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July 11, 2010

So, we were REALLY worried that our pigs weren’t pregnant.

We got the boar (Prince Big B****, as Paige calls him) waaaay back in the winter/early spring (dunno when; I can’t follow what the heck goes on round here anymore) – and he went straight in with the ladies: Big Momma (a.k.a. Oprah) and her six daughters from last year.  The Prince went straight to work, gettin’ it on. Good, good; he knows what to do, we thought.  Gestation in a sow is 112-114 days, so we marked it off on the calendar; babies expected late May, early June. (um, which means he arrived in February-March, I guess!)

May comes. No fat pigs. May goes.

Beginning of June comes.  No piglets. End of June goes.

Scott and I got rather worried at this point. We had SEEN the Prince, on NUMEROUS occasions, doing what boy animals do best.  Come to think of it – he was still doing it.  Oh, crap.  Are the vessels of the Prince empty???

Which, frankly, would suck.  We’d spent all winter feeding seven fat pigs, to get a boar in the spring and feed him, too.  We weren’t even milking at that point (which was the whole purpose of getting pigs: to transform waste milk and whey into pork).  So, that was a lot of grain, and a lot of Scott driving to his brother’s house for waste milk. Not to mention all the cleaning of the barn, keeping them warm and happy in winter, and all else that goes with animals.  Of course, we paid for a boar; was that turning out to be pointless? Obviously Big Momma isn’t infertile – she had 12 wee piggies the very first try. (6 of each, and one for each nipple! Score!!)

In all – if those pigs don’t breed, we’d be down about four grand. BAAGGHH.  

July comes….and one or two piggies start to look fat; teats start puffing up, getting little piggy boobs. Sweet! Does this mean….?  We held our breath.

A few days after that, you could start to see babies squiggling about in the piggy belly area.  Definitely piglets.

Then – joy of joy. First week in July: first piggy litter. One of Momma’s girls (a tan lassie) pops out nine pink Wilburs.

Funny, that – first time round, Momma was black and Dad was pink with black spots; Momma had tan, black, and pink with black spots babies. Her daughter, who is tan, gets awash with the Prince’s genes – the Prince being a pink piggy.  Well, we did say Ol’ Ways was a Monastery.  Now, where did I put my copy of the works of Gregor Mendel….?


Daisy, Daisy. Give me your answer, do.

July 10, 2010

Daisy was born on the 28th of June. (Could’ve been the 29th; my Nan’s birthday).

But it’s taken me a while to blog her up, because frankly, we didn’t know if she was going to make it.

Blackberry, her mom, had started to play up the day before.  Scott had come in to the house in the morning asking us to go out and help find her, because she’d wandered out in the woods.

Last year, that’s exactly what Holly did – wandered out into the woods and came back skinny! It took us three days to find her calf – a little bull we ended up calling ‘Forrest’.

Luckily, this time it was a false alarm; Blackberry wandered back into the pasture almost as soon as we had started looking, and she was still fat. Phew.

She was blatantly ready, though; producing some lovely stringy, clear discharge. (You really wanted to know that, right?)

So, Blackberry came in, spent the day in the barn, got fed, and went back out again for the evening. 

Next morning as I’m getting ready for work, I look outside to see Scott calling the cattle.  There’s a big black lump in the field that looks rather like Blackberry, laying down. Oh, there you go – she’s ready. I carried on getting dressed, and carried on checking – Scott kept calling, Blackberry stayed put.

Then it started to rain.

Scott had been calling for 15 mins. It was 6.30.  Damn, I though; took off my work clothes and hurried into jeans, t-shirt and rain gear.

By the time I got to the barn, Blackberry was ambling in. 

“No calf yet?”

“You’ve got about ten minutes to get those wwoofers down here,” Scott decided. I hoofed it up to the house (by now it’s a downpour) to rouse Paige and Elizabeth. (Yep, the rest of you had left by that point. Darn cows always do that!)

So, anyway, even though Elizabeth took her time about it, we all got down to the barn with plenty of time. Well, plenty of time meaning five minutes.

Blackberry had a couple of heaves, and out popped a hoof. 

“Already problems,” Scott muttered. It was kind of clear that Blackberry was struggling a little, so Scott got down in there (yes, ‘right in there’!) to straighten out the legs (guess you should have stayed a couple of extra days, Frank!) and pretty much as soon as everything was aligned, the nose popped out.  Looked pretty funny, this little black nose and a mouth with the tongue hanging out to the side.  Scott grabbed the two front hooves, and pulled – and out it slid; long, gooey calf, all purple and brown coated, and a big bag of wobbly jello waterballoon afterbirth.

Straight off, it was cause for celebration – a heifer!

Scott hauled her round to Blackberry’s front end, and she started to clean her off – with some help from Peanut.  It’s extremely cute – and for me, the first time I saw it, unexpected – to see a huge cow washing her baby just like a cat does with her kitten. Peanut and Blackberry were both making these little soft, short moos that I have come to recognize as reassuring cow baby talk.

Muh. Muh. Muuh. Meh. Muh.

They don’t even sound like a real cow noise; they sound like those toys, the little cylindrical things you turn upside down and it makes a cow sound.  The sound seems to come from high up in the throat, and has a different quality; a usual ‘moo’ comes from down in the chest and sounds more like “mooooooAAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!” – yep, that would scare a calf half to death.

Well, we expected the little heifer to just behave as usual; stand up and start drinking from momma within the hour. No such luck.

Her front feet were all bent forward; folded back at the ankle. Bend your hand down, back towards you arm, so your palm is close to the underside of your wrist. Imagine being on all fours and trying to put your weight on your wrists, because you can’t unfold your hands. That’s how she was.

And stupid? All Jersey cows are stupid, but this one took the cake. Of course, Blackberry’s last calf, Ferdinand, was stubborn as well as a dumbass (ok, dumb bull, not ass), so it was kind of expected to be in the genetics. Scott would lift her up to reach the teat and she would just flail around, or ignore it completely.

It didn’t help that she was also blind in one eye. We’re not sure if she scratched it on the way out, but her eye was all milky, and she certainly appeared to not be able to see anything on that side. There were days we were convinced she couldn’t see at all; but that could just be the Jersey/Blackberry stupidity.

Well, fast forward a week and a half. You’ll be glad to know that Scott put splints on her front feet, for a couple of hours each day, and they straightened out. Her eye isn’t milky any more, and I’m pretty sure she can see me coming (either that or she can hear me). She didn’t like to be touched, either; but now, when you go up to her she shoves you, looking for eats – and if you’re not careful how you stand, she’ll butt your crotch looking for an udder. (Ow!) She’s been bottle fed since birth, since she couldn’t stand (and even THAT was an effort, between holding her up with one hand while pinning her down so she wouldn’t attempt to stand up only to fall on her face, all the while she couldn’t see the bottle and would thrash blindly searching for it…)

She walks around fine on her own, and hasn’t fallen headfirst into the pen (and hence got her head stuck beneath the pen/gate) for at least five days.  She’s perked up a lot, too; eats a ton and wants more; and has started looking at me when I sit down near her.

We’re still convinced the majority of her problems stem from the fact that she’s a lazy, stupid Jersey with a dumb, stubborn Jersey mother. Hence, now we’re pretty sure she’ll make it, she finally gets a name.

What’s more appropriate for a one-eyed, lazy, future milk cow than Lazy Daisy?

Do bees even have knees?

May 31, 2010

The ladies have arrived!


May 6, 2010

Yes, yes, we’ve had a Peanut for a week or so now. And it’s SOOO NICE to have fresh milk again!

Peanut, by the way, is a Jersey cow that we swapped for Ferdinand, the crazy Jersey breeding bull.  Ferdy went to Scott’s brother and Peanut came to us.  Good deal, if you ask me….

Blackberry, by the way, is pregnant and due in early summer; Holly and Pretty Cow are no more.

This concludes the Ol’ Ways Farm Bovine Update.


Peanut and Blackberry

Circumstances conspire….

May 4, 2010

I had every intention of working on a blog last night, but it seems that circumstances were conspiring against me.  We had some pretty crazy insane weather here lately – a front coming through bringing plenty of warm, sticky weather, and with it, stupidly strong winds.  No thunderstorms yet, though.  Those winds brought down just about every dead tree in the county, and by the looks of it, a fair few that weren’t dead, too.  Luckily the only damage we got at home was a big branch knocked out of the first big maple in the front yard, and a few untended animal food buckets dashing and clashing down the driveway.  One pretty sizeable tree came down in the center of Solon, however, and knocked out power to much of the town – of course, including us.  (Our power goes out pretty regularly – a price you pay for the privacy of living a mile down a tree-lined dirt track with only one other house!)

We don’t usually mind losing power.  We have mostly rather ambient lighting in the house anyway, and the lack of DVD player is no great bane, so getting out the candles and cracking on with that book I was only partway through is a nice relief.  The kitchen stove is propane, so we can still use the hob, if not the oven (the oven needs electricity to run the thermostat); we can run the wood cookstove, too.  However, despite the fact that we heat all our water on the hob and cookstove anyway, no power means NO WATER because we need power to run the well pump.  So we tend to leave a couple of big water containers full, and often we leave the dirty bathwater in the bath – for flushing the toilet, of course!!!  Ok, we don’t lose power THAT often, but it is common for an idiot cow (or sometimes even one of us if not paying attention) to leave a faucet running or hit the well faucet just-so (or even one too many loads of laundry…) to enable the well to completely empty.  It takes a few hours to refill, so not a disaster – just a temporary setback!  Such are the things we have to think about.

In terms of getting things done – or not, as the case may be – it’s actually a good thing that we hadn’t managed to get the plastic on the greenhouse yet, as it would have been completely blown to tatters by now.  Either that, or a pig or runaway bovine would have rampaged through the middle of it.  The cold frame is bearing up, although the cats do keep creeping in there to sleep (hopefully NOT on the plants), and it does occasionally get a bit parched when Scott neglects the water for half a day.

That’s the trouble with a farm like ours – there’s so much to do.  If we were to concentrate on just one thing – say, we were a dairy farm, and nothing else – it would be far easier to get things done, simply because it’s easier to remember what to do on a daily basis.  Of course, that’s our own fault for wanting to be as self-sustaining and diversified as possible.  But of course, that’s the pleasure of it.  A lot of hard work and effort, but when we’re eating our own frozen peas and corn, our own dill pickles, our own pork, beef, and chicken, eggs, milk, butter, cheese…etc etc etc…not to mention all the non-edible things we make for ourselves…well, we do this for the complexity of the lifestyle, I guess; to feel like we can do as many things for ourselves as possible.  It[‘s very satisfying.  Who needs lots of money and lots of time when we can produce all we need – including all the enjoyment that we need?

Scott’s babies

April 30, 2010

A lot has happened in the past few days, so expect a blog on that any time now (it’s in progress).  Until then, I thought I would share with you Scott’s newest cuties.  Grandma Goose (grey) and Mama Goose, her daughter (white) both laid plenty of eggs, and both have hatched a few.  The goslings are currently running around the yard with their pa, uncles and grandpa (and enough fuss they make too!).  In all the excitement, some babies were getting trampled, and others were being left behind in the nest, while the rest of the clan went swimming for the day.  After spending a good few hours running back and forth, carring the new hatchlings from one place to another to be with mama, Scott decided they’d be better off with him.  Doesn’t he make a cute pop?!

Scents and sensibility

April 23, 2010

It seems like Scott has been in one of his ‘moods’ recently. We refer to it as ‘his time of the month’. Ok, so it’s not as bad as mine; but it’s there.  Added to the fact that he likes to rant about stuff, even when he’s not down or wound up, and I get to hear a lot of stuff about how the world works and how he thinks things could be different.

So, I asked him to write it down.  He’s not convinced […are you convinced?] that it amounts to much, but, I told him, that’s what a blog is about.  That’s what any writing is about.  Ok, so he claims he’s not a writer.  In that case, I said, I’ll transcribe for you.

I remembered where I’d left a notebook, up on a shelf (“The shelf that the cats knocked everything off of this morning, you mean?” – well, I guess if TicTac, resident mountaineer, was indoors, then the answer might be yes…), and recommended he get it down and have a scribble.  This is what was sitting by the side of the bed when I got home.


“I was thinking about something Jenny said – ‘I don’t give her the answers’.  I like to bitch a lot, and say how everything is fucked up, but that doesn’t help, I guess.  You see, in my head, I see and hear the answers, at least, the answers for me.  But they don’t come out like that; only as me bitching.

So, with what I write, I will try and say why I do something, or live a certain way – and try to stay away from complaining about the big world around us.  The biggest problem with my complaint about the world is that we are all somehow connected.  If the guy down the road does something that isn’t ‘right’, perhaps that will affect me; or someone else. 

So, why do I live this way?   I farm because I love the smells.  Freshly cut hay in June; the smell of soil as you’re plowing.  Even the smell of pig manure.  That one brings me back to seventh grade, when me and my family moved to Pennsylvania.  My Dad wanted to be around more farmers.  The farms in Maine seemed to be going away, and it’s nice to be around your people, I guess. 

I became – well, me and my family became friends with an Amish family.   We spent a lot of time there; they milked about 20 cows, and they had pigs.  The smell of their farm was, as I think with most farms, uniquely their own.  I never at the time knew it to be corn, and gas lights, and pig, and horse.  But, it had a bit more pig – kind of got into the clothes, and the farmyard, and on boots.   It’s not a bad smell. Earthy; kind of sweet. 


So, now that I have pigs of my own, that smell comes back to me, and all the memories of that summer playing in the woods and fields with Raymond.  I think there is something about smell that makes you happy.  I could be wrong, but I would go out on a limb here, and say that I bet the first man would have needed smell as much as, or even more than, he needed to see.

So, for me, the smells of my childhood days on the farm have always been with me.  A farm is the best place to grow up, and whenever I smell the sweat of a working horse or the fine sawdust of a cedar, it makes me happy.  And in the end, isn’t happiness what we all want?”