letting them grow

Things feel different around here these days. It’s really quiet and there are remarkably fewer dishes in the sink. Last week our dear friends were visiting from Nashville. On Friday, when it was time for them to pack up and head back to the city, they also packed up a little something extra… three additional children! Oh, my. All three of my kids were heading for a week long adventure in the big city.

This is out of the ordinary for Eric and me. (And for the kids, too!) We generally like to keep our little ones close at hand, with most of their influences coming from us and the farm. I mean, that’s kind of our personal mission: to have a strong and connected family with compassionate, capable, nature-oriented children. Sure, they have had sleepovers here and there, but a whole week? And in an urban setting with bus rides and Elvis, big libraries and public pools, candy stores and Bobby’s Dairy Dip? Not so much.photo 5

As it inevitably goes, my kids are growing. Their interests are widening. As much as I want the farm to be their center of influence, and eventually the place they might choose to live and possibly even raise their own families, how will they choose this life if they never experience anything different? The sparkling allure of “other” might hang in the backs of their minds when they are adults, enticing them to get the hell off the farm. What basis of comparison will they have to decide if there is nothing to compare? I don’t know the answers. Not at all. I don’t even know the questions, as new ones seem to arise each and every day. I muddle through this parenting gig, hoping that I’m not totally screwing up.

I know how to love my children, though. I love them fiercely. But I can’t let that fierce mama bear love hinder my children’s potential or limit their opportunities. As their parent, I obviously have their best interests in mind. I wouldn’t just set them loose in the city. They have a loving and remarkable guide. (Albeit somewhat crazy for offering to host my three wild kids for an entire week! Eric says it’s the greatest sacrifice since the Crucifixion. Ha!!) It’s the letting go part of parenting that I am wrestling with now. I see, too, that there is more than just “letting go”… it’s about letting them grow into the beautiful flowers I know they will become.

Here I sit, with tears in my eyes just thinking about my babes. I’ll bet they are laughing and having a grand time. I hope so.photo 1{photos courtesy of D.}

breeding

i have definitely talked a lot about addie,  our family milk cow. she turns grass into cream and i love her each day with my morning tea or coffee. i adore her again as i top my salads with fresh cheese made from her milk. i sing her praises when i sit down to a bowl of yogurt or ice cream. each morning i wake at dawn, gather my stainless steel milking equipment and a basket full of garden treats for her. my eldest son and i head through the wet grass to one of her rotating pastures and spend those early morning minutes with each other. most days, it is pure delight. these past days however, the routine has been all together different. addie is not on the farm, she is a couple of miles away at our neighbor’s dairy farm getting to know their dutch belted bull oney (as in boloney). it is time to breed addie. lactation is related to pregnancy and birth and the time has come to breed her back.

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cows come into heat approximately once every 21 days. when a cow (or any animal for that matter) is with other cows, or in a herd with other large animals, it is quite easy to tell when they are in. they mount each other, sniff each other, lick each other, and show all kinds of signs of mammalian mating.  in our case, with addie alone since we butchered her calf last fall, it has been difficult to monitor her cycling. we pay closest attention to her milk production (which can rise and fall with ovulation), we keep a close eye for the tell tale bloody show on her tail, we gauge her mood swings (no need to elaborate here), and other outward signs of her fertility. with our best guess and a borrowed cattle trailer, we hauled addie up the road last Wednesday.

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managing a bull is nothing like you would imagine having read the tale of ferdinand. this fine dutch belted our friends keep welcomes us each morning by placing himself between us and addie. this thousand plus pound male immediately snorts and paws at the dirt  to let us know he believes himself  boss. addie, for the past 12 days is his, not ours, and he wants us to know that. it is a slightly unsettling way to start each day.

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once we adjust to the bull’s bellowing, the morning milkings pass pleasantly. our neighbors are wonderful friends and our daily chats have been full of laughs. we ponder all types of ideas but of course a fair amount of time is spent watching and commenting on the dance of bovine courtship.  it soon became clear that addie was going to spend more than a few hours with her new mate. we watched a few days of decided disinterest, moved into some days of head licking ( good sign my friend tells me), and now we are solidly in the final days as she comes into what is called “standing heat”, the time she is in estrus, the time she will be bred.

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perhaps i have spent a bit too much time following my fellow mammals through an intricate  mating ritual, but i have found myself lying awake at night wondering about human mating. was there a day before perfumes that we too could smell our mate’s readiness? you know i love and trust my dairy friends when i tell you i was willing to ask one early morning if we humans used to behave similarly? friend i queried, have we washed away our instinct with the finest scented soaps and sprays? i know, i know…it is definitely time to bring our cow back home and move onto another topic!