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Archive for December, 2015

 

 

Scotty's back

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

It definitely takes a bull to make calves.  Whether you use his services on the hoof or from a straw, there’s no getting around the requirement to manage the breeding back of cows, or any livestock for that matter.

Raising Devon beef cattle to sell as gourmet grass-fed beef, I wanted a Devon bull, at least to begin with.   Cross-bred beeves would be just fine, there are many advantages and I may go that route in the future, but in the interests of laying the groundwork for producing a consistent product I felt it best to stick with the Devon genetics to reduce variability.  There’s enough variability within a breed and amongst a group of animals, I don’t need any more just yet.

But there aren’t any Devon cattle in my area – this is Angus, Hereford and Charolais country.  No one’s even heard of Devon cattle here, so finding a bull nearby wasn’t an option and I knew it wouldn’t be from the beginning.  I used AI for the herd’s first breeding back in Fall 2013, a lot of work and fuss and effort for not much return, which I also knew it would be, so I kept a bull calf out of the first crop, from my most feminine cow, to use as a home-grown bull.

As a long yearling left in with the herd, Scotty did a great job cleaning up all the open cows left from the AI experiment, although I left him in far too long – over the winter – and so their conception dates were as far-flung as the stars above on a clear night.  The results:  this past season we had two calves in July, five in September/October, and one finally showed up on December 11.  All over the place.  Not ideal for raising grass-fed beeves and finishing them right at 30 months.  They’re all beautiful calves though, born without any help, I only had to tag them and retrieve a couple wanderers the first few days, they tend to head for the long grass or woods to hide as newborns and the cows can’t follow them out of the paddock.

Ideally, I would like my calves born after the cows have been grazing good late-Spring/early-Summer grass for a few weeks;  from late May through June would be optimum for this farm, it’s climate and pastures and that sort of thing.  That means I need them bred in August/September.  Ideally, I would separate the yearlings (so the heifers don’t get knocked up), borrow a neighbor’s nice bull for 6 weeks, put him into service the Big Gals, then send him home when he’s done.  Well, even if I were to use a neighbor’s Angus bull, no one around here manages theirs that way, they are not trained to load or haul to a visiting farm, you put your cows in with their bull and their herd or you get nothing.

So the plan with Scotty was, THE PLAN WAS, to find a home for him off-farm, someone with cows they needed to keep bred, and use him just the 6 weeks of the year I needed him.  I had a plan in place that included the discounted sale of a couple Devon heifers in exchange for Scotty’s permanent room-and-board, but that plan did not work as expected.  Another story for another day; the point is, he had to come back for good after only being gone the summer, not just for a few week’s visit.  And I was not in any way, shape or form, set up for that.  And he came back late, because of the late Fall calving.

Better late than never though.  Gotta have calves.  They may not all finish at 30 months, or some may go over and be processed as boneless, we’ll cross that bridge when it comes, down the road.

I’m still setting up what I hope will work as a winter paddock for Scotty the bull, down with the horses, along the woods edge at the bottom of their hillside paddock area.  His service period is nearly complete and as much as I had hoped to be able to treat-train him to hop back up in the livestock trailer, it appears the cows get in there before he does, so I’ll probably have to lane the whole herd back to the corral here in a week or so, separate him out, load him for the short drive to his new digs, then let the herd back out to where they left off with winter rotation.

Spring will bring another bridge to cross:  what to do with him during the summer grazing season.  For now, I’m just focusing on what needs done to get everyone settled before winter finally sets in.   And I’m thankful the cows will be bred.

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Weather in motion

Christmas week rain hillside flow

Rain is usually a good thing, if it comes in normal amounts and at regular intervals.  It’s mighty hard to grow grass without it and it’s one of the main reasons I’m here farming in Kentucky, so I’ve learned to work around it, and in it as well.  But most chores are best done when it’s not raining, which isn’t always possible but is sure worth a little planning and time management to try and make happen.  I don’t particularly care to feed hay in the rain, it just gets wet and trampled and wasted, and shoveling soggy horse poop is about as much fun as it sounds.  So I’m pretty keen on figuring out when it’s going to rain.

In addition to just trying to time daily chore runs in between rain showers, I also spend a good bit of time and thought planning out the week’s activities around rain events and temperature fluctuations, for the same reasons.  For example, tractor work on the hill – laying gravel on muddy spots, staging hay rolls for feeding, loading and spreading manure on the pastures – needs to be done when it’s as dry as possible, and usually takes precedence over other tasks.  Everything I do has to be prioritized and those priorities change as the weather changes.  If they didn’t, I’d get caught battling weather and slogging through mud doing critical stuff, which isn’t any fun.

It helps to have an Internet connection, some folks don’t, they just watch the weather forecast on the evening news, compare notes with neighbors, and get by just fine.  Me, I need more info, and I like it updated often.  This little laptop sits on the table in the middle of the house right where I walk through a hundred times a day, with a browser open and The Weather Channel open at all times, refreshed every time I pass by.

Not only does the hourly forecast help me predict best times and temps for doing stuff, but their little radar app called Weather in Motion is really helpful for tracking storms on their way through.  Really helpful.  It’ll show the past couple of hours of cloud and precipitation activity, and then predict the next couple of hours, which is not always 100% accurate but it sure is close.  Sure is better than not having any idea whether those dark clouds massing on the western horizon are heading over the farm with buckets of rain, or will veer north instead.  Sure is better than heading up the hill on the gator with a couple of dogs to do chores and getting caught in a downpour.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve used this wonderful technology to duck the worst of the weather, it really is a powerful tool.

This morning I’m looking at the hourly forecast and it’s telling me to expect scattered thunderstorms beginning at 8 am.  I usually head up before it gets light, starting around 6:45 (in a few minutes, I better get dressed!) and spend about 2 hours feeding and watering and caretaking the horses.  The radar shows a front moving southwest to northeast, on a track to the north – nothing dead on, just a possibility of getting something from the lower edge of it, so that’s good to know.  I’ll wear rain gear anyway and keep an eye on the sky but won’t be wondering if it’s going to dump rain, it should just be cloudy and feel stormy but stay dry.  Dry is good, especially for the critters that eat hay, and the farmer gal that brings it to them.

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Moon over pond christmas eve

The story continued from where it left off here two years ago, of course; the storyteller just lost her muse, then her voice, and then too much time passed and she lost the writing habit.  It happens.  Facebook made it easy to post pictures and quick updates for friends and family, and the longer thoughts and observations suited for blog posts fell by the wayside.  Wow, two years.  That’s a long time not to write.

Getting back to the story gets harder the longer you go without writing anything, it’s tough to know where or how to start – do I just jump back in or play catch up?  I guess if I’d lapsed a couple of months, I could do a quick synopsis and move on.  But two years?  If I tried to capture even a quick screenshot of all that’s happened since December 2013 I’d never get past the edit screen, which is why it’s taken this long to return.  So we’ll just step back in the road and start walking, and I’ll backfill any big holes as necessary to keep moving forward.

Whew.  There it is, I’ve done it, I’m back.

Tomorrow is Boxing Day.  It is supposed to rain some more, with record-high temps here – 74 degrees.  The solitary bat hunting mosquitoes at sundown tonight got me thinking there might be some hungry fish in the pond, brought to the surface by the unseasonable warmth.  I missed a lot of good fishing days this Fall, I might take a break from chores and chill out for a few minutes with a pole and a bucket tomorrow, see what hits the hook.  My freezer needs some fish.

 

 

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