Wednesday, December 29, 2010

American Milking Devons

After Honey died we were on the look-out for a new milking cow, but it was a hopeless kind of a search because nothing was for sale around here and it had taken us so long to find Honey in the first place. We had really wanted American Milking Devons (Honey had been bred to a Devon bull), so I looked around for any Devon cows for sale and found some listings. Most of the cows had already been sold, but one desperate-looking listing said "make an offer," and when I wrote to them they said they still had the cows for sale. They were located up in Wisconsin, which required us to find a shipper. They suggested Uship, which is a site which connects shippers and customers. The first offer we had on the shipping was too high, so I asked the people in Wisconsin if they could wait for us to find a better offer. They took a long time to reply and eventually said they wanted to get rid of the cows as soon as possible and that there were other people interested in them. So it seemed we might not get them after all. Then, later that same day, we got another offer that was very affordable and we went ahead and accepted the cows and mailed a check. It was a very tense several days while the people with the cows fumbled around with getting the cows checked at the vet and struggled to cash our cashier's check, for some reason we still don't entirely understand. At last the cows were on their way--thanks the the shipper Rolf--who really had to do most of the dealing with those people. And it still didn't quite seem real. Then at last they were there--on our farm, and we have the sort of cows we have wanted to get for so long. They are just beautiful--Geranium (who is bred for April) and her baby. They are the most beautiful color, and very stocky, with a very pleasing cow-shape. We are so happy!

The Muscovies

We've had the Muscovy ducks for over a year now, but I have yet to say anything about them.
One reason is that they are extremely hard to photograph, as they never hold still enough. Most of the pictures I took were deleted because they showed either brown and white duck-shaped blurs, or the least-favorable end of a duck.

We got them from the same place we get our feeder pigs each year. When we drove up the first time to get our first batch of pigs, ducks were clumped all over the lawn, and strings of little ducklings would pop out from behind shrubberies and corners of buildings and other surprising places. The owner of the place immediately tried to press us into buying some ducks. He had had a buyer from South Florida turn around and decide not to buy the birds once they were all raised up. He said he had already separated the males and females, but the males kept sneaking over to the females' side at night and great numbers of ducklings kept pouring out from every nook and cranny. We declined to buy any ducks at the time, but took note
of the cockroach-like ability they seemed to have to reproduce.

A year later, when we thought we were better set up for more poultry, we bought a mama duck and three babies. They grew up and laid beautiful creamy eggs all year. We recently added four more females to our flock (one of the ducklings had grown up to be a large drake).
They have not begun laying for us yet, but we anticipate a good number of duck eggs (and hopefully ducklings) in the Spring. They are extremely well-adapted ducks, being the same sort that puddle about in retention ponds. They have been kept completely free-ranging, with out being shut-up at all during the night. They are very beautif
ul ducks, and keep distinctly separate from the white Pekings we have not yet eaten yet. They like to huddle together and do their weird mechanical-
duck dance with each other.

We don't have a pond, but they have a trough of water to bathe and splash in. They actually prefer the cow's drinking water, unfortunately, and since their clipped wings have grown in they delight in flying over into other paddocks and causing trouble. A favorite pastime of theirs is to fly just over the dog, who remains barking helplessly on the ground, and then fly back and perch on a post and sit like a duck-shaped carving and listen gleefully to the tortured barking.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Losing a milk cow

I recently told a friend about losing our cow Honey, and she responded with, "Well, most farmers I know are very in touch with life and death and know when to let things go and when things are supposed to die. I suppose you learned a lesson from it."

This comment made me realize that before we had a family cow I would not have understood the incredible impact of such an event and what it would mean for a family to loose their milk cow. Cows are such a distant and abstract animal for most modern urban people, who will always express sorrow if someone looses their cat or dog (who don't even support the family with food--in fact require feeding and vet bills). To say that we lost a cow, to them, must be like loosing a piece of machinery.

To us, loosing Honey was a staggering set-back, because we are so small and just beginning our herd. To us she was family, food, fertility and the hopes of our own herd one day. I begin to contemplate the value of the cow--which was the original stock of the stock market--and I believe the old words for cow express this so well--"Chattle"--meaning wealth--and even before that "Kind" from which the words "Kindred" and "Kindness" come from.

Not only was she our source for richness--milk, cream, butter, and cheese for our children to grow on, but also she produced food for the pigs, the chickens and the turkeys, and her manure fed the garden and we were hoping for a calf next year. And suddenly it was gone, and everyone is deprived. The farm seems a much poorer place without our cow, and our herd is much diminished.

Thankfully, we have goats milk still, and we could obtain milk for ourselves from other places--although at great cost or diminished quality, but I can still sense the tragedy of what it means to lose your cow--a long time ago or in other places it might mean not surviving the winter, or being very hungry at least. I think the most valuable lesson we have learned from this is what an incredible gift of richness the cow is.

A great Change

As a piece of sad news which afflicted us a few weeks ago in November, our milking cow Honey was injured when we were transporting her back from the farm where she was being bred to an American Milking Devon bull. She was down for several days, and I could tell that her leg was swollen. I used a tuning fork and pressed it against her bones to check for fractures, and as far as I could tell it was a soft-tissue injury. I used comfrey and Arnica both topically and homeopathic ally, as well as massage and applications of ice. After about a week of nursing her as she lay unable to stand up, she showed great improvement and was beginning to try to move around again and was making efforts to stand up. Then one day we came out to check on her and do the chores, and she had died. We think perhaps she had a blood clot, as she was showing improvement and died very suddenly.

Then a few days later our little goat Chocolate died. This was a surprise because she hadn't been particularly ill--but it was also not quite so surprising because she was the kid that Ellie would not nurse, and she was weak at birth and could not stand up. As she was growing she was never as healthy as her twin.
The other kid would play and jump and was sleek and fat, but poor little Chocolate was always sickly and bloated and would stand around looking listless. I gave her cod liver oil and kelp and citrus and special treats from the garden, but she continued to look miserable. I often would massage her rumen, which was always bloated and wormed her regularly.
Then, three days after Honey died, we came out to do the chores and little Chocolate was no where to be seen. We found her stretched out on the hay, as if she had been laying down to sleep and didn't wake up.
In my favorite goat book by Pat Colby, Natural Goat Care, she says, "Unthrifty kids should not be raised. Any kid that does not stand up unaided after about twenty minutes is suspect--unless there is a reason for its debility....A kid that is weak for no very good reason should be allowed to die quietly or be dispatched, nature will have her reasons."

We are sad, but we know this was how it was supposed to be.