The rain pours today. Sheep hunker down, round balls of wool with faces. Cattle munch on hay. Horses enthusiastically chomp on grain. The dog curls up on straw piles in the barn, tail wrapping around ears.
Calving season started last week, two weeks early. Four calves have been born; only two have lived. Most of the mothers have been heifers, first-timers.
I ride a quad bike through the cow pasture, counting to 31 to see that everyone is present.
The number was 32 for a little while.
But when I made my rounds Thursday night, looking for signs of new or about-to-be-born calves, I found a heifer lying to the side. She wasn’t breathing hard, but she didn’t move when I approached, either.
It was finally warm enough to take the doors off of the Ranger.
They’d been on the ATV for six months, having been hung on their hinges as soon as the wind started to bite. Every time in May I considered taking the doors off, the temperatures would drop.
Finally, the 80s showed up, and I swung the doors off the hinges and laid them in the garage for a (hopefully) six-month break.
This is usually a sign of summer.
For a few days after removing the doors, temperatures dropped again, and I wondered if I’d jumped the gun. It’s been wet and rainy and cold this spring, preventing crop producers from entering their fields to plant their corn or soybeans. The five-year average amount of Indiana corn planted at this time is 73%. Right now, we only have 14%. This has made for stressful times for many farmers.
Because we focus on livestock and hay, we have not had these same travails. However, we have been working in a lot of mud and wet conditions while feeding the livestock, and work on a chicken tractor (a movable coop that will allow the chickens to forage while being protected from predators) has been delayed several times. The up-and-down temperatures have been tough, as well.
As of late, though, there have been good photo opportunities. Calfie has started eating Big Calf feed, along with her milk.
I can feel Spring itching to enter Indiana. We thought the Big Snow we had on the last Saturday of March was Winter’s last big showing, a last hurrah before consistent warmer temperatures and flowers finally reach us. But then it snowed on Easter. I enjoyed The Big Snow, crunching through it, watching new calves gallop around their mothers, tails held high, silhouettes in the coming dusk and falling flakes. The cold weather and snow, especially The Big Snow’s cold and dense and quiet six-inch fall, have helped me readjust to the Northern Hemisphere and, for the first time in three years, experiencing all four seasons in one year.
The spring has brought new opportunities, as well.
I’ve embarked on a new career. I am a farmer and a writer. I don’t consider one occupation more important than the other, as one exists at the same plane as the other for me. There is no writing without farming; there is no farming without writing. Take away one, and you might as well take away both and toss me into a car mechanic’s shop and ask me to fix the worn-out brake pad on a Hummer. Continue reading “Of Curious Calves and Communications”
My journey as a calf rearer in New Zealand has come to a close. I’ve been wanting to write about my job for a while now, but the hectic pace of calving season lent to only a small window of time for writing and illustrating a descriptive post. So here is a bit of a taste of what I did for the last two-and-a-half months.
As part of my job, I drove a truck around the dairy farm.
Here it is:
Known as the milk truck, it’s a stick shift with the gear shaft on the driver’s left side. The first time I hopped in, I felt extremely lucky to have been taught at a young age how to drive a manual transmission. Soon, I learned that a manual transmission is standard in Europe because of their mountains and hills, so my fellow calf rearers were already pros at driving a manual transmission. In the U.S., automatic transmissions and cruise control reign, so I had some work to do to become proficient at driving the milk truck.
This was the vehicle for delivering nutrition to the calves under our care. They received milk that stayed on the farm rather than being transported for sale. Our happy customers gladly consumed it for us.