Sunday, July 06, 2014

Buying the Farm - Milk Cows & Baby Goats

This is the first year since moving into this house that we haven't had a garden. Working more and tending more animals has cut down on my amount of time and concentration for it, but I feel like I am cheating since gardening is a big part of what we wanted to do here. I am hoping that I can get everything situated and in order and get back to it soon.

Leslie the Milk Cow
We bit the bullet and bought a milk cow. She is 3/4 Jersey, 1/4 Holstein, and came with a 7/8 Jersey bull calf. I have fenced in the north side of the driveway with 4 strands of barbed wire, and we're currently working on a milking shed/barn right there too. It is going to be a small deal made with the minimum of investment. As of right now I have $37 in some rough cut lumber I bought from an Amish saw mill. All 2x4's, 4x4's, and cedar posts have been salvaged from job sites; hopefully the only other thing I will have to purchase for it will be the metal for the roof and a few more rough cut boards for sheathing the sides.


This new cow comes on the heels of a bottle calf (heifer) I bought a month ago that kicked the bucket after 5 days. The vet really ripped me for even buying it and spoke horribly about the man I bought it from who is apparently renown for selling sick cows. An old man and I were talking one time about getting into the cow business and I told him I didn't know a whole lot about it and needed to learn. He told be in a very rough vernacular that there was only one real way to learn in the cow business (or any business for that matter):  "Pull out your wallet and get (screwed)!" He really wasn't too far off. Nothing teaches you a lesson better than losing your hard-earned money.

When I look out on my fields now, which I've been steadily fencing in, and see the progress I've been making at utilizing all of the land we have, it makes me happy. We don't have a lot of land, but the 5 acres we do have has a lot of fencing on it. Two pig enclosures, two goat enclosures, a cow enclosure, and the only land we haven't really designated for animals or other use is in the front yard. The back yard has Finn's playhouse and the side yard hosts our few fruit trees, other than that the only land we aren't using are thoroughfares to my brother's pastures.

On to a sad note. For a couple of weeks I've been doing my best to doctor a poor baby goat back to health. She was an underdog from the get-go; her mother got sick right before she had her and was in poor health for the last little bit of the pregnancy. One night I came home and thought I heard a faint mewing out in the pasture but all the goats were up at the shed. I couldn't figure out who it might be since honestly I thought the sick momma goat might have had a miscarriage already since she was so skinny. I got a light and went looking around, and I found this tiny little girl goat. She was solid black except for the frosting on her ears and had sparkling blue eyes. She had been cleaned up, so for a few minutes her mother must have actually acted on instinct and behaved right, but she had no milk so she must have just left her thinking there was nothing she could do. I started bottle feeding her with milk and colostrum I milked from another goat. For a week or two I tried grafting her onto another young mother goat who had a kid but it wouldn't take fully, so I kept feeding her by bottle or going out and holding one of the freshened goats and letting her nurse. After a while I just assumed she was tenaciously nursing off one of the moms because she would try to nurse off all of them and get a little here and there. She was eating feed and grass and drinking water too. So I stopped bottle feeding her.

A few days went by and she got the scours and started losing weight and was anemic. So I realized I had screwed up and got back to bottle feeding her and forcing other mother goats to let her nurse and I gave her some drench too. She was still declining so I bit the bullet and gave her a shot of wormer. She only weighed about 5 pounds and I was afraid it would be too much for her but I tried. A few days later her scours started clearing up but I'm not sure if that wasn't just the fact she was nursing again rather than the wormer. She still didn't turn the corner when her scours stopped though and still seemed listless and without energy and her anemia wasn't clearing up; her eye lids were still pale white and her ears still drooping but she was hanging on. So after another week I went and bought some injectable iron and some B12 and I dosed her with iron, B12, more wormer, AND penicillin. I thought it might be too much but I was willing to go out swinging for the fences.

It seemed to be working. Her eyes weren't quite as pale, her ears didn't hang quite as low, and she was even running a little on occassion. We were on track to revive her. The other goats were still mean to her since she would try to nurse off any of them and would butt her around so most of the time I took her out of the pen and let her sit in and around the shed where she could nibble grass and feed and drink water unmolested. Finn and Audrey would tote her around and play with her too, and pretend she was a baby sometimes.

Yesterday morning I went out and fed her and set her in the shed and she was even running around a little more. Josh and I were working on the cow shed/barn, and Lindsay and Finn were on the porch drinking coffee and reading magazines and chatting. I needed a few more boards so I hopped in the truck to go to the wood pile and get some and backed up and drove over there, backed in and was getting out when I noticed Josh had come over to where my truck was and was waving for me to come up there. I hollered to ask him what was it, and he said, "What do you think?!"

Neko & Jezebel
I wasn't sure, but my first thought was that I'd run over our arthritic pug Neko, but no, I had run over little Jezebel, the tiny black goat that I'd been working night and day to nurse back to health. I will spare the details but there was no saving her. She had been feeling so much better that she followed me around the house and laid down under my truck so she could be closer to where I was working; I didn't notice her or even think to look because she'd been down and out at the shed for weeks and hadn't traveled much farther than a few feet from it. Needless to say we are all upset about it.

That is the reality of life on a farm. Animals live and die; accidents happen. We learn tough lessons by screwing up and getting screwed. The kids learn early on that no one is guaranteed life and witness a life from conception through birth and on to death sometimes. There is not much emotional shelter when you witness these things on a daily basis. Whether it is butchering chickens, killing deer for meat, slaughtering a goat for stew, shooting a predator trying to get at your animals, a goose getting hung on the electric fence and frying to death, feeding a weaning goat too much milk, a bottle calf refusing to live without its mother's colostrum, a goat having a miscarriage, taking off the pig that won't get bred to the butcher for meat, or accidentally killing a beloved baby goat.

My wife accuses me sometimes of being callous about the death of animals, but every animal that dies here I respect and regret in some big or little way. I have just hardened myself to it out of necessity. Living this way (with farm animals) makes you really appreciate the lives of the animals that you consume at the dinner table, realizing what they went through in life and in death, and makes me want to raise all the meat we consume so that I can know it always lived a good life.

Expecting Gilt.
A pig should root in the dirt and wallow in the mud and have its babies in a nest that it cobbled together just for the occasion of birth. A goat should eat leaves and nibble trees and chase its mate around the pasture when it is breeding time squalling and urinating and strutting in all its bucky glory. A cow should eat grass and graze head-low in the pasture rarely eating corn and enjoying life giving its milk straight to its baby with any extra going to the farmer if he wants it. Chickens should be left to scratch around in the yard finding worms and bugs and running for cover whenever they see a shadow pass over and crowing in the morning to announce that they've made it through one more night on this earth.


Maude at Goodman Farm to breed w/ Angus bull.
Life on the homestead is trying sometimes and rewarding sometimes; but most of all it really makes you more aware of life's ups and downs and the cycles that infuse everyday reality. There are days when I think, "Man it sure would be easier to sell off all these animals and shrug off all these responsibilities I've created for myself," but I know in my heart that is just crazy talk. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't get to spend my birthday fencing a pasture or my 4th of July working on a cow shed or a Christmas Eve doctoring a goat from a dog attack. This is just my life now; there is no other way for me. I may have days of sadness sometimes (like yesterday), but I have a lifetime of fulfillment that I never had before "buying the farm."

1 comment:

  1. That was a great essay about life and death on the farm. I only became hysterical, sobbing and crying and almost passing out when my favorite chicken died flopping in front of me. The other times a chicken died, even in front of me, I was sad but stoic. I did not cry or mourn too long. Raccoons do make me angry, but the rest I accept as the way it is. However, your essay was very poetic. Thanks.

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Yours Truly,
The Crowsons