Friday, May 31, 2013

All Before 9 a.m.

It wasn't even 9am yet and already my day was crazy.

I always milk Ellie first thing in the morning. No other barn chores are done until she is cared for. My usual routine is to get things ready inside (jars at the ready, ice in the cooler to chill the milk, water in the kettle for sterilizing equipment...), and then go outside and do the last prep work (get Ellie's feed, hook up the machine, grab her halter...) before letting the cow walk herself to the parlor. Except today she didn't want to get up. This wasn't like her. Normally she's out grazing at this time of the morning, or she's standing at the gate, mooing softly to be milked. Today she was just -- lying down. Looking funny. I walked in the pen to see about convincing her to get up when I noticed something odd. Four feet away from my cow, and next to the goats who were also still dozing, was what looked like a small pile of birthing tissue. Like raw flesh, misplaced in an incredibly wrong spot. It looked almost like a placenta. There were strings of blood scattered around the strange object, and the bedding was damp. I nudged the "thing" with my boot and as I looked closer, I realized that it had a head... And four little legs. It was an aborted fetus, and I had no earthly idea where it came from or who it belonged to. My first suspicion was Rosemary, one of the goats I'm boarding here for a friend. She was supposed to be the last pregnant animal here and the fetus would be about the right size to come from her. She looked fine however; although I wouldn't have put it past her to do something like that and still look normal, just to bamboozle me (goats seem to enjoy doing that.). 

Ellie hauled herself up at that point and I had the first answer to my bewilderment as I noticed that she had a stringy, bloody discharge, and her vulva was grossly swollen. This fetus had come from her.

But WHY was my cow suddenly aborting!? For goodness sake, she wasn't even pregnant!! I was thoroughly wigged out, but knew I couldn't ponder such a puzzle for long. There were animals to milk and feed. I scooped up the teeny tiny 7" long calf body and looked closely at it before setting it aside. It was barely formed; the eye sockets were just beginning to appear on the skull, and the two inch long legs had what looked to be the start of tiny hooves. I know this one doesn't really count, but this makes the 2nd dead calf I've had to haul away... Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever get to experience a normal, live birth with bovines.

After cleaning myself up, I got Ellie and began milking chores. Her appetite seemed a little less than usual, but that was somewhat understandable, what with how her night and morning had gone thus far. Her production was also less; I should have gotten about 1.5 to 2 gallons. Instead I got 1 gallon + 1 quart. 

Gyp came along with me when I went out for the second round of barn chores, which consists of feeding the goat kids, throwing hay, filling water buckets, and milking the goats. Er, that's how it's supposed to go anyway.

Gyp got to herd goats for the very first time today. 

Yesterday, Catherine refused to go forward which meant I had to have Gyp help me get her motor going. Today though, I couldn't get her to stop!! Normally I hold the goats by the collar while I tie the gate, and then I lead them to the milking parlor. Well, I held Catherine by the collar alright... And she fairly dragged me to the parlor, which left me no time whatsoever to tie the gate closed! Then Catherine pulled her next stunt: She wouldn't get on the stand. -_- She would stick her head through the catch and would eat her food, but she refused to put her back end up on that stand! I was just about to lift her all the way up when Jupiter came trotting into the milking parlor. Oh no... Right behind her was Trigun, Sombrita, and Rosemary. Great. I had Catherine who wouldn't get on the stand and allow me to secure her, four goats on the loose, and a quick look at the pen showed the the sheep, cow, and other goats were about to follow suit and make a dash for freedom. 

My hands were tied. I had no idea what to do. So I did the most logical thing I could think of right in that moment: I called my dog.

"Gyp! Get it! Get the goats!" I held on to Catherine so that she wouldn't bolt, and shouted at my pup to do what he's never been taught to do. I could only point at the goats and hope to get him excited enough to make a run at the escapees. 

It worked! Gyp has *always* wanted to be in the same area as the goats; what else would one expect from a herding dog? He knew the words "get it" enough to know that he needed to go after what I was pointing at (hurray for playing endless hours of "catch the pine cone"! I throw it, shout "get it" and he has to run and get it!), so he barreled his way right into the throng of stubborn goat bodies; tail wagging, tongue lolling, and he was having the greatest time. It didn't take much for the four miscreants to turn tail and run, and Gyp put them right back in the pen where they belonged. Whew. But I still had Catherine who wouldn't get on the stand. So after zooming to tie the gate closed, I called my dog in and he helped convince that ornery animal to get all the way up on that stand.

As I sat down to breakfast later (oh glorious breakfast!), I was still trying to figure out what was going on with Ellie, and if I should share the story with the public. With you. It's oftentimes a battle inside me trying to figure out what to share here and what to keep private. My excuse for keeping some of my life private goes by the name of "tact" and "consideration". Not everyone likes these stories, not everyone can handle these stories, and most people seem to prefer to read about the "perfect farms" where nothing ever goes wrong and the weather always seems to be 72F and sunny. 

Then I read a thought-provoking article that someone had shared on FB. You can read it by clicking HERE. It's a small article about the side of farming that you won't see on Facebook. Or on a blog. It's the bloody side, the ugly side, the muddy side, the smelly side, the heart wrenching side, the frustrating side, the embarrassing side, it's all the behind-the-scenes that writing farmers don't want the public to see. Why? First off because we don't like it ourselves. Second, because a lot of times we fear you guys. I know I do. Want to talk fear? Let's talk about what my readers will think if I share X story, or if I share X pictures. Walk into Walmart and ask a random person how they envision a "farm". Chances are that they'll describe something that looks like this:

This is what most people think of when they envision a farm (and by the way, I can't resist explaining... These images came from my personal Pinterest page! Yes, I'm a hypocrite!). Their mind usually doesn't imagine the spilled milk, the dead babies that had to  be pulled from an animal who isn't dilated all the way, the roosters who tried to kill each other early in the morning and are now barely alive, the reek of hoof rot, the mastitis, the raccoon attack on the chickens at midnight... Oh it goes on and on. I can only speak for myself here, but I know I have a hard time sharing tough stuff on here. I know that anyone in the world can find this blog and read it, and they may not be of the same mind as I am (hello PETA member!). If you're not used to the agriculture world, some of this stuff can be down right shocking and/or horrifying. It's so much easier to show the pretty pictures that have been photoshopped, and the amusing stories that make you smile. But that gives the illusion that this is a perfect farm. And it's not. 

Reading that article hit home and convicted me of my writing. Folks, I haven't been completely honest with you, and now I'm thinking that I need to make some changes. I need to start showing all the sides to this farming life; although it may take time to learn how to do this tactfully all the while (such as warnings before sharing graphic images). I don't want to share the more gruesome side of this life as a way to glorify myself, "Aren't I amazing!? I handled this all by myself and saved the day!", or to glean pity from folks, "Woe is me, the farmer... Do you realize how hard I slave each day so you can eat??" . I want to share this because people need to see this. This is a learning experience for everyone. Nothing is perfect, things go wrong (especially on a farm), and people need to see that a farm usually doesn't look like something from a Hollywood set.

So with all that in mind, I decided to share Ellie's story today. After asking advice from some experienced cow people, it's been decided that the fetus was a mummified calf that she wasn't able to pass until now. She calved two months ago and had a healthy 45 lb. bull calf. The twin died early in the pregnancy for some reason though, and it's taken her all this time to get it out of her system. I'll be watching her closely to make sure that she doesn't get an infection of sorts, but hopefully that will be a one-time fluke and not something that will happen again. 

It wasn't even 9am yet, and already my day was crazy... I had dealt with a mummified calf, sorted through the chaos of escaped goats, did the usual barn chores, and got convicted of my writing... Time to make some changes here on the blog. Time to be more honest about things.

It's time to take the writing up a notch.


Rose said...

Thanks for writing about the not-so-pleasant side of farming. I am a farmer and I judge other farmers not on the amount of live animals they have, but on the amount of dead ones they've dealt with and the disasters they've been through. If they learn from the bad times and improve what they are doing then they get the "Good Farming" seal of approval from me. I don't think you really understand farming unless you've been through all of it -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's not idyllic. It just is what it is.

maddie said...

I remember when I first found your blog (not that long ago) you said you were reading through one of your favourite books (something about the different types of grasses I think?) and found out that second cut timothy grass is bad for pregnant cows which caused some problems with your own. It really surprised me you shared that information; that would have been something I'd be terrified to share with readers. You admitted to your ignorance at the risk of being confronted. So in my opinion I think you've always shown the nitty gritty side of farming where pretty much everything you do has a consequence. It's one of the things that attracted me to your blog. However, what I also like is that though bad things happen there's a lot of positive spirit and spunk in what you write which evens out the negative side. You also tend to end with a positive note. It's quite refreshing!