Hi again, fellow Fat Heads.
Tom and Chareva and the girls made it into Springfield this past weekend for visits and the Naughton family Christmas dinner Monday night, before heading to Chicago on Christmas Eve to see Chareva’s family. Since they’re still traveling, and I had an interesting addendum to my “Yankee Farm Report,” I figured Tom wouldn’t mind if I temporarily commandeered the Big Chair again.
No politics or economics this time, I promise!
Anyway, this past Monday morning, I got a call from Linda — our endlessly patient farm owner where our beef cows and meat chickens are boarded. It went like this:
Linda: Jerry, you know how you always said that one of your two cows always was fuller-bodied than her sister?
Me: Yeah — Tartare. What’s up?
Linda: Well, she had a calf last night!
Me: HOLY $%*!
This was not expected news, and complicated from several angles. When we purchased the cows and brought them to Linda’s, we thought they were too young to be fertile. Cows have about a 9 month gestation period, however, and when we did the math we figure she must’ve just been bred within a week or so prior to getting her. Another issue was these are beef cows — they were bought in the late Spring with the initial intention of having them ready to be butchered next Fall, but they were so big that we’d moved that up to probably the end of January. We’ve got four other families cow-sharing on this deal, so that means everyone has to agree on how to play this new development.
The most immediate issue, however, and one that could make the rest moot, was that cows aren’t supposed to have calves in the middle of winter, especially on what was one of the coldest days of this season. Linda’s husband saw Tartare laying in the field Monday morning and thought she’d died, then saw the calf laying on the ground and thought they were both dead. Once they figured out both were still alive, they got the calf (and then Tartare to follow) into a barn, but she was very cold, not moving around, and Linda didn’t think she’d nursed, which is critical.
I headed over right away, picking up some colostrum from the farm store in case she was going to need to be bottle-fed. I was able to hold her up (cold and messy work in my office clothes) while Linda worked a bottle into her mouth, but she wasn’t suckling or swallowing. At that point, Linda thought it looked like maybe she did have milk already in her, but it was hard to tell. We got her to lay upright a bit, and I had to leave, but I told Linda I’d come back early afternoon with a couple of heat lamps she thought might help.
When I got back (with The Wife), the calf was stiff and on her side again —
We got more heat lamps set up, and I was able to pick the calf up and get the straw under her and around her. She didn’t seem out of the woods, but was moving her head around some more.
Linda kept checking on calve and cow, and fortunately the weather warmed up quickly over the last couple of days. The Oldest Son, my brother-in-law, and I went out today, and things are looking much better. The calf is walking around in the yard behind the barn, nursing, and Tartare is watching over her closely.
Everyone in on our cow-share deal seems pretty happy with the unexpected disruption in our beef supply. So far, given that she had a successful, unassisted, healthy birth, it’s looking like Tartare may get a role change from beef cow to breeder.
In the meantime, the reason The Oldest Son and brother-in-law were with me today was because the events of the week switched a “we ought to maybe do that” project into a “we need to get this done NOW” project. There was a hoop structure in the cow’s pasture that the old vinyl cover had disintegrated off of over time. Linda and I had talked about getting a new cover put back on it. Cows are pretty hardy as far as cold temperatures are concerned, but getting wet — from rain or snow — and being in the wind can be deadly. A new calf in the middle of winter introduced a real sense of urgency to the idea.
So we pulled some of the old cover back up —
— which didn’t help much, but it gave our rookie three-man farmhand crew a feel for what we were doing.
Linda had a “new” cover — they’re used billboard vinyls that you can purchase — that the three of us were able to manhandle up and over the structure, then tack down with screws driven through lath strips we wrapped into the bottom seam of the vinyl.
Cows are both curious and bashful by nature, and Linda’s dairy cows and Royale (our more chaste beef cow) kept walking up to the shelter while it was under construction and standing on the vinyl until we’d shoo them away long enough to get a couple more strips screwed down. We were pretty pleased with our work once we got it done…
… And to a cow, add a little straw and this looks just like a Ritz Carlton…
Hope you all had a great Christmas, and best wishes for a Happy New Year!
The Older Brother