This week was one of those crazy busy weeks that I’m sure many of you experience, especially this time of the year. With kids finishing school and summer plans beginning to unfold, it’s a time of transition for everyone. We experienced a different kind of crazy around here – one that was a not-so-gentle reminder about life and death on a farm.
We were able to have a spring intern milk in the evening for us twice this week – once so we could attend the West Michigan Grower’s Group on Monday night at Visser Farms in Zeeland, and on Tuesday we were in Pewamo at Grazeway Dairy for a Pasture Walk with Michigan State’s Agricultural Extension Office. Since we were so close to the coast on Monday evening at Visser Farms, we made a little family road trip out it and visited Lake Michigan to watch sunset and grabbed some ice cream with the kids. We had a blast!
The pasture walk at Grazeway Dairy was really inspiring and we had so many of detailed questions answered by the farmers and Ag Extension agent. Grazeway is the farm we bought our heifer calf, Ruby, from and they intensively rotationally graze 120 dairy cows. They sell their milk to a coop so they’re able to calve seasonally (cows freshen and dry off at the same time) and get a 6-8 week break each winter. We also met farmers who use robotic milkers in conjunction with a grazing system, like the folks at MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station do (they were in attendance too)! Imagine a dairy in which the cows feed and milk themselves! Ah, the life!
Continuing education opportunities like these are invaluable for us and we are so grateful when farmers open their operations to us so we can learn from their mistakes and victories.
On Wednesday, our cow Peggy Sue was due to calf, but like women, few rarely have their babies on their estimated due date. Generally, there is a two week window of calving and our experience has always been on the later end of that window. Still, we were watching for Peggy’s udder to bag up, watching for mucus, etc. and had seen no signs of imminent calving. So, Wednesday came and went without much fanfare.
Thursday evening was particularly difficult – morning chores and projects during the day went just fine but sometime in the late afternoon (between mid-day check of everyone and evening chores) our sheep, Peanut, had broken into a pasture he wasn’t supposed to be in and then tried to get back with the herd of cows by going through our electric fence. Thankfully, the fence didn’t happen to be on so he wasn’t being shocked but he got himself so stuck that he quickly asphyxiated himself and died. It was all the more tragic because we had just found a family to re-home him with so he could be with other sheep and a few goats instead of our cows.
We were devastated and obviously pretty shaken up by the whole incident. While we were trying to deal with Peanut’s body, we noticed that Peggy has actually calved on her due date and had sneakily hidden her calf in the tall pasture grass for at least a day! She hadn’t come up to milk because, as we watched, her calf jumped right up and was nursing vigorously!
So, we brought her in to milk out the remainder of her colostrum and inspect the calf. She apparently bagged up, calved and cleaned up after herself in a matter of hours right under our nose! She didn’t exhibit the normal signs of isolating herself or bellow or moo or anything – talk about an amazing mama!
She had a beautiful bull calf who we fell in love with immediately! He is naturally polled (yay!) and we desperately wish he was a heifer because we’re not sure what to do with him as a bull. It seems like a waste to band him and make him a steer to eat because we would love his polled genetics in our herd, but it’s very unsafe for us to have a bull in our herd. So, the jury is out as to what we’ll do with this little guy but in the meantime he needs a name! So, we are having a “Name that Calf” contest again and this time we need a boy name starting with the letter “P.” Tell us on Instagram, Facebook, or in the Comments section of this blog what you think his name should be. If your name is chosen then you’ll receive a FREE gallon of milk, a dozen eggs and a “No Farms, No Food” bumper sticker. Ready, set… #namethatcalf
And, back to Thursday evening…so we are walking out to the milk parlor to milk Peggy after finding her surprise calf and dealing with our dead sheep when we find 4 baby raccoons just wandering about, chittering to each other and meandering between our barns. Now, remember, we’ve already rescued 4 other raccoons at this point so we quickly catch all the babes and put them in a tote with some milk for the evening. We have now re-homed 8 babies to the Lowell Farm and Wildlife Center where they will be raised and then released into the wild at the Ionia State Recreation Area (far away from our farm)! The mamas are no longer with us due to an unfortunate run-in with our gun (they were poaching a chicken from our coop every night) so we figured we owe it to the moms to save and relocate their babies.
During that evening’s milking, Cecilia then discovered a featherless baby bird that had fallen out of her nest into our grain bin. The nest was too high to return the baby to, and, sadly, she didn’t make it until morning for my now-weekly-trip to the Wildlife Center.
So goes life and death on the farm. We couldn’t save the sheep, baby bird and mama raccoons but we have new life in the calf and baby raccoons. It was an emotionally and physically draining day that didn’t actually end until 1:30am. No 9-5 jobs around here.
Throughout all this, we still have no piglets from our pregnant mamas. We know they were all bred the first cycle we put them with our boar but it seems none caught that first cycle so they are about 3 weeks behind our initial projections, putting them due this coming Wednesday. It remains to be seen what chaos ensues after that!
In other news, we are making progress on our milk parlor renovations that will include more headlocks, a pipeline milking system, hot water, propane lines, and a new bulk tank. We are also just about finished clearing fence rows at the back of our property to finish our fencing and open up more pasture for the animals.
I think I covered just about everything…just a quick note, if you’re looking for a good cause to donate to – the Lowell Farm & Wildlife Center runs entirely off donation and they so graciously took in our baby raccoons while also caring for over a dozen tiny fawns, other wildlife and abused/abandoned farm animals with just a few volunteers. If you’d like to help support them (we gave a small donation towards the raccoons), click here to give on their website.
-Dan + Whit + Ceci + Beau