Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Beautiful Busy Day

      Mother Nature gifted us with a beautiful day and we used it to the fullest on the farm. With snow in the forecast for tomorrow we got a lot of projects completed, had some fun, and ended the day with a special surprise.

      We started work on clearing out a spot in the grove where we hope to build a tree house. It is going to be a lot of work and might take most of the summer but will also provide some learning experiences and lots of fun.  The kids are super stoked about getting a tree house, and lets face it so am I.
     We treated a few calves that had some loose stools or infected navels. We want to treat them before they get too sick and with the possible snow tomorrow we want to make sure they all are feeling their best. Today we also crossed the 100 mark for calves born this year. That leaves only 30 to go and we are still in the first cycle of breeding meaning that these cows all got bred during their first cycle with the bull or through AI (artificial insemination).
         We fed the market animals whom we are raising hormone free this year and they are looking very good. The buyer came by the other day and was very happy with them. He feels they will get a premium and that they should be ready for market around May 10th.
         The kids had some fun in the mud making rivers to drain our the water. Never a shortage of mud on the farm. Only a few boots got stuck and had to be pulled out.
       Dad helped the kids set up the trampoline that Santa brought for Christmas. They have been waiting patiently for the weather to get warm enough to set it up. They were out jumping on it until dark tonight. I have a feeling there will be much time spent on it this summer. Mom is glad to have something that will draw them outside to play and get exercise.
         Mary and I built a box to put the baby chicks in when they hatch two weeks from today. Mary wanted to paint it red. She has been watching the eggs in the incubator very closely. Every morning she checks on them and gives us the temperature report in the incubator. Next step is working on the coop and chicken run.
      And now for the biggest excitement of the day. Cookie our only kitty at the time had her kittens. Three little one's, half as many as she had last spring, but they all look healthy. She is a wonderful mother cat and a great hunter. The kids are already in love with the kittens and the hard part is keeping them from handling them too much. The checked and the two orange ones are females and the black one is a male. What a beautiful memorable day she choose to bring her little one's into the world. I know there are a lot more fun adventures ahead of us on the farm.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lion of a Day

          March is famous for it's pleasant Lamb days where spring is in the air and hopes run high. Unfortunately March is also known for days that are classified as Lion days where the wind is roaring and there is a chill in the air. Today was one of those Lion days. Here on the prairie in MN windy days are a common occurrence. On warm summer days the wind can be a welcome friend, but on cold days the wind can drive the winter chill deep into your bones.
       Unfortunately our picturesque barn suffered from the wind this winter and will need repairs. As with ownership of anything, maintenance and repairs are required to keep things working well. On the farm these maintenance jobs are increased due to the number of buildings and the wear and tear of animals on the buildings. Now our little barn here is not use for animals year round, but more for storage. All the same the building will need to be repaired to keep it standing strong for years to come. We take pride in our farm site and the work that we do on it, and want others to be able to see that through how we maintain our farm.
       We now have about 90 calves born out of the 130 expected this year so we are on the home stretch. I'm hoping for some nicer weather so I can take the kids out to see the calves and get some pictures. Mary's favorite cow Snowball is yet to calve and we are anxiously awaiting it's arrival.

Monday, March 24, 2014

New Egg-venture

         The kids and I are embarking on a new egg-venture... Chickens. After many years of the kids asking if we can have chickens I decided that it was finally time. Every spring the kids love going to our local farm store and looking at all the cute baby chicks for sale. Many times in the past I have had to squash their wish of having baby chickens by telling them that chickens are a lot of work and I didn't feel they were ready for that responsibility. With the kids now bigger and wanting to help on the farm I have given my blessing and the adventure is about to begin.
      We decided to start at the very beginning of raising chickens, the eggs. My husbands brother and his wife have been raising egg laying chickens on their farm for the last few years and were kind enough to let us use their incubator and gave us some eggs. As you can see we have quite the collection with white, brown, and green eggs. It will be so fun to see what all the different little chicks look like. The eggs are on an automatic turner and we have a thermometer in the incubator to monitor the temp. Here is a helpful site I found on incubating chicken eggs. We started the eggs on Sunday March 23rd  so the count down begins. One of the hardest parts for the kids is the wait, but I feel that too is a good life lesson.
     Here is a link to my in laws face book page, Buffalo Head Farms.

Friday, March 21, 2014


       Spring has officially arrived and it was a beautiful day. To celebrate spring we had our annual visit from my cousins sons. My cousin lives in the Twin Cities and says her sons look forward to coming to see the calves every year. To them the farm is a fun experience that they don't get to see anywhere else.  She herself didn't grow up on a farm but feels that keeping her sons connected to farming and where their food comes from is important and fun. What is more fun that running around in fresh bedding with frisky calves, or sitting in the sunshine petting a calf that is less than 24hrs old?

         I have a challenge to all those out there who are working in agriculture, raising the food for the world. Find yourself someone who has no connection to farming and show them what you do. This may be someone in your family, someone you work with, or someone from your community. Ask that person to come visit your farm and let them see how you take care of your animals or your land. Answer their questions and explain what you do on your farm. Open communication is the key to understanding. Help others form those personal connections to where their food is grown. You may think that they might only remember those cute little calves, but they will likely remember how well the farmer cared for those little calves while they were being raised on your farm.
         If you are someone who has no current connection to farming, I encourage you to seek out opportunities to learn more about agriculture. Seek this information from people who work on farms and live the life. If possible visit a farm. I'm sure it will be an experience you will not soon forget. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cow TV

   On our farm we have what we call Cow TV. Calving season is a very busy time and when 130 cows are all expected to have a baby within a two month time period things are happening all the time. With the use of Cow TV we are able to monitor the cows in the calving pen and help any that are having trouble.  Cow TV consists of a surveillance camera in the barn that then sends a picture to our house and then other devices connected to the feed. Our camera is mounted on a rotator so we have a 365 degree view of the calving cows. There is also sound with the monitoring and sometimes the groaning of a cow is the first sign that someone is about to calve.
Surveillance camera mounted on a rotating arm
        There are many benefits to having the camera in the calving pen. First of all it allows more eyes to be watching the cows.  Many days my mom or I are in the house watch cow TV and will alert the men outside that a cow is calving. This allows the men to work on other things on the farm knowing that they will be alerted to any troubles. Another benefit is that cow TV is able to watch the cows in a calm state. When someone is in the barn the cows all stand up and move around and it can be difficult to see if someone is about to calf. The vantage point of the camera on the ceiling is very helpful also. 
Cows in the pen with the surveillance camera above
       Cow TV is on around the clock at this time of year.  My kids enjoy watching the cows and looking for some of the cows they know. There is also a screen by the bed so at night we can check on the barn without even getting out of bed.
Watching cow TV in the house
        We also have the ability to monitor the calving cows while away from the farm. With the use of an app on our phones we are able to see the cows in real time. This provides us with a lot of piece of mind.
        Most of the time cows have calves without any complications so why all this monitoring? We watch the cows because there are always chances of something going wrong. We want to take every precaution to make sure that we have as many healthy calves as possible.
viewing cow TV on a smart phone

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mary loves the Mud

Mary in her rubber boots and mud puddles
          On the farm rubber boots are a necessity.  Another thing that is also common place on the farm are mud puddles. These two things together are my daughter Mary's favorite part of spring. She is a true sucker for splashing in puddles and getting wet. A few days ago we had a wonderfully warm day here in MN and the puddles made an appearance. Mary was in heaven. She ended up having to change her pants and socks about three times that day due to getting them wet. It was such a wonderful day on the farm and I hope that there are many more like it. 
       This diagram that I found demonstrates my fear. That this wonderful day is just a tease and that there is still much more winter to come. It sure was wonderful while it was here. And Mary says the mud was perfect for splashing!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

30 and Counting

      30 cute little calves have joined the farm yard and many more are to follow. Calving time entails a lot of work and making sure the calves and cows have a clean dry place to lay is very important. Clean bedding is needed to keep animals from getting infected or ill. We spent most of Saturday setting up a larger area for the calves and cows which included two calving huts. These huts have low openings which are just big enough for the calves to walk under but to small for the cows to get in.  This allows the calves to have a safe place to lay that stays clean and protected from the wind.
Kids playing in the calving huts as we put down fresh bedding
Calf laying in the fresh bedding getting some sun
          With all the cute calves around we just couldn't help taking some pictures of the kids and calves together. While we are with the calves in these pictures we have sent the mother cows to another pen to eat. We do not allow the kids to be in the same pen as the mother cows and calves because some cows are very protective and could hurt the kids if they feel they are threat to their baby. You will notice in all the pictures the mother cows are absent and that is on purpose.
Me and two cute babies

Simon sharing a tender moment with a calf

Brothers gazing at a new born calf
       Time with the calves is always fun and truly a sign that spring is on the way here on the farm. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sad News

        Calving season is ramping up here on the farm with about 20 calves on the ground. The big push is yet to come with 100 cows yet to calve this spring. With calving season there is a lot of excitement and fun seeing all the new life that arrives daily. But calving season can also come with heartache when special one's are lost.
       My daughter Mary has been waiting for one of her special heifers, Snowflake, to have her first calf. Snowflake is the first calf of Mary's favorite cow Snowball. 2 years ago when Snowflake was born Mary was overjoyed to see that she had two white spots on her forehead which made her special and different from all the other all black calves. Later that summer Mary took Snowball and Snowflake to the county fair and showed them in Cloverbuds 4-H. 
Mary and Snowflake just days after she was born 2 yrs ago
      Anticipating that Snowflake was getting ready to have her calf we had her along with about 30 other close to calving cows in the calving barn. We have video and sound surveillance set up in the barn so we can watch what is going on out there from the house. The calving barn has a nice dry area with clean bedding for the cows and protection from the wind.  There is also an outside yard for them to walk in a get water and feed.
Mary showing Snowflake at the county fair 2 years ago

        Two nights ago we started getting snow which totaled 8 inches by the time it was done. Before heading in for the night we checked the cows and everything looked fine.  During the night Snowflake started having her calf and she did a wonderful job and had a beautiful heifer calf all on her own. The only problem is she had the calf just outside the barn door in a snow drift.You would have thought that she would have had the calf in the barn in the warm bedding.  First calf heifers are known not to be the smartest mothers because they have never been through having a baby before. By the time we got out there the calf was so cold and only barely alive.  We rushed her into the house and placed her in a large sink with warm water and put warm milk in her stomach.  Both the calf and us fought hard but it wasn't enough and the calf died. 
       When we told Mary about this at breakfast she was very sad. She had been anticipating the new calf.  She also understands that life on the farm is full of life and death.  She knows that life is a precious thing and we fight hard for it, but there are times where death is also part of that life journey. On the farm we are working with animals and they make unwise decisions and get ill or injured. As the caretakers of the animals we try to help them or make them well again but there are times where we are unable to do this and they die. 
        We also assured Mary that even though Snowflakes calf died she will still have a calf to take care of though the summer. Mary knows that the purpose of a cow in a beef herd is to raise a calf through the summer. Snowflake is "adopting" a calf from a old cow in our herd who we have decided is too old to go out to pasture this year. This cow happened to have her calf just hours after Snowflakes calf died. The calf was given to Snowflake and she had already claimed it as her own and will be a good mother to this calf.
        Life on the farm is full of ups and downs but the ups do outnumber the downs. I also feel that these ups and downs are life lessons that are crucial for us to learn and put life in perspective. Life is a precious and fragile thing.   

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fat Tuesday

         Happy Fat Tuesday.  On the farm Fat Tuesday can have a whole different meaning.  The "Fat" I see around me here is a sign of things to come.  Spring on the farm is full of new birth, just as after today we enter into the Lenten season where we wait for the Easter time of rebirth.  Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, but I can tell you that there is a point where you just feel large and fat.  I should know I have been there 5 times.
         Lets celebrate  Fat Tuesday and this beautiful Fatness of life to come.  

Me about 2 years ago just before Rose was born
Cookie our mother cat

Cow days away from calving
     Since Fat Tuesday is all about indulging ourselves on food I thought a
food fact would be appropriate.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Visiting a pig farm

      Yesterday the kids and I went to visit a farm with some farrowing pigs. My husbands brother Brad raises show hogs, see his site, and just farrowed out the piglets that will be shown at fairs this summer. The piglets are so cute and active. The kids enjoyed them and we took a lot of picture. Brad not only raises pigs he also works in the pig industry so is a wealth of knowledge. I was raised on a cattle farm so hogs are a bit of an unknown world to me. I had many questions for Brad and learned a lot.

      Q. Why are sows in gestational stalls?
      A. Brad stated that sows are in gestational stalls for the safety of the piglets. Sows are very large animals weighing around 500lbs. A sow many times will have a dozen or more little piglets per a litter. When the sow lays down to nurse her babies she is not careful where she lays. The little piglets need an area where they can safely be without the large mother pig being able to accidentally roll onto them.
         My husband Paul and I witnessed this first hand when we tried farrowing a few sows about 7 years ago. We had just moved onto our farm site and Paul's uncle who works in a pig barn had 3 sows that they didn't have room for. Paul having grown up farrowing pigs thought this would be fun and agreed to take the sows. We have a barn but it is not set up for pigs so Paul set up some free stall pens. It seemed like every day Paul would come in saying how another piglet died because it got crushed by it's huge mother. How sad.
The divider was removed from between two stalls so the piglets can have more room as they get bigger. They will feed from only their mother.
      Q. For how long are the sows kept in the gestational stalls?
      A. Brad informed me that he use to only keep his sows in the crates during the time that they had piglets on them. He found that the pigs were aggressive towards each other pushing to get a food. As a result of the pushing of these animals he was having 1-2 stillborn piglets per a litter. For his last 2 farrowing he has kept the sows in the stalls full time and has had no stillbirths. He also informed me that pigs are not social animals and appear more content when they have their own space. In the stalls the pigs have no worries. They know that they will be fed and have clean water available as needed. They also always have a clean dry place to lay. Brad told me of a study where sows were taught how to back out of a gestational stall. The sows were able to leave the stall whenever they wanted and the study found that 90% of the sows never left the stall and the 10% that did back out of the stall only left the stall 1-2 times though out the time of the study. He also told me that now when he takes the sows out of the stalls during breeding time by the end of the week they are anxious to get back into their stall. It is their home.

        Q. How long are the piglets with the mother before they are weaned and what weight are they at birth and at weaning time.
        A. The piglets at Brads farm are weaned at 3 1/2 weeks and during that time they grow from a birth weight of 2-3 lbs to just under 20lbs.

        I'm glad the kids and I got to see the piglets and sows on Brad's farm. We could tell that the animals are healthy and safe. We know that Brad cares deeply for his animals always wants whats best for them.

This is the guilt that Brad has choosen for the kids to show at the fair this summer.
Check in the begining of Aug to see how big she has grown.
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