most of their time outside in the field snatching up bugs, taking dust baths, eating grass, and occasionally (ok, pretty regularly now) taking jaunts over the portable fence to find even MORE forage to eat. They all come back in at night, though, before the door closes to keep them safe from predators.

600 lb Pig Arrives at Farm

April 2021- A 600 lb Red Wattle Hog was given to us by a friend who (due to work travel) was no longer able to raise them. Emma (as we named her) is now quite happy out on pasture with our sole surviving Yorkshire pig, Dumbo (male).

Sheep, Cattle, and Dogs Escape! All on the Same Day!

The kids have dubbed the herd “the lawn mooo-er”

April 2021 – In a multifaceted display of poor judgement, I attempted to move the sheep, untrained on electric fences, into an area solely bounded by portable electric wire fencing. Almost simultaneously, Nathan was moving the cattle into a new area, whose only boundary was also portable electric wire fencing (which apparently wasn’t all the way up?). In any case, the sheep were wandering all over the property, the cattle were all but stampeding down the driveway, and nothing but prayer saved the day. But -where were the ….dogs? In all the excitement, we left that gate open over there!! Gone. They were gone. No idea where they went…. And so I began the drive to find them. Thankfully, they’d only gone a few properties over, but in this country, that’s a LOT of running through fields to get them back to where they belonged!

Mink Makes Sorties into Turkey/ Chicken Field Coop

April 2021 – After making it through the perilous first month, several of the turkeys and a few chickens lost their lives to what we believe to be a mink. After an unsuccessful attempt at an offensive move with traps (and losing more birds), we retreated the poultry back to a field closer to the barn, where the mink apparently find the dogs too intimidating to venture near.

Mink tend to make a small incision and drink the blood of their prey, often leaving the rest of the meat behind.

5 ft Long Rattlesnake Sighted – Suspected Chicken Killer

May 24, 2021 – Nathan sighted a very large, mature timber rattlesnake while caring for the egg layers one morning. “Do we have rattlesnakes in this area?” came the question over radio. “This thing definitely rattled at me!” This sighting came just a day after a Whiting was found dead in the Eggmobile of unknown causes, with only a little fluid and some swelling at the breast. Apparently, Timber rattlesnakes are quite rare to see in the wild, and we haven’t seen ours since.

Rosie Found to be with Pups!

May 2021 – Early in May, Rosie experienced her first heat. As responsible breeders, we duly seperated the dogs and kept Rosie in her own roomy stall. However, Great Pyrenees are the Houdinis of the dog world. She escaped that stall several times, though we thought we secured it better every time. We tried another stall, but she CHEWED THROUGH THE WALL to get to the other side to Bosco. We patched that up too. Finally, we chained her to a tree during the day and brought her back to the stall at night, which seemed to work – until it didn’t. And so here we are, with a “teen puppy mom”, due around July 12th.

Calf Breaks Through Fence While Farmer is at Church

June 2021- One weekend, when Nathan and I happened to go to different Masses, I came home to find our oldest calf, Turkey, munching away on the grass – outside the area designated by the portable electric fence. Apparently, the fence wasn’t on, and she walked right through it. Thankfully, she was quite content and I was able to herd her back in to the pasture myself with little fanfare. Again, prayer saves the day!

Water Pump Goes on the Fritz

June 2021 – We had a few weeks of spotty water availability due to our 25+ year old well pump deciding it was time to retire. What a way to find out how dependant we are on not only electricity, but water! When the pump was working, we filled the animals’ waters, sometimes going without washing dishes or taking baths/showers ourselves to keep them alive until we could hire someone to help replace the pump. It took longer than expected, since all the plumbing and well folks were busy working to fix up homes that were swamped due to some flash flooding we had. A huge thunderstorm brought six inches of rain in two hours, along with a tornado threatening to make an appearance!

Two Stocker Cattle Arrive

June 17, 2021 – Craigslist livestock – so hard to say ‘no’ to a good deal! Nathan drove down to Kentucky for these 15 month old Aberdeen/Hereford crosses, only to discover they had pinkeye. After chasing them all over the place to load them up (one of them injuring his leg in the process, and the other breaking out and running down the road at one point in time), the seller gave us $100 off the asking price of each and a basketful of succulent vegetables from his garden. Pinkeye in cattle is no joke (can cause blindness) and treatment is labor intensive. Add to that the regular care of the leg wound (rinsing, squeezing out pus, disinfecting, and wrapping) of the one which is ongoing, I’m not quite sure it was worth it.

Sheep Lost to Complications Due to Bloat

June 27, 2021 – A young female sheep was found to have bloat. There is a 25% chance of survival of this condition in sheep. Treatment involves getting a solution of baking soda, water and oil into the rumen – no easy task! After tubing her the first day, she seemed better, but the next day she was blown up like a balloon again. The second attempt at tubing caused her so much distress, we had to euthanize her.

Hog Lost Due to Heat

June 28th, 2021 – An American Guinea Hog (male) was found dead in the wallow; possibly due to over-drinking water during a heat wave. The others appear to be doing well, including the females, which are bred and expecting in October.

Lighting Storm Kills 13 Cornish Cross Chickens (and 3 Squash Plants)

June 29th, 2021 – Thirteen of our meat birds were found dead after lightning struck near their shelter in the pasture. Were they killed by the bolt, or did they die of fright? We’ll never know… The squash plants all just kind of looked… badly singed. We concluded that it must have been a lightning bolt, as we saw one touch down near the garden, and all the other plants were unharmed. Who knew?

Well, that’s about two-thirds of the events that have us running morning til night- I left out the rather uninteresting ones, like planting the garden, going to the farmer’s markets for the first time, the dogs chasing (and sometimes eating) the poultry, and the chicken butchering every week or two. Thanks for reading, and keep us in your prayers as we continue on this crazy ride! It’s a lot of work, but SO much fun!

The “Why and How” of Pastured Eggs

One of my favorite moments during the morning farm chores are the 30 seconds when I open up our chicken coop in the morning. Our pastured layer hens never seem to lack enthusiasm for the first moments of their day. Regardless of how I felt when I got out of bed, they are ALWAYS ready to carpe diem!

“So tell me then: if it’s so smart, then why doesn’t everyone do it? The physical labor and omnipresent risk unfortunately prove too onerous for most profit-centered operations.”

When I tell people about how we produce our pastured eggs, most everyone wisely nod their heads, drop jaws in amazement, and offer such comments as “Wow!”, “That’s so smart!”, and “You even fertilize your pasture at the same time!”. So tell me then: if it’s so smart, then why don’t all egg producers do it? The physical labor and omnipresent risk of loss unfortunately prove too onerous for most profit-centered operations. We, however, are not profit-centered. We do it because it is better for the birds, produces better eggs, and is better for our customers’ health. Just how much better though? Read on…

The “WHY?”

Just how do pastured eggs stack up against the competition? First, let’s get some terminology out of the way…

Conventional Eggs – The bottom of the barrel. Chickens are in individual cages where they have enough room to stand and sit. They eat GMO feed covered with Roundup.

Cage Free – Not much better. Chickens live in overcrowded hen houses, but don’t have individual cages

Free-Range – A marketing ploy. Birds have access to an area outside, but their food and water is inside, and many of them never make it outside at all. Small, backyard flocks are a little better with their dirt runs, but they still don’t usually get many bugs or plants.

Organic – Finally, a half-step above the others. Birds aren’t fed Roundup or GMOs (all the aforementioned are), but most organically raised birds never even saw the sun, not to mention a blade of grass.

Farm-Raised – Just about all birds are raised on farms. [Crickets chirp…]

Pastured – Birds are rotated regularly on green (weather permitting, of course). pasture. ROTATION IS CRITICAL unless you only have a dozen or so birds, because the hens will only venture so far from their coop. Their diet is completely different than that of the other categories. They eat plenty of plants and bugs, and they produces an egg with a completely different nutritional profile.

Pictures say a thousand words…

Pastured Hens

These birds live outside. They have fresh air, and fresh, wild food. They eat non-GMO, soy- free feed to supplement their natural diet. The birds are healthier, happier, and produce better eggs. This last picture is of our own birds just two weeks ago.

And now, let’s look at some facts. Just how are much better are pastured eggs? According to one study…

  • 400% more Vitamin D
  • 33% less cholesterol
  • 25% less saturated fat
  • 66% more vitamin A
  • 200% more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 300% more vitamin E
  • 700% more beta carotene
  • 50% more folic acid
  • 70% higher B12

Wow! I could barely believe some of these numbers myself (some other studies found even higher numbers)! If you think about it though, it really does make sense. Isn’t this what we would expect based on how the birds are raised?

The “How…”

Our typical day consists of rolling out of bed, a quick Te Deum, and then booting up to head outside and move our pastured layer hens before the kids wake up. (Well, actually, we often have a little passenger or two tagging along.) I load up the old Suburban with a couple buckets of non-GMO feed, freshly ground and mixed on the farm either that morning or the day before, and head off garbage-man style on the running board while Natalie drives across the pasture.

Setting up the Eggmobile for the day

The first order of business is to pull up the 328 ft of temporary fencing surrounding the egg mobile (nicknamed the “Silver Starling”). We hitch up the eggmobile to the Suburban, tow it to a fresh spot of pasture, and I proceed to re-erect all the fencing while Natalie refills the water buckets from the nearest yard hydrant. Feeders are refilled from those 5 gal feed buckets we thoughtfully packed along in the Suburban trunk. Then 1…2…3…we open the back door of the eggmobile and share in the birds’ excitement as they rocket out of the coop to hunt for clover and worms.

It’s easy to forget the last part though: we had closed up the nesting boxes the day before to prevent birds roosting in them at night, so we must quickly duck inside the eggmobile and open them back up before Natalie heads back to the house and I continue on with the other outside chores. We trek out again in the afternoon (on foot) to collect eggs, close up nesting boxes, and check waters, and then once more at the end of the day to shut the coop up for the night. Next day…repeat.

Contrast this with heading out to the backyard enclosed coop, pulling a string to open the coop door, dumping some stale, Roundup-covered feed from Tractor Supply (but hey, it was cheap…) in a stationary trough somewhere in the dirt run, and heading back inside. It’s even less work to care for birds in a factory farm where food and water are automated and eggs are carried away on conveyor belts. In a world where consumers want cheap, convenient food, however, these kind of products fly off the shelves. Nutrition becomes secondary to keeping your business in the black. Not on our farm though; I would rather fail and lose it all than sacrifice the convictions upon which our farm is founded.

Please share these facts with your loved ones. Encourage them to ditch the cheap eggs (and bottled dietary supplements with them!) and to buy real, nutritious food like pastured eggs from local, regenerative farmers instead.

Thank you for taking charge of your nutrition and supporting local farms!

References

2007 Mother Earth News Egg Testing Project

Vitamin D in Pastured Eggs

Chicken Superfood! (Livers and Gizzards)

No, we don’t get super powers by eating chicken, but perhaps we can still be superheroes in the way we treat our bodies.

Healthline.com touts liver as one of the healthiest foods on the planet. It’s up there with kale, but perhaps better because the nutrients are more easily absorbed. Although modern Western diets prize muscle meat, modern science has proven what traditional cultures knew all along: organ meats (such as livers, gizzards, and hearts) are far superior in vitamin and mineral content. Muscle meat provides plenty of protein, but one serving of chicken liver will also provide 75% DV of Vitamin A and 79% DV of B12 (which at least 40% of Americans are deficient in,) along with significant amounts of Selenium and Iron. What’s not to like?

But liver…? Many people assume that they’re not supposed to like it, just because it’s liver. Don’t tell my kids that though. They kept asking for more liver pate, spread on homemade sourdough bread and topped with a Romaine leaf, while we set up for the farmers market last weekend. That was their breakfast, and they didn’t seem to mind it one bit. Like most foods, it’s all about the preparation.

Gizzards likewise pack impressive amounts of Niacin and B12, along with Iron, Phosphorus, Zinc, and Selenium. We’ve experimented preparing them a couple ways, but our new favorite can pass for Italian Sausage.

Before I dive into recipes, though, keep in mind that not all liver or organ meats are created equal. I’m not really keen on devouring chicken livers from factory-farmed birds raised in cages, fed glyphosate-contaminated GMOs and antibiotics, and which never saw the light of day. Our chicken livers come from birds rotated on lush pastures, fed non-GMO feed freshly ground on the farm, and enriched with a healthy dose of fish meal. Enough said. Here are some of our favorite recipes.

Quick Weeknight Herbed Liver

  • 1/2 lb chicken liver
  • 1 tsp (or to taste) Herbs de Provence
  • Butter or oil of choice
  • Salt 
  1. Heat butter/oil in pan over med-hi heat.
  2. Add livers and Herbs de Provence, and saute until slightly firm, turning occasionally (approx. 5-7 minutes). Centers should be pink and smooth in texture. If overcooked, the centers become grainy (but still edible!)
  3. Salt to taste.

What do you do with leftovers? Throw the leftover liver into a food processor with some mayo, and voila! You have a delicious liver spread for wraps or sandwiches!

Liver & Onions

Liver and onions are just made for each other. We have found this recipe to be irresistible.https://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipe/mama-elsa-s-chicken-liver-spread (The picture above is from a batch of livers my wife cooked up a week ago. We ate them for dinner as pictured, and then ground up the leftovers for a pate.)

Italian Sausage Gizzards

This is our own recipe, and a new family favorite!

  • 1.5 lb Pastured Chicken Gizzards (cleaned and trimmed)
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne (omit or reduce for milder)
  • 2 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1.5 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3 Tbsp fat/oil of choice (could use tallow, lard, coconut oil, bacon grease, or butter)
  1. Chop gizzards finely in food processor and mix with cayenne, marjoram, salt, and red wine vinegar
  2. Heat fat in skillet and toast fennel seeds until browned
  3. Add sausage mix and brown as you would ground beef

(Optional Serving Suggestion) Potato Salad – Dice and boil 4 lb red potatoes, drain, and rinse in cold water. Dice 2 Roma tomatoes and 1 green bell pepper, mix with 3 Tbsp olive oil and 2 tsp dried parsley. Add potatoes and browned sausage, top with baby beet greens and/or baby arugula, salt to taste, toss, and serve.

Let us know how you like to prepare YOUR chicken livers and gizzards!

A Tale of Two Calves

(Continued from ‘A Calf in the Bath?’ My apologies for leaving you hanging so long!)

So, why did we lose Billy, our calf? We didn’t find out the reasons until we almost lost Spright as well. She was a big heifer calf, and full of energy right from the moment she hit the ground. But after one night in the cold, she didn’t look like she was suckling too well, either, and was beginning to shiver. Her mama had teats that were too large, so she wasn’t able to latch and get enough milk to keep her warm most likely.

Up we brought her into the barn (where it was warmer) and fed her some colostrum replacer. She took to the bottle really well, and got two quarts down right away. But the next time we checked on her, far from being refreshed, she was exhibiting the the same symptoms Billy had! She had the same funny pant, the same bloody stool, the same lethargy, and the same normal temperature. Now, this was a very healthy calf at birth, and had not been chilled. And now we were seeing the same symptoms?

The symptoms were consistent with a cow disorder I had read of called bloat. Bloat is a condition where the cow’s body produces too much gas in the digestive system (due to a variety of reasons) and the rumen (the first of the cow’s 4 stomachs) expands , crowding out the space for the lungs. This causes the panting, and if not treated quickly, bloat can cause death by suffocation. To the best of my knowledge, bloat occurs in cows usually when they have been suddenly changed from a low-quality diet to a rich one, for example going from hay to a field full of alfalfa or clover. It is also common in grain-fed cattle, which ours are not fed grain at all. But I had never heard of it in calves before.

The only common denominator between the two calves was the milk replacer we had fed them. After doing a lot of research, I came across some articles that reported that some milk replacers have been indicated in the deaths of dairy calves, who were feeding on it solely. And my suspicions were further heightened when I later read that goats cannot handle any soy-based milk replacers when they are newborns. Ours was a soy-based milk replacer, and it obviously seriously harmed the calves internally. Perhaps calves can’t handle soy – based milk replacer either? I don’t know for sure, but it sure is going to a long time before we try that again on any of our livestock.

So what happened to Spright?

Well, we did all we could to remedy her situation. We switched her to raw milk that a wonderful friend with dairy cow provided to us. We gave her some penicillin G, to help kill off any extra bacteria in her GI tract that might be proliferating and producing more gas, and we gave her a vitamin supplements. The next day she remained curled up in the barn in one spot all day. The day after that she was still very sluggish, and we continue to give her the vitamins and bottle feeding her raw milk. Soon she was able to nurse from one teat! Oh, I can’t tell you the jubilation I felt when I saw her suckle on it for the first time! Not that I didn’t enjoy bottle feeding her, of course. I went and bought 30 gallons of milk from Aldi and continue to give her 4 quarts a day to supplement whatever she could manage to get from her mama.

For the next few days she still stayed in the barn, even though she had access to the outside and her mother was consistently trying to get her to follow her out. One day, I found she had ventured out and found a snug little place under the hay that we had provided for the other cows to eat over winter. Because of the bottle feeding, she would come out and moo when we called her! It was so cute; such a special time. Finally, on February 6th about a week after she was born, she found and latched onto a second teat, and her bottle feeding decreased. Gradually she began to refuse the bottle, and instead went back to her mama for milk (I also saw her sneaking milk from another cow, as well).

Spright snuggled in the hay

Since then, we have had two more calves, Halfpenny, a heifer, and Dudley, a bull. Dudley’s dam also had the same udder issue as Spright’s dam (the two cows are related) and so I bottle fed him some; but now he’s figured out a couple teats and no longer needs the supplement. That’s a total of six out of 7 calves for this year, and it’s been an adventure (as always…).

Penny and her calf, Halfpenny
Jerky checking out the new bull calf, Dudley

Stay tuned… Spring has sprung, and the projects are rolling out as fast as we can manage them!

A Calf in the Bath?

It’s calving time! Winter is not the season we would have chosen to have our cows give birth. Things can happen which necessitate interventions such as… putting a newborn calf in your bathtub. Here’s the story of little Billy the calf, and how the Calvinos took a crash course in one kind of calving emergency.

Friday, January 29:

Nathan comes in as I’m getting the kids ready for morning Mass, and reports he won’t be able to come with us. “Stone had her calf,” he said “I’m going to stick around to make sure it nurses.” At almost 8 am, it was only 10 degrees – and windy.

Fast forward an hour or so. Nathan pops in again. “Something’s not right. The calf hasn’t even tried to stand. I’m going to bring it into the [heated] garage.” I grabbed some towels to give him to help dry the calf off, and started an internet search. When you don’t know what to do, look for someone who does!

A warm water bath was recommended in multiple articles as the quickest way to warm a chilled calf, but the recommendation was accompanied by a warning: “This method is very labor intensive, requiring constant changing of the water to keep the temperature up.”

I ran to relay the message to Nathan. “Bring it in the house, we’ve got to get him in the bathtub!” With very little debate about it, Nathan obliged and we started filling the tub. The poor thing was making the saddest, most desperate “moos” I have ever heard, and I don’t wish to hear that sound ever again. He wasn’t even able to hold his own head up, so we rolled up a canvas painter’s tarp to keep it out of the water. Then began the monotonous task of keeping the water warm. I ended up with a system of bailing out the cool water into the toilet, then adding new warm water, cycling every five or ten minutes.

Billy in the Bathtub

We knew it was important to get colostrum in him within the first 6-12 hours, and by the grace of God we had some colostrum replacer (read, calf formula) on hand and a calf bottle, but he he wouldn’t suckle on the bottle. I started using a syringe to squirt small amounts at a time into his mouth. Besides probably waiting too long to bring him in, this was our first mistake. The vet’s office (once we got a hold of them) told us not to feed him until he got up to temperature (normal for a calf is 101-102°F). He was 92 °F at 11 am, after having been in the bath for a few hours. Who knows how hypothermic he must have been to begin with!

A friend whose Jersey had recently calved recommended giving him a vitamin B shot to help give him a boost of energy. So I quickly ordered the necessary items and Nathan rushed off to TSC to pick them up. Thank heavens for dental hygiene experience – giving injections is no problem for me!

Almost unbelievably, by around 1 pm, Billy’s temperature was up to 101.5°. Ecstatic, Nathan and I pulled him out of the tub, and dried him with towels and a hair drier. He was holding up his own head now! We gave him an intramuscular shot of Vitamin B, and wheeled him out to his dam to see if he might perk up when he saw her. His temp was good, so we left him out for about an hour. He was shivering slightly, though, so my mothering instincts wouldn’t let me leave him out there without something covering him (hence the pink towel in the photo)! Even so, his temperature fell back down to 98 degrees, which told us he wasn’t able to self regulate that yet.

Into the heated garage he went, and there I and the kids camped out, trying to syringe feed him some more colostrum, while Nathan drove an hour and a half away to go pick up some pigs (more on that in another post). It was then that I noticed that Billy’s umbilical cord stump had come off completely at the navel. Mistake number two: not being more careful in how we carried him around. It bled a few drops, but seemed to clot just fine, so he didn’t seem to be in danger of bleeding out. Considering he was probably the cleanest calf we’ve ever had, I wasn’t too concerned about infection, but I made a mental note to monitor that situation.

At 9:30 pm, we tried once more to get him to drink from the bottle- and he did!

Before heading to the house, I set up a motion sensor camera as a sort of baby monitor in the garage so I could check on the calf overnight, and went to bed for a fitful night’s sleep – but not before setting up a barn stall as a temporary home for our new American Guinea Hogs and getting them situated. So much for going to bed with the sun!

Saturday, January 30

At 7:15 am, the motion camera sensor alert went off. Taking a peek, I was elated to see Billy trying to stand up on his own! He would have succeeded, too, had the concrete floor not been so smooth. We decided to try to take him out to pasture to his momma to see if she could encourage him and get him to suckle. It was in the 30°s, and sunny with just a little wind. Stone was so happy to see her baby!

With great effort, and some help from Mama, he struggled to his feet and began taking staggering steps try to reach her udder. Nathan stepped in to help him latch (ok, so when it’s cold and windy we aren’t as patient as we ought to be waiting for nature to take its course) and he suckled a little bit! We weren’t the only impatient one, though. After a time, Stone decided she’d like to go off and find something to eat, leaving poor Billy behind. I don’t blame her, she probably fully expected him to follow!

It appeared that he wasn’t quite ready to jump up and take on all the responsibility of newborn calf life, so we put him in a stall in the barn with a carbon fiber heat lamp (which may have been mistake number three). His temp was back down to 98 degrees at that point, so it was probably a good thing. And we decided to begin feeding him milk replacer, since he still hadn’t managed more than a few sips from Stone. He drank a pint from the bottle, and once again we were overjoyed. Everything was going well, he was showing new signs of improvement all the time: getting more confident with his standing and walking, eating from the bottle, being very alert. We were confident that we had saved him.

Other things on the farm didn’t stop, despite all the excitement with the calf. Nathan stayed up to wire electric in a stall in the barn, getting it ready to build in a larger brooder with various heat sources for the 200 chicks that are arriving next week, and both he and I stayed up past midnight installing a used dishwasher we acquired from Craigslist. It had to be done- the old one had stopped actually cleaning the dishes the Wednesday before all this craziness happened. I challenge you to imagine how trashed the kitchen was with dishes piling up for days as we took care of the new calf! Though, to be fair, I wasn’t cooking terribly much either, so that limited the mess a bit.

Sunday, January 31

After morning Mass, we discovered that our oldest, and largest cow, Tuesday, had had her calf! She was an energetic heifer, the biggest we’ve had yet, trotting around, exploring everything, evening giving a kick in Nathan’s direction when he got too close. We named her Spright, since she was so very ‘sprightly’.

But back to Billy. Billy began refusing the bottle, and looking really lethargic. He passed a stool with some difficulty, and there appeared to be spots of blood in it. His navel showed no signs of infection as far as I could tell, but when I rubbed my hand over a particular part of his side/abdomen, he tried to move away with a jerk. I didn’t think anything of that at the time; I thought I just touched a more sensitive area too quickly.

Billy trying to get some rest

When he didn’t eat all day, we decided to stomach tube him; a quart of milk replacer went down nice and easy. We also gave him his daily supplements of B, A, D, E, and probiotics, but hours later he was still lying on his side, not even attempting to get up on his feet. Every so often, though, he would move his leg as though he were trying to kick at his belly, and once, with great effort, he turned over.

Something was wrong, and we didn’t know what. His temperature was stable at 100 degrees, so there didn’t seem to be an infection causing a fever. He had a funny little slow pant as he breathed. Maybe it was just lethargy from not getting enough milk?

We tubed him again in the evening, and this time got 2 quarts in him. He as able to stand for this feeding, which was encouraging! Afterwards, he seemed to not want to lie down, but had difficulty doing so. Finally, he slowly stumbled over to the pile of pine shavings in his stall and sort of toppled over with a sigh. “Maybe we filled up his belly too full,” I thought. “Well, he’ll rest easy tonight.”

And that, my friends, was mistake number four– we just didn’t know it yet.

Monday morning, Nathan came up from the barn and told me the news.

“Billy didn’t make it through the night.”

How could this have happened? He had been doing so well, even suckling from his dam! Did we do something wrong? Was there something wrong with him that we hadn’t caught? We weren’t going to find out until a few days later.

To be continued in “A Tale of Two Calves”…

Catching Up

Happy New Year! Life took off like a rocket, and I’m still running to catch up. I feel as though it has been way longer than a month and a half since my last post. So much has happened, I’ll give you a drive- by update.

We got the hay in! That was a fun day. Nathan definitely honed his tractor manipulating skills (there is skill much more to ‘ driving a tractor ‘ than just ‘driving’). The friend who sold us the cattle graciously lent us his time and truck and trailer to pick up 47 round bales and bring them out to our hay barn. It took five trips and most of the day, but we got it all in before it got dark and the rain started! (Just a note to anyone who might want to do this- we did not have a bale spear, and highly recommend one.) The kids had a blast climbing all over the bales, and jumping in the truck.

Just before Christmas, we got two sheep! A local sheep farmer, who we met at church, traded us two live rams (just weaned) for several processed chickens from our farm. The plan is to raise these on pasture and keep the meat for our family.

Now, I have to admit, I was so excited to get lambs right around Christmas. I had it all planned out- the whole family was going to dress up like characters from the Nativity, and we were going to pose with the sheep and get one of the cutest family Christmas photos EVER!

Well, that…. didn’t happen. Just goes to show how new we are at this. When the sheep arrived, they were literally twice the size I had anticipated. I mean, I was told to expect “lambs, just weaned” and assumed they would be small, cute and cuddly, jumping about playfully. These guys turned out to be as big as Labrador retrievers, and more skittish than whitetail deer on opening day! Poor things, you would move two inches and they would race around their barn stall like Olympic speed skaters when the gun goes off, hooves clattering and all! So, less than 5 minutes after they arrived, my “perfect picture” idea dissolved into thin air.

They are pretty sweet, though. The white one is more curious and apt to venture out a bit more than the black one, but they are always together. Eating, resting, sleeping – they are never more than three feet from each other. It’s fun to have a black sheep, too, because when I sing ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ with the toddlers, they get all excited, reminding me “We haf one a doze!” You know, we haven’t named them yet. Any suggestions?

It being the beginning of the year, we are setting our goals and planning for the months ahead, and already the projects are stacking up! First, get all the legal paperwork done to bring our products to local farmer’s markets. Get the market garden tilled and seeds started before spring. Build an Egg mobile for our layers, a Gobbledy Go for our turkeys (and order the poults to put in it!). Add more pigs to the farm (there’s a good demand for pork and bacon), get the pigs on pasture and build them a shelter. Build two more Wheely Coops for our pastured meat birds (and order the chicks to put in them, too). Fence the last pasture on the hill, make sure we have feed for all the animals, and lastly, acquire a dairy cow and some basic milk processing equipment. Anyone want to volunteer on the farm this spring? ( Yes, I am serious…) That last item might have to wait till next year… But we’ll see, God might have a surprise for us. He spoils us so much, I have almost come to anticipate these things!

Another big change in the farm this year is getting the bulk of our feed grown locally. Since we are a soy – free farm, and soy is the #1 protein source for most animal feed, we need to substitute something else. That “something else” is PEAS! A friend of ours (who has grown row crops before) has agreed to try growing non- GMO, organic peas for us the year. So, we’ll need to build large feed bins to store the feed, and purchase the equipment to get the feed into the bins, and hey! Check out our feed grinder!

One thing I have been putting off is getting the vet out for a visit; the longer I wait, the more we have to ask him about! We’d like to have him come out and check all the cattle individually, as well as steer a couple of our young bulls. One of the cows ended up with a funny looking swelling on her backside after calving, and it hasn’t gone away. It doesn’t seem to bother her at all, but I’m sure we ought to have it looked at. Nathan recently discovered that one of the piglets has an umbilical hernia. I don’t think there is much a vet could do about that outside of cost prohibitive surgery, so I think we’ll try duct tape to hold the hernia in and wait for it to heal on its own. And maybe the vet could give us some pointers on castrating male pigs…

In the kitchen, I have been pressure canning quite a bit; I’m quite at ease with it now. Even though we didn’t have a garden this summer due to the move, and therefore no produce to “put up”, it appears that canning bone broth may become a year round activity. We have so many chicken bones, feet, and necks, it would terrible to waste them, especially since these bird bones yield a much more nutritious and rich tasty broth than any you can find in a store! And of course there is the beef broth from the cow we culled last Thanksgiving. Utterly delicious. And plentiful!

I’ve also been experimenting with new foods, as well. Since my recently acquired food allergies do not seem to be going away anytime soon, I’m slowly venturing into the world of gluten free substitutes. Hence, the reason we had pizza with a homemade chickpea flour crust the other day. It was quite easy to make and the result was satisfactory. It’s definitely not a puffy crust like Dominoes (no yeast makes a quicker meal on the table) but the flavor was well rounded. I topped it with cheese and arugula, which gave it a nice twist.

Oh, and that other picture over there on the right? That is a comparison of the size of chicken testicles. Our last batch of roosters that we processed had a good number of individuals with rather large male parts (some as large as their hearts, in fact), which got me thinking – “Do people eat these?” A cursory internet search found that these organs are indeed edible, are a popular street food in Taiwan, and a delicacy often found at fairs in Hungary. So of course we had to try them. Or rather, I cooked them for Nathan to try. 😀 They have hardly an flavor on their own, and so are cooked with spices and aromatics until almost bursting. I believe Nathan described the texture as “smooth”. After testing a couple different recipes, though, I think we came to the conclusion that it’s probably not an organ worth bothering about at this point in time. Livers and hearts are probably more nutrient packed, and meatier (read, more satisfying) too.

Oh, and I can’t forget to mention: Calf #3 made her appearance earlier this week! She’s a big beautiful heifer, and we named her Tango. Here she is with Momma Straw. We are expecting at least three more calves soon, to make a total of 19 head of cattle.

Till next time, live life with lots of exclamation points (the good kind)!!!

AMDG!

Surprising Blessings at Thanksgiving

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.

“Found!”

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.

Mystery Chicks’ Identities Revealed!

Ameraucana Rooster

Beware of buying pullets on clearance at your local farm supply store- you never know what you’ll get! That is, if you are not an expert on identifying chicken breeds. We are not terribly familiar with all the different varieties of chickens, or perhaps we would have figured this ‘mix up’ out sooner! But the mystery has been solved, now that the birds are old enough for us to clearly tell what they are.

Ameraucana Hen

Back in September, Nathan bought 20 chicks on a whim because the local farm supply store was clearing out their stock. We thought we were getting Ameraucana chicks, (pictured above) at a great deal (about $1 a bird) to lay us pretty blue eggs. What we ended up with were Buff Orpingtons and Light Brahmas! AND at least two (most likely more) of them are ROOSTERS! *Sigh* (For those who don’t know, pullets are supposed to be the female chicks).

Here’s what they look like now…

I think we are going to try to get our money back. These birds most likely won’t produce an egg each day, and saddest of all, the eggs won’t be the pretty blue color we wanted. Yes, it’s just a small thing, but we had been so excited for it! Well, we’ll be getting more hens in the spring, so I suppose we will just have to wait a few more months for that. 😉