Saturday, January 29, 2011

A computer named Monkey

I'm typing this post from a new-to-us used computer. My old computer died. Literally. The widespread power outage in Melrose two weeks ago damaged the power supply on my computer so severely that the computer wouldn't even attempt to start up.

My computer doctor said there really wasn't any chance of reviving my computer and gently told me I should look for a new one.

That was the bad news. The good news, he said, was that none of my data was damaged and he would be able to transfer it to a new computer without any problem.

We hadn't exactly budgeted for a new computer, even at a used price.

Well, about that same time, the decision was made to sell Monkey. During milking one morning, she had kicked Glen so hard that he chipped a tooth. (By the way, thanks to all of you who emailed or posted suggestions for taming Monkey. I think she was just a lost cause.)

"Enough is enough," he said.

When the check came from the sale barn, Glen said, "Well, we just traded Monkey for a computer."

A good trade, I must say.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

We can't keep them all forever

It's probably a good thing it didn't work out for me to make the trip to the sale barn yesterday because I'd have been a blubbering mess. We sent Naddy to the sale barn along with the bull calves.

Usually, I take the bull calves to the sale barn on Thursdays because we like to get them there early. It seems like we get a better price for our calves if they're there right away.

Well, yesterday when I went to get the cattle trailer from the neighbors, we discovered a flat tire on the trailer. By the time the tire was changed and Naddy and the calves were loaded, it was too late for me to make the trip, so Glen took them.

I stood in the yard and watched as the truck and trailer drove away, tears freezing to my cheeks. Despite my resolve to be strong, something about selling Naddy was too hard for me to accept without tears.

Naddy, along with Mara and Delilah, was part of a trio of cows that was remarkable. They were springers when we started farming and all three of them looked alike — big, framy heifers with nearly identical markings. Naddy went on to body down into an exceptionally deep cow, just like her mother.

All of the springers that first year were special to me because they were the calves born the summer I worked at home during college. I had named them and got them off to a good start, but I never knew for sure what their futures would hold until we decided to start farming.

Part of what made selling Naddy so hard was the reasoning behind the decision. We've been talking for awhile about how we're going to handle the calving rush when it starts (any day now!). We don't want to switch cows right now and there's nobody else to dry off for awhile, so the only way to free up stalls in the barn is to say goodbye.

Naddy got put on the list because, well, she was old, and because she was having some issues with udder health. She calved in with twin heifer calves in October and it seemed like that pregnancy really took a lot out of her. Plus, we had a difficult time getting her to settle during her last two lactations and Glen didn't think breeding her back this time would be any easier. All the same, we aren't ones to give up easily on cows, and I suspect that if space wasn't an issue Naddy would've been around a while longer.

I just keep telling myself that, as much as I'd like to, we can't keep them all forever.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Calves and secrets

It's been a month now since our last calf was born and I am really enjoying the break. Our last two calves of 2010 came on the 16th of December and, believe me, I did a little happy dance that day.

The first calf, a week-overdue bull, arrived shortly before we got to the barn that morning. Great, I thought, just one left to calve.

By the time we finished chores, Disney's calf was on its way, too. I was so excited. Disney was already a day overdue and I figured she'd go a week over just to spite me.

After the heifer calf was born, Glen said, "Well, you got your Tinkerbell. And now I have a secret to tell you."

"A secret?" I asked.

"Disney was bred five days after the cutoff," he said sheepishly.

"And you kept that secret for nine whole months?"

We agreed last March that we wouldn't breed any cows from March 10th to May 10th, so that there wouldn't be any calves born from December 15th to February 15th.

Disney came into heat on March 15th. Since she was a first calf heifer, Glen didn't think she should wait another two months to breed back, so he bred her. He recorded a breeding date of March 10th on the breeding chart and zipped his lips.

"So, in reality Disney was due December 21st and she calved early?" I asked.

"Yep," Glen said.

"Boy, are you lucky she didn't go a week overdue!"

"Yeah, I was starting to get worried," he admitted.

We ended up having a good laugh about it and I commended Glen for his resolve to keep his secret.

The break has really been nice. We don't have an indoor calving area, so calves born this time of year mean a lot of extra worrying and a lot of extra work. We won't have a full two months off like I had hoped (it's more like five-and-a-half weeks), but it's way better than the two weeks we had off last year!

Monday, January 10, 2011

How to Tame Your Monkey

During our stay at my dad's for Christmas, we watched the movie How to Tame Your Dragon. It's a delightful film based on the book by the same name about how a Viking boy befriends a dragon and begins to understand the beings his people so greatly feared.

I imagine that the boy's experience parallels that of the people who first domesticated farm animals. At the very least, it parallels my own experience in taming one of our new heifers — Monkey.

It's been a while since we've had a heifer as high-strung as Monkey. Our relief milker said she had a bit of a behavior problem, but it's more than just a bit. She requires constant supervision while the milker is on — once you get the milker on, that is.

So, over the course of the last month, I've learned a lot about Monkey. For example, kickers don't prevent her from taking the milker off, they just slow her down a little. Hobbles don't work either. Tail jacking is a little more effective, but it's awful annoying to stand there like that while she milks out, something which seems to take forever anyway.

The only thing that keeps Monkey still during milking is grooming her, as in scratching or curry combing. One of the wild heifers we had a few years ago could be distracted into standing still by scratching her tail head, so I tried this with Monkey one day. She never lifted a foot.

The next milking I started scratching her back, this time using a curry comb, and moved up to her shoulders and neck. Again, she didn't kick once. Glen's only comment was "unbelievable." It was pretty remarkable to see her actually standing still.

Unfortunately, the curry combing is starting to lose it's effectiveness now that Monkey's winter coat is all shed and her itches are gone. I'm also getting a little tired of grooming her nonstop; if I stop moving the curry comb, she starts kicking.

There was a time when we would have kept heifers like Monkey regardless of how badly they behaved. Now that we're in a different situation (e.g. I don't have the time or patience to tame heifers like I used to and there are plenty of replacements waiting in the wings), Monkey's fate has become a common topic of discussion. We're not sure if we're going to give her more time to settle down or if she'll donate her spot in the barn when calving starts up again.

One thing is certain, though: if she ends up at the sale barn, she'll be the sleekest, shiniest young cow there.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Small changes

Little improvements can make a big difference, especially when it comes to farm work. We made a few small changes around here in the past month that improved our efficiency and made our work easier.

• Following a suggestion from one of my co-workers at the Dairy Star, I put a tank heater in the stock tank used by the heifers in the overflow housing. Now, instead of having to deal with ice in the tank on a daily basis, all I have to do is carry water out.

• We finally found some chains for the tires on our mixing tractor. Glen really wanted chains last winter, but we didn't have any (and we weren't about to buy them new). As it turned out, our neighbor had some that fit; so we bought his. The difference between chains and no chains when mixing and unloading feed is night and day.

• We're now bedding the cows with shavings and straw (before we used just straw). We found that if we sprinkle the aisle with shavings before we let the cows out and bring them in, they walk right into their stalls. When we use just lime on the aisle, the cows can still see the wet spots, so they try to jump over the spots.

• Another bit of advice we got from a friend works really well, too. He suggested wearing sweat pants under jeans during the winter, instead of long underwear, because long underwear will make your legs tired faster. I didn't believe him until I tried it. It seems like I have twice as much energy outside and I don't have to put my insulated bibs on until it gets really cold.

With all of the time and effort we've saved by making just a few small changes, I've decided that my resolution for the new year is to find more small changes that make life and work easier and more enjoyable.

Have you made a small change recently that made your life easier?