Friday, July 27, 2012

Chicken Butchering (Which I Never Wrote About)

Writing about chicken butchering has been a mix of forgetting to do it, putting it off, and not wanting to think about it. Plain and simple. Or not. In short, July 2nd (the big day) was the most horribly awesome day. Yes, you really can have both of those adjectives put together.

I had 114 chickens to butcher in one day, had 6 hours to do it before customers began coming, and only had four helpers (only one of those four had an idea of what to do). Sounds like a recipe for fun, eh?

The day was long, and we had problems galore. The scalder kept on sputtering out without my knowing it, which then made the chickens next to impossible to pluck. I had to spend most of my time jumping around, trying to do everything at once and helping those who needed help. Time flew by too fast... Now that I look back though, if it hadn't been for the scalder, we could have gotten done pretty fast. But since those problems occurred, we ended having to have customers wait for their birds which I hated to have to do. On the flip side though, the chickens were all a really good weight (average of 4.5 lbs. with quite a few 5-6 pounders in there!), and I got a really good bleed out on all of them. Last year's biggest problem was that the dispatcher wasn't slitting the chicken's jugular well enough and the birds still had a lot of blood inside them. While at Polyface Farms, Daniel Salatin taught me how he dispatches his birds and the technique worked great! I had always heard (and done) that you just slit one side of the throat without hitting the windpipe; this works tolerably well, but the birds drain pretty slowly. Daniel recommended doing two slits on either side of the throat, and being very careful not to hit the windpipe. Much, much faster! We had a perfect bleed out on all the birds, and they looked great. 

In the past, we've bought our freezer bags from the same place that we rent the processing equipment, but this year we found to our dismay that we had to find a different supplier. After a few days of panic I managed to find a local farm that would sell me some of their bags. The cost? Fifty dollars for 100 bags. Ouch.

The clock eventually crept up to 5PM and we still had a little over 50 chickens to process. The five of us just couldn't do this; not at the rate the scalder was failing us at least! I went inside for some ibuprofen and tried to figure out what to do... We needed to give the equipment back the next day, and I didn't think my helpers would want to come back again to do this still more. What should I do?!?! I went outside and stopped short: Out there I found my own family members (who have always said that would NEVER help me butcher, for understandable reasons) pitching in, and everyone who had a cell phone was on it and calling in reinforcements. I wanted to cry. These were my birds that I have worked on for the last 8 weeks, they were my responsibility, and this was my botched job of the day running out of time like this. And yet, these people so selflessly came to help me butcher these birds, and now they were calling in help for my sake. Shucks, I couldn't even pay these sweet people. 

After a few moments to regain my composure, I jumped back in. Help was on the way and we now had two people at every station (save the dispatching which was left solely to me). Chicken catchers, scalders, pluckers, eviscerators, Quality control checkers, baggers, weighers, and people to greet and help customers. There was one moment that really hit me like a 2x4, and that was when the help had arrived, and there was a group of customers picking up their birds. I realized that you can't farm alone. It's virtually impossible. I may have cared for these birds from day #1, but now I needed a community of people around me to process these birds, and to buy them. Knife in hand, blood all over my arms, I stood still. And watched... I had a community of people surrounding me this day, and it was awesome. 

The clock continued to tick, and the scalder ran out of propane as we neared the end. That maddening moment when you're so close, but you're so far... A dinner was quickly consumed in shifts and we all wearily picked up our jobs again. It was 8PM when we finally finished our work... It had taken us 10 hours to get those birds done and we were all so tired that we were loopy. By the time my dad and I finished cleaning the equipment up it was 9:30PM. And I still needed to do the milking chores...

All I wanted to do the next day was sleep. And sleep, and sleep. Alas, that was the day that Metty kidded, so I once again spent the daylight hours outside. But as I sat outside with the newly born goat kids, I thought about the previous day. It was so horrible that I never want to do broilers again. And yet, it was so wonderful to meet all the new customers and see their excitement over my clean meat that it's hard to not say I'll do it again. I made virtually no profit; I put out roughly $900 to do this, and got back roughly $500 by the end of the day. Things cost more than I was expecting, unexpected problems arose, grain prices had skyrocketed, and my prices were too low. Live and learn, I guess. But I made a lot of new friends who will hopefully remain loyal customers, and let me tell you: I have never slept so good in my life as I did that night. ;)

If I am ever crazy enough to raise broilers again, I will definitely raise my prices (I did $2.80 per lb. for organic chicken and you read the results above!) and I will take them to my local processor. It's worth it to me to pay the extra and have the pros do it in a timely fashion. I'm always so harried and frenzied every year during butchering that I don't feel like I've taken the time to really talk with my customers. Next time (again, if there IS a next time), I will have customers come the day after processing, and I want to be calm and collected so we can visit with each other and strengthen the farmer/customer bond. It's worth it to me.

So there you have it folks: Chicken butchering was a horribly awesome day.

The Peace of Grass Farming

I took this quick video yesterday, after moving the animals onto new pasture. This grass hasn't had an aniaml touch it in 6 years and it looks drop dead gorgeous. August is about to hit us, and this grass is revving up to feed the hoofstock. I love grass farming; it's easy as pie and instead of listening to the roar of engines and mechanical stuff, you listen to birds chirping, the creek laughing, and animals capturing all that sun and turning it into food. Awesome. :)

P.S. You'll notice that Peaches got a new fly mask! She and Mattie are twinkies now! LOL.

A Day of Raw Milk

A few months ago there was an outbreak of E.Coli 0157:H7 in raw milk that was sold on a family farm not far from me... Farming was their business, and it seems that they tried their best to produce clean milk. But after many were sickened from contaminated milk, their story got ugly...

After that outbreak, the big dairy farmers quietly began working towards banning raw milk in the state of Oregon. The State officials planned a get together to talk about this new law and guess who wasn't invited: consumers, and the raw milk producers. That's you, and that's me. Feel left out?

An interesting thing happened though, when the news of the ban filtered into the public. A handful of passionate, determined, raw milk producers got together and created something that had never been seen in this state before. It was a group that could hold it's own against the government if it had to, and it now goes by the name of the 'Oregon Raw Milk Producers Association'. Spearheaded by the amazing Charlotte Smith who runs Champoeg Creamery, and further bolstered by Mark McAfee, the ORMPA is an organization meant to help raw milk farmers produce the cleanest, safest, healthiest milk possible. Dreaming big, Charlotte planned a training day at her farm in which she hoped many raw milk producers would come and learn just how to go about our business in the best possible way. 

I'm not kidding when I say Charlotte was dreaming big. It's pretty rare to see two or three raw milk producers in the same room. We hide in the woodwork, unsure as to how much we should expose ourselves and our livelihood; trying to get as many producers in the same room just might take a miracle.

But miracle or no, I knew that I HAD to go to this event. I had no idea how I would get there, but I would walk the 34 miles to Charlotte's farm if I had to. Thankfully, two friends offered to take me there so after some hectic planning on figuring out who I was going with, I found myself situated in a friend's truck early Monday morning and headed for a day of raw milk.

Charlotte's farm is a lovely place that is both clean and tidy; I honestly wondered at first if she actually kept her three Jersey cows on her own property, the place was so nice. As we pulled up to the farm, a young lad (I'm guessing Charlotte's son) hailed us down and asked us if we were here for the conference. Oh dear... I had an extremely strong urge to tell him no, we were here to go buffalo hunting and knew nothing about a raw milk conference. ;) I suppressed the urge just enough to only say the words loud enough for my friend to hear, but now I wish that I had indeed said it; just to see what the boy's expression would have been. Yeah, I'm so naughty.

At the house, waiting to greet everyone was Mark McAfee himself. A bear of a man with a smile and a laugh as big as himself, Mark had flown his private plane up from CA, just for this occasion and I was looking forward to hearing him speak.

People slowly started filtering in as time ticked away, and it amazed me to see how many people were travelling to come to this event. Alas, we got a late start to the day as Mark found that he needed to park his plane in a different spot over at the airport. Hehe, can I have a plane of my own someday??

So, sitting in the world's most uncomfortable chair (wooden! Aargh!) I spent my morning listening and learning about things I knew, things I didn't know, things I was really excited to know... The first half of the presentation was wonderfully applicable as Mark went over handling milk, chilling milk, testing milk, caring for milking machines (and apparently he had never heard of a surge bucket milker, which is what I have!), caring for cows (goat people just had to imagine the word "goat" instead of "cow" that day), and I'm sure I'm forgetting some topics. My appreciation for chair cushions increased many times over in that span of time as I sat in my chair.

Lunch break allowed me some much needed stand-up time as well as giving me a chance to see who all had continued to sneak in during the presentation. I think I heard there was a head count of 50 people!?!? And of course, I was still the youngest person in attendance there. Sigh. Sometimes I feel like I'm never going to grow up. While at the conference, everyone had to wear name tags which was handy when I wanted to know who was who; but boy howdy did it give me a start every time when people would suddenly call me by name! "Who are you and how do you know what my name is?!?" I had numerous "Duh" moments as I remembered that my name was emblazoned on my shirt. My excuse is that I was a little sleep deprived and not feeling all that great that day.

To help wear lunch off, everyone got a tour of Charlotte's farm/creamery and I must say I was very impressed with everything. Her milking stanchion is to die for! When my money tree sprouts (ha) I am going to have to build one like her's. What amazed me the most though, was how simple everything was in the end. I'm sure Charlotte put a lot of time, money, and energy into building everything but I was tickled to see that it wasn't some fancy concrete/stainless steel/highly expensive area that would cost a fortune to re-recreate. It was small, it was simple, it was clean. I loved it. I got so many ideas on how to alter my farming/milking methods and I think I'm going to have to start implementing some of them.

By the time the second half of the presentation started, I was tuckered out. Still feeling the effects from the milk allergy (or whatever it was/is), I hadn't eaten in days and my brain was beginning to get foggy. I did my best at listening though, not wanting to miss out on anything and learned about the different harmful bacteria's to watch for in milk (campylobactor, e.coli, listeria, etc.), how to keep them OUT of the milk, how to test for their presence, and what to do if you find that some got in the milk. We also went over customer loyalty, building a customer base, what is in raw milk that makes it so good for you, and we looked at some awesome slides of raw milk, pasteurized milk, and human blood from beneath a microscope. I was all for raw milk before I came to the conference; seeing those slides confirmed it. I will never touch pasteurized milk again if I can help it!

My friend and I had to slip away from the conference a little bit early (I think there were only 10 minutes left) so I would get home on time and I was okay with that. I had just had an information overload and I was ready to rest and ruminate on what I had learned.

So, take away points?

  • Pasteurization is harmful to milk and makes it harmful to humans. Don't drink it.
  • We live in an era in which we can easily keep things clean! Therefore, keep the milk clean!
  • Keep hot, hot; Cold, cold; Clean, clean; and Green, green. Which means, if it's supposed to be hot, then keep it hot. If it's supposed to be cold, then keep it cold! If it's supposed to be clean, then keep it clean! And if it's supposed to be green (think pastures), then keep it green!
  • If you need a path to your milking parlor in the winter time, consider laying down a few inches of gravel and laying rubber mats over it (broken conveyor belts from logging mills work great). This keeps the cows out of the mud on their way to be milked.
  • If you have mud, then something is wrong. Fix problem.
  • For a grass-based dairy, you want a medium producing cow; somewhere between 3 and 5 gallons per day should be good. If you have a cow like mine (Mattie) who milks 8 gallons a day, be prepared to coddle them with grain!
  • Raw goat milk can legally be sold in retail stores here in Oregon; you just have to have a license and grade A facility! (bummer!) Raw cow milk is still considered bootlegger.
  • If you have a customer base for your milk and you find you need money to upgrade something, just ask for it. Often times, folks will donate to help a cause that is near and dear to them (in this case, it's their raw milk!).
  • Contaminated milk is a real happening and is scary. Do absolute best to keep your treasured milk clean!!
  • Enjoy raw milk!
The second ORMPA meeting is being planned already and I'm hearing whispers about it being held in September. Rest assured I will be going to that one too!

Charlottle blogged about the day over at her website and the first picture is a group shot of all of us. Can you find me in there? ;)

Night Walk

Sometimes, those little, fleeting moments can be the most beautiful of times. As I prepared to close the barn up tonight, I realized that the cows were still in their new pasture which was at the far end of the property. Twilight had gently fallen and everything was dark and quiet... I threw Mattie's halter and lead rope over my shoulder and went to fetch her and Peaches. A coastal wind whispered through the tall grasses in its silvery voice, but other than that there was no noise save for my footsteps. The cows were found, Mattie was haltered, and with no hesitation on my part I stepped off; back towards the barn. Mattie followed meekly as a kitten, with Peaches following six feet behind her.

The three of us walked silently; hooves and boots falling in sync to each other. I felt a slight sensation of awe as I thought about the 900+ lbs. of cow at the other end of my rope. She didn't have to follow me... She could have put up a fuss. Peaches didn't have to follow either, but she did without a rope around her at all. They both followed. Both followed me...

The moon is in waxing form tonight; it's ghostly figure hung from the twilight sky that did not yet reveal stars. It was that moment in time that you are caught just before dusk, but just after sunset. A rare time indeed. I walked still more with my cows, and smiled. The goats were all lying down in the barn where it was warm and comfortable. And I was coming with my two cows behind me. It was just me and my cow girls tonight, with the moon winking at us from above...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Sneaking Suspicion

I have a sneaking suspicion about myself that I am not at all pleased about:


I think I am allergic to cow milk. Yes, even the raw stuff.

Last summer I traded some goat milk for some cow milk from a lady near me. I had a hankering for some raw Jersey milk so I was delighted to do this barter. The following days that I drank her milk were awful. My stomach hurt, I was crampy, and I just didn't feel good. Not having seen this lady's place, her cows, or her milking setup, I assumed this must just be a bad jar of milk and my body was reacting to the bad bacteria. I dumped the milk and promptly forgot about the matter.

On Thursday morning, last week, I realized that I had a serious glut of cow milk in the fridge and something had to be done about that! So that afternoon we made ice cream, yogurt, butter, cheese, and I started drinking lots of milk. I didn't touch my goat milk at all. On Friday morning (yes, the same morning of bedlam in the barn) I found that I didn't want to eat ANYTHING. I felt famished; ravenous. But the very thought of food made me nauseous. I didn't eat anything on Friday, save for a couple of forced bites at dinner which only made me feel worse. Saturday was the same. So was Sunday. Meanwhile, I was drinking all the raw cow milk I could (and just as a side note: the rest of my family has been drinking the milk too and they are 100% fine; so it's not a milk problem. It a "Me" problem). By Sunday night I felt so bad I wanted to cry. My body was starving for food; it needed nutrients but I couldn't bring myself to eat anything. I lost 10 lbs. in 3 days.

Monday morning was rushed and crazy since I was going to the Oregon Raw Milk Producers Assoc. training day with a friend (blog post about that soon), so for my breakfast I tried to have a banana and a glass of cow milk. I couldn't do it. I took two nibbles of that piece of fruit and couldn't do anymore. I couldn't even drink the milk, I felt so terrible. The rest of the day was pretty much the same as I tried to eat lunch and dinner but just couldn't. After four days of not eating, my body was beginning to shut down. 

The wheels in my head started turning on Monday night: Since I was gone all day, I hadn't had any milk... I felt hollow and light headed from my fast, but my stomach didn't hurt anymore. The idea that maybe it was the milk that was affecting me came into my head, but I brushed it aside. I LOVE the taste of Mattie's milk, and the last thing I want to be is allergic to it! The first thing I did this morning was to pour myself some cow milk... I drank half a glass and felt sick to my stomach. It was like someone pushed a button: drink the milk, on comes the pain. I skipped breakfast completely today, but knew I had to somehow get food in myself. 

Then I had a thought: What would happen if I had some goat milk? I poured another glass but this time with Metty and Sombrita's milk, and tentatively drank it. In twenty minutes I felt like a completely different person. The pain was gone, I was once again ravenous for food but this time the thought of food actually felt GOOD. I ate a big lunch with gusto and focus and I'm starting to feel like my old, perky self. 

While I was delighted that the goat milk helped so much, it saddens me to no end at the thought that I may not be able to have cow milk anymore. :( That just seems like a cruel irony; I have two cows and now that I've learned that I love these bovines I find that I can't drink their milk??? Good grief! It surprises me too, since Mattie is A2/A2, and supposedly even people who are sensitive to cow's milk can have A2/A2 milk since it's so similar to goat's milk.

We'll see though... I'm going to take a break from the cow milk and then slowly introduce it back into my diet. I ain't gonna' give it up without a fight.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

This Makes Me Smile

How many ways can you play a piano? These guys prove that there are many. Their creativity makes me smile. :)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Morning Of Bedlam

Bedlam: "A scene of mad confusion".

That was my morning.

Most days start out quite simply and easily: I milk the cows and goats without a fuss, the goat kids wake up right as I finish milking chores and are fed their morning bottles; the turkeys chirp impatiently for their breakfast, and Peaches gives me happy grunts in her happiness to see me. It's usually quite nice.

Today was not like that at all.

Upon opening the barn door, the first thing I find is that the turkeys had "flown the coop" (sorry, couldn't resist. LOL.) and are out of their brooder that is 4' tall. There are only seven of them now, and they were all enjoying their freedom. Meanwhile, Mattie the cow has decided that I am horribly late (By five whole minutes!) and begins bellowing. This spooks the goats and what do they do but start screaming themselves. I've always said I liked Nubians for their voices, but this was a little much. The noise from the milkers woke Frodo and Snickers (Metty's kids) and they too began shrieking at the top of their lungs.

Then I noticed it: Ivy had been up against a wall and beside her, hiding in her shadow, were two newly born goat kids. PANIC!!! I bottle feed all of my goat kids, so I was not happy at all to see that I had missed the birth. Had the kids nursed yet? Would I be able to get them to take a bottle now? Were they bonded to Ivy too much? How long had they been there!? I scuttled over to the fuzzy whippersnappers and gave them a look over; One was a red roan male with a huge splash of white on his forehead, black boots on his legs, and the cutest little dorsal and badger stripes. The second kid was a light brown female (hurray!!!) with a white facial splash of her own, chestnut badger stripes, and a few demure white patches on her sides. Both had milk mustaches on them; guilty as charged my wee ones. 

Now, what on earth to do first??? This year, I had planned on putting my goat kids in a 3'x3' wooden box that I use for many purposes (cold frame, chick brooder, goat kid pen) until they were a week or two old, but we had just gotten a small batch of layer chicks on Wednesday, and my kidding box had to go to them. Where do I put these kids so Ivy can still see, smell, and touch her babies, but they can't nurse her?

The cow was still bellowing. All the goats were still screaming. The turkeys were now taking turns climbing up my stack of hay and flying off of it. The new goat kids were beginning to look for their next meal on Ivy, and I had virtually no idea what to do first. Milk the animals, catch the turkeys, or deal with the kids? Milking the animals won out and Ivy's kids were whisked into a kidding stall. Ivy complained about the disappearance of her babies but didn't stress.

Milking seemed to take forever today. The machine was malfunctioning and there was no suction on two of the inflations; Metty wouldn't come into the milking room, and then stubbornly refused to eat her grain. Sombrita yelled and yelled until it was finally her turn.

Next up, feed the kids! Frantic after screaming for 45 minutes, the kids were so keyed up that they kept on pulling the nipple off their bottles. Grrr. While I worked on putting the nipples back on, the kids took the opportunity to bite my legs. Ow, you little fiends!

Now, what to do with the kids? I needed that brooder box that the chicks were in. There was no way around it, something had to happen. In a split second I made the decision that the turkeys would have to be moved out of their brooder and put in the chicken tractor. They're still a bit too young to be out from the heat lamp but I'm hoping that the warm weather will make things a bit easier for them. While putting the turkeys in the tractor, I had the "brilliant" idea of trimming their wings beforehand so they would stop flying. I learned the hard way that turkeys are a little different from chickens, and they have blood vessels half way up on their primary wing feathers. In short, I had bloody wings on two unfortunate birds. "Oh they'll be fine," I told myself as I left them to rush off to the next chore. Now that the turkey brooder was empty, the layer chicks needed to be moved into there. That was easier. Moving chicks simply involves scooping them up in great handfuls.

Having finally dealt with the poultry, I hauled the heavy wooden box into the barn pen and plunked the kids in there. They seemed content, and Ivy was happy that they were close. I went to go fill water buckets and on my return I found, to my horror, that Ivy had jumped inside the box and the kids were smugly nursing. Noooooooo!!! Ivy Rose, that's not allowed! Frustrated, hungry, and tired, I pulled the kids off her and put them back in the kidding stall. Ivy didn't even make a peep this time; she has never really cared about her kids.

Almost done with chores! All that's left is to give water and feed to the turkeys! I plod out there and to my great dismay I find that the two injured birds are still bleeding and their wings were dripping blood down their sides and legs. Great. I grab some flour inside and spend the next fifteen minutes with my hand covered in flour and blood, trying to stop the flow. The bleeding did eventually stop, and I left the birds alone. It wasn't even 10 in the morning yet and already I was covered with turkey blood, cow manure, milk, dirt, and amniotic fluid. 

I came inside and felt ready to back to bed. That was pandemonium out there... Oy. 

But on the bright side, I am tickled pink about Ivy's kids. I'll get some pictures for y'all later. They are drop dead GORGEOUS!! In color, they're normal, but in conformation and potential they are breathtaking. I knew this would be a good cross to breed Ivy to Bob, but I didn't expect the kids to be this nice! Both are being retained, and the buckling shall remain intact. :) Oh yes, and they already have names. I'm doing musical themed names for all my kids from now on (except wethers like Frodo and Snickers), to go with my herd name of 'Goat Song'. So the buckling will be registered as 'Goat Song's Chad Gadya' and the doeling will be 'Goat Song's Duet'. 

Alrighty, I must needs go now! The clock says it's time to feed the kids again!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Shadow Knows

Peaches grazes quietly, contently. And beside her stands her shadow; moving in perfect sync with her. But it knows something she doesn't: One day she will be a big cow. The shadow itself foretells this and declares it's secret to all. She is a little cow. Her shadow says she will one day be big.


The New Header That Isn't There

I have been trying in vain for an hour now to upload my new blog header (picture at top). You'll notice that there's nothing there right now. It's driving me crazy. Blogger is very sneaky, I will say that; now that my old header has been accidentally taken off, I have to pay a fee if I want another one on. And of course I do, so now I'm scrounging to get that money... 

But here's the new header that will soon be up: What think ye'?


Friday, July 13, 2012

Birthday Boots

Today is the day in which I have finally left the teens forever... I turned 20 years old this morning! 

I told my family that there was one thing that I really wanted for my birthday this year, and that was new muck boots. My old ones were so cracked that I may as well have gone barefoot. But more than just wanting new boots, I wanted to have pretty boots this year. ;) C'mon, everyone has those ugly, but serviceable black boots. Where's the fun in those? Nope, after all these years of wearing black boots, I wanted some color. So my family got me these:


The milkmaid is pleased. 

Chores are so much fun now! Not only are my feet staying clean and dry, but they're pretty now! LOL.
 Life is fun.

The Dairymaid Diaries: Back Massages and Test Results

   Mattie and I have finally figured this dance out and we've gone from a crazy Scottish jig on day #1 and #2, to an English waltz this past week. Milking time is absolutely *wonderful* these days!! Since Sunday evening, every milking has gone without one single hitch. I halter Mattie, swing her lead rope over her neck so it's out of the way and let her walk herself to the milking stall whilst I tie the gate closed and gather a couple things for milking. Mattie is already chowing down on her grain and once she starts inhaling food, that ol' girl won't move even if a hurricane blows through. I've finally figured the milking machine out and am comfortable with it. I'm learning those subtle noises of the vacuum pump and pulsator that mean that a quarter is empty, and I can milk Mattie out in 4 minutes with this marvelous contraption.

  I made the change on Monday night, and am now milking the bovine twice a day. Three days later she's gone up to 3 gallons a day. Hoping she'll go up a bit more! After milking, Mattie has a funny routine: she seeks out Peaches and gives that little heifer a regular bath. I milk the goats to the loud noise of a tongue lick, lick, licking hide and hair. Peaches loves it and closes her eyes in bliss; delighted to have another cow companion. 

   When Mattie was first dropped off, her previous owners mentioned that concrete seemed to bother Mattie, as she would stretch awkwardly during milking while standing in their milking area that was floored with cement. I made a mental note of this and was glad that Mattie would now be standing on rubber, since that's what is on the floor of my milking room. But as I've watched her during milking, I've noticed that she does it here too. When I untie her and prepare to lead her back to the pasture, she stops and bends and twists her back, as though she was a little old lady trying to get a crick out of her back. I watched her more, and began noticing that she would do it after grazing for a long stretch of time, or after eating hay with her head low to the ground. It also seemed that whatever it was, it was affecting her breathing when she laid down to chew her cud. She would inhale shallowly, as though it hurt to take a deep breath, and then would exhale heavily as if she had just come in from a run.  Hmmm. Today I gave her a back massage and tried to pinpoint what the problem was. after just a couple minutes of working along the sides of her spine, I found it: Roughly eight inches from her shoulder blades, along the thoracic vertebrae, there was a slight swelling that was tender to the touch. You really couldn't tell at all that there was a swollen part unless you were looking hard for it. I gently worked the muscles in and around the spot and then heard a pop and a crack from the area. The cow sighed at this and totally relaxed. Bingo. So now part of my day is being devoted to massage therapy on a cow. ;) But I figure it's the least I can do, seeing as there are six gallons of milk in my fridge, a big can of ice cream from her milk, and soon there will be cheese, yogurt, butter, kefir (one of these days I'm going to get brave and try it!), and perhaps someday, beef. She deserves the back rub and that's the truth.

Bovine back rubs aside, when I first got Mattie, I was told that she had been bred but the pregnancy test results weren't in yet. I had my fingers crossed that she was indeed preggo as the bull is a seriously nice, A2/A2 hunk. If she was pregnant, then the calf would also be A2/A2 which would make it quite valuable whether I kept it or sold it. So I waited, and waited, and tried not to think about it. Then an email came today from the previous owners, and attached to the email were the test results...

Mattie is confirmed pregnant and due around February 21st!!!! Hoof stomps and goat bleats, this farm girl is tickled!!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Dairymaid Diaries: Enter Milking Machine

Today marks day #2 with Mattie the Jersey cow and things could not possibly be more different from my second day with Hazel the Jersey/Holstein. In short, I am in love with this cow.

If there ever was a cow meant for this beginner, it's Mattie. She has been 100% pleasure so far and I really enjoy her! Saturday morning dawned clear and cool, and in its wake it found me preparing myself to use a milking machine for the very first time. I was overly tired on Friday night and ended up not sleeping well due to nightmares about malfunctioning milk machines that suddenly came alive like octopus tentacles. So Saturday morning I was still suffering the effects of waiting for this metal contraption to suddenly grab either me or the cow in a fit of rebellion. Taking a deep breath, I led my bellowing bovine (my goodness she has a loud voice!) into my milking parlor - such as it is - tied her to a fence post which was my momentary pathetic excuse for a stanchion, and turned my new machine on...

It surprised me just how quiet the machine was. I mean, it's certainly not a whisper, but it's not annoyingly loud like I was afraid it would be. Just a nice, moderate hum. Now to be totally honest, that first milking didn't go overly well, but it was all on my part. Mattie never moved a muscle, never offered a kick, never even looked at me! The problem was just silly me, trying to figure out when she was milked out all the way, and learning how to properly put the inflations on her teats, and how to take them off. If you want a good way to wake up in the morning, I highly recommend getting a milking machine for a dairy animal of your choice! This thing keeps me hopping and alert! After assuming that I was done, I began stripping her out and ended up with, um, another quart.... Whoops. I guess the machine wasn't done.

One thing in particular that I absolutely LOVE about Mattie is how beautifully she leads. The slightest tug on the lead rope will get her following you like a faithful hound. In comparison, in order to get Hazel to move you first had to point her head in the general direction you wanted her to go, and then stand right behind her and apply pressure with your boot right beneath her dewclaws and force her to move one foot at a time. It took me 20 to 25 minutes to get Hazel to go twelve feet to the milking parlor. Mattie gently leads the way. 

Once Mattie was contentedly munching the morning's hay, I hauled my bucket inside. Oh and for those who are wondering, I have a little Surge Bucket milker which I believe originally came from Hamby's. On taller cows, you would hang this via a strap from the cow's back so that it hangs just off the ground and out of the line of fire from hooves. Since Mattie is so charmingly short (I love that, too!), the bucket simply sits on the ground. So yes, there I was literally hauling this metal bucket full of fresh milk. That thing is so heavy that it's not even funny. I have no idea how much it weighs when it's empty, but when it's full of milk and  you can't seem to get a proper grip on the darn thing, it suddenly seems really heavy.

With the goat's milk, I have always just slowly poured the milk out of the pail and into a jar that had a filter waiting on the mouth. I had seen those spandy metal strainers in dairy catalogs, but oy! They were $40.00 each! So after all these years of milking, I've never bought one.

After that first morning though, I decided that I needed a strainer before the next week was out. While pouring the bucket milker, you have two speeds: no movement at all, or a flood great enough to wash the jar away. Neither one is really great for a jar with no strainer. So after much grunting and bear-hugging that giant pot, I ended up with a gallon and a half to call my own, and watched 3/4's of a gallons go down the drain as I spilled and sloshed it clumsily. One milk strainer, coming up!

Since Mattie is used to being milked only once a day, I decided to stick to that routine on both Friday and Saturday. She needed to settle in a bit, and I wanted to get used to her before doing this dance of metal and milk twice a day. I think I will milk her tonight though, and start seeing about raising her production to a higher level.

This morning's milking was *awesome*. Mattie behaved perfectly, and I managed to milk her completely out; stripping out only a measly 1/4 cup when I was finished. Now, was the entire milking flawless? Oh dear me, no... It wasn't. I'm still learning how to use this machine, and more than once I had to put an inflation back on because it had come detached. But other than those small mishaps on my part, it really was quite nice. The machine milks her out in roughly five minutes, and I get about 2.5 gallons. With Hazel, it took me 60 to 90 minutes to hand milk her out and I usually only ended up with one gallon. The rest was on the parlor floor. I don't find washing the machine to be any more trouble than washing my pail, or bottle feeding my goat kids. I actually enjoy washing my milking equipment, and I find it a very relaxing part of my day.

Mattie is settling in quickly, here at GSF... She treats Peaches like a pesky fly that won't leave her alone, but that little heifer just loves her even if she does get brushed off throughout the day. The goats don't mind her, but are careful to give her a wide berth, nevertheless. And as for me and her, we're still learning the dance steps to this jig. She's learning that I'm the boss cow here, and I don't tolerate rough housing. I give myself a five foot bubble of space around me, and if she comes in the bubble then she gets pushed away. She is known for her head bunting, and after one swing that got me in the hip, I quickly laid down the rule that she may not approach me. I will go to her for haltering or general handling, but that's all. I think this rule is going well so far, and it's only taken a few pushes for Mattie to realize that this dairymaid needs her space.

Having a cow has definitely added another dimension to the farm, and I don't remember a time when I've been so tired (except for at Polyface perhaps...). But it's a good kind of tired. I look forward to seeing how this story continues to unfold...

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Am Cow. Hear Me Moo.

It always takes a new animal awhile to settle in and become comfortable with their new surroundings... Mattie has taken to walking the pasture and bellowing for her old bovine mates. It's kind of funny listening to her...

Emerald Veil Manhattan Glass

Goat Song Farm is once again graced with the presence of two cows.

And here is the new girl, in all her glory:

Folks, I would like to introduce you to, Emerald Veil Manhattan Glass.


A HUGE 'Thank You!' goes to my dear friend over at Rural Legacy, and her family for letting me have this cow!

A 7 year old, purebred Jersey. "Mattie" as she is nicknamed, is da' boss. At her peak, she milks eight gallons per day, but after milking for over 12 solid months, and has now gone down to a once-a-day milking, she's producing a humble 2.5 gallons. I'm hoping that she'll increase a bit once I move her back onto a twice-a-day milking.


Oh yes, and let's not forget that she's been bred (pregnancy test results are expected in a week or two! Fingers crossed that she settled!), she is A2/A2 (score!), and she came with a spandy milking machine that can take on two cows at a time! Whoop, whoop! 


I keep chuckling over how short and stocky this girl is... Hazel, the Jersey/Holstein was an absolute monster is size, whereas Mattie looks like a dwarf in comparison. I really like this girl's size. She feels manageable. Doable. She leads beautifully, has a sweet temperament, a clean bill of health, and just enough sass to keep life interesting. ;) Peaches absolutely loves her. 

Having her instead of Hazel already feels better, just knowing that I'm starting out with a HEALTHY cow. Hazel had so many problems that it rather overwhelmed this beginner. And of course, having a milking machine is also encouraging! Granted, I'm still a bit daunted and nervous about using that contraption, but Mattie's previous owners gave me an extremely thorough lesson in how to use it, clean it, store it, and repair it. I know I can do it, I'm just nervous about the first few days! 


So here we go again friends. I have another cow. Let's hope that everything works out this time!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Friday's Weather Forecast

Sunny. Highs 80 to 85. Slight wind in the afternoon and a 99% chance of a new bovine.
Weather forecast also mentions an extremely high chance of a milking machine.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Boys

The two newest additions to the farm, in all their cuteness. ;) I still don't know exactly what their names are yet, but I'm sure they'll name themselves in a couple of days...












Kids Are Here!!!


The birth was a fast 20 minutes long, and out came twin bucklings (I was right!)! One buckling looks exactly like his dam: Pure black, orange badger stripes, and frosted ears. The second buckling is chocolate brown with a wild spotted pattern all over him. Sooooo cute! 

Pictures are on the way!! 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

I'm Ready

Tomorrow is butchering day and I am beyond ready for these birds to go to freezer camp.

This has been one of the worst batches of chicks I've ever gotten, so on top of the 20% mortality rate among them, the feed/growth ratio was ridiculous. We went through an entire 2,000 lbs. of feed and the majority of the birds will dress out to only 3.5 - 4 lbs. Every year I tell myself that I am never going to raise broilers again, and every year I seem to forget when April roles around... But I'm going to be firm: no more broilers for this farm girl. Period. They are just not my cup of tea. 

I love the changes they make to my pasture (really green, excellent growth), but I do not like the birds themselves! I have scars mapped over my hands and arms that do not come from years of the usual farm work (fencing, bucking hay, etc.) but rather from years of enduring broilers. I just got another beauty this afternoon as a broiler took a chunk out of my arm. Brainless, aggressive, stinky chickens. Grrr. 

Now, part of these feelings is probably stemming from the fact that I charged too little for my birds (Again!), and thus I have nothing to look forward to tomorrow. It should be payday for these last eight weeks of nightmares and stress, but instead it's simply a day to work. I will be lucky if I break even.

A couple weeks ago, a friend asked me why I was scaling back on the farm (selling the majority of the rabbits, selling Poppet, not raising broilers anymore) if my goal in life was to be a farmer. Isn't the whole point of being a farmer to grow food? And chickens sell so well, why don't I keep on doing them?

As I said before, chickens are not my cup of tea. I have spent the last two years really honing in on what I like and what I don't like doing on the farm. What makes me tick, and what makes me groan at the thought of doing? I'm still learning, to be sure, but as I've soul searched my farming passions this is what I've found: Dairying is by far my favorite thing, and it is probably what I am most passionate about in life. I love milking, I love the dairy animals, I love all the challenges that come with it. Along with that, I like sheep, hogs (from what little experience I've had with them; this could change as the years go by!), laying hens, turkeys (again, I think!), and meat goats/beef cattle. I seem to like the larger animals, but with some birds thrown in for good measure. Rabbits are okay, but I won't cry if I never get big with them (I would need 50-100 does to make any money). I love the idea of gardening and running a veggie CSA, but I can hardly grow a weed, and the animals take up so much of my time that the garden always gets neglected. Broiler chickens are at the very bottom of this list. If there was one thing that I would choose to NOT do, it is broilers. But, darn me, I seem to suffer from short term memory loss every spring!! 

So yes... I am ready for these birds to go. I'm picking up the equipment this evening, and plan on starting at 9AM tomorrow. I don't even get to keep any of these chickens, either! And here I was, hoping to get the last laugh with the birds!

Toodle pip and cheerio... I'll report back after tomorrow.