Farm News – 2012

September 1, 2012

Farming isn’t always easy, and we now have experienced that which beef farmers everywhere experience: the loss of a calf. On Thursday, August 30th, our lead cow, Roxanne, went into labor with her sixth calf, a calf we misjudged the due date of. We weren’t expecting her until October…and as a result, we were completely unprepared for what ensued. By time we drove out to bring apples to the herd, noticed Roxy missing, saw her a ways off and returned from the main house with a pair of binoculars to confirm what we thought was a hoof sticking out, it was probably already too late: that hoof was upside down, meaning the calf was presenting backwards. We were unprepared for this emergency; we had no supplies with us (they were 10 minutes away, at home), no lead rope (likewise), and hadn’t brushed up on calving emergencies because we thought we had time. Roxy, meanwhile, her labor not progressing properly, high-tailed it across the creek and to the little hayfield, even further from where we needed her to be. We took the time to catch her and lead her back across the creek and up the pasture to the corral. It was way too late…the calf had already died. In hindsight, we should have hobbled together a rope and tied her to a tree in the hayfield, and pulled the calf right then and there. In the end, the calf was difficult to get out (rear legs crossed, one knee stuck in the pelvis), and it took all three of us to pull her. She was perfect, very obviously full term, a little red, average-sized heifer…our first heifer in three years.

This is a very difficult lesson to learn. It’s even harder to let go of the guilt that has come from this experience, the should haves and could haves and would haves, if we had known. But, we didn’t. Roxy is fine, looking around a bit still for her calf, but healthy. We’re watching her now for mastitis, hoping her ample milk supply dries up soon and causes no problems. At the advice of the vet (no emergency vets were available when we needed them), we won’t milk her so that we can help to avoid infection. (Obviously, if mastitis presents, that will change.) Ironically, Roxy’s calf has buried in the calf graveyard on our leased property…losing a calf now and then over the years is a part of raising cattle. She joins five others who died in past years, other breeds, long ago. We hope to never add another.

Having now relooked at the gestation calendar, Xoe, next in line to calve, is due, at the earliest, October 8th, but not until October 22nd, by the vet’s prediction. The vet’s prediction didn’t work out with Roxy, so I will start manhandling Xoe’s udder and pin bones late September, watching like a hawk for any changes at all in physical presentation or behavior. Paul’s currently repairing fences to move all five animals across the driveway into the big hayfield so the boys finish off on beautiful fresh green grass, and we will move Xoe into the corral as soon as calving looks iminent. We don’t want to lose another one…ever.

Somberly,
Paul and Amy

August 26, 2012

How is summer nearly over? It’s been a busy one for us, with abundant work for Paul, lots of vegetable gardening chores, and of course, enjoying our Highlands, too! The summer was mostly mild, making for a moderate hay crop, but we have what we need stacked in the barn.

Our newest Highland female, BEM Xaralyn, joined us in July, and is fitting in nicely. She’s a lovely, sweet red girl who is learning to steer a little clear of the steers (!), because who wouldn’t?

The most exciting news is that all three girls have confirmed bred! After a two-year dry spell, we’ll finally have calves again on Skookumchuck Farm. Roxanne will calve first during the first week of October (although she’s so large Paul thinks she’ll calve in two weeks!), followed by Xoe about two weeks later. Xaralyn was successfully AI’d to a bull with genetics that are pretty new to Western Washington and will calve in March.

As summer winds to a close and fall fast approaches, now is the time to remind those of you who are considering stocking your freezers with Highland beef that we’re nearly sold out! The boys are looking great and head to the butcher at the end of September. At this point, we have two quarters (or 1 half) left for sale, and after that, we’ll have no more beef until 2014. Please place your order today!

Hope you had a wonderful summer, filled with lots of happy memories!
Paul and Amy

June 25, 2012

Summer has begun, but here in the Frost Prairie outside of Tenino, you wouldn’t know it! As with last year, Juneuary has been mostly one gray, rainy or drizzly day after the other. Spring finished out a little drier than normal, which allowed us to move the cattle to “summer” pasture almost a month earlier than anticipated. The animals have been busy eating nice grass since. This has given our home pasture a jump start. Just today, Paul and I walked through the tall grass, making mental note of weeds we’ve been working to erradicate as we’ve practiced better land management. Two winters of feeding the animals on the ground in the pasture, rotating the hay or haylage bales to those areas where the grass was the thinnest, has really begun to pay off! We picked three lupine plants (lupine is toxic and can cause birth defects in calves or abortions in pregnant cows if ingested), three tansy ragwort (very toxic to some animals if ingested, although usually avoided), and much less bracken fern than we’ve had in previous years. There are still some thin spots…we’ve made mental note to intentionally feed in those areas this coming winter to help give nutrients back to the land and encourage growth of the grass, plantain and clover seeds present in our hay bales. So much progress!

Meanwhile, our sacrifice paddock – which we barely used at all this last winter to keep mud and muck to a minimum and try to heal the area – is awash in thick grasses and clover…but still some weeds. It’s a work in process.

Why is all of this important, anyway? Healthy land means more abundant, longer lasting forage when the cattle come home at the end of the fall, which can help keep our feed costs down. Granted, with two of our females expecting calves in October, forage needs will be highest for us over the winter. This is far from ideal, but sometimes you have to roll with it. Our hope is that once our newest female, Xaralyn (“Sara”) calves in early spring, we can aim for breeding all three girls back next summer, with the goal of calving when pasture grass is abundant…just like wild ruminants (elk and deer) do! Mother Nature usually has the right idea!

Warm wishes for a fun-filled summer,
Paul and Amy