Twin Beef Calves are Trouble

September 1, 2014

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Twin beef calves are trouble.  Maybe some of you have a breed of cattle that regularly takes care of twins without human intervention, but my cattle do not.  Invariably, a cow will claim one calf and forget about the other one.

Fall-calving started about the middle of August.  These two twin heifers were born one evening.  Since they were both wet and hadn’t nursed yet, I decided to wait and see if the mother would claim both calves, or at least allow both calves to nurse once to receive the valuable first milk called colostrum.

Colostrum contains antibodies from the cow which provide passive immunity to diseases until the calf begins to develop its own immunity.  Antibodies are able to pass through the calf’s stomach because it is porous.  A calf’s ability to absorb colostrum through its stomach wall diminishes rapidly, and is pretty much done within 24 hours.

The next morning I checked and found the cow had taken one calf and left the other.  So I took the abandoned calf home and gave it a bottle of Colostrx.  This is a purchased product which is a substitute for the mother’s colostrum.  That night I gave the calf a bottle of milk replacer.

The next day I checked the cattle again and was surprised to see the other twin had not nursed.  The mother of the twin had large teats, but not excessively large, perhaps the twins had a difficult birth and weren’t quite bright enough to find a teat.  I saw that the calf was hungry and trying to find a teat, but I could tell that none of the teats had been nursed.

I called my Dad to come and help me take the calf out of the pasture.  I anticipated a more difficult time, because the cow was very attentive to this twin, unlike the twin she had abandoned.  It was a good thing I called him because after picking up the calf and carrying it away on the ATV, the cow followed close behind and I needed his help to get out of the gate and keep the cow in.

I gave the second twin a bottle of milk replacer.  I didn’t bother with Colostrx because the calf was 36 hours old.  Now I had two bottle calves, and wasn’t looking forward to the morning and evening chores of feeding two calves.

I thought about the way the cow followed me on the ATV.  There isn’t any cattle-handling facilities in the rented pasture, but there is a round horse pen.  I thought that just maybe, I could lure the cow into the horse pen.  I knew there would be no way to chase her in, with acres of wide-open spaces.

I set up a small hazing fence near the horse pen with some panels that were nearby.  I opened the small gate to the horse pen and then drove my ATV out to the cow.  When she saw me she began to follow me.  As she started to slow down, I made my noise which sounds like a calf mooing and she picked back up.  I stopped the ATV a ways away from the gate and got off and walked into the horse pen.  I bent over in the weeds like I was doing something with a calf and made the mooing noise.  The cow followed right through the small gate.  I jumped up and shut the gate behind her.

I called my Dad and he brought my truck and trailer and we hauled her to his corral.  The next morning we put her in the catch chute to restrain her, and started the slow process of teaching the calves to nurse an udder.  The cow kicked a little, which made our job more difficult, but we got both calves to nurse enough.

We did this process maybe three more times, then we transitioned to a small pen, with one person keeping the cow’s attention, while the other person maneuvered the calves towards the cow’s udder.  We did this process three or four times, morning and night, and now they’re nursing on their own and she’s claiming both calves as her own.

We will still keep them in the corral for a couple of weeks and then transition to a pasture away from the other cattle after that, to ensure she doesn’t lose one of the calves.  As the calves become stronger, they will also make sure they don’t get lost.  Oftentimes the twins will stick together as the mom goes off to graze.

I’m thinking I’m going to have to stop calving in the rented pasture.  It’s impossible to check them if they want to hide in the thick woods.  And there isn’t any handling facilities if there is a problem.

I’ve been pushing my luck for too long.  If I prepare for trouble, I’ll probably have very little.  If I continue to not prepare, I feel I’m due some bad luck.

 


Sweet Corn Summary and Links

August 27, 2014

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My go-to meal for the last three weeks.  The sweet corn was raised without herbicides or pesticides.  It’s a wonderful experience when a successful experiment results in such good eats.

I planted a rye cover crop last fall, rotovated twice in the spring, rotary hoed twice after planting, and cultivated twice, keeping the corn ahead of the weeds long enough to produce a good ear of corn, even though the weeds are thriving now.

The last time I tried to raise sweet corn without herbicides was a disaster, with the weeds getting ahead of the corn, resulting in production losses.  That time I only chisel plowed, disced, and cultivated once.

My plan for next year is to use the same protocol as this year, except possibly not using the rye cover crop.  That may prove to be a mistake as the rye has alleopathic properties.

I wonder if I should be looking at weeds differently.  Instead of a problem to overcome, maybe I should consider them as a volunteer crop.  Instead of weeding, maybe I should be harvesting.

Tama Matsuoka Wong is a businessperson who has taken her interest in wild edibles to a new level.  She partners with restaurants to put wild edibles on the menu.  Her website is  Meadows and More.  Discovering the way Ms. Wong approaches wild edibles is invigorating my thinking about weeds.

Finally, while I’ve spent the summer thinking about sweet corn, I wonder how much corn I’m getting from other sources.  “Children of the Corn” is an interesting infograph if you’ve ever wondered about the corn industry.

The one problem I have with the infograph is when they talk about water usage.  Sure, corn uses water, but it gets cycled back into the atmosphere.  It’s not like it’s being used up, never to be seen again.

Comment if you have any thoughts about these topics.


2014 Midwest Wild Harvest Festival

August 21, 2014

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I’m all signed up and excited to attend the Midwest Wild Harvest Festival, September 12th-14th at Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin.  It’s three days and two nights of foraging fun at Badger Camp.  I can’t believe it’s been seven years since I attended something like this.

Below is a photo from a foraging weekend near Lacrosse, Wisconsin.  Sam Thayer is in the left of the photo.  He and his wife Melissa, are two of the organizers of this festival.  A fun added benefit for me, and for the rest of the campers, he said modestly, is that my pork will be served at some of the meals.

I don’t think it’s too late to sign up.  If you are interested in wild edibles, this will be a weekend you won’t forget.  I hope to see you there!

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Herd Boars

August 16, 2014

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Tater, the best boar I’ve ever raised, and the pinnacle of my attempts to create an Oxford Sandy and Black for the midwest.  Alas, Tater had one crucial problem.  He was sterile.  Or at least he was functionally sterile.  He would make a few feeble attempts, but quit before achieving the proper insertion.

When I told me son about Tater, he said, “If he’s so good, couldn’t you collect his semen and use it to artificially inseminate.”

“I think that’s what has contributed to this problem.  Twenty-plus years of artificial insemination has led to the rise of problem breeders,” I said.

My memory may be fooling me, but it seems like boars used to do a better job with natural service.  Part of the problem may be I don’t keep enough boars around.  You would think I would be smarter than this with close to forty years of experience.  We always said it starts with the boars.  If you don’t get the sows bred, you are out of the livestock business.

Fortuitously I had kept a backup boar, just in case Tater didn’t work.  Chris is pictured below, half Yorkshire, half Landrace.  He sired all the winter/spring litters.

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And then we come to Taiphan, pictured below.  Mean, ugly, difficult to be around, and he gets the job done.  I forgot what a truly aggressive breeding boar is like.

When a boar is sexually aggressive, you have to worry that he gets enough to eat.  I remember boars from years ago that we had to remove from the breeding herd to let them gain some weight.

Taiphan was in the first litter born in 2013 in a snowstorm.  Most of his littermates froze, so we know he’s tough as well as aggressive.  His dam was a Duroc sow and his sire was DRU semen from SGI.  So he’s 3/4 Duroc and 1/4 French Muscolor.  He sired the early summer litters.

DSCF1663I have some new litters out of Duroc and Landrace semen.  They look ok so far.  I kept quite a few boars, hoping I can keep from running short in the future.

It’s not easy.  You have to have some redundancy in case something goes wrong.  And if everything happens to be perfect, pour yourself a glass of lemonade and enjoy the two or three minutes while they last.

 


Dewalt Level, Making a Permaculture Swale

August 12, 2014

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I continue to study permaculture, and swales are very popular within the permaculture community.  A swale is a ditch which holds water, instead of moving it from one place to another.  A swale is dug on the contour of the land, and its purpose is to slow the runoff of rain water, so it infiltrates into the surrounding soil instead.  The Permaculture Research Institute has an excellent post if you want to learn more.

Last year we had a couple of landscaping consultants come to the farm, and while they were here, I asked them to help me lay out the contour where I wanted to plant my permaculture windbreak.  They used a builder’s level.  I was glad they did, because my eye would have made a lot different contour than what the tool said.

This year I knew I wanted to plant my evergreen windbreak on the contour,and I also wanted to make a swale.  The consultants charged me enough last year that I knew I wanted to do it myself if at all possible.  I needed a level.

I looked at some of the plans to make an Aframe level.  It seemed doable, but slow to use.  I looked on Amazon and started researching levels.  I decided to purchase the Dewalt DW090PK level.

I could have spent more and purchased a laser level, which would mean I could do the job by myself.  But I thought it would be quality time to lay out contours with my sons.  I could have also purchased a transit level, which I guess would have allowed me to do vertical angles.  I didn’t have any experience with this stuff, so my understanding may be off.

So after much research, I got my level and started practicing with it.  It turned out to be a good purchase.  I really enjoy using it, and am amazed at how far off my eye is.

Below is my first swale.  After flagging out the contour with my level, I built it with my loader.  It’s about 100 feet long.  Five plum trees and six currant and jostaberry bushes are planted along the ridge. I mulched with hay to keep the sides from eroding.

It got dry after I made the swale and I wanted to see how much water it would hold, so I filled my Dad’s liquid manure spreader with water and put it in the swale.  It can safely hold over 1000 gallons of water.  We have also had rains of over two inches and it had no problems taking that amount of rainfall.

No matter how wet we have been, almost all the water has soaked in after 24 hours.  And all of it has soaked in after 48 hours.  I haven’t had to water the plantings, and we’ve gotten pretty dry in August, so it appears that the concept is working.

I’m not sure how practical swales are.  I like the concept, as I hate to think of rain water running off the land.  I think they work best for smaller-scale agriculture.  As I plant more trees, I think it would be wise to plant them on swale mounds as this will help with their watering needs.

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Kentucky Blue Pole Beans

August 5, 2014

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The jungle above is what happens when you plant pumpkins too close to pole beans.  I planted Kentucky Blue Pole Beans, my first try with pole beans as I never thought I wanted to mess with a fence.  But it turns out they weren’t much work, and grow well here.

I planted them in a row and after they were up and growing, I weeded and mulched with loose hay chaff from the barn.  Then I put a five-foot high fence right beside them.  They took to the fence rapidly and would have grown higher if my fence had been taller.

They were doing very well until the pumpkins, which were planted three and six feet away, made there way over to the fence and started climbing.  All the shade from the pumpkins may have hurt yield, but it doesn’t matter now as the sweet corn is ready.  We ate green beans every day, but now I realize they were just a place-holder on my plate until the sweet corn was ready.


Sweet Corn Planting Mistake

July 28, 2014

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I made a rookie-type mistake planting my sweet corn.  After planting my Dad’s field corn, I changed the population from 30,000 plants per acre down to 20,000 plants per acre, and I cleaned out each of the four seed hoppers in my John Deere 7200 planter.

I’ve owned this corn planter for over five years, and I’ve cleaned out the hoppers the same way every time, (dumping them upside down several times), but this time one of the hoppers had quite a bit of corn stuck down inside where I couldn’t see it.  Furthermore, when I started planting, that row was plugged and corn was not coming out.  Luckily, the monitor tells me when a row isn’t planting, so I wouldn’t have planted the whole field with a missing row.

I unplugged the row and finished planting the whole field, stopping once to add another variety of sweet corn.  I planted two varieties this year, both supersweet, but with different maturities.  I noticed there was more corn in the second hopper, but figured that must have been because it didn’t plant that one time across the field.

Fast-forward to a couple of months later.  I noticed that the rows of corn were developing differently, but figured that must have been the difference in variety.  Then we had a summer storm with strong winds.  Most of the corn was bent over from the strong wind, but some of the rows were not affected.  I still figured it was due to varietel difference.

Finally, when the corn started tasseling, with the taller rows not tasseling, a light bulb went on and I realized what had happened.  The tall rows were my Dad’s field corn.  The next thought I had was, “Oh no, my sweet corn is ruined.”  You see, supersweet corn needs to be isolated from other types of corn or the sugar in it turns to starch and it tastes terrible.  This happened once with our sweet corn when I was a kid, and it was inedible.

But then I realized that the sweet corn was tasseling, but the field corn was not.  So if the sweet corn could pollinate before the sweet corn tasseled, I would be fine.  I could have detasseled all the field corn to be safe, but you know me, my curiosity comes before my success.  So now we wait and see.

Next year I know exactly what I will do differently.  I’m going to upend each hopper, removing all the visible corn.  Then I will put the planter in the ground somewhere out of the way, and plant any remaining seeds until the monitor tells me each row is empty.

On a side note, you can see the pumpkin and squash is growing gangbusters.  In the foreground you can see a new purchase I made: Racoon Net from Premier fence.  The three-strand electric fence I always made in the past helped, but didn’t completely keep the raccoons out of the sweet corn.  I’m hoping this netting works better, and I’ll try to remember to let you know how it does.


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