Archive for the ‘Family cow’ Category

I have become accustomed to butchering animals.  Poultry were the easiest to get used to.  I think it’s in part because they die so easily, but also they are raised in large groups, so you don’t “get to know them”  individually as much as other animals, and they are adults, for the most part when you butcher them.

Rabbits are also a pretty simple and quick process.  The dispatch is a little more personal than the detached kill cone method we use with poultry, so they were a little more to get comfortable with, but I did, and pretty quickly.

This year has had some interesting changes for me.  The pigs were a bit more difficult.  I was out there with them when they died.  I wanted to be there because I wanted to see and understand the process, but I wanted them to be surround my familiar caregivers, too.  I wanted the months we put in, caring for them, to carry through a sense of peace when they passed.  I am sure having us there helped, but they were smart, and large, and capable of showing they weren’t okay with what was going down, when their field mates were being taken.

We opted to have a very skilled and wonderful man come out to the house, so they didn’t endure the stress of travel, or the stress of being in a strange environment.  He was fast and humane in how he dispatched, them, but they were harder for me.   I decided, after much contemplation,  the issue was that they went more dramatically, due to their size, and they were more social with us than the other animals.  When we were building Nellie’s barn, in what was their area to roam, they would come by, knock over boxes of screws, rub up against our legs, and scratch their backs on the walls that were up.  I was very glad to have someone else handle the butchering, and will likely not take that piece over myself , anytime soon.  I still didn’t feel “bad” that we butchered the pigs, I just felt more invested in their death, if that makes sense.

But the bull…I’m not looking forward to this.  I’m really not.  And this is the first time I’ve felt like this.  Declan is going to be butchered at 6 months old, which is about 1 1/2 months from now.  We opted to butcher him at that age because we didn’t want to over winter him, we didn’t want to castrate or dehorn him, and young beef will be plenty for our family.  We don’t want a freezer just for the bull, that will take a couple years to work through.  This really does seem like the best option.  He will be hay and milk finished.  Great.

If it’s great, what’s the problem?  I think I figured it out yesterday.  I think it’s because he’s got a mama.  Nellie is his mama.  They hang out together, she looks after him. All the other animals we butcher are independent from their parents for months before we butcher them.  Declan will be hanging out with his mom, be brought away, and not return.  She’s going to miss him.  This would happen whether we kept him, or not, because he has to wean sometime and she would miss him when he did. I know this.  But there is something about the bond that cows create with their young that is different than any other animal we have on the farm.

I will work through this, and we will be having the same wonderful man who processed the pigs come back to butcher Declan, and I know that it will be done well, and with great care, low stress, properly and with Declan’s caregivers right there to lend him a sense of peace.  It’s what needs to be done, and am thankful for what he will provide for us.

Nellie has been bred again.  We had an AI technician, who came over on Wednesday.  It went well.  She was in what the tech described as “good heat”, so we are hopeful that around July 4th we will have a new calf on the farm.  Maybe this will be a heifer so she can go on to be a lovely little family milker, like her mother.  There are some interesting things about raising kids on a farm.  The things they understand, and the ages they understand it.  We would not really consider speaking to our just turned 6 year old daughter about sex, but clearly she’s figuring out some aspect of it, which is apparent after this conversation…

Me: Nellie was bred today.
Christopher: Great, did it go well.
Me: Yes, went great.
Eowyn: Did you bring a bull over?
Me: No, a guy who breeds cows came over.
Eowyn: <confused facial expression> Was he a cow man?
Me: He was a man who knows how to breed cows.
Eowyn: Did he wear a cow outfit.
Me: No, he didn’t try to pretend he was a cow.
Eowyn: Then how did he do it?
Me: You can breed cows by having a boy cow, or you can take stuff from a boy cow and put it in the girl cow, and the guy knows how to do that, so that’s what he did.
Eowyn: Nellie didn’t mind that he wasn’t a cow?
Istra: < in all knowing voice> Nellie just kicked him.
Me: No Nellie didn’t kick him, and it all went well.
Eowyn: Oh, well I’m glad that it all went good. <Tone of voice indicating the idea of breeding a cow without a bull didn’t make a lot of sense.>

Eowyn has figured out some aspects of breeding, enough to know you need a member of the species in the opposite sex, and that they need to be together for it to work.  It was, of course, very difficult to keep a straight face through the whole conversation, but I did it, and Eowyn seemed satisfied with my answers, though still a little unsure of how we convinced Nellie to be bred without a bull in the mix.


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Wow.  I can’t believe how long it’s been since I blogged.  This summer was a whirlwind and I just didn’t have it in me to blog. This isn’t good because I use this blog as a personal journal, especially for my farm milestones, so I’m a little unsure of how old some of the animals are.  I didn’t log in the major events of the summer.  So I’ll try to catch up a bit.

Pigs!  We don’t have them anymore.  We had the butchered on August 4.  They were butchered, here on the farm, as peacefully as possible.  No stressful ride to the butcher.  No stress of smelling death in the air while awaiting their turn.  Simply eating grain, in their usual spot, shoulder to shoulder.  Nate Huse, a local 4th generation custom butcher came to the house with his well stocked truck.  Each pig was shot, bled and hung.  Skinned.  Placed in the truck, and brought back to Nate’s shop to be hung, and pieced.  Nate is fast, efficient, a master with a knife, and clearly cares for the animals with a great deal of peace in his manner and respect in his actions.  It was amazing to watch him work.  He processed them to our specifications, and sent them back all vacuum packed for the freezer several days later.  We have been enjoying the meat with such dishes as curried ground pork, pasta sauce, stuffed pork chops, and country style ribs simmered in cherries I put up last year.  My friend built a smoke house, and we will be smoking the hams and bacon over there in the coming weeks.  Check out her bacon!  MMMM.

Cows!  Declan is growing well.  He is still running with mama all day, spending time in his own space at night, and joining her again after morning milking.  We are going to have Nate come to butcher him this fall, before Winter hits.  We decided to try this as an experiment.  We don’t want to over winter 2 cows, that need to be separated, so that the nursing will stop.  We don’t want to have a steer while we are caring for Nellie and her new calf that will come next summer, if all goes well.  The meat should still be fabulous, even if it’s less.  Sort of like veal, but without the mistreatment associated with veal.  It’s an experiment.  We might like it, we might not, but we won’t know until we try.

Nellie is ready to be re-bred.  Truth be told, she’s past ready, so we have an Artificial Insemination technician lined up for the next heat cycle in another week or so.  We hope this takes the first time, so she will calve in early June and not need to be rebred for calving in July.  We’ll see.

The pasture area is starting to fill in with natural grasses and weeds.  I have been weeding it, to try to keep the weeds she doesn’t like to eat, out.  This month we are going to finish raking it, and start throwing down seeds and mulch, in the hopes that next Spring, Nellie will have a beautiful pasture to graze on.


Not a lot to say about them.  We’ve had a lot of loss.  Seems we had a bout with coccidiosis, that took most of one age group.  We were able to control the outbreak without employing any chemicals/medications.  So we felt good about that.  Next year we will keep chicks inside a little longer so they can get past their vulnerable age before going out into the environment.

We also had a coon that was far more successful than coons in years past.  We lost about 20-25 to that before we caught him and disposed of the little menace.

We will be selecting a breeding flock from those that remain, and hope for a better year next year.


Also a summer of losses.  We lost Mimi and Isabelle to heat.  We lost Clementine to old age, but that is a happier ending.  She was retired, so she’s been lost in the since of one less breeding does, but she’s happily playing with her friend Clarice that she grew up with.  We are enjoying the rabbit ground pens we made.  They are eating grass, laying on the ground, safe, easy to care for.  It’s really the best of all worlds.  The rabbits will be moving around the pasture after Nellie in the Spring.  I’m excited with where our rabbit herd is and the direction we are moving.


We had a couple successful hatches of Muscovy.  We crossed our chocolates with blacks, and will be selecting a male from one pairing and 3-4 females from the other, so we can start a solid breeding program with that breed.  I’m excited about how that went.

We had a rough hatching year for the Runner ducks.  They hatched very poorly in the incubator, so I tried using a broody hen.  She did much better, so next year I’ll be using a couple hens to hatch out our replacement runners.  I have not divided males and females yet, but it looks like we will have a good little new flock to join last years layers this winter.


Fail!  Seriously.  I am done with a large garden.  I scaled back this year and still found myself too busy during the critical times to maintain the thing.  My summer squash/zucchini all died.  My tomatoes (all 6 plants) were destroyed by hornworms.  I had a good crop of onions, string beans, and peppers.  My plan for next year is to sign up for a CSA and simply gardening with the girls.  I hope to create good little gardeners who can take over that part of the farm.  We’ll see.

Why was I too busy to garden, blog and get the cow bred?  I had a lot going on with my full time job.  I went to a large trade show of sorts in July, so all of June and July was spent making inventory and getting things ready to freight to Seattle WA area.  Upon return I had a lot of orders to fill, followed by my friends wedding!  It’s been a good and fun summer, but now it’s time to settle into a new rhythm.  The rhythm of fall.  Foraging, picking, canning, preserving, organizing, knitting, and all around hunkering down for Winter.

I did my canned good inventory, and am quite proud of my last year canning self.  I canned enough for last year, and for many things, this year!  I have 65 quarts of diced tomatoes and 33 quarts of peaches.  We are looking good on jams.  I will be canning apple sauce on a large scale and a moderate number or of Pears since we are down to 17 quarts.  I am hoping to can up some tomato paste, various chutney’s, a little salsa, mostly fun small batch canning.  I’m very excited to be in such good shape already.


Eowyn is now a “first grader”, so we are officially homeschooling.  We have, of course, been educating our kids since they were born.  Hours of reading, and many other hands on activities to help them make connections in their brains.  But with the official homeschooling we are working out what our rhythm is for that, as well.  The girls are excited to do their “lessons” each day, so we are off to a good start.

Bead Making!

I’m back on the torch.  The show this summer, along with some other fun things, motivated me to making spending time melting glass a priority again. It’s been fun, and I’m glad to be back.  I will share some things here, from time to time.  Here is the necklace I made to wear for the show, this summer.

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When I got my first rabbits, Clementine and her litter of 6, I started researching alternative ways to raise them.  Traditionally, in the US, rabbits are raised in wire cages.  Off the ground.  One per cage.  It’s easy.  No fighting.  Easy to clean.  Easy to access for breeding and for keeping track of breedings.  But it doesn’t feel lovely.

When I take on a new animal, sometimes I think I know what I’m getting into, and I don’t.  There is only so much that reading and asking questions can prepare you for.  Each property is different.  Each animal is different.  Some animals will do well in some situations, but not others.  Each person has a style for how they care for their animals.  Just because something works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for another.  Farming is  science, but no more so than it is an art.

We do our best to do well by our animals.  Keeping them safe.  Respecting their animalness.  There are times that we have succeeded better than others.  We’ve made mistakes that have cost the animals their lives.  We sometimes find that their situation isn’t ideal and need to make changes.  We learn from our mistakes, and the mistakes of others who are also muddling through this new area of farming, and are willing to share their shortcomings.

I believe sharing our shortcomings is as important as sharing our successes.  It can be a warning to others, to save them the frustration, loss, heart ache, and the like, that we have suffered.

All the above leads to what I did today.  Today I modified my chick housing to create a  rabbit tractor.  The first, in what I’m sure will be many incarnations, as I sort out the best way to raise out the rabbits, as well as, figuring out how best to care for our breeders.

The pen is about 3’x6′.  It has an enclosed box that has typical rabbit wire on the floor.  It has a chicken wire covered run, that has 2″x3″ wire on the bottom.  This should allow for the rabbits to eat the grass, but not dig holes and escape.  The enclosure gives them a place to go, if they are frightened, shade, and a place for me to put them when I move the tractor, so their legs don’t get hurt during the move.  I plan on scooting them into their enclosure, covering the door and moving them.  I’m excited to see this litter of bunnies on the ground, running, eating grass, and investigating.  I don’t think this is ultimately big enough for 6 rabbits, but it’s step 1.  And you have to start somewhere.

The reason it has taken me so long to try this is because I feel it’s my job to keep my animals safe.  No farmer wants “loss”.  It hurts the purse when animals die.  But really, it hurts more than that.  Domesticated animals have given themselves over to this give and take relationship.  They are trusting us to keep them safe, in turn they are giving us the ability to benefit from them.  In farming there will be loss.  There is no way around it.  Animals will die. Sometimes from our mistakes, sometimes because it’s impossible to foresee every situation.

I don’t want to put the rabbits in a situation of being eaten alive by a predator,  in order to have them in a more natural environment.  This concern has countered much of my desire to get them in a more natural setting.  I feel that this first step is one that should be secure.  It should allow them some freedom, and still keep them safe.  It should give me an idea of how they will react to the situation, and a hopefully give me an opportunity to see not only potential problem areas, but also see areas that I can take the next step in providing them more freedom…step 2.

For now, this feels better, even if it’s not perfect.

Nellie is enjoying my newest innovation.  Tree Fodder.  In Europe trees were cut during dormancy, in order to encourage suckers to grow from the stump in spring.  These suckers were then harvested and fed to livestock, as fodder.  This precluded large pastures, which is now the typical way to raise livestock, but not the only way.  I have been doing much reading on the process of creating tree fodder.  The two techniques being coppicing and pollarding.   They are similar procedures, with coppicing being lower to the ground, and pollarding being several feet up the base of the tree.  Pollarding allows the growth of suckers, in the livestock range area, but keeping the suckers out of the reach of the livestock until they reach the desired size.

The suckers can be harvested and fed out immediately, but can also be hung to dry, and kept as a hay substitute for Winter.  So far Nellie really enjoys the maple cuttings I’ve been making from the young saplings we have on the property.  I plan on starting some coppice/pollard stands this Winter, during dormancy, with the hope of a nice crop next year.  My research has indicated, so far, that Maple is a good fodder for animals, but that the tree doesn’t stand up well to coppicing/pollarding.  Ash and Elm are quite popular for the techniques.  Hickory is acceptable.  Oak reduces milk supply so best fed in small does during the dry period, and it has high tannen levels, making it harder to digest.  I will likely avoid oak altogether, and let the trees grow and, eventually, produce acorns for the pigs!

I’m excited to have an abundant source of fodder for the cows.  Our pasture area should yield enough to keep Nellie well fed next Spring/Summer, but we will never have a proper area for hay, because our land doesn’t have the right landscape, but coppice/pollard stands, that we have plenty of resources for!

Nellie enjoying her evening snack of maple leaves.


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The farm is on Facebook!  If you want to see MORE pictures from the Iva Swaine Homestead, and find out little bits of info that might not make it to the blog, or if you just want to support us, and increase the number of people who “like” us, so we know you’re out there, head on over!

I called the local Large Animal Vet today to introduce myself and find out what the emergency protocol is for contacting them, if Nellie has trouble calving.  They were very helpful, and spent a lot longer on the phone with me then I ever expected.  It was wonderful, and not only was I encouraged by their suggestions, but I feel confident that if things don’t go well, I have someone nearby who can come out and help.

It’s unlikely we will need any help.  Irish Dexter Cattle are known for easy calving.  The vet told me the chances were very good that we would just wake up one morning, and go out to find a calf just hanging out with her.  I hope it’s that easy for her, but I also kind of hope to see the process, at least a little.  Time will tell, but either way there will be PLENTY of pictures on this blog of that wobbly legged little calf when it does arrive.

She is due the first week in May, which seems so far off, yet right around the corner.  I will be reading a lot between now and then…

The Family Cow Handbook: A Guide to Keeping a Milk Cow       Cover of: Keeping A Family Cow by Joann S. Grohman

I also had a lovely chat with the woman who owns Nellie’s Mother and Grandmother.  She was so excited to hear about how Nellie was doing and that she was due to have her first calf.  It was so lovely to talk with her.  She shared all kinds of great information about how she handles milking her cows.  She lets the calves stay with the mom the whole time.  She milks the mom in the morning, with the calf tethered to the mother.  She said that gets the calf used to being tethered, and it keeps the cow from getting stressed.  She milks 2 utters while the calf nurses the other 2, most of the time.  She said she gets about 2-3 quarts that way, and then does the same in the evening, when she’ll get 1-2 quarts.  She find that a gallon a day for her and the rest for the calf works well.  When the calf is bigger, about 2 months old, she will notice that the calf is dipping into her supply, so at that point, the calf is older, everyone is more comfortable with milking, and nursing, so she’ll put the calf in it’s own stall overnight, milk her well in the morning, and let them run together all day.  She still milks what she can in the evening, once she puts the calf in it’s stall.

Nellie’s Mom and Grandmother are both good milkers.  Gentle and agreeable.  She said that what we are doing  to prepare Nellie is perfect.  We are rubbing her down and rubbing her belly and massaging her utter/nipples each day.  She takes to all that just fine, so it seems she has a milker’s temperament.  Hopefully the transition to actually milking will be smooth.

She did say that her line does lean towards the meat, more than the dairy, and that they milk well for about 7 months.  She said that each cow is different, so we’ll have to see with Nellie, but she likes to rebreed her cows on their 2nd heat cycle after they calve.  So that would be when the calf is about 4 months old.  I so appreciated all her information and and her willingness to share.  We may do things differently, but it was so lovely to hear what her rhythm has been.  I’m super excited!



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I’ve took the online Cultured Dairy E-Course from Gnowfglins.  I really enjoy the courses she offers, and the sourdough course changed our food world!  I haven’t made many of the recipes, because I ration the raw milk around here, and try to keep to just the basics…until Nellie starts milking.  Oh, side note.  Nellie seems to be pregnant!  She was hanging out with the bull, and he showed no interest during the time that would have been her heat cycle!  We were pretty sure she was ready for breeding when we delivered her and I think we were right on.  This means that around about May 7th she should have her first calf!

So the e-course.  Well, now I’m taking the Fermented foods class, and much of it calls for whey as a starter culture.  Perfect!  I wanted an excuse, no justification…reason to make cottage cheese.  Not sure why that resonated with me so much, but it did.  So with this new need for whey, I gave it a try.  Not hard at all.  It’s a couple step process, so the hardest thing is to time it right so you are free when it’s ready to have part 2 done, but otherwise the whole thing is rather simple, and the result was down right delicious!  I think cheese making is amazing.  You start with 1 gallon of milk, and you end up with just about 1 gallon of whey…but you also gain the cheese.  I don’t know how it’s done.  I think it must be magic, but it’s so darn cool!

Now what to eat with my cottage cheese.  I have Peach Salsa, and I made some sourdough cheese crackers today.  That would make a good lunch.  But I also think mixing some chopped fruit, or blueberries in, would make a yummy breakfast.  Not sure what will accompany it, but I know we’re going to enjoy it!

I love when I have a productive day in the kitchen.  Cottage Cheese, 5 quarts of yogurt, 1 quart of yogurt turned into soft cheese, 1 batch sourdough cheese crackers.  Mmmmm.  Yummy day indeed!  Dinner was an impossible pie, like those that were all the rage in the early 80’s, remember with the bisquick?  Well, I have a recipe for making one with sourdough instead of bisquick.  This one had sauteed leeks and garlic, with shredded zucchini (all from the front yard).  I chopped some fresh tomatoes (also the front yard) and sprinkled on top when I served it.  Rave reviews, even from the small ones.  Yes, the sourdough E-Course has definitely changed our food lives!


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Where has she been?  About 2 months or so ago, I committed to going to a trade show of sorts for my business so I’ve spent the couple months making products, getting things ready for the show and packing the truck.  The show was great fun, as well as  hard work.  We are back, and while I’m still busy with the business, orders from the show and such, I wanted to pop in here again.

Nellie, our little heifer had a date today.  It’s a month long date really, but it started today.  She’s in heat, so we got a friend to help us trailer her to a fabulous farm in Center Harbor, where she met Nico, a beautiful bull, who was very pleased to make her acquaintance.  She got out of the trailer and let out a couple loud moo’s to announce herself.  She posed in the field.

Then she was led to Nico’s pasture, where there was lots of nose touching, and introduction.  By my calculations this was her first day of heat, making Tuesday her day of “standing heat”, which is when she’ll stand for Nico to make his advances.  Until they, she plays hard to get, with lots of running off when he tries to mount her.  She will stay there for a month, and if she doesn’t come into heat the next time she’s due, she’ll come home, otherwise she’ll already be there so they can spend some more time together.

He’s beautiful and is polled (born without horns), so she has a 50% chance of having a calf without horns.

The farm is beautiful, and their paddock has wonderful view of the mountains.  It’s in the lakes region of NH.  The grounds are amazing, with a great old farmhouse and barns.  Everything was well kept and wonderfully manicured.  I felt very good about her month away from us, and I think she’ll have a wonderful time.  The owners and the farmer were also fabulous to talk with.  Yes, this seems to have been the perfect arrangement.  We had considered AI (artificial insemination), and it is an option in the future, but since we were able to find a purebred bull, in reasonable driving distance, it was clear that live coverage was the choice for this first breeding.  I also found an interesting view of live coverage vs. AI from Joel Salatin, which stepped up my search for a good breeding bull.

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I grew up on the land where I live now.  It has always had poison ivy.  I’ve always wondered if I was good at avoiding it, or if I was the rare person who was immune.  Well, if I was immune, it has warn off, and I have a case of it.  I’ve been using jewel weed to stave off the itch, which is working, but this stuff has got to go.  It’s only gotten worse over the years, and it’s encroaching on our living area.

Enter Nellie, our chemical free poison ivy eradicator.

I read that goats are good for removing poison ivy, so I looked, and sure enough many people online indicated their cows, also liked the nasty little plant.  I tethered Nellie near a grassy spot that had plenty of poison ivy nearby, and it wasn’t her first choice, but she did eat a fair bit of it, and moved on to other things afterwards…and this was after a quite bit of grazing on grass, so it wasn’t out of hunger.  Yay!  I hope to see her doing this a lot more.

Did you know the leaves of the Elderberry Plant have a toxin in them?  Evidently so, which worked out great, because Nellie clearly knows this, as well.  She has cleaned out all the scrub from around my Elderberry plants but didn’t touch even one obvious leaf on the plant!  Perfect.

She has been doing a great job of cleaning up the weeds at the edge of the garden.  I’m happy to report she has still not tried to eat any of the garden plants…but I’m not leaving her alone near them…especially the strawberry patch, which has several nearly ripe berries on them.

By the way, Nellie is seeming smaller to me lately.  Not like she’s lost weight, I’m sure she hasn’t, more that she doesn’t seem like such a large animal.  I think this might mean we are getting used to her…horns and all.


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