October 9, 2017

Ceaberry's Monday Musings: Until the cows come home

Many people who do not live on a cattle farm of various types may not understand the statement, "until the cows come home." I hear that statement, and say it, multiple times from May to October when our cows go to pasture on other grazing allotments and are not right behind the house. We bring them home for the winter and for calving. We calve in the winter (October to December depending on when the bull was brought in and then left).

Until the cows come home:

  1. We can leave all the gates open. This means we do not have to endlessly stop vehicles and go open a gate only to have the vehicle go past then reclose the gate and hop back in the vehicle to the next gate. 
    • Now thankfully we don't have many gates but sometimes... let's just say the cows get through said gates. Now it isn't so problematic at the main farmhouse, that is off the road and we can generally lure them back with hay. At our homestead, we have two gates (well three but they can't get to that one). One is right next to the road and the other (the one they like to break through) is at the lower end of our homestead (we are on a hill so imagine a gate at the top near the road and a gate at the bottom that is in our side/backyard). 
    • We leave gates open because we are bringing items in like trucks, tractors, equipment, and hay bales.
  2. We can store and bring in hay without risk of cows getting into the lots.
    • This may sound like a weird thing to say, but our cows are stupidly smart. They are smart enough to get into the hay lots but it costs us unnecessary hay loss when it happens. 
    • We do give the cows the benefit of the doubt that something was wrong with the paneling but last year they were getting in there EVERY night for 4 night in a row. The offending cow was taken to the stockyard. If you don't rid yourself of the cow that is breaking in she will teach them all then you have a HUGE problem on your hands.
    • We are not completely done with our haymaking and storing so having to maneuver around curiously hungry cows is not always pleasant.
  3. You don't have to make 3 trips to the farm every day to check for calves.
    • While exciting as it sounds to go check on cows about to give birth, it is not always idyllic nor "down home country" as people lead on. If you have ever watched The Incredible Dr. Pol, you get some sense of what I am talking about here.
    • I have, and probably will this year, been woken up at 4 am to a phone call saying one of the cows is baying or that my FIL is out in the middle of a blizzard to help pull a calf. Then it is: bundle everyone up to go help and seek out the cow in need.
    • You have to count cows, multiple times, each and EVERY trip. We have woods where our cows can go and hide their calves. Many times Mr. Native Farmer has had to carry a calf out of the woods. We do this because a cow and calf alone cannot hold off a pack of coyotes. 
  4. Cows like to escape... all the time.
    • Fixing fence and water gaps have to happen before they get here or else you are chasing them all over the fields of your unhappy neighbors or even worse, on the road. Cows in the road are the fear of EVERY farmer, especially ours that are BLACK cows. You hit a cow with a car and you can trust the cow may not be the only one harmed, you hit a cow with a logging truck (a lot of what we have coming down our road) and unfortunately, it is probably the same scenario. It is DANGEROUS and can end a farm in a heartbeat. 
    • We had some troubling cows again last year, they were breaking the water gap. Our neighbors, thankfully humorous people, came down to tell me. Now normally my FIL is around to go get my husband and fix the issue. This particular day I was alone with my kids on the farm, no MIL, FIL, or husband. So I called my MIL (the closest) and went to go find my husband. If you don't know he works on a larger farm during the day so I cannot always know where he is at a certain time. We got them in and had to fix the fence AND the water gap. They went to pasture first...
  5. You don't have the smell... or the risk of stepping in piles.
    • Granted when they thought of our homesteads they thought of wind direction. We don't get as much cow smell as some farms but there is the occasion. I have chickens so really... not that terrible.
    • What is more treacherous is the cow patties. I am the one that opens the gates so you can see my disdain. The cows LOVE to graze near fences, gates, and my house. So they are EVERYWHERE. Strangely, these behaviors mean the business end is generally away from the fence about 5ft. However, in the spring things get a bit trickier when we are walking the property for wild mushrooms and other projects like planting potatoes.
So when the cows come home is more of a warning than a good thing. Yes, having them close while calving is great but they come with their own issues. It marks a time of the year where things start to change. More use of tractors for feeding hay, the growing seasons are normally done, we are getting ready for winter, time for getting wood for the wood stove (our only source of heat in the winter), and for calf watch. It is awesome when that last calf is born, we are off birthing watch but still on baby watch for any problems or predators.

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