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!

 

 

 

this too shall pass

i had to take a week off from this space. things were spiraling and i couldn’t make heads or tails out of anything. without my own clarity, i just couldn’t imagine sharing. alas, a fine week has passed and now, here i am, a sunny sunday morning and i think i ‘ve got it. before i go any further i have to thank wholeheartedly my beloved fellow farmwives. it seems we were all in a similar cycle and they both did wonderfully putting words to the reality we were all experiencing. transitions are challenging. as a farmer the one from spring to summer is often the most unsettling: going from fast to faster.

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i have a lot to care for. heck, we all have a lot to care for. such is life if we engage fully, correct? for me, at the center is my immediate and constantly hungry family. in the human world, one step outwards and we find the team of apprentices living here with us. another step outwards and you have the community of 75 families that thrive weekly with the food grown on this farm and delivered via our CSA. that is a lot of people involved in my daily rhythm.

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then there are the animals.  we have pigs, sheep, horses and a milk cow each requiring daily care. in the past weeks there have been so many voices begging and screaming (and snorting and mooing and baaaaing) for my attention, it became difficult for me to hear, for me to decipher, for me to act and prioritize. sheesh. this early morning as i walked the farm i realized things have settled. with a deep breath i now can tell the tales of all that unfolded here.

let us start  down at the pig pen where we have two bred gilts. one morning not long ago i awoke to the delightful squeel that 6 piglets had been born sometime during the night. alas, without a  sense of when the birthing began, the fact that our new mama hadn’t yet passed her afterbirth alerted me. with close attention that long morning, we soon discovered she was fine, the afterbirth passed and all was well.  a quick scurry and the pig pen was changed to house the new family group and settle our second pregnant gilt into her own safe nest to birth (likely this week, she is now showing signs of imminent labor).

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the pasture is where much of the drama played out. we had a lethargic lamb for a few days. with no outward signs of illness, we helped her to water and were done. time passed with no improvement, the questioning from the crew of farm apprentices began. “what are you going to do?”  you see, there are so many factors we take into account with livestock issues. there is the financial reality, the overall herd health, and the obvious constraints of 24 hours in each day.  we derive 100% of our income from this farm. if an intervention is not financially feasible, or would require more of our time than we can reasonably allocate,  we have learned not to take it on. lambs can fall into this category. we assume a certain loss with each lambing season. there are just times when we can not afford to intervene. these are lessons learned hard from years of living this life. these are moments when a young farmer or farm apprentice might not understand the bigger picture. our crew had just swelled to 4. i quickly decided to turn their questioning into a wonderful learning opportunity. i called the vet, i did my research and we went for a low key but time intensive series of interventions. i offered one of our long term apprentices the opportunity to do this chore in her free time. she gladly accepted and i hoped in conclusion, she might more fully understand how we make livestock decisions. there is no doubt in my mind she learned the implications of these hard choices. i am proud and happy to say the lamb is doing well and our mentor apprentice relationship has been seriously enhanced from these conversations and the extra time our  apprentice put in to nurse the animal back to health. things are calm in the pastures.

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of course around this time one of our horses appeared to be limping. before i go any further, you should be informed i know nothing about the horses. i don’t ride, i don’t manage their pastures, i am not the horse whisperer. i brush them and enjoy their beauty, but equine problem solving, for that i am not equipped. alas,  all problems find their way to mama regardless of my expertise, so with observation and research we discovered he had a snake bite. the site along with the entire leg had swelled. we quickly stabled him and assessed the situation. phone calls, research and a bit of time luckily settled this matter. phew.

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it is time for our milk cow to be bred to our neighbor’s bull. with only one dairy animal on the farm, breeding is a bit of a harangue. we have to trailer her up the road, when she is up there we need to drive each morning to milk her. dairy cows come into heat once every 21 days and with no other cows or bulls on the farm, catching her cycle can be a lesson in observation. each morning at milking time, my son and i contemplate the signs, watch for shifts in her behavior and milk supply and ready ourselves to get her on a borrowed trailer up the hill in the most timely fashion. accuracy can make this smooth or not so smooth with all of these factors. needless to say, this is putting a slight  added pressure on the otherwise peaceful daily ritual of milking.

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as the days have passed, time and attention have put everything back in it’s place, i have the gift of perspective that i hope to share. the chaos settles. the season shifts, we find our pace and settle in no matter the disturbance.  i feel great now. one full month of CSA deliveries have passed and the friday harvest saturday delivery routine is smooth. the grass grows and the livestock are healthy. the gardens shine with the promise of summer’s bounty. it is my most sincere wish that you all weather the storms you face as life’s pace quickens or slows, as the seasons shift, as you and your loved ones move from may to june. sensitivity to life isn’t always easy. the pain of knowing and engaging can be real, but i know i would never want to live another way. friends, cut yourself some slack if you need to. clarity isn’t always available, we can not do it all. some days, we can’t do anything! i hope you can all start this week and this month with the knowledge that the dust does always settle. now to find the time to clean that dust…..

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right now: cottage cheese

One of my favorite, easy things to do with lots of fresh milk is make cottage cheese.

No cooking involved.  It’s so simple, and it’s one of those foods (like nixtamalized corn) that just feels like something I should eat.

Start with fresh raw milk, preferably from a cow you know.

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I leave mine in the jar, setting at room temperature until it solidifies.  Tilt the jar and you’ll see it move as one piece.  This usually takes about three days, depending on the weather.

I pour that out into a bowl, and cut the curds with a nice sharp knife.

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Then I pour a quart or more of boiling water into the curds and stir them with a wooden spoon.  The curds start to firm up some.  I let them set for just a couple minutes in the heat.

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Line a strainer with a cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey through.  Drain as long as you like.  Add salt and pepper and devour!

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Sometimes if it gets too dry, I put a little whey back in, or add a little fresh milk.  Kept fairly dry, this cheese keeps for a long while in the fridge.

The by-product, whey, can be fed to hogs, poured on a compost pile or used in various recipes.  We can talk about those later.

A gallon of milk makes about a quart of cottage cheese, a half gallon makes a pint, and so on.  I have no idea what would happen if you tried to do this with pasteurized milk – I just know it works with raw.

Enjoy!