Thursday, April 17, 2014

"Come on Babe, follow me, I'm the Pied Piper, follow me...."

Tonight was Maundy Thursday services at church, 7 PM. On the way by the farm, we see a just born calf in the middle pen by the road. Bruce cleaned and bedded behind the three bay building that afternoon so the rest of the cows and bulls were back there basking in the sun.

 We left right after services to move the cow and calf, Bruce didn't even stay to talk about the Twins with his good buddy, Jon. It was still light and we had work to do, we changed clothes and were back at the farm. We just needed to move #32 and her baby to the next pen west, that is the maternity ward and it would have  saved us a lot of work if she'd had her calf in there. Cows can be so inconsiderate.

We moved the pair with little fuss, while Bruce was locking the gate I walked up behind the building and find another cow with newborn calf in the midst of a bunch of cows and two bulls. It was tight quarters, cattle everywhere so Bruce opened the gate into the dirt to try and coax some out there. The baby bull was laying beside the calf, he got to his feet and stepped non too gracefully over the baby while I held my breath. The two big bulls and some of the cows went into the dirt yard and then all hell broke loose, in a bull fight!

The baby calf got to his feet and started walking toward me, I backed up and he kept coming, when I got to the corner of the shed, he was still coming. He ended up following me all the way down the alley, around the waterer and through the gate Bruce ran to open, into the maternity yard with #32 and her new calf. It couldn't have been any easier! We both think #28 is going to have a calf and she went out into the dirt yard with the bulls, that's all we need, bulls fighting where baby calves are so we got her back on the cement and shut the bulls out there for the night.

 I hope by morning they have it out of their system, men! No lack of testosterone around here tonight.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How do you move a cranky cow?

Very Carefully!! I'm taking a break from the bee hives, because of the cold weather than moved in, the bees won't be here till next week. The crabbiest cow on the French Farm had her calf this morning and Bruce wanted to move the pair this afternoon. #45, formally #22 until she lost her tag, has not changed her ways since last year. She is ugly when she has a calf and it's not a fleeting thing. She carries a grudge against anyone who messes with her baby.

So this is how you move a crabby cow, it involves a tractor with a wire crate attached and a heavy gate to separate the cow from the calf. If you don't have one of these, rush out and buy one before attempting this. There was no way to document the first part of this maneuver, Bruce backed the crate up to the shed. I got the gate and  put it between me and cranky cow and waited for Bruce to back me up. He has no fear around the cows and can shout them down, at least for a few minutes while they recoup their game plan. With the gate running interference, I grabbed the calf and shoved her into the crate. Then climbed the cement wall that Bruce is standing on and got the heck out of there.

He laughed at me, until he saw the only other outlet for him was to go between cranky cow and the tractor, he wisely chose the cement wall.

Once he was safely on the tractor, he had it made, I was still on the ground, scurrying around opening and closing gates while keeping an eye out for the cow.

Up through the yard, all she can do is follow and plot her revenge on us.

Once in the lean-to yard, it's time to put a numbered earring on the baby and she was not happy......

....and fell down in a tantrum. While cranky cow was bawling, growling, pawing the ground and throwing snot all over outside the crate, inside the crate Bruce was trying to convince the calf to get up and join her mother.

This cow has my number, I know enough not to cross her path for at least 3 weeks and even then she gives me the stink eye.

Murphy never liked riding in the Gator in her basket and she rapidly outgrew it. Putzing around home, she found her position, on the floor with Mollie in the back.

Murphy still serenades me with shrill puppy barks while we are moving but it's a lot safer for her and me, talk about distracted driving. Going down the road while wrestling a puppy in a basket. I do have a leash I snap on her collar for safe riding but she is pretty content.

Mollie and Murphy love to go to the farm to help do chores, they both take off to go scavenging. Mollie to the corn crib to hunt for rats and Murphy to go check the cat bowl but I fooled her, I don't feed the cats till we are ready to leave. All of a sudden Murphy appeared carting the carcass of some hapless critter and she was extremely proud of it, she was prancing! Murphy went to the Gator first and tried to get in with it, she was taking that back home with her. Luckily it was just a little too much so she took it to the other side of Leo's shop, out of sight of Mollie and set to work chewing it. I will remember that tonight when she wants to chew on me. 

I wondered what would happen when Mollie discovered it, after all, she was not willing to share the raccoon pancake she found in the old shed. I soon found out, Mollie spotted Murphy and went to investigate, Murphy fixed her with a murderous glare and "Yipped!" as fiercely as she could with her high puppy voice. 

Mollie understood perfectly, backed away and jumped in the Gator. Back home they would settle this once and for all in a wrestling match in the barn with Bruiser as referee.


I went out to shut up the chickens, it's cold and rainy and time for Murphy to come in for the night. But first we go to the front pasture to go to the bathroom, Murphy, not me. When Bruce's sister, Shirley and husband, Rich, got their dog, Chloe, they housebroke her to go 'potty' and 'poopy'. That way if they went on a road trip, she would stop and drop a load on command. So I did that with Murphy and every night before she comes in, we make the trip out to the pasture and I tell her to "Go potty." Murphy will run and sniff and then go, tonight she squatted over an irritating dried weed that was sticking her in the most tender area so she kept lifting her leg while she was peeing. When that job was done I said to "Go poopy", and the hunt was on for the perfect place. Sometimes it takes longer than others to work up a load, one night she was humped up three times before she got the job done but tonight it only took once. 

Murphy got a new chew bone tonight, I remember what she was gnawing on at the farm and she didn't brush her teeth when she came in.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bee Hives in the Plum Thicket

It kind of sounds like a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, 'Little House on the Prairie', 'By the Shores of Silver Lake', 'On the Banks of Plum Creek.' Today was moving day for the hives, from in front of the garage to the pond where the bees will live. I scoped out the best place yesterday, taking into account the needs of the bees.

The book I'm using using as my Bee Bible, 'The Thinking Beekeeper' is very detailed and the first time I read the book it made my head spin. I realized I needed to read it in sections, my brain can only take so much information in one sitting. Placing the hive is critical to it's success, but it's confusing. One sentence, "If you live in a cold and snowy climate, place the hive in the sun." Right after that is, "If you live in a climate with high summer temperatures, place it in shade." WHAT??? We have both! What am I to do????  So I compromised, I put the hives on the edge of the plum thicket, it will be shady in the summer, the leaves will fall and they will be in the sun in the winter, WHEW!

The hive was to be situated out of prevailing winds, usually facing SW. This worked perfectly as there are big pine trees to block the wind on the south side. I thought it was a near perfect location except for the thorny plum trees, those little buggers are getting a trim tomorrow.

It's also important to level the hives, the bees won't draw a straight comb if they are just thrown out on some blocks. I loaded the tractor with cement blocks, shovel, level, the hives and all the bars and bottom boards, plus some shims. I did make a last minute change on the bottom of the hive bodies, I put a stabilizer board across each end because they wobbled, I didn't want my bees getting sea sick in their new home.

Of course the ground wasn't level so I went to work with the shovel, cement block and level, took me back to my patio laying days. It wasn't long before I had the block leveled and stacked three high. Triumphantly I placed the first hive on the blocks, only to discover I placed them too close together, the stabilizer boards hung out over the blocks, that kind of defeated the purpose. But that's me, don't do a job once if you can re-do it at least once more, possibly twice. The second time was a charm and again I triumphantly placed the hive body on the blocks and it was right, even still level. It had a tiny wobble that I quickly remedied with the shims. One down, one to go, it went faster as I did learn from my mistake the first time. Both hives were set in the shade of the plum thicket and I stepped back to to admire my handiwork......

They're so CUTE!!! How could the bees not love them?? I wonder if I should make tiny curtains for the entrance holes? Place some pots of colorful flowers around? I wanted to take a cot over and sleep with my cute little bee houses but it's going to be dang cold tonight. Besides, there's things over there that go bump in the night and I'm as chicken as my dogs.

Back at home, we spent all morning clearing yards and buildings of snow and dirty, wet bedding. When this little girl found her favorite sleeping area covered with snow, she improvised and found a bed in the feed bunk.

When I was bedding the three pens by the road, one very pregnant cow bunted the corn stalk bale over and pushed it clear across the yard. When I chased her away, she kicked up her heels in glee, I was impressed. I have never seen a pregnant woman do that. Cows are amazing, but then they do eat their own afterbirth so I guess I shouldn't wax too poetic about their abilities.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Building Top Bar Bee Hives, a race to the finish.......

.....the bees are coming, the bees are coming!! I got word that the bees could be delivered April 15 so a new urgency set in. When I last left you on the TB saga, I was putting the peeping windows in, the hives were ready to be put together. Rosanne was back from Arizona and she and Sue came last Thursday, armed with cordless drills.

Morris was there to greet Sue and demand his share of attention.

It's a good thing we had three of us, it took that to put these together. At times I felt like we were the Keystone Cops running around, getting in each others way. Letting go when we were supposed to be holding, coming up with different measurements and then deciding it was "good enough." Actually, as the day wore on, "good enough" was our mantra.

Doing the roof was a challenge because we had no directions but when has that ever stopped me? I found that Rosanne was a fountain of woodworking knowledge, the things she could make that table saw do! Who knew you could make angle cuts where each one was the same? Eureka!

The poor table saw took a beating, this wood was extremely hard, it is old and the blade is dull. So dull that during one cutting session, blue smoke rolled out and drove us out of the shop. I think it was time for a rest, and a new blade. Well, not a new blade but one I found on the wall and we thought it was better than the one in it. Rosanne even knew how to change the blade, Eureka!!

By the time the roof was framed, our brains were fried and we were exhausted. I felt sorry that Sue and Rosanne had to drive an hour to their homes, I only had to go 1/4 mile to crash on the couch until I regained some energy.

After a good rest, a can of Coke and some chocolate, a cure all, I went back to the farm and finished the roof. I had no idea how to shingle with wood shingles, but when has that ever stopped me? The thing I learned  is that no way would I want to shingle an entire house but I think the roof is kind of cute. I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment to have one done, only two more to go!

Tuesday is looming so I was up bright and early Friday morning to work on the next two roofs. I was so happy to get a phone call from Rosanne, saying she could come again. The first roof just lifts off and its rather bulky and hard to get off and on, I can only imagine how it might be with a bunch of bees buzzing around my head. So I decided the next two roofs need to be hinged so it was back to the drawing board. 

It was a challenge, we had to scrap the measurements of the previous roof and strike out in a different direction. But we persevered and soon had a roof, I scrounged around and came up with some hinges. But we found out the different roof plan necessitated adjustments in the top bars. They had to all be cut on an angle so the roof and hive body met. Once again Rosanne worked her magic on the table saw and she was soon happily sawing away. I found some tiny latches in Leo's shop that worked perfectly on the observation windows. We were getting close!!

We had Rosanne's hive done and was working furiously on the last one when we killed the table saw, again. Much to my dismay, I killed it one other time but the next day it made a miraculous recovery and lived to saw another day.

This is Rosanne standing proudly by her Top Bar Hive, showing off the inside...... 

....and the second shingled roof, done a bit differently. 

We loaded her hive and she took off for home, I went home to rest, again, more Coke and chocolate, a cure all for most everything in my book. Later I was back at the farm to work on the last hive roof, I kept trying the saw but it refused to budge. Bruce was in the field so I was watching over the cows, the weather had been lovely and the herd was dropping calves quite regularly. When I fed the cows, our old friend, #72 was laying on a dirt mound and it was obvious she was in labor.  I decided she might as well  carry that calf in so I was able to convince her to move into the yard with the other cows and calves. #72 saw the feedbunk filled with silage and decided the calf could wait. 

She ate and ate and ate, you just don't get silage every day of the week, every so often she had a contraction and two little white feet would appear, then recede as it went away and she went back to eating. This went on for over an hour, I finally called Bruce and told him and he said he would be home in about 15 minutes. He watched awhile then decided we better pull the calf.

 It was an easy job, he was a little guy and slipped right out, it was as though  #72 said, "I'm old and tired and if you want out, you are going to have to climb out."

Last evening she had her new baby out in a fresh pile of shucks, basking in the sun with #14 baby.

The mothers standing by to make sure no harm comes to them.

Besides having another healthy baby calf, the table saw came back to life and I was able to finish cutting and trimming all the Top Bars. The last job yet to do is placing the hives at the pond so they are ready for the bees. The weather took a turn for the worse, it's cold and snowing, yesterday we were in shirt sleeves, today we were in full winter gear.

 So stay tuned for news of the bees arrival, I wonder if I'll have to put tiny little heat lamps in to keep them warm. Or knit little bee sweaters? Bee long johns?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Another Day in Paradise

Today started out innocent enough, like so many others but took an interesting turn by afternoon. I took the pickup to get a pallet of seed corn from Fred while Bruce was hauling the last load of corn to our ethanol plant. I brought the skid loader home to clean off the horse yard and then stir up my compost pile since it's getting that time when it needs to be spread on the gardens. I grilled a pair of outstanding Iowa pork chops for dinner and went to the farm to work on the bee hives, I just got word that the bees should be here next week. Rosanne and Sue are coming on Thursday to put them all together so I was anxious to finish the pieces. Bruce took the pickup and trailer to get another load of seed from Roger.

We had a new calf this morning and several cows are getting close so I went out to check for new babies first, and found one! #14 had a brand spanking new calf in the dirt yard and was cleaning her up. Our new baby bull, #9100 was very interested in what was going on. I decided to take a video, it was a beautiful day and I love the "MMMM, MMMM" that a cow makes when she has given birth.

Right in the middle of filming, #9100 turned his attention to me and next thing I knew, he was in my camera lens! The first time it startled me but I went back to filming, the second time he was in my back pocket, so to speak, and that was just a little too close for comfort and I ended my filming abruptly because he wouldn't leave.

He turned his attention back to the calf and started acting like he was going to bunt her. I went home to call Bruce and when I walked by the waterer, it was dry, no water! So I had great news for Bruce, "Get home to rescue a newborn calf from the little bull and there is no water at the farm!" I went back and hauled a gate out into the yard to put between the bull and calf. #9100 rubbed his head in the afterbirth, well that should make him attractive to the ladies. He didn't think much of the gate, we went back and forth to keep him away from the calf until he finally lost interest and went to lay down.

I hauled the gate back to the fence where I found it and ran to get the tractor with the hog crate on, that makes moving baby calves safe and easy. Bruce backs up to the calf and I drag it inside and there isn't a thing the mother can do but run along behind and protest. Bruce got home and we relocated #14 and her mother in the maternity pen with #41.

Two new calves today, 41 and then 14!

With the calf safely put away, I headed up to work on the hives and Bruce went to the well to see what was wrong with the water works. He tried but couldn't find the problem and assumed the pump was bad so called Marcus Lumber who said they would send someone as soon as they could line them up.

So Bruce came to the shop to help me and did I ever need it! I'm putting viewing windows in the hives so we can peep inside without ticking off the bees. Bruce has a very steady hand with the circular saw and made beautiful, straight cuts. Things were going great, two down and one to go when we saw the Marcus Lumber van go by and Bruce was off after them like a shot. 

I only had to cut one more side, that shouldn't be too hard, should it? It was, I do not have the steady hand, I got it done but I wouldn't want to enter it in a beauty contest. In the end, I had three sides with viewing windows in place, progress!!

We are making 3 full size hives and one swarm hive for Sue to put down in their garden to see if a swarm might take up residence. This is the first one I put the viewing window in and it shows. When I bought the plexi-glass I asked if there was a trick to using it. The guy told me to drill slow and don't work on it in cold weather or it can crack. You know what? He was right. But since this is the swarm hive, I decided they won't care about a small chip in the window.

I was in the middle of working on the hives when I heard a commotion in the barn and went to investigate. I found several of the fat cattle got the big door open on the back side of the barn and were having a high old time inside the barn where we had two new calves, YIKES! I ran them out in to the yard with the expectant cows and shut the mothers and babies in the barn to stay out of harms way. I wired the door shut and then had to separate the fat cattle, who were acting like college kids on spring break, from the pregnant cows so I could put them back where they belong.

Where are my herding dogs when I need them? Oh, yeah, they lack the fortitude to herd. I knew Bruce had enough to do down at the well so I kept at it until everyone was back where they belonged and I could go back to my woodworking.

I've been anxious to actually put one together to see if it really does work so I did the swarm hive and it REALLY DOES WORK!! The reason it's called a Top Bar is all the bars across the top. Each one has a little groove that we will fill with melted bees wax and the bees, in theory, will build a comb down. When it's time to harvest the honey, you carefully pull one of the bars up, shake the bees off without ticking them off, and cut off the comb into a 5 gallon bucket.

The swarm hive need entrance holes, a door to cover the entrance window and a flat roof across the bars but it's basically done. Progress!!

Meanwhile, down at the well, no progress was being made. The pump was pulled and it wasn't bad but Bruce decided to replace it anyway, it's old and out so what better time to replace it. They kept testing and there was power where they tested but anytime it was plugged in, a fuse blew. 5:00 PM, quitting time came and went and the three guys were scratching their collective heads. It was now overtime, Ye Gads! What to do? WHAT TO DO??

Finally Bruce said they should wire the pump direct and there they found the problem, a damaged spot in the wire, enough current could get through to test OK but not enough to run the pump.

So Bruce was all smiles when I stopped at the well to see how things were going, we thought we would be carrying water to cattle tonight. One good thing, everything and I mean EVERYTHING is new at the well, we shouldn't be bothered with that again. What ever it costs, and it will cost, after hours call, KaChing, KaChing! it was worth it to be able to have water for the cattle tonight. 

Life is never dull out here in God's country.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Trials of Farm Life.

When I was searching a name for my blog, Trials of Farm Life came to mind because there are a lot of trials. Whether it is fighting water problems in the middle of winter or a piece of machinery broke down at an inopportune time or the loss of a seemingly healthy calf. We had only had two calves so far, a little heifer was born last week and we put her and her mother in the lean to yard with the first calf. She was a quiet baby but they are much like children, some are more rambunctious than others.

We went to the farm this morning to find her mother standing at the gate bawling and bawling, that is never a good sign. The calf was stretched out on her side in the lean to, dead, it was such a shock, just yesterday both calves were out enjoying the sun. We will never know, she might have had a birth defect, possibly she was injured by one of the cows, we could have her posted at the vets but she will still be dead and then we would have a vet bill on top of it.

It's heart wrenching to listen to her mother, they do mourn the loss of their baby, but, unlike human parents who will carry the loss of their child for the rest of their life, in a few days she will forget and go about her business. The loss of a calf is hard for my farmer, he has a lot invested in her financially and, even though our cattle are not pets, emotionally. These animals are completely dependent on us and Bruce works hard to care for his cows the best he can. She is such a nice heifer that Bruce won't sell her, some producers cull the cows who lose a calf because it's a big expense to feed them for another year before they will produce again. Last year we were two over 100%, with two sets of twins, that is an exception and it's especially depressing to lose a calf this early when we have so few. Bruce's father, Leo, used to tell him, "You can't raise them all," and, unfortunately, that is usually true.

Several years ago we had heifers and were making lots of night checks. #29 was the first one to calve, she had trouble and her baby was born dead. She was quite distraught. The next day #28 was in labor and having trouble so Bruce pulled her calf. This calf was quite large, #28 was not so big and it was hard on her, she wanted nothing to do with that calf.

#29 said, "Well, if you don't want her, I'll take her." She scrubbed her clean with her raspy tongue, Bruce gave the calf a bottle of colostrum and let #29 take over. She loved that little girl and all was well, until......

the next day #28 had some time to think about it and said, "Well, you know she is MY baby." #29 did not take offense and was very willing to share custody of the little black calf. They both mothered her, when she was nursing from one cow, the other stood by and washed her. She was the best fed, best cared for, most loved baby in the lot and all was well, until.....

Bruce took some heifers and a bull to pasture in Meriden and sent #29 along with them so she would have an early calf the next year. #29 was not happy, she wanted her baby! On my way home from work, I'd stop by to see if everyone was doing well and she would come to the fence and express her displeasure at the situation.

The next year #29 had the first baby of the year and all was well again in her world.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"And the Lion shall lie down with the Lamb...."

.....Isaiah 11:6 - or, in our case, The Puppy shall lie with the Pussy Cat....

....even if the pussy cat, Zoe, wants to believe the puppy doesn't exist if she turns her back on Murphy.

"Well, I guess I can put up with you if you concentrate on your stupid chew bone."

"Sheesch! Are you sleeping?? Dogs!"