Saturday, May 22, 2010

One more day

What a difference a day makes. The folks in our neighborhood who cut hay on Monday were able to put up dry hay. We started cutting on Tuesday and finished on Wednesday. (I noticed that I wrote Monday in my last post, but that's because I had my days mixed up. That happens to me when there's a lot going on!)

With yesterday's early morning sprinkles and overcast sky, we decided to go ahead and start wrapping hay. We baled and wrapped a third of the hay last night. (For some reason, it always seems like we end up wrapping hay in the middle of the night.) We were hoping to finish the last 60 acres today, but this morning's shower might change our plans. Once again, we'll have to wait and see what the day's weather brings.

On the bright side, all of this moisture will sure give the second crop a nice start. And considering that this year we'll be cutting second crop at a time when we'd normally still be making first crop, I think we'll be okay — even if we end up with way more balage than we originally intended. The heifers will enjoy the extra.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Only in Minnesota

Less than two weeks ago, I had to keep Dan in the house while we were visiting my family because I hadn't packed his snowpants or winter boots. Monika was still wearing her snowsuit to the barn last week. Now, Dan's outside running around in shorts and sandals; pretty soon, he'll have his own little farmer's tan.

Less than two weeks ago, there was snow falling from the sky. Yesterday, we finished cutting our first crop of hay. Only in Minnesota can the seasons flip-flop around like they have this spring. I laughed out loud while reading Jim Bennett's column in the May 8 issue of the Dairy Star as he described his decision to put his long underwear on, even though the forecast for that April day was 80 degrees.

My grandfather wore his long underwear until the first of July. Granted, we lived in northern Minnesota and it tends to be a bit cooler up there, but often those spring and early summer days would start out cool enough for two layers, but warm up enough to put shorts on by late afternoon. I believe Grandpa thought it was silly to change clothes as many times in a day as my sisters and I did, so he just kept his long underwear on.

When we started cutting hay on Monday, the forecast looked clear until Sunday. Glen was thrilled by the prospect of putting our first crop up as dry hay. Now, it looks like the front is moving in faster, possibly bringing the rain as soon as tomorrow. It seems like that old farmer's saying — if you cut hay, it will rain — has some merit to it. We still have the option of wrapping the first crop, so we'll see what Minnesota's fickle weather brings us today.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The skunk's revenge

We had a little problem with a skunk in the henhouse earlier this spring. It started with half-eaten eggs in the lower nest boxes. Then, one night as I entered the coop to collect eggs, I was greeted by the unmistakable black and white of the furry fiend. By the time the sniper reached the henhouse, the smelly critter had retreated to the space beneath the coop. And there he lays. And therein lies my problem.

For weeks the coop stunk to high heaven. It's really hard to walk through a narrow door into a small building when you're constantly reminded of what could greet you around the corner. I'd cautiously scan the interior of the coop with my flashlight before entering and then quickly check the blind corners after stepping in half-way.

After a while, the smell dissipated and my egg collecting returned to normal. Then, last week, the smell returned. I'm not sure if the damp air kept the lingering odor close enough to the ground to make it detectable once again, if there's a new skunk living under the chicken coop or if the skunk's ghost is just out to get me. My uneasiness returned with the smell. But now that I don't need a flashlight anymore to collect eggs, I've become increasingly suspicious of the shadows in the coop. I suppose my torment is the price I pay for turning the skunk in to the sniper, but I've had enough of this skunk's revenge.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dirty jobs

There are some tasks involved in farming — and parenting, for that matter — that most people would classify as gross. I won't go into any detail here because I just finished my breakfast and maybe you have, too. Although I've long been immune to the grossness of these jobs, as most farmers and parents are, they don't need to be described in words.

A couple tasks in the past two weeks here have had me thinking about other professions' dirty jobs. I have to hand it to plumbers; some of their service calls have to be downright cringe-worthy. After listening to my sister explain the impaired function of their bathtub drain and then experiencing it for myself, I took care of the problem for her by simply removing the drain guard and cleaning out the yuck. Yuck that, she said, hadn't once been cleaned out since she moved there. She was gagging. I was fine. Maybe my stomach has been hardened by years of farming.

As it often goes, since I'd chided her for lack of drain maintenance and told her to get a drain guard that would actually catch her long hair, wouldn't you know it but we had drain trouble just a few days after returning home. All of a sudden one morning, the water in our kitchen sink started rising instead of draining. Pretty soon, I could see the water rising up in the other basin. Trap trouble, I deduced. I planned to take care of the problem after my meeting that day, but Glen beat me to it. (Aw, shucks!) The trap, he reported, was plugged up with no less than six drinking straws and all of the kitchen sink yuck that got caught on top of them. No more straws in the sink, we decided. Now if we can only get Dan to oblige.

I figured that had to be it for dirty jobs for a while, at least in the house, but the dryer proved me wrong. While a load was drying, the dryer vent ductwork came apart. Lint was spewed all over the basement, but that didn't bother me as much as all of the lint that was stuck inside the duct. I'm guessing it had to be decades worth. Since the duct was half apart already and in dire need to de-gunking, we took the opportunity to give it a good cleaning. We shop-vac'ed out the duct and then Glen reached into the back of the dryer to remove the deposits of lint trapped there. He pulled out fistfuls while I vacuumed them up. One of the fistfuls didn't go through the nozzle so I tried to break it up a little, only to discover exactly why it wouldn't pass through. It was the desiccated carcass of a house mouse all mummified in lint. Hmmm... How long had he been there? Was this mouse a former pet or an uninvited guest? Either way, knowing that mouse came out of our dryer gave me the willies. Maybe HVAC and appliance repair professionals deserve some credit for the dirty jobs they encounter, too.

I think I'll go out to the barn now. At least the dirty jobs out there are routine and expected.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

A new heifer calf, our first one this month. New goslings and ducklings in the pasture ponds. A real, sit-down brunch at a restaurant (with two fairly-well behaved children, no less) which found us reconnecting with old friends. It was a great day to be a mom.

I hope your Mother's Day was delightful, too.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


The kids and I are up here visiting my family and the newest arrival. Thankfully, we drove up on Thursday, because you should see the snow on the ground. When I talked to Glen yesterday, he said it was raining at home, but it snowed all day up here.This was no friendly little snow shower, either; the flakes were gusting like a real December snow storm.

After watching the snow fall yesterday morning, Dan proclaimed, "Papa, it's time to put the Christmas tree up again!" Dan's asks every once in awhile if we can put the Christmas tree up and have his birthday again, but I kept telling him we have to wait until there's snow on the ground again. Apparently, that wasn't a well thought out delay tactic.

Dan wanted to go out and play in snow yesterday but we didn't pack our snowsuits and boots, so Dan had to be satisfied with watching the snow from inside and I had to accept his cooped-up behavior.

The scene when I looked out the window this morning was quite the paradox. The spring green of the trees' new leaves stood in stark contrast to the blanket of white on the ground.  Unfortunately, I forgot my camera.

If I hadn't spent my entire life in Minnesota, I'd never have believed this possible, but it snowed when we were here last year in mid-May for my grandfather's interment, as well. We didn't end up with four inches on the ground, though.

The sun is shining now, and coupled with the warmer temperature, is quickly melting the snow. Slowly, the fields are returning to the green of the new grass and the beef cows are wandering back out to the pasture.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Welcome to the world!

Spring is most often thought of as a time for new life, and the season is no different around here. We always have an abundance of calves in the spring and this is when we start finding litters of kittens in the haymow and sheds. But this past week will go down in history as one of the most prolific weeks ever.

The week started with a new calf, which as I mentioned above, is par for the course. Then, on Sunday, Glen's sister called to announce the week-early arrival of our niece. On Tuesday morning, we got the call that my sister's baby was on its way — two weeks early. Talk about a surprise! By mid-morning, our nephew was born. 

And if a new niece and nephew weren't reasons enough to make the week special, we got another during chores that morning. The eggs I put under a hen determined to set in one of the nest boxes had begun to hatch. I could hear the eggs peeping when I checked them; by the time chores were done we had two fluffy, new chicks. Now, our proud mama hen, as Dan calls her, is clucking about with her brood of eight. (I'm just hoping they're all pullets — we don't need any more roosters!)

I think the low pressure system moving in must have been a catalyst for all the new arrivals, because Tuesday was also the day Skippy's mother gave birth to a new litter of puppies.

This will definitely be a week to remember.

Welcome to the world, little ones!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The cows are out

Around here, "the cows are out" is a statement capable of initiating an immediate response. I'm guessing that's the case on most other dairy farms, too. The only thing worse than having cattle out is the cows (or heifers) getting out when the farmwork is in someone else's hands because you took the weekend off.

Skippy, our Brown Swiss heifer, jumped out of the dry cow-bred heifer lot three times while we were gone last weekend. The fence just wasn't enough to keep her away from the green grass on the other side. After the third time, the guys who do chores for us finally resorted to locking her in the shed.

So, Monday morning, instead of trying to keep Skippy in, the dry cows went out to pasture. Tuesday morning the milk cows followed. It was sort of unplanned start to the grazing season, but we were pleasantly surprised by how much grass was actually out there already. It didn't look like that much from the barn.

And, like they always do, as soon as the milk cows discovered the open gate to the pasture they bolted out like a group of young heifers. Even some of the old cows kicked their heels up. Then, just as quickly, they stopped in their tracks. I think they thought they were going to be in trouble for being out. Glen gave a yell, they realized it was okay, and they took off again. They rushed from one end of the pasture to the other, like they were checking to make sure it was all still there. Then they all came into the cow yard and looked around like 'what are we supposed to do now?'

Glen said, "I think they forgot what grass is."

But, then, slowly they made their way back out to the pasture and started grazing.

Next year I'm going to video tape the sight. It's the only time I'm happy to hear "the cows are out".