CALVING SEASON: THIS NEWBORN FINDS COMFORT IN TALL GRASS BY MAKING A NEST.
THIS NEWBORN FINDS COMFORT IN TALL GRASS BY MAKING A NEST.
Magnificent cows are now giving birth to beautiful calves. It is an exciting time of year, when a harvest of life rolls in. Most of the cows are faithful in their maternal duties, persisting year after year. Two of our best are 13-years-old. Note in the pictures below their good body condition - in full flesh and with shining coats. This indicates health and high butterfat in milk, enabling calves to thrive. Calves that don't receive enough butterfat during their first six months, never do well their whole lives.
Our first calves were born on September 10, the day of the farm tour, and they happened to be twin bull calves. Twins are unusual in cattle, so mothers are not accustomed to them, whereas sheep are. The mother of these twins, #805, neglected one of them at the outset. So Brendan observed and loaded both calves onto a sled, and slowly pulled it to the barn. The cow followed, and then he put her in the head chute and squeeze-chute so she couldn't kick off the neglected calf. This allowed the calf to nurse and receive necessary colostrum, while also enabling the two of them to bond. This strategy has to be executed within the first 24 hours, as the calves are either too vigorous to capture or one dies. After 48 hours of this treatment, the mother was nursing both calves, and all three were returned to the herd.
Most cow herds in this region calve in the spring. We have chosen, instead, to calve in the fall for a number of reasons. In the last trimester of pregnancy, a cow needs a high plane of nutrition. It is easier and cheaper to provide such in the summer when grass is growing than in winter, when reliant upon stored feeds. Cows bred for fall calving are breeding during January rather than in August, which is the hottest time of year. As global warming accentuates, summer heat will increasingly impact breeding success. Instead of fighting this reality, we breed in January. Also, calves born in the spring begin fighting face-flies within one month. Fall calves grow for nine months before dealing with flies and are thus more resilient. The trade-off to fall-calving versus spring-calving is calves are younger when they go through the winter, and thus must rely more on their mother's milk for nutrition. This can be hard on the cow, but if she is in good enough condition at the outset, she does fine. Brendan has done a great job of keeping our cows in good body-condition.
The only other set of twin calves we have had faced a similar scenario as these two. They were born 2 1/2 years ago. After the three of them were held in isolation for a week of successful bonding and nursing, they were returned to the herd. The mother then promptly kicked off one of the calves. But he figured out how to make a living begging and stealing milk from other cows. He somehow thrived doing so, and we just sent him to the processor this week. We called him Sunrise and his twin is Sunset, and I wrote a story about them at the time.
Note how old Sunrise was before being processed. Grain-fed steers are usually finished in fifteen months, not 2 1/2 years. We have observed that the older an animal is, the better it tastes. We give our beef and sheep an extra year before they are bred and before they are harvested, generating a more mature animal for each situation. This comes at a cost, but with great benefit - few birthing issues and better flavor in meat.
These are chicken backs on their way to becoming chicken stock. But we intercept some of them to serve as dinner, enjoying the tail and oysters of the back. It is a delicate part of the chicken, and the bones make great stock. Susan employs chicken stock for making soups and rice. She made vichyssoise soup last month, that was astoundingly good, as it was anchored by homemade, pastured chicken stock.
As you know, there is no market in Hyde Park this Sunday because of the Art Fair. But Beth & Bob Gehres will be at Milford on Saturday and Findlay on Sunday. They will also be standing in for us on Sunday the 9th at Hyde Park, as we will be hosting the wedding of daughter-Mary that weekend at our farm.
Over the past four years, we have had the privilege of developing many great relationships with customers in Hyde Park. It has been exciting to do the same in Milford this past summer and to be starting on a brand new adventure at Findlay Market the past several weeks.
During this calving season, we are grateful to our cows who bring us well-being and to our customers who bring us purpose.
Drausin & Susan