Friday, September 25, 2009

Barn dancers

We have an esophagus feeder, but I don't use it very much. My dislike for using it gives me a lot of patience when it comes to feeding new calves. Luckily, that patience isn't tested very often – most of our newborns take to the bottle without any coaxing on my part. Rita's bull calf, however, absolutely refused to drink. I tried every trick I knew before flying the white flag. I tend to have slightly less patience with bull calves than I do heifers, but I really did try hard to get Rita's calf to drink.

Luckily, Glen was in the milk house when I returned for the esophagus feeder. I usually defer tube feeding to him if he's around, so I handed him the feeder. While I stayed in the milk house to wash bottles, Glen kindly took care of administering colostrum to Rita's calf. Apparently, the calf didn't take too kindly to the administering – I could hear him bawling and thrashing from inside the milk house.

When Glen returned, he said, "Well, he certainly did not disappoint his ancestors."

I laughed.

Rita comes from a line of high strung, sensitive cows. We call them barn dancers. Rita's mother, Rosie, is one of the calmer ones in the family. Rosie's sister, Hopscotch, is lucky she's still around; McDonald's was mentioned more than once during her first lactation.

Hopscotch wasn't the name she was given as a calf. We renamed her after the start of her first lactation. Her udder was so sensitive and she hated the milker so much that she'd kick with both back feet at once, like a kid playing hopscotch. It took both of us to milk her – one in the pit to reattach the milker after she kicked it off and one up above to hold her tail, which reduced her kicking by about half. At the time I seriously thought someone should invent an udder-numb spray for first calf heifers like her.

We probably should have culled Hopscotch, but we had just started farming, so every cow putting milk in the tank was important enough to risk broken arms for. Plus, Hopscotch came from one of my dad's favorite cow families – the Bo Derek family. Apparently, he liked to keep life interesting; I'm guessing that maybe if they hadn't milked as well as they did, Dad wouldn't have kept them around, but he did. One of Bo Derek's granddaughters was nicknamed Pellegro (that's Spanish for danger). Most of them just lived with red Ks marked on their rumps so whoever was milking knew that they should use kickers.

Hopscotch is now about to start her fifth lactation. She's mellowed some with age. She doesn't kick quite as fast as she used to, and only with one foot at a time now. But now that we're in a tie-stall barn, we have to deal with her front end as well. She tosses her head and snorts when we tie her up or untie her.

Rita's calf and the subsequent reminiscing about Hopscotch's first lactation made us wonder: How heritable is temperament? Who has more influence, dam or sire?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It's silage time!

Here we are chopping corn again. I can't believe it's already that time of year. Glen brought samples in to the DHIA lab on Thursday to check moisture levels. One of the fields came back at 62 percent moisture. After a brief visit with the neighbors who chop our corn and a couple phone calls, arrangements were made to chop yesterday. It's amazing how quickly the plans for a quiet Friday turned into non-stop tractor traffic and the constant whir of the blower. I feel bad for Glen because he really wasn't ready to chop yesterday. He's been helping at the neighbor's all week, so he's been running constantly and was hoping for a couple days' rest before chopping. He also likes to have the silo unloader raised, the boxes lined up and an extra tractor reserved for hauling well before the chopping starts — none of which were taken care of before yesterday morning. It all came together, though. The unloader went up, the boxes rolled in and his dad and brother arrived to help — and everything was in place by the time the first load came in. Glen's uncle came to look at a concrete project for us and, instead, spent the day hauling loads. I don't think it's how he expected to spend the day, but I bet he had fun. I think they all did. Those smiling, dusty faces reflect the excitement and pride of a successful harvest.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where's Annie?

We're starting to believe, sadly, that Annie is probably never coming home. Her tags had our phone number on them, but nobody has called. I stopped jumping every time the phone rang – thinking it was someone calling about Annie – earlier this week. The nightmares about searching for our beautiful girl haven't interrupted my sleep for a couple nights now. Still, the process of accepting her fate has been hard. Two nights ago in the barn, Dan looked around and asked, "Where's Annie?" I had to tell him, "Honey, we don't know where Annie is." Almost instantly, he told me, "Annie's at school, Mom." Yeah, I hope Annie is in a happy place. I'm not sure where Dan got the idea, but I'm glad I didn't have to explain the situation any further.

The farm is eerily quiet without her. Vehicles arrive unannounced. There are no shrieks of joy as Dan and Annie run together across the yard or up and down the mangers in the barn. The cats and chickens have cautiously expanded their territories. One of the barn cats – the one that has the same markings and coloring as Annie – actually ventured up to the house last night and was sitting in Annie's place on the front steps.

Deep down a little part of me is holding out hope that she's out there somewhere and will find her way home. I'm just not ready to say goodbye yet.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Worried sick

On top of being sickened by the fumes blowing into our yard last night (see previous post), I spent the night worried sick. For the record, I now know how my father must have felt, sitting in his recliner, waiting, when us girls weren't home by curfew. Our beloved Annie is missing. She ran alongside the tractor while Glen was baling straw on Wednesday afternoon and that's the last anyone remembers seeing her. Fearing she was hit on the road, I've checked the road ditches for a half-mile in both directions and found nothing. None of the neighbors have seen her either.

My heart aches thinking about her. Where is she? Is she hurt? Did someone dog-nap her? The first night wasn't so bad, but going to bed last night know that Annie wasn't in her usual place on the steps in front of the door just made me sick.

The farm is noticeably quiet without her. I don't think Dan has really noticed that she's missing yet. I hope she turns up somewhere before we have answer the question, "Annie, where are you?" He'll be devastated when she doesn't come running to his call of "Annie, Annie, Annie!"

If you live in our area, please keep your eyes open for our friend. Annie is an extremely friendly, pretty well-behaved dog. She's wearing a blue collar and tags. Regardless of where you live, please keep your fingers crossed for her safe return. We miss her terribly. (And I could really use a good night's sleep.)

Toxic fumes, anyone?

Quick, what's the most nauseating, headache-inducing smell you can think of? Road-killed skunk? A liquid propane leak? Cigarette smoke? The container of leftovers that was lost in the back of the fridge? A stroll past the eau d'parfum counter at a department store? All of these will make me hold my nose, but nothing will make me more ill (and more crabby) than the smell of burning garbage.

Somebody in our neighborhood decided to barbecue their trash last night. This was no pile of baler twine and feed sacks, either – this was the whole can of household refuse. I can tell the difference. My family burned garbage when I was growing up. To keep the smoke from drifting toward the house, the fire was started when there was an east wind, which meant the toxic fumes blew toward the barn instead. I swear that burning barrel was only lit on the nights when it was my turn to milk. I know exactly what burning plastic smells like: awful.

Last night was no different. The prevailing winds carried the stench right into our yard. Our new barn fans pulled the reeking air right into the barn and milk house. I gagged through the last half of chores and finished with a splitting headache. You know the old commercial where the lady says, "I have a headache this big," and holds her hands out? That was me last night.

Maybe my olfactory system is overly sensitive, but I'm pretty sure there's a good reason why burning garbage was banned: the fumes released from incinerating household trash truly are toxic. Thanks, neighbors, for polluting the air my children and I breathe and making my bad night even worse.