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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Elsa

Elsa

by Brian Bennett of Heuvelton, NY

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

For years, I have been telling people Bittersweet Farm is a work in progress. Well, I have reached the age of the average American farmer and progress has stopped, the workload is excruciating and hope for the most part is non-existent. My son is downstate hoping to make his fortune as a computer geek/ nerd/genius/hacker. My daughter is in Kenya learning how to milk Holstein cows and holistically manage the intensive, rotational grazing of cattle (go figure). Too bad a young person couldn’t learn those skills in such an exotic place as Heuvelton, NY. That leaves my wife and I home to pursue MY dream of becoming a small-scale, local, regenerative agricultural entrepreneur. My beautiful wife has been physically confined to an electric wheelchair for almost twelve years and I have been mentally challenged in so many ways.

So here we are, another glorious spring day in Heuvelton. Fourteen degrees above zero, whiteout conditions and the ice can’t decide whether it is coming or going. My wife just got out of the hospital with no PCA (personal care assistant). I am running on empty and have a gut feeling that I must go out and find Coco Chanel, NOW. Coco is the first purebred Scottish Highland born on our place four years ago. The day she was born one of our pigs ate her right front hoof and life for her got much harder after that. She is a pretty blonde but walks with a limp, is bullied regularly but never bred. She broke one of her horns and any real farmer would have shipped her long ago. Not to worry – I am no real farmer. So finally, she is bred. Checked her two days ago, she dropped and is clearly bagged out but is not dilated and shows no discharge. Her mother, Ginger, calved recently at the edge of the swamp where the coyotes promptly shredded the newborn and dragged the body parts across the open field. After four years, I wanted my girl to successfully raise her own healthy calf. She has been a great aunt and sister to many others. But, like I said, it was a perfect spring day in the North Country: fourteen degrees above zero, high winds, snow squalls, whiteout conditions and just cold and wet enough that in some places the ice holds and in others it drops out from under you. You hit hard and you hit painfully. So with my wife one day out of the hospital and in need of help – I, being the ever good husband – bundle up against the onslaught of spring and head into whiteout conditions to look for yet another dead calf at the swamps edge. I headed out with a gut feeling not that something was wrong, but that in these conditions there soon enough would be if I did not try. I couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me and I was not enjoying being pelted with large hard snowflakes and high winds. I made my way more or less by instinct across the open field and through the (for the most part) frozen swamp. No Coco. Up the hill towards the brush covered rock piles, no Coco at the upper pile. The wind and snow are harsh, even for a beautiful spring day of fourteen degrees. I can sort of see a cow (maybe) lying in the lower rock pile. In amongst saplings, rocks, and old rusty metal and wire there is a large, red haired calf half steaming where mom is aggressively licking her and the other half is iced over where her hooves and legs appear frozen to the ground. Well, I am cold, wet, exhausted, and all too happy. I am giddy and ecstatic, my girl has her first beautiful heifer calf, now what do I do? It did not feel like the snow was letting up and I could hear the coyotes in the distance, but could not place the direction. No fear, just anger, how stupid am I? Eventually mom and calf stood up, I stripped out three quarters and mom licked the calf ’s butt until she nursed. I attempted to walk mom and baby back to the carriage shed, but no luck. I am too old (okay, out of shape) for this. I picked up the calf and tried to walk backwards downhill through the snow while begging mom to follow. I am really too old for this. I arrived at the edge of the swamp and could not figure out where I came out at. Mom was way too far back to see. So I pushed through the cat-nine tails, over the ice and headed towards home. Soon enough the calf and I dropped through the ice up to my waist into the swamp, boy is this fun. I was not gong to let go no matter what, but this is really stretching my limits. How do you slog through waist deep ice water and mud carrying a 75 lb calf when you really, really want to give up? And where the heck is mom? After what seemed like two painfully long lifetimes, calf and I came out at the eastern edge of the swamp where I could see the front leg of an earlier calf shredded by coyotes. Is mom following? Don’t know, but I cannot carry this calf any longer. I put her down and she crumbles to the frozen ground. I turn around to hear mom bellowing and crashing out the same path I just did. All-wheel drive on her part makes it look much easier than it felt for me. She licks her newborn and we get her up, only so I get to chase the now inspired calf in the wrong direction. I catch the calf, pick her up and head to the shed; I really am too old for this long walk across the field. A perfectly good walk (ruined). We finally arrive at the carriage shed, I try my best to warm and dry the calf. The snow and wind has stopped, the sun is out, thank you very much, and where were you an hour ago? I head to the house to fetch a pail of warm molasses water. At the house my wife seems quite comfortable and in real good spirits. She seems happy. I share my story and Ann decides to have her PCA, that finally arrived, name the calf. She mentions a movie called Frozen and names the calf Blaire – no wait, it has to be Elsa, Elsa is the ice queen. I LOVE it. I carry five gallons of molasses water to Coco and a towel to the newly anointed ice queen, Elsa. I go back to the house to celebrate and wallow in my pain.

It is Friday. Kate and Kelsey show up as they have on most Fridays for the past two and a half years. Then Jeff and Kingsley show up (Who are these guys? Maybe HOPE?) They take over; Coco drops her afterbirth and promptly eats about half of it. Does the warm molasses water stimulate this? Red haired (like Elsa) Kate lays down comfortably between mom and baby. Ask Joel Salatin about lying with cows. Eventually Coco begins licking Kate’s face and chews her hair, only to make a face that suggests she somehow knows this is not her calf. Coco nudges Elsa up, licks her butt and Elsa nurses warm colostrum. I am done. Kate, Kelsey, Jeff and Kingsley take over and begin making repairs to the fence so this never happens again, until the next time.

April, fourteen degrees, a dozen dead lambs, two dead calves, eight dead piglets, one dead Highland bull and more on the way. Life just does not get any better than this. Spring is here.

Remind me later to tell you about our last Hope and how HOPE returns to the farm in the form of young farmer wannabes, students, wwoofers, intern apprentices, Wes, Arla, John and Kelly, and more.

Thank you, and remember to get your hands dirty.

Spotlight On: Livestock

Cattle Handling Part 1 Basic Cattle Handling

Cattle Handling Part 1: Basic Cattle Handling

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If they understand what you want them to do, and you give them time to figure it out, cattle are very easy to herd. Pressuring and release of pressure at the proper times will encourage them to move (or halt) and to go the direction and speed you desire. The herd will also stay together, moving as a group if you herd them calmly and don’t get them upset and excited. Best results are had when you move them at a walk, controlling the speed and direction of the leaders.

Horseshoeing Part 2B

Horseshoeing Part 2B

If we observe horses moving unrestrained over level ground, we will notice differences in the carriage of the feet. Many deviations in the line of flight of hoofs and in the manner in which they are set to the ground occur; for example, horses heavily burdened or pulling heavy loads, and, therefore, not having free use of their limbs, project their limbs irregularly and meet the ground first with the toe; however, careful observation will detect the presence of one or the other of these lines of flight of the foot.

Calves that Don't Breathe at Birth

Calves that Don’t Breathe at Birth

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Heart rate is one way to tell if the calf is in respiratory distress, since it drops as the body is deprived of oxygen. Normal heart rate in a newborn calf is 100 to 120 beats per minute. Place your hand over the lower left side of the ribcage, just behind and above the elbow of his front leg. If heart rate has dropped as low as 40, the calf ’s condition is critical; he needs to start breathing immediately.

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

The Milk and Human Kindness: Making Cheese

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Yogurt making is the perfect introduction into the world of cultured dairy products and cheese-making. You are handling milk properly, becoming proficient at sanitizing pots and utensils, and learning the principles of culturing milk. Doing these things regularly, perfecting your methods, sets you up for cheese-making very well. Cheese-making involves the addition of a few more steps beyond the culturing.

Fjordworks Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 3

Fjordworks: Zen and the Art of Training the Novice Teamster Part 3

By waking up so fully to the tasks at hand we are empowered to be more present, more available, and thus able to offer a compassionate and skillful response to the needs of our horses even as we ask them to accomplish heavy work on the farm. It is not up to the horses to trust us; it is up to us to prove ourselves worthy of their trust. What the horses can offer to us are new avenues to freedom and resilience, sustainability and hope.

A Gathering of Comtois in France

A Gathering of Comtois in France

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I was soon planning for a stop in the town of Pontelier, the main hub in one corner of the country I had never been to and was bent on exploring: the Franche-Compte. As luck would have it, this region has its very own breed of draft horse, the Comtois. It was to an “exhibition” of this horse that I was heading, although thanks to my lousy French, I was not sure exactly what kind of “exhibition” I was heading to.

Feeding Elk Winter Work for the Belgians

Feeding Elk: Winter Work for the Belgians

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Doug Strike of rural Sublette County is spending his second winter feeding wild elk in nearby Bondurant, Wyoming. Strike is supplementing his logging income as well as helping his team of Belgian draft horses to keep in shape for the coming season. From May to the end of November he uses his horses to skid logs out of the mountains of western Wyoming. I found the use of Doug’s beautiful Belgian team an exciting example of appropriate technology.

Cheval de Merens Revisited

Cheval de Merens Revisited

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In the Fall ’97 issue of SFJ you printed an article on the Cheval de Merens, the all black horse of the French Pyrenees. I was immediately obsessed by their beautiful stature, a very strong draft-type-looking horse with powerful legs and long flowing manes and tails. The article sent me running for maps to locate France and the Ariege Valley, the central location for the Merens. After making contact with the writer of the article and being told of the major Merens horse show in August, plane reservations were made.

Haying With Horses

Haying With Horses

If the reader is considering the construction of a barn we encourage you to give more than passing thought to allowing the structure of the gable to be open enough to accommodate the hanging of a trolley track. It is difficult or impossible to retrofit a truss-built barn, which may have many supports crisscrossing the inside gable, to receive hay jags. At least allowing for the option in a new construction design will leave the option for loose hay systems in the future.

Horse Breeding

This is an excerpt from Horse Breeding by M.W. Harper, a Dept. of Agriculture Bulletin from January 1928. In breeding horses the perfection of the animals selected should be carefully considered. Occasionally stallions are selected on the basis of their pedigree. Such practice may prove disappointing, for many inferior individuals are recorded merely because such […]

Work Horse Handbook

The Work Horse Handbook

The decision to depend on horses or mules in harness for farm work, logging, or highway work is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Aside from romantic notions of involvement in a picturesque scene, most of the considerations are serious.

Horseshoeing Part 3B

Horseshoeing Part 3B

Besides good, tough iron for the shoe, we need an anvil with a round horn and a small hole at one end, a round-headed turning-hammer, a round sledge, a stamping hammer, a pritchel of good steel, and, if a fullered shoe is to be made, a round fuller. Bodily activity and, above all else, a good eye for measurement are not only desirable, but necessary. A shoe should be made thoughtfully, but yet quickly enough to make the most of the heat.

Haltering Foals - Training Workhorses Training Teamsters

Haltering Foals

Lynn Miller’s highly regarded book, “Training Workhorses / Training Teamsters,” is back in print! And that’s not even the most exciting news: The Second Edition is in FULL COLOR! Today’s article, “Haltering Foals,” is an excerpt from Chapter 8, “Imprinting and Training New Born Foals.”

Work Horse Handbook

Grooming Work Horses

The serviceability of the work horse may be increased or decreased according to the care which is bestowed upon him. If he is groomed in a perfunctory fashion his efficiency as an animal motor is lessened. On the other hand, if he is well groomed he is snappier and fresher in appearance and is constantly up on the bit.

Plant Poisoning in Horses & Cattle

Plant Poisoning in Horses & Cattle

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There are hundreds of plants that can be toxic to livestock. Some grow in specific regions while others are more widespread. Some are always a serious danger and others only under certain conditions. Poisoning of livestock depends on several factors, including palatability of the plant, stage of development, conditions in which they grew, moisture content of the plant and the part eaten.

Raising Chickens on the Schekel Farm

Raising Chickens on the Scheckel Farm

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We kept our eye on this rooster. He was high entertainment for 3 boys and 3 younger sisters on that farm. We didn’t give him a name, just called him “Rooster,” and Rooster ruled. Other roosters moved out of his way. Hens cowered when Rooster appeared. My dog Browser wouldn’t go near Rooster. Rooster was invincible. Or so he thought.

Words for the Novice Teamster

Words for the Novice Teamster

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Many people who are new to the world of draft horses are intimidated by what seems to them to be a foreign language. This “workhorse language” can be frustrating for novices who would like to use draft horses, or who would just like to understand what people who do use them are talking about. The knowledge of some basic draft horse terminology can end most of the beginner’s confusion about the special jargon used in this trade.

Icelandic Sheep

Icelandic Sheep

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I came to sheep farming from a background in the arts – with a passion for spinning and weaving. When we were able to leave our house in town to buy our small farm, a former dairy operation, I had no idea that the desire to have a couple of fiber animals would turn into full time shepherding. I had discovered Icelandic sheep, and was completely enamored of their beauty, their hardiness and their intelligence.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT