January 1, New Year’s Day: It is steadily colder. It was about 10F yesterday, 8F today and did not rise out of the teens. There is also a cold wind today. All the animals and poultry are comfortable except perhaps the geese. The cows make a special tour over to the goose pen every day, tiptoeing through the bent over fence. They come to lick out the geese’s feed pan in case they left any. However, the sheep, which are not so dumb after all, have noticed at which point in my schedule I feed the geese and they race from wherever they are and sail over the fence to get the feed before the geese have a chance at it. Today I fed the geese only when I knew the sheep were busy inside eating hay but this is going to be a nuisance. Helen makes a clear distinction between the old hay and the new, which is of superior quality. Tonight I threw down some old hay first and she just stood waiting. I then threw down some of the new hay and she started eating right away. But she noticed that one flake had missed the manger and was on the ground over near where the sheep were standing. A couple of sheep immediately started eating it and she shook her had at them. A couple of minutes later I went down to the beefer pen to pick up the hay that fell on the floor. Helen had pulled it over between her front legs to protect it. Her production was slightly up yesterday and I got eleven eggs. Today she gave close to 1.5 gals but there were only five eggs.
January 2, Wednesday: Off I went today to Farmington with four dozen eggs to take to a little gourmet shop. To my dismay I found her closed for the holidays. I did the rest of my errands and came home and dropped off the eggs at the local food pantry. Somehow when shopping I forgot cat food. I am almost completely out and had to put the pussums on half rations until tomorrow. They are giving me awful looks. As soon as I got home my hay man showed up unexpectedly with another fifty bales of hay. He was throwing them up to the loft and his noble wife was catching them. I did know he was coming some day soon. He said he wanted to get the hay to me before the storm predicted for Sunday. Also, he wanted to be sure I got it since he is under pressure from lots of people he tells me. He sells old fashioned bales which are becoming hard to get. It is all giant bales now. I can’t imagine how I will manage if I have to start using those. Helen gave about the same as last night. I got eight eggs.
January 4, Friday: Yesterday was devoted to going to the airport for daughter Sally who has come for three months and grandson Rafe who is returning to school in Bar Harbor. They had a 24 hour trip beginning with a flight from Juneau, five changes, and many hours late arriving in Portland, Maine. None of the flights served anything but peanuts. I was at the airport for five hours and had left my car lights on. So, I had to call AAA to start the car. It is a two hour drive back to the farm and we finally got in at 8:30. Fortunately I had left a pot roast simmering in the Aga so we had a hot meal waiting. I did not milk Helen, you may be sure. All the animals got along fine except the dogs had to be outside. Bagel had to be chained. But he and Muffin were very good sports about it and Bagel was not tangled; that was my chief worry. I had left them each with a big meaty bone. The travelers’ luggage was delivered today by courier. Today Sally enjoyed getting re-acquainted with all the animals and this evening she milked Helen. Helen’s production does not seem impaired by the skipped milking. I’m sure she remembered Sally. She made her pleasant “mmmmm” sound. It was down to 10F this morning but most o f the day was brilliantly sunny. Helen gave slightly over 1.5 gals (partly leftover from last night). Only five eggs.
January 5, Saturday: Last night as I was about to hop in bed grandson Rafe called up the stairs to tell me Helen was on the lawn sniffing his car. He must have good ears. He heard her bell right through a car chase in a James Bond movie. I raced out with him in my bathrobe and boots. Helen had pushed out through the goose pen door. It had to have been me who did not properly rope it shut as I was last in there with the water for the geese. I spoke quietly to Helen but she was very disoriented and would not go back through the gate until I took off my glove and let her smell my hand. Today daughter Sally put a bell on Leah. I would have done it a long time ago but was unable to get her collar off because the leather was so hard and stiff. Sally managed to get it off last night. We soaked it all night in goose grease on the Aga warming plate, so it is more flexible now. Also, we made some larger holes with the leather punch. Leah was sweet and cooperative with the handling and seems to like her bell. Sally likes to milk and milked both times today. I think we got 1.25 gals today and seven eggs. Temp was 10F this morning.
January 7, Monday: This morning we were greeted with about 6″ of new snow. It was especially beautiful. There was no wind and everything had a fine white outline of snow, which lasted all day. Last night and this morning Helen and Leah led us a merry chase before coming in for milking. I was not sure if they were confused by Sally being there, or, they just thought it was time for some excitement. But this evening I outsmarted them by going out first and closing gates so they had only a small area behind the barn in which to cavort. Sally has milked since her arrival, but tonight I milked. Helen was slow and reluctant to let down but I got the usual two quarts making five quarts (1.25 gals) for the day. Only five eggs today. In the afternoon Sally and I and the dogs walked through the snow to the bottom of Pocket Field and then through the woods to where the brook and river meet. We saw little tracks and trails on the snow from very small animals, some kind of mouse I think. I cleared a six-inch high mound of snow from the bird feeder so the birds could get at their suet and sunflower seeds. We saw the brown thrasher, the cardinal and the usual chickadees and bluejays. A flock of about 15 birds perched most of the day in the top of the apple tree and we were unable to identify them. They had long pointy beaks, not like the cardinal, round bodies, fairly long tails, mostly brown and streaky on top. Some had buff breasts, some had a rosy cast to the breast. They were about the size of a dove but plumper. They did not come to the feeder.
January 8, Tuesday: Sally and I are trying to devise a barrier on the door of the lean-to where I feed the sheep. We want the sheep to be able to go in but not the cows. Sally built something today that keeps out cows but it also keeps out me. I have to be able to get in there to distribute the sheep’s feed into their pans. We are going to try some more ideas tomorrow. This evening at milking time Helen and Leah, still being naughty, were way out in the snow covered field. Helen was standing atop a large manure pile and I could not even see Leah. I had brought along apples as a lure and she followed me along back to the barn. Leah came thundering up out of the darkness at the last minute. Helen’s production was up a bit today to nearly 1.5 gals. I got six eggs.
January 9, Wednesday: The cows were still being silly today about coming in but with the barnyard gates closed their options were limited. I soon had them in. Helen’s production is in an upward trend which has to be due to the new hay. She gave close to 1.5 gals. I got 11 eggs. I am experimenting with giving the hens a heat lamp for some hours of the day. Their room seemed a bit damp. They obviously like the extra light and warmth and were busy eating and moving around each time I looked at them. The sheep go right into the lean-to room and can eat hay in there undisturbed. Sally set up some wood blocks for me to step on so I too can get in. We were gone all day on errands but all the animals were fine.
January 10, Thursday: Sally and I and the dogs took a walk through deep, damp snow to the river so that I could show her where the witch hazel grows. We found lots of it, more than I realized I had. I was also shocked anew at how rapacious the cows and possibly sheep have been in eating off the foliage of the small conifers along the river. The river is already scouring badly due to clear cutting upstream and it is important not to lose riparian trees and bushes. Many have already fallen into the river in the last 25 years due to undercutting of the bank. When possible we must move the fence farther onto the field to protect the trees. I do have a protected band of trees but it is not enough. Helen and Leah were well behaved today. Helen gave about the same as yesterday, a little less than 1.5 gals. I got seven eggs. It was very warm today, about 40F.
January 11, Friday: Today I made bread, brownies and walnut lemon cake. Yesterday we were visited by a couple of nice local ladies and had nothing to offer but stale Christmas cookies. I do not like this to happen! Sally is in the kitchen right now making almond shortbread. The bread I made today is a white andwhole wheat mixture and I used the home made yeast derived from raw milk which I started about six weeks ago. It did not require any other yeast. I found the rule in a very old cookbook. All you need to do is set fresh raw milk with flour for a couple of days in a warm place. For later feeding after the strain is going it is not necessary to use strictly fresh milk. Any raw milk will do. Sally, who has goats in Alaska made it with raw goat’s milk. I add equal parts milk and flour so that I always know what my liquid/flour ratio is when baking. Helen and all the animals were happy today even though we were very late due to a visitor. It was so warm today I left the chicken door open all day. We got 1.5 gals and 10 eggs.
January 12, Saturday: Son Mark visited. He chopped and stacked a lot more wood. He also built a shelter for the geese out of boards and tarpaper. They are so foolish that they may not even go into it. At least nothing will eat it, unlike the one I made from hay bales. The cows devoured the whole thing. I could not even find the strings. Helen gave 1.75 gals today. I got seven eggs.
January 13, Sunday: Another big snowstorm hit today. Daughter Sally and I raced off early despite it being Sunday and bought some supplies. “Fate cannot harm me … I have cat food”. And a few other things that we needed in case the storm continues too. The roads were not too bad. It snowed until about dark but a very strong wind came up so it is impossible to estimate how much fell. The animals are perfectly comfortable in the beefer pen. They lay around eating hay and chewing their cuds. Every day I pitch out the manure so it stays pleasant in there. Helen gave 1.5 gals. There were eight eggs.
January 14, Monday: Following yesterday’s snowstorm we had a lot of wind that rattled the windows all night and slapped them with branches. Bagel dog sleeps in my room and seldom stirs but last night he was up and down all night. Many in Maine are without power. Temperature this morning was 18F. The sun shone most of the day and the wind lessened. It is definitely winter. Sally and I took a half-hour walk around the fields with the dogs. We found the pretty little pods of the lime trees (ash) on the snow by the river. They had lingered on the trees until last night’s wind. Most animal tracks were obliterated. Sally now feeds the sheep and has succeeded in petting all but Wombat, the shyest one. These are Jacob ewes and each has a different horn formation. Wombat is very pretty. Jacob’s have four horns. Her central horns point straight up like a pronghorn antelope. The other pair curve out gracefully to each side. There was another dead chicken this morning in the hen house. Like the last one that died, this was one of the old birds given me before Christmas. Yesterday she did not appear to have anything wrong with her. But there she was dead as a doorknob. Or do I mean doornail? The geese hate the chicken feed I am now using. I tried them on cracked corn and they are eating this.
January 15, Tuesday: More snow today, quite steady but not much accumulation. The day was dark and felt colder than 25F. I took the geese a bale of hay to make their shelter more comfortable. To my chagrin, they immediately began greedily eating it. I had not suspected they wanted hay even though I know perfectly well that grass is important to them. I don’t know much about geese. I think their feet are cold too, with only snow to walk on. But now they can at least sit on hay when they want to. I take hot water to them twice a day to warm up their bucket of water. First I break the ice on it with a hatchet. They drink a lot of water. Sally and the dogs walked without me today and were gone almost an hour. I was getting concerned because Bagel runs around on the river ice and there are patches of open water. I probably do not need to worry because the river is drought-shallow this year. Sally was spending a lot of time trying to find more of the lime tree seedpods (ash) under the new snow. Had I known she was interested I could have picked up bushels in the fall. She is going to scatter them in the hedgerows for future ash groves. There was entertainment at the bird feeder. The brown thrasher did not wish to share with the downy woodpecker and he was slightly intimidated. The feeder is merely a wooden box with low sides nailed to the top of a wooden post. The downy went round and round with just his red topped head showing over the rim. Periodically he would get exasperated and move down and hammer on the post for a while. Whenever the thrasher turned his back the downy jumped in for some bites.
January 16, Wednesday: Lots of sun and blue sky. Helen gave about 1.75 gals and there were 14 eggs. I am slow tonight because of spending a long time at the dentist.
January 17, Thursday: It snowed gently most of the day. The snow on the fields is about a foot deep now and fluffy. Sally and I broke a trail down to a swampy area at the edge of the north field. I hoped to find some pussy willows we could force. Alder seems to have taken over. We did cut some nice branches that look like cherry. I have had the sheep and cows restricted to the barnyard for over a week. There is nothing but snow out there anyway. Today I opened one gate just so it would not get blocked shut by snow and ice. All of them went right through and hopped around in the snowy field just for fun I guess. Obviously they did not like being shut in and want some options available. Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals today. I got 11 eggs.
January 18, Friday: The moon was beautiful last night. Sally and I both heard an owl. Owls have become so rare that I could not recognize what kind I was hearing. I have not heard one for years. When I was a child we heard many owls including screech owls. Those seem to be completely gone. The owl last night was some quite large kind with a long deep hoooo. Today it snowed some more but Sally walked the dogs all the way to the brook. We are hoping her son Rafe comes down from school this weekend. The ramps the cows must use every day are disintegrating in new places and he is good at repairs. He can use some of son Martin’s imperishable decking material. He keeps me supplied with seconds. Helen was stubborn about letting down tonight. She gave only a little over 1.5 gals for the day and I got nine eggs.
January 19, Saturday: Two of the three roosters which have long lived in with the layers have started fighting. One, a Spangled Hamburg with a fine rose comb, has showed up all bloody the last few days. Another, a big red bantam crossed with an Auracana is the same weight and equally bloody. Tonight I grabbed them both by the legs as they stood on the perch and chucked them into the main part of the barn to see how they like it. There are seven bantam roosters in the rafters and they set up a great ruckus when they saw the new guys. This move will probably make good buddies out of Spangle and Reddy. While daughter Sally milks the cow I throw down the hay. The sheep then get first crack at it. As soon as Helen comes back out she makes it her business to make a 360 turn around the hay feeder to sweep away the sheep. She appears to be frowning. Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals today. The hens laid 11 eggs.
January 20, Sunday: Grandson Rafe came down from college last night with a friend named Tony. Tony has a hobby of making twig furniture. The boys hiked around in the snow and found some apple branches suitable for Tony’s projects. The furniture is quite interesting looking. The boys also spent some hours improving one of the ramps in the barn. I believe it will now be safer and easier for the cows to negotiate. This morning when I went to the barn I could not see Spangle or Reddy anywhere. But I guess Spangle could see me. When I opened the door in to the layer’s room there he was slithering past me to get back home. Later Sally found Reddy up on a ledge pressed against the chicken wire barrier that provides air circulation for the hens. From there he can look in at his old friends. I have not decided whether to let him back in or not. The “free” birds do not lack for amenities. I found two new bantam nests today. They only just started laying now that the days are a bit longer.
January 21, Monday Martin Luther King Day: It snowed again most of the day. Sally and I went walking across the North Field to see if the Winterberry was still growing where it used to. It was all gone. I suppose the cows or sheep ate it. We did not walk far because my low boots kept filling up with snow. Reddy Rooster wormed his way between the outside of the chicken room wall and some hay bales. I had to move the hay to get him out. I put out little dishes of food and water for him since he is not accustomed to working for a living like the other bantam roosters. I got nine eggs today but there was broken egg on some so clearly more were laid. Sally is a hand spinner, knitter and weaver. Since arriving less than three weeks ago she has made a very classy long knit scarf in a zig zag pattern using yarn spun from rovings she brought along from Alaska. She has also spun the yarn to warp on her loom for a South American type shawl which uses wool from our Jacob sheep. The wool is black and white resulting in a complex plaid. I think she now had about four feet of this done. Needless to say she doesn’t watch much TV, but when she does she is carding wool. Helen gave her usual 1.5 gals. She is a bit fat. She calves at the end of June so I will dry her off some time in April. It is important that a cow not be too fat at calving. It predisposes to ketosis due to the fact that a fat cow has less impulse to eat, so is at risk of low blood sugar, which can push her into ketosis.
January 22, Tuesday: The animals all had to spend the day unsupervised. Sally and I went shopping with our cousin Marcia. We visited Nezinscott Farm Store that is associated with a fine, comprehensive, all organic, family farm in Turner, Maine. They have a dairy plus sheep, poultry, beef and pigs. They are a fine healthy looking family as you might expect. There are five children, the baby is only five days old and Mom was already on the job packing butter for her mail order customers. Sally bought some more rovings. I found two new bantam nests today for a total of 15 eggs. Helen gave 1.5 gals.
January 23, Wednesday: It was so warm today that Sally worked on a sewing project for about an hour in the sun trap in the snow outside the kitchen. Reddy Rooster has made friends with the other roosters now and we don’t see any fighting. He and his old enemy, Spangle, no longer look bloody. Another sign of distant spring: the tom-cats are fighting and yowling. Muffin and Bagel, my big dogs, get so excited when they hear the cats. They dance around pleading to go out so they can put them up a tree. Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals today. She is wonderfully friendly and mannerly these days and so is Leah. I got 11 eggs.
January 24, Thursday: Sally and I had to be gone again this morning, the very day three ladies were coming about one o’clock for tea and apricot tart. We got home from the appointment with just time for me to do the noon barn chores before their arrival. Helen, Leah and all the sheep were placidly chewing their cuds while I collected eggs. It was not until about 2 o’clock that it struck me that I had forgotten to throw down their hay. I excused myself and ran out to the barn. When I opened their door, Helen, Leah and all the sheep were lined up staring at me accusingly. “Did you forget something?” I think they were saying. It rained all day.. Temp about 38F. Now after dark it had turned to snow. I got 11 eggs.
Sally made the tart and it was excellent. She made a shortbread crust. She simmered dried apricots in apple cider until they were tender, then added a little more cider mixed with sugar and cornstarch, filled the pre baked crust and baked it about 25 minutes. I made the whipped cream.
January 25, Friday: Last night’s weather (rain and snow) put a crispy coating of ice on the sheep like a wool Esquimo Pie. Under the ice their wool was warm and toasty. I guess they just like standing out in the weather. They certainly do not have to. The whole world was a sheet of ice. I put lots of melt salt on the outside ramp where the cows exit the barn. The sky cleared today and the sun shone brilliantly all day. My kind neighbor showed up with lots of sand and made us a path to the barn and to the mailbox. I gave him some eggs. Sally and I walked the dogs along the river. The deer are using the trail we have broken. There were many tracks. I let the cows drink their water down almost completely so that I could empty and clean the stock tank which I now have indoors. Besides the cows, the free-living bantams and the cats also rely on it as a water source. Helen gave 1.5 gals and I got 10 eggs.
January 26, Saturday: We had a brief alarm here this morning when we went to the barn and found all the lights on. We thought maybe the hay thief was back. Last year I lost quite a lot of hay before I figured out what was happening to me and locked the barn. But nothing was missing today so I guess it was my fault for being careless last night and leaving lights on. My daughter Sally who lives in Alaska is here for three months. She left a house sitter there who is supposed to be milking her goat. After Sally got here, the sitter called in despair saying that every time she tried to milk the goat it lay down in the stanchion. Today Sally got a letter saying not to worry, she has solved the problem. “I put up a rope and sling her up from the ceiling while I milk.” Oh, great. Helen gave 1.5 gals today and I got a dozen eggs.
January 27, Sunday: Sally and I and the dogs walked in to camp today and from the paved road, about a half a mile. There was a crust on the snow but not hard enough to support my weight, so it was crunch-plunge the whole way. But thanks to a day of unseasonable rain on Thursday the snow is not deep. We walked down to the water’s edge and were shocked to see a large and nasty scar of clear cutting on the mountain directly across from camp. It makes you wonder who to sue. The dogs stayed with us until the last turn on the way back to the car and then Bagel shot out of sight. It took a half hour of whistling and wheedling (while thinking malevolent thoughts) until he showed up. We stopped at the store for Ben & Jerry’s to restore our tempers. They did not have vanilla, Sally’s favorite and mine too, but did have Heath Bar Crunch which was excellent. While walking by the river earlier today, Sally found the shell of a hazelnut. I did not even know I had them growing on the farm. We looked them up and I was surprised to learn that they are usually a shrub. I knew they grew around here but thought hazelnut was a big tree. Now that I know what to look for I find that it is a common shrub on this farm. Next fall I will do my best to find some nuts. It was so warm, over 35F much of the day, that I left the chicken door open.. The geese raced around in their pen flapping their wings. I notice that when it is cold they keep their wings folded. Cousin Marcia remarked that the crows are making their spring call. I am fearful that buds will swell, then severe cold will hit. Helen gave 1.5 gals. Only eight eggs and two of those were from the bantams.
January 28, Monday: The thaw continues. There are areas of mud in the goose paddock and I was surprised to see how actively they are rooting around in it with their beaks. I don’t know if they eat it or are looking for worms. There is a lot I do not know about geese, but they are very interesting birds. Helen gave about 1.75 gals today and I got 13 eggs.
January 29, Tuesday: My vet stopped in today and gave the dogs their rabies shots, then I went to the Town Office and renewed their licenses. There have been several new cases of rabies in Maine this winter. Sally was pleased yesterday to find that she has many full grown linden trees bordering her field called Oxbow Field. It was formerly part of Coburn Farm (my farm) and is separated by the Webb River. At the time of her discovery there was an awesome winter sunset causing her to declare it to be the most beautiful place in the world. This is an accolade, seeing as her Alaskan home is set in calendar-perfect scenery. I learned today from a newspaper reporter that Coburn Farm has been nominated for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. This ought to nudge me out there to finish painting those window frames and sills. When the reporter comes I hope to interest her in the idea that this is a working farm, and has been in one way or another since 1820. Perhaps she will take a picture of Helen and Leah! Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals today. I got 11 eggs.
January 30, Wednesday: It snowed last night. We got about four inches. I walked around the fields with Sally and the dogs, but it really was not hard going apart from the fact that I have the wrong sort of boots. There is a surprising amount of open water in the river for this time of year. Temperature today was about 25F. Long time readers may remember that about last April I decided to make a daily practice of drinking some warm milk fresh from the cow each day just to see if I could observe any health benefits. I have of course used only untreated fresh milk for many years, but I always drank it chilled. Milk still warm did not particularly appeal to me. After about four months of drinking milk still warm from the cow I noted that I no longer had stiff joints in the morning. Over the past decade I had developed arthritic lumps on two fingers of my right hand and these used often to be painful. Often my hands ached. By September these knobby joints had ceased to be painful at any time and my hands have not ached for a long time now. I also had an annoying bunion on my right foot. It is still there too but is no longer painful at any time. I also used to have dry mouth a lot, especially at night. I have gotten over this. The acuity of my sense of smell is noticeably improved. I can’t claim this as irrefutable scientific evidence for the valuable properties of milk straight from the cow, but it is good enough for me. Helen gave the same as yesterday, a bit over 1.5 gals. I got a dozen eggs.
January 31, Thursday: My daughter Sally tried to dig out the ramp the cows come up at milking time with a view to raising the bottom end to reduce the grade they must climb. While negotiating this ramp Helen is in danger of overreaching with her hind foot and stepping on a teat. However the job proved too big for Sally. We will have to wait for one of the young men to have time. Two bantams are laying now, probably more if only I could find where. They are so clever at hiding their nests and also very careful not to enter or leave it when anyone is watching. It was colder today, down to 10F. When I throw down the hay Helen has great sport chasing all the sheep away. Of course they just circle around to the other side. All the sheep are in good flesh. In Science News for January 26, there is an article entitled The Right Fats. It describes a study to test the response of rats with chemically induced ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease to diets containing Omega 3 essential fatty acids. The researcher used fish oil as her source of Omega 3 oils. The bowel health of rats receiving fish oil was significantly improved. The editors note the difficulty of finding sources other than fish oil for Omega 3 in which there is a favorable ratio to the more easily found Omega 6. Those of us with cows or chickens with access to grass may comfort ourselves with the knowledge that our milk and eggs (and beef if we use it) does indeed contain a favorable ratio of fatty acids as nature intended. Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals. I got 9 eggs counting 2 bantam eggs. Three days ago I reduced the amount of artificial light the layers receive and their production has dropped. I made this change in order to simplify things for Sally. I am going away next week to help my sister in California. She is having back surgery. Sally is going to take care of this farm and keep up this diary. A new snow storm started about three hours ago. They told us to expect a foot.
February 1, Friday: Snow fell all night but it was dense almost to the point of being sleet and the accumulation was not more than six inches. Neighbor Stewart plowed the driveway, but the roads were still pretty bad. The snow turned more to sleet and continued much of the day. We miscalculated the feed supply and the cows had to eat sheep feed for breakfast. The sheep had to make do with alfalfa cubes. Fortunately I was able to get feed delivered. The feed dealer’s wife and young son brought it and when the animals heard strangers in the barn they all retreated shyly to the barnyard. By singling out Helen and driving her in, I was able to get them back in to show them off. They all huddle around Helen. The lady had never seen Jacob sheep before with their four crazy horns, different on each one. Helen and Leah always make a good impression. They were very clean as they most often are and have such cute faces. It was only about 15F today so I gave the layers back their flood light. I got a dozen eggs. Helen gave something over 1.5 gals.
February 2, Saturday: Sons Mark and Martin visited today. Martin loves to milk when he visits. Helen always remembers him although she does not behave as well as for Sally or me. It is just because cows never want anything to be the least bit different. But Martin got the usual amount of milk. IT came to 1.5 gals for the day. The weather was cold and the sun brilliant. I got eight eggs.
February 3, Sunday: It was down to zero this morning and my spring line froze. I have a lovely spring which fills a granite sink in the kitchen. The water has a wonderful flavor. We will now have to make do with well water which is flat by comparison. When it is very cold the geese eat and drink sitting down to keep their big pink feet warm. Helen gave 1.5 gals and I got only six eggs from the layers plus one tiny bantam egg.
February 4, Monday: A brilliantly sunny day, no wind, warm on southern exposures. Not, alas, not warm enough to defrost the spring line. A nice reporter was here today to interview me about the nomination of Coburn Farm for the National Register of Historic Places. We went all over the house and barn and she even took pictures of Helen and Leah. Helen gave a little over 1.5 gallons of milk and there were 11 eggs. My daughter Sally will write this diary for the next two weeks or so while I help out my sister in California. She is having back surgery. I will be taking care of two very old horses, two dogs and a few cats. And of course caring for my sister who fully expects to be her old self in three days… but I suspect it will take rather longer than that!
February 5, Tuesday: Hello, this is Sally, I’m filling in for Joann. She left the farm this morning at 8 am, bound for California to care for her sister who will be having some surgery. Even though she was naturally in a rush, she took time to go to the barn before leaving, to say good morning to all her animals and to show me a few last-minute details. We discovered that the beefer pen light is on the same circuit as the motion-detection light, so if I want to turn the one off at night (I do!) then I have to also turn off the other. Oh well! Last thing, I made her kiss the post by the big barn door, and then when leaving the house had her kiss the doorjamb, so she should be back just fine. The weather today was beautiful, clear and somewhat windy, around 10 degrees I think. Helen gave a bit more milk than usual, and the chickens laid all the eggs they haven’t been laying the last several days, We got 13. I sold two dozen to a very nice guy who goes around Maine with a meat and fish sales route, and gave him a lot of delicious pecan cookies too: He looked hungry!
February 6, Wednesday: Another totally glorious day in Maine. Only about 10 degrees, but it was so blue and warm I let the chickens out at the early morning milking. They were pleased. All the other animals liked the new day too and spent most of it standing out in the sun. While doing the noon chores, a pretty little brown hen flew up off a nest in the faucet area. When she wasn’t looking I peeked and found three very pretty bright blue eggs. What fun! The nest in the hayloft had three white Banties taking turns, which surprised me as I thought we only had two. I guess I’m not much of an observer! There was a small bird I could hear singing a very pretty song I couldn’t place though I’d heard it in the past. I asked my cousin Marcia Leavitt and she said it was the chickadee’s spring song. So, I guess it must be spring. In honor of it, I finally got up my nerve to walk on the river ice (the river has basically been open all winter) and had a lovely time. Got a little less than a gallon and a half and 7 eggs.
Feb 7, Thursday: Another lovely day, soft gray weather. I Got out to the barn by seven, remembering a new bucket (amazingly enough) for the geese as I’d broken their plastic one the night before while knocking ice out. They were pleased to see me, as were the hens. The hen’s light is off at night these days. So, it gets cold in there and they wake up to no water, only ice. They look quite annoyed when I go in, glaring at the frozen bucket. The cows and sheep were cheerful anyhow. The system of first dumping hay down to the sheep in their area and then racing upstairs to throw down hay for the cows in theirs before the sheep come in and leap into the cow’s manger and get all covered with hay (grrrr) seems to be working…sort of! I was expecting somebody to come and look at the little house with the idea of renting it to them. In the process of rushing around I forgot to clean out the barn. When I went out to do the noon feeding I found that I had also failed to close the hen’s door and the big barn floor had lots of big hens sitting around on it! The renters showed up and did rent the house. But, the best of the day came just before milking when a friend of Mom’s came by unexpectedly with her two little girls and we had a very fun time at the evening milking. They seemed to really like cows, and Sarah, the older one, found a lovely pink egg, which pleased her a great deal. A little less than 1 1/2 gallons, and about a dozen eggs today.
February 8, Friday: Warmish, overcast weather. Still doing pretty much OK on remembering things that I am supposed to do… mostly. I think I forgot to collect today’s blue egg with the result that it will probably freeze, darn it. I let the hens out in the yard again. There is an old black hen who spends most of the day huddled in a corner looking miserable. One of these days I expect I’ll find her dead. Then, I will have to figure out what to do with the corpse, sigh. I took the dogs for two walks down by the river today and noticed again the probable coyote scats down there. I think they must come most nights. There are other less identifiable scats as well. Better trained naturalist observers would no doubt know instantly what sort they are! Again I forgot to clean the barn and had to do it at the evening milking. I was all freaked out by plumbing problems at the little house we rent out. Less than 1 1/2 gallons of milk; 12 eggs.
Saturday, February 9: The first real day of spring in Maine today. Don’t know what the calendar says, but that is sure the way it looks to me and to cousin Marcia too. The geese’s water was even not that frozen. It was blue and warm and a bit breezy. I sure hope Mom is enjoying at least part of her stay in California, because she is missing spring here! The dogs and I went down to the river like usual. Itdoesn’t look any different yet. I brought clippers and cut several branches of the now very big willow that Mom planted some years ago at a boggy place. I’m going to try to root them and then have somebody plant them on the riverbank where it’s eroding so badly. Maybe also tie the fronds into the bank for stability and further rooting. It’s worth a try. Another dozen eggs, which is good because I’m selling them as fast as the hens can push them out. And, a gallon and a half of milk.
Sunday, February 10: This morning was quite brisk, (zero degrees) but it was obviously going to be beautiful. And, it was. The animals were cheerful, except the black hen, who spent the first half of the day looking half dead in a sort of little dust bath place. She walked off eventually though. I gave the chickens some scratch grains anyway just in case they were bored. About 10 am clouds started to come in and eventually even a few flakes of snow. The temperature went from zero to thirty in just a couple of hours. It might even rain! The dogs and I took a little walk, but most of the day was given to plumbing problems over at the little house. Just about a gallon and a half of milk and six eggs.
Monday, February 11: There was an ice storm last night exactly as predicted. I had the house shut down and had just snuggled up in bed with my knitting (angora/wool/qiviut/porcupine gloves) when, DARN, the power went out. This is always happening in rural Maine. I’m a real tree freak, but you’d think the things could keep their limbs to themselves occasionally. The computer was off, that’s the main thing. So, I looked gloomily at the dark for a few minutes and then curled up and went to sleep. In the morning the yard was one huge skating rink. Bagel loved it, he would run and slide, run and slide. He always sits patiently on a snow bank and waits for me to finish milking so he can get his nice warm, fresh milk. What a great dog. As usual, I spent most of the day worrying about the pipes over at my little house. There does seem to be a lot of guys over there though, each one more helpful than the next. So, surely it will sort itself out eventually?! It got quite cold later in the day. Just at milking, Kelly and her little girls came over. They’re crazy about cows, so it was nice timing. They watched me milk and then we had tea and talked about homeopathy, which was very interesting. All I know about it is the word. Sarah found two eggs which brought the total for the day to 12 and an even gallon and a half of milk.
Tuesday, February 12:. Well, this morning started great with the Water system at the little house finally getting sorted out. A lot of MUCH ado about a whole lot of stuff , totally unnecessary basically. It was warmer at least later in the day. It got up to nearly 30 degrees. That black hen was dead as predicted. Hopefully my son will show up tomorrow and deep-six her, he throws better than I do. We always try to put our corpses where our dog Bagel won’t find them and sometimes we have to be pretty creative. I walked the dogs between plumbing related matters and raised a grouse down by the river, the first I’ve seen since I’ve gotten here I think. Perhaps it found a bittersweet vine to eat berries of. It’s a horrible plant, one of the few that I would really call “evil”. And, I see it for sale in some catalogues! It’s advertised as a plant that “will grow anywhere”. Well, they got that right. And, it will strangle anything too. Milk production is holding steady and eight eggs today.
Tuesday, Feb 13: I woke up to find my son Rafe’s car in the driveway! I had THOUGHT I’d heard footsteps in the middle of the night. I’d woken up enough to think, “Eeek! Ghosts! Well, as long as they stay downstairs” And, then fell promptly asleep (no, I’ve never seen or heard a ghost and would just as soon it stayed that way). He had found the house locked up of course and had gone around looking at the windows trying to find one he could manage to open, which eventually he did. The dogs were thrilled, I gather. They followed him from one to another wagging their tails happily, obviously thinking “Company! What fun!” Of course, dogs that go nuts in the middle of the night can be pretty heart stopping as I well know from home. After the milking I went up into the hayloft to throw down the hay into the manger below. Mom always pulls each leaf of hay apart so that the cows don’t waste so much, which indeed helps a lot. I had thrown down one or two leaves when one didn’t pull apart quite right. It felt funny and on more careful inspection I found I was holding a three foot long piece of rusty baling wire! Then I remembered that the first one hadn’t really pulled apart with any enthusiasm either. I went down the ladder and sure enough, there was another three foot piece. I went back to the loft and found more in the next leaf. I guess we can use that bale for bedding in the chicken room. Sheesh. That hay came from a neighbor. I wonder what he was doing with baling wire? Nobody uses it for baling anymore. You can bet that in the future I’ll be checking very carefully indeed! A gallon and a half and eight eggs. Blowy, coldish weather today, but very pretty.
Valentine’s Day, February. 14. I started the day by giving the hens an accidental Valentine’s Day present of sheep food instead of the usual very boring hen food. I didn’t look carefully enough at the bag. They were thrilled and all leaped for the feeder and started eating madly. I did rescue part of it. Then, I broke the hose where it hangs over a bar up high to drain each night. It was 5 degrees and the hose was very brittle. I hope I can find a replacement. Later in the day it went to near thirty degrees. I walked the dogs and Bagel had a wonderful time enthusiastically herding sheep. I hate to stop him too hard as he’s really very careful and has so much fun! The sheep all scuttled away and then Bernadette sheep raced back with this funny, aggressive hop that these rather primitive sheep have. She kept slapping the ground with one front foot and generally giving Bagel what for. All around, a good time was had by all. Twelve eggs and a gallon and a half of milk today.
Friday, February 15th. It was about 5 degrees this morning. The driveway is still very icy especially where you have to creep across it to get to the geese. I’ve been giving them boiling water first thing to go with their ice. They seem to really like warm water. Then, I milk. And, I’ve decided the best way to get the sheep out of the cows’ hay feeder is to put the cows in there before I put down the hay. The cows just love having an excuse to chase their sheep friends a bit. They’re always annoyed though not to find their hay ready. Now that I’m alert to the danger of wire I can’t help noticing that the hayloft has no light in it whatsoever except my nearly burned out flashlight. This seems like it might be a problem one could deal with. I found a new nest, but forgot to collect the egg later after the hen had Left. So, I can only hope the warm weather that came in the afternoon will keep it from freezing. There’s talk of rain. Over 1 1/2 gals and 10 eggs.
Sat Feb 16: A lovely, damp, gray day. It was melting practically before I got up. By late afternoon all the treacherous ice in the front yard was just slush and all the animals seemed to love it. They stood around in their yard soaking up rays. The dogs and I walked around the fields twice. There isn’t really anywhere else to walk that you don’t have to take Bagel on a leash. Some of the buds seemed to be swelling, but maybe it was just my imagination. What there definitely was lots of was snow machines. Maine has a huge network of snow machine trails and anyone looking to buy land is well advised to do it during their season, so as to avoid being within a mile of them. Hundreds go by on many weekends and it’s the most ghastly, screaming racket imaginable. Well, one of them, anyway. However, with spring on the way maybe we’ll get some peace! A bit over a gallon and a half, and 6 eggs. Trying to get ahead on the milk so as to freeze some for when Helen is dry.
Sunday, Feb 17: I went outside in the morning and the buttery was full of the noise of frantic kittens. So, I guess Scaredy Cat is finally feeling more harassed and less incredibly bloated. I’m told that this is the first time she chose the buttery site. Usually, she favors the massive old cider press, so let us hope she likes it. Let us also hope that none of the kittens drowns in the little bowl of creamy milk I put near her. She chose a nice day for it, warm and gray. I spent my day making little bags for botany assistants to put bits of leaves in. I know it SEEMS easy, but it isn’t everybody who can do it. I walked the dogs down to the river twice. The ice is getting very milky looking. I was able to walk on the snow crust today for the first time in ages instead of having to stick to the path. I finally decided that that dead hen would be there till doomsday if I didn’t just throw her over the nearest bank of the river. So, I did, hoping for the best. Namely, a passing fox. A gallon and a half even today and 6 eggs.
Monday, Feb 18: Another lovely warm day with the snow melting by breakfast. And, I didn’t hear the words “plumbing problem” all day. It isn’t over yet though. The dogs and I took our morning walk down to the river and on the way back saw the sheep in the yard. The crust is so nice and hard in the mornings that they can just go anywhere walking right over the fences. So, we went up through the barn and closed the driveway gate and then approached them from behind so they would go back to the field. Bagel was thrilled to show what a great herd dog he is. He would rush forward and chase them and fall off to the side absolutely perfectly when I called, “on back”, and then rush forward again as soon as I said, “ok, get em, Bagel!” It really was pretty amazing. We’ve been practicing a bit lately, but never the real thing. Poor Muffin would have loved to help, but she couldn’t jump the fence. The other thing that Bagel did perfectly was he never rushed in front of the sheep. He understood that he had to stay behind them. Afterwards, we confined the whole lot, cows too, to their small paddock near the barn and rigged a bit of temporary additions to the fence to help keep them in. A bit over a gallon and a half and 10 eggs.
Tuesday, Feb 19: Another lovely day in Paradise, but don’t think I’m complaining. The snow is fading fast and there wasn’t much to begin with. It’s a foot deep at the very most and a lot less most places. I could walk on the crust more or less at the beginning of the day. After our walk the dogs and I went around the garden looking at the many baby fruit trees. They tend to stay baby sized for years around here, thanks to the poor fences which are often breached by ravening livestock. Some are doing well though, including a couple of nice cherries which were badly debarked by the sheep a year or two ago. We thought they were dead, but they seem to have recovered. I started the day by finding the buttery floor strewn with the wool that had been the kittens’ bed . I’m not sure if they met with a sad fate, or if their mother moved them before the bedding was strewn, or what. If they are alive, no doubt they will emerge eventually. A little over a gallon and a half and four eggs today.
Wednesday, Feb 20: Last night when I went out to close the buttery doors it was so dark and warm I was surprised to not hear spring peepers. Not that I was expecting to consciously. Today is cooler. I lacked much zip and mostly spent the day warping the loom and writing letters, but did get in a couple of walks to see how the river was coming and checked on the maple buds and whatnot. I managed to pat Valentine, one of last year’s lambs who persists in being shy. She is the whitest of the sheep and has a particularly long, appealing fleece, which I keep trying to get my hands into. The other longest fleece is on Wombat and she has all dark wool except for a stripe on her nose and white feet. Her fleece is very soft. Agnes has long, dark, quite coarse wool and the other three have very short, springy fleeces, which are patchy dark and light. They are Jacobs, which are known for considerable irregularity in the fleece. I believe it’s a primitive trait. A gallon and a half and 4 eggs today.
Thursday, Feb. 21: It was extremely foggy with light rain when I got up and about as slippery as I’ve ever seen anything. Even the dogs couldn’t stand up. They were pretty funny. After chores we went down to the river. The trail is bottoming out pretty badly, but fortunately the snow isn’t deep. The river had water sliding over the ice in a thin film, the first to head down to the sea this year. Not, of course, counting the water under the ice. Later in the day we went down again to see how it was coming and sure enough, the film was deeper. Later yet in the day it started to pour rain. But, before that we all had the thrill of having Mom come home! Six eggs and less than a gallon and a half today.
Friday, Feb 22: Thank you Sally for a great job writing the Heifer Diary! I am back from California, tired and a bit worried about my sister who is recuperating from back surgery. California is different from Maine. On a sunny morning I stopped with my nephew at the grocery store nearest my sister’s home. It is in the town of Woodside, a wealthy suburb in Silicon Valley. The surrounding homes are architectural statements resembling charming dwellings in Provence which have been hugely inflated by some miraculous air pump. A trim blonde woman trotted away from the grocery store carrying a small bag of items. I asked my nephew, “So, is that a rich lady?” “Anybody who walks to Robert’s in the middle of the day in shorts is most definitely a rich lady”, he assured me. All is well on Coburn Farm. Sally and I walked to the river. I wobbled along two steps on the crust, two steps breaking through and sinking over my boot tops. But, I was rewarded with the sight of some open water in the river. The cows seemed flatteringly glad to see me. Leah licked my hand and Helen threw her head around. She had a mouthful of grain. I found five bantam eggs, but only one from the layers. The weather is mild and damp. I fear that chicken lice are bothering them. I put fresh sawdust in the nests, put more in the floor, and spread about 20 pounds of lime. Helen gave her usual 1.5 gallons.
February 23, Saturday: This morning I thought I heard wild geese high overhead. It is colder and the driveway and front yard remain dangerously slippery. The mother cat and her kittens have not reappeared. Her whereabouts remains a mystery. Cat food disappears at night but there are several other cats which could be eating it. Helen gave a little over 1.5 gals. We got six eggs. Three were from the layers.
February 24, Sunday: The crust today on the snow was so hard today that on a walk around the garden and fruit trees I never broke through at all. Sally and Bagel walked to the river and reported the same. I kept Muffin in the garden with me. She is getting a bit too old and creaky to take on risky jaunts. Everywhere, it is icy. Now is the time I should prune the Quince Japonica and white birch, which overhang the little pool. I can stand conveniently on the ice to reach them. Sally has hurled herself into a great pruning project at the end of the driveway. Invasive bittersweet has strangled the Mugo pine nearly to death. She hauled out a truckload of the plaguey stuff. She even found a young elderberry tree lost in the middle of it. I can now notice a distinct widening when I look down on Helen and Leah from the hay drop above them in the barn. Calves are expected in June. I saw Fraidy Cat today. The first time I spotted her she fled, but later she let me stroke her belly. She has milk, so presumably has her kittens somewhere safe. I left out plenty of food.
February 25, Monday: Off we went today to the Farmington Farmer’s Union where among other things we bought some barbed wire. We are going to make an emergency fence repair to keep the sheep out of the area where the young fruit trees are. We hope to do that this week. Everyone is remarking on what a mild winter we have had. They talk as though it is over, which is not strictly true. I have known us to have a foot of snow in April. But right now it does feel as though spring is coming. The chicken house door was open all day. There are some bare patches under the pine trees and down by the river Sally said there was a powerful and delicious scent coming off some trees. She could not figure out which tree species it was. We will explore this further tomorrow. Helen gave about 1.5 gal. I got five eggs.
February 26, Tuesday: 42F today and a lot of melting occurred. Mainers I run into act nervous about the apparent shortness and mildness of the winter. We always figure that in some way we will be made to pay. All the snow melted out of one of the planting borders and the bantams are ruthlessly attacking the bare soil and tips of iris. I will try to find some chicken wire to lay over it. Sally reports that big areas of the river were showing open water today. When collecting eggs this noon I saw a bantam rooster patrolling a dim Corner, so I knew a hen must be laying back in there. Sure enough, there she was when. I went back later for the egg. You can’t reach under a laying bantam as you can a heavy bird. They are too wild as a rule. It is charming the way the little rooster, her mate, hangs around marching up and down while the hen lays. Helen gave 1.5 gals and I got five eggs.
February 27, Wednesday: Our strange weather continues. It rained all day, then turned to heavy wet snow at dusk. During the afternoon Sally and the dogs walked to the river and found it nearly all open. Sally also discovered that the pipe from my spring has a leak and is spurting a small fountain into the river. So, it is open from the spring to that point. Very likely if the warm weather continues the line from that point to the house will thaw. What a thrill it would be to get my spring water back! I have well water and use a Britta filter water jug, but nothing is quite like spring water running through the granite sink in the kitchen. It was warm enough today to make Helen and Leah want to go out and stand in the rain. I found a broody bantam today. I may put a few eggs from the layers under her if she is still sitting tight tomorrow. Helen’s production was down today, a bit under 1.5 gals. Four eggs.
February 28, Thursday: Spring has gone back to wherever it hides. It snowed last night and was cold and blowy all day. Sally reports that the leak in the spring line is still shooting up like a fountain and had created an icy fairy forest around it. I missed the walk because of needing to reach my dentist, a dreary excuse if I ever heard one. My broody bantam did not remain on her nest. Maybe the plastic Easter egg did not fool her. We have no lambs this year because of losing our rams. But, the ewes must be feeling springy. One was hopping along like a lamb today and butting her sisters. Helen gave a bit over 1.5 gals today. I got five eggs.
March 1, Friday: We are ending the week on a note of triumph. The spring started running! Of course we knew it was running as far as where it passes along the river because of the leak that is making a fountain. But, the ground is still frozen and the last few nights have been cold. Water dynamics are a bit of a mystery to me. Sally was in the next room and came running in and jumping with joy, “The spring!” It is such a joy. It brings the house to life. We can detect that Helen is a little wider now than when Sally first came. That is judging by how much room she takes up in the corridor she walks through at milking time. She is due to calve in early June. Both Helen and Leah are wonderfully friendly now and so are most of the sheep. Even the goose now likes to be petted. Perhaps it is a sign of spring. Helen gave 1.5 gals. I got eight eggs.
March 2, Saturday: This time I accompanied daughter Sally on her walk to the river and saw the ice castle which has formed around the spraying leak from the spring line. It was very sparkly in the sun. The crust on the snow held me the whole way. We saw tracks of some small animal, probably a fox, crossing the field. Other tracks, perhaps a muskrat, were all along the river bank. The hens are laying so poorly that I today I went back to leaving their light on. I got seven eggs today and all but two were from bantam nests. Helen gave a little less than 1.5 gals.
March 3, Sunday: It rained all night and did not freeze. The rain continued much of the day, not hard but steady. Sally worked a long time on fencing and pruning. She tiptoes away to do these tasks without my seeing her, reasoning I think, that the work is too hard for me. Or possibly that I should be applying myself to writing. There is truth in that. Neighbors brought their little girls over to watch the evening milking. They are very interested in the animals. One was especially interested in the chickens. We are hoping for many new farming enthusiasts in coming years! Helen gave 1.5 gals as usual. Only three eggs and two of those were bantams.
March 4, Monday: While Sally milked Helen this morning I took the occasion to empty and wash out the stock tank and refilled it One of the cows had evidently backed up to it and made a serious error of judgement. Yesterday it rained enough to fill a tub I set outdoors beneath the eaves. The cows liked the rainwater and drank it all. The weather today was thoroughly disagreeable. No hint of spring, just an icy wind. Even Sally was driven inside after setting out to prune the shrubbery. Helen gave well over a gallon and a half today. There were five eggs.
March 5, Tuesday: The male cardinal which has been seen all winter has now started warbling a pretty song. Little do I know of birds, but perhaps he is calling for a mate. It seems early, but this has been the warmest winter on record in Maine. Although there have been no prolonged sub zero dips in temperature there has been plenty of snow and ice. And, we are just as ready for spring as the cardinal. My goose has become very friendly and likes being stroked now. She comes right up to me and waits to be petted. The gander remains aloof. Still cold and windy today so we went shopping. Sally bought more barbed wire today and plans to do more fencing. We stayed nice and warm running in and out of shops. I bought cloth diapers for a mother expecting twins. Anybody who invites me to a baby shower can depend on getting cloth diapers. It’s part of my rather lonely campaign against disposable diapers. I consider them a major environmental curse. Helen gave more than 1.5 gals today and I got eight eggs.
March 6, Wednesday: Goose on the loose! The gander got ambitious today and wiggled out of their enclosure. Sally, assisted by Bagel and a little help from me went out in the snowy field and herded him back through an opening we made. Goose talk is very expressive. He had such a pathetic sound when he was marching up and down the wrong side of the fence. Then, when he was back where he belonged the two of them set up a happy sounding gabble and kissed each other several times. The hens seemed dispirited today and the cows even seemed a bit morose. It was down to 8F this morning. Even when it warmed up to 34F it remained overcast and raw. I think the animals were as disappointed as I was with this return to winter. I have been taking the hens lots of salad trimmings and I even made them a big pot of stale macaroni cooked in milk. They love all this stuff but so far it has not improved egg laying. Only two today, and two from the bantams. Helen gave about the same, 1.5 gals. Sally went forth and did another couple hours of fence mending.
March 7, Thursday: Sally did more fencing today. She has laid out wire over a long stretch, but new posts are needed. With the ground frozen it is impossible to set them. At one point Bagel found himself on the other side of a more than four foot fence from her. She said he leapt back over from a standing start. It reminded me of what a difficult dog he was when first he was given to me. It seems very long ago that he was desperately breaking out of everywhere and running away. Also, killing chickens at every opportunity. He is such a good dog now. The sheep are a great source of amusement to Sally and me. Every morning I take about 15 fork loads of manure out of the beefer pen, as I call the run-in where they all sleep. There is now an impressive pile behind the barn. Now when we go to the barn there is usually a sheep standing on the very top watching us. I will try to get a picture. Helen gave a bit under 1.5 gals today. I got seven eggs.
March 8, Friday: While Sally milks Helen I go upstairs and throw down the hay. This means the sheep get first crack at it. They are fully alert to their temporary advantage and surround the feeder nibbling as fast as they can. Helen makes a great point of doing a sweep around the feeder to clear them away when she arrives. Tonight Leah was first back into the beefer pen. I could almost hear her saying, “Whee, tonight I get to chase sheep!” She went bouncing towards them kicking up her heels and looking like a rocking horse. Of course she could never actually catch up with one. They were out of there like a flash. Then she emphasized her point by jumping straight up in the air and waving her tail. This morning I saw my little bantam rooster with the big white tail purposefully leading his hen out to inspect a possible nest site. She trotted right behind him. He paused by a ramp to wait for her to catch up, then went underneath to demonstrate its possibilities. He came back out and she went in. While she was still in there looking around I stuck my head in too, thinking maybe there was already a nest. She immediately began pretending to peck, a displacement activity. I could see it was empty but I doubt she will select it. It does not look very comfortable. Helen gave a bit under 1.5 gals today. I got seven eggs. I will be doing the next five milkings and all the chores. Sally is going to visit her son at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.
March 9, Saturday: This morning I was up at 4AM to see Sally off to visit her son Rafe at school in Bar Harbor. They are to take a 40 minute ride in a whaler to an island where Rafe and one of his teachers has a weekend construction job. Sally took along lots of Coburn Farm food for them all. So, I am back milking Helen. She had not forgotten me. I got the same as Sally has been getting, about 1.5 gallons. The hens have picked up a bit. There were eight eggs today. It has been a very warm day. It certainly got up to 50F. Most of the great ice sheet which covers the front lawn changed from dangerously slippery to mushy.
March 10, Sunday: All last night it rained. The ice sheet on the front lawn was much diminished. There was a great sheet of water instead. It is around and in the goose pen and they were having a grand time preening their feathers and almost swimming. Some parts of the puddle were over the top of my boots as I learned when I took them their dinner. I had to walk around with very squishy feet. Today I took a tour of the River Field to see if the fence would hold stock. The critters are getting bored with life in the barnyard. The field is still covered with snow but often in other years they have enjoyed a spring tour to visit bare spots. The fence looks OK. The morning was sunny, but by the time I got back to the barn the weather had turned cold and blowy. By evening it was snowing and turning cold. In fact, it looks like a blizzard. I hope Sally and Rafe and the work party got back to the mainland without mishap. The storm is headed their way, northeast, and their return trip is southwest. A bit under 1.5 gals today, and eight eggs.
March 11, Monday: It stormed all night with wind and snow and was down to 13F. The big steel gate out front, which had been imbedded in ice and snow actually blew shut and one barnyard gate blew open. Lake Coburn, as I call the giant puddle that forms on the lawn was frozen over like glass. I reached the goose gate by creeping along the edge hanging onto the fence. All the while remembering a story someone saw on TV about an old woman who slipped on ice in her cellar, stuck to it, and was encased in ice as the leak filled the cellar (she was saved). I was picturing myself getting frozen into a foot of water! But, all was well and the geese got their corn and hot water. Not so fortunate are my daughter Sally and grandson Rafe. together with four other boys and a teacher they remain marooned on Gott Island off Bar Harbor by a big blow. She was able to call on a cell phone. They are suffering only from lack of good food. The party leader, a teacher, is friends to many of the island’s summer people and knows where their keys are. So, he is borrowing stored dried foods. Sally said they had one good meal of mussels off the rocks. A 60′ Seal attempted to reach them but its captain turned back, discouraged by a massive sea that tore the life raft off the cabin roof, cleats and all. Helen gave a bit under 1.5 gals and I got six eggs.
March 12, Tuesday: Sally got home at 11pm last night. The Seal got them off the island about 5pm. They were running pretty low on food. They particularly missed fat. There were plenty of carbohydrates. The Seal captain found his life raft washed up on shore. So, no harm done. Just cold, tired people. Five college boys, one teacher and Sally. I learned of another incident. When they first were arriving at the island in a fog in the whaler they were astonished to see a huge ship loom up behind them. It was the Coast Guard. Apparently, the Coast Guard wanted to know what a boatload of people was up to landing on a deserted island in the fog. They were boarded and all the bulkheads on the whaler were checked, presumably for contraband. Finding none, they gave them a little lecture for not carrying flares. Today as usual Sally walked the dogs to the river. She reports it to be running much higher now. The broody hen I have been watching has now been sitting tight for four days on a fake egg. So, today I gave her four big eggs from the layers. In 21 days we should have some chicks. Helen gave a bit under 1.5 gals again today. No doubt the poor hay quality is taking its toll. I do not have many bales of the best hay left and give her only a couple of flakes of it a day with the other, lower quality stuff. I need to be sure to have some good hay available for her when she calves. I got six eggs.
March 13, Wednesday: Only the gander was standing at the gate to greet me this morning. I thought, either something got the goose, or she is laying. They are never apart. She was back in their shelter sitting on the hay. She did not come forward for feed and warm water. I did not disturb her. But, this evening they were together at the gate, so I looked in her nest and there was her first egg! I left it there of course. Sally and I walked to the river and found it running quite high, but nothing like last year. Maine is still in drought mode. However, Sally is digging around everywhere with her fencing and tree work and reports that much of the ground is unfrozen. This is certainly an early record. Maybe it will enable the ground to accept more water. Sally is taking willow cuttings and sticking them in the ground here and there and intends to follow with black locust. We hope to re-establish the hedgerow removed last summer by the road crew. We had the idea today that maybe if she ties barberry twigs to the cuttings it will discourage the cows, sheep and deer from eating them. I opened the field gate to the river field for a while today and the sheep took a cheerful tour. Sally thinks the swallows are back in the barn. An assembly of sweetly chirping birds in an alder tree looked much like robins to me. Helen gave only 1 gallon plus one pint. I got six eggs.
March 14, Thursday: I climbed into the goose house to see if there was another egg and to my surprise found four. I took one away. The gander greatly resented my intrusion and hissed and chased me. He has never acted this way before. Fatherhood has altered his disposition. I dangled my glove for him to bite so he would not go for my legs. I have been bitten by a goose before and don’t care to renew the experience. Sally and I raced to the Farmer’s Union so she could buy fence posts. Amazingly, the ground is thawed. When we got home she went right out to set them in the weak spots. She hopes to achieve a garden fence that is sufficiently cow and sheep proof so that if I hear bells in the night I can have confidence that they are in the field where they belong. Sally got a good look at the birds, which I was unable to identify yesterday. They are red winged blackbirds. They do have a sweet song. Last night I learned that one of my sister’s horses, the ones I was caring for when I visited California died on Tuesday of colic. The horse, Athena, was over 30. But she looked and behaved as though she were in good health. My sister has had to rely on erratic volunteer horse care since I left, which no doubt accounts for the colic. The vet arrived in time to ease her suffering, so Barby’s hope that Athena could go quietly was granted. Barby said she just lay up against the hillside looking like a large stuffed toy. Today I got 14 eggs, mostly from the layers. Helen gave 1.5 gals.
March 15, Friday: Sally has pronounced the River Field to be safely fenced, so we are leaving The access gate open tonight. The sheep spent some time out there, but the weather was so bleak today that the cows stayed in their cozy run-in. Sleet fell for awhile, although I don’t think the temperature fell below 30F. Sally reported seeing five robins and also some swallows. Helen gave 1.5 gals and I got 11 eggs.
March 16, Saturday: Fifteen eggs today! I don’t know whether to give credit to a change of feed, more light, or attention to other details. I have customers for all the eggs I can get right now. Sally and I walked to the river and looked for signs of spring. I found the exhaust cover that Max lost off the tractor last summer. It looked like a bright yellow mushroom among the leaves. It was down near the river at least a hundred yards from where it was knocked off by branches. It must have been caught up in the bushhog blade and thrown out because it was all bent up. It could not have been used even had he been able to find it. Sally worked for hours again today on fencing. The snowplow does not care how much it mutilates my fence. And, she found one place where tracks revealed somebody had backed through the fence and destroyed a section. This is aggravating. The goose is laying an egg now every day and the gander is extremely aggressive. Sally says that he came and beat his wings against the fence when she walked by and bit at the wire. Sally tells me ducks can’t breed on dry land, they have to be in water. If that is also true of geese the eggs will be infertile. I hope somebody will tell me the goose facts of life so I don’t let her set in vain. Helen gave her usual amount.
March 17, Sunday: In the late morning we all went up to camp and slid around on the ice. Sons Mark and Martin with granddaughter Hailey came along too. The ice was still strong despite some warm weather. Martin had his skates, so went farther. Later, Sally did more fencing and the boys split and stacked the last of the woodpile now that it has emerged from the snow. Helen gave over 1.5 gallons and I got 11 eggs. Three more bantams have gone broody.
March 18, Monday: Another bleak overcast day starting out about 18F this morning. Sally worked several more hours on the fence in the north pasture. There is still much to be done. We set another bantam hen, this one with only two eggs. The bantams are going broody like a row of dominoes. As soon as they go broody they cease to lay. But the regular layers are picking up. I got 13 eggs today mostly large. Helen gave her usual 1.5 gals.
March 19, Tuesday: We awoke to a couple of inches of new snow and snow continued most of the day. We all felt disgruntled. All the animals projected the same feeling. The cows looked indignant. Even the sheep seemed to display a bit of negativism. Fortunately it is melting fast. Sally is skipping milking tonight. We are going to a Historical Society potluck at the Grange Hall. Like all Maine public suppers it is at 5:30, and don’t be late. Helen is so close to drying off that I doubt she will even notice. I got 13 eggs again today.
March 20, Wednesday: The little white bantam we set with two eggs on Monday was missing this morning and nothing was left but a few bits of eggshell. There were not a lot of feathers so I can’t say if she was carried off or escaped. But I saw nothing of her today. It was almost certainly a raccoon. There was no skunk scent about. The barn door was closed making it impossible to blame Bagel, should he so forget himself. There are many ways a raccoon can get in. After dark tonight I went out and moved the hen I set last week. She was in a box of hay on a shelf and did not make a peep. It is easy to move a hen that is sitting tight so long as you keep the light out of her eyes. I put her in a little room in the barn that I hope no raccoon can get into. Morning will tell. A new snow storm has begun. We are told to expect 6 or 8 inches. Sally finished another stretch of fence despite the weather. Helen gave a quart extra this morning due to not being milked last night. Then tonight she gave less than she has been. It is only about three days until I dry her off anyway. I got 11 eggs.
March 22, Friday: Down to 10F this morning with an evil cold wind. It began banging doors around in the night, froze our faces all day, and finally let up late this afternoon. We have been expecting grandson Rafe to arrive and help shear the sheep, but he is stuck out on the same island he and Sally and others were stuck on last week. He is doing a carpentry job there. It was too cold to work outside today or even take the dogs for a walk. So, Sally had an enforced quiet day to pack for her departure on Sunday. Helen’s milk production has crept back up to close to 1.5 gals a day following the missed milking on Tuesday. Today I got 14 eggs, almost all from the layers.
March 23, Saturday: 5F this morning. Rafe and his friend Shane arrived about 2 o’clock and set right to work on sheep shearing. Sally had trapped them in the lean-to when she fed them this morning. They were able to catch them easily using the shepherd’s crook I gave her for Christmas. There are six Jacob ewes. The boys and Sally worked very hard for about four hours and got them all done. None of us is experienced so it is slow work. The only mishap was when Valentine got away when half shorn and ran around dragging half her fleece and getting it full of hay. They packed the fleeces in woven feed bags labeled with the name of each ewe: Agnes, Bernadette, Topknot, Valentine, Wombat and Delta. We did not milk tonight. I must start drying Helen off. Nine eggs today. After feeding the geese this morning I went over the nest and swiped one of the eggs. The gander kept eating and ignored me until I got almost back to the gate. It was as though he suddenly sensed that I had an egg. I wonder if he could smell it. He went right for me. I was wearing a large man’s leather glove and I held out my hand with fingers spread. He grabbed onto a fingertip of the glove and hung right on flapping his wings while I backed out the gate.
March 24, Sunday: Now I am all alone again. But at least the weather is improving. I expect the sheep also appreciate it now that they are out of their winter coats. It is striking how much hungrier for their hay they were today. I guess they need to stoke up on fuel. It sure is quiet here without my daughter Sally. It is a long trip back to her home in Alaska, three flights followed by a 4.5 hour ferry trip tomorrow. I milked Helen again tonight, having skipped last night and this morning. I got over 1.5 gallons. Also got 10 eggs all from the layers. All the banty hens must be off stealing nests.
March 25, Monday: Today when I carried a flake of hay into the goose pen and walked towards the nest with it, the gander chased me. I held the hay in his face and he did not bother me any more. I thought the goose might want more nesting material. I did not take an egg. He ignored me as I was leaving, unlike last time when I carried off an egg. A bantam hen is setting in the hay loft. She has been sitting tight for three days, so today I gave her two big eggs to hatch. I got ten eggs today. It was cold again today but mostly sunny. Everybody is complaining about the weather.
March 26, Tuesday: This evening when I went in the goose pen the gander immediately attacked me. I gave him the edge of the feed bowl to bite and that seemed to satisfy him. He jumped up and down flapping his wings. When I picked up the water bucket he got all silly. He probably thought I was stealing it, whereas I merely wished to rinse and refill it. Goosey kept her distance. She usually comes to be petted. It is snowing hard again. Helen’s udder is not filling up tight and I doubt there will be any need to milk her out again. Only eight eggs today.
March 27, Wednesday: We got six new inches of heavy wet snow last night but it is already melting fast. Bagel Dog forgot himself so far this morning as to have chased a rooster and pulled off it’s tail. I picked up the tail and shook it in his face and said “Bad dog”. It must be an awful temptation for him but I really cannot allow it. The poor rooster looked so disappointed and embarrassed. Animal body language is often very easy to understand. Helen is a very milky cow. Her udder was so packed tonight that I decided I had better milk her out again. I thought it might taste cow-ish due to having been inside her for so long, but it tasted fine. I got a dozen eggs today.
March 28, Thursday: Rafe, my grandson, and his friend Shane stopped in today on their way back to school. They built me a fine set of stairs so that I no longer have to use a ladder to get up to the hayloft. The stairs are big and solid. Now they have gone sledding with a flashlight in the dark. The cows and sheep seem to really like their hay lately. Helen’s bag was soft today. Both she and Leah are beginning to look very large when they lie down. It was in the 40’s today and the snow is turning slushy. Only six eggs. Perhaps all the sawing and drilling in the barn scared them out of laying.
March 29, Friday: Such a balmy day, over 40F and considerable sun. A lot of snow melted. The fields look half brown. The sheep spent the day out nibbling down among the dead grass where I suppose they find a bit of green. The goose was having so much fun hunting for grass that she did not come over for her corn this evening. The gander came running, though. He patrolled back and forth while debating whether to bite the water bucket until I left. Helen is now in a better humor. Her bag felt comfortable. There were nine eggs.
March 30, Saturday: It warmed up to about 60F today and once again there is a big puddle in the goose pen. I didn’t have to bring them any food or water. All kinds of cracked corn they missed is melting out of the ice. The sheep go out on the pasture and nibble along the line of melting snow. I see them doing this often and don’t know why they do it They line right up along the snowline. Sons Mark and Martin and grandchildren Hailey and Harper are here having a wonderful time. Harper is the same age as Martin, early 30’s, and they all love doing things on the farm. Right now they are taking a moonlight walk, except for Hailey who is only eight. The boys took Bagel Dog with them, but I kept Muffin home. She gets pretty tired. She is 10 or 11, we don’t know for sure as she was a discarded dog. But, that is pretty old for a big dog. Helen’s bag is filling up again but is not as tight as before. She does not seem uncomfortable. Nine eggs today.
March 31, Easter Sunday: Such a fine Easter day it has been. For breakfast I made pancakes using the goose egg I swiped out her nest last week. It turned out to be a double yolker. So, I doubt it would have produced two live twins anyway. Now all my company has departed. Helen’s udder is in good shape, I think. The rear quarters are fairly full, but not hard or hot. She still wants to come in to her stanchion. I have to shut the door fast when I go into the beefer pen with her so she doesn’t dart through to the milking room looking for grain. I have been feeling the sheep’s spines and they are well fleshed and solid. I have decided to stop their grain now that they are about to have a lot of grass. They continue to eat plenty of hay. Since none had lambs due to our lack of a ram I am afraid they will get too fat. We had sun all day and there was a great deal more thawing. I poked around in the vegetable garden. In areas where the soil is prepared I was able to run a rod down 10 inches before hitting frost. I discovered a ruffle of parsnip coming up. The cutting celery survived the winter. It has all new growth. There was one little lettuce plant I left covered with a plastic milk jug last fall. It has survived and is growing. That has never happened before. Ten eggs today.
April 2, Tuesday: It snowed again Sunday night. But, once again the new snow has melted and Spring is fighting her way back to Western Maine. The sheep went out to pasture this morning before I reached the barn and spent all day grazing at a distance. They came back in for the evening hay feeding. Helen and Leah go stand in the sun when there is any, but don’t bother trying to graze. It is much too short for them still. The geese spend all day finding what they can. The gander is now furious every time even I, his former buddy, approach their fence. He comes sailing from across their yard to hiss at me. Helen’s bag is now finally resolving. It was definitely softer this evening than it was this morning. There were 10 eggs today.
April 3, Wednesday: Until today I forgot to turn over my calendar to April. Then there it was in my face: “shelf chicken hatch”. My note for April 2 reminding me that the bantam setting in a box on a shelf was due to hatch on Tuesday. I had moved her into her own safe house in the unused calf room I went straight to the barn, lifted her up and found two chicks under her. She had four eggs as recently as Sunday. But, I found one unhatched egg and no fourth egg or chick. I brought the little family some cottage cheese I froze last summer and some wheat germ. The wheat germ is soft enough for chicks to eat. Cottage cheese, besides being an ideal source of essential protein, contains various lactobacillus which defend the chick gut against salmonella and harmful bacteria. This is home made cottage cheese. I would not count on commercial cottage cheese to have any living lactobacillus. The sheep spent most of the day on the pasture until it started to rain around 3pm. They were hungry for hay this evening. Two stood in the hay feeder and neither Helen’s attempt to scare them nor my dropping flakes of hay on their heads budged them. Only 5 eggs today.
April 4, Thursday: Neighbors stopped in for coffee and pointed out to me that a tree had fallen in my North Field. It must have come down in the big wind two nights ago. I could plainly see the tree once I put my glasses on. After they left the dogs and I went up to take a look. It was a spruce about a foot in diameter and it had fallen right on the fence Sally worked so hard on before she left. I will have to get somebody to saw it apart. In the meantime, the basal branches are so dense that nothing will go through the fence. Only eight eggs again today. I am running out of excuses for my hen’s poor performance. But it is a very cold wet spring.
April 5, Friday: We had lots of sun today, but it is still cold. I don’t think it got above 34F. Helen’s bag is soft and flabby now. I started her and Leah back on grain. Just one modest scoop each to begin with. They were very pleased. They also get a vitamin E and selenium supplement and some kelp. The sheep were down on the knoll and did not notice. I was careful to be quiet in the grain room because the sheep have sharp ears for the sound of grain bins rattling. The hen with two new chicks is doing well. Both chicks are black. I must have given her Black Australorp eggs. Eight eggs again.
April 6, Saturday: I checked for eggs in a spot in the grain room where I look pretty often and this time I found a nest with eleven bantam eggs. Apparently, several hens are laying there. I left three eggs in the nest. Hens don’t keep and accurate count of their eggs but they do know the difference between a whole lot and just a few. I hope not to discourage them from this nest. I might not be lucky enough to find the next one. The hen with two chicks in the calf stall is doing well. I will keep them in there at least until the chicks have little wing feathers. Being chicks from heavy birds, they are not nearly so astute as bantam chicks about self defense and don’t mind their mother as well.
There is another nest in the milking room where a hen has been laying. Something comes during the night and takes the wooden egg I left. I have replaced it twice. It has to be a raccoon. This happened last year. I found one wooden egg discarded in the pasture. We have had a male cardinal at the feeder all winter and he has been calling for a mate for some weeks. Finally one has showed up. So far I have not seen them together, but surely they have noticed each other. A kind neighbor stopped in this morning and helped me clear out a horrible jungle of bittersweet out by the road. My daughter Sally worked on it while there was still too much snow, so a lot of the nasty vine was still attached to the ground. We pushed it over onto the river bank. I dug in the veg garden for about an hour and a half this afternoon. The ground is still sodden, so mostly I just turned it over to dry out. One little bed I worked on last week is nearly dry now.
April 7, Sunday: A clear cold day in the mid 30’s. I did more digging in the veg garden, wishing I had done more clean-up last fall. I loaded a garden cart with chicken litter and hauled it down. The cow manure pile is still full of frozen clumps. Now that I have started giving Helen and Leah a little grain they greet me with great friendliness whenever I show my face. The sheep spend most of the day on the pasture but don’t really fill up. They come in twice a day for hay. The weather is so cold that the grass is barely growing at all. I got 15 eggs today thanks to the bantam nest I found yesterday. I took all their eggs and put in three plastic Easter eggs filled with rice for ballast.
April 8, Monday: I made it to the veg garden with another cartload of chicken litter today and did a little more digging. Then I decided to check on my parsnip. The ground was thawed completely and after a bit of clearing away around it I could tell that it was a long one. In order not to break it in half or scar it with the fork I made a large excavation around it nearly three feet in diameter, a regular crater. Then I dug and dug in hopes of clearing away enough soil so that I could safely pull without breaking it. Mirabile dictu! I pulled it up in one piece and it was a beauty. I rinsed it in the fish pond, then took it in and measured it. It was 34 inches long and 3 and 3/4 inches across at the shoulder. It is now siting in the spring sink waiting to be shown off to any chance visitor, but none has appeared. I don’t even know how it got planted. I did not put in any seed last year. So, either an overlooked one from the year 2000 went to seed. Or, seed from the last time I planted decided to germinate last spring. But, parsnip seed is notoriously short lived. I cherished it all last summer when I saw it growing and put a stake by it last fall so as not to overlook it this spring. Yesterday I put an alabaster egg in the nest where something is taking the wooden eggs. This morning I found it out in the middle of the barn floor. A hen is laying in that nest, two are laying in the new one I found in the grain room and one has started laying in with the cows. Altogether today I got a dozen eggs.
April 9, Tuesday: The gate to the North Field is shut pending my setting up electric fence to defend the young trees planted along the road. As I was sure would happen soon, the sheep found or made a hole in the fence and created their own gate. They always liked that field. By evening chore time they had not come back to the barn so I opened the gate and called them, “Sheep, Sheep!” and they all came running. They hate stepping in the mud by the gate and came mincing around the edge. I gave them a little grain so they would not feel tricked. It was warmer today, and drizzly. I got 11 eggs.
April 10, Wednesday: The dogs and I strolled along the river today. It is much lower than usual for this time of year and the vernal ponds in the pasture are smaller. So far I have not heard a spring peeper. Sally planted a number of tree seedlings and cuttings along the right of way by the road where last year the road crew wantonly ripped out the existing trees. No trees anywhere here are yet leafed out, so I cannot tell for sure if they are alive. But I think at least some of them are. I went to Farmington today and bought a roll of chicken wire at the Farmer’s Union. I also bought pea and carrot seed. Tall Telephone, Danvers Half Long, and parsnip (not identified). Their seed is sold in bulk and they weigh it out as required. I took three dozen eggs to the gourmet shop to sell. They were much appreciated. I have a little blurb on a slip of paper that I put in each box telling customers that these eggs are the nutritional equal of fancy high priced eggs. Some of those sell for $4.50/dozen, if you can believe it. Indeed, mine are superior because they are fertile. When I got home I finished digging one veg plot but have not planted any seeds so far. I got 10 eggs today.
April 11, Thursday: It seemed a bit springier today, not very warm but sunny today at least. The big pile of last year’s cow manure out in the pasture has mostly thawed, so I hauled a cartload of it down to the veg garden. I dug some into the bed that I finished yesterday, sprinkled on lime and dug it all in. That bed is now ready for planting. I planted lettuce seed in the bed that I prepared two days ago and over it constructed a house of Styrofoam panels covered with a sheet of Lucite. This impromptu greenhouse is rather leaky but it is mostly to keep the cats off. The Goose spent all day on her nest so far as I could see. I don’t know if she is really setting. She was off eating corn at dusk. Eleven eggs today.
April 12, Friday: At last the electric fence is up. It took me about two hours to complete the job but it was a fine day. The dogs watched attentively in case I should change my mind and go for a walk instead. When done, I opened the gate and Helen and Leah went right into the north field to inspect everything. They have not been there since last fall. They went and sniffed the electric fence and seemed wary of it. I did not see either one get a shock. They must remember it from last summer. I got the garden bed planted that I prepared yesterday. It is mostly dedicated to greens: kyona, chard, beets and tyfon. I have never heard of tyfon before this year. It is also called Holland Greens. I put in a row of carrots too. The sheep today for the first time did not come in for hay. I got 13 eggs. That is a little better, but paltry considering I have over 20 hens. Some are pretty old.
April 13, Saturday: All day today we had a warm drizzle, just the thing to carry off the last of the ice and encourage my seeds. By evening the ice patches and piles left by the snow plow were down to a streak. I dug, limed and manured two 20 foot rows in the veg garden. I collected 11 eggs.
April 14, Sunday: Spring is here at last! Here is the evidence. Helen and Leah were out in the pasture and in no hurry to come in for breakfast until they remembered about grain. They spent all day trying to graze. About the only grass long enough to wrap their tongues around is in fence corners, but they kept trying. I put down hay in the evening, but they did not come in while I was there. But the true evidence for spring is, tonight I heard spring peepers! What an exuberant noise it is. Also the daphne is blooming. During the afternoon I dug over my two new rows and readied them for planting. I left open the door where the bantam with two chicks has been living and she moved them out. I don’t much like the spot she chose to bed down this evening. It is not in her nice safe room. 14 eggs today. Perhaps this increase reflects the fact that the hens have been ranging far and wide for about two weeks. Maybe a few blades of fresh grass serve as a tonic. And, there are lots of earthworms.
April 15, Monday: The goose has been on and off her nest for the last three days, but now seems to have sat down with serious intent. The gander runs around the pen trying to look threatening. It rained all last night and a puddle extends over about a quarter of the enclosure. They enjoyed that together for a while this afternoon, then she got back on her nest. My upstairs setting bantam has hatched one chick. She has a second egg which had not hatched by noon, but I am going to move her anyway. The bantam that I let out yesterday was attacked in the night. Something took a lot of her feathers and one of her chicks. I thought both were gone but then realized I was hearing peeping. One had squeezed through a crack into the room with the layers. I caught it with a landing net. Tonight she had enough sense to settle down for the night in her old room. I only dug in the garden for a half hour today. I am a bit stiff and the ground is wet. The dogs and I took a walk along the river. It is up more than a foot following two days of rain, but still nearly two feet below what is normal for this season. Helen and Leah spent all day grazing and appeared satisfied. They kept moving from place to place but they must have found plenty of tufts. 15 eggs today. A lot of them are bantam eggs.
April 16, Tuesday: This evening Helen and Leah were in the beefer pen chewing their cuds happily and did not even get up when I threw down a few flakes of hay. They had to work for the grass they got and did a lot of walking, but they got filled up. In my experience it is a good thing to give them early access to new grass before it gets tall and lush. I think it gives their rumen bacteria time to adjust from hay. Traditionally, farmers have waited until the ground has dried out more because the cows’ feet damage the field. But with only two cows on 20+ acres I don’t worry about this. The dogs and I walked around the fields again today. Down in the swamp we saw a beautiful pair of mallards floating around on a pond. Bagel looked at me to see if he could have permission to plunge in after them, but I said no, so he turned away like a good dog. I have been checking every day to see if my goldfish made it through the winter. Today was warm, over 70F, and it brought out one black fish. No orange ones to be seen. Perhaps the blue heron beat me to it. I gardened for about an hour cleaning the asparagus bed. Both bantam hens with one each chick are fine. The goose was only on her nest about half of the time today but sat down again when the sun set. Maybe she thought her eggs were warm enough by themselves. I hope she knows what she is doing. 15 eggs today.
April 18, Thursday: This was a perfect April day, warm without being hot and with a light breeze. But, I did see my first mosquito. There is a haze of green now everywhere on the fields. The two cows and six sheep are grazing out on the knoll, the very picture of pastoral harmony. Last night I went to a Grange meeting and was installed. The meeting was preceded by a meal. There were six hot dishes and a green salad followed by chocolate cake and ice cream. The hot dishes were: scalloped potatoes, scalloped carrots, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, and two people brought beans. Twelve people were present. In January in some sort of altered mental state induced by garden catalogues, I ordered 15 trees and bushes. Today they arrived. I put them all into the goldfish pond to await assistance with digging holes. The information that came with them makes them sound like more work than brooding forty chicks which is probably what I should have ordered. I got 16 eggs yesterday. 20 today, and most are full sized. At last the chickens are happy, I guess.
April 19, Friday: Today neither the cows nor the sheep ate any of the hay I put down. They did hang about for the morning grain snack. I give a little to Helen and Leah every morning with their kelp and vitamin E supplement mixed in. Several of the sheep charge in to snatch bites. They don’t get away with much with Helen but Leah is a little shy. It is Agnes and Topknot that are the most forward. This morning I saw that one goose egg had rolled out of the nest and was about three feet away. I am not going in there without a helper and nobody dropped by. I was surprised to notice along towards evening that the goose had succeeded in rolling it back into the nest. I wonder if it can live through that much chilling. It was misty today with a few sprinkles and the temperature was around 55F I managed a little more soil preparation today, but it is so heavy from the rain that I gave up after digging about 8 feet of a row for the peas. I began work on my neglected flower borders, mostly pruning out overgrown rose canes and nasty vines. I stuck four marked stakes in the ground to mark sites for the apple and pear trees. This morning I found a dead bantam hen in the shrubbery, obviously the crime of Bagel. This is not good news. I think he has spring fever. He is a lot more frisky. Maybe I should put him back on cheap dog food. Seventeen eggs today. Six were bantam eggs.
April 20, Saturday: Son Mark came today and dug holes for the trees I ordered. He dug seven holes. The trees have their feet in the fish pond awaiting planting. After he left at 4:30 I planted the first tree, a Dudley apple. It is a well rooted 3′ whip. I also planted peas, tall Telephone. I set stakes this morning for their supports. This evening one of my neighbors pulled into the driveway to say that a fluffy orange cat had run in front of her pickup. That was my Gingerbread. Across the road the bank drops very steeply to the Webb River 50 or 60 feet below. I called and looked in vain. The bank is too steep for me to go down. Or more accurately, for me to get back up. Gingerbread was big and friendly and about six years old and had no vices. 16 eggs today
April 21, Sunday: Happy day! I opened the kitchen door about 6AM and there was my Gingerbread! He shot in the door looking damp and bedraggled. I think he must have run a considerable distance, then slept in the bushes. He does have one small vice. He is not always polite to his grandmother, old Sissypuss. It was quite cold today with a steady wind. I got some sugarsnap peas planted and one tree, a weeping crab. But, gardening was not much fun with that wind. The cows and sheep did not mind it. They stayed in the farthest Pocket Field, beyond which is woods. So, the wind on them was moderated. They did not come up to the barn at all. I am not even sure they came in last night. Both mother hens and chicks are thriving. I got 17 eggs today.
April 23, Tuesday: Despite weather unappealing to humans, Helen, Leah and the sheep spent all day grazing and even chewed their cuds lying in the pasture. It may have reached 45F today, but it was overcast. The wind felt icy and I even saw snowflakes. I guess the grass just can’t resist growing at this time of year and the animals love it. I had workmen here all day doing weatherization so could not get out much. However, I did get one tree planted. I believe it is more of a bush. It is called cornelian cherry. It is said to produce interesting fruit and be ornamental. I love trying new things and prefer my ornamentals be productive. 13 eggs yesterday and today.
April 24, Wednesday: The barn swallow babies have hatched out and are skirling loudly. There are hardly any bugs. I hope they don’t starve. The two mother hens now take their “only” chicks outside to scratch. The two mothers stay together even though they seem to hate each other. The baby chicks are so cute I can hardly stand it. The brown one that lost one chick and her tail last week now faithfully returns each night to the room where I lock them in. Tonight the other one, white with a yellow chick, settled down in another place. It is relatively safe so I did not move her. Helen and Leah and the sheep move frequently during the day because the grass is still short but they are getting plenty. They do love their morning grain snack. They don’t need it, but it is a good way to feed them their kelp supplement. The sheep are all around them like seagulls and get half of it even though Helen goes to a lot of trouble to send them flying. 15 eggs today. I sold all my eggs to workmen who were here.
April 25, Thursday: Our one day of lovely weather went south and a vast wind came up. Now the weatherman is offering us six to eight inches of snow tonight. Helen and Leah and the sheep did not like the look of the sky and came into the barn. I saw only a few flakes this evening. If it really snows I still have hay to feed out. One bantam hen and chick now want to spend the night in a niche in the wall in the beefer pen run-in. If the cows remain in there she will be safe. A fox or raccoon will not go into a room full of large animals, at least not in my experience. 18 eggs today.
April 26, Friday: As promised, a white world met my eye this morning. Two or three inches of heavy wet snow covered everything. For those disposed to appreciate it, early morning sun on branches covered with little green leaves the size of a mouse’s ear was a lovely sight. The cows and sheep were probably immune to this natural beauty as it meant they could not graze. I went out as early as possible to put out hay. Melting began rapidly and by 11AM they were grazing. Bagel has been disappearing on long runs and does not always answer my call. Today I got a call from an annoyed neighbor who said he was chasing the wild ducks on his duck pond. When Bagel came home I put him on his chain and will have to keep him chained from now on. He looks quite sad and uncertain of why he is not running free. This evening I happened to be in the beefer pen when the bantam hen who spends the night in a niche in the wall was calling her chick to join her. It was a huge two stage jump for him and time after time he tried and tumbled all the way to the bottom. It reminded me of pictures of salmon falling back as they attempt to leap up a dam. I longed to help him but of course when I came close he tottered away in alarm. The mother kept up a steady encouraging call. Had he been a bantam chick I am sure he would have been up in no time. I have seen them climb right up the rough bark of a tree to follow their mother to a high limb. But this fat little guy is from an egg laid by one of my big laying hens, probably a Buff Orpington. He is yellow. The hen kept up her crooning with no evidence of impatience. I left after about ten failures. When I checked on him a half hour later he was safely under mom. She lets me lift her up. I wanted to be sure he was really there because Old Freddy, the black tom cat, was slinking around. The cats do not ordinarily bother the chicks, but if one sank down exhausted I doubt I would find it in the morning.
April 28, Sunday: As promised by the weatherman, it started to snow in the late morning and seven hours later has not let up at all. Everything looks like Christmas. It is very heavy snow and I should not be surprised if it brings down power lines. I had to put out hay twice. Despite the weather, son Martin came with his big Troybuilt Tiller and tilled all parts of the veg garden which I have not already dug by hand. After that we went and climbed Center Hill in Mount Blue State Park. The access road was closed so we had to walk from the main road. The dogs had great fun. Well, Bagel did. Muffin had a somewhat penitential expression but she made it all the way without lying down. She is about 11 years old and pretty stiff. As I left the barn after evening chores the yellow chick was again trying to hop up with his mom. I noticed she was not calling him as persistently. I went back later to see if he had made it and he is vanished. I suppose he got too tired and collapsed and a cat carried him off. His mother is hunkered down as though he were under her but he is not. I got 12 eggs today, 13 yesterday.
April 29, Monday: Another happy ending! Chickie was with his mother this morning. I am not sure how I could have missed him last night but he must have been way up under her wing. As a rule I can feel their tiny feet. Of course I checked again this evening and this time found him. There was a faint smell of skunk around the barn this morning so that is a new hazard. I found a new bantam nest in the hayloft with 11 eggs. It was on the fourth tier of bales with steps of bales leading up. When I climbed back down with my pockets full of eggs I put my foot wrong and rolled the rest of the way down. I was not hurt at all. Some of the eggs were dented but none broke. Saving the eggs was a priority. I really hate a pocket full of raw egg. 15 eggs today. The weather continues raw and drizzly. Enough snow remains so that I had to put out hay three times. The cows and sheep went out in the pasture but every time they saw me they came hurrying back to the barn with hopeful expressions. They think am supposed to have all the answers, including to the weather.
April 30, Tuesday: No rain today, no snow, some sun. I planted one more tree, a Russian Olive. The lettuce, tyfon and kyona greens were happy under the snow and suffered no damage. The lilacs are a disappointment. Scarcely any leaves yet, let alone flowers for the cemetery on Memorial Day. Bagel and I walked by the river, but could not find the baby willows Sally planted. Perhaps the high water washed them away. The animals were able to graze all day. Both bantams and chicks are thriving. The brown hen who lost a chick and a lot of feathers to some predator about ten days ago has one black chick. The other hen is white and has one yellow chick. The brown hen is more aggressive and pecks the white one out of the way. Her yellow chick is the one that had trouble jumping up to the niche where they spend the night. But he is now getting tiny pinion feathers and can flutter more effectively. I noticed something interesting about the way his mother trained him. For the first two nights she got up ahead of him and sat there calling encouragement to him with a little trilling call. But by the third night she ceased to call. She knew that he knew where she was and she was not cutting him any more slack. I have observed this with many species, at first the mother goes out of her way to encourage her baby and help him learn things such as following. But before long she makes it his responsibility and shows impatience, or in the case of ducks, indifference if the babies don’t exert themselves.
May 2, Thursday: We had good weather this morning but I dutifully applied myself to my writing until 11am. Then I got up to take the dogs for a walk and it started to rain. It has continued all day. I believe it will take the last streaks of snow. Helen and Leah and the sheep kept right on grazing until about 3pm. Then they went into their nice warm barn and waited for hay to fall into the feeder. I think they have a pretty good life. I have not seen the goose on her nest at all lately. So I guess there is no hope for the eggs. My neighbor who keeps geese says that once they sit down they don’t stir off the nest. He thinks it is still too cold to make her want to start babies. I got 13 eggs yesterday, only nine today.
May 3, Friday: Very strong winds today made outdoor work intolerable so after an hour or so at the computer I got in the car and went shopping. I most especially meant to buy cat food but stupidly came home without it. So I poached some frozen pork liver and chopped it up for the cats. I notice one is seriously pregnant, a fact she has been hiding from me until today. She fell gratefully upon the liver. On the way home from the store I stopped in to see new twin girl cousins eight days old. They were born by C-section three weeks early and each weighed about 7 ½ pounds. I was much gratified by their good weight. I had been counseling their mother to eat plenty of meat and fat during her last trimester so that her twins would go to term. In other excitement, late this afternoon while collecting the eggs I hooked Bagel’s chain to a metal projection next to the barn. I have done this lots of times. It has the ground wire of the electric fence connected to it. After about five minutes he started to shriek. It took me several seconds to reach him and on the way I disconnected the fence. Poor Bagel was leaping and plunging. I took him back to the house and offered him a piece of chicken to cheer him up and he refused it (for about five minutes). He is still looking hangdog. Apparently there is something I don’t understand about electricity. I thought the ground wire was not hot. 13 eggs today.
May 4, Saturday: Since yesterday when Bagel received the horrid shock he has been extremely attentive to me. I’m sure he thinks I saved his life. If only he knew it was all my fault in the first place! In the middle of the night he climbed up on my bed and lay down on my legs. I endured it for a while but he weighs a ton. When I finally moved my legs he moved to the floor but was only satisfied so long as I let my arm dangle down his way. I don’t know what kind of dog Bagel is because my cousin took him in as a stray and gave him to me when all efforts in her part of the state failed to find an owner. Several people think he is a Rhodesian Ridgeback. Muffin is showing a great appetite for grass. She “grazed” today for about a half hour. The weather today was better. It was warm enough to go without a coat but still windy. Some of my seeds are up. The spinach looks promising. But I do not see a single pea. They should not have been deterred by the rain and cold. Maybe the birds got them. Only seven eggs today. Several nests where there should have been eggs were empty. Sneaky hens have found new nests. I hear the spring peepers again tonight. They were silent for nearly a week when the weather turned so cold.
May 6, Monday: I learned today that Coburn Farm has been accepted for inclusion in The National Register for Historic Places. Sunday was fine and warm and today even warmer. Everything I planted is at least showing above ground except the peas. I dug a few up to see if they looked alive or were even still there. They were down there alright, and just starting to put out their toes but today they have still not poked above ground. Today I found one of my Black Australorps dead. She has been droopy for a couple of days. But there were no other obvious symptoms. I was wrong a couple of weeks ago when I said the barn swallows were back. But this morning they were definitely there. My cousins down the road were wondering where theirs were too, and today theirs are also back. That is just so amazing. I suppose both families flew together from Mexico or wherever it is they winter and just parted company for the last seven miles. The parent birds are safe from cats. They glue their nests to roof beams that only a spider could reach. But the fledglings are very vulnerable because they leave the nest before they can fly properly. I only found eight eggs today.
May 7, Tuesday: More soil preparation today. A couple of peas are barely visible. I guess they were waiting for nice weather before starting to move. It was well above 60F today. I think Bagel is beginning to understand he is not to leave home. I have been letting him follow me around outside dragging his leash. I tried him without it briefly and he stayed right with me. He is intelligent, but I don’t know how much will power to expect of him. I am keeping him in sight while free. Nine eggs today.
May 8, Wednesday: I have been reminded that I have not made recent mention of Helen’s due Date, June 2. Leah is due June 28. I am hoping to get an extra calf to take some of the milk. Probably I will just let Leah keep hers. A first calf heifer has less milk and is hard to milk because of teensy teats. I am enjoying my holiday from milking. I am doing my best to finish revisions to Real Food while I have slightly less to do. However, I do miss the fresh milk and cream! Sally and I froze about 20 quarts but I have used the last one now. Some of it tasted a bit chalky when defrosted, but I like it better than store milk. When you are accustomed to real milk the characteristic cooked flavor of store milk and the nasty plastic carton taste are very evident. Some of the brands also have a rancid oxidized flavor. We also froze some cream but that is long gone. Another time I will freeze a lot more cream. Store bought cream is more evil than milk. It actually has anywhere from one to four chemical additives. One brand I bought has carrageenan, mono- and di-glycerides and polysorbate 80. The dogs and I walked to the river. Bagel has to be on a leash. I let him drag it. This prevents him running out of sight but it is hard to see him so disappointed in the adventure. Things look very springy now. This past winter was so mild that the forsythia did not freeze. Never before have I had forsythia like this. The grass is getting so good that Helen and Leah are almost indifferent to their gain. Nine eggs today.
May 9, Thursday: I found two new nests today. I’ve been searching every chance I get because I know I am not getting all the eggs. As usual, they were hiding in plain sight. One had 12 eggs, the other had nine. Last time I found such a nest I took too many eggs and the hen did not come back. Also, I put in plastic eggs which are not as well accepted as wooden ones. I will try to buy some more wooden ones. This time I left four eggs in one nest, three in the other. I don’t sell the eggs when I find these large collections. Obviously, some are over a week old. Guess I better make a cake. Only eight eggs today from the layers.
May 10, Friday: Before making today’s diary entry I am putting in a letter from my daughter-in-law, Amy, in Alaska. She has a new electric fence around a paddock for her two recently acquired, pretty New Forest ponies. She wrote this for the New Forest Newsletter.
“I have a cautionary tale that might be of interest at some time for the newsletter. It is at my expense by admitting to being not very clever. I got shocked by the fence rather violently a couple days ago. There is a new charger here, the old pulsing ones gave up and were replaced by this little teeny Red Snap’r that can’t be much bigger than a pack of ramen. It says it charges a mile of fence. The wire just sits there sort of primed until something completes the circuit then ZAP. None of the three horses currently living here have challenged it, which should have been a clue. I had been treating the fence, which is randomly and rarely on, very nonchalantly, I had brushed past it or grazed it with my knee when I crawled through: not so bad, it kind of tickled. Well, I was doing that same trick on Tuesday and lost my balance. Unluckily for me there was a metal fence post waiting to catch me. I grabbed the T-post in my left hand as my thigh contacted the wire. I think my eyes were rolling up. I could not let go. The electricity made my hand squeeze so tightly that my nails were trying to bend backward, one actually lifted somewhat off the nail bed and bled and looks gross. It probably lasted 15 or 20 seconds before I could pull it together enough to get away from the thing. I’m glad it was me and not one of the kids. It hurt like crazy.”
I am not familiar with this type of fence but I don’t think I want one.
Our weather today was fine but I could not get into the garden until evening and not at all yesterday. What a surprise I got! It rained some last night and the asparagus sprang out of the ground. Some spears are up eight inches. Later, the dogs and I walked to the river and I found violets in bloom and the shad bush also. I allowed Bagel to run without his leash. He is ok as long as I keep him strictly within sight. I have to keep calling him in. He comes, but it is a nuisance. I got a dozen eggs today thanks to the new nests.
May 12, Sunday, Mother’s Day: A fine day with two of my sons and one granddaughter. The weather was a bit bleak, but we went up to the lake and the boys did a polar bear plunge. There was still snow on the mountaintops. While at camp we got rid of the dead hen, the one that died five days ago. It is a puzzle what to do with a dead hen. I used to throw them over the river bank for the foxes but that was before I had Bagel. Martin took it way out in the woods. After visiting camp I dropped the boys off with their mountain bikes near a trail at the foot of Bald Mountain and they got back to the farm about an hour and a half later. Mark gave the lawn its first mowing of the year. I picked my first asparagus. Martin worked on the old John Deere which has been sharing space with the cows in their run-in all winter, trying to get it started so he could get it out of there. It turns over well but does not start. Something is no doubt corroded. I had it covered with a plastic tarp to keep hay out of it. Next winter I will find an old blanket or rug. There is probably condensation under the plastic. I didn’t think about that last fall. Twelve eggs today. I did not write yesterday because of helping with the Grange supper.
May 13, Monday: Rain started softly this morning, then picked up in intensity as the day went on. The animals continued to graze through most of it, but by evening were all inside drying out. I put out a bale of hay and they all went right for it. This evening I went to a meeting and when I came out at 9pm the rain had turned to snow and there was over an inch on my car. I don’t think this is normal. 10 eggs today.
May 14, Tuesday: Most of the snow was gone by morning, having turned to rain. But, I see a lot on the mountains. It continues to be cold. The asparagus has stopped in its tracks and turned a purplish hue. The dogs and I took a nice walk by the river and found many wild flowers blooming. The river is up again. I checked the cows frequently today. A cold day on lush wet grass is an invitation to bloat. In fact, most of the grass is still too short and sparse for gobbling. The really lush stuff is on my lawn where it goes to waste. Helen is bagging up just a little bit. I hope she has no trouble calving. Last time she was in calf, as an experiment, I did not feed anionic salts, instead fed kelp. There are some reports of kelp protecting against milk fever, most of them anecdotal. She did not show more than very fleeting symptoms. This year I have been in a quandary. Helen is on the edge of being too fat. If I were to give her enough grain to cover the taste of the salts she would surely get too fat. This sets a cow up for ketosis. The kelp won’t be eaten without grain either, although it is more palatable than the salts. What I am doing is feeding about one and a half pounds of grain per day with a half cup of kelp, an amount which is marginal for obtaining any effect. Even this she does not get every day because when the weather is fine she and Leah do not even show up in the barn. I am counting on the effect of consistency with the kelp. She has been getting that half cup nearly every day for two years. Nineteen eggs today.
May 16, Thursday: There are some kittens in the barn. Today some of them emerged enough to allow me to pet them.. Black as usual. I opened a can of wet food that proved irresistible to the mom. Next time I open a can maybe several kittens will come forward. Helen is getting mighty big. Today when lying down to chew her cud her breathing sounded like a bellows. She looks extremely uncomfortable. Also, her hind feet are seriously overgrown. I hope the tips break off spontaneously. My vet ties up the cow’s leg and hoists it up so the cow is standing on three legs. It makes the cow tippy at the best of times and I don’t want to put Helen through this. The weather today was a lot better.
May 17, Friday: I didn’t see the kittens today. I put out a generous plate of wet food, but was in a hurry and left before glimpsing more than flitting shadows under the floor boards. I hope they got a few nibbles to whet their appetite for canned cat food. Then I will catch them in a week or so, maybe. It warmed up some today and dried out enough for me to do some lawn mowing. There are a lot of clumps so big it gagged the mower. I bounce it around to loosen up the chewed grass but then I have to pull the starter cord. Finally, I gave up. More tomorrow if it does not rain. The black hen with a half grown black chick roosted up high this evening and left her baby down below. They usually do try to get the chick to go high, but when it can’t, the mother comes back lower down. Not this one. 14 eggs.
May 19, Sunday: It rained most of yesterday. I worked indoors and got more of my tomato seedlings transplanted. Today it continues cold but dry. I am out of wood. I went up to camp and brought back enough for a couple of days in the trunk of my car, then built a good fire. Also, I made French bread with sesame seeds on it. Then, just as I was heading down to the garden an old friend from New Jersey stopped by. He was hoping to pick fiddleheads. He waited while I did a few things in the garden including planting an experimental row of mangels for the cows. Then we took the dogs and walked down through the spring woods. There are still virtually no bugs. I don’t know what the poor swallows are surviving on. Most of the fiddleheads are now foot high ferns but we did find a few still emerging. I think he ended up with about two pounds. On the way back the cows and sheep followed us close enough to feel their breath and the sheep were also clustered around. I’m not sure if they were hoping for the fiddleheads or just felt friendly but I think John was a little nervous of them. He is a scalloper and more used to big waves than sniffing cows.
Last night the white bantan did the same as the black one did a couple of nights ago and left her chick down below while she roosted in the rafters. When I said goodnight to him he was still peeping around at floor level and not even hopping up the steps. But, there he was with his mama this morning. Then this evening I could see him high up with his mother. She actually had roosted in a place where he could reach her in a series of hops. Eleven eggs both yesterday and today.
May 20, Monday: It was down to 27F this morning and I lost some plants. Every spear of asparagus that was above ground was destroyed, such a shame. I have never had this happen before. The day warmed up enough to encourage me to take a chance on setting out lettuce. It has been growing outside under a Plexiglass panel I had set up so is already hardy. I set out 40 Boston lettuce seedlings. It’s my favorite. If they make it through the night I will figure out a way to cover them with floating row cover. I think I may have enough milk crates to hold the stuff up. Experience has shown me that it is no use supporting it with mere stakes. Tents like that attract cats. They use them as a hammock and do more damage than the weather. Eleven eggs again today.
May 21, Tuesday: Helen is finally bagging up. I felt her udder this morning and it was getting noticeably firm and warm. Leah is making bag now too and looks as though she will have a pretty good udder and better teats than a lot of heifers. She is a really beautiful heifer and much more friendly than formerly. This morning I began increasing Helen’s grain a little bit. A gentleman came today and bought two dozen big eggs and a dozen bantam eggs to put in his incubator. Mine are all fertile eggs because I keep about one rooster for every four hens, wash the eggs as little as possible and then only in cold water. And, I do not refrigerate them. I located a new nest today and took two eggs from it for a total of eleven. The layers gave me only nine. I really should dress off a few of those old hens.
May 23, Thursday: Yesterday I could not write. I spent the evening driving to the airport to pick up my friend from California. She will be with me for a week.
I got only six eggs yesterday, darned birds. Today I got 17 and they were mostly big ones. There are three bantam hens sitting that I know of. One has eggs I gave her from the layers. The others have their own eggs. The two bantam hens that are rearing one layer chick each have now taken to roosting in the highest rafters. The black youngster who is a week or so older gets up there handily to roost with her mom. The white one has an endless struggle I can hardly bear to watch. Sometimes he stops and looks pleadingly at me. Or so it seems. The pastures now look a psychedelic Irish green. Helen and Leah are happy all day and I think the sheep are too. They are all very friendly. People are beginning to ask if Helen is expecting twins. I see the calf kicking sometimes. 17 eggs today.
May 24, Friday: My lawn mower quit a few days ago in the tall grass down near the vegetable garden. This morning I got up my courage to have another go at it. The pull cord was unwilling to be pulled, totally blocked. I called Randy’s Repair and Mrs Randy gave me some suggestions involving the spark plug and the air filter. After several trips up and down from the garden I decided to drag it back up to the garage. (It is rather heavy) There I removed the air filter cover and etc. and blew on things, got more grass out of the blades, and then it started but I am not sure why. I mowed for only about an hour. I also spent some time today cutting away turf from the base of two apple trees. There are still two that need doing. But yesterday’s heat brought out blossoms on the apple, plum and cherry trees. They are about eight or ten years old and have never blossomed before. It clouded over in the afternoon and the wind kicked up. I saw some bumble bees working, but have not seen a honey bee this year. They will not work unless the temperature is above 60F, so I have read, and there has been precious little of that kind of weather. Another chicken died, a Black Australorp. I think she was about old enough to vote so it is not to be wondered at. But, I still wish I knew why she died. Ten eggs today.
May 25, Saturday: So far, I do not have a true count of the kittens in the barn, maybe four. Any time I take the time to sit down next to the feed pan they begin creeping out. I am able to stroke them with one finger. Helen and Leah look better every day, just fine. Eleven eggs today.
May 26, Sunday: More rain today, just enough to save me watering the baby trees. After church I did some light Sunday gardening around the flower beds and set out a few plants. Now a few little spots near the house look nice. There is still so much that needs doing that it makes me feel like taking a nap. Helen and Leah have not come up for their grain for three days. They love the lush grass more than grain. One dozen eggs today.
May 27, Memorial Day Monday: Very fine weather today. I dug another long row in the veg garden but did not get anything planted. There are three (known) setting hens in the barn that I check every day for chickies. Tonight one had hatched her two eggs. I reached under her and there were no eggs so I felt around for tiny legs. The chicks can be very hard to find because they go way up into the hen’s armpits. I bundled them up in my arms and transferred her to the safe room. I was a bit surprised her eggs hatched. She laid them in the very niche where three weeks ago another hen chose to spend the night. That was the hen that made her chick hop so high. That white hen would push her off her nest and spend the night on the eggs. In the morning the hen that the eggs belonged to would return and sit on them. This happened repeatedly, but there was often a long gap when the eggs were uncovered. I got another large section of lawn mowed today. My guest collected eggs today and only found five.
May 28, Tuesday: Helen begins to look a bit closer to calving every day, but she is feeling rather independent. She spends all day gobbling lush grass and ignoring her barn and me, her friend. But she looks up and says hello when I speak her name. Early this morning I noticed that she had ignored the electric fence wire and was in among the new trees. I unplugged the fence more than two weeks ago when Bagel got his chain tangled in the ground wire and got a bad shock. So my first task today was setting the electric fence system back in order. Helen had not touched the trees. She was after the grass. All the trees made it through the winter but the oak tree is suffering. Most of the top is dead but new buds are appearing midway up the trunk so there is hope for it. My two news chicks and their mom are in good shape. A man stopped by and wanted to buy rotted cow manure. I let him fill six 5 gal. pails and charged him $1 each. 11 eggs today.
May 29, Wednesday: Today was long. I was up at 3:15 to drive my guest two hours to the airport. The new chicks and their mama are even cuter today. All the animals spent a long time today inside the barn chewing their cuds. The flies must now be annoying them a lot. I have had a vacation from barn cleaning while they stayed out all the time, but it will be back to work tomorrow. For some days I have put out no bird seed because grackles and starlings were taking it all. However, this morning I put out black thistle seed because I thought I saw a goldfinch. Soon there were two in the feeder. I found that tree swallows have nested in the bluebird house, which is fine because there are no bluebirds around at present.
May 30, Thursday: Hot muggy weather today. I think I hear the grass growing. For much of today there was a light drizzle, so there could be no thought of lawn mowing. Helen chose to lie around inside the barn much of today. So, Leah had to stay too. The sheep also appeared to feel obligated to hang about. The net result was a very messy barn, which I could not even clean out with all of them standing or lying in there.. I spread an old bale of hay over the worst of it. Also, today I moved the stock tank outdoors and refilled it. Helen looks as big as a house and when lying down her breathing is accompanied by a grunt. For the first time today there was a bit of mucus showing. She and Helen both stood up and asked for grain twice today. So I gave them some. I am not graining the sheep. They no longer even bother to ask. Eight eggs today.
May 31, Friday: A thunderstorm with violent wind and horizontal rain came out of the west and went through here in the late afternoon. It savaged the lilac blossoms and I don’t know what it did to the new group of lettuce seedlings I set out earlier. The window in the grain room was open and some bags of feed were soaked. The door from the chicken run to the pasture was torn open and the gate to the goose pen also. I had a great fight to get the large sliding garage door closed, but knew I had to do it or it would surely hop off its track. When I went outside to close it a great stream of dogs and cats ran into the kitchen. I did not think to go out and unplug the electric fence which should never be left on in an electrical storm. But, it appears no harm was done apart from the wet grain bags. All the grazing animals had gone into the beefer pen and were quietly chewing their cuds like good cows and sheep. I have a large patch of naturalized Thermopsis carolinus out behind the barn. This resembles yellow lupin. Tomorrow will reveal how it fared. Fortunately I had picked a big bunch before the storm. 13 eggs today.
June 1, Saturday: Our power was off today for three and a half hours. The wind continued very strong today and a tree was down somewhere on the line. So, I took the dogs and walked down to the Pocket Field, my last field, to see how the wild strawberries are coming along. They are at least a week away from being ready, but we had a fine walk and the dogs took a dip in the river. I came across a beautiful sight. By the river there was a great patch of naturalized forget-me-nots perhaps fifteen feet long and ten feet wide. It was like a soft blue cloud. Helen seems very alert but I do not think will calve tonight. Tomorrow is her due date. Only seven eggs today. I am selling them as fast as I have a dozen.
June 2, Sunday: Today is Helen’s due date, but my guess is that she will go another five or six days at least. Leah is beginning to make bag. Both are very friendly. I planted a row of my heirloom potatoes and did some energetic pruning. However, it was windy all day and mostly overcast. One of my trays of tomato seedlings was destroyed by the wind. I overlooked it until too late. A dozen eggs today.
June 4, Tuesday: As usual, right in plain sight where I had been walking I found a bantam nest with six beautiful blue eggs. It is next to the tractor wheel. For some reason a nest next to the tractor wheels is perennially popular. I took three of the eggs.. She was not suspicious and today laid another. The large Black Australorp and her two adorable chicks that live out with the bantams are doing fine. The chicks are big and strong. But, I lock her in a safe room with them every night after what happened last month. A predator nearly killed a hen and took one of her chicks. Twelve eggs yesterday and two today. Helen’s udder looks big enough to fill a wheelbarrow and her tailhead is getting encouragingly wobbly. This happens a few days before calving because of relaxation of the pelvic ligaments. But, I don’t think she will calve tonight. I hope she will calve in the beefer pen like last time. She appears to consider it home. It is so much more convenient for me if she does.
June 5, Wednesday: All morning Helen grazed as usual. Then, at 1 o’clock when I went to the Barn. There she was in the beefer pen, their haven, with a fresh calf. For some reason she was doing a lot of mooing. The calf was so tiny I thought surely there must be twins. But, nobody else arrived and the calf began getting to its feet and fluffing out and pretty soon it looked a lot bigger. Leah stood by watching attentively, but not interfering. So far Helen is being an angel. She stood like a rock while I helped the calf to Suck. None of that usual circling. The calf was eager and competent and I got it to suck three teats. Then it laid down for a nap. Helen and Leah laid down about four feet apart with the calf between them. I felt that this positioning was no accident. About 3:30 I went out with my buckets to milk out some colostrum, taking along apples to tempt Helen into where her stanchion is. She was of course unwilling to leave her calf. However, Leah ran right in. I got her tied up, then stood waiting until Helen turned her head away. Then I picked up the calf and ran with it to get through the narrow aisle ahead of Helen. She ran after me and when I got to the end of the aisle I set the calf down unceremoniously. Once her calf was near the stanchion Helen put her head right in. Then she stood like a lamb while I milked out a gallon and a half of colostrum. She only switched her tail when her calf toddled out of sight. We have named the calf Virginia. I left a night light on for Helen. She is terribly careful not to step on those twiggy little legs, but it might be better if she can see. As evening came on it started to rain. I had the barnyards gates closed so that Helen would not take her calf far away. But the sheep managed to get themselves divided into two groups, one in the barnyard and the other outside the gate in the field. I got them together and led them over to their own run-in which they now seldom use. It is under the buttery. Rain was falling in sheets over the entry. I went inside and called to them and it was funny to see them each hesitate at the sheet of water, then leap into the air as they went through it. Nine eggs today.
June 6, Thursday: At my first sight of Helen this morning she was out grazing in her very limited paddock behind the barn. No milk fever! I got her in for milking, not without difficulty because of the need to drag and push Virginia ahead of her. I have a collar on her to assist with this. Virginia had already sucked as was evident from one very soft quarter with the smooth clean teat that means dried calf spit. Helen stood like a perfect cow while I milked another gallon and a half of colostrum. After getting them all back into their run-in, the beefer pen, I opened one of the field gates. I decided to take a chance on letting her take Virginia out for the day. Virginia’s good angel (or mine) had me looking out the window at the right moment at 10:30, to see both cows and little Virginia trotting out into the field. My heart was in my throat as I saw Helen lead Virginia along the rather muddy cowpath that borders the river. I traced their progress to the farthest point of the field where there are trees. Later I was again looking at around 1:00 and saw Helen lead Virginia back along the river where she stashed her in a dense copse. I chained up Bagel in case he should confuse things and alarm Helen and walked down to have a closer look. A calf is like a fawn in its invisibility and immobility. It will not move or get up unless nudged quite vigorously or tickled along the spine. I left her alone. In fact, I pretended not to see where she was in case it might make Helen move her. I made a fortunate discovery among the trees, a great tangle of old electric fence wire, perhaps 25 or 30 feet that had been there for years. It was probably torn loose in a spring flood. Some loops ran under the roots of 2″ saplings. Such wire is of course deadly to livestock. I was unable to pull it out, but looped most of it onto one tree and will go back tomorrow with wire cutters. This evening at milking time I looked out the buttery window and was again just in time to see Helen put Virginia down in a marshy area. I called Helen to come in for milking and she trotted right up to the barn. She was almost stepping up the indoor ramp leading to the milking room when she suddenly decided she could not leave her calf alone. She was unstoppable as she whirled and ran all the way back down and stood at a distance of about 100′ from Virginia. But, I knew where she was and soon found her. Then I had the exhausting task of nudging and dragging her all the way back to the barn and all the way to the stanchion with Helen dancing in attendance. However, Helen once again stood sweetly while I milked. Tonight I got only one gallon. She let down very poorly. I put the calf on her and she sucked reasonably well, but I saw no evidence that Helen let down for her either. I closed the barnyard gate so there will be no night grazing. I don’t care to do that calf wrangling first thing in the morning. There was a new bantam and chick skittering around in the barn, but I had no time to deal with it and then it disappeared. The fridge is full of colostrum now. I will freeze most of it. Late check: Helen is very alert and eating some of the good hay I found for her.
June 7, Friday: Helen was so good today. At this evening’s milking she was right up in the barn and had brought Virginia with her. It was no trouble getting her in. Her bag is still quite congested but I did get 1.5 gallons both morning and evening. Weather today was very fine. It was charming to see Virginia twinkling along next to her mama in the pasture with Leah not far behind. Virginia also nibbles grass in imitation of her mother. I can’t see that she drinks much milk but I did see her pee a goodly puddle, so there is my evidence. One dozen eggs today.
June 8, Saturday : Another fine day. Son Mark , granddaughter Hailey and I went down and found that nasty wire in the woods. Mark cut it out with wire cutters. What a dangerous mess that was. Helen had Virginia hidden among the trees. We had Bagel dog along and the cows didn’t like having him around. Helen hoped we would not notice where Virginia was and so we tactfully kept our distance from her. Due to Bagel’s presence, Helen pawed the ground first with one front hoof and then the other and threw a lot of leaf mould up in the air and over her back. Virginia is rapidly learning to come along in at milking time. Rounding up the herd was pretty easy this evening. Tonight I am experimenting with letting her stay out all night in the pasture. This way she can graze. But, if she gives me a lot of trouble getting her in tomorrow morning I may think better of it tomorrow night. Hailey and I were collecting eggs and found a very new chick with no mama. I could not find any hen to put it with so have it in a box on the Aga. Just what I need. Only six eggs today.
June 9, Sunday : Today started so early and went on so long I can hardly remember the beginning. Helen came in nicely for morning milking with Virginia and Leah. She gave about two gallons, but I spilled some when I jumped up with the bucket as she lifted her tail. Before letting her out of her stanchion son Martin came with a hammer and cold chisel to see if he could shorten up her overgrown rear toenails. The toenails proved too tough. Then he tried the heavy, long handled garden shears and those worked a lot better. At the evening milking I went out by myself, but could not find Virginia. Consequently, I could not get Helen in. She led me on a great hike around the field and back again before I finally found Virginia. We had a lot of company, so Martin offered to milk so I could give my attention to dinner. But, I stayed in the barn a few minutes to help him get organized. I was standing behind Helen when she let fly with some very loose manure, all the time rapidly switching her tail like a hippopotamus. I had the impression she did this with clear intent. I had to go in and shower and put all my clothes in the wash. Then she settled down and Martin got about two gallons of milk. Eight eggs today.
June 10, Monday Another fine day with happy cattle. Helen was nearby with Virginia and Leah both this morning and tonight. However she was restless during milking. Not raising her tail like last night, but she has so much milk that I can’t finish milking before she gets bored. My daughter Sally ordered me some alfalfa pellets to put on her feed and slow her down. I think I may increase the amount. What she especially does not like is for me to change off hands so that I am milking with my left when she is accustomed to my using my right on her left rear teat. Since the two right-side teats are the ones favored by the calf, they have less milk. It would be very convenient to use my left hand on that left rear teat but it annoys her a lot when I do. I got over two gallons each milking, but a lot is still being left behind. She stops letting down. I have been keeping that orphan chick in a box on the Aga and feeding it a mixture of milk and wheat germ. Today I found a bantam that had just hatched a couple of chicks. Before I go to bed I am going to put this chick under her and see if I can graft it into her family. “My” chick is fine and healthy. Eleven eggs today.
June 11, Tuesday This morning the little chick was part of a new family and doing fine. The hen is hard to help, being the kind that flies in my face if I get near her family, but I did set out water for them and throw down feed. Helen’s udder was in slightly better shape today. Milking this evening went smoothly. She is still holding up her milk so I am not getting a lot of cream. If after a few more days she still does not let down for me I will separate the calf. I have no use for four gallons a day of low fat milk. The five college kids left late morning today. They were a hungry group. Also very helpful. It has now rained for 26 hours which limited what they could do outside. Eleven eggs today.
June 12, Wednesday: The farm is sodden, the rain continues. When I got Helen and Family in for milking this morning they were soaking wet from having been out grazing early. After milking she obviously did not want to go back out in the rain, so I put out hay and they stayed in all morning. This evening when I went to find her, Virginia was not to be seen. Helen was not about either to tell me where she was or come in without her. When I found Virginia, she displayed a new developmental stage. She is one week old today. Instead of “playing possum” as before, she leapt to her feet like a deer and ran away. OK, I thought, now I can drive Helen in and Virginia will follow. I think this would have worked fine except I had forgotten to chain up Bagel and at this point he streaked down to help. I put the hay string I had brought for Virginia onto Bagel’s collar to stop him circling, but it ended up as hot work getting them in, and my boots full of water. I got five gallons from Helen today and there was about another gallon I could not get. I put the kicker on her for a while so I could trade off hands milking that difficult back teat. The calf so far sucks only the right hand teats and mostly only the rear. All weekend while I had company I was worried because my big old orange tomcat, Gingerbread, was missing. Finally today he showed up. Two of his paws are injured. Not much can be seen but he is limping badly. He is neutered and has not fought for years, so it must have been an encounter with a predator. Both foxes and raccoons kill cats. Only five eggs today from my water logged hens.
June 13, Thursday: This morning I took along a little can of sweet feed when I went to fetch Helen. If I had been 15 minutes earlier I would have found her waiting in the barn, but she had just given up and left. I called to her but she ignored me. However, the taste of grain changed her mind and she took off for the barn. I caught Virginia’s collar and we ran along behind her. Once Helen was obviously entering the barn I let go of Virginia and she followed her mother to the tie up. I got two gallons of milk, but she is still letting down grudgingly. This evening Helen came into the barn when she heard me call and Virginia followed. Leah has come in by herself ahead of the others each time lately. I have increased Leah’s grain slightly to about 2lbs twice a day and added a sprinkling of alfalfa pellets to familiarize her with them. I am giving Helen about 3lbs of 16% grain plus a pound of alfalfa pellets, which is more than she needs, being rather fat. But, this amount of grain makes coming into the barn seem worthwhile to her. Both are still getting about ¼ cup of ground kelp each time. For the first time Virginia had suckled the difficult left rear teat, making milking a lot easier. But, Helen is still holding up her milk because I am not Virginia. Tonight I got only 1.5 gals. Eight eggs today.
June 14 Friday This morning Helen gave back all the milk she held up last night. I brought in close to three gallons. This evening there were almost two and a half. And, of course Virginia gets her share. She is growing like pigweed. Tonight Helen let down a lot better. I put the kicker on her towards the end when I needed to change off hands because my right was getting achy. All three came into the barn nicely morning and evening. I can’t budge Virginia unless Helen is already moving. She just sets her feet. But, I find if I give Helen a whiff of that bit of grain she remembers how much she loves it and turns towards the barn. Today was going to be the day I finished planting the garden. The weather was very fine. But then my vet stopped in and I gave him some lunch. Tomorrow rain is expected along with unseasonably cold weather, so probably nothing was going to grow anyway.
June 15, Saturday: Rain almost all day, as forecast. The river is unseasonably high. We have had wet Junes before, but last winter a great deal of vicious clear cutting occurred in the hills around here. No doubt this has a lot to do with the river level. I feel sure that all the nests of wild ducks have been swept away from the riverbank. There are plenty of goldfinches this year. I am putting out only thistle seed. This seems to discourage the grackles and blue jays. Both morning and evening Helen was stubborn about leaving her hideout under the buttery and coming in to be milked. I even got Virginia 50 feet down the trail and still she did not budge. Leah finally came, then finally Helen. I have decided that it is the knee deep mud at the beginning of her ramp that she hates. It needs a yard of gravel in there. She gave 2.5 gals. this morning and 1.5 tonight. There is quite a lot of milk staying behind, but her udder is not actually in any trouble. Virginia has had one preferred quarter from the first day, but now there is usually at least one other quarter that has been sucked. It is amazing how fast she is growing. I made her a proper leash today. I hope I can get her cooperative about being led before she completely overpowers me. Six eggs today.
June 16, Sunday: Helen brought Virginia right up to the barnyard gate this evening at milking time, but it was nonetheless difficult to get her past that point. Virginia is not too skittish if I move slowly, so I was able to catch her and thus move the party forward. What a lot of milk I am getting! I brought in, believe it or not, 3.5 gallons this morning and 2.75 tonight, plus Virginia of course feeds ad lib. But, tonight Helen was incredibly dirty. She really lay down in a mess somewhere plus her tail was disgusting. It took half a roll of paper towels followed by hot water and a towel to clean her up. Her tail was still nasty and she kept waving it so I tied it to the wall with a hay string. She was very good while I milked a full bucket to within an inch of the top. It took me a half hour to finish milking both tonight and this morning. I think my hands and shoulders are improving a bit. This afternoon I got into the garden briefly and put diatomaceous earth on the lettuce. The slugs are after my beautiful young butter lettuce. I made an herbal tea to try on them too. I steeped Balm of Gilead leaves in boiling water. I have no particular reason to think this will help, except nothing, but nothing, eats that tree.
June 17 Monday Virginia has grown so much that today I punched a new hole in her collar to let it out a bit. She trotted right along with me this morning coming to the barn. This evening all three were grazing in sight of the barnyard. I just stood there calling and both Leah and Virgina came in. Soon Helen lumbered in after them. I caught Virginia and put her on her lead rope so she wouldn’t skitter off somewhere. Helen would surely follow her and make me ever so much trouble. Helen was well behaved at both milkings, but let down poorly. I brought in only 4.5 gallons today. Fortunately, Virginia is now trying out the other quarters that she had been neglecting. I put up netting for my peas today. I should have done it sooner. They are over a foot tall and flopped over. The bugs were awful in the garden. Nine eggs today
June 18, Tuesday: Helen, Virginia and Leah were perfect today. In the morning I had to fetch them from their hideout beneath the buttery, but they came right along as soon as they saw me. With just a little guidance to keep her on track Virginia trots right along to her position next to her mother. Helen let down better than yesterday. I did put the kicker on her this morning so I could use my left hand more. I got about three gallons in the morning. At the evening milking they were all waiting inside the beefer pen ready to walk right in. Helen let down even better and I managed without the kicker. I am still not getting as much cream as I would if she let down properly. She holds up for the calf. This is the first time I have stuck it out this long with the calf running with mom. The fact that I have half the pasture closed off has helped. She can’t really hide, in fact prefers to be in one of the run-ins because of the bugs. I have spent time petting Virginia so that she is not as hard to catch as she would otherwise be. Also I am being Zen about the fact that I am missing a lot of the cream because of Helen holding up her milk. I am making one pound of butter a day, whereas on a day like today when she gave 5.5 gallons I ought to get two pounds. But at least I have happy, healthy animals. So long as they cooperate this is less work for me. Only three eggs today. I spent a few minutes searching, but no luck.
June 19, Wednesday: Finally it warmed up enough to set out tomato plants. I got five set out. Helen gave five gallons.
June 20, Thursday: Another fine day, even warmer at close to 80f. I got a few more tomato plants set out, also the dahlias. Everything is getting ahead of me. Many roses are now in bloom. I especially love an unknown pinkish white one that grows in a vast bramble near the old pigpen. We call it the pigpen rose. It has a superb scent, well beyond any other rose I know. Helen gave barely 4.5 gallons today. She continues to hold up her two left quarters and the calf never drinks from them. So far no signs of mastitis, but I am getting worried. Tonight I slathered a strongly aromatic udder cream on the two teats Virginia always chooses. I am hoping it will driver her to the others! The neighbor from whom I bought my old John Deere came over and got her started up and moved out of the barn. He was careful not to run over or step on the little brown hen setting next to one of the big wheels but she is now very exposed. Five eggs today. Something tells me I need new hens.
June 21, Friday: Well here is a mystery. This morning Helen’s bag was soft all over. She let down without enthusiasm, none of the usual dripping of milk. She just did not have much milk. I worked hard to get under one gallon. It was almost as though she had already been milked a couple of hours earlier. But that is impossible. The milk appears to be very creamy. I suppose this is the sort of thing that long ago caused people to blame bad fairies or evil spells. It surely is odd when a cow that was coming in fit to explode suddenly has a floppy bag. There us usually a heat about this point after calving, but Helen was sober as a judge. This evening Helen did her best to make up for this morning. She was packed with milk. The 2.5 gal. bucket was so full the lid was floating on foam. Also, I was pleased to note that Virginia had been drinking from the previously avoided front left quarter. Now if she would just get interested in the rear quarter, always the hardest to milk. This afternoon I took some fencing materials and closed off the Pocket Field which is an extension of the North Field. . Then I opened the gate so they can have the North Field. Since they have not been grazing it, it has grown up to hay and is full of wild flowers including a big patch of wild iris. It is a glorious sight. There is a lot of clover in North Field that I hope is not too much for Leah. It was a little hard to get Helen in this evening. Virginia was nestled down in the tall grass and clover and did not want to move even when Helen called her. Five eggs.
June 22, 2002 Saturday: Helen gave three gallons this morning. At about 4 PM my sons Martin and Mark and granddaughter Hailey, 9, arrived bringing a fine new riding mower, the sort of thing which makes people really want to mow the lawn. It is a combined gift from my children. They also brought a three day old Jersey bull calf from a dairy in Turner. They named him Cletus because he drooled all over the cab of Martin’s truck where all of them were crammed in. The name has something to do with a character in The Simpson’s. There was a bit too much excitement when the boys carried the calf into the barn. The stall where it is to live had chickens pecking around, including the little hen who had accepted Squeaky last week. I was herding the little family out when the hen saw Bagel and Muffin standing in the doorway. I guess the dogs decided all rules were off when we trooped into the barn with the calf and followed us in (I don’t permit dogs in the barn). The hen freaked out and flew into the rafters, the chicks went every which way and I yelled at the dogs. A minute or so later Martin spotted Bagel out on the lawn with Squeaky in his mouth. More screaming by me and Mark, who gave Bagel a good clout upside the head. Squeaky was alive but wet with dog spit, limping badly, and had a bit of torn skin. So, now he is back on the Aga stove trying to decide if life is worth living. We are optimistic. Martin then milked Helen who gave a lot of milk, two buckets required to hold it all. But, Helen was in a bad mood, possibly because Virginia, who was not tied, wandered away. And, when Martin was mopping his brow she took the opportunity to kick over the bucket. Meanwhile, Mark hopped onto the new lawn tractor and whizzed around the lawn. He got the whole thing mowed while Martin did chores, a record time. All I had to do was get dinner on the table. It was Martin’s birthday dinner, he having been born on the 21st of June, the summer Solstice. I made an orange bundt cake that was perfect with piles of thick Jersey cream and strawberries.
June 23, 2002 Sunday: The boys were busy bees all morning rearranging my office equipment, it being too rainy for outdoor work. Squeaky seems alert and hops on one leg. I have to help him eat and drink He has not got the hang of it one legged. Martin also found an orphaned kitten under the garage and now it also is in the kitchen. It is quite small and has no idea how to drink from a saucer. The boys left in the early afternoon. I will have to catch up with my butter making tomorrow. I got about 4.5 gals of milk today. Cletus is vigorous and thumps around in his stall while I am milking. I am feeding him from a bottle. So far the others have not had an opportunity to meet him. After they had left the barn I kicked open a bale of hay as bedding for Cletus. This alarmed him and he emitted a terrified blat. From outdoors Helen answered with a loud moo, apparently her instinctive response to suspected calf abuse. Only three eggs today, but I discovered where a lot of them are going. Hens have been laying under a setting hen up in the hay mow. In my experience, they don’t do that after the hen has been sitting more than three days. They seem to know their eggs have to be coordinated with the 21 day incubation period. There are about 14 under her now and I don’t dare take any. Most of them are half way ready to hatch but I don’t know which ones.
June 24, 2002 Monday: I thought Leah might be calving today from her behavior. But, no. She is beginning to look a lot more ready. Cletus continues to be very bouncy. I bought him a new red nylon dog collar. I don’t approve of nylon collars, leather is better and safer, but I was in a rush and was visiting the new Walmart in our area. They had only nylon. I will change to a leather one later. I am giving Cletus a gallon and a half of milk in three feedings. My orphaned kitten is just too young to drink from a saucer, so I am now feeding him with a demitasse spoon. He is very eager for his milk now. Squeaky, the chick, is also now eating well. I changed from wheat germ and yogurt to plain corn meal and he loves it. He tried to do the chicken scratching moves on one foot but of course cannot. He sort of hops instead. Helen gave five gallons or more today. What a job! But I am selling some, 3 gallons today and Cletus is a steady customer.
June 26, 2002 Wednesday: Yesterday seemed so endless that this morning I could not remember whether I had written in my diary or not. I find that the answer is “not”. Helen gave 5 gallons and more. Of course she is feeding Virginia too, who is growing fast. Squeaky, the chick, is putting a little weight down on his foot and the kitten has learned to drink for a dish. When Hailey, age nine, was here on Sunday I gave her some goose quills. The goose has abandoned her nest and gone into a moult, so I was finally able to collect some. Hailey has wanted goose quills for months so that she could try making goose quill pens. On Tuesday I received a letter from her written with a goose quill. It wrote perfectly. Six eggs on Tuesday. Today Helen again distinguished herself by giving another five plus gallons. She stood especially well today. This evening there was a considerable thunderstorm and Muffin stood outside the barn door barking to be let in. Even that did not disturb Helen. Leah’s bag is firming up now so it will not be long. Five eggs.
June 27, Thursday: While Virginia was resting as I milked Helen, I noticed that she was chewing her cud. This is the first time I have seen this. She was three weeks old yesterday. She is wonderfully healthy looking. This morning Helen’s production was down a bit, only 2.25 gals. This evening it was way down, only 1.5 gallons. For some reason it was hard to get her into the barn. She walked right up to the barn when she heard me with the buckets, then walked away. I had to go down to the run-in under the buttery and do a lot of coaxing to get her. I got a lead rope on Virginia, tempted Leah with a handful of grain, and Helen refused to get moving until I was well down the path with the other two. It is no easy task to control Virginia now. In fact I can’t if she takes an alarm as she did once recently when Bagel showed up. It is about time for the “calf heat”, but there has been no bellowing or kicking. Squeaky is doing better and clearly is sick of being in confinement. If I don’t forget, after dark I am going to pop him back under his mom. Five eggs.
June 28, Friday: I did pop Squeaky under his mom last night after dark. He had been doing a lot of stressed out peeping. It was nice to notice that the instant I put him under his mother’s wing he stopped peeping and settled right down. This morning he was hopping along with the other two. He still limps, but has good little wings to help himself along. Still no calf from Leah. Today was her due date. Late last night my son Max and his family arrived for a visit and today I put him to work cleaning the stock tank. Milk production was down the last three milkings and I thought it might be the water. It looked clear but there was a lot of fuzzy algae on the sides of the tank. Max cleaned it thoroughly and I refilled it with fresh water. Helen and Leah took a big long drink and tonight she gave 2.5 gals for a total today of close to 5 gallons. Max reminded me of a time years ago when we had our dairy farm. We were puzzled by a huge drop in production. After a couple of days somebody leaning on the fence observed a cow sidling up to the water tank. As she approached the water our Border collie, Willy, streaked out from behind the trough and drove her away. He had been spending his time crouched by the tank preventing the cows from drinking.
June 30, 2002 Sunday: Two very hot days in a row. Helen gave 5 gallons both Saturday and Sunday. Max has mowed my vast lawn area with the new lawn tractor and the place looks fine. Seven eggs yesterday, five today. I figured out that a factor in this poor egg production is that all the younger birds, which are the better layers, escape through the hen yard fence every day to forage the fields. Heaven only knows where they are laying. The old granny birds with less ambition stay all day in their room and yard laying the occasional egg. Squeaky, the crippled chick, gets along fine now. You can hardly see his limp.
July 1, Monday: A series of dramatic thunderstorms began about 4AM and continued until 9AM When I went to the barn all the animals were dotted around the beefer pen, their cozy run-in, chewing their cuds. Actually, the sheep looked a bit worried, but cows are a placid breed. After milking they looked meaningfully at their hay feeder, being in no mood to go out in the pouring rain. I gave them a bale of hay and the sheep joined the cows in eating it. It was very hot today, 80 something. Worse is predicted. Still no calf from Leah. After milking, I let Cletus, the Jersey bull calf that I bought, have the run of the main hall in the barn. He did a lot of running. At evening milking I let him out again for a get acquainted session. His running alarmed Virginia and consequently Helen. So I had to put him back in his stall. Four and a half gallons today and seven eggs.
July 2, Tuesday: It is so hot nobody talks of anything else. It was over 90F today and very muggy. Leah is the same, no calf. Two days ago I noticed that Cletus, the bull calf now two weeks old, was scouring a bit and getting smelly. I had been feeding him three half gallon bottles a day with the first two being part skimmed milk from a previous day, warmed up. Then once a day in the evening I was giving him a bottle of fresh warm milk. Now for the last four feedings he has had fresh warm milk and the scouring seems gone. I am letting him do some running around in the barn. He is bumptious and knocks everything down or over. Six eggs today. Something over five gallons of milk.
July 3, Wednesday: Even hotter today. 95F in the shade on the north side. Tonight there is lightening. The animals restricted their grazing and spent a lot of time lying around inside. The sheep appear to be suffering in their wooly coats. At least I have plenty of water for them at all times in the stock tank. Helen’s production was down a bit, 4.5 gallons plus whatever Virginia gets. Seven eggs. I saw a young coyote this evening.
July 4, Thursday: My Fourth of July excitement was all about Cletus. He nudged open a sliding door and got out of the barn. I missed him when it was time for his midday feed I looked for him for a while without success but thought perhaps he would come in with the others at milking time. He did not. I was expected up at camp for dinner so searched for only 20 minutes after milking. Later after dark I searched with the flashlight and picked up his eyes in the beam. I should have made sure that Bagel was chained before setting out to try to catch him but instead went plowing forth through a giant thistle patch in the direction of his eyes. Just as I reached him and he got to his feet there came Bagel plunging at top speed into the midst of things. All the other cattle were nearby and were frightened by Bagel of course. Cletus ran and Bagel was after him at top speed going straight for the river. I screamed, “No chasing” a few times which stopped him but all chances of catching Cletus were gone. Bagel knew he was bad and did not come near me. I felt a lot like hitting him over the head with a frying pan. I had to go to bed knowing Cletus was alone and hungry. He is not integrated with the other cattle. They are not mean to him but they seem to find him puzzling. Two more bantams hatched out chicks. One upstairs in the haymow hatched out nine. I took two and gave them to another hen that has been setting for six weeks, taking away her old eggs. I planned to move the one upstairs to an empty stall but later when I came back she had them down on the main floor. I suppose the poor little things had to jump 12′ down. Two were still up there working up their nerve. I caught them with a landing net and gave them to her. Helen gave only three gallons today no doubt due to the heat. Nine eggs.
July 5, Friday: It cooled off in the night so today was a more normal temperature. After morning milking I took a big tour looking for Cletus, this time with Bagel chained. No luck, but about 10AM son Max rode in from riding his mountain bike and we resumed the search. This time Max spotted him right away in a thistle patch. I guess he was ready to be found because he stood up when he heard our voices. It is the instinct of a calf to lie down and stay quiet but at some point, driven by hunger they will get up and that is when you find them. Apart from hunger, he was none he worse for wear. Helen gave over five gallons today. I got nine eggs.
July 7, Sunday: Martin took pity on Cletus who was stuck in the barn and tried him out on a rope on the lawn. He seemed likely to hang himself racing around. So, Martin tried him out with Helen and Virginia instead. Cletus got even more excited by this and ran in great loopy circles. He seemed confused as to whether he wanted to be with the cows or the people. He nearly exhausted himself and was coughing, so Martin caught him again and we returned him to the barn where I gave him a bottle of milk. Poor little guy. If Leah ever has her calf I hope to put him onto her so he can have a more normal life. Helen gave about four gallons today. How much I get depends a lot on how recently Virginia has fed. Six eggs today. Still no calf from Leah. I looked up her breeding date again and she was indeed due the end of June. Then I thought, “what if she is not really pregnant”? But, I was able to squeeze out some milk, so that’s a good sign.
July 11, Thursday: This is an intense week. To my chagrin, I discovered why Leah has not calved. I have indeed been a month off in my calculations. She is really due July 27. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Not much chance of putting Cletus on her I guess. We are now putting him with the cows every day and he sniffs around Leah a lot. Cletus did have a runny stool for a while. That has cleared up but he has a persistent cough and panting indicative of lung involvement. Each time I am about to medicate him or call the vet he clears up. He continues to take his bottle just fine. I have had no further trouble finding him. He stays with the others, but is also people oriented and rises when I approach. My sons Martin and Max put 300 bales of hay in the barn for me on Monday and Tuesday. I bought it from a neighbor. It looks pretty good and the bales are good sized. One always feels better with hay in the barn. The awfully hot weather has abated and the nights are now in the 60s. What a relief! During the heat all my lovely spinach bolted and some of the lettuce. I am trying to use the lettuce as fast as I can. The mother of the three chicks including Squeaky has vanished. The chicks are raising themselves. All the other hens and roosters run them off, so I try to quietly dribble out some feed for them. They are afraid of me too, so it is hard to get near them with the feed. On Tuesday Helen came in with a nasty scratch on one teat. I made a search for the offending barbed wire, (it is usually barbed wire) but found nothing. At the next milking she came in with a worse scratch, this time bleeding. It was exactly parallel with the first. Then at the next milking the cows were not around and I spied them way down in Pocket Field which I have had closed off. When I called them they headed straight for a part of the fence they had pushed over to get in. I could see Helen tip toeing through the fallen wire. She avoided further injury and I have closed off the entire north section of fields until I can get down there to do fencing repair. It has made milking this week into a considerable challenge. I happened to be watching just as one of my best layers ducked into a crack in the barn wall. Later I looked and found a nest with nine eggs. To get at them I had to take a claw hammer and tear off a section of siding. Later… At noon Cletus could not drink his bottle because of breathing difficulty, so I called the vet. He came and gave Cletus two antibiotic shots, one fast acting, one slow acting. He also left super aspirin (anti inflammatory) to be given twice a day and another antibiotic shot for tomorrow. At suppertime Cletus was able to drink his bottle. I took it empty to the barn and filled it with fresh warm milk for optimal protection. I kept him in the barn. My daughter Sally is again visiting and she milked Helen. We got 4 gallons today. There were nine eggs.
July 12, Friday: Cletus seems much better. He was eager for his feeds and able to breathe well enough so that sucking was not inhibited. He spent at least part of the day with the other cattle. His temperature was normal. Such a relief. A calf can go down so fast. The three motherless chicks including Squeaky are now hopping up a ladder at night for better security. I saw them tonight negotiating several rungs. They can’t weight more than about 5 oz each, so must make a great effort to hop up. Fortunately the weather is warm enough so that they can make it through the night without chilling. Nine eggs today.
July 13, Saturday: Another very fine day. But Cletus was coughing this evening and had half a degree of fever. He was hungry and fairly lively, but had some difficulty taking his bottle because of breathing stress. Helen gave five gallons today. Her temperament was better than yesterday. Yesterday she was restless in her stanchion and repeatedly attempted to kick even though she had on the kicker. She may have been in heat. One of my friends wanted some chicks today and I gave her three from the bantam mother with seven. We caught them with a landing net. I only found five eggs today.
July 14, Sunday: More fine weather. My first view this morning of the cows was all four of them in the sunshine near the river and Cletus skipping along cheerfully. He was hungry for all his meals and did not have to stop to cough. Helen gave five gallons today and I got ten eggs. I got my first real picking of peas from the garden.
July 15, Monday: Cletus was even more vigorous today, even downright obstreperous. My son Bret and family are visiting and tomorrow I will ask Bret to make a frame so I can start feeding Cletus by bucket. So many family members are visiting right now that I actually got a bit low on milk (I also have several good customers.) So, I am temporarily giving Cletus calf milk replacer. Helen gave five gallons. I got fifteen eggs. This included five from a bantam nest some visiting children found, but unfortunately I did not learn where the nest was.
July 16, Tuesday: Cletus now drinks from a bucket with a nipple on the side. In some ways this is easier. I can mix the milk replacer directly in the bucket. My son Max has done a lot more bushhogging. He also trimmed overhanging branches on the field and cleared deadwood. Helen came in this morning nearly empty of milk. My daughter Sally milked. She got scarcely a gallon. Then this evening she got nearly two and a half gallons. Six eggs today.
July 17, Wednesday: This morning we got barely one gallon of milk. Virginia must have been stuffed. But, this evening it would not all fit in one bucket. All the cows were in the barn when we went out for chores, but they heard four grandchildren trebling and they turned around and walked back down to the field. Sally and I had a considerable walk to get them. We were joined by Bagel dog, anxious to help. All he does is run around annoying the cattle and annoying me but, by yelling at him I persuaded him to back off. He hoped he was doing the right thing by sitting down where he was. We drove the cows back to the barn and he remained sitting. I had to call him to say it was all right to get up and leave. I guess it is hard being a dog. Seven eggs today.
July 18, Thursday: The weather is turning hot again. My son Bret from Alaska is here with his family. Bret is pouring footings for a new deck on the back of the buttery. It promises to be magnificent. Bret is experienced at post and beam construction and is making it of 8″x 8″ beams. Max, who manages my web page, is also here with his family and has made great progress bushhogging the fields. The place is looking very good. Last week Helen got a nasty deep scratch on one teat. It has been slow to heal causing her to kick during milking. We have had to put the kicker on nearly every time. Tonight she stood perfectly until Sally, who was milking, thought to herself, “I wonder if Helen is thinking of kicking?” Instantly Helen kicked hard and deliberately. Sally thinks Helen read her thoughts. We got 3.5 gals today and 8 eggs.
July 19, Friday: A dozen eggs today, almost all from full sized hens. 4.5 gallons of milk. Fine weather. The new deck is coming along impressively. Bret has made many perfectly notched beams.
July 20, Saturday: My son Bret assembled all the notched beams for the new deck on the floor of the garage to make sure they fit. It was an amazing sight. Then he disassembled them and moved them to their ultimate site. Most of the men were there to help set them up. We need a front-end loader to assist with raising the frame. Our neighbor will most likely lend his. My daughter Sally did some more fencing and now the cows can once again go in the north field. I was too busy to watch them try it out. They love new grass. Ten eggs today and 4.5 gallons of milk.
July 21, Sunday: All of my children but one were present in Maine for a family wedding that was held at my daughter’s lake house in Weld. The absent son is in Australia but was represented by his son. So it was a great occasion. The weather was perfect. My animals had to make do with substitute care. Martin milked Helen and she was uncooperative in the extreme. He left some of the milk behind. This is not a problem now that Virginia is taking so much milk. She no longer neglects any of the quarters. Ten eggs today.
July 22, Monday: The hot weather has returned. Everyone is panting. The sheep appear to suffer most. I see them lying with their chins on the ground and I do a double take to be sure they are not dead. My garden is very dry. The cucumbers were almost done for today when I noticed them. I made little dams around them and gave then each a bit of water. I have been too busy to set up a proper system of hoses. We got only about 2 gallons of milk today. Virginia is stuffing herself. Leah is walking in an unsteady manner almost as though her feet hurt. She is due in a week (revised due date). When she walked in tonight at milking time her foot went through the ramp. Helen saw this and did not choose to follow until I went and stood on the place where the board was loose. My son Bret did a temporary fix but the entire ramp is in need of replacement. I got seven eggs. Just before the cows came in I noticed a little white dot in the corner. It proved to be the head of one of the little yellow chicks. She was wedged in a crack and had been there so long she was all out of peep. It was pure chance that I noticed. After freeing her she recovered her ability to walk in about five minutes and after milking she was back with her family, pecking up corn.
July 23, Tuesday: It was even hotter today. Bret could not work on the deck, it was so sweltering. It takes a lot to stop that guy from working. Then about midday a thunderstorm broke the heat. It rained hard for only about ten minutes but was enough to save my garden and surely many others. We got just a little over three gallons today. I got 16 eggs, thanks to finding a new nest.
July 24, Wednesday: Perfect weather today, a real Maine day, fresh, clear and comfortable. The men and teen age grandchildren all worked on finishing my new deck. They put preservative stain on the beams that support it and Jack, my grandson from Australia, re-hung the fence gate below it. We ate dinner on the deck and watched the cattle and sheep grazing and the calves playing. My daughter Sally left this morning while the moon was still up. She has returned to Alaska accompanied by my grandson Rafe, her son. Sally has been milking Helen during her two week visit so she is especially missed. However Helen behaved well for me today. I did have to put the kicker on this evening. She has had a deep scratch on one of her teats for a couple of weeks and the scab keeps breaking and then it bleeds again. It bothers her when I milk, although not as much as one might expect. I got 3.5 gallons today and 15 eggs.
July 25, Thursday: Helen’s scratched teat is getting worse faster than it is getting better. The whole thing was pink and swollen this evening. It looked better after milking with the pressure off it but I was glad I had the kicker. I am getting worried. I was able to borrow some antibiotic salve for tomorrow morning. Leah’s udder is bigger every day. Ten eggs today. 4.25 gals of milk.
July 26, Friday: Helen’s teat was a bit better this morning, possibly because it was a cool night and the flies don’t bother her at night. I put the antibiotic salve on it after milking. Then this evening it was evident that Virginia had emptied out that quarter. This was the first time Helen has permitted Virginia to feed from that quarter for a couple of weeks. I have not been able to achieve such complete milking out because Helen resists letting down with that quarter. The teat looked a bit inflamed but not as bad as last night. I do not know if the slight improvement is due toVirginia or to the salve. Bret and all the helpers finished the deck today except for a few details. It has a fine set of French doors out to it. Max did more bushhogging but has lost a lot of time on that task due to the aged rim on one front tire having caused more than one flat. A neighbor has braised on some new metal which we hope holds together. Six eggs today. 3.75 gals.of milk
July 27, Saturday: My son Bret departed today with his family for their home in Alaska leaving me with a beautiful new deck made with post and beam construction to match the house. My daughter-in-law, Amy, repaired a polished a Corian table which sits on the deck.
Helen behaved better at milking. Her teats are slightly improved. Unfortunately, this evening I turned her loose before I remembered to apply the antibiotic salve.
Son Max carried on with the bushhogging in hopes of completing it before they too must leave. The cattle hung around where he was working, which was in my farthest field, the Pocket Field. This caused Cletus to miss his lunch. At evening chores I poured out his lunch for the chickens and gave him warm milk from the bucket. Bret devised a way to hang the teat bucket that prevents him from bunting it over, so far at least.
Weather today was cool with occasional drizzle. I did not have time for any Watering, but I doubt anything got drier than it already was. 3.5 gallons of milk today and 7 eggs.
July 29, Monday: The weather has turned hot again. Most of the area got showers, but not this farm. Max set up my hoses to the garden, but I am too busy to do any watering, so many things are dying. Oh dear. But, the animals are all fine and not neglected. Leah has still not calved. I got a dozen eggs today. From Helen, three gallons of milk. She has been letting down very badly causing there to be less cream. I have so many people drinking milk including some customers that I have made butter only once in the last five weeks. I have made a lot of converts to fresh milk including all the visiting children.
July 30, Tuesday: This morning I had to say goodbye to another contingent of family, this time Max and his family who are returning to California. The weather now is very fine indeed. Sunshine all day except for a half hour of welcome rain.
Leah stayed inside all day with her head or rear end in a corner. All the others including the sheep stayed in with her, so I put down a bale of hay. They ate every bit. Helen gave 1.5 gals this morning and 2.5 gals this evening. The volume is very unpredictable due to Virginia. She often gets there first. Also, Helen has been letting down reluctantly. But tonight she let down well. Only six eggs.
July 31, Wednesday: Our hot weather continues but I was able to water the garden thanks to the hose Max set up. I have some cucumbers coming on and some green tomatoes. There continue to be potato bug larvae that I pick off nearly every day. The vines look promising. My pole beans are starting to climb. I got them in late. If there is an early frost I won’t get any.
Leah’s udder keeps getting bigger and she is lethargic in this heat. She moved pretty fast after milking though, when she or one of the others knocked down some boards that were leaning up in the main aisle of the barn. The area is about 15′ wide so I don’t know what made somebody bump into the boards. I had my back turned. The first thing I knew was a great crash and a stampede. But no real harm done. Helen gave 3 gallons today and I got 10 eggs.
August 1, Thursday: Leah continues to hold out. She looked no closer today to calving than she did yesterday. What a tease.
Today was hot despite two showers with thunder and lightening. Helen gave three gallons. My grandson Jack from Australia helped me with the milking tonight. He is an experienced milker, but is more accustomed to using a machine. He moved some hay bales around for me and found a nest with 15 eggs.
August 2, Friday: Big excitement today. Leah had her calf! This morning at milking time her bag was truly huge and hard. It seemed impossible she could go another day. Around 3pm I could not find her. My son Mark was here and went in search. He found her in a wooded area near the river. He came back to report the calf was born. He had taken his digital camera so was able to show me the calf on the tiny screen. Then my grandson Jack and Mark’s daughter Hailey and a little friend all traipsed down to see if we could bring them home. Mark and Jack took turns carrying the calf, a heifer. It looks small but is remarkably heavy. My job was to keep taking to Leah so she would not become too aggressive towards the calf-nappers. Cow and calf are now in the beefer pen, the cow’s run-in. There Leah delivered the placenta and was last seen eating it. It looked yukky. My son Martin is now here and will help me to get the calf sucking. I don’t think it will manage alone because Leah keeps circling. The calf, so far un-named, is more of a gray color than Virginia or Cletus.
For the first time today I saw Cletus grazing. I think I also saw him chewing his cud for the first time. He is about six weeks old. Virginia, aided by her mother’s example, was grazing and chewing her cud by three weeks. Three gallons plus one quart today from Helen. Five eggs. I did not have time to hunt for more.
Addendum: Martin and I just came back from the barn. The calf was sucking without any human assistance and had one quarter visibly depleted.
August 3, Saturday: Leah came right in this morning following her calf, which was following Virginia and Cletus. I tried milking her a bit and she kept swinging around on her rope, there being no stanchion for her. I put the kicker on her and she and she became very upset and began plunging about. Later I called my son Martin who was staying at camp and asked him for help holding her while I attempted to milk her. What he did was more to the point. He came over and rebuilt her standing area and put in a stanchion for her. This evening she came in without her calf. She has hidden her somewhere. But Leah was perfectly quiet and mannerly. She found the grain in her feed box and did not seem to notice when I locked the stanchion. After milking Helen, I had a go at Leah, not sitting on my stool, just bending over holding the bucket in one hand and milking with the other. She was remarkably quiet except for being a bit touchy on one teat. In this awkward posture I was able to get only about a cup from each quarter but all four quarters flow smoothly. Cletus was definitely chewing his cud today. He and Virginia stick together most of the time. Helen gave 3.5 gallons and I got nine eggs.
August 4, Sunday: As I expected, Leah’s calf was with her this morning and once again trotted in with her. She had lost her collar so was hard to manage. She tends to slip through my fingers and I had to tie her with hay string, which is less than safe. Once again Leah stood quietly for my two finger one handed milking with the other hand holding the bucket. I got another quart of colostrum. This evening I put the kicker on her and she did not struggle at all. She stood like a rock, totally cooperative. I don’t know if I would trust her without it, but really, I have never had a first calf heifer stand so quietly for so long to be milked. I was just amazed. I milked her second after finishing with Helen, who gave a full bucket. Leah moo-ed the entire time I was milking Helen but did not make a sound while milked her. I wonder if she thought it should be her turn first since she was certainly uncomfortable with her packed full udder. A little girl who was visiting suggested we name the calf Maria and we have agreed. I got an amazing lot of eggs today. I lost count at 18.
August 5, Monday: Once again this morning Leah stood nicely. But, this evening it was a different story. I have seen much worse, but she did wave her left foot around a lot despite the kicker and managed to spill most of what I had milked. I gave the rest to the cats. Tomorrow I will shorten up the kicker another notch. This will slow her down but it will make the kicker too small for Helen. It is wicked hard to adjust. Helen gave 3.5 gallons today. I am now getting cucumbers from the garden daily but I need to do more watering of everything. It is terribly hot and dry. Only five eggs today.
August 6, Tuesday: Our weather has cooled off and during the night we got a little rain. All animals and humans are grateful. This morning Leah had all three calves clustered around her in the lower corner of the paddock. She was most unwilling to come to the barn so I finally said to heck with it and left her there and just brought in Helen. Cletus did not want to come either. Then when I finally got him in he seemed uninterested in his milk although he finally drank it. Much the same happened with him this evening. He drank only half of it. Maybe it is because I am giving him half colostrums that I am getting from Leah and he doesn’t like it. Tomorrow morning I will try plain milk. This evening Leah came in without too much trouble. I had Maria trotting along with me and that did the trick. I adjusted the kicker so that it was nearly impossible for her to kick but she still waved her foot around. She only does this when I milk the left hind teat. Both her rear quarters were over filled so I had to keep trying. I think I get one teaspoon with each squirt. I while away the time doing mental arithmetic trying to work out how many squirts it will take to get a gallon at that rate. It took me over half an hour to get my gallon by which time my ankles were cramping and she and I were both fed up. So, I quit. Later I saw Maria working on that difficult teat, so that was good news. Helen gave 3.5 gallons today and I got 10 eggs. But there was a sad moment among the bantams. I found a new nest with a hen on it and I took all her eggs. Then I decided to break one to test if there were embryos. There was a chick nearly ready to hatch but of course it could not live after I broke the shell. I gave back all the rest of her eggs.
August 7, Wednesday: Fine weather today. Helen came in alone this morning. Leah was way down in the field with the three calves around her and would not budge when I called. About halfway through milking I heard feet and they all came in. Virginia has taken to marching in, putting her head in Leah’s stanchion, and gobbling her grain. The area becomes very crowded with Leah shoving her way in. It takes considerable tactful talk on my part to sort them out. Leah’s udder was not overly full this morning. I milked out only about two cups, just to be sure it was flowing smoothly. This evening it was Leah who came in alone. After about ten minutes Helen changed her mind and joined us. Leah stood quite well to be milked. I decided we had both had enough when I had close to a gallon. Her milk now tastes normal so I mixed it together with Helen’s. Helen gave 4.5 gallons today. With most of my company gone I suddenly have more milk than I know what to do with. I skimmed several gallons and put the skim in a bucket to sour for the chickens. Cletus does not want his milk. This is puzzling. Ten eggs today.
August 8, Thursday: Helen gave 2.75 gallons this morning, 4.75 total. Both cows and all three calves came in this morning in orderly fashion. Leah stood pretty well but I did not milk out as much as a gallon as it is so tedious and her udder is not in trouble. Cletus would not drink any milk this morning and I began to get fairly worried. As luck would have it, my vet stopped in around noon so I had him look at Cletus. By then he seemed dispirited and was panting, suggesting pneumonia. Dr. Cooper gave him a shot and left me some pills. My sister and I worked for quite a long time trying to get Cletus to drink using a bottle. I think we may have gotten a cup and a half down him. But later I saw him out walking around with the other calves. So the medicine must be taking effect. The bantam hen with a nest in the barn wall began hatching them out last evening. This morning one had fallen to the ground, a distance of about four feet, and was peeping faintly. I put him back up under his mama. By late afternoon she had called them all down to the ground and was showing them how to peck for food. I tossed them some scratch. This kept them busy for a long time. There are seven yellow chicks and one black one.
August 9, Friday: The cows came in this morning without Cletus. After milking I began searching for him near and far. I took Bagel along as a spotter. Cletus was pretty sick last night so I thought I might find him collapsed or dead. I had his bottle with me in hopes of reviving him with milk. I did not put the pills in it in case nasty taste was inhibiting his appetite last night. After about an hour of searching Bagel found Cletus in some bushes. The first thing I knew, there came Cletus walking out looking worried about being alone with a dog. Bagel was obedient and backed off. I offered Cletus his bottle and he immediately drank the whole thing. During my search I had found the missing red collar, so I put this on him and aided by the bottle, led him back to the barn. This evening I put the pills in his bottle and he drank it without hesitation. He acted as though he had never been sick. This is the sort of time when one is very glad for antibiotics. This evening Leah stood for about five minutes to be milked without the kicker, then she commenced acting up. Even with the kicker she can wave her left hind leg around athletically taking the fun out of milking. Maria of course does not begin to drink enough to make much difference. Leah’s milk tastes better every day. It has almost completely lost the salty taste. The eight baby chicks hatched yesterday are doing fine. Their mother works ceaselessly to provide for them. I throw scratch grain down for them and placed a pan of water nearly. Helen gave four gallons today and I got 10 eggs.
August 10, Saturday: Last night I had trouble sleeping. Among my wakeful concerns was the time and difficulty of milking Leah. Not that she is a problem compared to many first calf heifers, but it is a somewhat pointless effort for me because I already have Helen giving vast quantities. I appealed to St. Francis, lover of animals. This morning only Helen came in, so I decided to milk her before chasing after Leah. Before letting Helen back I out I looked out the window and there was Cletus, now about 6 weeks old, suckling from Leah! A miracle! She was standing quietly and making no objection. This was a wonderful sight to behold. If she will feed both her calf and Cletus my chores will be manageable.
The blackberries are starting. My sister and I each had a bowlful with cream. Then, later we had blackberry crisp made by my grandson Harper, who arrived from Alaska today with his family. Helen gave four gallons. I got seven eggs.
August 11, Sunday: I did not see much of my farm today. I received word that my son Martin was in the hospital with a broken right elbow and lacerated arm received in a fall from his mountain bike. So, first thing this morning I set off on the two hour drive the see him. But, not before milking Helen. She had very little milk this morning, less than a gallon. Martin looked pretty good considering his pain and blood loss. I took him milk, butter, eggs and bread.
This evening all cows and calves marched right into their places in the barn. I was nearly an hour late with milking, which often makes them crabby. But, they were perfect. Helen had only one gallon of milk. Either she is coming into heat or it is the hot weather. It was very hot again today. I got seven eggs.
August 12, Monday: That bantam hen with eight chicks is great fun to watch. She has not lost a single chick. She has been hanging about below the widow to the room where I milk and clucks for her chicks when I imitate her “Here’s food” call. I sprinkle cracked corn out the window. This morning she had taken them out to the manure pile about 60′ away. She heard me call and ran about four feet in my direction, then stopped and clucked for her family. She kept this up moving about four feet at a time while the little chicks twinkled along in the grass behind her, their tiny legs flying. They bounce into the air to catch a glimpse of her over the grass.
Helen’s production recovered today to some extent. She gave three gallons but it strained poorly. There was nothing wrong with the flavor or appearance of the milk. Cletus was hungry today and Leah was refusing to let him suck, so I took him a bottle after evening chores. It was a good thing I decided at that moment to take it too him. He was all caught up behind a gate and unable to figure how to get out. He was leaping about like a hooked salmon. In the morning I will try to get Leah inside and give him a chance to feed while she is in her stanchion. She is not to get off this easy! Nine eggs today.
August 13, Tuesday: This morning I got Leah into her stanchion, put the kicker on her, and re-introduced Cletus to her. He was timid, having suffered rejection, but with encouragement suckled for over ten minutes. Leah really did not seem to mind after brief initial kicking. I stood by the whole time in case he lost his courage. This evening I got him started and he carried on without help while I milked Helen. Leah made no objection that I could see, but she had the kicker on. Helen gave three gallons today and I got eight eggs. The heat is oppressive. It was over 90F for much of the day. The house is well over 80F at 10pm but it is comfortable outdoors. I expect the animals to have a good night. My garden is suffering badly.
August 14, Wednesday: The heat continues unabated, but Helen’s production is back up again. Tonight the bucket was so full that the lid was floating on the foam. Leah’s calf, Maria, had diarrhea today. This is unusual for a calf on it’s mother.
August 15, Thursday: Another 90F day and no end in sight. I have been putting out hay for the cows during the day, as they are reluctant to graze. All three calves had diarrhea today and I heard Maria cough. Cletus was chewing his cud, always a good sign. They all act normal. Cletus was somewhat reluctant to suckle Leah tonight. Even while wearing the kicker, Leah makes it plain she does not want him to feed. I can’t tell if he is not hungry or just timid. I saw all three calves drink from the water trough. I was glad to observe this sign of maturity. Maria did not really drink, just dipped her nose. Ten eggs today. Helen gave about four gallons.
August 16, Friday: Another scorcher, but there was welcome, though fleeting relief, from a shower at 6am. I went out on the deck and stood in it. All three calves were over their diarrhea today and Cletus fed well. Helen gave about four gallons and I got a dozen eggs.
August 17, Saturday: The hot spell continues, but was in the high eighties rather than nineties. This evening the calves did not choose to come in with their mothers. Consequently, I milked Leah partially. She behaved badly and managed to kick over the bucket with a couple of quarts of milk despite the kicker. I gave her a big piece of my mind and frightened her I think. After that she stood like a rock, but it remains to be seen how she will feel about coming in tomorrow morning. Helen behaved perfectly, but I got only three gallons today. Virginia had halfway finished off two quarters and emptied one quarter completely. Eight eggs today.
August 20, Tuesday: Sunday and Monday were much alike, more bright sun and heat. Sunday night we had a display of the aurora borealis. I have never seen it before except for feeble displays of white. This had great bursts of orange. This morning Helen came in with one quarter all hard. I could not get more than a cupful out of it. I slathered it with thick pastey thuja udder cream and it was a lot better this evening, almost softened up. This is always so scary. Leah would not come in for milking this evening for a long time because Maria was naughty and darted away down the field. Leah bellowed for her, but she ignored her mother. Cletus followed Leah. Maria is very frisky and runs like a deer especially at my approach. She is so different from Virginia who is easy going and docile. But, when Leah finally rounded up Maria and all three trotted in, Maria for the first time went and stood by her tie-up. Leah’s udder was very soft. I suspect she had allowed Cletus to suck earlier. He did not seem hungry. Leah made no move to kick him. I got only 2.5 gallons today from Helen. Got eight eggs.
August 21, Wednesday: This morning Leah allowed Cletus to feed while she was in her stanchion without wearing the kicker. This evening I did have to put it on. Her entire udder was soft. Somebody is getting the milk. I notice Cletus now follows Leah quite closely. Helen’s affected quarter, the left front, was pretty well softened up this morning but the right front was hard. She let down very reluctantly. This evening both quarters were fairly soft. She let down well but did not give much. I got only 2.5 gals today. After putting a thick layer of thuja udder cream on both front quarters I put it on both rear teats in hopes that Virginia will dislike the taste and work on the front. Ten eggs today.
August 22, Thursday: Helen’s udder was better this morning. My trick of putting ointment on the two back teats to keep Virginia off of them seems to have worked. The two troubled front quarters were somewhat better. I got two gallons, at least half of it from the front quarters. I massaged in a ground up slurry of comfrey leaves all over both front quarters and put more ointment on the rear teats. I had to supervise Cletus’ feeding from Leah. It meant standing there a good ten minutes leaning on her to keep her weight on her left hind leg so she can’t lift her foot. The kicker controls her right hind leg. This evening the two cows came in without the calves. Leah was out of milk so I did not go after the calves. Helen continues to improve in udder health and gave two more gallons. I slathered on lots more comfrey. I got eight eggs from the layers and found a bantam nest upstairs in the barn with a dozen pretty white eggs. I took 10 and added one wooden egg. That may not be enough to fool her. While up looking for that nest one foot went right through the floor. Some of those old boards are like dry toast. I was not hurt at all.
August 23, Friday: Very fine weather today. The cows came in nicely, so did the calves, and all lined up in their places. I continue to have to assist Cletus to feed. Leah does not feel generous towards him. I am not sure if Helen’s udder is completely out of trouble but her production remained at four gallons today. She has not been at all touchy. Virginia certainly is a beautiful heifer. All the calves look good. Maria is particularly frisky. In the evening sun I could see the three calves far down in the field running in circles while Helen and Leah grazed.
August 24, Saturday: Both cows and the three calves came in nicely this morning. Helen’s udder was in pretty good shape. She gave two gallons. This evening Leah and the three calves did not show up at the barn and I did not go look for them . Helen was a good girl and came right in to be milked. Her right front quarter remains a bit hard. I rubbed in my comfrey mixture and also applied thuja ointment. Virginia had worked on the left front quarter and it seemed to be in good shape. She gave just 1.5 gallons this evening, 3.5 for the day. I found only eight eggs. Domestic work was difficult today. My new septic system was being connected, so I could not use any water. It took longer than expected because the old pipe under the cellar was broken in two places. It was laid at some time prior to adding the cement floor. Some cement breaking was required and the guys mixed a couple of buckets of new cement to fix it. The system is now connected, but I can’t run water until tomorrow so as to give the cement time to set. My spring sink quit running. I suppose the spring is low due to drought conditions. I have an artesian well and am not dependent on the spring except for drinking water, but I always grieve when for any reason I lose it.
August 25, Sunday: Very fine weather today but rain is desperately needed. The dogs and I walked down to look at the spring line at the two places where it is exposed by erosion. It is not broken or leaking. Unless there is an underground leak, it must be that the spring is low. The brook was so low that it exits into the river underneath the gravel, no visible flow. Above that point there are pools with trapped fry. They were darting about looking worried as well they might. I saw raccoon tracks. The riverbed itself is at least 100′ wide at that point but is exposed sand and gravel save for a 6 foot wide stream maybe 6 inches deep. The pastures look terrible. In the lower pasture, Pocket Field, all the clover is dead and crisp. Helen was a lot better this morning. She gave over two gallons. I put salve and comfrey on her udder as before. This evening she gave 2.5 gallons Both front quarters milked out pretty well, but the right front still has a hard spot. My new septic system is now filled in and smoothed over. A huge area of lawn is now a sandbox though. I picked another two quarts of blackberries. It is a very good year for them. I got 8 eggs.
August 27, Tuesday: Monday was a perfect day, perfect weather, cooperative cows. Helen gave three gallons. Today we also had beautiful weather although for a farmer it is a bit hard to enjoy because of the drought. It is the worst in 100 years. I set up sprinklers on some of my plants in crisis. For the second day in a row Helen did not have much milk in the morning. Virginia had been there first. However, this evening I got only a gallon because she was in a bad mood. Her left rear quarter was stuffed and the others had relatively little milk. That is the quarter that she objects to having me milk using my left hand. She began purposeful kicking. I decided to put the kicker on her but it was in use on Leah who won’t let Cletus feed unless she is wearing it. I had to wait nearly ten minutes for him to finish. By then Helen would not let down. I ended up with only one gallon, two for the day. And only six eggs. The livestock was not self supporting today. I am getting some green beans now. These are pole beans. I have been hand watering them. The eight little chicks that are about two weeks old wait twice a day with their mother below the window where I milk. I always throw down scratch, about six feet down. They leap fluttering a couple of feet into the air to encourage me, just popping up and down. This spring I was given a bunch of goldfish that a friend of mine dipped up from her pond where they proliferate. Also in the bucket were a lot of tadpoles. All the fish lived and now I also have two inch long frogs hopping into the water at my approach. There must be a dozen all the same size.
August 28, Wednesday: Milk is accumulating around here faster than people are buying it, or drinking it, so this morning I made a cheese. I followed the recipe in my book for Tom’s Very Simple Cheese. I made ricotta with the whey and got a good yield. More beautiful, but dry weather. I am doing quite a lot of watering. The cows were friendly and mannerly today. The three calves, except when they don’t come in at all, march right in and line up by their tie-ups, even little Maria. For the first time today I saw her chewing her cud. I got three gallons of milk but only four eggs. I did not have time to hunt for nests.
August 29, Thursday: I cut all the edges off yesterday’s cheese after pressing it and put them into a brine made with whey. I shall see if they will become feta. The consistency is right. I will try aging the middle part of the cheese. This is exciting. I have not made any cheese since last year. It is actually raining. Not hard, just a sort of Scotch mist, but it is very welcome. Helen gave three gallons today. Her udder health seems restored. Leah now seems resigned to Cletus feeding while she is in her stanchion. Maybe tomorrow I will see if she will cooperate without the kicker. It is so cute the way the calves quietly walk in and go to their places. Again today, only four eggs. I must do a nest search.
August 30, Friday: Started another cheese this morning just like the previous one, but slightly larger. The pieces from Wednesday’s cheese that I have been brining tasted very good tonight in a salad but will be better after a few more days I think. Brining seems to be a good idea. I made the salad with the only big red tomato that my garden has so far produced. It was very nice. I also picked beans again. These are exceptionally long slender ones. Helen gave about three gallons today. It did not work this morning for Cletus to feed without the kicker. For some reason tonight he made no effort to nurse. All the cows seemed jumpy. I thought we were about to get a thunder storm but there was nothing but distant thunder. Five eggs. I still have not done a nest search this week.
August 31, Saturday: The cheese I made Friday came out larger than the first one and has smoother edges. It certainly looks promising. Just as an experiment, I smeared both of them with butter and wrapped them in wax paper. They are both in the refrigerator. Cletus was very reluctant to even try to nurse this morning. Leah’s udder was quite soft, so I gave u p and let them out. This evening Leah had a lot of milk and Cletus fed for about 15 minutes. It would be a great nuisance for me should he decide to wean. Helen gave about four gallons today. I got 10 eggs.
September 1, Sunday: Once again this morning Leah did not come in. All the cattle were far down in the field and when I called only Helen responded. She marched right up like a good girl. This evening they all came in and Leah had a lot of milk. I made sure that Cletus got busy sucking. Sometimes he won’t without assistance. He is somewhat afraid of Leah. He is a slow, inefficient feeder probably because her teats are so small and he learned to suck on the giant nipple of the calf feeding bottle. Or it could just be his general diffidence. He fed for fully half an hour and she still left a lot of milk remaining. All of Helen’s milk was in her left hand quarters. She continues to kick if I use my left hand on the rear one. She thinks I should use my right. This made milking very slow. I got another cheese under way today. The biggest event today was that last night without warning it turned very cold. I lost all my tender vegetables just as they were starting to bear. There may be a little life left in the pole beans. I believe this will be my first year without zucchini since I started gardening in 1950.
September 2, Labor Day: A cool overcast day. Showers were foretold, but none arrived. After breakfast I returned to the barn to repair two of the ramps the cows use daily. With judicious placement of cinder blocks and pounding of some spikes I stabilized them. The cows were in the Beefer Pen, their run-in, where I was working and the hammering soon drove them out. Later, as I was taking clothes off of the pulley line behind the buttery I looked down and there they all were clustered below and gazing up at me with pleading eyes. Helen looked particularly concerned. They had just discovered that I had blocked the entrance to their alternative run-in down below the clothesline. I explained to them that they don’t really need to go in there now that the hot weather has departed and they are making a mess of it. I dragged a ladder across the doorway. Sorree. I got only 2.5 gallons today from Helen. Virginia is taking a lot. Seven eggs today.
September 3, Tuesday: We finally got a little rain today. There was a fine misty drizzle all morning but it did not amount to much. The ground under bushy plants remained dry. We are grateful all the same. Because it was wet, I worked in the kitchen. I started another cheese. My first three cheeses were merely rolled in cheesecloth, not formed in a mold. I used a Lithuanian press that is made from two boards hinged at one end and with a screwing down arrangement at the open end like a giant wing nut. It creates plenty of pressure but the resulting cheese is flat and slightly wedge shaped. Today I used my cheese mold. I don’t have a proper press so applied pressure to the follower by setting the mold on a table and laying a four foot board across the top of the mold, then hanging a five gallon bucket of water at either end of this seesaw. This arrangement is out in the buttery (shed) in case the whole thing collapses in the night and pours ten gallons of water on the floor. I also made five pints of gooseberry jam from berries I have had in the frig for a month, and two loaves of bread. When I let Leah in tonight she raced towards her stanchion and slipped on the plywood floor. It was wet from this morning, her own doing. She fell very hard and had trouble getting up. She wanted to flee the barn but Helen was already blocking her way. It took a lot of baby talk from me to get her to be willing to put her head into her stanchion. I will find some sand to spread before I let her in again. This morning Cletus was unwilling to make any effort to suckle. But this evening he was back in the mood to try. Three gallons of milk today from Helen. There were seven eggs.
September 4, Wednesday: Milking time was eventful. I had all five of them in there in position but forgot to put in the pin of Leah’s stanchion. I had the kicker on her and got Cletus started feeding and I began milking. Then there was Leah’s face poking around behind Helen, looking at me. I urged her backwards but she was worried by backing into the diagonal board that keeps Helen in position. So I got myself and bucket out of the way. On her way past I tried to grab off the kicker but failed. Walking with it on alarmed her and she began to run as I knew she would, having seen Helen in this fix before. So, I cantered out the back door of the barn in hopes of heading her off as she came out the back through the beefer pen. I did stop her and get her to face into the corner by the gate. Then I made a grab for the kicker but I was on the wrong side of her and she bolted with it only half off. She ran all the way to the brow of the hill in the pasture before turning to pose defiantly like that bull in the ad for Spanish sherry, her tail raised. The effect was much diminished by her adornment. I went back to milking and before long I heard her mooing behind the barn. I ran out with a handful of grain and tempted her back in thinking maybe Cletus could still get some dinner. But by then she had lost the kicker so he was out of luck. I was a bit surprised that she went back to her stanchion so nicely after last night. Later I took the dogs for a walk and found the kicker. As I feared, when I tried to dismantle my water weights on the cheese I could not control the second bucket. It sloshed all over the buttery but soon ran out through the cracks in the floor It turned hot again today, now that my garden is a ruin. Helen gave over four gallons today. There were only four eggs.
September 5, Thursday: My vet came today to de-horn the three calves and castrate Cletus. It was hard to watch. He anesthetized them but even so they suffered. Afterwards Helen and Leah came and licked their calves’ heads. None of the calves came in the barn at evening milking, so Cletus got no dinner. I did see him take a long drink of water and the other two had milk. He looked pretty miserable. I wish I did not have to de-horn them but it is just too dangerous working in a confined space with a cow with horns. The vet told me that now that everybody de-horns he no longer sees the injuries to other cattle inflicted by horns. Goring occurs seldom if ever when cattle are outside in big pastures. A mere look from the dominant cow is sufficient to remind another of her place. It is when they are in a confined space that they may gore each other or jab an eye inadvertently. Helen only gave 2.5 gals today. Only four eggs.
September 6, Friday: I picked about a gallon and a half of elderberries today. I was afraid to let them go another day. The chickens stand in front of the bushes and jump as high as they can to grab a beakful. And, I started another cheese. I went back to using the Lithuanian cheese press of hinged boards. This morning the two cows and Helen’s three month old heifer calf, Virginia, came in. Cletus and Maria took one look at me and trotted away down the field shoulder to shoulder. I was able to get Cletus in this evening but he refused to nurse from Leah. He seems depressed. I gave him a good back rub. Helen gave something over three gallons today. Four eggs again.
This is grandson Jack Luick carrying Maria up to the barn minutes after her birth in the woods.
September 7, Saturday: Cletus had his appetite back today. This was a great relief to me both for his sake and because if he does not drink his milk, I shall have to milk a second cow! Leah was in heat today. Helen gave about three gallons. Only two eggs. I will have to dedicate some real time to searching for nests. My customers are disappointed.
September 8, Sunday: Beastly hot today. I got relief by sneaking off to Walmart. I put down hay inside the beefer pen so the cows would not have to go out if they did not choose. They did spend much of the day in there. This evening I received word that my second cut hay will be delivered tomorrow. To make room for it I shall have to re-stack a lot of the existing hay by myself. My hay man is very kind and will help with whatever I have not completed. Helen gave slightly under three gallons. I got 14 eggs, eight were in a nest I found. It is a spot I checked quite recently and includes eggs from several different hens, so all will be fresh.
September 9, Monday: The hot weather continues. It was over 90f all day. Everything becomes difficult. My hay man called early today saying he would be here about 9am. So right after milking I went out and began re stacking hay. I had done about 30 bales when he arrived bringing a teenage boy helper who is being home schooled, so has flex time. They moved about 10 or 15 more bales which resulted in better organized space. They brought a hay elevator so all I had to do was lift the bales off the end as they arrived in the hayloft. It is very beautiful timothy hay. I gave the cows a bale as a treat and they snapped it right down. Again this morning Cletus refused to suck. But this evening he made up for it. Helen gave about 3.5 gallons. I got five eggs.
September 10, Tuesday: Another suffering hot day, well over 90f. The cows were plainly asking for hay, either because they did not want to be outside grazing or because the grass is so dried up. Helen gave something over three gallons today. I had to milk an hour early this evening because of going to a planning meeting. I guess the heat has wiped out egg laying. I got no eggs, even from the outdoor nests of the free living birds. Again today, Cletus refused to have anything to do with Leah in the morning but fed for a half hour in the afternoon.
September 11, Wednesday: At last, blessed relief from the heat. It is 55f this evening and we even got a spritz of rain. Of course the cows are pleased. Helen gave 2.75 gallons today. Her production varies according to how recently Virginia has fed. She no longer holds back for her calf. Usually there is at least one quarter that Virginia has not touched. That quarter alone will have close to a gallon. I am sure Virginia is drinking at least two gallons a day. She is large and sleek. There were seven eggs. I forgot to mention on Monday, I found a small kitten all by itself in the haymow. I brought it into the house to foster. This morning I found another. It was down in the main aisle of the barn all alone, so now I have two in the house. I have put out my Free Kittens sign
September 13, Friday The kittens made it clear they are fed up with life in a cage so I gave them the run of the house. They are lively and playful. The smaller one, the first one I brought into the house first, is beginning to show some aptitude for drinking from a saucer. But I am still giving them a bottle. Bernd Heinrich (author of the book A Year in the Maine Woods) stopped by and said he might take them for his children if I hold them until Sunday. He also admired the cows and sheep. While showing off the cows I was just in time to see Cletus feeding from Leah while they were all in the barnyard. Since that first day back in August, this is the first observation I have been able to make of him being able to feed while Leah was not confined in her stanchion. This is a potentially liberating discovery. Helen gave 2.75 gallons today and I got five eggs.
Here is a recipe for Milk Soup that my granddaughter Rosemary’s friend Sarah brought back from Tuscany. : 4 ½ cups milk 1/4 cup flour 1/4 cup butter 2 TBSP. parmesan cheese 4 egg yolks salt Directions: Melt butter, work in flour, slowly add milk (must be room temp), let simmer for 20 minutes stirring always. To keep from sticking, cook in a “bain-marie” (double boiler). When cooked add the well beaten yolks, and cheese. Serve boiling hot. Sarah writes: I think that you will appreciate the after note, “Try to get your milk fresh from the cow and you will notice how this simple soup changes flavor completely, giving you an unforgettable taste which you could not hope to find in the same soup made with the very healthy, but rather insipid milk offered by our central dairies.”
September 14, Saturday: My granddaughter Hailey visited today and worked with the kittens. Now both are drinking from a saucer. This evening while I was milking Helen, Cletus pulled down a crosspiece that was meant to prevent Leah moving sideways. It was quite a heavy piece of timber. Poor Leah was dreadfully frightened. This is the third horrible experience she has had while locked in her stanchion. I’m surprised she keeps coming back in so nicely. It was much cooler today but I do not think we will have frost tonight. Helen gave three gallons of milk I got five eggs.
September 15, Sunday: Rain at last! Real rain. It rained hard for about an hour this morning, then cleared for a few hours. At evening milking time the rain began again, not hard but steady. This morning Helen gave close to two gallons, but this evening less than three quarts. I had the impression it was not because Virginia had sucked her dry, but that she did not produce. Six eggs. A young lady came and took one kitten. That still leaves two because I found another this morning in the barn.
September 17, Tuesday: I have taken in the Free Kittens sign. The remaining one (black) has diarrhea so I can’t give him away until he is well again. Cletus seems less interested every day in suckling. Yesterday he wandered over while I was milking Helen and grabbed one of her teats. It was a few moments before either of us realized what was happening. Then Helen kicked. Leah is not very welcoming either, but Cletus clearly gets plenty to eat. He is getting huge. His back line is at my waist level. I just worry that Leah has too much milk for Maria and I will get stuck with milking two cows. I have an ad to sell Leah coming out Thursday. Yesterday I made six pints of elderberry jelly. Both Monday and today Helen gave three gallons of milk and I got six eggs. We received about 1.5 inches of rain Sunday and Monday. Everything is much Happier, but my spring line is still dry.
September 18, Wednesday: Well, didn’t I find another small black kitten in the barn this morning! They get livelier each day but I caught him quite easily and put him in the bottom a trashcan until after milking. He was frightened, but inclined to be friendly. Now the two have each other and are happier. Helen barely made two gallons of milk today thanks to Virginia’s thirst. After evening milking I shut her in a stall for the night. Helen bellowed a few times after she realized her daughter was missing, but quickly settled down. I will let Virginia out tomorrow morning and may go to once per day milking. Cletus again would have nothing to do with Leah, but her udder is not in trouble and that is all that really matters. Six eggs
September 19, Thursday: Results were muddled from my calf separation experiment. As soon as I had Helen in her stanchion I put Virginia out the back door. She bawled a lot during milking. Helen answered a few times but was calm and did not kick the bucket. Helen did not have as much milk as I expected. Her two left quarters were only half full, making me suspect Cletus. He again ignored Leah when I had her in. Later when I let Helen back out of course Virginia pounced on her and there was Cletus grabbing a teat as well. Helen tried to kick him away, but he is clearly an opportunistic feeder. No wonder I can’t get much milk from Helen.
September 20, Friday: Last night I tried keeping Cletus in. This morning Leah was stuffed with milk in a way I have not seen. So obviously he is doing his part off and on during the day. He immediately began feeding when I let him in with Leah, the first time he has shown interest in a week. So I guess I do not need to worry very much about Leah getting milked. But, I still can’t tell if he is also grabbing milk from Helen. He made another attempt this morning, but Helen kicked him. She had very little milk this morning and that little she held back. She did the same thing this evening, so today I got only 1.5 gal. I don’t know if this is her response to a night of separation from Virginia or just her latest naughty trick. I am pondering what to do next. There are still two very small black kittens in the kitchen. One has been looking very discouraged. It has sore eyes and almost no appetite. So this afternoon I defrosted some liver for it, that magic food. Since it won’t eat I spooned the bloody juice into its mouth. It came to life like a proper little predator. I could not get the stuff down fast enough and it followed me around asking for more. I have to be careful where I step because it does not weigh any more than a balled Kleenex. Later it made an effort to eat some milk soaked cat kibble after I poured more liver juice on it. It seemed unable to deal with chopped liver, so Bagel dog came along and ate that. Five eggs today.
September 21, Saturday: Well this does it. This morning I got only 5 cups of milk so I am weaning Virginia. I suspect Cletus of having swiped some of the milk but without the presence of Virginia I think Helen will not permit him to suck. But we will see. Right now I have Virginia shut in a box stall. If I do some fencing I can put her in the sheep paddock. Later… Virginia looks pathetic and has not touched her hay or water. She can’t understand what she has done to deserve solitary. I worked on fencing this morning and will put her into the sheep paddock tomorrow while I have the cows in for milking. Leah came in stuffed with milk and both Cletus and Maria fed for the entire time I milked Helen. I still did not get much. In sympathy with Virginia, she held up her milk. I got scarcely two gallons today. She can’t hold it up forever though so tomorrow will be better. Only three eggs today. I did spend some time looking for nests, but I was so hot after working on the fence and gates that I soon gave up the search.
September 22, Sunday: 11AM: Lots of excitement already this morning. The sound of Helen and Virginia bellowing for each other was the first thing I heard this morning and I milked within a sea of bellowing, having Virginia behind my back in her stall and Helen in front of me. Helen was stuffed with milk. It came to just shy of three gallons, but of course included some she had not let down last night. After milking I shut all the cattle into the beefer pen, then led Virginia out and put her into the sheep paddock as planned. She was suspicious of my motives, so this was hot work (It was 70F this morning by 7AM) Then I let all the others out. Helen and Virginia touched noses over the fence, then both resumed bellowing. While this was going on I noticed that the hose that drips into the stock tank had become dislodged and they were completely out of water. I took the occasion to overturn and scrub out the tank before refilling. While I was eating breakfast the bellowing suddenly stopped. That of course meant they were back together. Virginia had forced apart one of my gate repairs. I was glad to see that neither had jumped the fence thus incurring barbed wire injuries. Many a heifer learns to jump fences and can soar like a show jumper. Then, when they try this as an “older woman” they may get very badly torn. For my next trick I took a bag of cut up apples to the barn and tempted Helen and the whole lot to come back inside to the milking area. Helen is no dummy and suspected a cow trap. But, her craving for apples triumphed over caution and she came in with Virginia following. I quite easily got Virginia back into her stall. She is really very friendly and I have never frightened her in her life so I was able to keep the operation very low key. Evening… Not surprisingly after a day of hanging around the barn mooing and scarcely eating Helen did not make much milk today. Also, she had Virginia back with her for a couple of hours this morning. Only three quarts this evening. but she held up a couple more quarts for sure. Seven eggs today. It remained hot and muggy all day, in the low to mid 80’s.
September 23, Monday: Helen has not let up much on her bellowing. Virginia answers bellow for bellow. Of course I feel awfully sorry for them, but just like once in a while I have to remind Bagel that he is a dog, I have to remind her that she is a cow. She gave something that I suppose approaches her current production, 4.5 gallons today. She held back a bit, but not too bad considering her frame of mind. The weather has cooled slightly. Only found three eggs.
September 24, Tuesday: The first ten minutes of milking is pretty quiet while both Helen and Virginia eat their grain. Then it gets stressful while they bellow for each other. Both are getting hoarse. Virginia is varying her vocalizations to sound more desperate and pathetic. It’s awful. Helen gave four gallons today. She did not seem to be holding up her milk too badly but from the skimpy cream line she very evidently is. Virginia began eating her hay today and drinking more water. Helen continues to hang about the barn. Since she is boss cow, Leah also hangs around a lot the time, but I do see her out grazing alone. All morning I could hear a small kitten crying in the garage. This is a section of barn connected to the house. It just did not stop. After a while I instituted a search. This took a long time because I have monaural hearing and have a lot of trouble knowing where sounds are coming from. Finally, with the aid of a flashlight I located it. It was way out of reach under the floor beams. It was almost newborn and was squirming around blindly next to a dead brother. I left it for another hour in hopes the mother would return, but she did not. It just kept on crying but more weakly. So finally I lay down amidst the dust and wood chips and reached in with a branch and eventually managed to tweak it within reach. Now it is in a nest on the Aga. I defrosted some colostrum and fed it with a medicine dropper. There seems to be a lot of life in it at the moment but its chances are small. I guess I will name it Nuisance.
September 25, Wednesday: Virginia’s bellow is down to a hoarse wheeze like laryngitis. I just learned that one of my Alaskan grandsons is returning to Maine shortly and perhaps he can fix the paddock so that Virginia can have some grazing. Helen let down well today. She gave four gallons plus a quart and it is much creamier. There were six eggs.
September 27, Friday: It is impressive how much deeper the cream line is now on the jars of milk. Helen still does some bellowing, but not persistently. Poor Virginia’s voice has become a sort of calliope squeak reaching high C. But she has started to eat her hay properly. I keep her quiet during milking by giving her a big scoop of grain. Helen mostly lets down well now. I am interested to observe no hint that she holds me personally responsible for her separation from Virginia. At least there is no hint of malice such as kicking the bucket or me.
I’m sorry to report that both orphan kittens I have been nurturing in the kitchen have died. At last we are having rain. They say it is the tag end of hurricane Isadore, but all we are getting is gentle welcome soaking rain. Probably it is too late for the pasture to recover at all. I have been putting out two or three bales of hay each day. The cows wander around and find almost nothing to eat. Helen gave four gallons today and I got five eggs.
September 29, Sunday: On Saturday Helen was a perfect lady, stood like a rock and gave 4.5 gallons of milk. This morning she came in without Leah, but both Cletus and Maria followed. Leah refused to come in. Helen was agitated and quit letting down after one gallon was in the bucket. As soon as she got outside she began jumping Leah. I see by my calendar that it was Leah who was in heat. It was impossible from their behavior to be sure which one it was. This evening Helen made up for this morning by giving three gallons. She was very uncomfortable, I could tell. Now that Virginia is weaned I am awash in milk and am reconsidering the idea of getting pigs. My grandson Rafe is visiting from Alaska. We went up to inspect the spring and found plenty of water in it. So there is some other reason we are not getting water. Only two eggs today!
September 30, Monday: Helen did well again today, over four gallons. Virginia seems more resigned to her fate. She is drinking her water and finishing up her hay. Rafe has worked on the fencing and tomorrow I will try her in the paddock. Rafe also devised a cheese press for me. I will try it soon. I have been letting the geese out for a while each day to graze on the lawn. They have eaten all the grass in their enclosure. I think they now understand that I do not want them near the house and that they must stay at the end of the lawn near the barn. They are so messy. But they are very friendly and cheerful. Five eggs today. Rafe looked for nests. No luck.
October 1, Tuesday: Rafe and I put Virginia out into the reinforced paddock. She wandered around by herself for a while. Then I looked up to see Helen in a racing trot heading for her. I believe the fence would have held Virginia in, but nothing was going to keep Helen out. No fence I could come up with would keep out a determined animal of that weight. We would need a stockade. At milking time all came in as usual and I put Virginia back in her box stall. She seemed resigned and walked right in. I did not bother milking Helen. Five eggs today.
October 3, Thursday: Helen’s brief reunion resulted in another two days of bellowing and holding up her cream. For the first time yesterday she showed resentment and shook her head at me. One is always grateful there are no horns at moments like this. She has taken to peeing and pooping during milking, something I have not been troubled with for some time. Cross my fingers, she has not offered to kick She only gave 3.75 gallons today. Rafe left for school yesterday. He worked hard on various improvements while here. Like all my family, he is a great fan of fresh milk. I sent him off with a gallon. Five eggs today.
October 4, Friday: Helen’s production was back up to four gallons today, but she is still bellowing. However, she is getting more realistic. She stops to kiss Virginia over the barrier before leaving the barn. (She does not kiss her on the way in because they are both thinking only of grain.) We had a light frost last night. I had covered most of the flowers and carried the pots into the buttery so lost nothing. I don’t mind doing that a few times. This afternoon I dug the rest of the potatoes, about a 15′ row. I think they may be German Fingerling. I have had them for 20 years and just save some each year for replanting. They always come out perfectly clean with no disease. I also found a few late tomatoes hiding under arching comfrey leaves. So I guess comfrey is good for something. Actually, it does improve the soil. Five eggs again today.
October 5, Saturday: Such lovely weather today. All the animals seemed happy. Even Virginia, the four month old heifer I am weaning, begins to seem resigned. Helen did a little mooing during milking but did not hang around in the barn after milking. She gave four gallons today. I got five eggs.
October 7, Monday: Our weather is cooling off. Frost is predicted for tonight and a real freeze for tomorrow night. I brought in one of the mangels I grew this year. Although I gave them very little weeding or thinning and no watering they are quite large. The one I pulled was about 14″ long and four or five inches through. They are often much larger than this. They grow with most of the root out of the ground. Mangels are a kind of beet grown for animal consumption. I chopped it up with a hatchet and added it to Helen’s dinner. Although she had never had one before she devoured every fragment. Old farms I visited in England had mangel cutters in the barn. The device is an inclined trough on legs with a cleaver-like blade mounted at the end to slice up the mangels. There is no way a cow can eat a mangel entire. It is best to cut such vegetables into pieces that are no bigger than the size of half an apple to avoid the danger of choking. The mangel also has a big leafy top but Helen did not get much of this. The deer have trimmed them right off. Helen gave 3 gal 1 qt today. I got 5 eggs.
October 8, Tuesday: We got a pretty good frost last night but a much harder one is predicted for tonight. I pulled mangels again. This time I gave some to Leah too. Today Helen gave a generous 4.5 gals of milk. She had seemed to be dropping off a bit. I don’t know whether to attribute this to the mangel effect or not. They are reputedly a milk feed. They taste rather sweet and are striped red and white in cross section. This afternoon I dug the rest of my carrots and covered over the Swiss chard with chicken wire to discourage deer. Four eggs today.
October 9, Wednesday: We had a hard freeze last night and it stayed cold and overcast all day. It froze my giant stand of dahlias to a limp black stew. I have a young rooster I have named Brewster. He has been getting bigger and bigger all summer and is now one of the heaviest birds on the premises. But , he has only very recently begun to crow, a signal of maturity. At morning and evening chores I throw out a large handful of cracked corn and my free-living flock, mostly bantams, comes running. Although huge, Brewster is of this group. For the last week I have been observing him sneaking up on the hens and pullets as they concentrate on their corn. He sidles up and grabs a beakfull of feathers in an effort to stabilize his choice. But he doesn’t get it right. One of them, a tiny hen with two teenage chicks at her side, is so obviously insulted and affronted by his clumsy efforts that she drops her piece of corn and flies in his face. I have seen several other hens chase him out the door. Mostly he chases the small young ones that simply flee rather than smacking his face. But tonight he finally perfected his style. He grabbed some feathers in just the key spot and got a hen to hold still. I am looking forward to seeing if tomorrow he gets more respect. Helen gave over four gallons today. I got five eggs. Cletus, the adopted calf that Leah is feeding, is now 41″ high at the topline.
October 10, Thursday: Drizzly weather all day, but not cold. I made three pounds of butter. I have made a lot of butter recently. I have to do something with all that milk now that Virginia is weaned. I only average selling one or two gallons a day, so I skim the remainder and make butter with the cream. The skim and buttermilk go to the chickens. I am getting ahead on skim. I wish I had a pig or two. Helen gave 2.5 gallons this morning, but not much over a gallon this evening. She did not make it to four gallons today. Five eggs.
October 11, Friday: Helen and Virginia seem to be getting used to not being together. There is no more bellowing. Helen just exchanges a look with Virginia as she passes. Virginia is eating her hay and grain and drinking her water just fine. One of the half grown kittens in the barn has an injury on her neck. It appears that something grabbed her by the scruff and she got away, but not before it took a bite out of her. It is healing now and she is eating. I suppose it was a fox or possibly a coyote. Helen gave a bit under four gallons today. Only got four eggs. We had a drizzly rain much of the day.
October 12, Saturday: I milked an hour or so earlier this evening so as to go help with a Grange bean supper. Helen actually prefers the earlier hour, but I did not get as much milk. Only 3.5 gals today. But it was a red-letter day for milk sales. A new customer bought two gallons of milk and two quarts of cream. I am so happy when somebody wants cream. I rarely sell any, and it is so delicious. Supermarket cream is now so bad that a generation of people are not attracted to it. It has a nasty chemical taste due to all the additives. When whipped it lacks proper body. Five eggs again today.
October 13, Sunday: Helen gave over 2.5 gallons this morning but less than a gallon this evening. There seemed no good reason for this evening’s poor production. Maybe she is coming into heat. It is odd to get so much in the morning, the reverse in the evening. It is usually more evenly divided. I have been unable to establish a clear date for her heat. Another cat showed up today with a bloody throat. This one was a mature tomcat, pretty wild. All I could do was put out food for him in case he feels able to eat. Light rain most of the day. Four eggs.
October 15, Tuesday: This morning when Leah was in her stanchion both her calf Maria and foster Child, Cletus, immediately began feeding before I put the kicker on her. She never lifted a foot. About midday I observed the same thing through the binoculars as they were both feeding down in the pasture. This is something I have almost never been able to observe, although Leah frequently comes in with a deflated udder, so I know somebody has had his or her dinner. This evening she was touchy again and I put the kicker on. Helen gave three gallons today. I guess her production is bound to drop with the pasture so poor and my hay not much good either. I have 200 bales of excellent hay, but I am saving it for later in the year. The tomcat with the injured throat (I call him Sammy) showed up this evening looking remarkably well. He was up on the shelf where I put their cat kibble and milk. Ordinarily he trusts me enough to allow me to stroke him while he is eating but he left when I tried to get close. When I did not see him Monday I thought surely he was a goner. I don’t even want to describe his injury in case somebody is squeamish. I think cats really must have nine lives.
October 16, Wednesday: Rain has been sweeping up the East Coast and has reached us. It has been raining hard for five hours, but the high winds we were told to expect have not so far arrived. I closed the windows in the barn that are capable of closing (three lack panes) and lowered down the trapdoor on the hay drop. I also scouted out the lamps and candles in case we lose power. Helen did not want to let down tonight and kept switching her tail. I finally realized the sheep had tiptoed in and were standing outside of the door to the milking area watching us. Helen finds this very annoying. I shooed the sheep out but by then it was too late. I only managed to get one half gallon. This morning she gave 2 gallons plus a quart but that is still less than three gallons for the day. I suppose I will get it in the morning. I have been allowing my pair of geese to roam the lawn to take advantage of the grass. They have eaten all the grass in their pen. Now they are getting a bit too friendly. Today they came all the way through the shed and right up to the kitchen door leaving their calling cards all the way. Four eggs today. Some of the hens are coming out of their moult so I am hopeful they will begin to lay again. I have made 10 pints of grape jelly. It is quite tart and nothing like the supermarket product.
October 18, Friday: The last two days have given us intermittent rain and sun with a lot of wind. It is pretty much the last hurrah for the fall color. The color was close to two weeks late this year but worth waiting for. It has been around freezing at night, or a little below, and about 50F in the afternoon. Helen’s production was under four gallons both yesterday and today, more like 3.75. Not too bad at four at a half months into lactation and the grass pretty well gone. A few bantams are laying again. I got six eggs yesterday, only four today.
October 19, Saturday: This morning for the first time this year there was ice on the stock tank It began to rain and kept it up all day. The temperature remained in the 30’s. I call it English weather. There was a dead chicken outside in the chicken yard. It was a very old one. I don’t know if it was moribund last evening or just confused. Ordinarily they are all on the perch by five o’clock when I go to the barn. It was right against the fence and something had reached through the wire and eaten about half of it. This is very puzzling predator behavior inasmuch as there are ways to get into the chicken run easily enough. Helen had gotten into the habit of giving a lot of milk in the morning, 3.75 gals today. Then she gives a small amount in the evening. Tonight it was less than two quarts. I don’t remember this ever happening before. Since I was getting ahead on milk, I started another cheese today. I am using the new pressing arrangement that my grandson Rafe set up. This is the device that has an arm hinged to the wall. A strut sets on the cheese follower and the top end is set into a notch on the hinged arm. Out at the far end of the arm there hangs a weight, in this case a bucket of water. It seems to be working fine although I would not be a bit surprised of the handle of the plastic bucket breaks during the night and dumps water all over the floor.
October 20, Sunday: Yesterday I put the remains of that dead chicken on a rather high box inside the barn. This morning there was nothing left but a pile of feathers. Late last night I smelled a skunk and concluded a particularly un-enterprising member of that tribe must have eaten it. I mean, why pull it in bits through the chicken wire? There are plenty of places that the chickens know to get in and out, and skunks are usually as good as cats at finding holes. Yet the complete disappearance of the carcass could not be the work of skunks or the barn cats. It pretty much has to be a raccoon or fox. I hope it is a fox. Many half grown bantams and some larger birds are roosting in places vulnerable to a raccoon. While shaking out a bale of my second rate hay I found a nasty piece of rusty old wire. When I tried to straighten it, it broke. Sure glad I noticed it and did not feed it to the cows. Helen gave over two gallons this morning and over a gallon this evening, about four gallons for the day. This must be either due to the bale of high grade hay I gave them yesterday or else the rain has encouraged the grass a little bit. Six eggs today.
October 22, Tuesday: Yesterday was rush-rush. I ate standing up. And then I went to a planning meeting in the evening. I suspected Helen might be coming into heat but I was too busy to make observations. Today was just as complicated as yesterday. One of them was definitely in heat but I had appointments all day to view real estate on behalf of son Max and his family, so once again I could not take the time to make observations. When they circle around one another you know one is in heat, but both will attempt to mount. You can only be certain when you see one stand still for the other. That is called “standing heat” and is definitive. Then you can call the technician. I am pretty sure it was Helen, but according to my calendar it should have been Leah. However, Helen gave over four gallons today and usually when in heat production drops. Better luck next month.
October 24, Thursday: Days have been fairly mild and nights just barely freezing for some days now. There is a little bit of regeneration of the pasture and the cows have been enjoying being out. I am putting out two bales a day of hay, not my best. The milk tastes very good. Leah is unpredictable in her behavior towards the calves. Sometimes she kicks like anything when they try to feed. Other times she stands like a rock. I have even seen her licking Cletus, her foster calf. One way and another, Maria and Cletus keep up with her milk. I see them outside feeding sometimes. Both calves are getting big. Maria has a rough plushy coat like a teddy bear. Cletus and Virginia are smoother. Virginia is the biggest. She is still in her stall, weaning. Some time back I mentioned making a sourdough starter according to an old fashioned recipe I came across. All you do is mix fresh milk still warm from the cow with an equal amount of flour and set it in a slightly warm place such as you would choose for rising bread dough. Within a couple of days you get a vigorous foamy starter with excellent flavor. Being milk based, it will work best on a farmhouse milk based loaf. I get a good dough in only about an hour longer than it would take with baker’s yeast. The loaf is slightly dense with good slicing qualities. The sourdough flavor is unexpected in a farmhouse loaf. Most who have tasted it say it has exceptionally good flavor. This week I looked at my starter. It has been neglected and unfed for over a month and was covered with a greenish crust. In the spirit of scientific inquiry I, stirred the whole mess together, fed it and left it overnight. By golly, in the morning it looked and smelled great and I made a couple of loaves of bread.
October 25, Friday: Late last evening when I went out with the dogs for last walkies we got a nasty surprise. There was a great black and white scuttling in the buttery. I suspected skunks. I could not be certain until I got the flashlight because the buttery was already somewhat whiffy from the night before, plus the fact that all of my cats are black and white. But the evil little thing was not shy. It turned right around and stuck its head out from its hiding place under a cabinet and began jumping up and down. I succeeded in getting the dogs to leave it alone. But my big old granny tabby, Sissypuss who weighs about 15 pounds, strutted right up to it as though planning to slap its face. I was not of a mind to go pick her up just about 10″ from the skunk. Actually I suspect there was more than one under there. I got her to come to me by trickery. I grabbed an empty cat food can and pretended I was about to give her a treat. There was food in skunk accessible spots but I did not go back out to rearrange the stores. This morning the buttery smelled pretty bad and I saw where the visitors had eaten a pound of chocolate chips. I hope they got bad bellyaches. Helen gave 3.5 gallons today. The weather was fine and all the critters spent the day far down in Pocket field. I got five eggs.
October 26, Saturday: Cold rain all day. The temperature hovered between 30f and 40f. Virginia, Helen’s five-month-old heifer, has a runny nose and is wheezing. She is eating and seems alert. I let her out of her box stall after putting the cows out this morning. I thought maybe some exercise would warm her up and do her some good. She explored the barn and knocked down lots of things. But, if she is not a lot better soon I will call the vet. I poured a dose of cod liver oil on her grain this evening. She ate it right up. In the morning I will double the amount. I have been in the mood for chicken soup and decided it was time at least one member of my flock made the supreme sacrifice. I have killed chickens often enough in the past, but have since lost my nerve. So, I caught one and then called my cousin Steve to dispatch it. I had hot water ready and soused it and plucked it in no time. Bagel gave me a “Hey, what’s going on?” look. Now the cockerel is eviscerated and in the fridge. I also made butter today. I’ve been making about three pounds a week.
October 27, Sunday: Virginia was not better this morning. She did not show her usual enthusiasm for her grain and had not drunk much water, nor finished her hay. I decided to try feeding her some comfrey. I dug up a bunch of roots down in the veg garden where it is always trying to take over. What did I find but a mine of purple potatoes that I had not noticed when I dug potatoes a couple of weeks ago! The vines die back and in this case comfrey leaves obscured the site. I dug up the biggest potato of any color that I have ever grown. It weighed two pounds and was perfectly clean. There were lots of quite large ones. I filled half of a 5 gallon bucket. Purple potatoes have excellent baking qualities. They are nice and dry and fluffy. Next year I am going to plant lots more. I washed and chopped the comfrey roots and leaves and mixed them with grain to tempt Virginia, but she was dull and would not eat. Her nose was running badly and her breathing was sterterous. Therefore I called my poor old vet even though it is Sunday. He is older than I am, although I suspect him of having more energy than I do. He suggested I give Virginia Terramycin in a drench. I had some in the fridge. I mixed it with warm water and plenty of molasses and prayed for help from St. Francis. Virginia weighs over 300 lbs and even though sick, she was far from down. There is no way I could both control her and pour in a drench. By golly she took one sniff and opened her mouth and drank it like a wedding guest with a snifter of champagne, then looked around for more. Virginia has been separated from her mother for over a month for weaning, but I made the decision to let her back in with Helen tonight after milking. Helen did not let down well. I got less than a gallon. So there was plenty for Virginia. When I let her out she went straight to sucking on her mother without missing a beat. I took a picture. She did not act the least bit sick. Cletus the opportunist, also took advantage and Helen could not kick him away. He is as big as Virginia. There won’t be any milk tomorrow morning. In fact, there will never be any milk until I separate them again. Perhaps I will try night separation again although it seldom works very well. My vet will come tomorrow so I will have to keep Virginia in again tomorrow anyway. I made chicken soup with the chicken I dressed off yesterday and took broth to my cousin who has been in the hospital.
October 28, Monday: Every morning for more than two weeks Helen and the others have been waiting for me in the beefer pen at milking time. This morning they were all, way down in the pasture, including Virginia. I suppose Helen was telling me something. She did bring them all up when I called, but the three calves stopped at the outer gate while Helen and Leah came on alone. I had to get Virginia into her box stall to await the vet. I have worked with all three calves on leading from almost the time they were born. I was afraid Virginia might have forgotten during her weeks in solitary, but no, I was able to lead her in with some coaxing. She looked a great deal better this morning. Helen gave one gallon of milk, which was better than I expected. When the vet came about 2pm he decided Virginia did not need a shot, just Terramycin on her feed would do the trick. I put Virginia back out with her mother. This evening they all came in nicely but Helen had only about two cups of milk. I separated Virginia for the night.
My spring line is running again. Yesterday along with the other events my neighbor Joe came and carried out an inspired operation. We were convinced that the problem was an airlock in the line. He was going to bring his pump and set up a tub and send water under pressure back up to the spring to expel the air. But then he realized that we could attach a hose from my drilled well system directly to the tap that controls the spring line where it enters the house. All it required was a male-to-male fitting that he had picked up at a hardware store. In a short while the spring which I have not had for three months was again trickling into the granite cistern in the kitchen.
October 31 Thursday: Tuesday, Wednesday and tonight I did not bother to milk Helen in the evening. I have separated Virginia during the night so as to have the morning milk and am leaving her with her mother during the day. There has been no further sign of illness now that she is back with her mother. Unfortunately Helen now does not let down well and I am losing about half of the cream. I am not happy with this state of affairs, particularly as I have two new customers. Both of whom appreciate cream. I now have barely enough milk to supply them along with the two or three customers I already have. Sammy, the tomcat who had half his throat torn out about ten days ago, disappeared for all of the last week. I figured he was a goner. But, this evening I heard a little cry in the buttery and he came wobbling out. He was too weak in the legs to climb up to the shelf where I feed cats. I went and got him a dish of wet food and he ate voraciously. Then he ate a bunch of dry food. Then a saucer of cream. I thought that was enough for one meal. Four hours later I heard another little cry and he came walking out of a corner with a more normal gait. I think he is regaining his strength. I just gave him another big meal. Years ago I carried food to a wild and ferocious tomcat that was desperately ill with an abscess on it’s jaw. I could see right into its mouth and its teeth were beginning to fall out. Tomcats are very subject to abscesses because of fighting. I carried soft food to the horrible old thing until it got well. It was so grateful that it became friendly.
November 1, Friday: Helen is being a big disappointment when it comes to letting down in the morning. She used to give over two gallons with plenty of cream before I restored Virginia to her care. Now that I am separating Virginia at night so that I will have the morning milk she holds it all up. I am getting about 1.5 gallons with only ¾ inch of cream on top. Then this morning after I let Virginia back out with her, darned if all three calves didn’t swarm her. If she doesn’t let down better tomorrow morning I will once again totally separate them.. Such a nuisance. A sleety rain is falling. Four eggs today.
November 2, Saturday: It feels as though winter is here. There is snow on the mountains and a very cold wind. My son Martin and his friend, Mike, came up today and they cut and split close to a cord of wood. What a treat! They also repaired a big leak in the line from the spring.
Helen remains resistant to letting down her milk so I have separated her and Virginia again. There is a whole new round of mooing. Martin milked tonight and I am not sure what he got. About a gallon and a half I think, same as I got this morning. She will probably be back up to four tomorrow.
November 3, Sunday: It was down to 10F this morning. Virginia remains separated from Helen. She has the run of the main barn floor between milkings, so I hope she gets enough exercise to avoid a chill. Tonight Helen let down so poorly and her udder remained so hard that I could not help fearing mastitis. Total for today was about 3.25 gals.
Friends who have a biodynamic vegetable farm came today with majestic glasshouse peppers and we struck a deal for ten gallons of fresh cow manure in exchange for veg. It sounds like a fair deal to me. All I have to do it fill their buckets as the fresh stuff presents itself.
November 4, Monday: We are having our first snow. This fall has been unusual. Many of the trees never turned color. The leaves just went brown and are sticking to the trees. It has been unseasonably cold. The cows keep on looking for something to graze on in preference to standing in the barn eating hay. If this snow persists it will mean hay three times a day rather than twice. Helen seems resigned to separation from Virginia, but is still not letting down well. She did manage three gallons today, but I had to work for it. I got four eggs.
November 6, Wednesday: Tuesday evening it started snowing and continued all night and most of today. We surely got over 4″ but then it turned to rain. The snow looked beautiful first thing this morning, but the weather ended up rather disagreeable. So, I imagine all but the most intrepid deer hunters stayed home. Yesterday I walked along the river and down to the brook despite the snow on the ground. The dogs were very pleased with our walk. All was quiet. I completely forgot about deer season and failed to put orange on the dogs or myself. I remembered after we were halfway but heard no shooting anywhere. I consider Bagel to be particularly vulnerable because he is about the color of a deer, runs with a leaping gait especially when in the woods and has a white underside to his tail which he holds straight up.
The purpose of my walk was to see if my spring line had separated in any of the known vulnerable spots. It was intact, but it is not running. Therefore, today I spent more than two hours on plumbing efforts to which I am ill suited by both inclination and experience. All with no positive effect.
The cows have busted up their hay feeder, so I had to throw their hay on the ground tonight. Helen did not give much today, only about 2 ¾ gallons. I suppose we must get used to less milk now that there is no grazing. Even the sheep did not try today. I got four eggs.
November 7, Thursday: A cold north wind had frozen the snow into a crust. All the animals went out onto the pasture anyway and nibbled at patches of grass exposed by the rain. My spring line started running again. It is a weak stream, so something is blocking it somewhere, but it is always a treat to have it. Leah is beginning to object to her calf Maria suckling, also Cletus the adoptee. She has been kicking them and discouraging them. Tonight she kicked me. Leah has lost a bit of weight so I have increased her grain. Helen gave three gallons today.
November 8, Friday: Amazing learning experience! Tonight Leah began her usual kicking spree when the calves were trying to feed even though I tightened up the kicker another notch. Her legs were really flying. I stood next to her for about five minutes with a heavy rod in my hand and every time she lifted a foot I whapped her on the offending shin. Rather to my amazement she quit kicking. She did not kick again the whole time I milked Helen. I kept peeking around behind Helen to see if she was back at it, but she was standing with perfect manners. My granddaughter Helena, a young woman of 22 who has been living in Pennsylvania, has come to stay with me. Her father lives nearby and this evening together they went and picked up two piglets for me. Several members of my family have been encouraging me to get pigs again and with Helena here to help out I believe I can manage. They are very cute at this stage. Helen gave only 2 ½ gallons today. A freezing cold water tank with chunks of ice in it may be a factor in lowered production. I got six eggs.
November 9, Saturday: Cletus had no interest tonight in feeding and instead began to repeatedly jump Leah. I ran over and removed her kicker in case he made her lose her balance. At this point I discovered that I had failed to insert the pin in her stanchion so she was free. She whirled around and left with Cletus after her. I released Maria too. Leah ran so fast that she slipped rounding the corner of the corridor to the beefer pen. I had hooked the door at the far end which meant she was blocked in the passageway with the calves behind her. To unhook that door when the passage is full of cattle I have to climb up a barrier by the door because I am not tall enough to reach it. The area is pitch dark. While running to do this I fell over a piece of equipment and the commotion alarmed Leah enough to make her back out pushing calves behind her. What a rodeo. I was glad no children were around. Everywhere that I move cattle I make sure I have a corner to step into but children might try to run ahead of them. Except for the thundering hooves all this happened in silence. I tend not to talk much around cows unless I need to soothe them. They settled right down as soon as they got where they wanted to be. Helen seemed unconcerned and let down just fine but did not have a lot of milk. She gave 2 ¾ gallons today. The piglets are friendlier already. Helena and my little granddaughter Hailey sat in there with them while they ate.
November 10, Sunday: Probably I should have called the AI technician today for Leah. I know he is a devoted churchgoer and I hated to call him out. On the other hand, if Leah is regular it will be Sunday next time too. Maybe I will call him Saturday night. The piglets are eating better today. We warm their milk and put the pig feed into it. Of course they put their feet right into their pan. Little pigs are mighty cute. Today was unseasonably warm. The animals spent all day on the knoll in Pocket Field, the farthest pasture. They want to graze even though it is unrewarding. Helena has corrected me. She is 23. She is doing the pig feeding. Helen did not give much more than 2 ½ gallons today. I got only two eggs.
November 13, Wednesday: For two days Helen has been increasingly agitated at milking time. Not kicking, but nervous and often mooing. For the last several months she has not been coming in heat in any very obvious way so I have been watching closely for symptoms. Finally today we began to see some degree of activity. This morning she was trying to mount Leah and this afternoon she was following her closely and not eating. This morning she gave only one gallon of milk. So this afternoon I called the technician. I thought he might come this evening or tomorrow morning but he said he would be along in half an hour. Helen was way down in Pocket Field milling around but when I called her she came right back to the barn. All of them came in and Helen and Leah walked right into their stanchions like good girls. I had some grain in their pans. There was only one bull available, Zukar, the same one we had last time. The tech said he thought Helen was ready, but they do like to make you feel encouraged. The service costs $40 a whack. My son Max is here for a visit with a plan to buy a home in Maine. Grandson Rafe is here too with a friend and the three guys attacked my woodpile with a borrowed wood splitter and an extra chainsaw. I had nine cords of tree length logs delivered, mostly maple, so sawing and splitting is not to be accomplished in a day. Helen only gave 2 ½ gallons today. I hope now she will settle down and make more milk. With the pasture about gone and my mediocre hay this may be a vain hope. Five eggs today.
November 14, Thursday: I had this idea that I could put Virginia and Cletus in the sheep paddock for weaning. I had my grandson Rafe and his friend Tony assist me to move them out there and reinforce the gate. We watched as Virginia cavorted around delighted to be out of her stall in the barn. Then she took a running start and sailed right over the 4′ fence. Of course she ran straight to Helen and there was no milk this evening. Cletus also got out but I did not see how he did it. So I am back somewhere behind square one in terms of weaning. All the boys worked on the woodpile for several more hours this morning but now Rafe and his friend have gone back to Bar Harbor. I put Cletus into the box stall with Virginia. He could just as well be weaned. Helen gave 2 ¼ gallons today, all of it this morning.
November 15, Friday: Helen’s production was low this morning because she would not let down. It was a bit better this evening, total 2½ gallons today. She spent so much time bellowing and not eating that I was surprised I got this much. But she was mannerly. Leah has been a pill lately. I discovered she has a small cut on one teat that probably accounts for a lot of it. She came in this evening stuffed with milk. I think she has not been letting Maria feed. So I brought Cletus in with her. He drank all the milk. I have to remind myself that dear Helen who is such a perfect lady these days was once as naughty as Leah. Because Leah’s job is feeding calves I have not worked as closely with her. Six eggs today.
November 16, Saturday: Cold dark weather today, very Novembery. I have not been able to think of a plan for getting Virginia outdoors. For now she is stuck in a stall in the barn while weaning. I let her have the main hall at night so that she can do more walking. Since their last unplanned reunion, Helen has not really settled down. She is very slow to let down. She gave 2 ½ gallons today. My granddaughter Helena had been feeding the piglets faithfully. Now she says they are getting pushy and aggressive. She wants to work out a feeding chute so she does not have to go in with them. Six eggs today.
November 17, Sunday: During the night a storm blew in. We awoke to a strong northeast wind and several inches of snow. This continued much of the day. The sheep went out in it to hunt for stray weeds. They seldom notice the cold. Around noon it let up enough so that even the cows chose to go out. They really hate spending a day inside. I gave them extra hay tonight. My menfolks have gone home now, sons Max and Martin. My fire wood bay is now full, hurrah! Helen gave only 2 ¼ gallons today. I got six eggs.
November 18, Monday: The storm continues today, but we have not had the problems experienced by those farther south. Ours is not an ice storm, just high wind and sleet and snow. The temperature is only about 30F. All the livestock are staying in and eating hay. Helen gave almost 3 ½ gallons today and I got nine eggs. I have been giving the chickens more light, also I changed to a different feed, an organic feed from Canada. Therefore, I don’t know what factor has brought the improvement.
November 19, Tuesday: No new snow today. Leah was cooperative this morning and both calves fed for about 20 minutes. This evening I forgot to remove the kicker when I turned her loose. This is a bad mistake and hobbling away with it on made her frantic so she started to run. I raced ahead and closed the outer door so that she would not disappear into the night. Inside the beefer pen she circled the feeder several times before I persuaded her to stand still for me to remove it. I feel pretty stupid whenever I forget to take it off, which fortunately is not often. It was pointless to have even put it on tonight as neither calf wanted to feed. For several weeks I have been allowing the two geese to roam the yard during the day to eat grass. But they are so messy and they came up to the garage and consumed my ornamental cabbage down to a nubbin. They are highly sociable and afraid of nothing around here. They come right through the shed and up to the kitchen door. But enough is enough. Now they are locked in their pen. The grass is covered with snow now anyway. It is amazing how clearly their vocalizations convey their sense of grievance. Helen gave 2 ½ gallons and I got six eggs.
November 20, Wednesday: If I am not too rushed I carefully shake out each flake of hay when I feed. Good thing I did it this morning. I believe this is the fourth time I have found pieces of rusty wire chopped up by the baler. I will certainly not buy hay again from the same source. Both cows were quiet and well behaved today. Leah came in this morning with no milk. She had allowed one or both calves to feed early in the morning, which is unusual. I have started giving Helen and Leah each a flake of my best hay in their stanchions along with the grain they are getting. They eat every wisp. Helen gave 3 ¼ gallons today and I got 10 eggs.
November 21, Thursday: Thirteen eggs today! What a thrill! I have been leaving a dim light on with the hens, so I suppose this must be the main difference in their management. But, I did change to the aforementioned organic feed. So maybe it is a combination of factors. Helen gave only 2 ½ gallons, much less than yesterday. And, I can see no reason for this drop. If her production remains lower it could mean she has settled.
November 22, Friday: Rain, fog and drizzle all day made for poor driving conditions, but it was not very cold. The sheep went roaming but the cattle ventured only into the barnyard. Helen is not only self-supporting but is also supporting the other hay and grain eaters. I am consistently selling two gallons a day at $3 per gallon. This pays for the feed for two cows and three calves, six sheep, two pigs and twenty hens. This is what I mean when I tell people the cow drives the farm economy. No other animal can do this. Helen gave 2 ½ gallons today and I got 13 eggs.
November 23, Saturday: There is a high wind today but so far no damage. I’ve been trying to assess how much Leah is allowing the calves to nurse and how much milk she is giving. This is hard to do. I can tell from the state of her udder sometimes that they have recently nursed. But, sometimes she comes in full of milk and neither calf can be persuaded to suck. Helen gave 2 ½ gallons today. I got 14 eggs. It certainly is encouraging to be getting more eggs.
November 24, Sunday: The wind was violent all day. It tore several pieces of siding off the barn and the electricity was out twice for a total of about six hours. My granddaughter Helena got out all the oil lamps and lit them. I was prepared to do chores with very little light but the electricity come on long enough to milk and feed. This morning when I got the cows in for milking I saw that Leah had a lot of milk. Because of her kicking the calves have been reluctant to nurse. I cinched up the kicker another notch and wheedled and coaxed until they got started. After a couple of small kicks she settled down perfectly quietly. I am now giving each cow a large flake of my best hay while they are in their stanchions. They love that hay and finish it completely. The wind was so strong today that I had to throw hay down the hay drop in great chunks. If I fluffed it out it came right back up at me. Helen gave 2 ½ gallons today and I got 14 eggs. Some broke this evening when I set the egg basket down while I fed the geese. The wind blew it right over and rolled the eggs around. Tonight I caught two pullets that hatched last summer in the grain room. They are now at point-of-lay and have been running around with the bantams But, have always stayed together. They roost right together in a place where I was able to pop my landing net over them both at once. Now they are in with the layers. They are such a cute little pair, one black and one white.
November 26, Tuesday: Yesterday Helen outdid herself and gave three gallons but, today only 2 ¼. However, I got 17 eggs. Some are pullets laying their first eggs. These are very small. One was the size of a pigeon egg. Helena broke it into a frying pan and it had a perfect wee yolk the size of a raisin. She ate it and said it tasted like any other egg. We did not have any damage from the windstorm except for the cladding ripped off the barn and today I discovered a high window in the ell was shattered.
November 27, Wednesday: Leah is full of surprises. Just when I was getting worried that she was resisting feeding the calves, this morning when I opened the door to let them in there she was feeding both. The same thing happened this evening. After the calves walked away I let her in for her grain. I am feeding each cow four scoops a day of 16% dairy feed (about 8 lb) and a leaf (flake) of my best quality hay at milking time. I am now using an organic dairy feed from Canada. Leah has stopped losing weight and is in good condition. So is Helen, but I did not notice her losing weight much anyway. Virginia (six months old) is getting two scoops a day mostly to keep her cheerful. She is still confined for weaning. The other two calves, Cletus and Marie, are not getting any grain. They are aged five months and four and a half months respectively and could easily be weaned, but then I would have to milk Leah. Helen gave 2 ½ gallons today. I got 10 eggs.
November 28, Thursday: It was down to 15 degrees this morning. My spring sink quit running, but the barn watering system still functions. My sons Mark and Martin came for Thanksgiving and helped out a lot. Martin got the tractor running and into the barn, something I have been worrying about. Martin also milked this evening. Helen likes him and let down well. We got close to three gallons today and a dozen eggs. Helena and I cooked a comprehensive dinner. We began with mussels that Mark brought from Portland. I roasted a turkey and a ham. Also I served sweet potatoes cooked in cider, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cauliflower, cucumber salad, fresh cranberry relish, mince pie made with my own homemade mincemeat recipe, pumpkin pie from my own heirloom pumpkins. And of course whipped cream from Helen’s lovely cream. A great treat for all of us.
November 29, Friday: Leah certainly is unpredictable. This morning she came in stuffed with milk, obviously she had not fed the calves since yesterday, and churned her feet like an eggbeater when they attempted to nurse. I had to hold her tail up in the air for about ten minutes before they had managed to get a good letdown from her. After that, presumably because her mind was flooded with prolactin, she stood sweetly and I was able to go milk Helen who by then was annoyed with me. She even kicked twice but I was able to fend off and protect the milk. These were not kicks aimed at me, just at the bucket I think. This evening Leah came in with no milk. She must have fed the calves again no later than four o’clock. She is due to come in heat again tomorrow night or Sunday morning. I hope to get her bred this time. The thermometer was down to 9F this morning. I broke up ice about a half inch thick on the stock tank and all the smaller buckets of water were frozen nearly solid. Winter is a lot of work. Helen gave 2 ¾ gallons today and I got 14 eggs.
November 30, Saturday: We did Thanksgiving over again today for my son Martin’s friend, Amy. While my granddaughter Helena and I worked on dinner, Martin and Amy made improvements in the barn. They moved the stock tank indoors for the winter and installed a new light in a very dark corner of the barn where a couple of weeks ago I fell over some equipment in the dark. And, they did the evening chores including milking. Leah was in heat today right on schedule and I called the AI technician for tomorrow morning. Her heat was not nearly as evident this time as last but I was watching for it. Helen gave about 2 ¾ gallons today and I got 10 eggs. It stayed cold all day and now is starting to snow.
December 1, Sunday: The weather has turned very miserable. It has dropped below 20F and there is a sharp north wind making outdoor work an act of will. After chores this morning I left Leah in her stanchion to be ready for the breeder. None of us saw him arrive until after the breeding so I don’t know how long it took him. He said she has a difficult cervix, the same thing the technician said last year. I observed no signs of heat this morning but he said she stood steady despite his difficulty in finding the cervix, so that is encouraging. He carries little choice of bulls and did not even ask me who I wanted, but used Vantage Clarin. At least it was not inbreeding. It cost $37. Martin and I with help from Amy and Helena killed the two geese. This really took fortitude as a goose is large, strong and has a knowing eye. I thought it best to kill both, if any, as a single goose is very unhappy. With everything freezing up, carrying their water twice a day way out to their pen adds measurably to my chores and they were just going to get thinner. The crew saved me the down for a future pillow. Martin has an amazing new staple gun given him by one of his distributors. It is powered by a spark from a propane cylinder and drives a 2″ staple through ¾” plywood. He used it today to put some siding up in the lean-to where we will eventually move the pigs.
December 3, Tuesday:: On Monday Helen gave 2 ¾ gallons. I got only 10 eggs. Today she gave only 1½ gallon. We have moved the stock tank indoors. Lots of times cattle won’t drink if there is any change in their water, but I am having to refill it regularly, so somebody is drinking. Today I got only eight eggs. Some had broken egg on them, so egg eating is occurring. Some extra roosters have found their way in with the hens and today I caught three and threw them out. So, I will see if this does any good. It is very cold. Today did not get above 15F with considerable wind, but the critters did not appear to be suffering (unlike me!). So, I doubt the weather accounts for Helen’s drop in production. This morning Leah came in with a full udder. Since she hates feeding the calves while in her stanchion and often feeds them during the day. I put her back out still stuffed. This evening she came in even fuller, so I assisted the calves to suck by standing next to her and holding up her tail to moderate her kicking. The kicker alone is insufficient. I stood there talking quietly to her about the fate of bad cows (hamburger, meatloaf, etc.) and finally she settled down and stopped fussing.
This morning I got myself pumped up to eviscerate the two geese we killed on Sunday. I was not looking forward to this because it takes a lot of strength to pull out the viscera. Just as I was starting a fine lad, Helena’s half brother, stopped in and I asked him to help me. The family hunts and raises animals and he is both strong and experienced. He took right over and drew both birds. I was immoderately grateful.
December 4, Wednesday: Today was marked on my calendar to watch for Helen coming in heat. Totally quiet, I am pleased to report. Leah behaved badly again tonight and Maria, her own calf, was barely willing to try to suck. Cletus got the two back quarters. Leah kept moving off to the side. Tomorrow I will nail up a barrier so she will stand straight. Helen gave three gallons today. I only found seven eggs. It was 10F this morning.
December 5, Thursday: The cold weather continues. Leah had no milk this morning, so I guess the calves got fed. Helena and I built a divider for her stanchion so she won’t be able to swing her rear end out of the way as she has been doing to avoid the calves. It required a lot of pounding in spikes. This evening only Helen was waiting to come in. Leah stayed out in the dark. Perhaps she thinks we were constructing a cow trap. Helen gave only slightly over two gallons today. I got nine eggs. We also got tarp tied down over the bushhog. It has to stay outside because I have nowhere to put it under cover.
December 6, Friday: Mean weather continues, but nothing like folks are getting farther south. Neither calf chose to come in this morning with Leah and she had lots of milk. I had family here visiting, so turned her back out with the calves hoping for the best. Later, Helena saw them both feeding. That was good news. The same thing happened this evening. She had plenty of milk, but the calves did not bother to come in. Helen was her usual perfect self. She gave a bit over 2 ½ gallons today. There were 10 eggs. I sent off my son Martin and his friend Amy with milk and cream for their trip to Quebec. Our family likes to bring along our own cream. Lots of places now have good coffee, but none ever has good cream.
December 7, Saturday: Leah came in this morning with a full udder, so I brought the calves and after a few minutes of encouragement I got them both sucking and she settled down. Later my Granddaughter Helena saw them both feeding again. But, she also noticed what looked like a cut teat. I inspected it this evening and it looks to me as though one of the calves had cut her with a tooth. I put a thick layer of Phoenix thuja ointment on it. She had a similar cut a couple of weeks ago and it healed fast. She did not even seem to mind the calves on it. This cut is farther down towards the end of the teat. I will have to find a way to get the calves off her. I am considering a milking machine. It was cold today, down to 9F this morning at the house. Helena worked on the new pigpen for a while despite the cold. Helen gave 2 ½ gallons. I got nine eggs.
December 8, Sunday: It was down to 8F this morning. But, the sun was bright all morning and the wind was low, so working outside was not bad. Helena and Tim, her dad, worked on improvements to the lean-to pigpen. They put up paneling to keep out the wind and built a shelter. Then Tim caught the pigs and carried them to their new quarters where they ran in circles for quite a while. They seemed to love it. The cows and sheep stood watching everything with unflagging interest. Nothing can stare like cows and sheep. Leah’s teat look pretty good. The calves had fed at least once, so I did not put them on her during milking either this morning or evening. I applied vitamin E generously. Leah accepted this treatment without moving. Helen gave only a little over two gallons and I got eight eggs.
December 9, Monday: Minus two degrees this morning. Helen’s production was way down, slightly under two gallons for the day. I got nine eggs.
December 10, Tuesday: Another cold morning, about 8F, but the sun was bright and it warmed up to 20F by mid afternoon. This morning Helen gave 1¾ gallons. This evening when I opened the door to let in the cows for milking there was nobody there. I went out to the barnyard and called but nobody came. Then I heard a lot of honking by what sounded like a logging truck and some smaller vehicles so I ran out front to see what was amiss. There were cars in my driveway and three neighbors on foot. One of the drivers said, “Are these your cows?” By this time it was 5:30, pitch dark and the stars out. There were all my animals out on the road. Fortunately, all those present knew enough to stand back so that the animals did not turn tail. I ran ahead of them and opened the front door of the barn and they all trooped in, Helen, Leah, Maria and Cletus and all six sheep. I ran ahead of them into their run-in, the Beefer Pen as I call it, and closed the door to the outside so they would be confined. Helen and Leah went straight to their stanchions. All the neighbors agreed that Helen had narrowly missed being hit by a logging truck. All the animals had been up to visit my neighbor Stewart and had their noses to his big glass sliding door before being herded back to the farm. Helen had no milk at all, not any. I must face that fact that she is letting one or both calves suck. A little milk, like last night … maybe. No milk, that’s impossible. So, along with fencing tomorrow I must devise a plan that separates her from the others. I have not the least idea how they got out. Six eggs today.
December 11, Wednesday: Helena and I, later joined by her father Tim, walked the fence line to find where the cows got out last evening. As we reached the end of our walk having found no breach in the fence, and were coming up the steep section of lawn towards the new deck, there it was. A gate in the fence by the house was open, no doubt rattled loose by the recent windstorm. Then we found the footprints. So, they came around the house on the lawn and went out the front gate and up the road, the wicked creatures. Helen gave 2 gallons this morning and ¾ gallon tonight, so I suppose I must stop accusing her of feeding calves. I suppose yesterday she was too busy being naughty to make milk. There were 7 eggs.
December 13, Friday: There was a bit of a thaw today. The sun shone for hours and the eaves dripped on the house and barn. I have ordered another 200 bales of hay to be delivered in January. I expected that I would have sold Leah when I stocked up last summer and it is going fast. The sheep and calves do their best to get their share too. Helen gave 2 ½ gallons both yesterday and today. Eight eggs today.
December 15, Sunday: Helen gave 1½ gallons Saturday and a shade less today. Ten eggs today. I finally got my lighting system for the layers set up on a timer today. They will have six hours of darkness and 18 hours of light. My granddaughter Helena helped me to dump and clean the stock tank. This has to be done often when it is inside for the winter.
We have had two days of temperatures over 30F and most of the snow is gone.
December 17, Tuesday: The cold weather is back. 15F this morning and cold all day. Yesterday Helen barely made it to two gallons and I got five eggs. Today she gave nearly three gallons and I got nine eggs. I have no idea what accounts for the increase unless it is the waxing moon. This morning Leah came in very full. That makes three milkings in a row that she appeared not to have fed the calves at all. So, I brought them in. This clearly annoyed her and when I had to pass behind her to clip the rope on Cletus she gave me a very deliberate kick in the leg. I ignored it because it upsets Helen if I yell at her. The calves went right to nursing, but I had to hold her tail very high to prevent her kicking them off. After about seven minutes I felt her relax and was able to walk away and milk Helen.
December 19, Thursday: Christmas exertions are making diary entries difficult! Every minute from awakening until bedtime seems even more committed than usual. Helen has given 2 ½ gallons for the last two days. I had to be gone most of today and when I collected eggs about 3pm I found egg smeared on several indicating egg eating. This is always a problem when they aren’t picked up regularly. I brought in eight. When I arrived home from doing my errands Helen and all the others were lined up at the fence bellowing. It was about 2pm. This is unusual behavior for them and I thought something must really be wrong. But, I guess they were just hungry because their lunch was an hour and a half late. A soon as I threw down hay they were happy. This morning I brought the calves in to nurse since clearly they had not fed. Once again Leah was kicky until they got her letdown going. She planted one kick squarely on my shin making a big dent that lasted most of the day. But plenty of fresh milk appears to be protecting me against broken bones twenty years past menopause. Knock on wood, but I have had plenty of falls and whacks and don’t even bruise most times.
December 20, Friday: The lawn and driveway are a sheet of ice. Rain has fallen all day on frozen ground. Traffic on the road is moving reasonably well, but getting back and forth to the barn is pretty exciting. It is not very cold, between 25F and 30F all day. The cows and sheep chose to stand out in the rain for a long time. Helen gave only two gallons today and there were only six eggs.
December 21, Saturday: Hi. I’m Hailey and I am writing instead of grandma Joann today. I am her granddaughter. Don’t let that stop you from reading the heifer diary! It was a little warmer today. I didn’t actually pay much attention to the temperature. My dad and I came up about 11:00. Joann was off in the barn with I think a vet. (Something about a cow) I was very excited to find the new kitten and Christmas tree. Before dinner I went with grandma to the barn. From up above, cows look a lot wider! I now know I want to be a farmer when I grow up. I love cows and pigs, and I go to the farm a lot so I am already a little experienced. I have to go to bed, so have a good Christmas or whatever you celebrate!
Thank you Hailey! She just had her tenth birthday and we are having a little early Christmas with her. Hailey was looking down on the cows from the top of the stairs to the haymow. That is a safer place for children when I bring the cows through. Our Leah came back in heat today. It did not take last time. This morning when I brought in the cows she began bellowing in her stanchion and I knew what that meant. Today was exactly three weeks since she was bred. So I called the AI (artificial insemination) technician. He did not arrive until mid afternoon but I think the timing was favorable. Unfortunately, I am told that it is difficult to find the opening of Leah’s cervix. I hope he got it right this time. The insemination costs $40. The bull is called Sir Patrick. Helen gave 2 ½ gallons today and I got seven eggs. The driveway is even icier than yesterday.
December 22, Sunday: Last night was so mild that the cows all slept out on the pasture again. When I went out with my buckets they were lined up along the fence waiting for me. Leah was feeding the two calves. I passed as quietly as possible so as not to disturb them. They don’t feed very often any more.
I have a housecat named Lemur She is about five years old and was born blind and deaf. She has exceptionally large staring eyes which prompted one of my granddaughters to name her Lemur. Lemur has always had a touchy disposition and bats away any cats or kittens that try to make friends or even crowd her. We have a kitten named Coffee in the house that Helena has been nurturing. I was much surprised today when I saw it approach Lemur in a friendly way and Lemur began washing its face for it. Several times today I again saw Lemur being kind to the kitten. It will be nice if at last Lemur has a friend. As I walked in from the barn after evening milking in the pitch dark I could hear a dismal howling sound and some kind of plaintive calling. I asked Helena to go outside and see what she could make of it. She said she would take the flashlight and follow the sound to find out what it was. She was gone about twenty minutes. She reported that when she got up to the intersection she met our neighbor, Stewart, , calling out to his dog. At this point the dog, a basset hound, for some reason, possibly because it thought help was at hand, ceased its mournful cry. So, they wandered around searching for some time until Helena picked up its eyes with the flashlight. It had gotten itself over the fence into our field. That section is fenced with sheep wire and is apparently also basset hound proof. Stewart was so relived to find his dog that he attempted to lift it over the fence in a clean jerk. This proved impossible, but together with Helena they got her over and back into the arms of her owner. Helen gave 2 ½ gallons today and I got nine eggs.
December 23, Monday: It remained above freezing today, but the weather is deteriorating. Nonetheless, the cows again spent the night on the pasture and were not in the barn when I went out in the dark for their early bite of hay. Whenever there is no snow cover as at present, the sheep work for hours nibbling at the withered pasture. I brought the calves in tonight to feed and Leah was most uncooperative. She just wants to feed them when she is stuffed with milk I guess. Or at least not while in her stanchion. I want her to feed more often, so as to maintain her production. Helen was way down today and so were the hens. Only two gallons from Helen and five eggs.
December 24, Christmas Eve: My son Martin milked this evening and did all the barn chores. He has a better flashlight and discovered that Leah has a lot of little cuts on her teats. No wonder she objects to the calves. I feel so terrible about this. And it is a Catch 22 situation because the suckling obviously is barely Possible, yet the milk has to come out. He slathered her with pink thuja ointment. I have had good luck with it before. He thinks the cracks are due to severe chapping and not caused by the calves’ teeth. Helen gave three gallons today. I got six eggs.
December 25, Wednesday Christmas Day: Martin and Helena did all the barn chores today giving me a break to spend more time cooking. I made popovers for breakfast and cooked one of the geese for dinner. I stuffed it with apples and fresh sage from off my windowsill and served it with sweet potatoes sautéed in butter, green salad, and for dessert fresh fruit compote and flan. Martin reported that Helen behaved perfectly at both milkings. Poor Leah’s cracked and bloody teats were at least no worse. He rubbed in a vitamin E oil preparation that I made and milked her out a bit. She hardly kicked at all he said. Martin also took the pruning loppers and trimmed back one of Helen’s overgrown hoofs. Helen gave 2 ½ gallons today and we got six eggs.
Everyone thought it was a wonderful Christmas. Present were: Helena, my son Mark, Martin and his friend, Amy, and myself. After gifts were opened the four young people went up to the lake and played ice hockey. Mark had to leave before dinner because a great snowstorm we are told is on the way, and he has to work tomorrow. He works in the Cath Lab at Maine Med. It is now snowing hard.
December 26, Thursday: We in this part of Maine got only about 4″ of snow. It was cold and dry with a strong wind, so all the snow is drifted. The sun came out today. I am putting vitamin E fortified oil on Leah’s chapped and cracked teats. She stands fine for this. Because of the cold I am feeding extra hay. It is all being eaten immediately. Some of the unconfined roosters look pretty miserable. I put out corn every Day, but a couple of them just huddle on a rafter. They suffer from frozen combs. Two have died of cold or discouragement. Helen gave 2 ½ gallons today. There were 10 eggs.
December 27, Friday: I had to put Bagel on his chain today because I needed to be away for some hours. I gave him a rawhide chew to amuse him. He ignored it. When I got home he had reached a box of books I has set out to give away and the bag of melt salt. The books were confetti and well mixed with melt salt. When I let him off his chain he grabbed the chewy and ran off and left it somewhere out of sight. Strange dog. Whatever is going on in his head? The cows gave me a surprise too. When I opened the door to let Helen and Leah in to the milking area, instead of crowding their way in immediately they turned around and marched purposefully out into the night. I felt like a teacher whose class gets up and leaves! So, instead I went back to the house for the pig feed. For some reason the cows had gone around to an outer gate through which I do not bring them more than once a year and stood there waiting for me under the starry night (This time of year the evening and morning chores are still in the dark.) After about ten minutes they got tired of being ignored and came around to their proper door. Helen gave 2 ¼ gallons today and I got seven eggs.
December 29, Sunday: Yesterday was quiet and warm enough so that the animals stayed outside much of the day. Today was even more pleasant until mid afternoon when it turned cold and blowy. Now, at 9pm, the thermometer is sinking fast and the wind has picked up further causing me to block the outer buttery door with boxes. I have carried all the milk inside to the kitchen refrigerator because we are told to expect temperatures around zero by morning. It could freeze in the buttery refrigerator. Leah has new cuts on two teats. These are clearly caused by teeth. I have got to get those calves off of her. Yesterday Helen gave 2 ½ gallons, today just two gallons. Nine eggs today.
December 31, Tuesday New Year’s Eve: On Monday morning Helena and I moved Cletus, the six month old Jersey steer, and Virginia, Helen’s seven month old daughter, into the sheep paddock. Somewhat to my surprise, since he has rarely shown much enterprise, Cletus jumped out before we got Virginia moved in. We did some repairs that involved propping of the fence. With the ground frozen it is impossible to set any new poles of course. Virginia has been in a large box stall for a couple of months so as to get her weaned from Helen. She has been lonesome in there and quite bored with little to do but eat and watch the chickens. So, she was pleased to be moved into a paddock. But, Cletus was not. He bellowed all day for Leah. The biggest surprise to me was that Leah, his foster mother, bellowed for him and spent a lot of the day by his fence touching noses. She has always acted as though Cletus was an annoyance. Maria, Leah’s real calf, is devoted to Cletus and she spent most of both yesterday and today right by the fence where she could breathe Cletus’ breath. By this evening Cletus seemed fairly willing to pal around with Virginia. I carry their feed and water down the back steps from the deck at the back of the buttery. The deck was new last summer, built by my son Bret with help from his brothers, as they were available. Going down those new steps is easier than the former plan, a trap door in the garage, although I still take the hay down that way. The point of separating Cletus from Leah is to see if this will prevent cuts from appearing on her teats. It is my hope that it has been Cletus, not Maria, doing it. Maria is much more diffident. This evening when I got Leah into her stanchion I did not see any new cuts. Neither did the existing ones look much better. I am putting oil with vitamin E onto her teats. Both yesterday and today Helen gave only two gallons. I got seven eggs each day. Last time when I went to buy feed they only had 14% steer feed, so that is what the cows have been getting for a week. I had dairy feed delivered today, so we’ll see if production will improve.