Category Archives: “Farming” (mini farming?)

Livin’ the dream

A few Sundays back we were gathered around the table and the boys were talking about which one of them was going to be the farmer who lived with Maddox (the baby). Basically, they were fighting over the baby…who was going to live with Maddox. So sweet, right? They were going to be farmers and Mason was going to live on this farm with Maddox and have two cows and I was going to milk his cows for him. (I always tell him when he gets his farm, I’m going to come work on it with him.) Creighton (age 2) was telling us how he was going to live on a farm with Mommy (probably only since Mason won’t let him live with him because he now wants the baby to live with him).

I took the liberty to explain that “once upon a time” I wanted to be a veterinarian and then I got greedy so I pursued (human) medicine. After that I got lazy (or fell in love?) and decided to be a nurse instead. Near the end of nursing school I found a passion with children, so I decided to teach. But all I ever wanted was to “be” a mom and after an excruciating 10 year wait I became one. Now, I’m livin’ my dream. I told them this. I’m living my dream of being a wife, a mom and “a farmer” (remember, I say that loosely, because we are very s.m.a.l.l. hobby farmers, but Mason swears we’re farmers because we have a cow and carry hay!). And technically, if we provide nourishing products to others than ourselves, that makes me a farmer….ah, so I embrace the label (while REAL farmers scoff, right?).

Anyway…later in the day Hubby applauds me and says he’s happy I am doing what I’ve always wanted…kids and farm and all. Ahh, success! Knowing your spouse is proud of your and happy for you is way up high on the emotional “want” list, is it not? Knowing that he’s ok that a (sometimes significant?) part of his paycheck is going to feed more animals (hey, it’s not nails, hair or new cars, right?) lessens the apprehension I sometimes feel when I bring another this or that home for this or that animal. In the end though, life is too short to do something you hate. My Daddy always preached that to us and it’s true.

Bringing Norman (the bull) home…

Oh my gosh, what an experience!

I was up at 4am and out to milk by 5. Ready to leave by 6:20 as planned. Ok, so I didn’t actually get out of the house til 6:25am. I picked up my new friend Raychl in Colfax just a hair before 7am as planned and we headed to Spokane where we were meeting the man with the bull. He also had about an hour and a half to travel.

Raychl and I had a nice visit on the way and while we didn’t solve the world’s problems, we did attempt. I’m driving and already knowing (or at least thinking) that I’m mostly crazy for bringing a bull to our property. But I want this dang cow bred! As life would have it (I don’t really believe in “luck”, or I’d type luck) Miss Moo cycled yesterday morning. The owner of the bull wasn’t able to meet me yesterday, so I’m hoping I’m wrong (though I’m pretty sure I’m not). Raychl, along with my husband and another friend who actually knows cattle and has her own herd think it’s a great idea to not just lease the bull, but to buy him. Jeff says it’s a great business and is looking forward to the write offs. Jessica, my cattle guru friend, has her own milk cow and wants Norman’s stud services. Raychl has an entrepreneural spirit. I have that same spirit, but mind you I also live on just 2.5 acres and I’m the one who has to mess with the bull. A real live, breathing bull. I’m 7 months pregnant and have two other little kids. Not sure this is the right timing. But I also know that God’s timing is perfect.

So we get to the meeting point five minutes before 8am, our agreed meeting time and Coleman, the owner is there. He is probably my age, not what I was expecting. For some reason I was expecting someone in their 50’s. I don’t know why. He unloads Norman, who stands just at my armpit like the cow, and he unloads easy. He loads right into my little two horse straight load trailer. Coleman ties his head on the divider with a blue lead rope. I mention there are horse ties in front (kind of hinting that that’s how I’d do things). Norman get his head through the divider, which stands about half his height. Coleman pushes him out and ties him tighter. Knowing that Coleman knows his bull better than I do, I let it go.

We shake hands, I give him the lease fee plus some for gas and I circle the trailer making sure everything is latched properly and securely (a hard lesson learned in the past). And we’re off. As soon as we turned on the highway the trailer starts “wiggling” and Raychl is concerned. I’ve hauled animals before and often when you start out they have to find their feet under them and get their balance, so I tell her not to worry. We’re down the road a ways (not quite a mile, probably) and Coleman calls my cell and says Norman had his head back in that divider and he was turning around to get him straightened out. What a gentleman…Coleman, not Norman, helping out two wanna be rancher women. 🙂

We get out of thet pickup to check on Norman and I’m not kidding you, he is on the OTHER side of the divider. He’s on the other side of the trailer! He had jumped that smallish space while going 45-50 mph. This is when I really start to wonder what the heck I have gotten myself into. A little bull who jumps dividers at 50 mph. Holy blankety-blank. Coleman pulls up and looks a little shocked. We tie his head to a horse tie on the other side…ok, I tie it to his halter and shut the head door. Coleman suggests a hot wire on the fence but thinks that the woven wire fence with two strand barbed wire should be sufficient. His friend he brought along agrees. I’m seriously wondering what the hell I was ever thinking. Maybe I really should have sold my cow. Oh my gosh.

We go on down the road then after making sure again that all is secure. Norman seems happy to be on the other side and so off we go. I plan to check him about 10 miles down the road.

He’s moving around quite a bit in the trailer as we pull him up the hills and out of the “city”, but we know his head is tied, so he’s not going to attempt to jump or fly or whatever he did to manage getting on the other side of that little Circle J. I stop 10 miles up the road and we get out to look at him. That ding dong has his front knees up in the feeder area of the horse trailer and he won’t come down. We push on him a little and finally decide that he’s the idiot who got up there, there isn’t room enough for him to back and get back down and it probably isn’t smart to attempt to unload him and re load him on the side of the highway. Some folks drive by and ask if we need help. Raychl, in her bravery, says we’re ok. I’m thinking, “Not so sure on that one…” Anyway, like I said, he’ll just have to either figure out how to get down from there or stay there and deal with it. He’s not injured, nor will this injure him, so onward we go.

Coleman said if we had problems with him getting out of the fence to just shoot him. I was thinking, “I like your attitude.” Once I was back in the pickup I said to Raychl, “I should have brought my gun.” To which she casually responds, “I have mine.” Good, ok. So if we need to shoot him we can. Oddly, that brings some relief to my somewhat panicked heart. Again, what exactly was I thinking?

About 20 miles or so more down the road we stop again and check on Norman. He’s in the same position, but we are little assistance to him. I know once we get home he’ll be able to back out and get his legs back down.

I drop Raychl off at her house and continue on toward mine. All the while I’m humming a worship song and thinking I’m pretty much crazy. Who on earth brings a bull on to their tiny little property? Apparently, I’m not the only one. Coleman and his wife got the bull as a weanling and raised him to breed their cow. Then they pimped him out to some homesteader type folks (I don’t know, but calling myself a farmer seems like such a disgrace to actual farmers right now) who have milk cows. My husband, Jeff, thinks we could do this as well. Raychl and Jessica are on board. Of course they are! They don’t have to keep the bull! 😉

Once home, Jeff is there with the electrician who is rewiring the service panel to the shop and some other things and he opens the gate for me. I pull in the pasture (mind you, this pasture is about an acre big, maybe an acre and a half…) and explain to Jeff the plan. I’ll unclip the tie from his halter, then we’ll open the back of the trailer and let him come out on his own. I caution my husband that he might “blow out of there.” So we get out of the way. He comes out just fine and starts exploring his surroundings.

He’s actually a nice bull. Curious. Maybe a bit too curious because I don’t like any of my animals eating out of my pockets! They’re not pets, they are honest-to-goodness large animals that have the potential to hurt someone, whether they mean to or not. I don’t feed treats to any of my animals for this reason. They are to respect my space. I have my horse trained to keep her rear out of my space. Coleman said to pop Norman on the nose if he got too close. He also told me he doesn’t allow his wife in with the bull. Oh nice. It’s kind of a one man show here…a one pregnant woman show.

Of course Norman lost his halter right away when he arrived. He sniffed my cow and they sniffed rears for a while. She was acting real receptive to him, but I do think she is past her cycle now and we’ll have to wait another 2-3 weeks for her next cycle.

So…strangest thing I’ve ever witnessed. The kids and I are out walking around the outside of the pasture seeing if we can eye the halter Norman lost and we get around where he is feeding out of the bunk and suddenly he squats. I mean squats like a human going to take a poo in the wild. His manhood (bullhood?) comes out and something comes shooting out of it. A small amount, albeit, but something. I have never EVER seen a bull do this before (and I have been around bulls before, people). I don’t know if he had to relieve some stress or what, but I was kind of thinking, “Hey, you’re supposed to do that while mounted on my cow!” Odd. Thankfully the kids didn’t ask any questions on that one. Although, Creighton my 20 month old kept pointing and saying “bull!”

I kept shaking my head and rolling my eyes at myself. “Bull. Yep. Oh my gosh. What was I thinking? Have I gone mad? I must have “pregnant brain”. Well, crud, I have to get this cow bred somehow! I can’t believe she cycled early. Of course. A bull, Gretchen? Seriously?”

I saw no action between cow and bull the rest of the day.

Now Sunday morning Jeff gets up to go out and milk with me. This is so sweet, the man who stays in bed on the weekends while I go do my chores at 5am. I told him he needed to be up at 5:30am (old time would have been 4:30am and then I could get her into a routine by tomorrow). I forgot to mention (pardon the language), “Ass out the door at 5:35am.” I’m getting the milk bucket ready and the warm soapy water to wash her udder and I hear the shower come on. What the heck? Is he seriously taking a shower to go milk? Yep. At 5:55 we finally make it out the door. All the way I’m shaking my head. I am STILL shaking my head! It’s like when our first born was an infant and woke up in the night. First hubby had to pee, then get a drink of water and then take a chew and make the bottle. I finally got to the point where I’d just get up, feed the kid and go back to bed. Good heavens!

Anyway, it was nice having him out there “protecting me” from a bull we were unsure of. Of course Norman was excited to see us (he’s really friendly…better than aggressive, but I like them to keep their space from me). I went in the barn, plugged in my makeshift light and waited for the cow to come. She didn’t. Of course. I had to go find her in the other (pole) barn. In she came and again, of course, as she was coming in the barn to be milked, Norman decided that would be a good time to mount her. He was all stirred up-he doesn’t know the routine. Jeff made sure he didn’t come in and I started milking the cow (after hooking her to her lead and washing her udder). Norman’s outside pitching a fit. “Where’d my girl go?” Moo…Ma, Ma Moo! Whatever. He also settled in a bit.

By the time I was finished milking the sun was starting to come up over the horizon. You folks who don’t get up early miss so many beautiful mornings! I told Jeff my normal routine: Leave the cow tied, let the calf out, feed the horse her grain and then lock her in the other barn. Then I explained it should be different today. I was half expecting the horse to balk at the new animal and not do what she normally does, but she surprised me and went in the barn just fine. Norman and the calf stayed in the pasture and I got some alfalfa for them. Norman was all wound up and as he got close to me I tapped him firmly on the nose as a warning to stay away. He earned some of my trust by backing…numerous times. And may I mention…some of my trust. With everyone fed and in their proper places, Jeff and I headed to the house. I think I’ll be able to do this routine by myself tomorrow. I’ll have to!

Meanwhile, Jeff goes back to bed, wakes up, takes another shower and then our normal Sunday begins. Kids up, breakfast, get ready for church and leave. On the way home from church Jeff says, “I have a whole new appreciation for the milk I drink.” I just said, “Good,” with a smile on my face.

Cattle (sigh)

Like I said before, I always thought I when it was time to raise cattle that I would 1) do it for a living and 2) raise beef cattle.  So here I am “hobby farming” essentially and getting all in a tizzy over dairy cattle.  But what do you do when you love raw milk, can’t get it locally and have room for a cow?  You milk your own in my case.

So, we’ve been having this dilemma in our household.  Hubby loves to see product for money spent.  I get that, I really do.  But he is thinking “product” in this case is the actual purchase of a bull.  I have not been so easily convinced, which is odd because I am always the one who springs for animal purchases!  We don’t have the fencing up yet (or should I say he doesn’t?) and I’m not sure he realizes it’s a bull.

I was fretting over the decision.   (Give me a break, I’m 7 months pregnant and decisions don’t come easy at this stage in the game.)  Hubby says, “Why don’t you just lease him, ask him if they’ll put his lease fee in towards the cost of buying him if you bring him home and he’s as well-mannered as they say?”  Now, that was a good idea.  And, they will.  I go Saturday to pick him up (we’re meeting half way) and we’ll see from there.  My cow should be cycling again by Tuesday (ish).

So the cow.  Did I mention that decision making comes hard for me right now?  Ack!  I have decided to keep her and get her bred by Norman (the bull).  If she doesn’t breed back then she will be sold, period.  If she does breed back (I’m expecting she will) then I will graft another calf to her to nurse while I am too pregnant to care and post partum and then we’ll calf-share milk again (milk just once a day and let the calf have the rest) until September when I would dry her up to prepare for her next lactation.  A calf born in December is not my best idea, but what do you do?

I did speak with a nice lady up near the Canadian border today who is raising American Milking Devons and she is going to keep my contact information for the future.  And the nice family with whom we were part of their CSA have a heifer calf coming due in Nov/December they will want to sell.  So the opportunties are there.  I/We just don’t want to be without milk for 8 months!

So that’s the update with my hobby farm.  The bull is currently part of a limited stud service, so maybe you’ll find me pimping him out and writing off some of the costs of keeping him.  I do suppose that would be a good job for me, plus I could tote the kids around with me doing that.  Stay tuned…

To buy a bull or not…that is the question…

So, I’ll probably be selling my cow (only to get another) since she hasn’t bred back and by the time I get her to we will be 8 months without milk.  I could loan her out and have offered and thought about that, but it probably makes more sense to sell her and start over.

I thought she was coming into heat again (and she was and did) after the AI 3 weeks ago and so I got on the phone with a couple I learned of in Northern Idaho that has a Guernsey bull they lease out.  The bull lease is only $100, but the gas both ways for them to deliver him was an additional $100.  Hubby freaked out, to say the least.  He hates spending money on things that we have nothing to show for.  (understandable!)  However, this is one of those things when you are a hobby farmer that you just have to adjust to…at least in my mind.

So, I mention to him that this bull is for sale and seems how we’ve already spent and could potentially spend here half the cost of the bull Hubby says, “why don’t you just buy the bull?”  Hmm…the bull is already in bull service and has clients.  Could be a business I could do from home and take my kids with as we deliver him.  We could potentially write off vehicle and some feed expenses as well as the fencing we just bought.  But it’s a bull!

And while this bull is notorious for his great disposition and gets compliments where ever he goes, he is still…A. BULL.

But it could be an interesting business venture, really.  And if he doesn’t work out we can always put him in the freezer (butcher him).

I’m anxious to talk with one of my cow friends when she returns home from a trip to Arizona and ask her all kinds of questions about things I should consider before I leap on this or potentially NOT leap on this.  She also has a dairy cow and would love to borrow the bull.  I assume she knows other folks who have need for a dairy bull, too.

Anyway…(sigh) life on the wanna-be farm continues.  I always thought if I were buying and selling cattle they would be beef cattle, specifically Angus or Angus-cross and I would be doing it from more than 2.51 acres and definitely not in Eastern Washington.  It is funny how God takes you on these little wild rides.  Sorry, Daddy.  I guess I won’t be a “real rancher”, just a wanna be for now.  giggle.

Skills handed down…

I’d had enough!  The cow keeps opening the barn door.  Apparently alfalfa is like crack to a cow and let’s not even try to figure out what Corn, Oats and Barley might compare to.  It was too blasted hot yesterday and besides that, it was Sunday.  Sunday, my God-Appointed day of rest.  So as soon as Creighton (baby #2) was down for his morning nap out went Mason and I to fix some things.  First we hammered fencing staples in the wire panels that separate the main section of the barn from the section where the hay is and where I milk the cow.  Then, I moved two horse panels in and fastened them so the hay was completely divided off from where I milk.  This task didn’t require much more than muscle, but when it’s 100 degrees out it doesn’t sound so fun.  Then we raked (as best we could) the hay out of the barn and made it a little more cleanly for milking.  I’m lucky blessed that this cow is old (and bony) and will stand nicely (nice and still) while I milk and has only once attempted to put her foot in the bucket (she didn’t appreciate some mold in the hay).  However, the dog appreciated the foot in the bucket because then he got the milk…hmm..,

So I had to call my dad and thank him today for the skills he taught me.  I think they’re just normal every day things that people know how to do, but unless you’ve lived the farm life you probably have no idea.  🙂