The City Girl Farmer

Tiddles Calved!
April 29, 2011, 6:46 pm
Filed under: Cows | Tags: , , ,

I could tell she was getting close.  I think the definitive sign is how they walk—-or more accurately, can’t walk.  That’s how you know you are less than a week away, in this case about 3 days.  Plus, we were expecting a spring snow storm and that seems to be the favorite time for livestock to give birth.    I guess if they survive the cold and wind, Old Bitch Nature (my favorite little nugget from the Contrary Farmer) figures they can survive anything! I could tell she was in labor Tuesday night at milking time so I decided to wait up with her and watch.  I was not disappointed!  A healthy bull calf was born around 12:15 a.m. Wednesday morning (April 27th).  The birth was uneventful but still a  little miracle as every birth is.

It took him a really long time to nurse which was of some concern.  That sent me in to take a look at the internet and I picked up some interesting information.  Dairy breeds have been bred to have HUGE udders and their teats are not tucked up in the natural place that calves look for the food source, high up between the mama’s back legs.  Tiddles’ teats were hanging down below her hocks so they were hard for him to find and latch on to.  Some smart agricultural expert had a little table of how low cows teats are and how long it takes on average for the calf to find them.  The lower they are, the harder it is for the calf.  Who knew?

I also discovered that the calf’s ability to absorb all the antibodies from colostrum goes down the longer it takes to nurse, so that if it doesn’t get colostrum until 48 hours after it is born, it only absorbs 5% of the antibodies.  That was enough information to get me worried.  We hadn’t got him to latch on really well by 4:00 a.m., so he has been bottle fed since then.

I am posting pictures (mostly so I can refer back) so if you are squeamish about these things, you’ll probably want to stop after this bit of text.

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I Thought Chickens Couldn’t Fly
April 17, 2011, 2:42 pm
Filed under: Chickens | Tags: ,


That, my friends, is a chicken in a tree. No kidding.

Less Wind; More Rain
April 9, 2011, 7:26 pm
Filed under: Weather


I was reading the Farmer’s Almanac last year in which I learned that Ember Days were used to predict the weather for the succeeding season. Ember Days are part of the ancient western Christian liturgical calendar and they were penitential days that corresponded more or less with the change of season. I recorded the weather on last year’s winter Ember Days and on this spring’s Ember Days and it is not looking good for water if the predictor is true.

And just out of the blue the other day, a friend told me her mother said that potatoes needed to be in the ground by Good Friday. Yikes! I’ve got to get busy with that garden!

I find the gardening sources that make reference to religious feast days quite fascinating. I’d like to get hold of a monastic gardening book. Any of my readers know of one?

Calf in the Kitchen
February 18, 2011, 5:51 pm
Filed under: Cows

The heifer calf was born on a beautiful late January day, a teaser, a taste of spring. Unfortunately, our worst winter days (so far) were right on its heels. As my son and I were struggling to milk the unmilkable cow, and had gone to pick up a milking machine loaned to us by the owner of Dallas Dome Dairy, the new calf was shivering uncontrollably in the frigid temperatures we were experiencing. So we brought her into our kitchen to stay warm while the storm passed. I’ve heard from a couple of more experienced farmers that this is not at all unusual. For some reason the mothers give birth at the worst possible weather times and I have since heard stories of calves, lambs and kids in laundry rooms, in the oven, near the stove, etc. so that their owners could rescue them from the elements.

February 18, 2011, 5:08 pm
Filed under: Cows | Tags: , ,

I have made soft, easy cheeses with success but for some reason I found hard cheeses more intimidating.  Reading a cheese recipe is like reading a recipe for soap or beer or wine.  It dawns on you that some really complex chemical interactions (magic for an unscientific person like me) are required for your cheese (beer or wine) to come out right.  You have to pay attention to things like acidity! *shudders as science angst grips her stomach*

I decided that I had to face the giant and all that I really had to lose was a couple of gallons of milk, some rennet and some culture (pun intended).  It had been a long time since we had chicken enchiladas and I decided to make some queso fresco for them instead of buying the cheese at the store.

A conventional cheese press and an improvised cheese press

After completing the first magic step of turning milk into queso fresco-flavored curds, it was time to press the cheese.  I used to think that pressing cheese was necessary just to turn it into that nice cylindrical shape that made it easier to store.  I learned that it, too, is another magical process.  Cheese needs to be pressed so that it chemically “knits” together.  Who knew?  I had too many curds for my press capacity, so thanks to my neighbors at Victory Ranch, I was able to improvise a press with a mold, a souffle dish and some heavy books.  I recommend the standard press.

Finished queso fresco

I discovered you don’t really need to understand how everything works in order to make cheese.  Just follow the instructions of a good recipe and all the chemistry will take care of itself.

How did it taste?  Like queso fresco, only as with all the other things that are home grown, it was somehow richer.  Like the difference between home-made brownies and brownies out of the box.  Raw milk aficionados will understand what I’m talking about.

This, my friends, is why a person would keep a dairy cow.

Freezing Cold and Exploding Udders
February 10, 2011, 1:40 pm
Filed under: Cows, Weather

Poor Rosie. The day she calved her udder was so full the milk just dripped and sometimes sprayed out of her. Her skin was stretched so tight that I thought it would tear. Her udder looked like a blown up rubber glove with the teats pointed outward. She was so full we could only get a thumb and a forefinger on each teat and because they pointed away from her center, we had to milk one at a time. We were milking about a half gallon at a time out of a cow who was producing about 2 1/2 gallons of milk twice a day. Two days after she calved we had her in a stanchion for 5 hours trying to milk her.

The next day we reached our record cold temperatures for the year. (I hope anyway!) The high that day was -7 and the low -16 and the wind was howling at about 25-30 miles an hour. The guy we bought our cow from just happened to be in Colorado and just happened to call to see how everything was going. He offered to loan us a milking machine, and while I had been reluctant to use a milking machine, I decided to take him up on his offer. That is the smartest decision I’ve made in recent history. We drove 2 hours one way to where he was to pick up the machine, came home and milked out the cow. It took three people to work the machine but we made it happen and we did it again the next morning.

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Baby cow asleep in the kitchen

We brought the new calf into our kitchen because we don’t have the facilities to maintain calves at a toasty 40 degrees when the weather is like that.

We are continuing to keep her warm in our kitchen as the temperatures have been below zero and in the single digits at night, but we’re looking forward to relocating her tomorrow when we expect to have low temperatures in the 20’s. I really need to be convinced about this global warming thing…

Rosie Had Her Baby
February 8, 2011, 12:54 pm
Filed under: Cows | Tags: , ,

Rosie had been looking very uncomfortable for several days.  Think whale.   Her bag had been full for a little over a week and the ligaments next to her tail head were relaxed for about the same amount of time.  Baggy vulva, too, and her gait had started to look unstable.  Two days before the calf was born, I took some pictures because I was so convinced it had to be soon. That was Thursday night.

I checked on her Friday evening before I went to bed and she looked pretty much the same as she had the night before.

Rosie's rear end

Rosie two days before calving


Saturday morning Jon went out around 8:00 a.m. and informed me that there was no change in Rosie.  I thought, “Great!  We’ll have bacon and eggs for breakfast and then go out and do the barn chores and milk Tiddles.”  I was still in my jammies anyway.  When we were done eating, I began to clear the table and Jon went out again.  He came right back in and announced, “There is a little calf standing next to Rosie in the corral!!”  That was at 9:30 a.m.  Obviously, there had been a change in Rosie; just one that had gone unnoticed!  So I hurried and got dressed and here are some pictures of what I found.


Rosie and her new heifer calf

Newborn calf


Rosie’s little heifer calf was born around 9:30 a.m. on an unseasonably warm winter’s day, January 29, 2011.  We reached a high of 74 degrees that day.  Unfortunately that great weather didn’t last long….