Thursday, July 30, 2015

Calfie is still here...

My youngest, Claudia, has named the sweet thing Calfie. If you did not read yesterday, we are babysitting a weak, struggling calf for neighbors (read about it HERE). Claudia loves to go out and look at him and rub her hands through his thick chocolate brown fur. He is not well, even if he made it through the night. Someone is out there every hour to see if we can get him to take some milk; all day yesterday and so far this morning, there are often children out there just keeping him company.

Maria and I just came back from the barn, we went out to feed him. I sat on the floor of the pen with his heavy, warm body in my lap and I could feel his heart beating and his lungs breathing, reminding me that he was still alive. I held up his head and Maria held the bottle while she stroked his fur, trying to keep him awake enough to eat. As he swallowed, I could feel the milk going down his throat which rested on my arm. Maria gave him a couple of breaks and let him rest before trying to get just a bit more milk in him. Veronica snapped some photos of us feeding him so I could share them with you. Then I snapped one of her. I had just placed him on this piece of cardboard that is cushioned with straw and hay. I was heading back to the house. She wanted to stay with him so that he would not be lonely. She doesn't want him to think nobody loves him when he is on a different farm than his mother.

He can't walk, he can only sometimes stand, and he is not coordinated. He is like a jerky little puppet controlled by a child. It is becoming more and more clear that the vet's opinion that he is neurologically impaired is right. More and more feedings behind us and more and more attempts to get him on his feet and we know that it is not a question of if but rather of question of when he will die. It is so hard to watch my children stroke him and keep him company, hoping and praying that he will snap to attention and start to walk around all while Ben and I believe that he cannot. Children love deeply and they hurt deeply, too.

In the end I am willing to risk the hurt to my children. Seeing them love this calf, care for him, stay up late and get up early for him, means that they are profoundly compassionate people. This is a dark world and the things that people do to each other, the lack of compassion, of any awareness that others exist appalls me. Seeing these children love with a love that hurts means that they are not that kind of person. It means that no matter what I read in the news, there is real hope in this world, because my children can and do care.

Raymond and Eli are moving the pasture fence this morning. There is an electric fence that is moved weekly to make sure that the cattle have fresh areas to graze but while they do this the dairy cow and beef steer have to be in the barn, in the pen this little thing is occupying. The plan is for them to move his cardboard and his rug out to the main area of the barn and to stay with him so that the pen is freed up for the bigger cattle. Sometimes he flops around and he could hurt himself out in the open area where there are tools. They younger boys rushed through the kitchen chores and milking dishes this morning so that they could be the ones to stay with him. Veronica stood guard while they worked. He might not have much more time but the time he has is precious to them.

It will hurt when he dies but it will only make me more proud of my children. Every tear will give me hope for the future. The world will be a better place for their loss. I will remember this then, that even when my heart breaks for my children, it will be a proud mother's heart.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Lessons on the farm...

There are many things you learn on a farm and some are more difficult than others. The most difficult ones are not necessarily the ones that are most obviously difficult. Learning how to manage a tractor, how to cut firewood, how to milk a cow; these are all things we expect to take time to understand and master. Losing an animal is not. We lost some chickens to a predator last summer and it was ugly with chicken carcasses spread over the farmyard and that was hard for the children. This year, the neighbors on the farm down the road have a calf that is struggling. It is uncoordinated and clumsy and not nursing well. We have been giving some milk from our dairy cow for them to bottle fed and at times it seemed like the little guy was pulling through.

Then it came time for the family camping trip that they had planned for a year and the calf was still struggling. A brother-in-law tending the animals with his son and tried to get the calf nursing again without little luck. They called the vet and he believes that the poor thing has a neurological problem. He just doesn't eat, just getting him to take a bottle is such an effort. They have day jobs like everybody else so they all decided to bring the little thing over here. The kids and I are home and can go feed him every ninety minutes. Many hands make light work and we have many hands.

He is so soft and so sweet with such big brown eyes. His mother spent a lot of time prodding him and nuzzling him, trying to get him to come around, but she is starting to give up on him. My children have proved pretty hearty. The go and shift him and move him around and rub and pet him. They are keeping him cool and comfortable and when the wind picked up, they covered him. They do better than every ninety minutes, they are out there every hour. He is being held and cuddled and fed and soothed and they are doing everything they can for a calf that is not even theirs. He is so beautiful and they are so dedicated to him and no one wants to see him die, even if it is likely at this point.

It is a painful reality that you can invest incredible amounts of time and affection in an animal and still lose him. They have worried about this calf since it was born, they have called to check on it, and have given over milk that they would drink just to keep it alive. His life means something to them and I know that if (maybe even when) he finally dies, it will be painful for them. It is a bitter lesson that the farm teaches. Knowing this full well does not keep them from taking turns and writing up a chore plan so that they each know who will be going out to feed him and when. They are committed to doing everything they can for this poor little animals that snores when he sleeps in their arms. Even the two year old goes out to rub his thick curly fur to try to keep him awake long enough to feed.

When he dropped off the calf, the farmer gave my children two important pieces of information, firstly that if he dies that it is not their fault. Secondly, try to not to get too attached, even though he knows it is a moot point. He, his wife, and his eight children have lived their whole lives on a farm raising beef steer. When we discussed the other calves this morning, he know what they mean to his children and what this calf will mean to ours. He knows this bitter lesson becomes easier but no less bitter over time. He has called twice today, after seeing us this morning. He is still thinking about this calf in our pen.

This is what animal rights activists don't understand. Farmers care deeply about their animals, so deeply that they get up in the middle of the night to check on them. They stay in the pens with them, staying with them, nurturing them through what ails them. I wish that they could see my children sitting in the dirty straw of the pen floor with a chocolate brown calf curled up in their laps. They stroke his fur and talk softly to him. There is something very real there, a dedication and compassion that they cannot understand. There is a lesson for them in all this, too.

This is stewardship. This is farming...and this is very, very hard.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bringing in the hay...

This is the time of year when the dairy hay is harvested. Dairy hay is cut early in the year when it has more nutrition and it is what it takes to keep the dairy cow milking through the winter. We need to make sure that we have enough to carry us over until the grass is growing again, which means that we need to be able to get through a solid six to seven months of the year. Beef hay is cut later at the end of the summer and it is good for putting weight on the beef steer but it is simply not enough for the dairy cow. We are trying to feed them both over the course of the long winter ahead but there are certain economic realities that we understand.

Zeus, the beef steer, is important company for the dairy cow since we have no other cattle. We would like to get him through the winter and until we have another calf (we are planning on breeding Io this summer) but, economic realities being what they are, he might not make it. If we have to process him mid-winter to make sure that there is enough hay for Io, then we will do it. So far, we are on track, but we understand what winter means.

Since the farm has not really been used for forty years, the fields have a lot of trees and weeds and inedible plants in them. We do not have enough good hay to cut for the cattle so we have to buy hay and after two harsh winters, it is not as easy to come by. Come fall, we need to brushhog the fields to cut down all those weeds and all the seedlings and small trees. Then we will need to disc and till it before the snow comes. This means that in early spring, we can start planting better hay. The long terms goal is recapture more and more of the fields until there is enough hay to be self sufficient and get a small herd of a few cows through the winter.

As we learn this process of getting used to a dairy cow and a beef steer and being grass farmers, I am so deeply grateful to our children's 4H leader and her family. They live a couple miles down the road, I think almost five, but out here that is considered close. They have made this such a doable process, helping every step of the way. This is not an easy life to step into and many of the farms in our area have not been farmed in forty or fifty years. There are not many people who have done this recently enough to be give help and advice. We could not and would not have even started if it weren't for them.

It is traditional to feel thankful at the harvest. As we bring food for us or our animals into storage, it makes us aware of what we have. It is only natural to feel thankful. This hay is only the beginning. The apple harvest will begin in earnest towards the end of next month. Scores of acres of apples means a lot of apples so the big harvest is still to come but this little beginning, these 3,500 pounds of hay (will a similar amount to put up next week) means something. It means a lot and for that I am grateful, especially for John and Diane.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Who deserves to eat...

This is far from a perfect photograph, I know. Somehow I missed the focus and  the lighting is terrible but I still love it. I love it because I was in the house starting lunch for the kids when I saw the youngest six of my brood out there under the trees. They made a paper chain and were eating bananas while they sat on our picnic blanket. Jack is pouring water from an old wine bottle that he washed and turned into a decanter and the laundry is blowing in the breeze behind them. I was afraid of missing the moment, so I just grabbed my camera and ran outside and hoped to capture the scene the best that I could.

There is nothing so basic, so simple as eating. My children don't live a luxurious life, they don't have cell phones or expensive clothes or iPods. By most American standards my children live very simple lives but it is still a good life. For me the thing that stands out in contrast in this photo is that my children have enough to eat, and they should. Everyone should have enough to eat; no one should ever feel real hunger. For whatever reason not everyone thinks the same thing.

As bizarre as it is to use the internet to get in to arguments with complete strangers hundreds of miles away, I argued over Facebook this last week over food stamps and hunger. The question was whether or not it is just (and I do mean just, not legal) to ask food stamps recipients to prove that they are not using illegal drugs. I will come right out and say that I think it is absolutely unjust. This is not to say that I think that there are not social problems in this country, many of which stem from a state of dependency and in some cases an entitlement attitude. These are real burdens, real concerns, and finding solutions for them or at least ways of mitigating their effects is a high challenge. I have no idea what to do about that. I don't know what to do about abuse, regardless of how often or seldom it happens. I don't know what to do about people who cannot seem to get clean and sober so that they can care for their children. The list of things that I don't know is pretty long, and I find out more and more about how long it is as every day passes. In the end, those are not the questions I am trying to answer.

The only question I have is this: who deserves to eat? Only children who's parent pass a moral standard of some kind? Only people who are clean and pleasant? Only people who buy the food that you like? Because what it comes down to when anyone suggests that some people just don't deserve food is the question just who passes muster and gets your benevolent mercy? I believe in my heart of hearts that it doesn't matter if I like you, if you like me, if you are a moral person, if you are a criminal, or if you are going to eat the way that I think that you should, the only thing that really matters if you are hungry. If you are hungry, you deserve to eat.

Our food comes from somewhere and if no one were willing to work to grow the food, then there would be no food. I know this. I am not saying that we should all stop making the effort to feed our families and wait for others to do it, this would obviously be an injustice to our families. It would be an injustice because our families deserve to eat but by that same standard so do everyone else's. How can anyone look at another person and tell them that they do not deserve to eat? I cannot even imagine.

There are people I will never convince that others are just as deserving as they are and for that I am sorry. I can only hope that if they are ever in the situation when they need food that they find kinder persons to feed them.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Long time, no see...

The summer apples in the orchard have not
developed the characteristic spots yet.
I sort of took accidental break from blogging. I have a book contract and I am working like mad on it. If I am not writing, I am making notes or trying recipes or staying awake at night thinking about. But in case you missed me, maybe you did not know that I have been hanging out on the blog Facebook page (HERE) and my Instagram account (HERE). I am in lurv with Instagram so if you are there, lemme know so that I can go peek at your photos.

We still are milking twice a day and need to get the cow bred this summer. It will probably be at the end of August. Ben and the kids went camping and it was me and Io getting together twice a day without my second oldest boy there. He usually does the morning milking and most of the chores because she is his 4H project. She follows him like a baby duckling but since he was not there, we had a chance to bond which was for the best, I think. She listens to me better and I lets down faster and milking takes me about half as long now. I was dreading doing all the milking and all the chores by myself but this worked out pretty well.

The kids brought me back a half dozen flower pots for the porch.
They were a craft they did while camping with Dad and 4H.
The apples are coming in and we are making plans for the fall harvest. The kids don't usually get apples in the store, only the apples we grow here on the farm, but I splurged and paid a ridiculous amount for organic store apples only to have the kids tell me repeatedly that they are not as good as our own apples. They might not have been as good, but that did not deter the kids! They still ate them as fast as they possibly could.

We are dipping into the last of our stores from last year. This afternoon we opened the last half gallon jar of apple chips and now they are gone. I have only a few jars of things left to finish before canning season is here. The season is late here so while other people are knee deep in canned goods, I am finding very little that needs to be finished off. While most produce is not ready yet, the berries are. I need to take the kids out to some you-pick berry farms this week because I have zero bags, ZERO bags of frozen berried for the winter ahead. That is not true. I have a couple bags of store berries but they just aren't as good. We don't do berries because they are labor intensive so we need to go get some. Many hands make light work, so the kids need to get their hats on and get some berries!

Since the summers are very short here, we are trying to make it to the beach as often as we can.  It is just a few minutes from the farmhouse but evenings being what they are, sometimes we get lazy. I think it is far better to skip some of the after dinner kitchen chores and hit the sand than to miss out on these few days we get each year. It is like that old saying, "Use it or lose it." The beach is there, close by and free, and if we don't make it in July, we might miss the swimming weather. By August of last year, it was already too cold to swim. The water was in the 50s.

So that is what we are up to right now. I have been wondering what all of you are up to, at least those who have not told me about their IG feeds. Oh, before I go, I made a bunch (like three dozen) Kaiser rolls for a picnic and I had big bag of bread flour out. I had the sponge going and so I left to do some other chores. I came bag to this. She was so thrilled that I could not be angry, I decided to snap a pic and move on.

Actually, one more thing. I have a post I am working on for you guys. Kind of. Well, it is a post and I am working on it but it for people who want to make a kind of broiled cheese-like custard called justoa. Finns like it but pretty much no one else does. It is not actually a cheese. It is not cultured but set with rennet and then broiled. It is very firm and it squeaks when you chew it but because it is not cultured it has no real taste. It is a local darling and most of the recipes I have seen here call for adjuncts like cornstarch. No. Sack of no. Millions of no. If you are going to make food, make real food. So I have been photographing a tutorial. So that is coming.
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