Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Playing favorites

Bruce sent me to the cow yard today to clean the three pens, one is the maternity ward where the mother with twins is still in residence. While I was cleaning the first two, I watched her time and time again, keep her little boy from nursing. At times she was very rough and shoving him with her head, other times she raised her leg and blocked him from the object of his desire. I thought she was just sore, after all, either one or the other is always pulling on her.

But then I see the little girl get up, go to her mother and proceed to nurse vigorously. By that time her brother had tired of trying to get a meal and found a pile of shucks to lay in, looking very forlorn. I found Bruce after I finished and asked him if he ever knew a cow to reject one twin after they had accepted them and he said no. I told him what was going on and said I was going to get a bottle and see if he was hungry.

I had to gate him off from the cow for my safety, she's one of those, she might not have wanted him but she didn't want me wanting him either! He was a hungry baby, if a calf has enough mothers milk, they won't take a bottle. He gobbled about half the bottle then wanted his mother so I let him go. The little girl was still nursing so he went on the other side. After halfheartedly fending him off and, in doing so disrupted the favored child from her meal, #39 finally let him nurse. He was really into it, bunting her hard in the bag, then pulling her teat and stretching it out about twice as long as it normally is, OUCH!!

 The cow turned her head and looked me right in the eye, "See what I have to put up with??" I did understand but banning him completely seemed a little harsh. She'd finally had all she could stand, her little girl went back to bed and she followed so I enticed the little boy with the rest of the bottle, which he finished with gusto and wanted more. Feed a baby calf and they will love you forever. He will probably learn to nurse when his sister is but I'll supplement him everyday as long as he wants some.

We're thinking the mother just feels as though she shouldn't have to raise two!

BTW - When I was cleaning their pen, both babies were laying in the back of the shed and their bedding wasn't very dirty so I drove the skidloader as slowly and quietly as I could, using just enough power to drag the soiled bedding out without disturbing them. The little girl paid me no attention but every time the little boy saw me driving in, the closer I got, the bigger his eyes got! When I retreated, his eyes went back to normal until the next time. It was hilarious to watch him, he never got up but was greatly disturbed at the thought of getting scooped up with the rest of the bedding!

♫ They Call Me The Fireman, that's my name.... ♫

We hosted a neighborhood get together Sunday night at the farm.

They came from the east and the west and the south.

They brought big trucks with flashing lights.

Lots of men and some women, hoses and lots of water and a chainsaw.

There was not enough room to park in the yard so some had to stay out on the road.

I guess they always show up when there are fires, lots of fires.

They stayed late until they were satisfied all the fires were out, including the intentional fire my farmer set....

and then they packed up all their gear and left.

Would it have been tacky to bring out the hotdogs? If I'd known they were coming, I would have baked a cake.

Maybe next time?

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Water Gods are still angry, Easter Twins and a tired bull.

I should know by now not to take something for granted, such as there will always be water when I turn on the faucet. Friday we ran water all day, Bruce was spraying and I was washing clothes. Saturday afternoon I was working around the greenhouse and turned on the hydrant only to discover there was no water coming out. I went to the lower hydrant to turn it on, it surely will work, it was running on Friday. It burped and farted a couple of times and then just blew some air out of the hose.

I knew what to do, go find Bruce and dump the problem in his lap. He was planting corn and I caught him on the end of the field so he took the Honda to the pasture where the well is located and came back with the news that the meter was blank. As in no numbers, as in not working and to call our electric coop. 

"Well," I said, "better now than 6:30 tomorrow morning when I'm getting ready for church." Little did I know those words would come back to bite me. It wasn't long before an employee of Iowa Lakes showed up in his big truck and set to work to find the problem. His partner in crime came a little later and together they replaced the transformer and there was water once again.

I thanked them profusely for interrupting their Saturday afternoon and repeated, "Better now than at 6:30 tomorrow morning when I'm getting ready for church!"

I will never learn.

I was on the kitchen committee and had to be at the church to put the egg bakes in at 7 AM. I set my alarm for 6, did chores and ran water in the tub to shave my legs so I could wear my Easter dress. I stripped down, shut the faucet off, getting ready to step in the tub when I heard 'PSSSSSSSST', coming from under the sink. 

"My," I thought, "What could THAT be?"

I opened the door under my sink and hot water shot out and across the floor! I fumbled around looking for the shut off that WAS NEVER PUT IN!!!!! I knew Bruce was ready to go to the farm for chores so I ran screaming down stairs, buck neked, "Bruce! BRUCE!! BRRUUUCCCEEE!!! SHUT THE WATER OFF!!!"

To his credit, he didn't ask any questions, he ran to the basement and shut the water off and by the time I got back to the bathroom, the spray had stopped. I pulled towels out of the closet and spread all over the floor to stop the damage. Bruce made a cursory inspection and found the plastic pipe broke and blew apart and thought he could find a plug in the plumbing stuff at the home place.

My first call was to another committee member, asking them to go up and start the egg bakes. My second call was to my neighbor, Jo, who is an early riser and I asked if I could come take a shower. She didn't hesitate or ask any questions, just said, "Yes!"

Ya gotta love her!

I did have the presence of mind to pull on some clothes, I didn't want to subject her to that sight at 6:30 in the morning. Grabbed a towel and shampoo and went to get cleaned up. My morning exploits made for great conversation in the church kitchen and we all agreed that it could have been worse, much worse. Supposed the pipe blew after we left the bathroom for church and ran for the three hours we were gone? What a mess it would have been and it makes me shudder at the thought.

Instead we got off easy and just have to do a repair on the pipe to restore hot water to the sinks. And inspect the rest of the pipe. And install SHUT OFFS!!!

Bruce and I were invited to his sister, Janet's house to enjoy a lovely Easter dinner with their entire family. The kids had a quick Easter egg hunt before the Rolli family had to leave for their home in Rochester and the Feltman's went home for an afternoon nap. That sounded wonderful, I could hardly wait to hit the couch myself.

But a surprise awaited us in the form of a set of twins that had just been born while we were gone. The little boy knew just what he wanted and soon found that Mama could provide it. The little girl was a little slower....

....she knew what she wanted but wasn't quite sure where to find it. First she nosed around her brother while he was nursing and smacking his lips. Then she tried the front of the cow, maybe the nourishment was here?

Calves tire quickly without food and she soon ran out of gas so I went home to prepare a bottle of colostrum to tide her over until she found the real deal. Powdered colostrum is sticky and smelly but to calves it is the manna from heaven. The cow was not happy with my interference and no assurances on my part that I was just helping her out, appeased her. I had some help from the twin, he created a diversion and his mother ran around trying to keep track of him. You mother of twins, knows what she is going through. I used the gate to keep her from trying to kill me and offered the little girl the bottle, she took one sip and didn't let go until it was empty. The food sparked new interest in the cow and when I left, she was nosing around the bag but finally her full tummy made her sleepy and she and her brother took naps.

When we went over to do chores, Bruce caught me in my Easter finery....

....I guess that will teach me to leave the camera in the tractor.

And then there is the big bull.....

....I have no idea, you will have to ask him!

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?