Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Enjoy Life

Having a puppy around is a great reminder to enjoy the little things in life. ;)
 Even if it's just rolling around in the grass.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tiger Cow?

On Sunday morning I noticed that my heifer, Ruby, has gotten two funny stripes on her forehead... They almost look like eyebrows. Hehehe. But this is making me wonder if her brown patches will brindle as she matures. I really hope so. I've always, always, always wanted a tiger striped cow!! ^_^ 

And I figured y'all could use some recent shots of my pretty girl, so here you go!

It's Still Hard

That's an ear tag, in that picture below. You see that kind in cattle. Made of tough rubber, and large in size, you write a permanent ID number on it along with other info so that you know who is who.

And this particular tag belonged to my sweet cow, Ellie... She's officially gone folks. I clipped her tag off when I knew that I'd be losing her soon and decided to keep it.

She kept having trouble with her energy levels... Kept going down and each time it was a little harder to get her back onto her feet. I poured food and medicine into that little cow and we both fought tooth and claw to beat this problem. But she was too far gone from the beginning for my efforts to do any good. It was Saturday morning that I felt it was finally time for her to go; you can tell with animals, when they've given up and they're ready to die. Up until then, Ellie had been fighting and trying to get up. But by the weekend she was dull-eyed, droopy, and ready. I was prepared to dispatch her myself, having spent the last couple of weeks mentally preparing myself to do it... Hunting I can do, slaughtering animals for meat I can do, but when it comes down to dispatching my sweet and perfect milk cow, well, I think I might have cried after pulling the trigger. That cow was so much like Mattie that it almost hurt; and more often than not I would catch myself calling her "Mattie" instead of "Ellie". I was spared that task though... Ellie passed away on her own accord. I didn't bawl this time like I did with Mattie, and that's probably because I knew I had this coming. Last time I was caught completely off guard.

In the end, I think it's better this way. Even if I had been able to pull Ellie through this, she most likely would have continued to have problems for the rest of her life. This may have been the kinder route for her...

It's still hard to lose a cow though.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Just Call Me Cinderella

I could only look down and smile in a half-amused look as I took in the sight of my own self. I had milk replacer powder smudged on my jeans and liberally dusted on my arms, my right leg was soaking wet where I accidentally spilled a bucket of water against me, there was cow slobber on the hem of my tee shirt, bits of alfalfa hay sprinkled on my left shoulder where the flake had been hoisted, I was hot, sweaty, tired, and I could only imagine what my hair must look like. It was just past 10pm, there was no more sunlight to speak of, I was working by the light of a dimming headlamp, and I had just finished doing almost 2 hours of barn chores. It was in that fleeting moment, I couldn't help but give a little sigh... The clock struck 12 'o clock for this Cinderella, and her ballgown had been traded in for the grimy clothes of daily life. 

It was the evening of my birthday, and the day had been grand. I got to dress up and go to town with the family for the afternoon. Just the simple fact of getting to change into nice clothes is a treat for me. It's a luxury I rarely allow myself since I'm always outside working and getting dirty. My sixteen year old sister even did my hair for me; twisting it up into a messy bun with a braid on the side (I will never figure out why I can't seem to do a messy bun on myself... How hard can it be to make something like that???). As a "thank you" I stole her favorite shirt from her closet for the day; it was a teal blue Aeropostale tee shirt, and I have a sneaking fondness for it. When I was ready to leave, I could have passed as a regular city girl. Far cry from the usual jeans/tee shirt combo I usually wear that inevitably has dirt on it and some rips here and there. It was a nice change getting to be clean and decent looking for almost a whole day. Very nice... 

The day slipped into evening, and then as the clock crept closer to 8:30pm, I knew I was running out of time; I could hear the cows all bellowing for me. it was time to pull my grimy work jeans out of the hamper (because I'd accidentally thrown them in there earlier), and find a different tee shirt. It's like switching worlds almost; I get a taste of my sisters' world where they can literally pick out ONE outfit for the day and they can stay in that; shucks, they can even wear those namebrand clothes that I save for Sundays or special occasions. My world involves something to wear for milking chores, and then something equally durable to wear during the day that can handle impromptu sprees of hauling 80 lbs. of water up a hill over rough ground; oh and I usually have to do that 80 lb. haul three times in a row just to get water to all the stock. I'm so glad that they don't make 6-gallon buckets...

To say that switching from one world to another is a shock, would be an understatement. It's not necessarily a bad thing; some days I'm glad to be back to my work jeans, but it can take a couple minutes to mentally switch over to work mode. I didn't give Emily's shirt back willingly, but she sure wasn't going to let me wear it to the barn for fear that I'd kill it, like I've done to so many other shirts. By the time I was done with evening barn chores, I was an out and out wreck. A small laugh escaped me as I mentally compared myself to what I looked like earlier in the day; all that was left to show that I did look decent once upon a time was the fact that I hadn't let my hair down yet; it was still in the messy bun that my sister copied from Pinterest.

While hauling water up to the stock, I was going completely by memory as to their location since my light couldn't reach more than a few feet in front of me. As soon as I got the buckets into their paddocks, I turned around and ran back down to get the next pair of buckets; having to trust my instincts and pathetic light to keep me from twisting an ankle in the dusky night. This dirty, achingly physical world is so totally mine. I can be like Cinderella and occasionally change worlds for a fleeting few hours, but both she and I eventually have to face the fact that there's work waiting for us at the end of the day. She's got her dishes to wash while singing along with mice, and I've got my milking equipment to wash while hollering at my dog through a glass window to leave my boots on the porch where they belong. Eh, it's close enough to Disney; I'd rather have the dog than the mice anyway. Even if he does chew up my boots...

When all was said and done, and the hoofstock was bunked down for the night, I was so tired that I was shaking. I couldn't remember what it felt like earlier to be clean and tidy; all I could feel was dampness and weariness setting into my bones. I went to change into my pajamas before crashing to watch a movie, and as I looked at myself in the mirror I gave one last smirk and snort. Even my hair was a wreck... The messy bun couldn't survive a night of barn chores. The ball was fun, but my carriage has turned back into a pumpkin, and my gown has gone back to work clothes.

Just call me Cinderella.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me

Yep, today is my birthday. :) The farmer behind GSF is now the grand auld age of twenty one. 

And you know what? I think it's been a good birthday so far. Granted, it's not over yet (did I hear someone say presents and birthday cake!?), but so far I'm quite pleased. My morning started out with the arrival of one gorgeous bovine named Cinnamon:

Glory be, I can't get over her pretty face!! Cinnamon is a Jersey/Holstein cross who is already in milk, and did I mention that she's a looker?? No? Ain't she purdy!? LOL. Okay, I've probably made my point... But to explain my excitement slightly, I've *always* wanted a dark colored cow that has the orange points on her nose and poll; I just happen to think it's a striking contrast that looks lovely on cows. ;) So I was excited to get this pretty girl today. Although, I don't know if Cinnamon will be a permanent member here; I'm only borrowing her for the time, from a sweet friend who knew I was hurting for another cow. And yes, I need to give y'all the scoop on what's going on with Ellie (not exactly a happy ending with her...), but I'm not going to do it right now. It's my birthday, folks; and if I can avoid talking about unhappy subjects on my birthday then you can bet your boots that I will do so. Soon, though. Soon.

Following the arrival of the cow, was an afternoon of bowling with the family. I like bowling. :) I'm horrible at it (I excel at gutter balls and knocking down only 1 or 2 pins at a time), but it's fun. Although, bowling doesn't like me back so much... After only an hour of playing, my left hand was aching and threatening to go numb (and I was using the lightest ball! Only 8 lbs!). But a double dose of painkiller helped the problem. Hehehe. 

Next up is dinner (steak grilled 'til medium rare... Oh goodness.), and then of course the highlight of all birthdays which is presents and birthday cake. Although I don't like blowing out all those candles... Or being sung to; hmm, wonder if there's anyway I can skip that? *begins thinking up sneaky plots to thwart plans of singing and candle blowing*

Tonight, after aaaaall that food,doing the milking chores, and doing oodles of other things that will most likely wear me out, I get to crash on the couch with the family and watch a movie 'til midnight. At first the plan was to watch Princess Bride ("Mawwiage is wot bwings us togevah, today!"), but by some strange twist of fate, I changed my mind. LOL. Believe it or not, we're not going to watch Batman; "The Dark Knight". I'm looking forward to it. :) Christian Bale versus Heath Ledger? Bring it on. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Beautiful Words

A friend shared this paragraph with me this morning, and I think it's probably one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. I've been really struggling this past week... I'll see about sharing the story with y'all soon. But since the last post I did, I've been battling between feeling like an outright failure, and doggedly refusing to be defeated; it's an interesting limbo to be caught in. The paragraph below really hit home and caused me to get out of my funk and start refocusing again. In fact, I liked the blurb so much, that I printed it out in huge letters and taped it up where I can see it every single morning...

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, and sweat, and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so this his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
~Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Take My Pride

I have a bit of a pride issue. It sneaks in most of the time and settles itself so softly on my heart that I don't realize it's there until I get hit over the head by the fact that -- I'm not always right. Hmm. Not always right? Turns out it's true.

This fault is most apparent when it comes to medical treatments for livestock. I love using natural treatments; herbs and that sort. Once upon a time I was 100% for the drugs at the feed store... I was a 4-H'er; 15 years old and dreaming of a degree as a veterinarian. I could quote you the names, dosages, and dosing methods of almost every drug on the Wilco shelves. Learning about what was in those dark brown, glass bottles fascinated me. Using needles on stock was even more fun. I could argue the merits and pitfalls of the different deworming pastes, and knew what vaccinations to give and when. When I was 17, I broke my wrist and was stuck inside for the next three months; I was useless outside, so I buried myself in books and began finding a new world... One that used plants right outside my door to treat animals instead of strange sounding ingredients inside plastic tubes that cost a lot of money. Herbs were completely foreign to me at that time, but my curiosity led me further and further down that path and I slowly peeled back the truth on just what the long term effects can be when using those drugs. I felt betrayed almost; I loved those glass bottles... Those needles, those long words, the long shelves with so many choices of treatments. And now I was learning that there was a gentler way to treat animals. Was I wrong all along in using those drugs?

Then the pride snuck in. Oooh yes, I was going to be all High and Mighty now with my herbs. I threw out my drugs. Threw out the injectable iron and B12. Threw out the propylene glycol. Threw out the needles and syringes. In their place came garlic, slippery elm, raspberry, kelp, and other plants.

In the summer of 2010, I faced the hardest summer I've seen yet. It was wet that year... So wet. And my goats were dying off left and right for no apparent reason. I treated them with garlic and cayenne, I increased their kelp, I wormed them with my herbal dewormer... Nothing worked. They kept dying. I was burying carcasses every week. Four feet down in the dirt. The vets didn't know what was going on either; the fecal samples were testing clean, there were no definitive symptoms to fit anything. Then one vet finally figured the mystery out: my herd had liver fluke worms, but they had been missing the eggs in the samples up until now. Turns out that the liver fluke was rampant that year and a lot of people lost stock. Knowing that I was dealing with worms, I started deworming my goats again, using the strongest concoction I could muster. It still didn't work. The fluke had too good of a hold. I broke down and bought a powerful dewormer called Valbazen. The changes in the herd were dramatic, and almost overnight. I went from a herd that looked ready to drop dead, to normal, perky animals that were gaining weight almost scarily fast. Pride goes before a fall... 

When I first noticed that Mattie was getting sick, I pulled out my herbs and began treating her as best as I knew how. I didn't want to resort to drugs unless I had to. My pride and stubbornness quite possibly cost me my cow. The herbs weren't strong enough to take down the pneumonia that took such a powerful hold of her, and the time wasted there was critical. The night that the vet came out to pull her calf, he left me with an antibiotic to try and treat her with. His words were that if this didn't work, then nothing would. It was the most powerful drug on the market, and not even meant for dairy cattle. At that point I didn't care; I wanted my cow to live, so by Jove give me everything you've got Doc! Y'all know the end of that story. Mattie died two days later. And I was left wondering if she would have lived if I had been smart enough to use antibiotics right at the beginning. Pride, thou art mortally wounded. 

After that, I realized that I needed to make some changes. I still knew the power of herbs, but I was learning that the worlds of herbs and drugs are not something to argue between. There should instead be a balance here, in which there is a time and place for each one. We need to mesh these worlds. 

My feelings are the same where Big Ag is concerned. It is so easy for me to get pious and look down at the CAFO's and the mono-crop farms that grow nothing but GMO corn and soy. And then a year ago I came to the decision that I was done judging these things when I didn't know the full story. And folks, when you strip away the judgmental feelings, there is instead a feeling of curiosity. I began asking sincere questions about this large style of farming. Why do people do it? What are the people behind these practices really like? Human nature has a tendency to discard what doesn't work, so there must be logic somewhere in the fabric weave of these farms, that they should still be here and that people should still be building confinement barns. One conclusion that I've come to is that there is still a need for these large farms. Yes, yes, I see your hackles raising. Bear with me here. Not everyone can pay $10 for a gallon of milk, or $4 for a pound of ground beef, or $25 for a single chicken. Something needs to happen here: Either the population suddenly needs to become wealthier so as to afford food from small farms, or the government needs to start subsidizing us small farmers. And at present, I don't see either happening. The Big Ag farms may be causing harm with their GMO's, manure lagoons, and e.coli bouts, but at this point in time, they are our middle man. In the end, we need to find a balance between these two worlds of the Big Farmer and the Small Farmer. One is dirt cheap and flawed, but the other is expensive and not always possible for low income families. I've had the privilege to get to know some big ag farmers and hearing their stories is always amazing. Many times these people love what they do just as much as we small farmers. Many of them truly feel that planting GMO corn and spraying everything with Roundup Ready is the right thing to do. I'm still working on finding the balance here; still eagerly seeking answers to my questions and desiring to get to know this unknown world of confinement operations and monocrops. I'm not saying I'm for it, but I refuse to say I'm 100% against it until I know all the sides to this. I don't want to judge a matter until I can see it from the other person's point of view. 

This afternoon, Ellie went down. That's bovine jargon for "fallen and can't get up"; and it's a serious thing when a cow CAN'T get up. We had been through this once before already, so I treated her the same way: I gave her a quart of blackstrap molasses and about a 1/2 cup of kelp meal. I was basically trying to rev her engine and get some energy in her. An hour later, she looked no better. I gave her an injection of Vitamin B Complex and wondered what else I could do. Then a friend asked if I had dosed her with the propylene glycol that she had given me just a couple weeks earlier. Duh... I had forgotten about that stuff. As I pulled out the plastic jug of clear, sticky syrup, I thought about how even just a few months ago I totally would have balked at this idea. Have you ever done the research on propylene glycol? Don't do it unless you're adamant that you'll never, ever use it on livestock. But I was now at the point where I didn't care. I would do what I needed to for this cow, and I would hit her hard with antibiotics if it came to that. I had tried my molasses and kelp, and now I was willingly trying the next step. And wouldn't you know it? The glycol worked like a charm. Ellie got up all by herself in about 40 minutes. 

It was at that moment, seeing my cow walking around the pasture, that I could only shake my head at myself and quietly say, "God, take my pride away!" There is a reason that there are still drugs, antibiotics, and vaccinations in feed stores. They work. I am still aware that these can still be quite harmful to an animal, but I think when used in tandem with safer, gentler treatments such as herbs, we really find that beautiful balance to all this. Yes, God made herbs and made them perfectly. But I think God also gave enough genius to man to figure out how to make those drugs. Human tendency is to choose a side and passionately defend it. What if we're really supposed to find the middle ground? 

I think my pride level is pretty much in the dust. Next time I'm at the library I'm going to check out the copy of Merck's Veterinary Manual and start reading through that again, right along with my Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable. There is a time for everything... For herbs and for drugs. For big farm and for little ones.
I'm excited to learn the stories behind them all...