Hello, and maybe I should introduce myself.  I seem to have broken my own record for length of time not blogging.  Who’d have guessed retirement with hubby home all day would be busier than mom-life with husband working in a career all day?!  But, as one blog-buddy put it, we are living the dream, and loving every moment of it….well almost every moment.

Oh, where do I start?  How about babies?  Because everyone loves babies, right?

We had the most amazing kid crop this year.  Best ever!  The does were fertile, the deliveries were easy, and the kids were all the same weights, roughly.   These are all signs of good nutrition, which I attribute to the winter hay and woodland browse they got last fall through this spring.  Faith had a single buckling.  Again.  Thus, we decided it was time to cull her.  Don’t worry, we didn’t eat her.  Just sold her to another family who didn’t need the high quantities of milk we prefer, and didn’t mind single births.  Joy delivered twins, totally unassisted.  Caramel, our petite little doe, amazingly delivered a huge single doeling totally unassisted.  Just popped it right out.  The doeling clearly did not have mom’s petite genetics, and will no doubt be full sized.  Nonetheless, we decided to cull those genetics as well.  I sold Caramel and her doeling to a lady who was starting a mini-Alpine herd, for which they were perfect.  Latte’ delivered triplets–two does and a buck, and all were the spitting image of her!  She was the only one I had to assist a bit, as the first little doeling had her nose tucked a bit when the other two decided to race her to the birth canal and got her all jammed up in there.  I just had to get her little nose up into the canal, and then she popped out, followed quickly by the other two.  Needless to say, we paired down our goat herd again.  We are down to Latte, Joy, and Joy’s little doeling, Hope.  We harvested all the bucklings and sold the other doelings.  Here’s a few of the kid photos, just for fun.






Tiffany, the Lowline, and Abbigail, our jersey, had their calves about a week apart.  Both calved unassisted, though both calves required a little forced colostrum to get them going.  I’m not sure why that was, but it was another strike against cattle, who S has decided are his least favorite animal on the farm.  Tiffany and Hollie, the other cow, along with Tiffany’s bull calf are all up for sale, and will hopefully be gone by the end of the week.  Abbigail’s cutie of a heifer calf was purchased by the owner of the sire for his grandson to raise as a nurse cow, as she is a Jersey/Lowline cross.  Did you get that last sentence?  Just read it a couple more times and it will eventually fall into place.  I will probably do the same breeding this year, if the sire is still available.  I had a blast training the heifer to a bottle and halter training her before she left.  She even wound up the star of a recent petting zoo event we did in town.

Tiffany's bull calf

Tiffany’s bull calf

Abby's heifer calf

Abby’s heifer calf

We have chicks running out the wazoo.  We recently got our second batch of meat birds from Murray McMurray hatchery.  In an attempt to increase our laying flock for next year, I bought up a bunch from craigslist, and we have hatched another batch.  We currently have about 75 meat bird chicks in the tractors, and about 44 purebred and mixed breed laying chicks in the brooder.

We’ve also had several litters of rabbit kits.  JR recently lost Pelham, his old, favorite buck, which was a bummer.  He also had trouble getting one of his new does bred, so he decided to cull her and start over with one of Pelham’s last litter.

That’s it for babies around the farm.  I’ll try once again to get you updated.  I have gotten several inquiries as to my whereabouts from some faithful readers, and I greatly appreciate it.  It’s always nice knowing folks out there care and are praying for us.  We’ve had a few tough times recently, and needed all the prayers, for sure.  Things are going well now, and actually slowing down a little for the first time, so we’ll see if I can be more regular.

This winter has been rough.  Thankfully, God gave me a gut feeling to over-buy on hay last year.  The farmers I bought from thought I was nuts buying so much.  They kept telling me that Illinois winters were never as long or as harsh as what I was preparing for.  Now, here we are a full week into February, when the “normal” temps should be in the 30’s or so, and today is -1 with a windchill of -17.  There is almost a foot of snow on the ground, and no one wants to be outside.


As a result of almost continuously frigid temperatures for over 6 weeks now, the goats are putting their calories into staying warm rather than milk.  They are drying up early to conserve energy.  With no cows or goats due to freshen again until May, that was going to be a very long dry spell.

Then came Hollie, our Lowline beef cow I posted on previously, who wound up being bred before I got her.  I decided to turn her into a homestead milk cow to cover our dry spell.  I just had to teach the semi-wild, untouchable cow to let me touch and milk her.  Of course, she had to calve before I could milk her.  So, we came up with a plan.  First, I asked to S to design a head gate right into her stall wall, and we trained Hollie to use it.


Then we waited for her to calve.  That day finally arrived last week.  As usual, I closely checked her the night before.  Although we knew she was close, she was showing no new signs of impending labor, so I didn’t do a midnight check.  It was just too cold.  The next morning, S (who let the animals out of the barn first thing each morning) woke me to report there was  finally a bouncing baby calf in the stall.  I was so excited!  I jumped out of bed, bundled up, possibly 10 minutes elapsed between him being out there and me getting out there, and I arrived to the barn to find a calf–dead as a doornail.  He was a perfect little bull calf.  I had to risk going in to the stall with a potentially very protective mama cow.  It was risky, but it was as if she knew.  She actually looked at me, bawled, and then nudged her calf helplessly, as if asking me to help her get him up.

Some days I hate farming.  The rest of my day was just lousy, wishing I could crawl back under the bedcovers and be depressed.  It just breaks my heart when I lose an animal unexpectedly.  In this case, we believe she stepped on the calf.  It turned out, she was also missing a chunk of her ear.  We theorize one of two things happened.  The dogs were in the barn, but were not in the stall with her when S was out there.  We believe either 1>Hollie stepped on the calf, causing him to scream in pain, which would have brought Athena (the only dog who can squeeze through the stall rail) running to his rescue, and she attacked Hollie trying to protect the calf, or 2> Athena may have gone into the stall to protect the calf from Hollie getting too close (like she does to the goats), and Hollie’s motherly instinct kicked in, they got into a battle to protect baby, causing Athena to bite Hollie and Hollie to step on the calf in the chaos.  We’ll never know exactly what transpired, but it was heartbreaking in any case.

The bittersweet part of the whole thing is that although we lost a perfectly good calf, now we don’t have to milk share, which means we get to keep all Hollie’s milk for the family.  After the calf’s death, I milked out Hollie’s colostrum and froze it for possible future emergencies, and now have her on a twice daily milking routine.  She is doing well, and stands fairly still as long as she has food to eat.  Originally, we bribed her into the head gate with grain, but have since weaned her from grain onto alfalfa pellets (which she’s not as keen on).  So, she’s also learning that she just has to stand there and wait until I finish.  I actually tie her back leg to the corner, since she does have a tendency to kick and stomp when she’s tired of standing there.  It’s also still a two-man job, so S helps me keep her distracted and helps out when she gets fidgety.  We also swap off sometimes, as we have discovered that milking her is much more tiring than milking a goat!


Each milking has increased to about a gallon.  I am looking forward to seeing what her peak production is like.  I’ve not been able to find anyone who’s milked a Lowline, or even an Angus (the larger, original version of the Lowline), so no one seems to have any idea what their production or butterfat content is like.  I have some in the fridge now, separating so I can skim the cream and make butter!  As you can see in the photos, we certainly haven’t reached a point with her to let us be comfortable selling her milk, as we aren’t able to milk her in a proper, more hygienic milking stanchion.  It’s working for our family though.  That little head gate has come in handy on several occasions too!

So, yes, farming is bittersweet.  As usual, we are learning.  We didn’t plan for a winter calf, as we believe in letting animals calve in open pasture whenever possible.  It likely would have prevented this whole scenario.  Nonetheless, we have seen the importance of having a dual-purpose animal such as a beef we can milk, so she can still earn her keep around here.  We’ve also learned the importance of giving the new mama some space from other animals to help prevent any feeling of threat that could cause the calf to get stepped on.  Most of all, we have vowed to avoid having winter babies ever again if we are able to have any control whatsoever.  We hate the worry and stress of those frigid temperatures and wet babies, we hate the midnight checks in snowstorms, we hate the closed in barns and confinement for newborns.  It just isn’t the way God designed it to be.  However, we try to count our blessings, too.  Even though we didn’t know she was bred when we bought her, we feel God knew about our upcoming dry spell with milk, and her calving was timed just perfectly to supply our family with milk.  I know one day, we’ll be able to look back and see how all the events come together, but for now, I confess, I’m ready for spring and fresh air and sunshine and warm temperatures.


As you may know, we began our first experience with cattle this past summer.  After years of research, we had it all planned out.  I bought 2 registered Lowline cow/calf pairs, and included in the price was the opportunity to breed back to a registered bull at my preferred time.  Thanks to our research, we decided to allow the calves to nurse as long as the cows would let them, and see if the cows would wean naturally.  Then, we had them bred in July and August so that 2014 calves would be born in the spring.  This meant there was a better chance of survival (no snow or frigid temps to worry about), and if the yearling calves didn’t wean naturally, my barn paddock would be available to separate them out when the new calves were close to being delivered.  We thought it was a beautiful plan.

Everything ran according to plan–sort of.  You see, I have this problem with making assumptions.  It’s a weakness that tends to get me into trouble quite frequently.  Although I didn’t see our black Lowline, Holly, actually get bred, I assumed she had in the first week since the bull was close to her side for the first week he was here.  I mean, hey, I did have better things to do around here than stand around to see bulls breed cows.  First mistake.  Then, thanks to a drought, we began haying early and the cows had free-choice hay access since late summer.  It was no surprise that Holly gained weight so quickly.  I assumed with her being the dominant boss cow and all, it made since that she would fatten up with all that hay.  Second mistake.


Sean moved home in December and took over my chores.  Literally, for almost a week, I didn’t set foot outside in the cold.  It was WONDERFUL!  No milking on frigid mornings, no ice to deal with, nothing.  It was almost 2 more weeks before I finally decided it was time I go give everyone a good check up before the next winter storm moved in.  I am so glad I did.  That 3 weeks away gave me an outsider’s perspective.  I got out to the cow pen, took one look at Holly, and said, “Oh.My.Stars!  That is no “fat” belly!”  That girl was so clearly VERY pregnant, it looked like she would pop any second.  She reminded me of a ball walking around on stump legs.  I immediately ran in and called the seller to ask “What on earth?!”  Apparently, when I bought her, he had a suspicion an “oops” may have happened shortly after she calved last year, but hoped it hadn’t.  Therefore, he didn’t say anything.  Seeing as how that prize bull of his has so far had a 100% success rate at settling cows, looks like that oops was a big one!

Check out that wide load.  I think she was offended and decided she'd rather hide in her shelter than let me take photos of her wide self.

“Does this make me look fat?” I think she was offended and decided she’d rather hide in her shelter than let me take photos of her wide self.

So the bad news is that Holly is due to calve anytime between now and the end of February.  By the looks of her, it will be sooner than later.  So much for our plan of a spring calf.  Seeing as how we have below zero temperatures and 8 inches of snow on the ground right now, I have to keep a close eye on her.   The good news, however, is that the particular bull who took advantage of her is a very valuable Lowline bull, whose heifer calves never sell for less than $3500!  Sight, unseen, the seller (a big whig with the Lowline organization) has already suggested a trade for 3 steer calves if it’s a heifer.  I’ll have to figure out what to do (as much as I like the seller, I have a feeling he will come out waaaay ahead on that deal!).  Even if it’s a bull calf, he wants to take a look at it for possible trade.  The other possible good news is that, if I can get Holly to let me milk her, she could potentially get us through our dry spell we are expecting in the spring, when the goats dry up in preparation for kidding, and until Abbigail, the jersey cow, delivers.  That would be a tremendous blessing to not have 6 weeks of no milk!

In the mean time, Abbigail is having to unexpectedly share her stall space with Holly’s 10 month old calf for weaning.  No one is too thrilled about that.  Except Holly, who seems somewhat relieved to have him no longer begging for more milk.

When you have the only working farm in your whole neighborhood, which otherwise consists primarily of retired “city-folk” couples looking for the quiet country life, I suspect it isn’t too hard to get on their bad side.  One way to really make them hate you for disturbing their peace and quiet is to wean calves.

Rib-eye on the right, T-Bone on the left.  Both calves are about 5.5 months old.

Rib-eye on the right, T-Bone on the left. Both calves are about 5.5 months old.

I hadn’t originally planned to wean the calves at all.  Unfortunately, drought has caused our pastures to dry up, the cows are both bred (we hope), and the additional stress of these big boys nursing seemed to be putting added stress on the cows.  With a potentially bitter winter on it’s way, I would rather them put a little extra weight on, rather than lose it to heavy milk production and stress load.  Thus, the decision was made to wean the calves.

I tried to keep things as quiet as possible.  I put the calves in the big barn stall, so they could keep each other company, couldn’t escape, and some of their noise would be absorbed by the barn walls–especially when I closed up the barn at night.  Then, I opened the barn up so the cows could walk right up to the stall and check on the calves, they just couldn’t nurse them.  Furthermore, I planned to lock the cows in the middle area of the barn, right beside the calves’ stall, for the night to hopefully hide as much noise as possible.

Tiffany bawling for her calf.  She's a talker anyway, so this situation only intensified her vocalizing!

Tiffany bawling for her calf. She’s a talker anyway, so this situation only intensified her vocalizing!

The first evening was noisy, and the plan to lock everybody in the barn for the night mostly worked.  I couldn’t hear the noise from inside the house, which was good.  Unfortunately, at some point in the night, Holly, the black cow, broke through the barn doors, and wound up separated not only from her calf, but also from her buddy, Tiffany.  She still had Abbigail, the jersey, and the goats to keep her company outside, but it wasn’t the same.  Thankfully, she isn’t much of a talker, so it wasn’t too bad.

With the somewhat pressurized udders, the next day was exceptionally noisy, so I decided I needed to make ammends with neighbors to stay on their good side.  I went to the garden, gathered some veggies and herbs, made several pretty arrangements, and we went door-to-door to our closest neighbors to apologize, explain what the noise was all about, promise it would be temporary, and leave them with the edible gifts.  It seemed to work well, and we left everyone with a smile on their faces.

Whew!  I’m starting to learn that farming can also require skills in using reverse psychology on the neighbors.  Whenever something comes up, as long as we provide a dozen eggs, fresh-baked bread, some fresh veggies, or some other gift as a peace offering, we don’t get moved to the “bad neighbor” list.  If it goes as planned, maybe the neighbors will start to actually look forward to any strange noise or disruptions to their peace and quiet.  You think?

Anyway, we’ve just finished day 3.  I let the calves into the barn paddock today so they could get some fresh air and sunshine, and so I could clean out their stall.  I don’t like a smelly barn.  I’m also using this time to try to friendly them up a bit so they are more easily handled.  That will come in handy when it comes time for slaughter next summer.   The cows are also housed outside as usual now, and only the calves are in the barn at night.  The bawling has mostly subsided now, which is nice.  They still great each other in the morning, and talk a little in the day, but it isn’t disruptive any longer.

I guess I can check another “First” off my list:  “Learn to wean calves.”

It has been another few weeks of busy-ness around here.  Sorry for the absence.  I realized I haven’t even taken any photos!  To catch you up a bit, though…

Building:  I built more shelves.  Lots of shelves.  I will die happy if I never build another shelf, but unfortunately, I have at least 3 more to finish, which means planing, installing, painting, you get the idea.  I got a little help on a couple of projects from an in-law who lives close by and is very good with construction, I finally have desks, shelves, and a reading closet in both the girls’ and boys’ room, plus a new “activity counter” with 2 more desks and some shelves in our loft.  I promise photos soon.  I have a little more tweaking to finish it all.

Unpacking:  I’ve been slowly unpacking for almost 4 months.  Every move in the past has taken 2-3 weeks, tops.  Every house in the past, though, has had shelves and not been a farm when we moved in.  This house had almost no shelves, hence all the building.  Trying to move a family of 7 with a large homeschool library into a 3 bedroom, 1900 square foot house with little storage was challenging to say the least.  I’m getting there, though.  My upstairs still has paths, but the paths are widening by the day.  I’m almost there.

Visiting:  Nana (my mom) heard my inner plea for help, and came to stay for a while.  She has been here about 2 weeks so far, and has been a tremendous help.  She is filling my normal domestic and mommy role to a great extent, while I focus on finishing many of these necessary outdoor and construction projects.

Homeschooling:  We started our school year the last week of August.  N is K4, A is K5, M is 2nd grade, and JR is 4th grade.  And I still haven’t taken their annual school pictures.  Add that to my list of “to-do’s.”  We are doing Abeka Academy again this year, and loving it.  N and A take a lot of focus, which Nana is mostly handling right now.  Once she leaves, the first half of my day will mostly be spent sitting beside them as they work.  JR and M are totally independent, though.  R is always into things, so that’s why God gave mommies (and Nana’s) eyes in the back of their heads.

More visiting:  S came home!!!  Only for a quick visit, but it was great!  I had a short list of projects he worked on for me, the kids got their “daddy-fix” while wrestling, jumping on the trampoline (oh, yeah, I spent 2 days assembling that thing!), and just being with him.  Then I got my time with him when Nana agreed to watch the kiddos while we headed over to a Bed and Breakfast for the night.

Goats:  I’m trying to sell my 2 remaining goat kids, but I’m finding dairy goats are not as popular here as they were in CO.  It’s a much harder sell around here.  In the mean time, I have had to move poor Pride (our buckling) out with the pigs, to ensure he doesn’t breed Caramel (our too-small doeling).  To reduce my workload, I’ve also gone to once a day milking.  I’m not exactly sure how the milk will hold up, especially since I’m considering milking through rather than breeding this fall, but I’ll just play that one as the time passes.

Cattle:  Red Bull finally went home.  He was sweet and never gave me a days trouble–unless you count the time he somehow got into an adjacent paddock to the cows, the other time when he bred my dairy heifer without permission, or the time when he decided to scratch on an old fence and succeeded in knocking it down, releasing all the cows into the pig forest.  No biggie, though.  They were still inside the perimeter fence.  I just set up a water trough down lower in the pasture so they had to come out of the woods periodically so I could check on them.  It actually made my day easier temporarily, and started some clearing in the next section the pigs will move to.  That all being said, the day finally arrived for the sweet bull to go home.  As soon as he saw his owner approaching with the halter, he turned into a beast.  He completely mangled a 5 foot cattle panel as he lept over it (trying to get AWAY from his owner), then easily cleared 3 hot wire fences.  Watching a 1,000 pounds of pure muscle soar gracefully over a fence without hardly touching it is a very impressive sight indeed!  I was finally able to halter my jersey, Abbigail, and lead her to a stall in the barn, and that finally got Red Bull distracted enough to follow her so he could be confined and caught.  Once caught, he walked out of the barn and hopped up in that trailer with a grace and timeliness that would shame any horse.

Chickens:  While S was home, our biggest project was harvesting our 25 Cornish Cross meat birds.  We used our new Featherman Pro chicken plucker too.  Can I just say, THAT.  WAS. AWEWOME!!!!!  Expensive, yes, but totally awesome.  We may decide to rent it to other home poultry raisers to try to help pay for it.  Otherwise, it’ll take like 50 years to pay the thing off.  But, then again, when I consider the fact that I will never have to pluck another bird, I realize it is priceless!  We did 25 birds in about 3 hours, but that includes all the stops and distractions we had with the kiddos and lack of preparation here at this new farm.  The replacement pullets are growing well.  They still live in the barn, but free-range the pastures all day.  Our layers are also doing well.  We’ve had one go broody on us, so I got smart and decided to get some fertile eggs from a friend.  Unfortunately, at the same time she went broody, another has become an egg-eater.  I have no idea which girl it is, but in addition to eating 1 or more of our eggs each day, she has also destroyed 6 of the 8 fertile eggs.  I’m not sure any will survive to hatch.  Other hens are randomly kicking the broody hen off her nest each day to lay their eggs, and one of them is eating some while doing so.  I tried moving the broody hen into the barn, but she refused the new nest, and after 24 hours, I released her, only to have her run straight back to her original nest in the coop.  Oh well.  I guess she’ll just have to go through the natural cycle for a while, and then we’ll try again next year when our new roosters can ensure all our eggs are fertile.  In addition to losing eggs to an egg-eating hen, we are also losing a few chickens lately.  The girls–both the older ones, and the younger replacement ones, have begun doing some foraging deep in the woods, outside of the main pasture and perimeter fence.  There are openings on one side of the perimeter where the hens can get through, but the dogs and other animals can’t.  Obviously, the dogs can’t protect the girls on that side of the fence, so some of them never seem to make it back up.  I remain hopeful that one or two may have gone broody and are just hiding down there.  Realistically, though, I’m pretty confident they were some wild critter’s lunch.  We’ve lost 4 older hens and 5 little ones.  There isn’t much I can do about it right now, except hope that the remaining ones will learn and stay in the fence.  Only time will tell.

Rabbits:  Nothing too new there, other than the fact that we harvested our summer litter.  That takes us back to our one mature doe, 2 mature bucks, and 2 young does that that we brought with us from CO, and will be ready for breeding in December.

Donkey:  The only farm vehicle I have around here is a 4-wheeler.  I use it to haul supplies down to the pig paddocks, to move my portable shelters, to haul wagon loads of dirt, to haul fence posts, and to have fun.  Before we left CO, S and I decided that Shiloh, the donkey would help earn her keep by becoming a work donkey.  We bought a little homemade driving cart to start out with.  After we moved, I ordered her a custom donkey harness.  With the number of projects I had this summer though, I never really had a chance to teach Shiloh to drive.  Then, my 4-wheeler–long over-due for a tune-up and basic maintenance–essentially died on me.  While it’s waiting for a ride to a shop, I’ve had to get creative.  There are still water buckets, feed, dirt, and fencing that has to be hauled.  Time for Shiloh!  I reviewed the basics of long-reigning I had taught Shiloh in the past, spent a few days reviewing all her basics and getting her accustomed to her new harness, and then took full and total advantage of her being a calm and laid back donkey rather than a flighty horse, and hooked her up to the cart.  Since Nana was here at that point, she offered some assistance for safety in the early stages, but Shiloh took to it with ease.  She still has a little trouble turning in the cart, but that is likely due in great part to the fact the shafts on the cart wound up way too big for her.  Now, I have my first real equine-power on the farm.  I can hitch her up to the cart, and then use the cart to haul all the buckets, feed bags, materials, etc, she can drag small logs, and more.  Eventually we will get new shafts that fit better, but I use these in the mean time.  Pictures will follow as soon as I get the chance.

Dogs and cats:  Due to the unintended and unexpected increase in cats around here, I wound up rehoming our barn cat, Katie, and her litter of 6 kittens.  A new farm was looking for a whole slew of cats to stock their barn with, and they jumped at the chance when they heard about her.  That leaves us with Sarah and her litter of 5 kittens, and she is much better mannered as a house cat, so I have a better chance of keeping her indoors until she can be spayed.  The only cat outside at the moment is Shadow.  Callie is still inside, as always.  Will, the house pet, has loved having all these cats around.  He has discovered there is always a dish of cat food sitting around somewhere, and has become quite adept at finding all my hiding spots.  As a result, he has gained somewhere between 5 and 10 pounds over the last 6 weeks.  At this point, my hiding places are getting higher and higher up on shelves, in an attempt to keep them accessible to the cats, but well out of Will’s reach.  Iris and Athena are doing great.  In fact, Iris has entered her fall heat cycle, and I am debating breeding her this fall or waiting until spring.  I finally found the (hopefully) perfect stud dog.  He is in the next state, so quite a drive, but he is of the Colorado Mountain Dog breeding and quality I am looking for, and has already proven himself as a guardian and homestead-type dog.  As usual, we’ll see how this plays out.

Pigs:  The pigs are growing well on their forest forage diet.  I continue to supplement with excess milk and eggs (though the eggs are few and far between with an egg-eating hen on our hands!), and occasional organic grains.  I am working on setting up their next paddock this weekend.  I estimate their weight to be around 100 lbs. now, so I think they are growing well.  I should research and find out averages for this breed so I have something to compare to.  Whatever the weight, they are big enough now that the kids don’t really go in the paddock unsupervised.  The pigs are very friendly, and in their quest for attention, plenty big enough they could easily knock a child down.

That pretty much brings you up to speed for now.  There’s never a dull moment around here, that’s for sure!!

Remember this sweet, innocent face I showed you a few posts back?


Her name is Abbigail, and she our new Jersey heifer.  She is around 10 months old, and scheduled for breeding around mid-winter, for a late summer calf next year.  I was trying to figure out what type of bull to breed her to.


Now, remember this not-so-sweet-and-innocent face?


His name is Red Bull, and he is borrowed from a local breeder.  He is here to breed my 2 Lowline cows for 2015 beef.  I have been very careful to keep Abbigail and Red Bull separated, usually with electric wire, sometimes with several paddocks of pasture in between.  I didn’t know when Abbigail was due to start cycling, and everything I read implied it could be anytime.

I forgot to ask Abbigail and Red Bull what they thought about the separation.  After church on Sunday last week, I came home to find Abbigail in the same paddock as Red Bull and the Lowline cows.  I don’t know if she somehow contorted herself under the hot wire, or if she (un)gracefully lept over it.  My wire was all neatly in tact, just the way I had installed it.  Abbigail, on the other hand, wasn’t so neat.  No, my 10 month old heifer calf was no longer innocent.  She had clearly been bred thoroughly and repeatedly by Red Bull while we were at church.

In a panic, I called the breeder, who is far more experienced with cattle than I.  He assured me that because Abbigail is a standard sized Jersey and already stands taller than Red Bull, and because Red Bull is a very small breed bull that is well-known for throwing small calves, everything would be just fine.

Red Bull with his harem of Lowline cows and their calves

Red Bull with his harem of Lowline cows and their calves

Looks like, Lord willing, we’ll be eating that homemade butter and ice cream throughout the summer instead of having to wait until late fall!  The calf is due in May, and would be considered a Jey-low.  Heifers can turn into awesome milkers, while bull calves produce great beef.  One less decision I have to make now.  I’ll be monitoring her closely, but I have to admit, things are certainly easier now that I can house her and rotate her with the other cows now.

Abbigail with the others in the background.  She's still considered an outsider by the Lowline cows, but they are getting along OK.

Abbigail with the others in the background. She’s still considered an outsider by the Lowline cows, and I guess Red Bull got what he wanted and went back to his harem, leaving poor Abby all alone.  They are getting along OK, though.

We have a new, temporary addition to the farm.


His name is “Red Bull.”  Pretty original, huh?  I didn’t name him.  He came already named.  His owner is the breeder I bought my Lowline cows from, and the price included a breed back to a bull of my choosing.  He has been working on a Red Lowline line, and insisted this was one of his best, most gentle bulls.  Originally I had planned to send my girls back to his farm to be bred, but he kept insisting this bull is a sweetheart.  Seeing as how I don’t handle the cows much anyway since they prefer to be left alone, I finally agreed.  He dropped him off, and they all became instant friends.


I estimate his weight around 1000 lbs or so.  He isn’t that tall, but he is beefy!  I am VERY respectful of him, and gentle or not, I have no desire to approach him.  I never turn my back to him.  So, you can imagine the pride I felt yesterday when I had to single-handedly herd all 5 (2 cows, 2 steers, 1 bull) from our front forest pasture, back to their normal grazing paddock, all the way down by the house.  That’s about 1/4 mile of walking, with nothing but a buggy whip standing between me and him!  Thankfully, he was indeed a good boy.  It probably helped that Tiffany, his girlfriend in the photo above, wound up being in heat.  I didn’t realize it until we were about 1/2 way across the pasture, and he mounted and happily did his thing.  He refused to leave her side, and I certainly didn’t care to argue about it.  As long as they kept moving in the direction I asked, we were all happy.

Now, I just have to wait until Holly gets bred, and he will go back home to the breeder’s house.  In the mean time, my grass got a little long while the cows were in the front forest paddock, so I am going to use him for all he’s worth to eat it back down so I don’t have to mow.

Abigail….our new Jersey cow.


JR picked the name, right out of thin air, and when I looked up the meaning, it was perfect.  Technically, it means “A Father’s Rejoicing,” but Biblically speaking, there were many Abigails.  The most famous was Queen Abigail, who shrewdly and wisely saved her husband from King David’s wrath.  Over time, the name also became synonomous with “a lady’s maid” or “servant.”  How much more perfect can a name be for a loyal, family dairy cow?

Sweet Jersey face

Sweet Jersey face

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know we have been planning to purchase a dairy cow for several years.  I love my goat milk, but miss my cow cream!  We decided to do both.  Our ideal was a miniature jersey, which you can read more about in a previous post, found here.  After a lot of research, I found a breeder willing to work with our timeline, and was put on her waiting list.  Then, last fall, she found out her entire miniature jersey herd had a bovine disease known as BLV–sort of comparable to HIV in humans.  Obviously not what I wanted to start with.  So, after we got settled in here at Red Gate, I resumed my search, and she put me on her list for a mid-sized Jersey.  Thankfully I  did find another first, as just a few days later, I found out that I made it to the top of her list, a heifer finally became available, and she apparently sold it to someone else before even giving me a chance.  It could’ve been a long wait if I’d stuck with her!


For us, not just any cow would work.  Unfortunately, as modern dairy practices took shape beginning about a century ago, common dairy cows had a protein gene that began to mutate.  You can find more detailed info elsewhere, but essentially, this mutation of the casein protein is often to blame for digestive issues and lactose intolerance in humans.  There are some dairy cows still out there, however, that do not possess the mutated gene, now known as the A1 gene.  The purer, original gene, known as A2/A2, is more desirable.  Interestingly, goats are A2/A2, as are most beef cattle, as they never developed the mutated A1/A1 or A1/A2 gene.  This may well be a big reason why people who can’t handle cow milk can often drink goat milk just fine.  Apparently, the gene is fairly limited to dairy cows like Holsteins, Jerseys, Brown Swiss, Guernseys, and others that have been bred more for the large dairy industries where high production levels are desirable.  In any case, regular genetic testing for this gene is a relatively new concept.  As a result,  A2/A2 cows are difficult to find, and if found, they are rarely for sale.  I spread the word to everyone I could think of regarding what I was looking for.  Because some of our children have shown tendencies toward lactose intolerance, we had decided we would only purchase an A2/A2 cow.

Somehow, obviously a God thing, an Amish guy I’ve never met, who lived in a small Amish community several hours from us, found out about our search.  He passed word along, and offered an opportunity we couldn’t resist.  His family had a standard sized Jersey milk cow which had a heifer calf last fall.  They had decided to sell the calf, now 9 months old.  Amazingly (why are we always amazed when God is at work?!), he had just had the calf tested for the casein protein gene, and she came back A2/A2.  There was a problem though.  One day, when she was a young calf, they had put her into a stall to catch her, and she wound up ramming her eye into a bolt sticking out of the wall.  She was permanently blinded on that side, so he was offering to sell her for a steal of a price.  Let’s just say, even with the blind eye, I would have happily paid triple just to get the genetics.

Her blind eye looks a little funny close up, but it really isn't that obvious.

Her blind eye looks a little funny close up, but it really isn’t that obvious.

Now, doing business with Amish can be quite an experience.  To this day, I’ve never met  or spoken with the owner.  At Horse Progress Days, we probably stood within a few yards of each other at some point during the day, but failed to actually meet.  All questions, answers, and arrangements were done through an Amish friend of a his who was allowed to have a phone in his business.  I would call and leave a voicemail with my question.  Eventually, the friend would call back with an answer.  And that’s how it went for a couple weeks.  Through this route, it was arranged for a vet to come check her out for me, as she was far enough away I had to commit without seeing her first.  She got a full health and conformation check, a BVD test, and he checked her paperwork.  Knowing I was a total newbie to cows, the vet was also willing to give his honest opinion of how appropriate she would be for our family.  She passed all tests with flying colors.

We arranged a ride home with another friend, and she’s now been here for a week.  To let her get to know us, I’ve kept her seperate from the other, wilder, beef cows we have, and she has taken to us with no problem.  She adores people, but can get a bit playful sometimes, so I have to watch the kids around her.  She is such a sweetheart though!  Those sweet Jersey eyes and that loving disposition just melts my heart.  She will follow me like a puppy wherever I go, wants only to be scratched (especially on her neck and under her chin), lets me pet her all over her belly and udder area, and is even halter broken already!  I am learning to watch out when I lead her.  She gets so comfortable walking with me, that if she gets me on her blind side, she will sometimes run right into me accidentally.  Even so, at roughly 500 lbs, she’s a lot bigger than I am!   I have to be careful to always know where she is, since she doesn’t always care where I am and so I don’t run her into something.  I accidentally ran her right into a rebar fence post yesterday while leading her, as it was just past centerline on her blind side, and she didn’t see it.  OOPS!  I’ve also given the kiddos special instructions about always talking to her as they approach, to ensure they don’t startle her.


Now, I just have to figure out who to breed her to this fall!  She is a standard-sized Jersey, with her dam being roughly 48 inches tall.  So not huge, but not a mini either.  I have easy access to a Lowline bull, which would create a Jey-lo calf, an increasingly popular, but still widely unknown beef/dairy hybrid.  Then there’s a top of the line Dexter bull, which would give something akin to a large Belfair calf, another increasingly popular, but largely unknown all-purpose breed for the homestead.  I also have access to a standard sized Jersey bull.  By far the most valuable calf (if it was a heifer) would be a cross with a mini-Jersey bull of A2/A2 genetics, which would produce a mid-sized Jersey (around 40-44 inches at maturity).  If it was a heifer, I could also continue to breed down to get my own miniature. Of course, the problem there is I have no clue where to find one of those unless I do A.I. Oh, decisions, decisions!  Guess I’ll cross that bridge when she gets a bit older.  For now, I’m just gonna love her and keep getting to know her.


We are seeing results from our “Forest Hogs” already, and I am impressed.  When they were just 9 weeks old, we turned the pigs out into a roughly 1/2 acre section of woodland, with a small section of pasture adjoining it.  Here is what the land looked like when we turned them out: (Notice the fallen spruce tree in the center to give you reference).

The land before pigs

The land before pigs

Just 2.5 weeks later, I took this picture from the same spot:

The land after pigs

The land after pigs

Now granted, they had a little help.  We turned 2 cow/calf pairs out with the pigs randomly, for a total of 7 days in the forest paddock.  The donkey was out there for less than 2 days, and the goats for maybe 2 days.  Although certainly not necessary, I figured all the animals would create some  “mob” effect, which essentially creates natural competition and encourages them to eat more and faster.  They’re just like my 4 and 5 year old boys, each of whom are convinced it is sole duty to NOT allow the other to eat more of some treat. Because so many different species are involved, their natural grazing/browsing habits complement each other.  After 2.5 weeks, the brush was eaten from the height of the cows’ backs and down.  There is almost no green foliage left.  The next picture shows 2 sections of the 2.5 acre forest lot, with our electric fence netting dividing it into smaller sections.  The right side of the photo used to look just like the left side.  After 2.5 weeks, the pigs were moved into the left side paddock to eat it down as well.


Here is another view from the adjoining pasture area.  The foreground shows the grazed down paddock and pasture, while the background shows a future paddock to be grazed.  Notice the difference in the height of the grass, which shows where the electric fence ran.  The animals graze right to the electric netting.


As you can see, they don’t just eat forage either.  Pretty much everything that grows is considered edible.  This photo shows the electric netting again, dividing the already grazed pasture portion of the paddock on the left, and the new pasture on the right.

Happy pigs!

Happy pigs!

I have seen enough photographic evidence to leave me no doubt that if I left the pigs longer, or if I decreased the size of the pen, or if I fed them less supplements, that they would literally clear that paddock down to bare earth.  I have studied a number of pasture-pig farmers who do it that way, allowing the pigs to tear down everything, and then the farmer rebuilds his pasture from scratch.  I decided I didn’t want to do that, though.  I preferred to have the pigs “massage” the land, clean it up a bit, spread some fertilizer, and then move on.  Then, if I have time, I can go in and manually whack down the remaining sapling and brush stems OR I can rotate the pigs through again in a few months.  Waiting a while gives the slightly over-grazed pasture time to replenish itself while also allowing all the accumulated manure to break down and be absorbed in the soil without being overloaded.  By the time the pigs will move through again, they will likely be twice as big, and therefore eat twice as much in the same time frame.

Feeding time brings the girls running and squealing "wee-wee-wee" all the way to the milk bucket!

Feeding time brings the girls running and squealing “wee-wee-wee” all the way to the milk bucket!

Although it isn’t necessary, I have chosen to supplement their forage diet.  In a paddock like this, they eat not only all the leaves and grass, but also bugs, slugs, frogs, leaves, branches, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, and more.  Pigs are not just vegetarians.  They are omnivores, and require high protein levels to thrive.   If I raised them strictly on forage, they would likely either take longer to reach an ideal slaughter weight, and/or be much leaner and lighter at slaughter time.  Thus, I have decided to supplement with my excess goat milk.  I sour the milk for 24 hours (apparently the extra probiotics are better for them), mix in some organic rolled cereal grains, leftovers from dinner, anything I want to clean out of the fridge or cabinets, extra eggs (complete with shells), and so on.  They absolutely go crazy over the “slop” concoctions we come up with.  This also means they come running every time they hear us call, in the hopes we are bringing that slop pail along.

Looking for a few scratches behind the ears...

Looking for a few scratches behind the ears…or the slop pail I failed to bring this time.

An additional fact worth mentioning is that pigs are great manure spreaders!  I don’t mean they poop everywhere, either, although they do that as well.  I mean pigs LOVE cow patties as much as chickens.  My chickens have stayed busy rotating through the the main pastures, helping us break down cow patties there, as well as waging war on the Japanese beetle crop in the orchard this summer.  Meanwhile, I am loath to pet the pigs lately, as these warm….no, I mean incredibly, ridiculously, HOT….days have driven the pigs to desperate measures.  They absolutely love to roll in those fresh cow patties.  They roll, plow, dig, spread, you name it.  Although disgusting to watch, it does a great service. It helps the manure break down much faster, and prevents fly larvae from accumulating, and subsequently hatching out of the patties.  That’s always a good thing.

For the sake of my non-farmer readers, though, I took a cleaner picture to close with.  Isn’t she cute?!


As a follow up on the Rotational Grazing post I did recently, I figured I would do a post regarding the shelters we are using.

First, we needed a layer coop.  There are lots of ideas regarding portable chicken coops out there, so that one wasn’t too difficult.  The greater difficulty was building it cheaply, using as many already-owned supplies as we could.  S succeeded in using the wood and the wagon wheels, though we did have to purchase lightweight roofing (wood would have made it too heavy).


After the coop was built, it wound up a bit too heavy for one person to move alone.  Since I have to move it every 2 days right now, with plans to move it daily in the future, we decided to utilize our 4 wheeler for the time being.


I simply lift the front, and cargo strap it to the ATV.


Strapped in this fashion makes pulling quite simple.  Braking, on the other hand, is a problem, especially when you consider that our pasture is one big rolling hill.  So, I had to find a brake system to keep the coop from running into the ATV.


All I needed was a willing party and 2 strong legs.  Don’t laugh.  It works quite well, thank you!  JR usually does this job for me, but S helped me on this particular day.  With gas and brakes working, we can now move with no problem.

As a side note, the coop is still far too heavy for my liking.  As a result, we are hoping to reconstruct the floor, and change it from it’s current wood plank construction to 2×3’s and welded wire.  I think it will reduce the weight significantly.  It will likely be a while before I get to that project though, so for now, I will continue using the ATV.

The other shelter was a bit more of a problem for us.  Again, we wanted to use as many already-owned supplies as we could.  We still haven’t come up with a design we like, but what we currently have is a hoop house, re-designed out of our hay-shelter supplies from our Colorado home.  If you study hoop houses, you will quickly see that when intended for anything other than poultry, they must be sturdy enough for animals to lean on and push against.  Cattle panel hoop houses make a great, very strong house–assuming the ends are reinforced somehow.  Otherwise, the panels can potentially collapse and fold up.  We learned the hard way, when our first windy day came along.  Most people use t-posts to reinforce when the shelter is intended to be stationary, but ours was to be portable and built on skids, so we needed another plan.  S put his engineering brain to work and decided to reinforce with a wood A-frame, attached to the panels with screws, fence staples, and hooks.  Since it was intended only for goats originally, he put the center cross beam as low as he could for support.

The cows took over the goat shelter.   I don't even know how that mama cow fit in there, but the goats are NOT happy about it!!

The cows took over the goat shelter. I don’t even know how that mama cow fit in there, but the goats are NOT happy about it!!

The downside of this design is that only short animals can fit in there.  Somehow, our donkey and cows managed to get in, but I suspect they will eventually break down that center support scraping under it like they do.  The other downside of a cattle-panel hoop house is that it is heavy.  We used 2 panels, wood skids and supports, and a heavy duty tarp, and it weighs several hundred pounds.  An upside of panels is that I can easily attach a mineral feeder under the shelter to keep the minerals out of the rain and still easily accessible to the critters.  Because it is on skids, a draft horse could easily move it.  Until we get our horse, though, we use the ATV for this also.

S installed large eye-hooks about 1/3 of the way down each skid on each side, and attached a chain going across the grass from one skid to the other. You can just see the sides of the chain on each side in this photo, one side being just above the bottom goat’s right ear:

IMG_0902There is another chain that loops to the dividing chain, and the second one sits under the front ground support board.  You can see it above coming up out of the grass, just outside the middle of the shelter.  I run the cargo straps through this chain, as close as I can.  When I pull forward, the motion actually lifts the front of the shelter several inches so it slides easier over the grass.

Now the shelter is on skids, so technically doesn’t need wheels, but we were worried about the back center board falling apart as it was dragged over the grass day after day, so we decided to use wheels anyway for the actual move, and just let the shelter rest on the skids when not moving.  In order to do that, we use a standard household dolly with 4 wheels.


We have a large block of wood that rests between the back board and the end of the dolly, to keep the weight and pull better distributed.

Once everything is set up, I drive the shelter to the next paddock.


As is usually the case, this is our first trial, and I’m confident there will be many changes as time goes on and we get better at this farming stuff.  This is definitely not our long-term plan….we just don’t know what the long-term plan is yet, so this will have to suffice.

Next Page »