Monday, November 14, 2011

The biggest comeback ever

This is Peanut. She's one of the Brown Swiss-Holstein crosses in our herd. She recently celebrated her 6th birthday and is in her 4th lactation.

Unfortunately, Peanut inherited her Holstein mother's poor feet and legs, so there are times when her feet get pretty sore. This summer was one of those times. (For the non-farmers reading this, heat hurts cows feet and we had a lot of hot days this summer.)

Not only were her feet sore, but she also developed a large cyst on her left rear knee. We gave her aspirin every day to help ease the pain and even kept her in the barn on some of the hottest days so she wouldn't have to walk so much in the pasture. But Peanut's milk production still fell. (When cows don't feel good, they don't eat, and when they don't eat, they don't make milk.) And she didn't come in heat.

So, we put Peanut on the 'Do Not Breed' list, which meant that once we were done with the grazing season, we would say goodbye to Peanut.

But, then, with a little therapy, the cyst on Peanut's knee went away. And then her feet started to feel better. By mid-October, Peanut was pain free. When she came in for milking, her udder was full. And when she came in heat, Glen took her off the 'Do Not Breed' list. 

When we tested milk last week, we were astonished by just how much better Peanut was feeling. On the October test, Peanut gave 50 pounds of milk. On our November test, Peanut produced 90 pounds.

Peanut's lactation curve (in red)

[Chart from McGill Univ. Dept. of Animal Science]

So, now we don't know what we'll do with Peanut. We're in the process of reducing our numbers to get back down to our winter size, so every cow's performance is under evaluation. If Peanut's pregnancy test comes back positive in a couple weeks, she'll probably get to stay. And if she does, she'll complete the biggest comeback ever.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Meet Beth

A couple weeks ago during evening milking, our neighbor and a couple of her family members from out of state came over to watch milking. Our neighbor's nephew's wife, Beth, had never visited a dairy farm before.

Beth had lots of great questions. And since she's a nurse that works with newborn human babies, many of her questions were about lactation and baby calves. I answered Beth's questions and helped her milk Harley, one of our cows. When milking was done, Beth and her sister-in-law, Kayla, took turns feeding one our newborn calves his bottle.

Beth asked how we come up with names for all of our cows. I explained that we name all the calves when they're born, most of the time with a name that starts with the same letter as the calf's mother's name. Calves' names often reflect what's happening in our lives at the time of their birth.

Beth then asked if we would name a calf after her. I told her I sure would; Bloom, Belle and Bitsy were due to calve in the next couple weeks and at least one of those calves should be a heifer.

On October 12, Bitsy had a heifer calf and we were able to grant Beth's wish. Beth, the calf, is off to a great start. She's a curious, spunky calf.

And she's a constant reminder of our visit with Beth, the nurse, and the opportunity to introduce her to dairy farming.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kids, then cows

For the past four years, we arranged our kids' schedule around the cows' schedule. I used to tell myself that our kids were learning adaptability and flexibility by living their lives around the cows' schedule. And, honestly, I think that's true. It wasn't a disaster if our kids didn't go to bed exactly on time or have their snack on time.

But now that Dan is in school and we have to abide by the rest of the world's schedule, a lot has changed. The kids' schedule comes first now.

It became clear after the first couple weeks of school that Dan couldn't just go to bed early on the nights before school. Going to bed early one night and going to bed later the next night was like having a kid on a yo-yo.

So now bedtime is early every night, with an occasional exception. That means I handle bedtime by myself most nights and Glen ends up finishing chores by himself. I wasn't in favor of this type of division of duties, but it's actually working out quite well.

Dan and Monika have adjusted to the new schedule. I'm still adjusting to them waking up earlier on the days Dan doesn't have school, but that will come. The improvements we made to the heifer facilities this summer make it a lot easier for Glen for finish chores alone and allow me to focus on the kids without worrying about how chores are going outside.

"We'll figure it out when we get there," is one of the mottos I live by. And as much as I fretted about how we'd adjust to Dan starting school, I held to the belief that we'd figure it out. And we have.

Halloween fun

Dan and Monika had a blast trick-or-treating this year. (I had fun, too.) We made a record number of stops to see our friends and family, and we didn't have any incidents involving tears, tantrums or tired kids. At least until we got home; the minute Monika got out of the car, she refused to take another step and insisted that I carry her to the house.