Wednesday, February 25, 2009

T & A

My life this past week or so seems to have revolved around a little bovine T & A action—either working with Bella's udder to help relieve some of the engorgement or working with the calf, Daisy, to get her to eliminate. Of course, this was much my own making...

We made the difficult decision not to share milk Daisy because Bella was not showing signs of being cooperative with human and calf milking, and we didn't have 2-3 months worth of patience with the kicking and other behavior problems. So, we decided to bottle raise Daisy—sad from a mama's point of view, but great from a kids point of view.

We left them together for more than 24 hours, and then decided to separate them. Once we did, Bella immediately stopped the kicking and general recalcitrance, and she's settled back into her milking routine nicely. She did bellow a bit for about a day, but after that she settled down. We have Daisy in the stall right next to Bella's so they can hear each other and smell each other, but we're now Daisy's surrogate mamas. She had no problem adjusting whatsoever and takes her bottle greedily.

She's gotten so strong by this point that the girls aren't feeding her much anymore. She butts the bottle way too hard for them to hang on. My job, besides feeding her has been to make sure she's eliminating and maintains a healthy gut. She had a great start with all mama's colostrum, but calves can still have really sensitive guts before the rumen gets going, and they can be very susceptible to parasites as well. The poo color and consistency are some of the best indications of what's going on.

Although it probably wasn't necessary, as I can't imagine big dairies worry much about this at all, I did rub her backside while feeding her for about the first week or so, just like you do when hand-raising kittens. This stimulated her to eliminate, and I'd seen mama doing it, so I figure whatever mama does is probably the right way to do things. She's ten days old today and is now eliminating independently, but I still make sure that I give her nice firm little circular rubs all over her back and sides just like mama would with her tongue while nursing her. My theory is that will help stimulate digestion and good health. I'm not mama, but I'll do my best to emulate her.

Bella seems to have accepted that I've taken over her calf—maybe it's the whole alpha cow thing—but she likes being able to talk to and smell her through the stall, and she'll bellow if she sees us taking Daisy out for a walk on the lead rope. Daisy's doing well learning to lead, and we hope to have a nice little heifer calf for sale in a couple months.

Bella's milk has come in nicely, and her udder is doing well. It was very hard and engorged for about a week, with the square between the four teats being the last area to soften. At first, I was massaging most of the milking time, which made for a pretty gymnastic milking. She was so engorged that her teats were spread almost too wide for the milking machine, necessitating one hand on that to keep it from sucking air and losing vacuum while the other massaged her udder to make sure mastitis wouldn't take hold. There are different kinds of mastitis and lots of different causes, but leaving milk in the udder is one of the primary causes. Complete milking out is really important, and mastitis isn't something any cow owner wants to mess with. An ounce or ten of prevention is worth a pound of antibiotic cure!

We chose not to dry treat her, which is routine in most dairies. This involves injecting a prophylactic antibiotic directly into each teat and then sealing it in with a wax or glue throughout her dry period. Since we weren't having any mastitis issues going into the dry period, I opted not to use the antibiotics and see how things went. So far, so good. Of course, it's also possible to treat many mastitis cases naturally by increasing milkings and massage, and this is one of the really good arguments for share-milking with the calf because the calf can help with the workload.

We were also very lucky in terms of milk fever, which is more common in Jerseys than other breeds because of their milk production relative to their size. Milk fever is basically the body's inability to mobilize calcium quickly enough as the milk comes in, and once a cow is down, she can die quickly if not treated. It generally happens within the first 24-48 hours after birth, but can happen within the first week. The chances of it happening increase with the cow's age, and first fresheners are rarely affected. This was Bella's second calf, so we were on the safer side of things. Still, I kept a close eye, and checked on her in the middle of the night that first 24 hours and about every two hours for the first 48 hours though the second night I went out just before bedtime and then again at around dawn.

Milk fever can be pretty successfully managed through diet by lowering the intake of calcium throughout the dry period. While this seems somewhat counter-intuitive, it ensures that the cow's body will be able to access the calcium quickly once it's added back in at birth. We dropped all alfalfa, which is high in calcium, out of her diet and lowered the calcium in her minerals for the two months leading up to birth. We also gave Bella two tubes of calcium paste as a preventative measure—one right after birth and another 12 hours later. I also had an IV kit and a calcium solution on hand in case she'd gone down, which I would've given subcutaneously, or sub-Q. For an actual IV, I would've called the vet.

I can't stress how important it is for anyone thinking of having dairy animals to educate themselves on milk fever, how to prevent it, and how to deal with it if/ when it happens. Goats can suffer from it as well as cows, so it's a good thing to read up on and to be sure you have everything on hand in the case of an emergency. The last thing you want to do is to have an emergency and have to run out to the store for something, especially if the stores happen to be closed. Lots of these emergency measures can be purchased from a local feed store or an online source like Valley Vet or Jeffer's Livestock.

This goes for all livestock: have what you'd need in the case of an emergency and consider it an insurance policy. I don't ever want to use antibiotics on my animals and I haven't needed to yet, but I want to have it on hand if I ever should need it. There are also homeopathic kits available online that will help with a variety of issues, and this is on my purchase list this spring. Matron of Husbandry has a good blog post on homeopathy, but a general search of her site will bring up even more. She's a great source of information and provides links and resources for further reading.

I was lucky enough to attend a conference session last year by a homeopathic vet from Pennsylvania, and she was very helpful. The two books she recommended most highly for the small homestead were Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs, which although specified for cats and dogs is really applicable for most small animals, and Homeopathic Medicine at Home. Pat Coleby's natural care books are really great too, but it's important to understand the theory behind what she's recommending so you can tailor it for your specific area, as some of her recommendations are specific to her soil experience in Australia. Mineral needs and deficiencies can vary greatly from region to region, so it's always important, in my opinion, to understand why you're doing something rather than just following a recipe or formula.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Birth Announcement

Before I even got to post about being on calf watch, Bella had her baby. She was due on the 18th, but had already begun bagging up, so I knew it was imminent. This morning around 9-9:30 am the event occurred, and I missed the actual birth by just minutes. Baby was on the ground by the time I arrived, and mama was cleaning it nicely. We had a light dusting of snow yesterday, but it was a nice, warm sunny morning with relatively little wind.

I quickly fed the pigs so we didn't have a mutiny, and then ran inside to get Bella some warm molasses water. Blackstrap molasses provides energy, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and other useful vitamins and minerals. I give it to all my livestock after they give birth. Bella gratefully sucked down two canning pots full in between licks to clean off baby.

Baby was up and standing within the first hour, wobbly but strong, and has nursed a couple times already today, and Bella passed her placenta with no problems about 3 hours after giving birth. We had a healthy little heifer calf, and we're still trying to settle on a name. We won't likely be keeping her, but we'd like to halter train her and enjoy her a bit before we try to sell her.

I was able to milk out about a quart of colostrum from one of Bella's quarters, but she was a little fussy about the back teats. I froze the clean bit I was able to catch, then went back out to try to milk some out of her back quarters to give her some relief. I was able to milk some by hand, but she's so distended at this point that it's hard to get my hands around her teats. I'll milk her out fully, hopefully, tonight with the milk machine, which should give her some welcome relief. I'm hoping the milking will go smoothly so I'll be able to freeze some of this colostrum as well, but I'm not counting on it.

More later....

Friday, February 06, 2009

Blog Look

Just an fyi type thing...

I liked the background, but the slow scrolling was driving me batty. So, we're back to the ameraucana blue background.

Monday, February 02, 2009

State of the Homestead Report

Mid-winter. Starving time. Full hunger moon.

A groundhog in Pennsylvania predicts 6 more weeks of the stuff, and though the days are getting longer, fresh food this time of year is often scarce. Time to assess food storage and adjust planting times, quantities, and varieties accordingly for next growing season. What worked and what didn't? What held and what didn't? What do you wish you had more of or less of?

Our food stores are holding out well here, and we still have plenty of home-canned goods.* We're starting to run low on raspberry jam, but hopefully it won't be too long before we have a fresh crop, so I think it will hold out. Strawberry and black raspberry jams still going strong. Plenty of tomatoes in all fashions—need to start using those more often. Still lots of peaches, though I'm sure those will be gone before peach season rolls around again. Salsas holding well, though I'd like to put up more hot next year. Soups going strong; need to nudge Jim to take more into work.

Onions are holding out well, though we're running low on red onions. Will plant an extra row of both yellow and red this coming year. Garlic still going strong. Still have several leeks. Hopefully all these alliums will hold out until the first harvestable batch of spring onions and garlic.

We're just about through all the red potatoes we put up, which are now sprouting and shriveling but still work for mashed potatoes. Yes, that's the bottom of the bin you see there. Our yukon golds still look great—will plant more of those next year, hopefully in an early and a later batch. They probably will not hold out until harvest time next year, though that would be a neat trick if I could pull it off. We do love our homegrown potatoes around here. We still have some fingerlings that are just starting to sprout, which I'm hoping to hold as seed potatoes for March. We'll see how they do.

Winter squash was a no-go thanks to the hordes of squash bugs during the 2008 growing season. *sigh* I've ordered some organic insecticides and will be moving to a pre-emptive spraying program for the squashes in 2009 as loathe as I am to do it. The problem is that as soon as you know you have a problem, it's often too late to address it with organic sprays, which don't tend to operate on the instant-kill model of conventional pesticides. I will also be trying several non-spray-reliant methods, including later planting and heavy composting, which will hopefully help strengthen the plants. Regular compost tea applications should help as well. We do use barrier methods while the plants are young, but as soon as we need to take them off for pollination, we get crushed.

Meat is holding well. Plenty of pork and chicken, though we've definitely made room in the freezer for a side of beef we'ree hoping to get from down the road. In 2008, we raised 100 broilers, about 25 of which we sold. For 2009 I'm planning to raise just 75 for our consumption, 25 for whole roasters and 50 for parts. That sounds like a lot, I'm sure, but for a family of five, that will feed us quite nicely for a whole year, allowing us to have some kind of chicken at least twice a week for dinner. We won't be selling chicken or pork for 2009; we just can't charge enough to make it worthwhile.

Frozen butter holding well. Bulk goods are doing fine in a normal rotation, and we're still lucky enough to be harvesting fresh greens and herbs from the high tunnels.

It will soon be time to start planting my seedlings!

*Yes, my dirty little secret: we use soft, bleached toilet paper. Sorry, we're just not willing to make that sacrifice yet. I could try to play it off as barter material in the event of a major emergency, but we all know that would be a lie.

++Editing to add that we also still have a whole refrigerator drawer full of turnips, and a very large bag of carrots. Definitely planting the Eliot Coleman hybrid "Napoli" carrot from Johnny's for next fall. It sized up very nicely compared to the heirloom "red core chantenay," which I'll still plant, but in the spring.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

My New Cookstove

I let slip in the last post that I am indeed getting a new cook stove this season. Yay! It's my anniversary/ mother's day/ birthday gift for 2009, and I promised to lay off the quest for solar until at least 2010. Basically, I called in a lot of favors for this one, and it's the most expensive "appliance" I've ever owned. It's not in the house yet, but it is on order.

I went back and forth on what exactly I wanted to get. I had considered a refurbished cook stove and was scouring nearby Craigslists for one when I ran across a like-new, 2 year old Waterford Stanley up in PA. While it was half the price of a new one, Jim didn't like the green or the Victorian design.

It did, however, get me thinking that if I could find one at a reasonable price, a new stove made more sense than an old one from the standpoint of efficiency as well as longevity. Jim was moving in the direction of a wood stove, so it wasn't too hard to convince him to go with a stove that offered more than just heat.

So I found this stove: the Baker's Oven, which seemed an ideal solution. It would fit in the space nicely, offered more than just heat, yet wasn't too much of a stretch beyond just a typical wood stove. Nothing froo-froo or out of time. I also loved the idea of being able to see the fire. Plus, it was a much better price than any of the true cook stoves, and so a better sell to my other half.

Out of Australia and out of stock. I continued my search, which soon brought me to the stove I ended up ordering and the company that so far has been a joy to deal with. offered a great price, so I decided to explore a little further. The owner of the company spent quite a bit of time on the phone with me, helping to assess my needs against the stoves that might best fulfill those needs. After asking several questions and listening carefully to my answers, he strongly recommended against the Baker's Oven on the grounds that it would likely disappoint and frustrate me in the long run.

Its strengths—size and hybrid nature—were also its weaknesses, he argued, in terms of serving as a true cook stove. If all I really wanted was a wood stove for ambiance and space heating with the ability to cook in the event of a power outage, then the Baker's Oven was just the ticket. But if I really wanted a cook stove to do the majority of my cool-season cooking, then he recommended I check out the Gem Pac, which was a lot more stove for the same money.

I absolutely love it, and it promises to be a real workhorse. While the next model up would have been lovely for a number of reasons, Ed didn't think it would suit the layout of our house, which is not set up at all for cross ventilation or circulation. (*sigh* It was built on the electric heating/ cooling plan for the duration.) He believed we'd quickly heat ourselves out of the space without being able to benefit from the Flame View's increased heating capabilities. While it had a couple of nice features, specifically the view of the flame as well as the larger, side-load firebox, it was also significantly more expensive.

Ultimately, I opted for the Gem Pac from Margin Stoves, a small Amish company out of Canada that uses Antique Stoves as a distributor. I was also able to get a rear mount 20 gallon hot water reservoir, which Jim plans to plumb directly into our hot water heater. Very cool. Of course, I could have done this with the Flame View as well, but this feature wasn't offered at other stove companies I investigated. Both stoves have an optional integrated side water reservoir that's made out of copper, but only holds 5 gallons and runs about $100 more, but that didn't seem nearly as appealing.

The stove should be delivered some time in March or April, giving us the whole summer to get the stove set up and plumbed. It will go in the corner of my kitchen directly opposite my electric ovens, displacing the coat tree and a small side table. Here's its spot: in the corner just behind and to the left of Em; we'll just slide the table and sideboard to the right a bit. It'll feel like such a real farmhouse kitchen! I'll be sure to post pictures once it arrives.