Posts Tagged ‘calves’

Wanted: Weekend Farmer (in training)

June 15, 2009

Wanted: Weekend Farmer to take care of animals

When: Friday evening through Sunday morning

Where: West Central Illinois

What: Take care of farm animals, including 14 cats, 20 chicks, 6 chickens, and 2 cows.

Details: Animals need food and water in the morning and evening.

Chickens on the stairs

Chickens on the stairs

Chickens: The chickens really just need to be let out of their movable coop. Open the screened front flap and prop it up with the piece of wood that was screwed into the frame but came unscrewed. This helps keep the wood from coming unscrewed and helps keep the door from blowing down in the wind. The chickens will rush out and flap their wings and act silly for a few minutes. Make sure to enjoy this part as it’s quite a show. Lula Mae is always the last one out. She’s the pullet with black-tipped feathers near her shoulders (not the technical word, but you know what I’m talking about since you are a weekend farmer being trained by a farmer-in-training). The chickens will range all day long and will put themselves back in their coop. In the evening, you can check their feed and water before you lock them in. Their feed is currently in a Farm King bucket. I will try to put it in a garbage can and label it before we leave.

Chicks: The chicks are pretty easy. They just need feed and water. They have two feeders in the brooder. They think they get special treats in the purple-bottomed one. Please do not let them in on the secret. You will have to check their water. Most likely it will be spilled or totally mucked up with bedding. Either way it will need to be dumped, cleaned out quickly with the hose on the well pump near the house, then filled and placed back in the brooder. Yes it is reddish inside from the iron in the well water. Don’t bother cleaning it as they don’t seem to mind. The silly chicks will most likely knock it over or muck it up before you leave, so you might want to check it again. Their feed is in the brown garbage can closest to the workbench in the garage. I will try to label it before we leave.

Cows: The cows do not need water as they have a big tub with an auto-leveler. Just make sure to leave the handle of the well pump UP so that it will continue to fill up. Their feed is in the garbage can closest to the garage door. There are two buckets in there, to be filled up about 1/4 to 1/2 way. The buckets and the fence tester are in the garbage can with the feed. PLEASE remember to put them back in there as the garage is too messy for me to find them if you put them somewhere else. Proceed to fence while calling cows. I’ve also started to say, “Come on, girls” to get them to come to me that way. If you get here late enough, they will be waiting for you at the fence. Just ignore their puppy dog sad eyes as they are just trying to make you feel guilty for sleeping in. Also feel free to remind them that you are just a weekend farmer filling in for a farmer-in-training. I’m sure they will understand. Repeat in the evening, making sure to check the fence again. If the fence charge seems low, you will need to walk the fence and check for problems. If there are problems, you will have to call Scott the Farmer as fixing the fence is dangerous and you are not getting paid enough to bother with it.

Indoor cats: There are two indoor cats. Only one, Riley, gets soft food. He only gets a half a can, maybe less if he didn’t eat all his food from the previous serving. This is because Cleo does not like soft food, not because we are mean to her. Riley will meow and meow until you feed him. You might want to do this first unless you can ignore his meows. He also is not starving, as will be evidenced by his youthful figure. The cats might need fresh water or more water. More importantly, they need  reassurance that we did not abandon them for the cute outdoor cats and that we will be back soon to worship them.

Outdoor cats: They will act like they are starving, too. Little Gray might actually be very hungry because she is still nursing her litter. Mama Cat will act as if she is starving, too, but she isn’t. She is mean to the other cats, so when you open the soft food cans you might have to push her away from the other cats so she will not attack them. That is, unless the chickens are around, in which case she is meek and humble and lets everyone else eat first. However, then you have to keep the chickens from eating the food so the cats can eat. This is not easy as they are very persistent little buggers. It might be easier to feed the cats before you let the chickens out, but then  you might have to listen to crowing. Maybe you can block it out. Anyway, the cats get between 3 and 4 cans of soft food. It depends on how many show up for breakfast and how hungry they look and how much food the chickens swipe. Use your best judgment. They also get hard food, which is in the pantry to the left as you enter the kitchen. I usually just fill up the empty soft food cans with hard food. Their water is in a ceramic dish near the well pump. This is the water for the chickens and the cats. Just make sure it is full when you fill up the chicks water for the second time.

All of this should only take about 15 minutes each time, depending on which order you do it. If you let the chickens out first, then you will have to stand guard so that the cats can eat. If you feed the cats first, you will still have to stand guard so that Mama Cat doesn’t eat all the food and then you will also have to listen to the roosters crowing to get out. Really, the cows are the easiest as long as you are mindful of the fence. It is electric and from what I hear, it does hurt. I am scared to death of the fence, so I have not gotten shocked as I am very, very careful.

No worries. My aunt and/or cousins are taking care of the cats and chickens. My aunt has way more experience with animals than I do, so she really should be training me. I have to talk to Scott the Farmer, but I am sure he will want to take care of the cows himself, assuming he has time. Boy, having animals makes vacations hard, doesn’t it?

Picture Friday

May 8, 2009

It’s Friday, so here are some pictures. I’m thinking of making this a regular thing on Friday. I don’t have more pictures of Little Gray’s kittens because she moved them and it’s hard to see them. She is doing great as a first time mama cat, though. I am a little surprised because she is so young, but she is taking good care of her kittens. The cows are doing well. We’ve even taken the kids up while feeding them. Sweetie Cow didn’t come too close when Aidan was up there, but she didn’t run away. Bullseye was fine with Aidan, but she was fine the very first day, too.

Mama Cat and her kittens

Mama Cat and her kittens

Kids and Chickens

Kids and Chickens

One of the Roosters

One of the Roosters

Mo and the two roosters

Mo and the two roosters

Chickens near movable coop

Chickens near movable coop

Cows grazing

Cows grazing

P.S. Cows are back

April 21, 2009

I said on twitter that the cows are back, but forgot to mention it here. We woke up late this morning, so by the time we got up Scott and Tim had found the cows and almost had them back. They were right near the edge of our property, so we aren’t sure if they just ended up there or if the neighbor herded them back with his ATV. Tim mentioned ATV tracks in the neighbor’s field, so it seems he might have seen them and tried to herd them back last night or this morning.

Anyway, they are back, and we are leaving them alone. They are up the hill, as far away from the house as they can get. I’m not sure they’ve had much water since the water bucket is near the house. Scott will be coming by later to take care of them and work on taming them. Then I think we will introduce them to me, then Tim, then we’ll see.

Pictures of the cows

April 21, 2009

When I woke up this morning, I realized that my post last night was supposed to include pictures and I forgot them. Moira was tired so I was being rushed off to bed (I shouldn’t have been blogging so close to bedtime anyway), and forgot to include the pictures. I only have a couple of pictures of both cows and that is from yesterday when they decided to have their adventure. As they were running away, I decided I might as well snap some pictures. The other pictures are just the one cow that stayed on Saturday while Sweetie Pie; was gallivanting around. The other cow seems unafraid of us or Aidan. She only runs because Sweetie Pie runs, I think.

Cows running through our corn field

Cows running through our corn field

Cows running through our corn field

Cows running through our corn field

Cow behind electric fence

Cow behind electric fence

Side view of cow

Side view of cow

Doing our part to help out the wild cow population

April 20, 2009

Well, it’s dark out and our cows are still out adventuring. Scott couldn’t stop the truck from picking up his wheat, which is just fine. I would have felt really bad if he had missed out on that opportunity to sell his organic wheat. I think he’s been waiting a while to sell it, so it’s good he got to do that.

I’m sure the cows are just out in the neighbor’s woods. They went far enough that they weren’t spooked and then stopped and probably grazed out there most of the day. The woods are big, so Scott will look for them tomorrow and Tim will go help him. I’m sure we’ll get them back somehow. Scott is great with them and herds them almost silently, from what Tim told me.

I’m really quite mad at the cows and upset at the same time. I feel bad for them because it was quite an ordeal for them to be taken from the herd of 15 or so that they were used to. Then they get here and are totally afraid of these little kids. It seemed silly that they could be scared of someone so small, but after you see a cow go under an electric fence and one jump over because they are scared of a 5 year old, it’s not silly any more. I don’t know why they are so scared of kids, but they are. I knew they were and I shouldn’t have taken Aidan up with me. They aren’t used to me yet, though they seem OK with me. Just OK, though, not happy or relaxed, just wary. They are obviously not comfortable enough with me to be OK with Aidan and me.

Scott has said a couple of times that this is a bit unusual and that he learns something all the time. I suppose I have learned some things, too. First, chickens are way easier than cows. Second, cows are not stupid. They may be pretty simple animals, but they aren’t stupid. They know how to get out of that electric fence and they know how to get through the rusty barbed-wire fence, too. They did it once and then they remembered. Third, size is unimportant. Just because the cows are big does not mean that they are not scared of animals smaller than them. And despite their size, they are quite nimble. One of those cows jumped over a fence! I don’t even think she was scared, I think she was just following the one who was scared. Fourth, I know nothing about cows so I need to relax and be patient and learn. I need to watch Scott and let him teach us instead of thinking I can try something. I should also have listened to my own instincts. I KNEW those cows were not OK with Aidan and I still took him up the hill with me.

Anyway, here is a picture of the one that didn’t bolt on Saturday. Aidan and I got pretty close to her, close enough that Aidan took some of these pictures. She was fine, so I am sure it is the other one who is scared of him for some reason. The funny thing is that the one who is so scared is the one that the Cow People called Sweetie Pie. Scott got a good laugh about that name since she ran off Saturday. She also kicked the crap out of the Cow People’s Son when he tried to get her out of the truck and inside the fence.

The good part of the day is that I met some other neighbors and they all seemed understanding and said they would watch out for our cows. They didn’t seem surprised or annoyed at all. I even met an Amish neighbor that lives right by the neighbor behind us (the one who came over to complain) and she was very understanding and mentioned that sometimes their horses get out onto his land and he’s not very happy about that. So, maybe he’s just a big grump. He did help the other day, so I should be grateful for that.

I’ll be happier when the cows are back and I can look back and laugh about this experience, that’s for sure!

Cows on the run

April 19, 2009

The cows arrived yesterday and are giving us a run for our money. One of them was pretty spooked by the ride and ended up kicking the Cow People’s Son* and then getting out of the fence. Unknown to us, Aidan had gone up the hill to see them and then came back down the hill to where we were all standing around, talking. Scott asked if the cows were OK, and Aidan said that one had gotten out of the fence. It took a while to get her back, probably about 2 hours. She had gone through our cornfield, through a hole in the barbed-wire fence, and through the neighbor’s fields and further. I’m not sure how far she went, but Scott the Farmer and the Cow People found her, with the help of a neighbor and his ATV. Needless to say, we did not make it to Peoria last night as we had planned, but we did have a nice family dinner and watched Star Wars: Episode III.

This morning I checked on the cows right away. I could see them from inside the playroom so it was easy to check on them. A little later, Tim and I walked the fence and they were there and seemed fine, if a bit wary of us. Tim and I were getting ready to put the chickens out in the garden when Aidan told us the cows got out of the fence. He had come outside and, unknown to us, went up the hill to see the cows. Tim and I went tromping (tromping is really very different from walking, as I’ve discovered) off in the really soggy cornfields and found them. They had not gone through the hole in the fence, but had gone along the fence into a wooded area. The mud worked to our advantage because Tim could see their tracks, which was how we found them. We kept an eye on them while we waited for Scott the Farmer to get here.

Scott arrived with a 5 year old boy, his girlfriend’s grandson, I think, and came up to the corn field to find us. Tim had gone to try to fix the hole in the fence as best he could, considering it was really rusted barbed wire. Scott asked me to go stand by that section of the fence while he and Tim herded them back towards the corn field. Well, the next thing I know, Scott is standing in the neighbor’s field asking me to not respond to him, but to undo the fix Tim had done and then walk to the house. So I got home and changed out of my wet shoes, socks, and pants and waited. Tim called on his cell phone to tell us that Scott was getting close with the cows and that they were skittish, so we needed to stay in the house. Scott got the cows back in, but then the cows got spooked by Scott’s 5 year old friend again. Scott had to take him home because he was cold and wet and has a cough.

Anyway, while Tim and I were watching the cows in the woods, we were thinking that somehow Aidan must have spooked the cows. At first, it seems funny to think that a 5 year old boy could scare two cows, but I am sure that is part of what has happened. Maybe he was moving too fast or was making noise or was thinking of his future hamburgers. Whatever it was, they were  scared of him, I’m sure of it. Yesterday, none of the adults realized he had followed the cows up the hill until he got back. At first, I thought it was good that he had gone so that we knew right away that one of the cows had gotten out. Now, I think maybe that was part of why one ran out (not to mention the fact that he shouldn’t have been alone near the cows since they were stressed out and could have hurt him). Today, I also didn’t know he had gone up to see the cows and again he came back to tell us they were gone. So, now we told him that for his own safety he needs to go with one of us.

The other reason they have gotten out is because of the electric fence. Apparently Aidan touched the fence yesterday and said it didn’t hurt too much. I have no idea why he touched the fence since he fully understands that it is electrified and will hurt him, but the fact that he did made Scott think the solar charger for the fence is not sending out enough amps. We have checked the fence for voltage and it is fine. Another thing Scott noticed while herding the cows was that one of the cows put its nose to the fence and got a little shock. I guess the cow’s wet nose should have gotten more than that!  

So as it stands right now, Scott came back out and hooked up a different charger and he and Tim pounded some fence posts a little further into the ground. They checked on the cows and found them inside the fence. Hooray! So all is well for now and if the cows try to get out again they should get a good shock. By the way, they have been trained on this kind of fence, so I’m guessing they must have been pretty spooked to run like that. We’ll have to make sure the kids don’t go close for a while and that we take things slow until they are used to us.

*I’m calling them the Cow People because I don’t want to use their names and because I don’t know what else to call them. The check was made out to the LastName Cattle Company, but it’s a small family operation, not like most people think of a cattle company. It was a husband and wife and their son who sold us the cows and delivered them.

The cows are coming!

April 17, 2009

One of the things I did yesterday was go to Farm King to try to find the following: check prices on charger for the electric fence, hoses to connect together to get the water up to the cows (and for the garden), and a gate handle. Well the trip to Farm King didn’t go well. It was such a nice day and I think the kids and I really wanted to stay home, even though I thought it would be fun to go into town. We were there way too long and I couldn’t think or find anything, including anyone to help when I really needed it. So I came home with bedding for the chicks, chicken feed, watering cans, two buckets to take treats to the cows and chickens (one for each kid, in theory, though I doubt they will be helping me every day), and some more seeds, including some shorter carrots, pole beans to grow with the corn, and something else I can’t remember. Oh, and two arrows for Aidan who now has a bow and some practice arrows. Of course, I have no clue about how to buy arrows and what is good or appropriate for someone learning. No clue. So I bought the wrong tips for the arrows we bought and one of the arrows broke on the way home. I don’t know how it ended up being a bad trip to Farm King, but it did. It was just too long, I think, and too nice to be indoors. In fact, the best part was when we were in the greenhouse/gardening area and the kids could run around. I’m trying to focus on that part because it was fun and nice to be outside.

Anyway, last night I was trying to figure out when to go back to Farm King since today we need a day at home to recuperate from yesterday’s trip to Farm King and tomorrow we are heading to Peoria for an overnight stay. I thought perhaps I could take the kids to Granny’s while I get groceries and go back to Farm King. Then we woke up a bit earlier than usual today (not early by any means, just earlier than usual) and we are all tired and a little grumpy. So we did our morning chores, minus walking the fence, then played in the creek, and inside to warm up and watch Spiderman 2. So we’re sitting inside mostly naked and I was totally absorbed in the movie, which is unusual for me. Then my brain registered that someone pulled up to the house, so I had to scramble to put on some pants! It was Scott the Farmer, who came by to see about our trip to Farm King and to tell us that the cows will be here either today or tomorrow.

Holy cow! Haha, no pun intended. I’m just a little excited and nervous and amazed that we will have two calves soon. Scott and I mixed up some feed for treats for the cows, talked about how much to give them, how to do it, and what time of day. Apparently morning is the time they graze a lot, so it’s better to wait so that they won’t fill up on treats. I need to do a little pile of treats for each one and each will get only about two quarts of treats. The treats are wheat gluten mixed with some other minerals. Scott told me the wheat gluten is mostly protein and is what is left after they make ethanol from the corn, so is probably from genetically modified corn. Apparently the lady who is selling us the cows doesn’t care for that feed, and I can’t blame her. Scott seemed to feel the same way, but it’s only temporary because soon we will be planting oats and that is what they will be eating. We will harvest the oats and save some for winter for the chickens, as well.

So anyway, Scott is going to call a farm supply store near where the cow people are (I have no idea who they are or where they live, but apparently near some other farm supply store), and they will pick it up and bring it all when they bring the cows. Since we are going to Peoria tomorrow, we may not be here when the cows get here. Tim will be here, most likely, and as long as I leave a check for the cows all will be well. We’ll come home Sunday and have cows (unless they arrive today, in which case there will be lots of picture taking and a third blog post for the day!).

Farm plans

April 1, 2009

For those of you who don’t know, we have 75 acres. Only 16-18 of it was in crops last year. The rest of the land is woods, a creek, and some other clearings, plus the house and lane. Our land is hilly and the crop areas are not completely flat. There are four separate areas that are tillable and all of it is Highly Erodible Land (or HEL for short, because someone had a sense of humor). We knew that if we rented the acreage to a farmer, we wanted it to be organic.  There are many reasons for this: we have a well, the crops are close to the house and we have kids and don’t want to move to the country only to die of cancer later in life because of pesticide exposure, and, well, it just makes sense to do things organically. It’s best for the soil, the environment, the plants, and the people or animals who eat the plants.

I started looking for an organic farmer soon after we moved here in October. While there are plenty of people who do some organic farming in the form of community sustained agriculture (CSA) or personal vegetable gardens, finding an organic farmer who rents land was not easy. There are not a lot of farmers who grow organic corn and beans, which is primarily what is grown in Illinois. I mentioned to our neighbor that we were interested in renting it to someone who would do things organically, and that I had looked on-line to find someone and had had no luck. He mentioned he had a friend who does all organic growing. I did not realize at the time that his friend was exactly what we needed!

Enter Scott the Farmer, who is apparently the only organic grain farmer in the county. He’s the one who called me a hippy girl when I told him (confessed) I didn’t eat meat. He said that growing soybeans is bad for the environment (except the way he grows them, of course) and that tofu tastes really good fried in bacon grease. Then he laughed. He loves to tease me about being a vegetarian. He also called rendered pig lard “Illinois olive oil.” I thought that was pretty funny. He’s a great guy and we’ve been working with him for a month or so now, trying to figure out what we are going to do.

I think we first met with him sometime in January or February. Then I was supposed to make a phone call (something I really don’t like doing) and set up an appointment with someone from the Farm Services Agency (FSA). Well, I dropped the ball on that and it took me a month or so to finally call him back and set something up. That second time I talked to him, he told me that it is not in his interest to grow grains on our land. Organic corn and beans is not a big money maker in this area. Also, our land is not all that close to where he lives and planting and harvesting four different areas would just be a pain in the butt. He didn’t say it quite like that, but that’s what he meant. So his idea was to turn it into pasture for cattle, and possibly sheep and goats in the future.

So he has come out a few times and walked the property with Tim, trying to figure out what can be turned into pasture. Because the land is highly erodible, we have to be careful. What I’ve learned from him is that, having cattle will improve the soil and prevent erosion in most areas. However, some areas would be made worse by cattle tromping around. The soil fertility will be better after growing clover, alfalfa, and/or oats, and after having cows poop all over the place. In a few years we might do some grains, but he was thinking at least three years of pasture. He doesn’t want to harvest the clover/alfalfa/oats because harvesting doesn’t make much money and is harder on the soil.

Today (Wednesday) Scott the Farmer, Tim, and Greg from the FSA office walked the property. We (or Scott) can get money from the government to build fencing, water pipes, and dry dams. In order to do that, we have to have some animals already being pastured. So Scott is going to get some fencing and some temporary fence posts and is looking for a couple of calves to buy. Once we get that set up, we can apply and get some money to do more fencing and to get water to the pastured areas. So that is the plan for the farm. Soon we should have some calves in a small area. The rest will take a while, of course. I will keep everyone posted as we find out more. And, of course, when we have some calves, I will post pictures!