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. 😉

Digging Trenches, Building Fences

Two really huge projects are coming close to their completion. Because we want our cattle to remain in pasture all year long (ideally) and rely on feeding hay as little as possible, we found it necessary to fence several more acres of our property, and run water lines to several different locations to make it easy for the cattle to access while strip grazing.

It has been a bit of a race against time and the weather. At first, the ground was much too hard to even think of driving fence posts into it. There hadn’t been rain for months! Then finally when we did get a little rain to soften up the ground, there weren’t any fence posts available thanks to the recent economic upset. When finally the fence posts arrived and were driven in, there had been several rains, which was good for the fence posts, but which made it impossible to run a trencher for the water line installation! So we ended up pushing that back three whole weeks till the ground dried up. We were running 2100 feet of pipe 3 feet deep and installing 9 water hydrants at various points. Several places needed to be hand trenched with a shovel and a pickaxe, because we couldn’t run the trencher near power lines, gas lines, etc.

I think Nathan and I are getting just a little taste of what hard labor really means. Not to mention that we have often been thinking how spoiled we have been our whole lives never having had to work that hard every single day. In the pictures, you can see the trenches Nathan dug by hand with some help from a neighbor. “C” is standing in one, and the others you can tell are inside the barn. For the long stretches, Nathan rented a ride on trencher, a big powerful machine that went a whopping 5 ft per minute. Operating that turned out to be really quite boring, and a bit maddening since we wanted to be done in a hurry!

We have also been racing the cattle’s appetites. We need to get this pasture fenced and hydrated before they run out of grass in their current pasture. Will we make it? They have about six days of grass left. The fence is still not complete, as we still need to add about half the line poles and install the gate, but the water hydrants are set and ready to go and the water line has been buried. I’m proud to say becoming quite adept at installing high tensile electric fencing. In one picture you can see my ” jogging stroller turned mobile workbench”, complete with shotgun, in case any turkeys should waddle my way (it is hunting season after all!)

These projects actually, became a family affair, with the baby in the carrier on my back, children running back and forth carrying tools or sliding hardware along the fence lines. They were a great help, and were happy to do it, too. And that is one of the biggest blessings of farm life: the whole family can work together, and get a huge amount of satisfaction from the fruits of our labor!

Odd Occurrences

It’s November! Most of the country kicks it off with a celebration of Halloween and Thanksgiving planning, and prepping for the Christmas season that follows right on its heels. We actually don’t celebrate Halloween in the ordinary way; what we celebrate is All Hallows Eve. That refers to the day before All Hallows Day, or All Saints Day. Don’t get me wrong, I love dressing up in costumes, having had my fair share of dabbling in theater throughout my life. The kids still dress up, but we just save it for the All Saints Day party on November 1st, when they choose a historical saint to dress up as. This year we had Saint Joseph, Saint Isidore, Mary Queen of Heaven, and Saint Therese, the Little Flower.

But November 2nd brings All Souls Day, where we pray for the souls of the Faithful Departed who are in purgatory. I almost forgot it this year, but for some strange things that began happening around the Farmhouse.

Nathan and I always like to get our house blessed as soon as we can after we move in, and this house was no exception. You can think of it along the lines of casting out any evil that may have been associated with the past, and asking God’s grace and peace upon all those who enter and dwell here. So, as soon as we were relatively settled, we asked our new pastor to come on a Tuesday afternoon to pray over the house and sprinkle it throughout with holy water. That night however some odd things happened.

Just as Nathan and I were going to sleep after having put the kids to bed, we distinctly heard a sound as though someone was bumping the toddler potty around in the bathroom upstairs next to our bedroom. Less than a minute later it was repeated again. All the kids were asleep in bed, the doors were locked, there were no signs of an intruder.

Odd, and unsettling. But I dismissed it – that is, until about 4:00 in the morning. I was awake (on the baby’s sleep schedule) and all of the sudden the toilet lid in the same bathroom slammed shut, waking the baby up. I had not heard any of the kids going into the bathroom, nor anyone leaving after the noise, but just to make sure I went and checked all the kids and they were sound asleep. I said a Hail Mary and a Memorare (and I think a St. Michael prayer too!) and left it at that.

The next night, my 2-year-old woke up in the middle of the night crying and asking for milk. She wasn’t fully awake, so I suspected it was just a bad dream. But when I went to get her a drink, I noticed that one of the lights on the first floor was turned on. This was around 11:30 p.m. I had been the one to turn it off before heading upstairs to bed. I checked with Nathan – he had not turned it on and again, all the other children were asleep and the two-year-old can’t reach the light switch, even if she had been able to go downstairs and through the baby gate in her semi- sleep state. Again the doors were locked and no one else was in the house.

Then, the night after that (or rather early that morning), the baby woke up to nurse as usual. When I went to get him, I noticed the upstairs bathroom light on (the same one where we heard the noises the first night). Now, the kids don’t use the bathroom at night; all but one of them are in some version of Pull-Ups or diapers overnight. And on the extremely rare occasion that they do go, we have night lights bright enough so that they never need to turn anything on (and I would hear them passing by). Again I confirmed with Nathan that he hadn’t turned on the light (I had been the one to turn it off that night as well). “What is going on?” I wondered.

There are two explanations the Church gives for paranormal events that I know of. One is that there is a demonic presence causing these things to occur. ( I have to be honest, one of my first thoughts was: “But we just had the house exorcised and blessed – did we somehow ‘leave out’ the bathroom?”) The second is less concerning. The Church has found that for some reason, departed souls that are in Purgatory can sometimes be allowed to do unusual or unnatural things in the natural world in order to get attention and hopefully thereby prayers, which will aid them in their purification, and ultimately hasten their entrance into Heaven. There are many stories about this sort of thing; there’s even a museum in Italy documenting such occurrences and housing artifacts relating to the souls in Purgatory.

With the events at the Farmhouse, there has not been anything sinister involved ( no dangerous materials, fire, etc). Nor was there ever a sense of fear, dread, loathing, disgust, or anything that might be associated with a demonic presence. And the fact that it began after the house blessing (during which the priest used the exorcism prayers) leads me to believe it was not a hostile spirit. My belief is that it was a troubled soul asking for prayers.

Supporting this theory, the previous owners had told us of some issues they had had in the past in the house with what seemed to be troubled souls needing prayers. “P” thought that it might even be related to one of the sudden deaths that occurred on the railroad tracks which cross our (very long) driveway. The house was built in the 1840s, and so has a 180 year long history of people living and dying in and around it, including at least two men who were killed on the tracks. “P” told us that many years ago, a young man had just proposed and become engaged to his love, but tragically was struck and died on the tracks that same night. When a strange presence made itself known to them (they heard footsteps on the stairs in the middle of the night, and even saw a silhouette of a person in the house), they prayed novenas and had a prayerful procession for the repose of any wandering souls in the house. After that, they had no more manifestations.

I was getting a little uncomfortable with the different unexpected things happening around the house, and I didn’t like wondering when or what might happen, and I also didn’t want the poor soul to get desperate. So, we had a Mass prayed for the repose of any troubled and wandering souls; since then we have had no more strange occurrences. Knowing the power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I now have great hope that there is a soul happily in Heaven, praying for us here on the old farm!

This has been a great motivation for us to continue to remember all the Poor Souls in Purgatory in our prayers every day. “Do unto others…” says the Golden Rule, and I dearly hope others will do the same for me!

New Dogs on the Block… er.. Farm…

Meet Bosco, a five month old (yes, I did say “month”! )Great Pyrenees-and-possibly-something-else mix.

I had been wanting to get a farm guardian dog for security reasons for some time after we moved. It would guard the chickens in their various locations, and warn us and the cattle if predators or intruders were in the vincinity. While we are in the country, our farm is actually right in the tiny downtown area of Sunman, so we really aren’t in a terribly remote and inaccessible (meaning, unnoticeable) place.

I spent far too much time on the internet reading about working dog breeds (and coming to the conclusion that there was no possibility of affording one, let alone two, as is usually recommended, from a good breeder). There were weeks that I agonized over all the working dogs available in the nearby shelters, trying to ascertain if they would be a good fit. I filled out applications three or four times, but to no avail, since many pet rescue operations do not give dogs to people who will be keeping them in a barn. We even visited a breeder an hour away to see if one of their older females who had not bred in a while would work for us. Finally, I gave up. I was tired of getting my hopes up about a dog and then realizing it wouldn’t work for one reason or another, or searching breeds everyday and finding puppies available but only several hours drive away or priced at a premium. So I gave it over to Mother Mary one day as we were praying the Rosary. I told her: “No matter how much I think we need a dog, I don’t want a dog if God doesn’t want us to have one. I know only His Will will make us happy and only He will make things work out right. So I’m not going to look for a dog anymore. Besides, I don’t think we’re supposed to get one, since it hasn’t happened yet.”

It was a big let go moment for me, even though it seems trivial to simply write it. But I think that was all Our Lady was looking for – she wanted to drive home the point that everything comes from God, and not from our own effort. That very afternoon, Nathan was looking on Craigslist for something completely unrelated, and he happened to notice a Great Pyrenees puppy had been listed just hours before! Great Pyrenees had been one of the breeds that stood out to me as being gentle, great with children and seemingly intuitively taking care of their flock, while having a very strong protective urge when danger is present. When we looked at the location, it was in Cincinnati – closer than we had yet seen, but still a good drive. But when I called and asked about him, they gave me an address that was only 20 minutes away from us! That settled it. Not only was it a puppy, who could grow up on the farm with our kids, but it was also a very reasonable price. Turns out, he was owned by a Christian family who have their own homestead with goats, chickens and lambs, so he was already used to being around livestock. Another one of God’s providential miracles!

And so Bosco came to Sundance Farm. He really is an amazing dog. Loves the children, loves to play, and has an incredibly deep bark. He seems to have a bit of a hunter in him too, as he seems to enjoy pouncing on crickets and grasshoppers and eating them for snacks! He is also still very much a puppy, despite his large, 40 – 50 lb size- we have caught him running away with rubber boots left out on the porch, chewing on everyone’s toys but his own, and eating the inedible.

I was satisfied with that, but we kept hearing from multiple experienced sources that really you ought to have at least two guardian dogs in order for them to work effectively. “Coyotes will send out one of their pack to distract the guard dog while the rest attack the flock,” we heard numerous times. Now, we do have electric fences around the livestock which would hopefully serve as a strong deterrent for predators. And I was absolutely sure we wouldn’t ever find another Great Pyrenees puppy that we could afford, so we decided that we would just have to do our best with one dog.

Enter Rosie, a (now) 12 week old Great Pyrenees puppy. One of two left from a homestead with goats, and very reasonably priced. Again, Nathan found her on Craigslist, not even looking for one. And think of all that time I wasted searching…! I must learn patience. He gives all in His time…. but boy is it hard to wait when I get my mind on something!

She is the sweetest little thing, but oh so shy when we first got her. It took two days for her to really get used to us and start playing with the kids, but now she can’t get enough of their attention. To my surprise, Bosco was actually quite shy around her at first. He didn’t go bounding up to her as I thought he would; but very gradually approached to meet her. You can see their meeting in the video below.

Video is silent due to some particularly awful background noise. 😏

Now, Bosco and Rosie seem to be the best of friends, playing together, teasing each other (Bosco playfully steals Rosie’s stick in a “come and get it” attitude, and Rosie oftentimes parades around in front of him with the same object). The size difference is a little much at times, so I intervene in their play fights occasionally, but mostly it’s very sweet to watch. The only time Bosco has ever growled at Rosie was, predictably, at feeding time when she approached his bowl instead of her own. Gradually we have lengthened their time off their leads together (we are in the process of installing an electric fence to keep them on the property) and Bosco roams around looking like a great prince surveying his land with a rather floppy, roly poly, distracted protege at his side. Rosie never lets him get too far away, though, no matter what might be holding her interest!

Little Children, Little Things

“Mom! Mom! Come look! We caught a mourning dove!” C burst into the house excitedly.

“A mourning dove? Really?”

“Yes! Come see!”

Well, it turned out it wasn’t a mourning dove, but a baby sparrow. Apparently it was trying out its wings in the driveway and the boys decided it needed help.

This highlights one of the first things we noticed when we arrived at the property – there are so many birds! A great number of barn swallows, sparrows, bluebirds, mourning doves and more swoop and flit about every day. They love the pond, they love the trees… The children have been finding nest after abandoned nest to add to our growing ‘nature museum’ (inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Men’). So far, we have a large turkey feather, a hawk feather, a mourning dove feather, three or four nests of different kinds, a monarch butterfly, three intact cicada shells, and a grasshopper.

This highlights one of the first things we noticed when we arrived at the property – there are so many birds! A great number of barn swallows, sparrows, bluebirds, mourning doves and more swoop and flit about every day. They love the pond, they love the trees… The children have been finding nest after abandoned nest to add to our growing ‘nature museum’ (inspired by Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Men’). So far, we have a large turkey feather, a hawk feather, a mourning dove feather, three or four nests of different kinds, a monarch butterfly, three intact cicada shells, and a grasshopper. It really is amazing; my children have grown quite adept at catching grasshoppers (of which we had a plethora this year) with the sole motivation of feeding them to the chickens!

The little ones love finding all these little bits of nature that I overlook. In the midst of all the big projects we have on our plate getting the farm infrastructure just the way we want, the preparations for the animals for winter, etc, it is so necessary to take a moment or two to revel in the excitement and wonder of the tiny things God has made.

Back to the sparrow: we at first thought we ought to try to get it back to its nest, but it turned out to be much too high in a pine tree to attempt that. So, we did the next best thing. Bringing out one of our “old” nests from the museum, we put it in the crook of a tree and laid the little sparrow inside it. After a while, he started peeping loudly and expectantly… and then were answering tweets! Satisfied that his relatives would soon find him, we left him to his own devices. And when we came back later that day, the nest was empty once again.

Another day, I happened to notice a mother mourning dove on her nest; something moving behind the nest beneath her tail caught my eye. It was a baby dove – shivering outside in the wind! “Poor thing,” I thought. It must have been neglected for some time as it seemed much smaller than the other fledgling that the mother bird had been keeping warm. You can see the difference in the photos below.

Well, whether it would help or not, I decided to get the little bird back into the nest to give it a shot at survival. I really don’t know how this one ended up. He is so blurry in the picture because he was shivering so much!

Now of course Fall has come, and with it has brought an unusually high number of black and brown fuzzy caterpillars, to the delight of toddlers C and S, who run around many days catching them to put in a jar. Apparently these “teddy bear” caterpillars turn into tiger moths, which are rumored to be bad for the garden, so we may have to be on the watch come Spring. I toyed with the idea of possibly keeping one through hibernation to watch it make a chrysalis, etc. But after finding out about that last fact, I’ll save my energy for that sort of thing when we come across a monarch or other such critter. Maybe I can convince the kids to feed these to the chickens instead…

Cattle “Moooving” Day!

Cattle Moooving Day

God told us He wanted us to move here. So we held our breath and “jumped into the deep,” trusting Him to take care of everything. Somehow, I thought that was going to be the end of it; we’d settle in, start the farm out small (ish), and life would be different, with lots of hard work, but God wouldn’t present us with any other unexpected plans.

I was wrong. We jumped once, and apparently, He wants us to keep on “jumping.”

This is the story of the biggest jump we’ve made yet: acquiring a herd of cows. I’m still getting over the idea. 😀

Nathan had been checking craigslist in the area to keep an eye on cattle for sale, and lo and behold, a listing popped up – a herd of Red Devons was up for sale only 30 minutes away from us. Red Devon, by the way, was one of only two breeds Nathan had picked out for our farm prior to moving here. They do well being grass fed, and have the benefit of being good for meat or milk.

We went to go see the cows. Now, we know next to nothing about cattle. We don’t know what questions to ask or what signs to look for to tell whether it’s a good, healthy herd, or not so much. We hardly know what a good price for a cow, a bull, or a heifer is. But we went – and found out that the man who owned them goes to our new parish! He was selling his herd because he and his wife were getting older and it was time to start downsizing their responsibilities a bit.

The cows were beautiful, and I’ve always been partial to that particular reddish-brown color they have (says the girl who chose to learn to play the flute because it was shiny silver…). Not terribly good reasons to buy a cow… but as we left, we both wanted to buy the whole herd!

So of course, we prayed, asking St. Isidore to intercede for us.

We also asked the advice of a few local farmer/rancher friends, who both discouraged us from buying expensive cattle to start out (they were priced a little on the high end). Buy some cheap stocker cattle, start with only a few while you learn the ropes, make hay with your fields this year and sell it instead. That way, they said, you won’t lose too much if one of the cows happens to die on you.

But I think these new friends underestimated the level of commitment we have to getting this farm up and running, and the amount of time we would be spending with the animals. And my thought was, if a cow or two does die, wouldn’t it be better to have a herd that can replenish itself, rather than simply taking the loss and trying again next year?

Nathan took it to prayer; during his Eucharistic adoration, believing that “God’s word is living and effective,” he opened the Bible and laid his finger down on a verse. It happened to be the part of the story of the Prodigal Son where the father orders the slaughter of the fatted calf! Well, if we bought the herd, we were going to raise them for beef…maybe this was a green light?

Asking God to please intervene and not let the sale go through if it was not His will for us, we went ahead and told the owner we were seriously interested. Nothing happened during any of the proceedings finalizing the sale; instead, the owner generously threw in all kinds of extras: an old cattle trailer, electric fencing and energizers, a feeding trough, a stanchion, and three books on getting started with cattle. We are grateful to no end!

There were 14 head of cattle to be moved to our pastures: 9 bred cows (meaning they are pregnant), 2 heifers (females that have not yet had a calf), 2 young bulls (not yet mature, only about 6 months old), and 1 mature bull.

The process of moving was definitely a job. Nathan went to meet the owners at the ranch, and spent most of the day helping to round up cattle and load them into the trailer. It ended up taking four trips. The most difficult was not the bull, as we would have guessed, but the unhappy mommas who were separated from their calves temporarily. Since they were being so stubborn, I looked up who the patron saints of cattle are. There are a few, actually! I ended up begging the intercession of St. Eligius ( a former goldsmith/jeweler who had a miracle involving cows attributed to his prayers) and St. Perpetua (an early Roman Christian martyr who was killed in the Coloseum by a mad heifer). Our prayers were heard, and the mommas arrived – though one of them had so much difficulty getting out of the trailer once she arrived, we had to ‘tip’ her out by lifting up the front end of the trailer with the tractor.

The kids were incredibly excited, of course. “S” heard them moo for the first time, looked at me excitedly and said “Cow say ‘Moo!’ It can works!!” I guess when you teach them that ‘cows say moo’ from their earliest years, that would be the definition of a functional cow that comes to mind, I suppose!

And of course, Remy the Fearless was right in there with them, barking and telling them who was boss in no uncertain terms. I was surprised, the cows actually backed away from this bouncy, noisy little dog!

Our watering setup near the barn. Note the height of the grass as compared to the photo of the cows going to drink the next day, above.
They explore their new pasture

Since they’ve arrived, we’ve learned a lot more about cows. Not all bulls have horns, and cows can have horns. Actually, our bull, Red Bull, is without horns, and two of our cows do have them. One we call ‘Curly Top’ and she has the sweetest little calf we call “Blondie” because of her much lighter color than the rest. The other is named Penny, and one of her horns is a little twisted. The leader of the herd is not Red Bull, as one might imagine. It’s a big female named Tuesday – she gets the water when she wants it, butts others out of the way when we come around with alfalfa cube treats, and is the most vocal. Her pal, and the friendliest cow, is Gemmy, who loves her alfalfa cubes, too. We are still trying to distinguish the other cows from each other, as they don’t have such defining traits, and are less likely to approach us if the others are there first!

Life with cattle – to be continued…

OVER 200 CHICKENS!

The chicken operation expands! Here’s the count as of today:

26 Cornish Cross (meat birds) living in the Salatin style chicken tractor; ready to process in a few weeks. They are filling out nicely, putting on both weight and feathers, and so have become much less awkward looking recently.

14 Red Sex Link layer hens (and Steve the Rooster) living in the barn with a door to the an enclosed pasture. We got our first egg a few days ago, and one every day since!

Our temporary nesting boxes until the enormous ‘Eggmobile’ is built
The two small eggs in the middle are from our birds

46 Cornish Cross and 24 male Rhode Island Red living in the newly built “Wheely Coop” in the pasture the cows just vacated.

The ‘Wheely Coop’ completed over Labor Day weekend

Nathan also bought 20 layer chicks from Tractor Supply because they were on clearance. 10 Americana (“I can’t wait to have blue eggs!” says he) and 10… of a mystery breed. No idea what they gave us. It’ll be fun to figure out! These twenty birds are currently completely free range, since they need to be integrated with the other flocks at some point, and weare running out of places to put birds (fancy that). Their ‘homebase’ (a dog crate with water and food for them) is located in the Red Sex link pasture, but they are left free to be able to escape any hostile advances of the older birds by hopping through the non-energized electric poultry netting. It’s so fun to see them jumping through the tall grass after grasshoppers and crickets!

50 Rhode Island Red pullets (baby hens) and 25 Cornish Cross males just arrived a few days ago and are living in the “brooder box” with the heating pads keeping them nice and cozy.

We’ve lost a few of the chicks we ordered from the hatchery, which is always a bit sad. One of the larger meat birds wasn’t doing well for a while; he seemed smaller than the others and lethargic, unable to muscle through the other birds to get food for himself. So though we put him in his own little spot with food and water, and he hung on for a little while, he finally succumbed to whatever ailed him.

The runt of the coop in the ‘Sick Chick Hospital’

Another of the meat birds somehow got a scrape under its left wing. We treated it with peroxide and antibiotic ointment so it wouldn’t get infected, and he seems to be doing just fine now.

The injured bird

Total the final count is… 206. Though this seems like a LOT of birds (and it is!), we’ve got a bit larger plan for next year: 300 laying hens at any given time, and a goal of about 2,000 meat birds processed throughout the year, God willing!

AMDG!