The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Grass Season

June 28th, 2015 by Ed Bruske

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The livestock farmer soon learns it is possible to have too much of a good thing. This time of year, we are wishing our flock were a good deal larger to eat all the grass that’s growing up everywhere. But then by August, when the grass goes dormant under the blast of summer, we will be cursing the day we brought all these animals onto the farm.

Last year I spent a good part of each day creating new paddocks for our sheep and cow and goats out in the fields. This entails mowing paths for electric fencing and planting the fencing in 80-foot squares. This year in an attempt to come to grips with the grass/weed situation elsewhere on the property, I’ve spent more time mowing and whacking with the line trimmer and letting the animals direct themselves to graze large areas more or less at will

There is a place for mechanical mowing in the effort to control weeds. Although I hate to burn the fuel, there just aren’t enough ruminant mouths to handle everything when spring is in full flush. This way, we hope to open new areas of the farm to pasture and regular grazing. But there are some things I’d just as soon let grow wild, like these long carpets of spring wildflowers. which spread in great profusion along the driveway. Swaths of red clover here and there decorate the pastures.

Every year is different, of course. Two years ago, June saw one thunderstorm after another and we wondered if there’d be any hay to feed the animals in the fall. There was. This year, we experienced July in May. It was hot and dry and we wondered if there’d ever be enough rain to make things grow. Just a month later, the days are cool and often wet. When the sun shines, the valley fills with the clatter of machinery bringing in the hay we will need to feed our animals during the long winter to come.

For those of you who were concerned that The Slow Cook had been silent for too long, there was nothing terribly wrong except the hard drive on my computer died and had to be replaced. If you can avoid it, don’t let this ever happen to you.

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Milking a Moving Target

May 31st, 2015 by Ed Bruske

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When we decided to share our Jersey cow, Emily, with her new calf, we knew we were in for a learning process, but we never calculated how opinionated Emily would be about our plans.

Getting Emily used to the idea of being milked took some doing. She seemed at first relieved to have some of that load taken off her udder. Then for a while, she wouldn’t stand still. Ever seen a cow hop on two legs? That’s how she avoided me when I closed in with the milk bucket.

The calf–we call him Del, short for Delmonico–seemed to prefer nursing off the front two of Emily’s teats, so we focused on the rear. Once she settled down, we were richly rewarded, collecting three quarts–that’s six pounds, in dairyman talk–from both the morning and evening milkings. I started making yogurt. My wife made wonderful ricotta cheese and butter the color of eggs yolks. Still, since we really don’t drink milk (our daughter is lactose intolerant) we were beginning to wonder how we were going to deal with all these new found dairy riches.

Feed it to the pig, if we had a pig.

Well, that’s when the calf intervened. He’s been growing by leaps and bounds, fattening up on all that milk, exactly as we’d hoped. But soon the front two quarters of the udder weren’t enough for him. And as he started sucking on the rear quarters, Emily got less and less generous about us milking there.

Can a momma cow really know to protect the milk her calf is drinking? Judging from how Emily took to dancing out of my way when I approached with the milk bucket, I’d have to answer a definite “yes” to that question. As long as Emily had her head in the grain bucket, she’d let me milk. I took to putting rocks in with the grain, just to slow her down and keep her distracted. But as soon as she took her head out of the bucket and paused long enough to think things over, she’d skip sideways out of my reach, or swipe at me with a hind leg. I’d sit there on my milk crate, staring at Emily, Emily staring back at me. With luck and a little coaxing, she’d turn her head back into the bucket and let me resume the milking.

But lately, as the calf grows even larger, there has been little milk to be had. By the time I got there, the udder was almost empty, my cat-and-mouse routine with Emily producing only a trickle. So now I’m separating the two at night: Del stays in the paddock, his mom is locked out in the pasture on the other side of the fence. After the first night of this new arrangement, I collected more than three quarts of milk, just like the old days. Emily wasn’t exactly happy about it, but she finished all her grain. Del, meanwhile, just stood with his nose pressed against the milking parlor fence, bawling and complaining while his mom ate.

That’s one thing you can say for sure about being a newbie farmer: every day brings something different.

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