January 1, 2004 New Year’s Day: No celebration here last night and nobody here but myself and the dogs, and they managed to give me the slip this morning for about 45 minutes. Speaking of slipping, it snowed just enough to renew the driveway slick. I wore crampons when going to the barn. It was above freezing all day, and drippy. Helen gave only 3 ½ gallons. I got 11 eggs. These are beautiful eggs. They are quite large and all different colors.
January 2, 2004 Friday: Three inches of new snow fell today, refreshing the landscape. Of course, my front yard and walk to the barn is as slippery as ever with new, dry snow on ice. I pull everything on a plastic sled. Those pesky roosters that did not meet the axe before Christmas keep slipping back in with the hens and wearing them out. I caught one today and loosed him to live in the rafters. I also caught one wild, rafter-dwelling hen, a much harder feat, and put her in with the layers. I ordered a cheese press today off the site that Midge in NZ found. I like the attitude of the guy who makes them, although he needs to know more about raw milk. He also needs to know more about what is wrong with commercial and powdered milk. An array of thoroughly referenced facts can be found in The Untold Story Of Milk, a new book by Ron Schmid. There is a link on my web site. Helen gave 3 ½ gallons today. I think I got 10 eggs but lost track.
January 3, 2004 Saturday: More weather today. Something was falling out of the sky for most of the day. Sometimes it was nice fluffy snowflakes, sometimes needle-like sleet. Helen had some company. A young couple that buys milk took pictures of her. She was not good at posing. She kept walking towards the camera, so I suppose it will be mostly pictures of her big pink nose. The people that visited are musicians, so I was able to hear my piano played along with a flute. Helen gave about the same today, 3 ½ gallons. I got eight eggs.
January 5, 2004 Monday: They tell us a severe cold spell is on the way. I am doing more things to improve my chances against frozen pipes. The hen house is in pretty good shape thanks to Abby’s patching of draughts and putting a hay layer on the floor above the hen room. I have a heated dog water dish from Walmart for the chickens. I will test-drive it tomorrow to be sure it doesn’t pop the breaker to the barn. At a used book store I found The Complete Dairy Foods Cookbook by E. Annie Proulx & Lew Nichols, a wonderful book published in 1982 by Rodale Press. I had never heard of it before. It is stuffed with background information on dairy products and great recipes. She suggests a method of cooking barnyard roosters that I decided to try. You marinate the bird in yogurt overnight to tenderize it. My yogurt strain regrettably expired, so I used clabber. My experience is that these birds cook up just like old rubber boots. I tried her method with one of the cockerels my grandson Rafe and his friend dressed off before Christmas. I was generous with the clabber. Before cooking the bird I rinsed off the clabber because it no longer looked inviting. I browned the bird in a big frying pan before putting it in the oven in a heavy casserole to braise in stock and white wine. It took four hours. But, it finally did turn out tender, but rather dry, much like turkey breast usually is. The flavor was very good. Usually, I just use these birds to make excellent stock and give the meat to the dogs because it’s so tough.
January 7, 2004 Wednesday: The promised cold weather began to move in yesterday and all day today it has grown colder. There is about a 30 mph wind blowing under a full moon. I hate to think of any homeless people out in this. I can’t even imagine how the wild animals keep warm. The dogs go out and attend to their business pretty briskly. About midday today Max skied across Lake Webb to visit his friend’s ice fishing hut. He said the wind was fierce. His little dog Lulu went along wearing what looked like a doggy down parka. Lulu is some sort of lively black Lab mix probably 3 ½ months old. Helen and Albert, her four-month-old bull calf, are cozy. She has a spacious run-in area below the haymow. Abby, and now me, pitch out the cow patties three times a day. But, still every morning Helen was coming in dirty. One thing about this weather, the manure now freezes solid. It is easier to pitch and doesn’t get Helen dirty. I did get in a few hours of writing spread over yesterday and today. But, I seem to spend most of my time tending to animals or the fires. I missed a Grange supper party tonight. As the Pennsylvania Dutch saying goes, the faster I work the behinder I get. Lots of family is headed this direction from Alaska. I have promised myself to get the floors swept before they arrive! My lovely running spring that fills a granite sink in the kitchen froze up at 9pm. No more spring water now until it thaws about May. I filled a lot of jars with water this morning, enough for a couple of weeks of coffee and tea.
January 8, 2004 Thursday: The cold today is the dominant topic. Just about the only topic. It was about -15F this morning with a sharp wind. The sun was brilliant all day as it is much of the time in Maine in winter. Now the full moon is brilliant. The temperature did not get above -10F. I tried to make every move count in the barn, but still it takes 45 minutes night and morning and about 20 minutes midday. Helen stands like a rock with the machine on and I am able to run off and pitch out the manure. Today it was all frozen like rocks. After pitching I closed the door to maintain a bit of warmth inside. In this weather even Helen, who loves to stand in the sun, had no urge to go out. Her production is keeping up. She gave four gallons today. That is good, because more people are coming for milk. The hens did OK too. I got 10 eggs, but a couple of them were frozen. The especially good news is that as of today the barn water has not frozen up. Every day with running water is a gift.
January 9, 2004 Friday: Today was even colder than yesterday, but there was no wind and the sun was brilliant on the snow. I let Helen and Albert out for a while to stand in the sun, but they soon came back in. The vacuum pump for the milking machine made an agonized noise all through morning milking which I figured was due to the cold. I put it on the sled with the milking machine and brought it into the house for the day. The thing weighs a long ton. But it sounded all right tonight, so I guess it just needed warming up. Due no doubt to the cold, Helen gave barely 3 ½ gallons. This is scarcely worth bothering with the machine, with bringing in the vacuum pump and all the washing up. But, it does reduce my time in the barn. I am expecting my daughter, Sally, from Alaska tomorrow to stay a couple of months. She likes to milk the cow. If she does, it will simplify the dairy chores. Eleven eggs today. The barn water is still running. The night sky is brilliant with millions of stars, so clear.
January 10, 2004 Saturday: It is still very cold. I can’t see my thermometer very well but I think it was -15F this morning. I had the milking machine and the vacuum pump in the kitchen overnight, but that did not help. Halfway through milking the air hoses from the two rear teat cups froze up and the cups dropped off. Just the two front quarters got milked by machine. I keep a bucket on standby in my milking room and finished milking by hand. My daughter Sally from Alaska arrived today and she loves to milk. So, she milked this evening. Helen’s total for today was not much over 3 ½ gallons. The milking machine will now be retired for a while. I picked up some alfalfa pellets for Helen yesterday and have begun augmenting her feed with them. She loves them. Only eight eggs today. I thought the chickens seemed a bit gloomy.
January 11, 2004 Sunday: It was just as cold again this morning, but moderated to +6F by nightfall. I did not have frozen pipes to deal with today. I am keeping the heating pad wrapped onto the kitchen plumping. Albert gave us some excitement today. I was in the shower getting ready for a Sunday dinner visit from Max, Mitra and little Shireen and Roshan when I heard Helen mooing loudly. About this time Sally looked out and saw Albert standing in the front yard. She slipped into boots and ran out to stand at the front gate. That is what we always do first so the animal does not go into the road. It cannot be closed in winter because of snow. Bagel Dog came and sat right there too, to help. As soon as I could dress I ran out to open the front door of the barn and get a pan of grain to lure him in. Albert was busy eating an ornamental cedar. No doors or gates had been left open. I finally figured how he got out. Out the back of the barn the manure pile has become as high as the fence. It is frozen solid, providing firm footing. He stood up there and jumped over. When Max got here he neatly arranged a piece of an old, wooden ladder to block off further escapes.
January 12, 2004 Monday: The temperature went up to 20F today and the sun shone. It felt like spring for a while. Helen and Albert stood outside. The chickens ventured out a bit, although they have no use for snow. I was gone much of the day getting my car looked at. My mechanic was so alarmed at the state of my tires that he sent me straight off to get new ones. Now I have them on and feel a lot safer and the car handles better. Sally and I are studying the Murray McMurray poultry catalogue with a view to ordering some chicks. It is hard to decide among the array of enticing chickens. Helen gave 3 ¾ gallons today. We got 10 eggs. January 13, 2004 Tuesday: For Christmas I was given a butter bell, something I have not previously owned. I tested out its butter keeping properties by putting some top quality home made butter into it, and using some every day. It moved around the kitchen and part of the time was cold enough to become quite hard, what with our cold spell creating draughts. It did seem to me that the butter kept better than it would have done in a covered dish. I feel able to recommend butter bells. Most of the time the butter was indeed of good spreading consistency. Last week I ordered a cheese press from Jack Schmerdling’s site that was discovered by Midge, in NZ. The press arrived yesterday and gives promise of being very serviceable. It is neatly engineered and is comprised of solid material. I look forward to trying it. Beginning last Friday I have been giving Helen two large scoops per day of alfalfa pellets. I hoped to round out her diet and perhaps rebuild her milk supply. She has definitely increased by half a gallon. Today she gave within a couple of ounces of four gallons, which she has not done for three weeks. The weather has been cold too, so probably alfalfa gets the credit. Perhaps I will have enough extra milk to make some cheese and try the press. A new storm has arrived and is whirling around the house. We are told to expect very cold weather with it. Late Tuesday night Sally’s son, Rafe, his sister, Rosemary, (my grandchildren) and her husband, Nate, arrived following a long trip from Alaska. Sally and I gave them a late dinner. They are active energetic people who spend a lot of time outdoors despite the cold weather.
January 15, 2004 Thursday: Last night the cold wind and Siberian temperatures arrived on schedule. It is still around -10F, but the wind makes it hard to dress warmly enough, especially one’s extremities. But, I am getting lots of help from Sally, Rafe, Rosie and Nate. There is plenty of wood next to the stove. The kitchen hot water was frozen again this morning, but Nate soon had it running by using a hair drier. There was bright sun and I left Helen’s door open for a while, but I don’t believe she went out at all. None of the animals looked particularly happy today. I made the chickens another pudding of whey and stale semolina. They loved this and ate a lot, until if froze solid. I have a rotating line-up of frozen food pans from the chickens and cats thawing out in the house. The barn water is still running. This is most gratifying. Helen’s production was down a bit tonight and we got only five eggs. The young people spent much of today removing interior walls from a little house across the river that Sally owns. They said it was lots of fun.
January 16, 2004 Friday: The very cold weather continues. I guess some places in the state were -35F. We were not that cold, but with the strong, icy wind it might as well have been. The snow is drifting. Our old tracks are gone each time we return to the barn. But, the barn water is still running. I could tell Helen had a hard time keeping warm. She ran in at milking time this morning so fast that she nearly lost her footing when she rounded the corner. She loves her grain and alfalfa pellets with wheat germ oil and kelp. (We discovered that she hates pineapple parings. She left them in her pan.) I put down a whole bale of hay for her this morning and it was gone by 11 o’clock. She and Albert, aged 4 ½ months, got through almost three bales today. Her manure looks normal, so I guess she is not seriously stressed. She gave about four gallons of milk. I got only seven eggs.
January 17, 2004 Saturday: Well, today it happened. The water in the barn is frozen. Things warmed up quite a bit today and I suppose it drove the cold down. Or it could be that the fierce cold wind all last night was responsible. Fortunately, several of the men in the family are here right now and they carried five gallon buckets of water from the kitchen and filled the stock tank. I did not unplug the heat tape or heating pad that is on the above ground part of the system, just in case that does some good. Helen gave four gallons today. I got eleven eggs.
January 18, 2004: Great news! The barn water started up again. I have been trying it every time I go to the barn and this evening was delighted to find it running. I immediately filled the tank, of course. All the dear men went off today in various important directions. I was going to eke Helen along on what was left in her tank until tomorrow when Sally’s husband Tom would be able to help with water carrying. Now poor Tom won’t have to do it. He spent all day today driving his and Sally’s daughter, Rosie, and her husband, Nate, to Bar Harbor, where they have gone to assist Rosie’s brother, Rafe, with a construction project. The job is on an off shore island and seven foot seas are predicted for tomorrow. A man with a lobster boat takes them out and they went aboard just as the wind was kicking up. What a blessing cell phones are. We heard from them after a safe arrival. But, Tom is driving home in the dark in a slippery snowstorm and has not arrived yet. In other good news, Helen did not appear to be in heat today. It is the 21st day since she was bred. She did pee during milking and I thought her back end might be slightly puffy. But I am optimistic that she settled. She usually does on the first try. She gave over four gallons. I got only five eggs.
January 19, 2004 Monday: We were not entirely reassured yesterday about Helen. We noticed that she was very friendly this morning. Then after milking instead of butting Albert as usual, she jumped him. He was some surprised. Sigh. As the morning wore on she showed major signs of heat, circling with Albert and even going across the fields through the snow. Of course I called AI right away. He did not arrive until mid afternoon. This was preferable to last time when he dashed over before she was fully in heat. That could be why she did not settle. Or it could have been dud semen. The technician mentioned that the bull used last time, Aerostar, has now been slaughtered. There must have been a reason. AI cost $30 last time and $36 this time. It adds up. The bull this time is Shane’s Ringo of Sunny Day. Helen’s milk this morning was about half of her usual amount. But she made up for it tonight with a double amount for a grand total over 4 gallons. The barn water was again frozen today. I ordered two dozen baby chicks from Murray McMurray. They should arrive on Feb 2.
January 20, 2004 Tuesday: My barn water thawed out again overnight. I suspect that the heat tape thermostat was getting some warmth on it. Last night I rearranged things so that it stayed good and cold. This morning the water was again running. The light in the Beefer Pen (Helen’s run-in) went out and resisted my efforts at fixing. I was not able to muck out in there this evening because it is totally dark by milking time. Helen will be dirty in the morning. I got only five eggs, one of which I managed to break inside my coat pocket. Yuck! Helen gave well over 4 gallons today.
January 21, 2004 Wednesday: Sally and Tom and I went to Farmington today on errands. I bought lots of goodies at the health food store, then went to the gourmet shop and picked up some handmade chicken and cheddar sausages for our supper. When I got home I put the bags on the floor and went to the barn to give hay to Helen and pitch out the accumulations. When I got back, bad news. The dogs had eaten the sausages. I found the wrappings and chased them around whapping them with the papers so they would know what bad dogs they were. Sally, a great dog lover, said they looked pitiful and tried to cheer them up. I patched together our supper from items in the freezer. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons. The chickens laid a dozen eggs.
January 22, 2004 Thursday: Darn barn water was frozen again today. Sally carried water. It is not terribly cold, in fact got up to 20F today. Helen gave a bit over 4 gallons. I got 13 eggs.
January 23, 2004 Friday: It is clearly a problem with keeping the thermostat on the heat tape cold enough to activate the tape. I created a foil collar around it to fend off warmth rising from the heat tape and heating pad combo that is on the water pipe. The whole business is wrapped in an old coat and a wool blanket with just the thermostat showing. Some hours later the water again ran. Helen’s production was down a bit yesterday and today. It might be something to do with her water. Or it could be the cold. It has dropped sub zero again. One pretty little free-living white rooster is suffering badly from the cold. He is a loner with no friends. He was huddled in the grain room. I have started taking him food and water. This evening he had perked up but he has lost most of his comb to frostbite. Helen gave four gallons today. I got only five eggs.
January 24, 2004 Saturday: It is cold and getting colder (-6F). I am glad to have family here to carry firewood. My son-in-law, Tom, helped me dump and clean Helen’s water tank today. It was getting a bit nasty, but I hated to dump it and make an ice rink in the Beefer Pen, Helen’s home. She had drunk it very low this morning and I covered the puddle with waste hay. Albert, now six months old, found these proceedings very exciting and ran around in circles, round and round the hay feeder and in and out the door. Poor Albert, there is little excitement in his day. I had another big family dinner here tonight and Martin milked Helen. Albert nudged the door open and came trotting around the main hall, which upset Helen. She did not let down as well as she would have. I served the folks tamale pie. It was a popular favorite back in the Fifties but new cookbooks no longer mention it. Helen’s production was down today, what with the cold. I got ten eggs.
January 25, 2004 Sunday: It was -16F this morning, making barn chores a bit painful. But, the sun was shining and Martin and Tom and Bagel Dog went out x-c skiing for almost five hours. When Bagel saw the guys getting ready to go skiing he was so worried about missing the expedition that he would not eat his breakfast. They skied on the river. Bagel had a marvelous time. Sally and I were getting worried by the time they got home all jolly and actually sweating. I made almond lemon bread. Helen gave 5 ¼ gallons today to make up for not letting down last night. I only got nine eggs. The white rooster that nearly froze to death is feeling perky enough now to perch up on his favorite stall gate. He hops down for corn and warm milk.
January 27, 2004 Tuesday: Helen is doing really well. Her production has crept up to 4 ½ gallons. She is looking good. The chickens are dropping off, though. Only six eggs today, two of them frozen, and seven yesterday. I made them another big pot of old whole wheat flour and old frozen zucchini cooked in skim milk. They love that. The weather has been too cold to open their door, so they probably need more light and elbow room. I have two floodlights in there, but that is artificial light. A pair of ravens has been visiting the bird feeder. Today I noticed one in the middle of a broad expanse of snow down in my veg garden apparently pecking at the snow. I got my new binoculars that Santa brought and had a look. He had taken the lump of suet from the feeder and was eating it on the ground where he could see in every direction. My vet stopped in today at the same time as Max, who came for milk. Sally and I gave them all lunch. She made the best scones I ever had. She made them with clabber. After lunch Sally and Tom took a walk on the river. The ice is about a foot thick and where not covered by snow is crystal clear.
January 28, 2004 Wednesday: It was a little warmer today. It got up to 20F for a while and the sun shone. I even opened the chicken door for most of the day. I didn’t see any hens go out to get their feet cold in the snow, but at least they got a change of air. The pretty white rooster that Sally admires is still alive. I am feeding him by himself in the grain room. One big bruiser of a rooster comes in every day and beats him up. But the rest of the time he sits up on the half-door and hops down to eat his milk and corn. Possibly because it was warmer, Helen drank more water today. My barn tap has continued to run, thank the Lord. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons. I got 8 eggs.
January 29, 2004 Thursday: Over two weeks ago, right after my daughter Sally came, I called my old dairyman friend, Albert Bradford, and asked him to let me know when he had a bull calf. Sally said she wanted to start another beefer. Last night Albert called and said they had a new bull calf, a big one. So today Sally and Tom lined my small calf pen with mill felt to stop draughts and generally got the pen ready. Tomorrow morning they will go pick up the calf. His name is to be Sam. I asked Albert how much he charged and he said, “This one is big, it will be $10.” I asked for two gallons of colostrum also. Albert has his cows calve in a maternity stall and the calf stays with its mother until it is sold or shipped. So it will already have had colostrum. Helen is giving a bit less than 2 ½ gallons a day so some of my customers may be disappointed. We lost track of her production today, what with Tom dismantling old cupboards and preparing to put up new ones. I got ten eggs. There was another soft-shelled egg today. I must put out more oyster shell tomorrow. In other news, I made Maple Spare Ribs for dinner using the popular recipe provided by Midge from NZ. These were ribs from my last beef animal. They were a hit of course.
January 30, 2004 Friday: Sally and Tom set out early to fetch Sammy. They stopped on the way and bought a heat lamp. The dairyman sent along 3 gallons of colostrum. Sammy had been with his mother until this morning when they moved her back to the string. Sally and Tom also bought more plastic and swathed Sammy’s windows to stop draughts. Sally gave him a bottle around 1pm and he drank every bit in a hurry. We found him a little cardigan sweater to help keep him warm. I fed him this evening. He is exceptionally large and strong. He bunted so hard that he tore the nipple off the bottle and thus lost some of the colostrum. Sally is going to take him some extra later this evening. He has chosen to lie in the far corner, not near the heat lamp. But I don’t think he is cold. Helen gave 4 gallons today.
January 31, 2004 Saturday: Helen very sweetly mooed to Sammy both last night and tonight. She wanted to meet him. We let him out for her to sniff. She did not take any prolonged interest but she was kind to him. He wanted to follow her. Sally and I had to push hard to get him back in his little stall. He is ever so cute. Sally is giving him four feeds a day, three pints each. This is more like the natural feeding pattern. But when he is a little older we will change to three feeds, 2 quarts each, for convenience sake. He loves the extra attention. Helen gave four gallons again today. I got 10 eggs.
February 1, 2004 Sunday: Today was totally busy. Sally raced out crack-o-dawn with Sammy’s bottle and the action never stopped. Sammy now gets to race up and down the main hall of the barn following drinking his bottle. Albert can hardly stand to be missing this fun. At lunchtime I fed Sam and then let him into the beefer pen with Helen and Albert. Helen watched while they raced around. Sammy raced right out the door into the sunshine and was very reluctant to come back in. I let them play about 15 minutes. Sammy has wriggled out of his sweater. He has thick plushy fur. Probably I won’t put it back on. When I returned Sammy to his stall both Helen and Albert mooed for him to come back. I will give them more time together tomorrow. The reason I was alone was that first thing this morning I got a call from the Portland mail distribution center saying that my baby chicks were there and would be sent on to Auburn shortly. That is halfway to Coburn Farm. The postal worker urged me to go fetch them at that post office so they would not have to wait until Monday. Sally and Tom graciously offered to go for them. While they were gone I worked on getting their brooder ready. A lot of the pieces are missing and I had to invent new strategies for feeding and watering. When the chicks came I picked them up one by one and made each one drink. Sometimes they don’t figure that out by themselves. I gave them a taste of clabber and whey rather than water as this prevents coccidiosis. When not using proper feeders there is a great danger that the chicks will get stuck in their water or clabber. It takes practically nothing to get them bogged down. Even though the clabber was only 1/16” deep in a plastic lid, one did get stuck. Tiny though they are, the others were pecking at him when I found him. We rinsed him with warm water, wrapped him in paper towels and but him on the Aga in a bowl with a strainer over it. An hour later he seemed fine but back in with the others he still seems at a disadvantage, rather disoriented. The chicks are: 6Auracana, 6 Barred Rock, 6 Black Australorp, 6 Rhode Island Red. Helen gave something over four gallons and I got 10 eggs.
February 2, 2004 Monday: Another very busy day with all the babies. We accidentally overheated some of Sammy’s colostrum thus turning it to something like scrambled eggs. So I gave it to the baby chicks. They loved it. So far we have not lost any chicks. We think that having been able to pick them up a day early made a difference in their vigor. It was up in the 20’s today and sunny. We left Sammy in with Helen and Albie most of the day. They make it very clear that they think he should be in with them. Helen looks very worried when he is taken away. She is not affectionate towards him, but acts responsible. Albie just wants a playmate. Sally carried Sammy’s bottle into the beefer pen tonight to feed him and Albie tried to get the bottle. He immediately remembered bottles. Sally gave him his pan of grain to distract him. After finishing his bottle Sammy went to inspect Albie’s grain pan. Albie pulled it away with his nose just the way a dog will do with its dish. I took a little grain and put it in Sammy’s mouth and he ate it.
February 3, 2004 Tuesday: Sammy is spending his second night in with Helen and Albie. Most of the morning he and Albie played outside in the sunshine. I put more hay down about 11am to make Albie come in and eat so that Sammy could drink his bottle and get a nap. Helen keeps an eye on him all the time. He is learning to be a cow. Helen’s production has dropped back to four gallons. I don’t know why. The weather has been in the teens and low twenties for several days so I can’t blame the cold. My son-in-law, Tom, has made beautiful new kitchen cabinets that suit the period of the house. There were no cabinets when we moved in. Later I got some very inexpensive composite wood cupboards in the Seventies style. Now these are going to become bookshelves. I am very happy about this kitchen improvement, which started in October when my daughter-in-law Amy and son Bret from Alaska put in a restaurant sink and new dishwasher. This was a great leap forward in efficiency for dairy wash-up. Next step: ceramic tile over the sink. When it is all done I’ll post a picture. It will be so beautiful.
February 4, 2004 Wednesday: Something unusual is happening in my little goldfish pond. Some source of turbulence has created a circle of open water. The rest of the pond has ice about a foot deep. All the goldfish are huddled in this bit of open water. We gave them some wheat germ. I was not at all sure what they would eat or even if they are hungry. The new chicks are doing fine. I have not lost any. They are getting tiny wing feathers. I was able to buy them some chick food today. I got the unmedicated kind.
February 5, 2004 Thursday: It is amazing how much Sammy enjoys playing with Albie. They run around and around the feeder and out the door into the snow and back again. Neither wants to stop. Sammy is a strong fellow for one week old. I already see prominent thigh muscles. How awful it must be for veal calves that never get to run. Four gallons today. Nine eggs.
February 6, 2004 Friday: Next Monday will be 21 days since Helen was bred. Today, the 18th day, she gave me a lot of worry and I am still not sure if I saw signs of heat. She led baby Sammy all the way around the far side of the barn through a snowstorm so she could stare at the kitchen window and bellow. She only mooed a couple of times, but this is definitely worrisome. Sally heard her and put her boots on and made Sammy come back in. Helen followed. We witnessed no more odd behavior. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons today. There were 10 eggs.
February 8, 2004 Sunday: My granddaughter, Rosie, is so fond of walking and hiking that she completely wore out Bagel! On her last walk of the day, when invited to come along, he just laid his head on her husband Nate’s knee! When she got back she made a great scallop dish for our dinner. Sally made a blueberry pie and all I had to do was make a salad dressing. Helen is losing weight. I have increased her alfalfa to two scoops twice a day. Her hair is so plushy it is hard to see her bones, but they are showing. She gave about 4 ½ gallons today. Sammy races around like mad playing with Albie. He gets 1 ½ gallons a day. I also have a new milk customer, someone to whom I lent Ron Schmid’s book. So, I may not be making cheese right away. The beautiful white rooster that I was giving special care to has perked up again and joined up with the other free-living roosters. I chucked two more cockerels out from among the layers. We will have to dress off some more soon. My baby chicks are doing well. I have not lost any so far. They all have wing feathers now and their necks are getting longer. It was back down to zero today with a vicious wind. Nobody likes this weather.
February 9, 2004 Monday: Today started out at -10F. Putting out hay this morning was cold work. I fluff it out to reduce waste in my feeder. I have to do this with bare hands. Later it warmed up to 30F with bright sun. Today is the 21st day since Helen was bred. There were no signs of heat. But, after her half hour of carrying on last Friday I can’t have full confidence she has settled. All my company has departed except Sally. She will be here through most of March. She and I have both been impressed by how careful Helen and Albie are of Sammy, now 16 days old. When Helen returns to the Beefer Pen after milking she goes down a narrow corridor to a door that she pushes open with her head. There is a hole in the door and Sammy is usually peeking through. Helen is very careful how she opens this door so that she gently pushes Sammy back. He is not her own calf, so I find this to be evidence of a deliberately gentle attitude towards baby calves. She does not cut Albie much slack if he is in her way. He is her own calf, but is now 6 months old and close to her size. Albie is also careful of Sammy. Tonight when Sally tried to push that door open to take Albie his grain and Sammy his bottle, Albie was stubborn because he knew she had his pan of grain. Sally could not see Sammy, so she pushed really hard on the door and Albie fell off the ramp. Sammy was under him. Albie made a great effort not to step on Sammy, and didn’t. So he too knows to be gentle with babies.
February 10, 2004 Tuesday: I had the library order for me the new book by Deepak Chopra, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire. He urges us to respect the significance of coincidences as being divine messages or miracles. Did I ever have one today! For unknown reasons, but I think due to some worries I have been having, suddenly today about 4pm I was afflicted with terrible hives. This has happened to me before and it is scary. My blood pressure goes up, my heart pounds, and I am covered with bumps that itch insanely. As they came on I rustled up Benadryl tablets and Sally found an OTC cortisone salve, but after an hour nothing had helped. I got into my nightie and sat on the couch scratching myself using a bath brush with Teutonic bristles. I was thinking seriously of rolling in the snow, and I said to Sally that I guessed I’d have to ask her to take over for me in the barn tonight. She no more than left with the buckets than I felt an urge to check by email. There was a letter from Sally’s son Gabe, my grandson, now a grad student in Bloomington, Indiana. Gabe writes rarely, but on the screen was a brief email saying, apropos of nothing, that a friend of his from Tajikistan, says that there they treat skin ailments with fish oil. I went directly for my bottle of cod liver oil, took it to the bathroom, and slathered it everywhere I could reach (the hives were all over me). Instant relief! Not gradual, but Right Now. Not only no more hives, but instead of feeling ill and shaky I felt euphoric. Like the woman in the bible who, upon being raised from the dead, “got up and began serving her family”, I went out and put potatoes in the oven, marinated some venison, and made a salad. Pass the word. Of course now I smell pretty awful and must shower and wash my bathrobe. Helen gave a bit over 4.5 gallons today. There were 9 eggs.
February 11, 2004 Wednesday: We are all fine today, myself included. During noon chores the wind was in a different quarter than usual and pushed open the door that allows Helen up to where she gets milked. I was busily mucking out while she led a parade up into the barn. After a nice look around, she agreed to go back where she belongs. But Albert, instead of following her properly, made a dive through an opening into another stall. To do this he had to jump up about 3 feet and he landed with his feet in a manger inside. There he hung, rocking on his chest, stuck like Pooh Bear. I had to go around and push him back out. What a silly boy. Helen gave close to 5 gallons today. But there were only six eggs. I think the hens miss Abby’s daily ministrations to their comfort.
February 13, 2004 Friday: It was mild but overcast today. Helen and the calves spent part of the day outdoors. I have left their outer door open at night for two nights. We are told to expect severe cold again tomorrow night, darn it. Some children came to visit the animals today. Helen, Albert and Sammy were well behaved and friendly. The children also were quiet and gentle, so it was a nice little visit. Their grandparents have started to buy milk. Helen gave over 4 ½ gallons today. I got 9 eggs. I picked up another box of matching tiles and borrowed a tile cutter. Sally cut the tiles and tiled the countertop this afternoon. It looks great. For this surface I ordered matching grout. I might have done this before, but I did not know colored grout existed. Until the grout comes I can’t put anything on the tiles. This is the first time the countertop has ever been devoid of stuff.
February 14, 2004 Saturday, Valentine’s Day: The occasion was marked only by Sally and I indulging ourselves in some elegant caramels. With the help of Helena who was visiting, I took pictures unassisted with my digital camera, loaded them into the computer and even mailed some off. I sat in the cold barn with my gloves off waiting for Sammy and Albie to pose. I could have had any number of shots of Albie’s nose. The one I finally got of Sammy has eye glare. Sally let out Sammy’s collar for the second time. He is growing very fast. I decided to carry on with grey grout on the countertop. It turns out that colored grout is prohibitively expensive. Sally grouted the tiles and now the work is done and looks elegant. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons. I got 9 eggs.
February 15, 2004 Sunday: Helen has to walk up a little ramp when she comes in to be milked. Like most animals I have seen, she usually tries to step up the side of it rather than stepping onto it from its lowest point. Sally noticed that when she steps up she narrowly misses stepping on her teat. When cows do this, and it is a common injury, it is just awful both for the cow and the milker. Tomorrow I will figure out some way to prevent her stepping up the side. Abby had piled sand in there but it is mostly trodden away. I can’t pile sand now because everything is frozen. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons today. I got 9 eggs. The chicks are growing fast.
February 16, 2004 Monday: I made spaghetti tonight for Sally, son Mark and Hailey, 11, and Max and Mitra’s daughters, Shireen, 8, and Roshan, 5. I topped it with a grated Romano-type cheese that I made last summer. I’ve had it aging on a high shelf in the kitchen near the Aga. I didn’t set out to make a dry cheese, it just turned out hard as a rock and I never waxed it. So, far as I can tell it is perfectly good grating cheese. It tastes fine.
February 17, 2004 Tuesday: It was -15F this morning. Cold like that dominates one’s day. But, I am happy to report my barn water continues to run. The sun was shining and the girls dragged Mark out for a walk on the river. They are a warm-blooded lot. They came back carrying their coats. They took Bagel along, but left old Dakota, my cousin’s dog that I am keeping while she is in Florida. After what we thought was a safe interval we let him out. He figured out where they were and took a shortcut over the bank by the mailbox. That is so steep it is nearly a cliff. Shireen saw him from down by the bridge and shouted, “Look!” They all saw him somersault his way down, poor old thing. By the time he reached the family he was so tired he subsided in a heap. Mark thought he was a goner. But he revived and had fun. Helen ignored the cold and gave 4 ½ gallons today. I got a dozen eggs.
February 19, 2004 Thursday: Yesterday I drove down to Martin’s house for a sleepover and dinner out. Mark, Hailey, granddaughter Helena and Martins girlfriend, Amy joined us for dinner at a Japanese restaurant where I ate my fill of sushi. I also got a tour of Martin’s plant where they make CorrectDeck extruded lumber. I had not been down to see it since its first year of production. It is a vast hive of activity. It also smells better than most manufacturing plants, since their principle raw material is sawdust. Before leaving the farm I did my noon barn chores. Sally usually goes first and feeds Sammy his bottle and throws down hay. Then I go out at my leisure and fill the stock tank and muck out. This time Sally didn’t put down the hay, and I, perhaps dreaming of my outing, also forgot the hay. As I walked back to the house Helen started mooing mournfully. This is so unusual that I paid attention. Yipes! I forgot her hay! She was reminding me, and kept up her mooing until she heard me re-enter the barn. I got home about noon today. It was bright and sunny and warm enough for the eves to be dripping. This morning all three cows, perhaps feeling a touch of spring fever, had marched through the snow around to the north side of the barn where they have a view of the house. Sally noticed that Albert was making for the fence along the road where the drifts are so deep he might easily have hopped over. She called him back and when she had all of them back to the barn she tied a ladder across the gate. There is no hope of closing the gate until the snow is gone. Helen’s production today was way down, a bit under four gallons. There were 10 eggs.
February 20, 2004 Friday: It was so warm today that the eves dripped sufficiently behind the barn to make puddles big enough for cows to drink. There were tracks all about, so I hope Helen drank from these puddles too. Cows seem to prefer ground water if it is clear. She did not drink the water in her tank. This is odd. Neither Sally nor I could see or smell anything wrong with it. She also ate only about half of her hay and her production today was way down, only 3 ½ gallons. She gobbled her grain. This is puzzling. Maybe it is spring fever.
February 21, 2004 Saturday: We continue to be puzzled as to why Helen’s production is dropping. She has become picky with her hay. This morning I put it outside in the lean-to for a change and she ate it all. She is drinking her water and gobbling her grain. So, I just don’t know. Today she gave only 3 ½ gallons. Fortunately Sammy is eating hay quite well and is starting to eat grain. He has been slow to get going on grain because of logistical problems in giving it to him. They are in a group living situation. At milking time Sally puts Helen in her stanchion, then takes a pan of grain to Albert and a bottle to Sammy. After finishing his bottle, Sammy begins attacking Albie’s ear and getting spit all over it. For the last six feedings I have been going in and stuffing grain in Sammy’s mouth, after which he went straight for the ear. But I could tell he was enjoying the grain, and tonight instead of the ear he crowded in for Albie’s grain. Hurrah! Now we will cut out one feeding, or just give him skim. Last week we were worrying about how to prevent Helen risking stepping on her teat as she comes up the indoor ramp. I wanted to build up the floor level on each side, since she never comes up the low end. Pondering the matter, I realized that the only type of building material available to me at this time of year is manure. So for three days instead of carrying it outside I piled it against the ramp. It mostly freezes. The plan is working well. Only six eggs today. The baby chicks are doing well. I lost only one. That was early on when one of the light bulbs that provide heat went out and they piled up under the other one, crushing one chick.
February 22, 2004 Sunday: Helen’s production is still way down. The hens only laid 5 eggs. Albert seemed almost indifferent to his lovely grain. But, I was encouraged to see Helen eating hay when I left her. She has been eating very little of it. Her appetite for grain is undiminished. I’m still voting for Spring Fever as the cause. The tomcats clearly think it is spring. One bantam went broody, but I succeeded in discouraging her from setting. For two days now the temp has stayed in the 30’s. It snowed all last night and today, but nobody has plowed me out. With it this warm weather a lot of it will melt.
February 24, 2004 Tuesday: The big excitement today came when we moved the chicks to their new home in the barn. Sally nailed up some more insulation in the stall that she had prepared for Sammy. He stayed in barely two days. We transported the chicks in a cat carrier and put them in a large chicken coop made of wood and chicken wire. They have more room than formerly, but seemed to fill the space immediately. They have a heat lamp for warmth. One of the chicks has a deformity that makes it bend its head down onto its chest. It manages to eat and drink, but not efficiently and it is smaller than the others. Helen’s production is rising again. Perhaps due to more alfalfa pellets, some different hay that I bought, carrots, apples or warmer weather, who knows. Anyway, she was back up to four gallons today. I have more people all the time wanting milk. I don’t get ahead enough to make butter and have been having to buy it. My hay man called to say he has fifty bales of second cut for me. I got nine eggs today.
February 25, 2004 Wednesday: Another cold morning followed by a warm day. I suppose the sap is running fine in the maple trees. Helen’s production has picked up. She gave 4 ¼ gallons today. The chicks in the barn are doing fine, although I had to reposition their water closer to the heat lamp. It is one of those siphon type water dispensers and was frozen up this morning. I got nine eggs again today. Sally and I went on an expedition to Auburn so she could buy fabric and we could shop at Goodwill. We also visited Nezinscott Farm, an organic CSA that also offers dairy products and beef, lamb and pork. They are doing a fine job there. They have a comprehensive store.
February 26, 2004 Thursday: Yet another day when I did not win the Megabucks. My consolation: an amazing sky. It was crystal clear cloudless blue. This is rare in Maine. We mostly have lots of fluffy clouds. This reminded me of an Arizona sky. Helen gave four gallons today. I got 10 eggs. My little chicks, now about 8″ tall, seem happy in their new quarters in the barn. The chick with the bent over neck seems a little better. It manages to eat somehow. It eats when the others are resting. The white rooster that nearly died last month is now in good health. He stays by himself in the grain room, which has a half-door so he can fly out if he wants to. He knows he will get a handful of grain for his very own. He has a long tail like a pheasant, but curved.
February 27, 2004 Friday: Once again today the sky was perfectly clear. Others who live where the sky is true blue, with or without fluffy clouds floating past, may be interested to know that in California’s Bay Area, in Silicon Valley, the sky is never clear like this unless there have been several days of rain. It might then be clear for one day. For the first time today I actually caught Sammy in the act of chewing his cud. I know he must have been cudding for a while because I see him eating hay. But, he is people-oriented and when he hears anyone coming he is on his feet and standing at the door, in case someone is bringing him a bottle. At noon today when I was mucking out he and Albert were out baking in the sun in the lean-to and I saw him before he saw me. It is always such a pleasure to see a calf ruminate. It means they have really joined the world of Cow. He is about a month old now. We lost track of Helen’s production today but it was over four gallons. I got only six eggs.
February 28, 2004 Saturday: The secondary stock watering system underneath my Buttery (summer kitchen) spontaneously started running today. It was frozen up all winter and I had left one of the valves slightly on. I think this means spring is coming. We have had three warm days in a row with much dripping from the eves. The manure pile out the back door of the barn where I throw the cleanings every day has gotten way high. Parts of it are higher than my head. That will be a big job for the tractor next summer. The chick with the deformed neck didn’t make it. It got chilled yesterday, off by itself and had a lot of trouble eating. Poor little thing. It was one of the Auracanas. Helen’s production is back up to 4 ½ gallons. But only six eggs.
February 29, 2004 Sunday: I’ve decided that probably the reason my chickens are dropping off in production is that it has been more than two weeks since I have had any skim milk to make clabber for them. I have more milk customers, so don’t get enough ahead on milk to skim for butter. I have bought most of my butter recently. The chicks already looked cramped in their coop in the cozy barn stall, so today I turned it on its side and released them. They still have their heat lamp, but now can stroll around and scratch properly. They took to freedom immediately. I made enough clabber at least for the chicks. Sally grabbed two roosters and dressed them off. She was mighty speedy and efficient. One she plucked neatly, the other she skinned rather than await more hot water for dipping. She is putting them in the freezer right now. She called up her youngest son at college so he could hear all about it and be properly impressed. It was he and a friend who dressed off nine roosters just before Christmas. Sally and I took a walk across to her field. It is across the river from my pastures. The snow is still deep in places, but five days of weather above freezing has compacted it a lot and made it mushy. About the only signs of spring were a few areas of bare ground among the trees and a brightening of the yellow branches of my weeping willow.
March 1, 2004 Monday: Today was even warmer, up to 40F. Helen gave 4 ¾ gallons today. I guess she likes the warmer weather. I unplugged the layer’s water warmer and the heating pad on the water faucet. That should save a little on the electric bill. Sally ordinarily gives Sammy a noon bottle. She was away all day and I skipped it. He mooed piteously when he heard me in the barn. Then he was way over excited when Sally gave him his evening bottle and danced all around so she could barely hold onto it. I attended the Carthage Town Meeting this evening. The democratic process was subverted by a contentious group who packed the meeting, drowning out discussion and voting down a totally bland and (one would have supposed) utterly non-threatening town plan. It was my impression that none of the dissidents had even read the thing, which was mostly pictures. I attended stupifyingly boring planning meetings for two years in hopes that Carthage might be the first town in the nation (so far as I can discover) to include farmland protection in its initial plan. No such wording made it into the plan. In the mind of a town planning specialist (one was supplied by the state) farmland does not exist. They speak only of “views”. “Views” apparently enhance property values in a town, irrespective of whether you own the view or merely overlook it.
March 2, 2004 Tuesday: Sally worked out in the North Field today on fencing. We have the gateway to that field blocked off with a ladder (the gate itself is frozen open) to prevent the cows from going out there. But, Sammy slipped through to join her. Helen couldn’t see him and she put up an awful fuss until he came back. Even though he is not her calf and she does not feed him, she feels very responsible, and has from the first day he arrived. She is in charge of calves and that’s that! It was wonderfully warm and sunny today. It was over 40F. Helen gave 4 gallons. I got 8 eggs.
March 3, 2004: Sally’s daughter, Rosemary, my granddaughter, and her husband Nate are here for a few days. They are putting up a garden shed for me. Rosemary’s brother Rafe, my grandson, made the foundation and floor a year ago, but wasn’t able to finish the job. Now it is framed up and ready for a plywood roof, to be followed by shingles. What a joy it will be to have it. This evening after milking Sally dressed off another rooster. This one is pretty good sized. I made soup for dinner from one of the roosters she dressed off last week, so this one went into the freezer. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons today. There were only six eggs. The chicks don’t seem to like their new feed very well.
March 4, 2004 Thursday: The chicks seemed more cheerful today and ate about half of their food. They are drinking their water just fine. I change it every day. With no mother to teach them to scratch, they don’t scratch at all. The brooder they were in for the first few weeks had a hardware cloth floor that discouraged scratching. No doubt they will pick it up later. Chicks raised by a hen do everything their mother does and those little bantams scratch like crazy. It is so cute to see three-day-old chicks popping up and down scratching. They almost tip over backwards. Sally worked on fencing again today. It was damp and overcast, but not very cold. My front yard and driveway are turning to mud. Two people became briefly stuck and made horrible great ruts. Sammy didn’t get much milk today. Sally watered his bottle way down. Even so, Helen’s four gallons is about gone every day. Sammy likes the new hay. He was munching it right down. His manure has the mature form. Rosemary and Nate made great progress on the garden cottage. I believe it will be too fine to call a tool shed. I had plywood delivered for the roof. I think about all that remains to be done is nail on the shingles.
March 5, 2004 Friday: When out walking this morning after breakfast, Sally found the carcass of a deer lying on the river ice. It had been killed early this morning. It was not there yesterday evening when she took that same walk. It was a yearling doe and appeared to have been killed by two dogs. Bagel was not involved. He was not away from the yard this morning. But I noticed him staring down towards the river for a long time, perhaps 45 minutes. I called the animal control officer and told him about it, in case there are dogs around here that need to be controlled. When I was in with the hens I left the door open behind me and several of the Black Australorp crosses escaped. They are half bantam and hate confinement. As it happens they are my best layers too. I managed to catch one after dark and my goodness how she squawked. For lunch I gave Helen her old hay. She just stood there for a good ten minutes before she deigned to eat it. When Sally was giving Sammy his evening bottle she delayed a bit when getting it positioned. Sammy grabbed the nipple and bunted her violently in the stomach with the bottle. She should barely eat dinner as a result. When bottle feeding a calf, one should always hold the bottle so it is aimed to one side. No production response so far from Helen. She gave 4 ¼ gallons. I only got three eggs. I scattered a nice bale of hay around the floor in the laying hens room in hopes of putting them back in the mood to lay. Nate worked all day on the garden shed despite rain and sleet. It is about ¾ shingled now.
March 6, 2004 Saturday: A misty, moisty day here with considerable thawing. It was 40F when I got up this morning. Nate was down putting shingles on the garden shed before breakfast. Later, he and Rosie and their friends, who arrived last night, drove to the foot of Tumbledown Mountain and hiked up most of it. The snow got too deep to walk in as they neared the top. Rosie, who is very small, voted to turn back. They all declared that they had a fine time, but the men later admitted that they were relieved that Rosie spoke up. During the afternoon Nate finished the shingling and put on the ridge cap. He did not have time to build the shelves, but the little house is a charming sight. The footprint is 5′ by 12′. The hens got back in the mood today and I got ten eggs. Four were from the hens that are unconfined. Sally worked some more on fencing. I hope to help her tomorrow. Helen wants badly to get into the North Pasture even though it is covered with snow. It is bordered by warm pine trees that form a sun trap. She loves to go and stand there in the spring and fall. Sally finished plying the skein of white wool that she wishes to dye using the Bull’s Blood beets that I grew last summer for the purpose. The wool was from Valentine, one of the Jacob sheep we had here for several years. She had taken the wool back to Alaska and mordanted it before bringing it back here to wash, card and spin. There are only a few beets, but I also saved their brilliant red tops in the freezer. Helen gave 4 ½ gallons today.
March 7, 2004 Sunday: When walking over the snow covered field to where she is fencing, Sally nearly stepped on a barred owl crouched in the path. An owl is dangerous, so she was not sure what to do about it, but kept glancing back that way while she worked. Crows flew down to harry it. A little later she returned to the house and told us about it. Helena, my granddaughter who is visiting this weekend, went down to see it and brought it back wrapped in her down vest. We put it into a basket, but it seemed near death and did indeed die quite soon. The poor thing weighed almost nothing. I believe it starved to death. It had no visible injury. Freddy, the grizzled old black tomcat does have damage. He has several areas that are torn and bleeding. Sally heard fighting all last night. I guess he is losing the turf war to some young whippersnappers. Helena brought him a plate of canned food. Helen gave 4 ½ gallons today but the chickens reverted to only five eggs. I caught another rooster and put him in a cat carrier. Sally plans to dress him off in the morning.
March 8, 2004 Monday: My Grandson, Rafe, arrived from college. He is just here for a couple of days, then off to Patagonia. Perhaps he will have time to complete some details on the garden shed. It has turned cold again and it snowed for a couple of hours this morning. I had to plug the stock water heater in again. Sally worked for several hours on fencing. There is always more to do. She dressed off that rooster, but I believe there are about six more we ought to put in the freezer. Helen gave 4 ½ gallons today and I got seven eggs. The young chickens are looking pretty good.
March 10, 2004 Wednesday: The roosters are getting very nervous and hard to catch. Sally made a trap in the corner of the milking room where they tend to flee. Now the corner has a lot of chicken wire in it and works like a fish trap. She caught another one today and dressed it off. I stewed one yesterday and made curried coconut and chicken soup. First I cooked short grain rice in chicken stock. I used fresh coconut that I ground in my food processor. I sautéed leeks, anise (fennel) and garlic and curry powder in butter and peanut oil, added lovely chicken stock with rice, coconut and the chopped white meat, Tabasco sauce, and last of all, some cream. This afternoon was spent mostly at the dentist and I did not find out until after dark that Rafe had built shelves into my new garden shed. He used some very old pine boards from the demolition project Sally and her family undertook on the interior of the little house she owns across the river. I will go down crack-o-dawn tomorrow and admire it. Rafe will be leaving early for a month of travel. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons today. I only got 5 eggs. We are going to start dressing off the old hens once the extra roosters are in the freezer.
March 11, 2004 Thursday: We waved goodbye this morning to Rafe. After chores, Sally and I walked all around the fence line, ending with a visit to the new garden shed to admire the shelves. It was a beautiful morning, but we need a lot more like it to melt the snow. The view across the pastures is still entirely white although there are patches of brown grass around the trees and fence posts. Helen led her little tribe out to try to graze. She is crazy to start grazing. That is what their teeth and jaw and whole habit of life is designed for. They just love the sensation of tearing off grass. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons today. I got six eggs. Sally captured and dressed off another rooster. It was especially nice looking with no pinfeathers. But, now all the birds flee when they see her coming.March 12, 2004 Friday: Bagel had a great time down in the woods with Sally this afternoon where she is working on fencing. The weather was excellent. We were pleased to see that sufficient thawing has occurred, so that one of the vernal ponds has appeared. But, this evening a storm is starting, so I shut the cows in. We weight taped Helen and Sammy. Helen was 1060 lb, a loss from last fall of almost 50 lbs. I can see several ribs despite her heavy fur. Sammy weighs 150 lb. He was 50 lb at birth, so that is an average gain of about 2 lb/day. Not great, but not too bad for a Jersey that is bottle fed. Sally and I need to set him up with a teat bucket. He is getting too violent to be bottle fed much longer. He eats grain with Albert, but doesn’t get enough to keep him going.
March 13, 2004 Saturday: Helen gave us almost 4 ¾ gallons today. Perhaps she is finally responding to the new hay. Time will tell. The hens did better too. I got 10 eggs. Working together, Sally and I trapped the remaining rooster we had decided to dress off. Sally has a way of chopping them single handedly. She wraps the bird several times around with hay string and ties its wings down. This guy was a fighter and escaped while wrapped in string. I saw him later pecking around the manure pile with a string still around one leg and dragging. I couldn’t get anywhere near him to pull it off. Probably he shed it later. I looked all around inside and out of the barn and did not see him. I expect he is in the rafters.
March 14, 2004 Sunday: When Sally went out at seven to milk Helen she found the barn on fire. It was in the room with the chicks. She saw smoke as soon as she walked in. Flames were several feet high in the corner where the heat lamp is. As she opened the door to look, the flames instantly leapt higher. The extra air may have caused this, but the fire was already moving fast. She could not immediately see the fire extinguisher, so ran back to the house for one. I handed her one from the kitchen and called 911. The fire truck was here within 10 minutes but Sally had already stopped the blaze. The men determined that fire was still burning under the floor. They ripped out boards and gushed water on it from the pumper for 15 or 20 minutes. The giant beams that support the barn underneath are charred. The obvious culprit, the heat lamp, was still intact, but the bulb was melted. The fire was coming up from below. There is no wiring under there. It must have been spontaneous combustion caused by warm light and warm chicks on damp hay and manure. None of the chicks perished. They spent the day in the Pit Stall awaiting rebuilding of their quarters. I don’t know how we will keep them warm. The power to the barn is gone. This is very odd because none of the wiring was damaged. Last night the light in the haymow kept going out. So, perhaps the electrical problem is a coincidence. I called Martin about it and he told me that a friend of his in Bryant Pond with a very old house recently had a fire and was told that old dry wood had a combustion point of only 250F when exposed to continuous heat. That is not hot enough to burn piecrust. A nice lady showed up because of her fear that animals were endangered. She has three sheep as pets, but has no use for the wool. She drove back later and brought three bags of wool to Sally. While the firemen were here Helen did a lot of mooing. She did not know what was a going on. She just wanted to be milked. In fact, she did a lot of mooing today. It as a sunny spring like day and the two calves ran way across the fields to the river. She did not want to go, and did not want them to go either. So, she mooed her head off until they came back. About two more minutes and it would have been impossible to save the barn. Everything in that barn is dry as toast and the fire was moving fast. It was so miraculous that it did not happen during the night. All the dear animals would have been lost and of course a 150 year old barn and 1950 Minneapolis Moline tractor. I have a breakaway closure on the outer door to where the cows stay and could easily force it open if a fire were to threaten them while I was aware of it. At night they would not have a chance. I am going to see if there is some kind of fire alarm for the barn that rings inside the house. All morning Sally and I worked on making a new place for the chicks. The nice lady and one of the firemen shooed all the chicks into a coop where they spent the day. Then Martin arrived about 1:30 to help, and a good thing too. Sally and I were very tired and running out of ideas. He completed a nice new plywood and wire corner for them in the grain room. Max and the little girls came along later to help too.
March 15, 2004 Monday: My vet came today. I showed him the ugly, still sodden, damage in the barn. He was suitably shocked. Then we brought Sammy in and he anesthetized him. He cut and removed his horn buds with an electric disbudding iron. Sammy took a couple of hours to come around, but was ready for his supper. The incisions look very neat. Sally worked on fencing some more. The job is beginning to look overwhelming and she fears she cannot finish it before she must leave.
March 17, 2004 Wednesday: I sent in my seed order today to Johnny’s Selected Seeds. My earlier one to Thompson & Morgan already came. I am also going to send for a few things from Seeds Of Change. It is not too Springy at present. It has gotten colder every day now for five days. We are told to expect Zero tonight and tomorrow night. Sally continues to work on the fence for a couple of hours a day. Where there are no trees to attach too she just has to prop it. At this time of year one cannot dig postholes. Although it is cold, there is a lot of bright sun. The storm that hit much of the northeast veered out to sea. All we got was an inch of snow. Yesterday there were fresh moose tracks along the road. We hope not to meet one. Sally says she would prefer to meet a grizzly bear or wolf. Sammy shows no evidence of lingering discomfort from his operations. He is as bouncy as ever. Helen gave 4 ½ gallons today. I got eight eggs.
March 18, 2004 Thursday: It was only down to 15F this morning, but the pullets looked unhappy. Their water was frozen and they no longer have a heat lamp. We put more plastic around their room. It is just a sort of plywood and chicken wire frame inside the grain room. Sally and I took a tour around the pastures so I could see how the fencing is coming. We tried to find the property line stake, but were unsuccessful. The brook and river that bound the west end of the farm has flooded badly into the woods and torn out many trees and damaged the banks. It has retreated now and all the land is frozen solid. A great deal of sand and slash has washed in. This is a result of the appalling clear cutting that is occurring in the surrounding hills. Enough of the fence is repaired so that we were able to let Helen into the North Field. She went straight over to the pines where she loves to stand in the sun. She gave 4 ¼ gallons today. I got nine eggs.
March 19, 2004 Friday: Spring is definitely coming. The skunks are awake. The barn smells very strongly. The skunk smell has overcome the lingering smell of the fire. Sally and I took a walk around her field. She has 17 acres right across the river from me. We are in a cold, cloudy weather pattern that may last another week. It was 15F this morning and did not get above 30F all day. Even so, the snow has melted off showing big patches of lawn and the river is half open. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons. Thee were nine eggs.
The photo shows the afternoon sun reflecting off a vernal pool in the field below the house. These pools form in spring as the melt water stands on the ice and frozen ground.
March 21, 2004 Sunday: Last night it snowed four new inches of heavy wet snow. The old snow was about gone around the house. When I let out my cat, Gingerbread, he ran to exit the garage and he came to the snow, put on his brakes and stared. I could just see him thinking, “Oh, no, more snow. I thought spring was here!” It was sunny most of the day and much of the new snow was gone by mid afternoon. Sally did more fencing and has turned in her tools. She says there is nothing more to be done until the ground thaws and I can buy and set more posts. Max will install these. 4 ½ gallons of milk today and eight eggs.
March 22, 2004 Monday: Spring turned out to be a false rumor. It was 14F this morning with an icy, face-slicing wind. My poor pullets, now living without a heat lamp, had frozen water. Actually, the cold doesn’t seem to be bothering them much. They aren’t bunching. Neither do they appear to be growing. Better times are coming, surely. Sally is now going around giving TLC to trees, thinning here, lopping there, putting flagging tape on for reminders to transplant small oaks and pines when the ground is no longer frozen. We walked around her field, scarves over faces, and observed that high above the river on her side a lot of trees had been cut by a beaver last year. You can see where they are chewed off in their unmistakable pattern. Perhaps it was a young beaver-in-training, as they seemed to be random choices and some only partly chewed.
March 23, 2004 Tuesday: It is still cold and everybody is complaining. We are no longer of a mind to be good sports about it, although Sally keeps explaining that everything is beautiful. I should have named her Pollyanna. She is madly working on thinning and tying up little trees over at her place. She takes Bagel out every day to play around and watch. I believe he now thinks he is her dog. I call him to come and he looks at her to see if he really should. The pullets look happier today. I made them a pan of clabber and they ate every bit. I had an electrician out to see about rewiring the barn. Helen gave 4 /2 gallons today and I got ten eggs.
March 24, 2004 Wednesday: The hose I have to connect up every day in the barn to water the cows did not have to be defrosted before I could use it. This means it was above freezing all day. Sally and I walked around the fields and the crust continued to hold me. So, things still have a way to go. The river is mostly open. Great ice floes a foot thick are perched here and there on the rocks. I found what appears to be a safe heater to set up with the pullets. They seem contented. Now let’s hope they will put some energy into growing instead of just keeping warm. I saw Sammy grazing on a little green fuzz of grass coming up in some spots where the snow has melted. A little guy can graze shorter grass. Helen didn’t even bother to try. She amuses herself for a little while every day eating dead grass from last year. She gave almost 4 ½ gallons today. I got 8 eggs.
March 25, 2004 Thursday: Today was lo-o-ng. Sally and I arose at 3AM and Max arrived soon after to drive Sally to the airport. She is on her way back to Alaska. I used the milking machine on Helen today and got the usual amount 4 ¼ gallons. The pressure gauge is misbehaving, so I have to keep my finger on it, but Helen didn’t move a foot. My dentist fitted me in for repair of a tooth that broke on Tuesday. Root canal. Pinned together tooth. He said there wasn’t much left of that tooth and the repair might not last. He suggested I avoid raw carrots. Innumerable other things happened today also and I am numb. I haven’t even got today’s mail opened. I’m going to bed. I got ten eggs. One good thing happened: I was way ahead on milk (started a lactic cheese and clabber) and people came and bought all the milk.
March 26, 2004 Friday: Another long densely packed day, but at least my mouth isn’t sore and the weather has warmed considerably. It got almost up to 50F today and was very foggy. I’d say the fields are now about half clear of snow. My back is feeling the effort of carrying the milking machine, which I am now using. Helen didn’t miss a beat when I switched. Sally always milked by hand. Sally arrived safely in Alaska. She took along little bottles of milk and cream for the trip, bread, butter and (frozen) liver pate to revive her upon arrival. She still had a five hour ferry ride ahead of her when she called, so had no report on how her goat is. I do hope it is OK. It is due to kid very shortly. Bagel is disappointed with the short little walks he gets from me. We took a tour around the garden to see how my baby apple trees look. Two look dead and two look maybe alive. The ice in the fishpond has all melted. It was a foot thick. Five of the goldfish are alive but one is floating. Daffodils are up two inches. Helen gave 4 ½ gallons and I got eight eggs.
March 28, 2004 Sunday: Such lovely weather today. Such a shame that it did not arrive until Sally left. I hope she has good weather in Alaska, but I have not heard much. My granddaughter Helena was here today and we took a walking tour of the lawn and garden. The snow is off of my parsnip patch and they are showing green ruffles on top. They cannot be dug until the ground thaws. Only about the top four or five inches of soil is thawed now. Helen and the crew spent most of the day trying to graze. They cannot have gotten much of anything, but they did their pooping outside, thus saving me a lot of clean up. I sent away for annatto, a seed that is used to color butter. I did not know how much to use, so erred on the weak side, but it did somewhat enhance the yellow. I will continue the experiment next time. Yesterday and today I used the milking machine in the morning and milked by hand in the evening. She only gives 1½ gallons in the evening for which washing the machine seems burdensome. I have not milked much for months and my hands are feeling the strain. It seems to make no difference to Helen. She stands very well. But I am so slow that I think she got tired of letting down before I was done. I got only 1 ¼ gallons tonight. Eight eggs today.
March 29, 2004 Monday: This was an even finer day. Max stopped in and we walked around the fields with the map diagram Sally left showing problem areas in the fence. Max was able to roll up some wire that was frozen into ice when she had been working on it. The thawing has brought the river up about two feet so that it now runs in silence. Helen spent so much time grazing and standing outside that she did not finish her hay. There is no nutrient value in the dead grass and the new grass is barely visible. That might be the reason her milk is down some. Only four gallons today. I got eight eggs. I picked up a head of Romaine lettuce and chopped a lot of it finely for the pullets. I guess they liked it. Every bit was gone when I went back to look.
March 31, 2004: My pullets are looking perkier lately and are growing. They are getting a commercial, non-medicated grower mash plus clabber and kelp and other tidbits I think of. They will soon be too crowded. I had to special order the mash. Most people want medicated. It was drizzly and cold today, but above freezing. Helen and the kids spent a lot of time on the pasture anyway. Now that she can get at her pasture she is obsessed with it. She still eats her hay, but I have to put out less. All winter I have been feeding three bales a day and for the last few days it is down to 2 ½. Albert and Sammy, seven months and two months, now walk very nicely to where I tie them while I am milking Helen. This way Sammy can have his bucket of milk without being molested by Albert and vice versa. I am hand milking in the evening. Tonight I milked 1½ gallons in 12 minutes. Not exactly a world record, but considering how out of shape my hands are, I was impressed with myself. I was racing to get back to get a cake out of the oven. Nine eggs today. One or two of the free ranging hens is laying where I can’t find her eggs.
April 1, 2004 Thursday: Helen gave less than four gallons today and I think I know why. She just is not letting down as she should. I think she is pining for Sally. They had a relationship. Well, at least Albert and Sammy come to my hand and lead well enough to go stand by their hitching spots. They are both in good shape. Sammy is nice and plushy. He eats hay and grain well, but sill loves his bucket of milk. He drinks from a teat bucket that hangs on the door. It was about 40F today and drizzly. Max stopped in and removed some heavy beams that had been laid where my rhubarb comes up. He arranged them into a bridge over the big puddle in front of the barn formed from melting snow. Eight eggs today.
April 2, 2004 Friday: It was raining when I woke up and has rained steadily all day. Around noon I put on my raincoat, old Drizabone, and the dogs and I went down to see what is happening in the veg garden. I took along a bamboo rod to stick down and see how far down the ground has thawed. The flowerbeds by the house are thawed down at least a foot. Some places in the veg garden are completely thawed, but the parsnip patch is only thawed down about 8″. I will test again tomorrow. The snow cover was especially deep and I see that some chard and some spinach plants have wintered over. It makes me wish I had planted spinach in the fall. The one year I tried this it got frost killed. I worked nearly an hour and pulled up a lot of tomato stakes that I didn’t get around to last fall. Up by the goldfish pond the daffodils are up 4″ and have buds. Getting into the garden was a lot of fun. Of course we dripped all over the kitchen afterwards. I used the machine both milkings today. Helen gave 4 gallons. There were9 eggs.
April 4, 2004 Palm Sunday: No way I could attend church today with the time change. But, I did manage to get to the barn a half hour earlier. I think it is a lot harder for me to adjust than it is for Helen. I have tomato seedlings coming up in peat pots and today planted peas in peat pots too. I have always planted them directly in the garden all my life, but Victory Garden says that although they grow best in cool conditions, they require warmth to germinate. In their demo they were putting 4 inch tall seedlings into the garden. What I have in peat pots will not plant more than about 3 feet of row. Maybe I will extend the row with direct seeding and see who wins. Today spring seems far away. It is raining steadily and we were told to expect it to turn to snow. Helen gave something under 4 gallons today. I got seven eggs. The pullets seem unsatisfied. I try to give them some treat everyday.
April 5, 2004 Monday: As promised, there were three inches of snow on the ground this morning. By evening half of it was gone. But, an icy wind made it feel like January. The cows did not stir outdoors, so I had a lot of clean up to do. I kept the layer hens in and ran the heater several hours for the pullets. This seemed like a good day to make a cheese. There was plenty of milk. I made a 3 gallon cheese using my new Cheesypress for the first time. It seems to work fine. It is the first press I have ever seen that lacks perforations in the cylinder. I hope it is squishing out the whey, as it should. Sammy is 2 ½ months old now. Twice a day he gets his half-gallon of milk in a teat bucket and a pan of grain that is half alfalfa pellets and half dairy feed topped with kelp. He now likes his grain just about as much as his milk. I can see him struggling to decide which to eat first. He and Albert both allow themselves to be lead nicely to where I hitch them at feeding time. Helen gave four gallons today. There were nine eggs.
April 6, 2004 Tuesday: Max pulled those heavy beams off of the rhubarb patch and today I saw the first little pink fist of rhubarb leaves daring to push up. The weather was not much better today than yesterday. The temperature was a little below freezing and a cold wind blew. The water froze in with both groups of chickens. I turned the heater on for several hours for the pullets. In with the layers I have a large rooster, Brewster. He has a lame foot. I did not realize it until evening, but the prancing take-charge rooster that runs loose in the barn had gotten himself in there and had everybody intimidated. After I shooed him out Old Brewster emerged from hiding and he and a lot of hens began gobbling feed. The white rooster that I wrote about earlier in the winter has moved in with the layers too. He and Brewster are equally timid. Whitely also hopped down and started pecking up mash. He is getting a little confidence back. My “guest dog”, Dakota, went home yesterday. Bagel is very confused about this and seems depressed, as he was when Sally left. When I wasn’t looking he tore apart the garbage. He never does that sort of thing unless he is upset. It is not as though there is anything edible in the trash, or even meat papers. He is just making some kind of statement. I took my cheese out of the mold. So far so good. It looks perfect. I took the temperature of my cellar. It is 50F, about right for cheese.
April 7, 2004 Wednesday: The weather was better today, cold but sunny. I had lots of fun working in the veg garden doing clean up. I even dug some parsnips and shared with my cousin Marcia, owner of Dakota. She picked him up on Monday and Bagel has moped ever since. She said Dakota also was acting depressed. She brought him today for a visit and Bagel bounced all around in delight. Dakota bounced a bit too, but he is very fat. Helen gave a bit over 4 gallons today and I got eight eggs. I made the new cheese of which I recently learned, Qvark. This is my second attempt. It is bland, but good.
April 9, 2004 Friday: I made a very nice cheesecake today using the qvark. It is a good cheese for this. Yesterday I opened the door of the pullets little enclosure for a while so they could spread out a little. Not many came out. Today I put their feed and water outside the pen and left them to explore. It took a couple of hours, but eventually all of them hopped out. They now have the freedom of the grain room. Yesterday they stayed huddled by the door of their pen and I was easily able to shoo them back in at night. This evening I gave up trying to get them back in. They went every which way. I don’t think the cats will go for them but they are vulnerable to raccoons, not that I have seen any so far this spring. Sally called from Alaska. Her goat Rachel kidded yesterday and had a dreadfully hard delivery. She had twins, both breech. It was so awful for Rachel that she actually screamed and fell over. Sally had to assist. Today Rachel went down with milk fever. A vet visits Haines once a month and this was his day. He came all the way out to Sally’s place to see the goat. The only calcium he had was a 10cc injection meant for a cat. This vet never sees large animals. But, the 10cc’s brought Rachel to her feet. The vet recommended that Sally go to town and buy bone meal. She didn’t like this idea and called me from the health food store. I suggested she buy whatever people tablets they had and create a paste. Rachel was down again when she got home. Sally made a paste with honey, which she put into Rachel’s mouth. This worked quite fast. Rachel got up and ran across the room. Rachel has very little milk, but Sally milked out some colostrum for the female kid and it is doing fine. She euthanized the little buck. She does not raise males. The effect of calcium on milk fever can be dramatic. Helen lay outside in the field to chew her cud. She is finding a bit of grass. She gave four gallons of milk. I got ten eggs.
April 10, 2004 Saturday: Everybody came here today for Easter. Max and Mitra’s two little girls and son Mark’s little Hailey had an Easter egg hunt. Max, Martin and Mark hid the eggs all around the lawn. There are no flowers or grass yet and streaks of snow linger here and there, but the girls had a wonderful time chattering around after eggs. Then their uncles swung them around and over their shoulders. Later, the guys took a walk along the river and Bagel dog pushed Max’s dog, Lulu in. She is a lively seven months old, but had never been in the water before. Max thought he was going to have to jump in and save her, but she floundered out (she is part black Lab). Then she chased Bagel three times around the field until she wore him out. We think she made him apologize. We had our Easter dinner today. I served a goose and a fresh pork butt (from the freezer) and lots of other goodies. I made a whipped cream cheesecake that calls for cottage cheese. Instead I used two cups of qvark.
April 12, 2004 Monday: We have had two days in a row of pretty good weather here, cold but sunny. Helen and the boys grazed down by the river and chewed their cuds while out lying in the sun. This is the first time this spring they have done that. It was nice to see them and nice to be able to put out less hay. And, very nice to have less mucking out to do. Helen must be really working hard to find enough grass to satisfy her. All I see is brown. But, around the edges of things there is a little something for her. My chives are up three inches. They are always the first crop. I dug about 12 feet of row in the veg garden today. This was one of last year’s corn rows, so was easy digging. On Sunday Helena cleaned and manured a similar strip of the asparagus bed. The ground was dry enough to make digging easy and fun. Tonight we are to expect a major rainstorm, possibly sleet, so I doubt I will be back in the garden before next weekend. I am still eating delicious leftovers from Easter dinner. Helen gave four gallons today. When looking for eggs I reached into a dark niche and found two newborn kittens. I could not see the mother but could hear her growling. I got nine eggs but broke three by setting something on them.
April 13, 2004 Tuesday: My spring line thawed out and started running today! It always seems miraculous. A water line runs from 5/8 of a mile away. It is exposed in places and always freezes in winter. When I hear that trickle start I know spring is really here even if sleet is falling, as it was all day today. There is a sink in my kitchen carved from granite that fills by gravity from the spring. It is lovely water. Sally called about Rachel. She is pretty bad. Kip is trying to find meds. He is not having a lot of luck. I will see what I can do from Nasco. I looked at the kittens. This time I took a flashlight. There was one dead one underneath two live ones. I could hear the mother growling but she was out of sight. I left her a bit of fried chicken. Starting today, I have gone to once a day milking (OAD). Helen is seven months into her lactation. I hope she does not lose a lot of production. I do have customers for the milk. But now that I am by myself I feel a lot of time pressure.
April 14, 2004 Wednesday: Well, it happened. I have a streaming cold. I was fearful of this because one of the grandchildren at Easter weekend was coming down with one and my stress level is unusually high. I have had a slight sore throat all week. Then when I went in today for a two-hour dental appointment and a series of needles and painkillers went up towards my nose. I think it put me over the edge. It has been three years since I have had a cold or any other illness, so perhaps I should not complain. Sally called this morning with the good news that Rachel ate some food last night. I have heard no more, so I hope Rachel can hang on until the various meds that Kip and I have sent can reach her. I learned from Kip, who spoke to a veterinarian friend, that mastitis in a goat is very difficult to treat. I told Sally about the lard and cayenne treatment. But, you cannot infuse into the teat canal as you can with a cow. After her first 24-hour once a day (OAD) milking experience, Helen’s production was already down by half a gallon. Not that I am surprised. But, it does make my day a lot easier. She gave 3 ½ gallons this morning. I got only six eggs. It rained all day again.
April 16, 2004 Friday: It was sunny all day, although rather cold. I don’t think it got above 40F. Helen grazed all day and must have gotten something. She ate a lot less hay. Her production was up a bit this morning, but a lot of it went on the floor. She was letting down all the time I was getting ready to milk and made a big puddle of milk. She gave more than 3 ½ gallons. The young birds I refer to as pullets (although half are cockerels) are gradually catching on to how to be hens. They now fly a little bit. They still don’t know how to scratch. The grain room where they now live has a half door. One of the free living hens has always flown over to lay her eggs in there behind some old window sashes. I see her looking at the new birds with a disapproving eye. Maybe she will some day go down among them and demonstrate scratching. Max’s wife Mitra, my daughter-in-law, has a few chickens that I gave them. Yesterday while working at her sink where she has a big window she observed a huge eagle swoop down towards the bird feeder. The chickens were at the far side of the lawn, but were alert and dove into the woods. Mitra said the eagle was so big it could have taken one of her cats. She thinks it as a Golden. If not, it would have to be a juvenile Bald eagle. Sally called this morning to report that her goat is doing a little better. She ate a little on her own. One side of her udder has softened up enough so that the baby can nurse. The other side is still producing nasty looking milk. Sally is rubbing it with lard and cayenne.
April 17, 2004 Saturday: Helen gave only 3 ¼ gallons this morning. Eggs were up, 10 today. My cold is pretty well gone. I have a slight cough. I waxed the cheese I made about 10 days ago. It looks very promising.
April 19, 2004 Monday: Bagel Dog and I took a walk along the river this afternoon. Part of the riverbank is fenced off so that the cows can’t get down into the shallows below the bridge. Some of the river’s edge has no fence along it. It is striking to see how much brush has grown up in the fenced off area. This is an aid to holding the bank, which is being constantly undercut by intermittent high water. This is a great problem now that clear cutting is occurring in Maine. I see that another of my mature trees has fallen into the river. I think it is a beech. We walked up to have a look at Muffin’s grave. I was glad to see it is undisturbed. Later on when the fields are dried out I will ask Max to use the tractor to bring some rocks for a cairn. This was our first really warm day. It got up to around 70F. This should help the grass to grow. Helen works hard all day to get her rumen full, but is still hungry at the end of the day. Trouble is, she has lost all taste for her Grade B hay and I am down to two bales of the good stuff. For the last five weeks I have been feeding one bale of this in the morning and then the poorer hay for the rest of the day. Now she would rather go hungry than eat it. Yesterday and today she gave 3 ¼ gallons. I’m counting on her picking up a bit when the grass is lush. I saw the first tiny willow leaves today. The spring peepers were so encouraged that they began their peeping at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. But the finest sign of spring was the opening of the first daffodils. There is now a nice cluster by the pool. There were ten eggs.
April 20, 2004 Tuesday: This morning I put down my less good hay for Helen. I decided to save the last two bales of high quality in case of an emergency. She turned up her nose at it. It is still there this evening. They did not come in tonight. They decided to sleep out on the pasture somewhere. I hope they are all right. I have no idea where they are. I think Helen is jumping the gun a bit on summer. This is going to be a chilly night. Some small cousins came over this afternoon. They hunted for the kittens without success. But they did spot the goldfish. I was afraid the goldfish were gone, perhaps eaten by the blue heron. We also saw a very large polliwog in the fishpond. The pullets are starting to hop out of the grain room. I find them huddled here and there. They are easy to pick up. Helen gave just a little bit over three gallons this morning. I got nine eggs.
April 21, 2004 Wednesday: The hay I put out yesterday is till there. I don’t think Helen is really getting enough grass to fill her tank. She gave under three gallons today. The group slept out last night but was back in the barn this morning. I have been concerned that Sammy might not be getting enough, but he was so comfortably full that he was lying down and did not even jump to his feet in anticipation of grain. Perhaps his small jaw and sharp baby teeth better suit him to close grazing. My pullets are not in a raccoon-proof area. So far the raccoons have not noticed. I left the radio on as a deterrent. The weather today was cool and damp with little sun.
April 22, 2004 Thursday: It was warm and spring like today. When I stood on the deck early this morning Helen and the boys were on a knoll where I could see them. They appeared to be still dozing. But, I just heard the weather report for tonight: could be snow in the western mountains. That means us. Sigh. Helen and the boys still have not touched their hay or water and are spending their entire time outdoors. It sure saves on the barn clean up. I started seeds in peat pots this afternoon. I planted cucumbers and several kinds of flowers. I had to scrounge for the cucumber seeds. They are all last year’s seeds. Apparently I forgot to include them in my order. I also forgot to order spinach and basil seeds. The local choice is limited, so I won’t be getting fancy.
April 23, 2004 Friday: No snow, I am pleased to report. After doing the chicken and cat feeding part of the barn chores and getting everything set up for milking, I opened the door to the Beefer Pen to let in Helen. There was not a cow to be seen. This is the first time since last summer that this has happened. It means she is getting enough grass so that her grain doesn’t interest her. I guess the season for my early morning cow seeking walks has begun. This is quite pleasant if I am not in a hurry. This morning I was able to spy her from the deck. She will come when called if I manage to make eye contact. If no eye contact, I sometimes have to call a long time. She had more milk this morning. She was back up over three gallons. The calves were all silly when they came in. They acted as though they knew they had been naughty. Sammy bounced around and hid behind Albie when it was time to be tied up. I have decided to raise my prices for milk and eggs. I am now charging $3 a gallon for milk and $1.50 for eggs. I am going to $4 for milk and $2 for eggs. I have not raised my prices in two years and the feed goes up every month and never goes down a penny. If people stop buying it, well I have lots of uses for it here. I got a little more digging done today. The ground is now ready for peas.
April 24, 2004 Saturday: Bagel and I returned at dusk after a lovely afternoon with my son Max, his wife Mitra and her family who are visiting from California. As soon as I changed my clothes I went directly to the barn. There I was greeted by a powerful smell of skunk. Back in a corner the old mother cat, Little Connie, was crouched looking much distressed. She was drooling and tears were running from her eyes and she had no thought of eating her evening meal. Clearly, she had been skunked. I can only suppose that she was defending her kittens. Since I don’t know where they are hidden I am unable to find out if they survived. I don’t even know if Connie will survive. Helen is not going to like it when she comes in tomorrow. I expected to find her and the boys in the barn tonight. There is a violent cold wind and temperatures are falling, probably into the teens. We are all back in hats and mittens and the daffodils are being flattened. It rained last night, but the weather was quite nice this morning. The cows stayed out for the night despite the weather, but showed up for milking right on time with their rumens full. Helen gave slightly under three gallons.
April 25, 2004 Sunday: Little Connie looked better than I expected this morning. At least she hobbled right up for her breakfast. She has had a gimpy back leg for years. The weather was so disagreeable last night that the cows spent the night in the barn after all. I know they were in all night because of the amount of barn clean up that awaited me. Helen was her usual friendly self this morning and gave a bit over three gallons. This year I tried a method shown on Victory Garden for starting peas in peat pots. They got about 6″ tall and today I set them out. I have also prepared ground for some direct seeded peas. I got the chicken wire pea support fence all set up too. At dusk I put row-cover over them in case they are not ready for a night out. This morning Bagel and I took a walk down to Muffin’s grave. It has not been disturbed. All three cows headed over to see us but Albert ran fast. I thought of Lee Anne’s account of her steer. Was he charging me? He is eight months old now and good-sized. But no, he is just friendly. In fact he is about the friendliest steer I remember having. I am in danger of getting too attached to him. Seven eggs today. One was from a tiny Polish bantam. She spends all her days on the nest, apart from brief trips to the feed hopper when she thinks nobody is noticing. I though she was a dud but when I reached under her this morning there was her egg, still wet. Nobody else was around so it had to be hers. I told her Thank You.
April 27, 2004 Tuesday: I’ve been leaving my homemade Parmesan cheese on the counter and this morning I noticed it was smaller. Oops! A little mousie has been nibbling it at night. What a cheeky mouse. What worthless cats! Out in the barn above where I feed the barn cats is a shelf with a cardboard box containing hay. It is in regular use by the unconfined hens. Yesterday I found two eggs in it. This morning there was a small young black cat sitting in it. She is a fearful sort of cat, so why was she sitting there two feet from my shoulder, eyes full of panic? I asked her what she was doing and she fled. Yup. She was having kittens. One fuzzy black ball was already in the nest. I tiptoed away in hopes she would return. After chores I looked from a distance and saw her two black ears sticking up reassuringly. This evening when I fed the cats there were two kittens balled up together. I did not touch them. If she leaves them up there they will be safe from skunks. The weather remains cold and wet, but there was a three-hour patch of sun at midday. I took the opportunity to finish preparing my lettuce bed and got it planted. I also dug a 20′ row for carrots but need to dig it a second time and add manure. Helen gave three gallons plus a quart.
April 28, 2004 Wednesday: Our dismal weather continues. Actually, it was fine and sunny first thing this morning, although only 40F. I had to race off to an emergency dental appointment because one of my favorite teeth broke off, a front incisor, causing a serious blight upon my beauty. It is now temporarily repaired, although I am admonished not to eat any apples. By the time I got home the weather had reverted to bleak and blowy. My grandson Rafe arrived home from six weeks in South America. He traveled through Chile and Argentina and as far as Tierra del Fuego. He had a good time hiking and fishing and meeting people, but complained of being unable to get good coffee. As soon as he got here to the farm he made a big pot to be consumed with Jersey cream. He reported seeing many beautiful women in South America. Helen grazed diligently all day. But, due to the weather I am back to morning barn cleaning. The cows don’t fancy chilling their tummies on the cold ground. Helen gave three gallons today. I got only six eggs. The hens seem discouraged.
April 30, 2004 Friday: At last, a lovely warm day. I dug another 20 foot row in the garden and planted carrot seeds. Now the willow leaves are really green and the pasture looks more green than brown. Oh happy day! Helen gave 3 ¼ gallons. I’m having an egg problem. I only found six. The young birds are making a big mess. I must make a better plan for them.
May 2, 2004 Sunday: The thing I like most about OAD (Once a Day) milking, I find, is that I don’t feel it necessary to pace myself during the afternoon so as to be sure I am not too tired to feel like milking. Not that I would ever have skipped milking due to fatigue, but I always felt I needed to save myself a little bit for the big time consuming chore. This afternoon I dug in the garden for at least an hour and then planted seeds. I planted spinach, chard, purslane, arugula and some kind of exotic radish. I think it is Vietnamese. I have another row nearly ready for beets. The peas I started indoors in peat pots look pretty good, but it is too soon to say whether or not it was a good idea to do them this way. My tomato seedlings are ready to transplant and my zinnia seeds are up in their peat pots. I love zinnias madly, but almost never have success with them. Here goes one more try. Martin and Amy were here this weekend. Martin reformatted my web site discussion forum to make it more compacted and people now have to sign in. This is considered a better system. Martin also got the tractors running. He put homemade fork teeth on the bucket of the Ford. On a previous visit Mark made them out of an old metal bed frame. Max and his family were also here and Max set up hoses so that I can have water to the garden. I filled a big container and watered everything with a watering can.
May 4, 2004 Tuesday: The setting sun backlit the line of birches at the bottom of the pastures creating a cloud of green-gold halos. I think spring is really here even though most of the day we had cold rain. A gentleman who came to buy milk told me that snow fell in the mountains. It rained last night too, and the cows slept inside. They ate a bit of hay before going out to graze in the rain. Helen’s production is creeping up in response to the grass, even on OAD milking. Yesterday and today she gave close to 3 ¾ gallons. Some of my lettuce is already up. My young birds are doing well. I heard one cockerel making his first attempt at crowing. They are at an awkward stage. They all run towards me when I go to the barn and they get under my feet so that I cannot avoid stepping on their toes. Then they squawk which make me leap and shriek. I am starting a new batch of qvark.
May 5, 2004 Wednesday: My qvark this time turned out more like cottage cheese. Good, though. Max came over this morning and we walked down to the river with my dog Bagel and his dog Lulu. The cows greatly resented the dogs. Helen felt obligated to chase the dogs away from the calves and from me. This kept her very busy running back and forth between the calves and me. Then Albert took to racing at us and bouncing around. Finally we went into the woods and the cows gave up the chase. I found a leak in the exposed part of the spring line. Max was able to fix it using his Leatherman tool. Max and I each filled a basket with fiddleheads and I fixed some for his lunch. Helen gave four gallons this morning. I suppose that had I not gone OAD I would be getting five gallons now.
May 6, 2004 Thursday: Weather was nice today. I had to be away from home all morning, but still managed to get a bit of gardening done, mostly clean up. The tulips should be open by tomorrow. The peonies are up about 8 inches and some asparagus is starting. I’ve neglected the bed so badly that I shan’t get much of a crop. I took most of my fiddleheads to a friend in town who loves them and doesn’t get out much anymore. Among my young poultry, the cockerels are starting to have fights. I see them jumping at each other, squawking. Helen gave four gallons again this morning. I got 10 eggs.
May 7, 2004 Friday: We have been hearing about cows accepting up their milkers as “babies”. But,how about this? Now when I let Helen out of the stanchion she stops and licks the pulsator on top of the milking machine. She keeps it up until I give her a little pat to move her along. Helen now has all the grass she can eat and has gained a gallon in production. This morning she gave 4 ¼ gallons. Grass is so amazing. She had been giving around 4 gallons before I went OAD, but within three days dropped to 3 gallons and stayed there until the grass got lush. I can barely lift the machine now. My peas are all up. There were ten eggs.
May 8, 2004 Saturday: This was my granddaughter Helena’s 25^th birthday. I put on a birthday dinner for her. We were twelve counting myself. I began cooking yesterday. Here is the menu: I baked a ham and did an oven barbecue of marinated chicken breast on skewers (called chicken tikka, supposed to be Indian, but Mitra said it could as well have been Iranian), green salad with a tamarind and lime dressing, pasta salad with various goodies in it (not exotic, meant to appeal to teenage boys), a salad of cold marinated vegetables, pumpkin bread, French bread (not homemade but from a good bakery), and a raita of homemade yogurt, cucumber, mint leaves (my mint is up), and shallots. My daughter-in-law Mitra assembled it this morning. It makes a good sauce on everything. Most of this menu came from The April Gourmet magazine. For the cake, I made a 3-layer sponge, which I sandwiched with strawberries and ice cream. I made freezer vanilla ice cream using Midge’s recipe. It tasted great but my cream was too fresh to whip properly. It would only get foamy. Consequently, the ice cream didn’t look quite right, so I used it on the inside layers and had Max pick up some Ben & Jerry’s for the top. I also served coffee. This was a lunch time occasion. Thanks to lots of help I was able to serve on time at 1 o’clock. In the afternoon some of us walked to the river and picked fiddleheads. We had the dogs with us but the cows were far away and there was no trouble with interspecies conflict. Max gave the lawn its first mowing and took down storm windows. He also re-hung one of the buttery doors that has been giving me a lot of grief. Part of the lower door jamb is badly rotted. It will require some kind of bracing. This shed area is thought to be the oldest part of the house and is unpainted wood. Helen gave a little under 4 gallons today, down a bit, perhaps because last night was too cold for much grazing. It was down to 28F. Nine eggs today. The shad blow is blooming.
May 9, 2004 Sunday: Helena stayed over last night and helped me this morning with a chicken moving project. Ever since the fire the young birds have been housed in the grain room. For the last couple of weeks I have been leaving the grain room door open during the day so as to give them more freedom. And, the opportunity to learn more about how to be a chicken from the older birds. Needless to say, they have made a horrible mess of the grain room. This morning Helena and I did some inventive repairs to their former room where the fire occurred so that I could move them back in there. The repair involved patching the floor with some cupboard doors displaced from my kitchen project and filling in the torn out wall with an old door. I leaned up a wooden ladder for them to roost on. I moved all their supplies into their new quarters and locked them out of the grain room. A few intrepid souls ventured into the new place. Most spent the day milling about. At dusk, aided by the barn broom, I managed to herd them all in but one who showed up late. She wanted to join the other so I opened the door for her. Then, of course, every single bird came back out again. So it was all to do over again, coaxing them back in with the broom. A couple of them had gone upstairs to roost on the railing. I caught them and carried them back down under my arm. Some of the eggs today had broken egg all over them. I do hate to see that. I collect several times a day to discourage eggs breakage and egg eating. I got 11 intact eggs. Helen gave four gallons. The weather today was beautiful. The pasture looks like a golf course. Helen is in bliss. I got another section of garden dug. The peas I started indoors have been out for two weeks but still were not hardy. The frost Friday night damaged them severely.
May 11, 2004 Tuesday Max came yesterday and mowed some more lawn. He loaded up some cow manure that was rotted down to perfect compost for his little garden. I went and saw it today. He has removed the turf from an area about 15’x20″. They have a nice little piece of land with an enormous lawn surrounded by woodland. I took them their milk. They get through a lot. The weather today was perfect, although I must admit the black flies are pretty hungry. Max was wearing a hat with netting while he worked on his garden. In the barn this afternoon I found a little kitten all by itself. It was all black. I caught it and brought it to the house and called a number that I had on the fridge for a girl who wanted a kitten. She and two friends, all about 15 years old, soon showed up and were perfectly thrilled. Then my cousin Marcia showed up for milk and bought two gallons. I sold eight gallons today which cleaned out the fridge. So, I am glad I did not pursue Plan B today, which was to stay home and make cheese with all those gallons of milk that I had on hand, just the milk from this morning and yesterday. Helen is maintaining her four gallons a day. I wonder how long she can keep this up. I got a dozen eggs.
May 12, 2004 Wednesday: Helen was down a quart this morning. No doubt it is the bugs. I see her grazing, then shaking her head and moving forward five feet to try somewhere else. I have mixed up some ACV with Lemon Joy to spray her with in the morning. They are all coming back into the barn to chew their cuds in peace. The run-in that I call the Beefer Pen is a cavernous interior space, somewhat dim, and tends to be fly free. Flies don’t spend much time where it is dim. Those young birds of mine are getting pesky. Last Sunday Helena and I fixed up a space for them, their former quarters before the fire, but it is not large enough to leave them shut in. Besides, I like them to merge with the half dozen or so free living hens and roosters so they can find out more about being chickens. They are finally figuring out about scratching for food and flying up high to roost. To them, I am the font of every blessing and they run to me when I enter the barn, twenty-four pairs of chicken feet all thundering my way. Helen and I do not like their company during milking. Yesterday one young cockerel flew right up onto her back and resisted being pushed off. Too far down, I think. These are very wussy birds. I have dragged an old screen door across the entrance to the milking area so that they don’t congregate in there and defile everything as they have done to my grain room. Sally is coming down from Alaska for her son Rafe’s graduation soon and will be here for a week or so. I hope she will help me dress off a lot of my old hens. Then there will be room for them in my “real” hen house. Nine eggs today. I found two new nests this week and put in fake eggs, even left some real ones, but I guess I didn’t fool the hens. They hid eggs somewhere else today.
May 13, 2004 Thursday: Max came over today and brought me a gift of a new garden cart. My poor old one was wired together and had only a few more trips to the barn in it, I think. It was what I was using to convey the milking machine, it being too heavy to carry. He took off another storm window for me and did several other things on my honey-do list. Then we went over to Sally’s field and walked through the strip of woodland by the river. I wanted to show him the trilliums. Many grow there. This was the right day to see them. We saw many. All were red. Her wild apples were in bloom. When we got home I found that mine had opened too. Now if only the rain will hold off and the temperature go above 60F so the bees can work, we may have some apples this year. I paced out my garden rows and find that altogether I have over 100′ of rows planted. This was all dug by hand. I love digging and always want to keep going. I try to tell myself to stop but the other part of me says, ” Just one more clump.” After digging, I work in manure and lime. Last time Max was here he used the lawn tractor and cart to bring perfect manure to the garden. Today I planted short sections of a lot of experimental things including flax and something I ordered from Seeds of Change called beetberry. It is supposed to be a form of beet that has a bushy top with little red berries. The flax was 25 year old seed but it looked perfect. I soaked it overnight. I also put in about 10 feet of Bull’s Blood beets. I grew a few last year for Sally to use as red dye, but we didn’t have much luck. They probably required a different mordant. The beet does not amount to much, but the leaves are a deep shiny red like nothing else. I gave Helen a good dose of bug spray this morning, the vinegar and Lemon Joy compound. She lay down below the deck about 11AM and it did seem to me there were fewer flies on her than before. There were just some around her eyes. She gave 3 ¾ gallons this morning. I got 10 eggs. Albert was not much interested in his grain. He is getting very sleek on grass. I only give the calves a handful anyway as a management tool.
May 14, 2004 Friday: Friday comes around fast these days. I am so busy that I dropped my satellite service. I never have time to turn on the TV anyway. I will get it back later when summer guests arrive. The weather today was very fine. I love it when the apple trees are in bloom. I have only two trees. One is ancient and out in the pasture. In apple time Helen makes an early morning practice of checking under it about two hours before I could ever get there, so I never get an apple off it. The other is an ancient crab apple that we love for jelly. I have some baby trees coming along for the future. One did not make it through the winter, but two look possible. I hand watered all my rows of seeds. Lettuce, carrots, peas and radishes are up. Sally called from Alaska. She says her goat kid, Emily, was full of milk this morning and did not need a bottle. So poor old Rachel is at least producing enough for her baby. Only one side is producing milk. The other side still just produces a greenish substance. But Sally is so relieved that she won’t have to ask her house sitter to bottle-feed a goat while she visits Maine starting on May 27. Helen gave 3 ¾ gallons again this morning. I had to go way down and fetch her in. She totally ignored my calling. She just stood there with milk streaming out of her. No doubt she would have preferred I show up with a bucket. Make that two buckets. Ten eggs today.
May 15, 2004 Saturday: We got a lovely shower about 5pm. It freshened everything up and watered the garden. Helen grazed right through it, but she came inside to lie down afterwards. I expect the bugs came out in force. She gave a bit closer to four gallons this morning. She hates being sprayed with the vinegar Joy preparation. But I do think it helps. Lots more of my seeds are up. There is a purslane cultivar that I am looking forward to trying. The wild form is a weed around here. I use it once in a while in stock or give it to the chickens. It gives a consistency like okra and is said to be a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids. This will be the third time I have tried it, each time a different cultivar and so far it has turned out messy and unappetizing looking. I don’t know what it wants, but perhaps more heat. It is a native of India and I understand the familiar weed is an introduced species. The weed appears to be untouched by bugs and not fussy in it requirements. I remember how my Grammie hated it. “Mean old pusley,” she would say as she pulled it out. Pusley is the local name here. Comfrey and crabgrass are the twin curses in my garden. I actually think pusley looks kind of cute. I spied three more little black kittens in the barn but they scuttled right down a crack.
May 16, 2004 Sunday: When I looked out my bedroom window this morning white lilacs greeted me. It sees to me that the white ones usually follow the lilac colored ones, but perhaps my memory is way off. I do know for sure, lots of times they are barely out for Memorial Day when I take them to the Sills’ plot in the cemetery. It was raining softly from before dawn until after milking. This suited Helen. It keeps the bugs down. She even lay down outside in the rain to chew her cud. She gave over 4 gallons this morning. What a gal. The two calves, Albert and Sammy, still come in and stand to be tied up and have a taste of grain. Albie is scarcely interested in his. They both look fine. I must remember to put the tape in my pocket and get a weight estimate. Only eight eggs today. Darned hens are outsmarting me. I’m afraid a couple of bantams are planning families.
May 18, 2004 Tuesday: Helen gave a shade less than four gallons yesterday but was back up to four this morning. I think it has to do with mosquitoes. They are fierce this year but there is some relief when it rains. There are few flies or mosquitoes inside the Beefer Pen, their run-in part of the barn. It is always cool and dark in there. This is my very favorite time of year, bugs and all. The endless carpet of green new grass, the lilacs and apple blossoms, all the new leaves, it is a feast.
May 20, 2004 Thursday: Helen spends so much time scratching her head on posts that the back of her neck is nearly hairless. Today was mostly beautiful, but there was not enough breeze to carry off the bugs. I guess the early morning grazing was good. She was way down at the bottom of the pasture and wouldn’t come home until I walked all the way down to get her. She gave her steady four gallons. The electricians came today to rewire the barn. They got about half done. They said they would be back in the morning. Without consulting me they shooed all the young poultry that has the run of the barn into a little room and shut the door. Not a bad idea, except they didn’t tell me and they gave no thought to feed and water. I had to be gone for a while so did not notice for several hours. Also they opened the door to the laying hens’ room, just out of curiosity I guess, and just left it standing open. Dingbats. While watering the layers I noticed a pile of Barred Rock feathers in their outside pen. At some point, presumably last night, something ate one of the young Barred Rocks. There was blood on the stone next to the feathers. I did not notice the feathers this morning but perhaps they were there. A dozen eggs today.
May 21, 2004 Friday: We had another fine spring day. Everywhere I look around the farm is madly beautiful. Regrettably, I did not get outside much due to an eye appointment. I did get rather encouraging news from the optometrist though. About a year ago when last I saw him I was told that I had the beginnings of macular degeneration and cataracts. Today he said that neither had progressed at all and my prescription is unchanged. The tiny kitten I am nurturing in the kitchen next to the Aga eats out of a jar lid and even used its very tiny litter box on one occasion. I do believe it is getting smaller, not bigger. I shaved some frozen liver into its milk, which brought about an immediate improvement in its attitude. I’d say its chances are about 50/50. Of the box of three two-week-old kittens in the barn, one is missing. Either something climbed up and swiped it or it fell out of the box and the mother is feeding it under the floorboards, the favorite haunt of barn cats. I don’t believe the mother could have moved it. She is so tiny and the kittens are plump. Those little mother cats must milk like dairy cows. I heard we might get frost tonight. I hauled in trays of plants and whacked off broad comfrey leaves to cover my one-inch high morning glories. Helen was extremely reluctant to come into the barn this morning. She was waiting outside like a good girl. She just was very suspicious that she would find something new and strange inside. I guess she heard the electricians in there yesterday. More likely she thought there might be a lingering electrician. She is afraid of strange men. I had to push and shove and finally raise my voice. This got the calves all roiled up and my whole system went awry. She gave a bit less than four gallons. I got 10 eggs.
May 22, 2004 Saturday: Helen was again reluctant to come in this morning, even though she was waiting by the barn. Her production was way down. She only gave 3 gallons plus a quart. It was cool and drizzly today, which she liked. My little kitten didn’t make it. She never showed any signs of illness. She just seemed to give up. I had lots of company. My daughter Abby returned from Virginia. Granddaughter Helena stopped by with her young man. And Martin is visiting overnight. He brought me a fine new and very comfortable office chair. Also brought along his vintage TroyBilt tiller and plans to have a go at the garden tomorrow. What fun it all is.
May 23, 2004 Sunday: We all spent a busy, although rainy, day. Martin unstuck the Ford tractor by pulling it with the Moline. The Moline overheated badly. It was out of radiator fluid. This turned out to be due to the fact that one of the cows, Albert no doubt, had spent time this past winter chewing through the radiator hose. The tractor was parked in the beefer pen with them. Martin and Helena’s friend Matt worked together and replaced the hose. Both tractors are now parked out front. The rain was light and stopped fairly early enabling Martin to till for an hour or so. Abby dug weeds like mad. I dug comfrey out of the path of the tiller for about 20 minutes. Abby brought along all kinds of seeds. She has ambitious plans for the garden. Max also came over and helped for a couple of hours. The little girls picked an armload of lilacs for their mother. Mitra is down with stomach flu. Martin thrilled us all by showing us an engagement and wedding ring set that he plans to offer to his dear friend Amy on her birthday in a few days. It is to be a surprise. Helen was up to 3 ¾ gallons this morning. I got a dozen eggs.
May 25, 2004 Tuesday: Helen was cross with me this morning. I was a little late milking, and yesterday I was a little early so she had a 25 hour milking interval. She was extremely stuffed with milk. She gave four gallons plus a quart, never mind what streamed all over the floor while I was getting set up for milking. She went poo and pee to express her disapproval, and whapped me with her tail, which fortunately now is perfectly clean. All the rain has given her a shampoo. It rained again today. Abby and I went to Walmart yesterday for plants and back again today. We bought more seedlings, mostly flowers but also lettuce. My own lettuce is up 2″ but Abby wanted some bigger plants. After we came home she went straight to work preparing a bed for them. We saw a Baltimore oriole on the feeder and later in the day his mate came. I wonder if they will stay around.
May 26, 2004 Wednesday: Helen was well behaved during milking this morning but she did poo and pee again. But when I turned her back out, to my shock and horror, Albert began mounting her. He mounted her all day and she stood. Every time I was in with her she chased me. I went out twice during the day to check her for discharge and had to run for the gate. She was trotting after me with that lovin’ look in her eye. I have been mounted by a cow before and don’t choose to let it happen again. For most of the day I kept pretending “this can’t be true” but finally called the technician. He cannot come until tomorrow morning. The last time I checked for discharge was about 7pm and there was none. She and Albert were still involved. So maybe she will still be ready in the morning. Or maybe the tech will stick his arm in and tell me it is some kind of spring fever, she’s in calf. I really had believed I felt a calf. She gave four gallons this morning. Max called to tell me of a dramatic encounter between a large hawk and his chickens. He has three hens and a rooster. They spend the day pecking around in the woods edging his lawn. He was working at the sink and saw the hawk flying above the hens trying to drive them out onto the lawn. It singled one out and blocked its way back to the trees, so it made a break for shelter under the deck. By this time Max was flying out the back door in a rescue attempt. As he ran he heard the hen shriek, but as he approached them the hawk dropped her. He ran up to them and said the hawk “had that psychotic raptor look”. The hen, a small white bantam, then fled back to the hen house. Soon the rooster came out of the woods and joined her. He crowed victoriously for a long time, apparently taking credit for driving off the hawk. Claire in Ohio, a raptor rescue volunteer, said that is was probably the Cooper’s hawk.
May 27, 2004 Thursday: I kept Helen in her stanchion after milking to await the inseminator. He did not arrive until after 9AM. He tried to make encouraging noises about Helen’s receptivity but I am not optimistic. He bred her to Ringo as before. I saw no bleeding out or discharge. She gave four gallons again today. My daughter Sally arrived today from Alaska for a ten-day visit. I picked her up at the bus stop in Lewiston. Martin called and wrote to say that his girl friend Amy had said Yes. They are vacationing in California and he popped the question up at my sister’s place on Skyline Boulevard near Woodside.
May 28, 2004 Friday: Sally and I went for a long walk around the fields and woodland so she could see what is growing everywhere. She is usually here in the winter and never sees the lilacs and wild flowers. We walked through the fern patch by the brook. In many places the ferns reach my shoulders. Among the ferns I found quite a number of arum lilies (Jack in the pulpit). The flower has maroon and light green stripes. Along the edge of the brook on the sand bar we saw the tracks of a huge moose. Its stride was a good three feet. We also saw where a beaver had been working. We came home soaking wet. Helen was her old quiet self today. I failed to lock her stanchion during milking and she never moved until I took away the machine. The pulsator did not behave very well. This is the first time I have had trouble with this particular one, my third. I brought it in and took it all apart and cleaned it. I took the unit to the barn for a test run so as to know what to expect in the morning. It ran fine. Sally set out my tomato plants. Abby dug an area for pole beans. They both gardened in a steady drizzle. Max stopped by for milk. We fed him fresh bread pudding.
May 30, 2004 Sunday: Both yesterday and today were rain-free and clear. Nonetheless, it was difficult to garden because of a strong wind. Every plant that was sodden is now dried out. Maine soil is sandy! Sally, Abby and I consoled ourselves by going to lawn sales. Both daughters have an eagle eye for useful bargains and I bring years of experience to these sorties myself. Sally and Abby had to go back yesterday with the truck to collect their purchases, while I enjoyed a respite by the lake with P.G. Wodehouse. Among today’s purchases, Abby bought a collection of fluffy petticoats in gay colors for little girls to dress up in. While Sally was working on rescuing a young oak tree at the far side of the lawn she noticed Bagel sniffing along the ground at something. It was a tiny kitten, lost and headed the wrong direction. Bagel was quite worried about it. Then he was even more worried about what to do when she picked it up and it scratched and bit. Now it is back in the barn with its buddies. The kittens are now learning to drink milk from a pan. Last night frost threatened. Sally and Abby spent a long time contriving coverings for tomatoes and flowers. This was difficult because of the wind, which persisted all night and in fact blew the frost away. It is also blowing the bugs away, so Helen and the calves are happier. Helen gave four gallons this morning.
May 31, 2004 Memorial Day: I hung Old Glory from the second floor window where there is a mounting for the staff. This flag is made of wool bunting with all the colors pieced and the stars embroidered. There are 48 stars. The flag was here in the house when we bought it. Later Sally and I went to the cemetery where the Sills family is buried and dressed the grave with lilacs. The weather today was fine and everyone I saw was smiling. Max came over with the kids and Lulu dog. He mowed the lawn with the riding mower while Sally went around the edges with the walking mower. A lot of time was spent untangling nasty barbed wire from the blades. The wire was lost in some weeds. Max tipped up the mower and Sally helped steady it on a prop while Max patiently picked loose the wire. Then little Shireen said “Oh, Daddy, you’re so good at that sort of thing.” While Max was bringing some manure down to the garden for Abby, the Ford tractor got stuck again in the same place as before. Abby ended up taking a load down in the garden cart. We got a touch of frost last night but I think there was no irreversible damage. Helen gave four gallons again this morning. She was in a very good humor.
June 1, 2004 Tuesday: More rain today. Sally went fencing in the rain. She and Abby are very determined to carry forward their enterprises. Sally keeps finding little oak trees and often moves them to better locations. She planted another over on her property that is divided from this farm by the river. Abby put down a barrier of ashes to stop slugs from eating the pea and lettuce seedlings. Ashes work fine until they get wet. But perhaps they will hold off the slugs for tonight. I found some forgotten cans of Budweiser beer in a dark cabinet and tomorrow she plans to make beer traps for them in empty cat food cans. It looks like the rain will keep up all night. It is coming down hard enough that I doubt Helen will graze. She gave four gallons this morning.
June 3, 2004: Us three women went to Max and Mitra’s house for lunch on Wednesday. So, there is not much farm work to report. The lunch was wonderful. They are both great cooks. We took along a cheesecake made with quark and it was a hit too. Max has made nice woodland paths with the weed trimmer. Today I drove up to camp and Abby spent a long time beautifying me with hair color and a set. Then she came here to the farm and worked in the garden for hours. She has put cheerful annuals around the edges of the veg beds. The ground is sodden from so much rain. It rained both Tuesday and Wednesday night and part of today. During sunny intervals the whole farm glows with Helen with a mouthfull of very green grassgreen. Sally did a lot more fencing. She is moving the fence along the river in a few feet to widen the brushy riparian zone. Bagel saw a cottontail rabbit, but Sally had him on a leash and he could not chase it. Rabbits are now getting very rare in Maine. I have not seen one in several years. Sally made two loaves of bread using mostly whole wheat. She uses milk as the liquid and adds egg and butter. She starts with a sponge so the flour soaks for several hours with the yeast. She finishes the dough with white flour. The result was irresistible bread. I cooked a duck for dinner. I coated it with pomegranate molasses, a Middle Eastern product that is perfect for duck. We also had brown rice pilaf cooked in (frozen) goose stock and a salad that contained many tidbits from the garden. We also had cubed fresh pineapple and Australian wine. Helen gave a little under four gallons today.
June 4, 2004 Friday: Sally went walking around her 17-acre field taking Bagel. He was ranging at some distance when she noticed a partridge. She was doing her broken wing act. Her nest must have been close by. Fortunately Bagel did not notice, although when he returned a minute later he knew he had missed something. Sally and I took a wind chime that Sally once made and we walked down to Muffin’s grave and hung it in a tree. Now there will be music around her. Nothing has disturbed her grave although Albert’s tracks are on it. Helen only gave 3.5 gallons this morning. Maybe this means she is pregnant.
June 5, 2004 Saturday: The main thing to report here today is a plague of mosquitoes. The last time I saw mosquitoes in clouds like this was in a swamp near Fairbanks. I suppose all that rain was responsible. You can’t open your mouth without eating them and they are in the house, too, wafted in every time you open the door. Poor Helen is going nuts. She gave 3 ¾ gallons this morning. I won’t expect big production tomorrow with all the energy she has to put into whapping her tail and shaking her head. Sally was gone all day to Bar Harbor to Rafe’s graduation. She reports that it was a fine event with about 50 in the graduating class of the College of the Atlantic. Abby and I were busy bees all day, but found time to go to a few lawn sales and a nursery for a few more plants.
June 6, 2004 Sunday: Our Ford tractor has been stuck for several days. A neighbor came by to negotiate for some cow dressing (manure) for his vegetables. He saw the problem and came back with his tractor and pulled it out. He used to have Guernsey and Jersey cows. We tried to give him some milk or cream but he said his doctor did not allow it. He agreed to one quart of milk, which he plans to drink in defiance. Now we hope that tomorrow Max will be able to move some manure to the garden. I planted out my cucumbers today using the dregs of the last load we had down there. Abby worked on the manure pile for an hour in an attempt to clear the other gate where we pitched manure all winter. She could not get it open quite far enough to get the tractor through. Rafe, now graduated, showed us slides of a spectacular canoe trip he took last summer with his dad on the Nahanni River in Alaska. There were falls at one point 300 feet high. The trip included a 70 mile portage and many lesser carries. Helen gave a bit over 3 ¾ gallons this morning. The hens are not doing so well either. Nine eggs today.
June 7, 2004 Monday: Sally left in the middle of the night to catch her plane for Alaska, driven by Rafe. About 9:30 a.m. Maine time she called from Juneau where she was waiting for the Cessna (small plane) to take her to Haines. Max came over today and mowed the lawn and carted manure down to the garden for Abby. With this inspiration she gardened for four hours. Now the beanpoles are up and the beans are planted. The weather today was perfect. With Abby’s help, I got the young poultry herded into the room where the layers live. She then swept the main hall of the barn. It looks a lot better. And I won’t have those pesky birds around when I am milking. Helen gave well over four gallons this morning.
June 9, 2004 Wednesday: Milking this morning was a miserable adventure. Helen was waiting and came in like an angel. But when I went to attach the machine there was no vacuum pressure, consequently no pulsator action. I picked up the lid and saw that the gasket was missing. I ran back to the house but could not find it. Praying for a miracle, I ran back to the barn to check if it was down inside the bucket. No. I ran to the house again and came back with plastic bags prepared to improvise a gasket, and there was the gasket right where it belonged. Either I was wrong (most probable) or it was a miracle. Or, it was mischief of our ghost who turns lights and TV on and off. The TV roars to life from time to time, usually at night, on channels I never watch, usually an infomercial for cleaning agents. Perhaps I am supposed to take a hint. Anyway, this morning Helen got quite disgusted and made two giant splats based on lush green grass. I had to employ a lot of paper towels to clean off everything. I’m sure I did not get all the milk. She gave 3.5 gallons. The young poultry keep getting out of their new pen. Two nights now I have gone out after dark and picked them up and put them back where they belong. There must be a hole in the fence that I can’t see. If you put your hands down firmly on a bird so that it cannot flap its wings it will neither struggle nor squawk. This morning Abby and I attended a farmer’s market and bought more plants. Abby pops them right into the ground. There are now little gardens here and there. Sally reports that her animals are well and her garden, watered by rain, is a cloud of flowers.
June 10, 2004 Thursday: This was another beautiful day, not overly hot. Now at evening, a cold wind is blowing in and we are told to look for frost. Abby is covering everything she can. She is plenty cross about the idea of frost. She has so many flowers and tender vegetables at risk. I will plan to get up early an spray water on whatever I can. That does make a difference, especially with tomatoes. Helen gave over four gallons again today. She was a bit suspicious when she came in, just in case I was going to make her stand and wait again. My son Bret is on his way here, an unexpected visit.
June 11, 2004: We did not get frost after all. Everything looks great. Martin and his fiancée Amy came this afternoon. She is wearing a lovely ring. Martin did a lot more tilling. Now there will be room to plant potatoes. Bret had been hoping to buy a boat, a Westerly Centaur. He came all the way East to see it. It turned out to be on a trailer that was not roadworthy, so there was no way that he could go forward with the purchase in the time he has available. Max and the little girls came too and Max mowed the lawn. For dessert tonight I made a blueberry pie. Maine blueberries are much the best for a pie, but even so they are improved by adding some black current. I made the crust with homemade lard. I was pleased with the way the pie turned out. Little Shireen was disappointed to have to leave before the pie was done so I made her little one that she can eat tomorrow. Everyone admired the garden. Now the roses and peonies are opening. I had hoped they would open before Sally had to leave.
June 12, 2004 Saturday: Helen only gave slightly over 3.5 gallons this morning. I have no idea why she gave less this morning. Everything went fine in the barn. I have blocked a hole in the wire of the chicken pen where some animal the size of a raccoon has been getting in. I have lost some hens. These were ones that got out of the pen and could not find their way back in at night. The ones I am able to lock in at night are safe, but the ones that perch in the rafters above the main aisle of the barn are vulnerable. We had another family get-together. Martin and Amy, who came last night, left this morning. Before they left Bret and Martin worked together to take the rear wheels off the Ford tractor. Martin wants to replace the tires. They are filled with magnesium sulphate as ballast and were so heavy that it took a lot of muscle and ingenuity to get them onto the truck. One weighed about 500 lb, the other weighed somewhat less because it had lost some of its ballast. Around noon Max and his family arrived. Max mowed more lawn. Bret operated the tiller and finished preparing the ground for potatoes and squash. My granddaughter Helena, Abby’s daughter, joined us too. For dinner we had oven barbecued pork ribs, the last from my pigs. Also, potato salad, baked beans using Jacob’s Cattle beans, green salad, and strawberry shortcake. I had a lot of help with dinner.
June 15, 2004 Tuesday: Today’s weather was about perfect. Bagel and I took a walk around the fields. There are a great many wildflowers in bloom and I found wild strawberries. I was afraid I had missed them. They usually peak by June 10. Perhaps the spell of cold rain while Sally was here in May slowed them down and made them juicy. They are big and plump and so sweet. Down near the river there was an old metal electric fence pole that has resisted being pulled up. Today I had the satisfaction of finally extracting it. It is so dangerous to leave old metal objects in the fields and woods. Cows and especially horses are sure to eventually injure themselves. Helen was even grouchier today. Either the bugs are making her crazy or she is pregnant. I spoke very sharply to her this morning and pulled her tail. She knows how to hit me in the eyes with it and I know it is on purpose. She gave less than 3.5 gallons. Abby worked in the garden a long time. It does look charming with many little beds of flowers interspersed with the vegetables. We had our first salad with arugula and lettuce. Sally called from Haines. This was the day her bakery opened. She called on her tea break and was eating one of her bear paw pastries. She had been up at five to do the baking. They open at 9:00 and people were lined up waiting. I left Bagel in the house today when I went into town. For the second time in a week he busted out of the house by destroying a little sliding screen. This time he broke a lot of eggs that were on the windowsill. He hates being chained but that is what I shall have to do.
June 16, 2004 Wednesday: Today makes 21 days since Helen was bred and I saw no evidence of heat. Her production was back up to 4 gallons this morning. The young roosters have been driving me nuts chasing around and knocking things over and crowing. I caught six of them and have set them up in the small stall. It was amazing how quiet they became once there were no hens to be seen.
June 17, 2004 Thursday: Around sundown I decided to take a break on my little chaise on the deck. What should I see and hear but Horrible Helen Heiferlump ringing her bell and standing for Albert. I watched for about a half hour with deepening gloom. Then I went down the steps to talk to her. She was much too friendly and I backed up the stairs. That settled it. I went in and called the inseminator. He won’t come until morning and I will have to leave Helen locked in her stanchion for him. I explained to him that I will be going to the airport to pick up my sister. But Helen won’t have to stand there all day. Abby will be along to let her out. I now have all the trouble-making roosters confined. Abby fixed up a second roomette for some of them that were being intimidated by their peers.
June 18, 2004 Friday: Today did not go quite as expected. I hopped out of bed crack o’ dawn and got my cow in. She was unusually dirty, clearly having found the nastiest spot in the beefer pen to sleep. After milking I left her in her stanchion for the AI guy, who had said he would be here at 9AM, 9:30 at the latest. When I came back in the house I got a call from Max who was wondering if I got his message offering to go to Portland for me to pick up Barby at the airport. I accepted, and went about my tasks. Abby arrived as planned and we waited and waited and waited. Finally at 10:15 she called the technician and his wife said he was on his way. He lives 45 minutes away. By this time Helen was really mad and had excreted more than anybody would have thought possible. Abby dragged in the hose and washed her and the floor. Finally at 11:00 the technician arrived /with his wife/ who clearly had lied about his having left, and was clearly very surprised to find me there. By this late hour the chances of Helen being successfully bred were negligible, but the guy pranced around as always saying she was just right. This is the third time he has let me down by not coming in time and it costs $38. I am going to try my best to find an alternative. Barby arrived tired and hungry. Air travel is less fun all the time. But, she recovered after a nap. We had a nice salad of greens and herbs from the garden.
This is a picture of Sally’s goats, Rachel and Emily, outside her home in Haines, Alaska. You may remember Rachel had a hard time with the birth and was very sick for a while.
June 19, 2004 Saturday: It not surprise me this morning to discover that Helen had not come up to the barn to be milked. It takes her a while to forget an experience like yesterday when she was left in her stanchion for four hours waiting for the AI technician. I took one look in the empty beefer pen and changed into high boots for walking through tall wet grass. Bagel saw right away what was up and wanted badly to go with me. He behaved pretty well for Sally last month when she took him along to fetch cows. In the past he has made himself a nuisance by dancing up too close to Helen, which makes her turn defensively to face him. This morning he did a fine job of keeping her moving without spooking her. She has been irritable lately while the machine is on her and she danced around quite a bit. She switched her tail, but she was very clean. I rather expected her production to be way down today after missing a lot of grazing yesterday, but she gave almost four gallons. Martin’s birthday is coming up Monday (he was born on Midsummer’s Day) so we had a birthday party today. I made the chiffon cake from the Joy of Cooking, a family favorite which is made in an angel cake tin. After baking, one inverts the pan until the cake cools. I always set the center hole onto the neck of a wine bottle. This time the cake chose to fall apart in great chunks onto the counter. So much for the birthday cake. I made it into a trifle instead. We were eleven at dinner and I served a ham, scalloped potatoes and another big salad of garden greens. After dinner we all danced to old 78’s. The little girls dressed up in frilly outfits Abby had found for them at thrift stores. It rained for a while today, then the sun came out and everything was magically green. Now that my sister is here for two weeks I do hope for good weather, also for those who are haying their fields. The hens are laying nine or ten eggs a day.
June 20, 2004: After writing last night’s entry I stepped into the buttery and there was a skunk eating cat food. Abby was in the barn and had her dog out there with her. That little dog, Izzy, is half beagle and goes for things like skunks with a vengeance. It was surprisingly cold last night. I stood outside and guarded the garage door in case Izzy returned. I knew she would dive right into the skunk and we would then have two hours of detox ahead of us.
June 21, 2004 Midsummer’s Day: My sister and I, daughter Abby, and Cousin Marcia gathered for lunch at camp today. My vet came by and joined us, also a gentleman from the camp next door on the lake. We had an interesting discussion about moths. Abby is interested in moths and butterflies and has done a series of paintings of them. Luna MothThere have been more than the usual number of Luna moth sightings this year, and Abby saw a newly hatched Cecropia. Cousin Marcia told us about her grandmother Edith (who was my great aunt) who was at one time the leading lepidopterist in North America. Aunt Edith as a young woman became ill with tuberculosis. She spent two years in a sanitarium but continued to have TB all her life. For the rest of her life she slept out in a screened porch summer and winter. Fresh air was considered vital to controlling TB. She also had breast cancer and some kind of abdominal cancer. None of these things killed her; in fact she was extremely vigorous and lived well into her nineties. Nobody can remember what she died of, “just old age”, Marcia thinks. She and my Grammie were sisters among a family of 11 children raised on a farm in Maine with a cow. Great Grandfather Joseph was a wealthy merchant. They lived on a farm by choice. Great Grandmother Clarinda insisted she could not raise children in Boston; they had to be raised on a farm with a cow. My vet says it is now costing him $50/day for diesel. He is a traveling large animal vet and the truck has a refrigerator for his meds. Barby and I sat on the deck and watched the sun of the longest day go down while listening to Helen’s bell.
June 22, 2004 Tuesday: There was a warm drizzle most of today. The cows grazed right through it. Us people stayed indoors. I made bread and cinnamon buns. For the buns I used a recipe Sally just sent for the buns and bear paws she makes every day in her bakery shop. For supper Barby and I just ate buns and cottage cheese. Helen gave a tad under four gallons. I got ten eggs. The hens are getting through the fence again. After dark I caught three and put them back. Some predator makes a new hole every time I fix one.
June 24, 2004 Thursday: Max and Barby and I went across the river to Sally’s Oxbow Field. Max took along the fencing tool to remove wire that on his previous trip he had noticed garroting one of her spruce trees. It was nowhere near any fence line. I can’t imagine why it might ever have been wrapped there unless it was part of some forgotten campsite. It was wrapped four times around the tree with 15 feet just on the ground. The tree is scarred, but living. There were many wild strawberries still to be found and a great many blueberries that will be ripe in a week or two. Later, Max took Barby and me and his family for a boat ride all around the lake. We saw a pair of bald eagles flying around their nest in a tall pine. Then out on a rock right in front of camp we saw a lone Canada goose. Abby did not come with us. She stayed here to garden. We still don’t have our potatoes in. They have long streamers on them now. She worked on digging a trench for them, but it was slow going because before it was tilled that patch of ground was all comfrey and crab grass. An interesting thing about comfrey is that although it is horribly invasive, wherever you dig it out the soil has been marvelously improved. Helen’s hooves are getting overgrown again. It may be interfering with her grazing. She seems to be on a downward production trend. She gave 3 ¾ gallons today. The hens are doing better. I got 14 eggs. Two eggs were from the new pullets. Max took a young Auracana rooster with him to replace their current rooster, which must go. Although it does a great job of protecting the hens, it attacks Mitra and the little girls and won’t stop.
June 25, 2004 Friday: Helen seems happy and the grass is still good, but her production now seems to have leveled off below four gallons. Actually, the grass will be a lot better after Max is able to bushhog it. Much of it is at the perfect stage for hay, which is too long for efficient grazing. There are still plenty of areas where the grass is lush. The surveyors brought their transit today and finished up checking my line. The stone wall and fence my neighbor put up is indeed mostly on my side of the line although not by much. One corner of a storage building he built is on my side. They have flagged the line. I hope to get over there tomorrow and see for myself. Abby working in the garden
June 26, 2004Saturday Ever since Helen had her disagreeable experience on June 16 when the AI technician was so late and she was locked in her stanchion for four hours she has been suspicious about coming in at milking time. She was afraid of another cow trap. This morning was the first time she resumed her old habit of standing at the door ready to march right in flattening everything in her path. The hens are picking up again. I got 16 eggs today. Several pullets are laying. Max and his family came over and Max did helpful things in the yard. He took out a big honeysuckle tree that was crowding out my lilac bushes. He also took out an aggressive rose bush that sends out 10’loops of thorny branches and tears the hat off whoever is mowing near it. If ever I was tempted to try Roundup this bush would be a candidate. My sister, Barby, will be here just two more days. This morning we climbed Center Hill, a nice rocky overlook. This afternoon we took peonies to the cemetery to decorate the grave of our grandparents.
June 28, 2004 Monday: Perfectly lovely weather today. The sun was brilliant at dawn and I mistook the time by an hour. Not until I was in the barn did I realize I was an hour early. Helen was way down in the pasture. Bagel and I went down for her and she gave us a disapproving look. “What are you doing here at this hour?” is what I think she said. Bagel behaved very well in helping me to get them all in. Helen led me back through wet grass to my waist, but I could not really complain about an early morning walk through grass full of wild flowers. Later I went out with my wonderful little Japanese weed tool, a small sickle with extremely sharp saw teeth, and cut the growth around various struggling favorites. One rose, Fantan LaTour, very pink and sweet, was having an awful struggle. My poor potentilla had nearly suffocated. What fun I had. I also succeeded in finding Max’s Leatherman tool, which he had lost yesterday. It was over the guardrail where we throw the trashy growth. We throw everything like that over the river bank to help hold the soil. He had thrown an entire small tree over yesterday, cut in pieces. Helen gave just a bit over 3 ½ gallons today, no doubt down a bit due to coming in early. I got 13 eggs today. There was a purple finch on the feeder today.
June 29, 2004 Tuesday: Last night a raccoon got into the buttery, my pantry annex, and knocked the top off of the bin that holds the cat food. Something has been coming in regularly and knocking away the can of nails I set on it to weight down the lid and now I discover that it is a raccoon. This as evident from the pile of scat it left in the bin. This is so aggravating. Last time I had a raccoon in there it tore food off the shelves and made a really big mess of things. I hope tonight I have the door blocked adequately. The weather today was off and on overcast and beautiful. Helen and the boys posed in the pasture in a very picturesque way. The day ended with a rain shower and a huge double rainbow. Helen gave a little over 3.5 gallons.
July 1, 2004 Thursday: That raccoon is trying to defeat me. Last night I created what I thought was an impenetrable barrier. I closed the buttery door with a board wedged into it to stop the crack where he is getting in, then leaned heavy things against it from the inside. This morning it was all torn apart and the cat food was raided again. One bright thought: he prefers cat food to poultry, it seems. No birds have disappeared lately. My neighbor to the north is being a mighty poor sport about the discovery that the true property line has moved several feet his way. When he discovered I own a strip of his lawn he became irate. I now find that all the new stakes and flagging have disappeared. He denies doing it but did not sound surprised that they were gone. We are getting purple finches every day on the feeder. Also goldfinches, but they are more common here.
July 2, 2004 Friday: I put the cat food bin in the kitchen for the night. The frustrated raccoon tore apart the contents of the wastebasket. My hens are doing pretty well. I am getting over a dozen eggs every day even though there are several broodies. Max reports having built a palatial new chicken house. It is stained to match their house. It is equipped with a set of metal nesting boxes that had been shoved back into the woods by some previous residents of the property. The little girls filled them with hay. I gave them a young Auracana rooster last week to replace an ornery one that went into the pot. After a day or so of treating him with contempt, the hens accepted him as their new leader. The hens had all loved the old rooster and he was astonishing in his defense of them. But, neither Mitra nor the girls could stir outside without risking attack. He even marched around Max giving him the hairy eyeball. Helen gave a little over 3.5 gallons today.
July 3, 2004 Saturday: After Ann B had us all laughing about her cow in heat declining the services of the little bull, I couldn’t help thinking of one of my young roosters. They are close to six months old now and look full size, but they are still at the apprentice stage, I guess. I saw one today hop on a hen with the wrong end facing. She peered around quite annoyed as he tweaked on her tail feathers. I ordered 450 bales today of second cut hay. It will be $3 off the field, up .50 from last year due to gas prices. Scary. It will be ready in August. Max, Martin and Mark, my three boys that live in Maine, rode their mountain bikes today. They encountered a good sized black bear on the trail. We are having beautiful salads from our garden. Abby has the veggies looking very inviting with paths and many flowers intermixed. Now that my sister is back in California the weather has turned marvelous.
July 4, 2004 Sunday Independence Day: Perfect weather for the Fourth. I made a cheesecake for the family cookout from a recipe in a 50-year-old edition of the Joy of Cooking. It calls for two cups of cream, whipped, and three pints of cottage cheese. I have a lot of cottage cheese right now. It also calls for six eggs. It is the sort of recipe that went out of fashion with the arrival of fat phobia. It makes a large cheesecake that served 14 people. As a guest we had a young man from Austria named Matteus. He will do a brief apprenticeship at Martin’s plant. This young man is very tall with white blond hair and clear blue eyes. He has an enormous appetite. We had hamburgers made with farm meat. They were mighty good. Both last night and tonight when I came home there was a skunk in the breezeway. Bagel pointed him out. He was helping himself to Bagel’s dog food. When I bent to retrieve the dish he stamped warningly so I used a broom handle to pull the dish away. Max offered to drive down from camp and shoot it, but I hated to drag him away from the marshmallows and sparklers besides risking having the entryway stinking for weeks. Helen appeared to have a happy day. She gave her usual 3 ¾ gallons this morning.
July 5, 2004 Monday: The fine weather gave way to misty rain. It is not cold and everyone is enjoying Maine anyway. A bantam that has been setting in the haymow hatched her three eggs today. I had replaced her own tiny eggs with three from the layers. Two chicks are mottled, one is yellow. My nephew, Jeff, Barby’s son, and his wife and two boys are now here for two weeks. They came down from camp to see the farm and helped me carry the new family downstairs to new quarters. I gave yogurt to the hen and chicks.
July 7, 2004 Wednesday: Leslie, one of our visiting California cousins, is a professional gardener. She was surprised that my hostas are not full of holes made by slugs, since I don’t use poisons. She said many people are giving up on them due to the slug problem. I told her I was just lucky because mine are often perforated and slugs are probably revving up as we speak. This afternoon I filled a lot of cat food cans with cheap beer and set them around. This is trapping slugs in the garden fairly well. Thanks to the combined efforts of Abby, good rainfall, and myself the flowers and veg look pretty good. As I walk around the house and garden I find myself in the habit of only noticing what needs attention. When I get rave reviews from visitors, the impulse is to say, “But I am way behind on the pruning/weeding/etc.” One should get over this dumb habit and learn to see how beautiful things really look. Well, today was the day marked on my calendar for Helen to be in heat. The AI people say that according to their chart tomorrow would be the day. So far no signs of heat. I last checked at 8:30PM. The hen and chicks are doing fine. I put them in a roomette with a young Auracana rooster that nearly died the other day when his toes got caught in some chicken wire. He was left hanging upside down to be pecked and generally suffer. He had probably been hanging thus for about two hours when I found him. Henny was very pleased to have his company, but the chicks were afraid to come out and eat with him there, so I removed him. Now he hangs around looking at her through the wire. Maybe tomorrow I will put him back in. I had to milk an hour early today due to an 8:15 dental appointment. Helen gave 3 ¾ gallons. I got 14 eggs.
July 9, 2004 Friday: Helen showed no signs of heat either yesterday or today. I made frequent inspections. I shall permit myself some guarded optimism that she may have settled. If so, it is to Molly Brook McKenzie Flash (something I can’t read). We are still in the middle of a couple of days of warm rain. Everything is properly soaked. Helen and the boys keep right on grazing in it but they come inside to chew their cuds. I tried putting the lame Auracana rooster back in with the hen and chicks. He went straight for their specialized food and pecked a chick, so I took him right out again. He spends his time hanging about her roomette. In the back of my fridge there was a jar of scary looking black moldy stuff. It was six-month-old King Arthur Company sour dough starter. The top was all crusty and horrible. As an experiment, I scooped off the mold layer, stirred up the sludge, and put it into a clean jar with spring water and flour 50/50. After a mere six hours it showed signs of life. I fed it again and left it a second day. Then on Thursday I used it as the only leavening in a couple of loaves of part whole wheat French bread. I had bread dough raised twice and ready for the oven in eight hours. Here is a recipe described to me by my son Bret. I worked out how to make it and it is very nice. I have now made it twice.
1 ripe mango
1 cup yogurt, slightly drained
1 cup heavy cream
2 to 4 tablespoons honey
1 packet Knox’s gelatin
¼ cup lukewarm water
½ cup boiling water or juice (orange juice recommended)
In a glass measuring cup, put the ¼ cup lukewarm water and add the gelatin. Allow this to soak while preparing the other recipe ingredients. Peal the mango and slice off the fruit from the pit. Place it in the bowl of a food processor and process it until smooth. Add the yogurt, cream and honey and process to blend thoroughly. Heat to boiling the ½ cup water or fruit juice and stir it into the soaked gelatin. Stir until completely dissolved, best done with a chopstick. Blend this very thoroughly into the pudding ingredients. Pour the mixture into a bowl or brownie pan and refrigerate until set. If in a flat pan it will set in a half hour.
July 11, 2004 Sunday: Yesterday Helen’s milk strained a bit slowly and this morning she gave only 3 ¼ gallons and it strained even more slowly. There were no lumps on the strainer but it seemed clogged up. She has been on once a day milking (morning only) by machine. I milked this evening by hand and got 1 ½ gallons. I slathered her udder with comfrey mashed in the Cuisinart. As evening came, while watching from the deck, it seemed to me that she was taking more than her usual interest in Albert. I watched her until I could’t stand the bugs any more. I sure hope she is not in heat. Heat day was supposed to be last Wednesday, four days ago. All the family had a good weekend at the lake with lots of good food and boat rides. I made baked beans and a coconut cake for the BBQ. The weather was very nice. I got 19 eggs.
July 12, 2004 Monday: No further signs of excitement from Helen. She was waiting for me at the barn and stood nicely for hand milking. There was some hardness in her near front quarter, but she let down well and I had no trouble stripping. I stripped some from each quarter to taste. The affected quarter tasted a bit salty, milk from the other three quarters was as sweet as ever. I rubbed comfrey into her entire udder, then rubbed the affected quarter with Thuja ointment. The milk strained slowly towards the end but better than last night. She gave two gallons. Helen got back into the habit of twice a day milking immediately and was right there for me at five. The condition of her udder and her milk was much like this morning except the flavor of the milk from the affected quarter had further improved. She gave 1 ¾ gallons, 3 ¾ for the day. I only found 10 eggs today. I guess the hens outdid themselves yesterday. Max and Shireen and the California cousins all climbed Tumbledown Mountain today. Shireen, age 8, kept up without a whine. She swam in the little lake on the summit, and then chased after the boys who were climbing a higher peak. I cut and froze spinach today. It is trying to bolt, but is still good. There are such a lot of salad greens in the garden that I shall have to find more people to give it to. Summer squash is nearly ready.
July 13, 2004 Tuesday: Helen seems to have fended off her touch of mastitis. The milk strained easily. I soaked this evening’s filter for several hours and detected no mucus on it. So far the combined total for morning and evening milk is pretty close to what I was getting from once a day milking. She is behaving pretty well. She pooped and peed tonight while in her stanchion, but did not wave her feet around. I have so much to do right now that I have fallen behind on keeping the loafing area clean. Consequently, I have to spend more time on wash-up. I got some spinach and beet greens frozen today and made a little butter. There is a lot of call for milk now which means I don’t have much unsold to skim. Also went over to Sally’s Oxbow Field to look for blueberries. There were a few but they really need some warm days. The hens are doing OK. I got 14 eggs today. After evening chores I went out to the lake and was given a lovely dinner prepared by the California cousins, my sister’s family.
July 14, 2004 Wednesday: Twice a day milking has cured Helen’s touch of mastitis so far as I can tell. She gave more milk today too, although that was partly because I milked late. I was out to the barn on time but she was nowhere to be seen. Guests showed up during the afternoon and wanted to see her, but she is very shy of strangers, especially of men, whom I think she associates with veterinary procedures and AI. She totally disappeared into the trees and was not back at milking time. I called and called for her. Finally, she came partway back and peered at me from some tall grass where I could just see her ears. I said, “So be it”, and went back to the house and ate my dinner. Forty minutes later she came up and bellowed. I then milked her an hour late and got ½ more than I expected: 4.5 gallons today. There were 14 eggs.
July 15, 2004 Thursday: The raccoon has not been back lately, but skunks have been getting into the cat food in the buttery with regularity. Yesterday I changed the cat food to a tall dustbin that I figured was way too tall for a skunk to get into. Wrong. A skunk got in, but it could not get out. This morning when I went to dip out cat food there it was eying me with its beady little eyes. It had not sprayed. I slid the lid back onto the can and carried it out onto the deck and very gently turned it on its side. The lid opened partway and the skunk departed unhurriedly but not before giving a parting shot to the cat food. It smelled so bad that even the chronically hungry barn cats would not eat it. I had to go to town and buy more food. On the way to town I stopped to drop off milk for my Dixfield cousins and was told of an event they witnessed today. They have a big window in their kitchen from which they can observe wildlife on their 20 acre field. They have been watching a wild hen turkey with eight poults. Today as they were watching, a large hawk swooped down on the family. The alert hen leapt from the ground and intercepted the hawk about three feet off the ground, knocking it sideways and saving her family. I have never before seen or heard of a bird using this defense. The combination of alertness, timing and coordination is amazing, about like if somebody were to leap to catch hold of a speeding freight train. I believe a hawk may stoop at close to 100mph. Helen’s production was low this morning because I milked late last night. She gave barely two gallons. I did not milk tonight because the kids were planning an early dinner at camp. Mitra and the little girls are leaving tomorrow for two weeks in California. There were 11 eggs.
July 16, 2004 Friday: More rain today, but interspersed with sun and towards evening we saw a rainbow coming out of a cloud over the lake. Because I did not milk last night, Helen was stuffed with milk this morning, almost 4 gallons. Her udder was in perfect shape. I skipped again this evening to, so hope tomorrow morning does not bring a recurrence of trouble. I used the machine this morning. We had another marvelous salad tonight with a great variety of garden greens and fresh peas. Max brought lots of beet greens from their garden. I sautéed onion in butter and olive oil with a little toasted sesame oil, then added the wet beet greens and steamed them. They were all eaten. Cousin Leslie made a big pot of coarsely mashed potatoes with herbs and cream, very delicious, and the men grilled sausages and chicken breast. This was our last, sendoff meal before the cousins leave in the AM for California. I also made my blueberry cake. It is very easy. Here is the recipe.
½ cup of butter, soft 1 ½ cups sugar 2 eggs at room temp 2 ½ cups flour (can use whole wheat pastry flour) 2 teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2/3 cup milk at room temperature (If using ww pastry flour, use 3/4 cup milk)
1 ½ cups blueberries
Thoroughly cream together the butter and sugar (you can use less sugar) Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk Add the dry ingredients alternately with milk to the butter mixture. Fold in blueberries. Bake in 9×12 inch pan 35 to 40 minutes. Test center for doneness before removing from oven. My Aga ovens are radiant heat, which for me gets the cake done in 35 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool.
July 17, 2004 Saturday: The dogs, Bagel and Max’s Lulu, followed my daughter Abby into the pasture today. The calves, Albert, 11 months and Sammy 6 months, saw the dogs and ran the distance of the field to chase them out. Or maybe they just wanted to play. Anyway, the dogs were scared witless. It was pretty funny to see them fleeing out a crack in the gate, bovines in hot pursuit. Max is a bachelor for two weeks and has started bushhogging the fields. He got the North Field and the small paddock behind the house all finished. They look so nice after they are cut. Helen gave a bit over 3 gallons this morning. I got 14 eggs.
July 18, 2004 Sunday: Max spent almost five hours today bushhogging and finished Pocket Field. There is a bench formation in this field with a slope that can only be cut by going up and down, never sideways. Max reports that the tractor never faltered and stayed the same temperature all day. What a satisfaction it is when equipment behaves. The tractor is a Minneapolis Moline and is more than fifty years old. Helen gave 3 ¾ gallons this morning. I got 5 eggs. Weather report: it did not rain all day. The temperature got up to about 80F.
July 19, 2004 Monday: One of the men I was going to buy hay from called today to say he is not going to have any. The rain has been so relentless that the field is ruined. This morning Helen gave barely 3 gallons. Then at 5:30PM she was standing at the gate asking to come in. No family dinner was planned, so I let her in and milked her by hand and got more than 1.5 gallons, bringing today’s total to over 4.5 gallons. There were 15 eggs. It rained hard again this morning, but quit around noon and Max was able to do some more bushhogging. This afternoon was beautiful and the fields look lovely where he has mowed. I believe he has only about another two hours work to do before he takes the equipment across the river to Sally’s field. The weather sure is strange. The rain is sort of hot, like Hawaii rain.
July 22, 2004 Thursday: Tuesday I got a special visitor, Sally L from MA. She came with her little cow, Jasmine, and little bull, Murphy, in her horse trailer and her dog Julie, to stay overnight. The evening was enlivened by all the bovines getting out on the road, necessitating our combined Natural Cowmanship skills to get them all back in whilst not losing the recaptured ones in the process. There was a heavy fog to further confuse things. At least this slowed the traffic. There wasn’t much anyway around midnight in my small town. Sally was up before me the next day, Wednesday. We milked both cows by machine. Jasmine gave 1.5 gallons evening and morning. She has perfect manners. Little Murphy does too, for a bull. He’s a friendly little guy, but ready to try his leaps on all subjects. Sally stayed only until Wednesday afternoon so I didn’t get a chance to show her everything on the farm, but we had good weather and she had a lovely swim in the river. Murphy is now staying here with me. This morning after Murphy and my two steers, Albert and Sammy had their little pans of grain, Murphy made a ritual jump on each of my steers. When he sidled up to Helen with similar intent she turned her head around and gave him a look that said very plainly, “Don’t even think about it”. She is still in charge.
July 23, 2004 Friday: The big news today is that son Martin had a fine, big 1999 Kubota tractor with a six foot bucket delivered. It is a Diesel model 3431 (I think). Anyway, it is gorgeous and orange. Max immediately set to work and cleared away my winter manure pile as seen on the front page of this site. It had been blocking one of the barnyard gates. The guys are going to have a lot of fun with this machine. Max did this work in heavy pouring rain that arrived unannounced by the weatherman. The Kubota has a roof over the driver, a nice amenity. Helen gave her now usual 3.5 gallons today. I got 13 eggs.
July 24, 2004 Saturday: The weather today was gorgeous. It did not rain all day. A large group joined in and worked like mad on my winter wood supply. This group included my sons Max and Martin, my grandson Harper, (who is the same age as Martin) Martin’s fiancée Amy, my granddaughter Helena and Martin’s apprentice from Austria, Matthius. Also, two of Helena’s brothers, Steven and David, helped for a while. My, but they got a lot done. We were able to borrow a splitter part of the day. The front-end loader on the Kubota was useful for carrying split wood. They also used a nifty new metal wagon, which Helena gave me for a birthday present. There are now four tiers of wood in the bay. My daughter Abby drove six roosters over to a place that dresses off chickens. Now the six are in the freezer and there is less cacophony in the barn. For a birthday present, Martin gave me a new electric water heater. Among other advantages, I now have normal hot water pressure instead of the piddling dribble I had with the existing system. The fields are now all bushhogged, including Sally’s Oxbow across the river. Grandson Rafe did the Oxbow Field. They look lovely. The cows are eating a lot of the mowed grass. Amy and I (mostly Amy) picked a gallon of gooseberries today. Harper made a lot of sushi and sashimi with tuna Amy brought from Portland. The sushi looked totally professional. I adore sushi and sashimi. We all joined my daughter Marcia and son-in-law Jack at the lake for dinner. It was a jolly occasion. We have had a family dinner nearly every night this week. The lake was lovely under the moonlit sky with the cry of loons.
July 26, 2004 Monday: Yesterday Martin trimmed Helen’s overgrown toenails on her back feet. It is remarkable what an immediate difference this has made in how quietly she stands. This morning her production was down a bit. Since no family dinner was planned, I milked morning and evening today. She tends to show up at five even though I have been skipping the evening milking for weeks now. She hangs around for half an hour, and then leaves if I don’t let her in. My bantam hen with three chicks has been living in the grain room. Now I am leaving the door open so she can take her family outside to scratch and peck. They look so cute. The chicks mind very well now and have little wing feathers. I hope the kittens don’t get them. The bantams have my cat population well trained to be afraid of them and not to molest chicks. We will see if the kittens know the rules. My grandson Harper and great granddaughter Amara have been visiting here for the past week. Today Harper picked currants and gooseberries and made 10 half pints of jam to take home to Alaska. I got 17 eggs.
July 27, 2004 Tuesday: Harper and Amara set out today for Alaska carrying the box of jam. I made him take lots of tape and string in case the airline insists on seeing the contents of the box. Helen and the Boys have three run-in areas from which to choose when they want to cool off and escape the bugs. There is no way I can keep these places clean and with all the rain and humidity, they don’t dry out. Often Helen comes in dirty. Tonight she was especially filthy. I spent about ten minutes washing her up with sudsy vinegar water. On Sunday morning, by contrast, following a night of warm rain she came in looking as though she had been through a power wash. I milked again tonight. The total for the day was no better than if I had only milked once. Because my printer was out of ink, I made a trip to Walmart. So many of the shoppers look dismally unhealthy. One family of four adults was especially disturbing in appearance. The older man was terribly fat with a drooping stomach and oxygen tubes in his nose. The older woman was also much too heavy and used a walker and had Velcro braces on arms and legs. A second man was obese and puffing. A third man was skinny and somewhat deformed with very thick glasses that did not sit straight on his face. All but the last man looked like cheerful good sports despite their health problems. The skinny man had a desperate look as he trailed along and appeared retarded. I expect these folks have spent all their lives eating the cheapest junk food and must see a doctor frequently. It is so sad and unnecessary. Our raw milk families will never be in such a state.
July 28, 2004 Wednesday: I don’t know if I can write. Not only am I listening to the Democratic Convention, but also a bat has gotten into the house. It was in here last night too. I have been chasing it around with a dishtowel trying to knock it down so I can put it out doors. No such luck. I opened a window and tried to drive it out. All I got was a lot of bugs streaming in. Then just a minute ago it landed on my leg to rest. Yipes!!! It is not a small bat, either. This morning I had to go fetch Helen in. I called and called but she ignored me. Bagel and I went down and got her moving. Of course the two young steers and Murphy the bull followed right along milling around me the whole way. I milked twice today and got over four gallons. So, I guess I have built her flagging production back up. I don’t want her to dry off. Assuming she is bred she won’t calve again until March and will have been milking for 19 months. Twenty eggs today.
July 29, 2004 Thursday: Last night when I was closing up the barn the bantam hen was calling in her three chicks. The yellow one came up the ramp with her and inside but the other two went under the barn and could not figure out how to solve their problem. Mother hen finally gave up calling them and settled down in a corner. I could hear them peeping not four inches from her, but under the floor. I guess they found a beam to climb on to. There was no way I could have helped them. I did not expect to see them again. But this morning she had all three with her. Tonight she took them into the grain room where they were first raised. They had to fly over a half door to get there. I wish I had seen it. Today’s weather was beautiful. I had the joy of starting the day by going down and picking a bowl of raspberries. I ate them for breakfast with cream. We are starting to get cucumbers and zucchinis. Max came over and mowed the lawn. It is a fine sight. Helen gave over four gallons with two milkings. There were 16 eggs.
July 30, 2004 Friday: At last a really hot day. Not that I like hot days, but the innkeepers of Maine are pretty dejected about the relentless rain. Not to mention people trying to make hay and ending up with $1/bale mulch. The cucumbers are coming on fast now and all the summer squash. Helen would not come in for milking. I could neither see nor hear where she was, so I said to heck with it. She is going to have two days now of OAD. Tomorrow I will be busy helping Mark with a big dinner at camp. I am making beef ribs. On his way through this evening Mark stopped for milk. While fastening down his cooler with a bungee cord it snapped loose and hit him very hard in the temple. I wonder it did not knock him out. But at least it did not hit his eye. It made an awful welt. He drove away holding ice to it. Helen finally ambled up to the barn about 8 o’clock I told her she missed dinner.
August 1, 2004 Sunday: Friday and Saturday I milked just once a day due to family pressure. Today I milked twice and it came to over four gallons. The grass is still good thanks to our rainy summer. I grain her at milking time, but have put out hay only a couple of times when the rain was coming down so hard she did not want to go out. Mostly, she likes grazing in the rain because it knocks down the bugs. This morning she was not at the barn and did not respond to my call. It rained all night, so the cows slept in the Pocket Field I guess. I went back for my boots and found all the cows in the farthest corner. When Helen saw me break off a switch she got moving. Albert, her calf, is a year old this month. He is a steer, but is getting rather aggressive. I don’t like the way he races up behind me. When I send him on past he throws his heels. Sammy, six months, is very meek. So is Murphy, the nine-month-old mini Jersey bull. He just trots along like some kind of wind-up toy. The garden is now producing lots of cucumbers and summer squash. My milk customers have become erratic, so I am making cottage cheese nearly every day. In this weather the milk clabbers over night. It is muggy and hot, about 80F. I had a lot of cream collected, besides which, one of my customers who doesn’t use much cream gave me back a gallon of it. I made four pounds of butter today, but it is so hot that I could not press it properly. It was about the consistency of mayonnaise. It didn’t look right and I doubt will keep well, although it tastes fine as of today.
August 2, 2004 Monday: Helen came in so dirty tonight that I was tempted to turn her back out and skip milking. I went and got a second bucket of cold water and gave her a pre-wash using a bristle brush. She kept switching her filthy tail in irritation, which was disgusting. I took a hay string and tied it off to a nail on the all. This time I washed her sides and hocks as well as her bag just so I could get near her. I sure wish I had a cow wash set-up. It took me 15 minutes to turn her pink. She gave 3 ¾ gallons today. Tomorrow I shall block entry to the run-in below the buttery. It is truly a cave cut back into the earth and surrounded by granite blocks. In the 80 degree weather we now are getting it is much the coolest place, but also the dirtiest. If I block access for a week and spread lime it may dry out enough to let them back in. The cows will just have to settle for some other spot to chew their cuds. A first for me: last year as usual I planted out my Easter lily in hopes that it would live on. This one did! A lovely scented Madonna Lily is now adorning the perennial border. I got 17 eggs. I am getting about that many every day now.
August 3, 2004 Tuesday: Helen was waiting near the barn this morning washed clean by grass and weeds. What a welcome relief. She was also almost clean this evening. My granddaughters Shireen and Roshan are back from California and visited this afternoon. Roshan, who is six wanted to try to milk, so I let them both try stripping after I had taken the machine off Helen. I was able to hold my hands over theirs so they could feel how I do it. They both managed a few good squirts. Shireen is 8. This morning Murphy did not show up for his little pan of grain. I give some to all three calves every morning just to keep them in the habit of coming in. And, to be sure they get some kelp. He did not come when called and I could not hear his bell. After I turned Helen out, Bagel dog and I walked all the way around the pasture and did not see a sign of him. I was afraid that maybe he fell into the river. It is not very deep, but sometimes cows climb out some distance away. When I got all the way home there he was grazing near the barn. I guess he must have been asleep somewhere. Murphy and Sammy, my 7-month-old Jersey steer, are friends. At evening milking I could hear them both mooing but it took a while to locate them. They were stuck inside the chicken yard! There is a door from the chicken yard to the pasture and I suppose one of them pushed on it and broke the rotten string. So there they were with their chins inside the chicken house, which is three feet above ground level, looking confused and pitiful. I soon had them chased back out where they belong and a new string on the door. My hay man uses sisal string and knows I prefer it. There is at least some chance it will rot in case they eat it, whereas polypropylene string is forever. I am extremely careful not to throw down a string, sisal or not, when I feed hay, nonetheless I invariably find a few strings every winter when I fork out the manure and there is likely to be a string wound up in the tiller. Max and family were here for his birthday cake. He nailed up a barrier to prevent the cows from going under the buttery. Helen gave 4 ½ gallons today and I got 19 eggs.
August 4, 2004 Wednesday: All the animals were well behaved today and stayed around where I could count them. Martin arrived unexpectedly and worked with the Kubota to clean out the Beefer Pen, the cows’ run-in. Last fall my son Bret had a load of sand put down after he cleaned it out. This made the job a lot easier. The Kubota does not have tines on the bucket, but Martin was able to roll up the manure and get it onto the bucket pretty well. He also used a manure fork to pile it in. Because he was working in the barn I skipped milking tonight. Helen loves apples. A tree she cannot reach is near the barn and Martin fed her a lot of them. She got so excited about the treat that she almost stood on her hind legs to get them.
August 5, 2004 Thursday: It was not such a good idea to skip milking last night. One of Helen’s quarters had clots in it this morning. I rubbed it with udder ointment. Later: this evening there was neither poor milk-out nor any clots on the strainer. But, I will continue milking twice a day as much as possible. Helen’s total today was over 4 ½ gallons. At milking time she was chewing her cud down in Pocket Field and would not come when called. Bagel and I had to walk down and get her moving. I picked a lot more cucumbers and zucchinis today. I try to give them away. There is not a lot to do with extra zucchinis. Some years if I have tomatoes and zucchinis coming on at the same time I can a mixture that is very useful. I shred the zucchini and mix it with varying proportions of tomato. I put in a little basil and some salt and can it in quart jars. A quart of this added to a quart of commercial spaghetti sauce stretches and improves the sauce. It has to be canned according to the instructions for squash, not tomatoes.
August 6, 2004 Friday: It was down to 40F this morning. Most of the day was fine and sunny. Since Max created a barrier preventing the cows from going under the buttery to rest and since Martin has cleaned out the Beefer Pen run-in, Helen has not come in dirty. Of course with the weather not quite so hot, they are less determined to come inside to chew their cuds. Helen gave about 3.5 gallons today. The hens are laying well. Twenty eggs yesterday, 19 today.
August 8, 2004 Sunday: When I left Helen out after milking she went over and sniffed noses with Murphy and he licked her face. This is the first sign of affection between them that I have seen. I was late milking tonight and Bagel and I had to walk most of the way to the bottom of the pasture before Helen decided to come. The reason I was late was that I went to lunch with friends at their camp on Wilson Pond. It was a lovely lunch with Maine clams. I was a bit late arriving at their place too, due to having most regrettably backed into the driver’s door of my granddaughter’s car when I left the garage. It did not look too awful but it does not take much to mess up a door and now her window won’t close. Guess I will be buying her a new door. The weather today was beautiful even including a couple of little showers.
August 10, 2004 Tuesday: Just now I put some sheets and towels on the pulley line that runs out the back of the garage and over one of the paddocks. The two steers, Albert and Sammy and Murphy the mini bull all took a great interest. They clearly enjoyed running their faces under the wet sheet. It is pretty hot this evening. After they got through playing with the sheet they trampled around in a big patch of burdock. They rubbed their faces around in that and walked back and for through it. They were enjoying being scratched by it. I suppose this is a strategy on the part of the burdock for getting transported to new areas. I must get down there and whack that stuff out. Since the subject came up on the Forum, I decided to take the temperature of my morning milk at various intervals after refrigeration. It drops to around 90F by the time it is in the jars. After 1 ½ hours in the refrigerator it was down to 80F. After three hours it was down to 68F. After 10 hours it was down to 50F. Next morning it was down to 40F. Then I tried submerging a jar in my spring sink, a constantly running source of spring water that is 60F. It comes a long way from a spring, but the pipe is partially exposed. Otherwise it would be colder. Milk that went into the spring sink at 6PM at 90F was still 65F at 10PM. I am quite surprised by how long it takes to chill milk. This morning I taped Helen to estimate her weight. She taped at 1,091. I can hardly believe she weighs that much, but she is a pretty big mama for a Jersey. She is not pure Jersey. Her mother was a local cow of unknown parentage with a face that looked pretty much like a Jersey except she had a pink nose and broken color. Helen also has a pink nose, whereas a pure Jersey would have a black nose. I assume she is part Guernsey.
August 11, 2004 Wednesday: My garden is getting ahead of me. I need to pick beans, and I got my first tomato. Cucumbers are bursting out of the vines and I hardly need describe the behavior of the zucchinis. I continue to pick my small crop of raspberries without fail, but they are slowing down. I got only a cupful today. The blackberries are now coming on fast. Yesterday I picked two quarts in no time, but the thorns are truly vicious. I also went across the river to Sally’s field in hopes of blueberries. I was too late. A raven rose flapping away from the patch where I think he had been eating the last of them. A major electrical storm came through this evening accompanied by heavy rain. It is warm rain and the cows stand out in it grazing, blissfully free of flies. The flies are getting bad. For the first time I saw Helen with several hundred on her when she walked past the garden fence. Her eyes looked weepy. But, when they are inside the Beefer Pen, their run-in, they are nearly fly free. Only three or four flies rode in on her at milking time. I gave her a rub-down with ACV and Joy soap and that got rid of them temporarily at least. She gave 4 ¼ gallons today. I got 14 eggs. Last Saturday I gave Max and Mitra two more of my layers, which helped cut down on egg production. I am getting more than I know what to do with, or can sell. I made qvark today, a type of cream cheese.
August 12, 2004 Thursday: While picking some zinnias I got a nasty sting on my ring finger. I did not even see what type of bee it was, but it surely did hurt. I went up to the house in search of pain relief but could not seem to think past ice. Then I remembered how cod liver oil has miraculously cured my hives last winter when I applied it to my skin. “Let’s give it a try”, I thought. It worked immediately. “Immediately” is not an exaggeration. As soon as I dipped my finger into cod liver oil the pain disappeared. All that was left was a sense of pressure in my finger and a mild tingling. We got a lot more warm rain today, which the cows appeared to enjoy. When Helen grazes in the rain she always gives a bit more milk, maybe because she consumes more water, maybe because she is fly-free. She got up over 4 ¼ gallons today. My grandson Rafe arrived and will stay a day or so. He greatly admires the new Kubota.
August 13, 2004 Friday: Rafe and his friend Sally B climbed Tumbledown. There is a lake at the top. Because this was yet another day of rain and fog there was nobody else up there, so they went swimming. Bagel went along and enjoyed himself a lot. They met someone on the trail who had a Japanese dog that resembled a little red fox. Bagel and that little dog had a fine time playing. The rain seems endless. This morning there was a little green tree frog swimming in Bagel’s outside water dish. I had to fish him out because the sides of the dish curve in. Rafe and Sally B got the Kubota going and took more manure down to the garden. Rafe loves the tractor. Martin wants to put up an equipment shed. Rafe, who is a good carpenter, is sketching plans for a timber-framed shed that we might build on an existing granite foundation. All the cows look great. I let out Albert’s collar a notch. They are all-sleek and seem taller. I saw Helen pushing Murphy around again this evening. She likes to be sure he knows his place. After that, Murphy, who did not seem to have his feeling hurt, went over and licked Sammy, his buddy. Helen gave 4 ½ gallons today. I started a batch of cucumber pickle relish. It has been a long day, 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. with scarcely a break.
August 15, 2004 Sunday: At last a day without rain! We were told to expect a couple more inches from Hurricane Charlie, but all we got was clouds and even a little sun. There are more flies and mosquitoes this year. I don’t remember this many since before we had the bantams, but then it was really bad. The mosquitoes are really bad. I can seldom sit on the deck without fly dope. No signs of heat in Helen. Murphy is an active little guy and I’m sure would let me know. Helen seems to like him better. This morning she was licking him, after first giving him a couple of pushes, which he ignored and lay down. He jumps Sammy a lot. Sammy doesn’t stand; he slithers away, but does not leave. I think he really likes Murphy. I’m getting so many cucumbers and they are beautiful, but what to do with them? I made a dozen jars of relish. This did not make a dent in the supply. Bagel is now on a raw chicken diet. He also eats a little dry food but he never liked it anyway. I doubt he eats as much as a cupful by the end of the day. People assume he is a yellow lab but he does not have a lab appetite. He never eats unless he is hungry and then only if he likes it. He is yellowish with a coarse coat and a tail that stands up when he runs making him resemble a whitetail deer. I have such a delicious clabber going at present that I can’t bear to give it all to the chickens. Yesterday and today I made qvark with it by setting a large bowl of it in the Aga simmer oven for 30 minutes. It turned out great. My grandson Rafe and a young lady were here Friday and Saturday and picked a lot of blackberries. I got two quarts of pure juice from the berries and will make jelly.
August 16, 2004 Monday: When she was last here my granddaughter Helena came up from the garden asking, “Grammie, what is that big round orange vegetable that looks like a turnip?” I could not imagine what she was talking about. But I had not looked recently at my patch of golden beets. They had grown amazingly and are unlike any golden beet I have previously planted. Many were as large as grapefruit, perfectly smooth and a glowing apricot color. I hope I can find my copies of seed orders so I can figure out what I ordered. I baked one tonight for my dinner. I cut it in thick slices and laid them in a buttered skillet to bake. It turns out only the skin is orange. Inside they are white. The flavor is mild. Helen is walking as though her feet are tender. I can’t see anything wrong with them and they don’t smell. It is only inside the barn I notice her sort of mincing. Everywhere else is soft. The three calves are extremely eager for their bit of grain every morning, but then don’t finish it. I thought maybe they didn’t like the kelp. I left off the kelp this morning and one of them still did not finish his grain. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons today. I only found one dozen eggs.
August 17, 2004 Tuesday: Well I found out what the yellow beets are. They are Yellow Intermediate Mangel from Seeds Of Change. I forgot that I had planted them. They are intended as cattle feed. They are good, though. The beautiful color is only on the outside. Inside they are white. I picked about the last of my raspberries today. Also picked a couple of quarts of blackberries. They occupy the fence between the garden and the pasture. The three calves were over beneath the old apple tree when I came around to pick on their side. They immediately ran over to get in on what I was doing. They knew I was picking blackberries and they wanted them badly. I could see where they had already pushed in among the canes and gotten the easy ones. Albert really wanted my basket. I pushed a few berries into their mouths and drove them away so I could pick in peace. I remember once when we had a farm in Washington and I had goats, one goat ate the entire contents of a basket I had set down. Helen gave less than four gallons today. I made three pints of blackberry jelly with some of the juice that I made yesterday. I added abut a half a cup of pectin extracted from crabapples.
August 18, 2004 Wednesday: Last thing last night when I went out to close up the buttery, there was a skunk down behind a planter shelf. It was eating cat food that had fallen from an upper shelf where the cats eat. I yelled at it to get going. It ignored me. I stamped and made loud noises. It gave me an insulting glance and resumed eating. I threw a plastic bucket in its direction. The bucket bounced and rolled across the floor but failed to disturb the skunk. I went inside and got a pitcher with a gallon of water and sluiced that at it. Then it gave up and ambled out the back door onto the deck. Two more skunks that I had not even seen followed it but they were more nervous and ran into the tool closet. I could think of nothing to do but leave them there and hope they would be gone in the morning. Yes, they were gone, and none of them sprayed. Helen was happy today and so were the calves. The weather was beautiful. Helen gave four gallons.
August 19, 2004 Thursday: Darned if a big fluffy skunk didn’t hop right out of the hole in the barn floor along with the cats when I put out food this morning. I thought they were supposed to sleep in the daytime. I yelled and threw something and it mumped away down the hole. Once again today it did not rain although all day it seemed about to. It was hot and muggy. I spent all day in the house prepping for the weekend and starting pickles. I also made two qvark cakes. It is a dense tea cake that uses the cheese called qvark, which is something like cottage cheese, but smooth. I added dried cherries. I agreed to buy some local hay. It won’t be the best but I will feel better when I have some hay in the barn. My regular man isn’t likely to let me down, but “A bird in the hand”.
August 20, 2004 Friday: We postponed the hay delivery until tomorrow when there will be more help to unload it. Martin and Amy and her brother, wife and baby are here for the weekend. The men will help with it tomorrow. We all just had dinner. I made baked beans. They were a big hit. For dessert we had blackberries and cream. That saucy little skunk in the barn came running right out this morning and again this evening when I fed the cats. It is a half sized one with a great white fluffy tail that it holds up over itself like a hairy white umbrella. It is actually rather cute. Helen gave four gallons today. There were 14 eggs. I think I picked the very last of the raspberries. Here is an excerpt from an email from my granddaughter Rosemary. She and her husband, Nate, have just returned from a month long canoe trip in Alaska, where they live and work their little commercial fishing venture. They took this trip during a slow period in the season. I keep meaning to tell you something that happened on our canoe trip. Nate sprained his knee somewhat badly early on in the trip, and it remained stiff and painful for close to two weeks. During this time we were getting our protein from milk powder, peanut butter, cheese, lentils, etc but we weren’t eating any fresh foods, fish or meat. After two weeks we reached the Kobuk River, which was chuck full of grayling. He caught one, we had it for dinner and the next morning he woke up free from pain for the first time. For the next three days we ate grayling everyday and he seemed to be completely, surprisingly, cured. On the fourth day we failed to catch any fish and in the morning when he woke up his knee was stiff, painful and swollen again. That day he caught another fish, we ate it, it cured him again and for the rest of the trip we ate fish and he was fine. It seemed to me that this pattern was too distinct not to be fascinated by.
August 22, 2004 Sunday: Lots of company here this weekend. Friday night I gave them baked beans. Saturday I stewed two of the roosters we had dressed off last month. Everybody said the food was very good and ate a lot. On Friday Martin was here with his fiancée, and her brother and his wife and little two-year-old Madelyn. On Saturday we were joined by Max and Mitra, whose birthday it was, and the two little girls. One of my neighbors has been trying all summer to make hay, but because of the endless rain has not been able to. Finally last Thursday and Friday they got some made. It is so late in the season that the quality is way down, but I thought I had better have some. He got it onto a wagon on Friday before the rain started up again and parked it under cover. The rain did not stop until late Saturday afternoon about the time I meant to serve dinner. So, that is when the hay arrived. All the men and young Shireen got right out there and unloaded and stacked it. It doesn’t look too bad. This morning I threw some down to Helen and she and the boys ate for a while. Today at last was a perfect Maine day, so they did not stay in long. Before the men came in to dinner they shot the skunk that has been a pest in the barn. It has been pushing in and eating right along with the cats. They put out the cat food and waited for the crowd to form. Soon the skunk arrived and Max shot it. They said the cats closed ranks and kept right on eating like nothing had happened. Max for many years has suffered from psoriasis, mostly on his back. For some months now, since he moved to Maine and began again drinking raw milk, it has disappeared. He usually takes milk with him to his job site on Cape Cod where he stays all week. Last week they had run out and there was none for him to take so he bought some at the store. By the time he got home he was itching again. But a day on raw milk cured him. A week or so ago I had a bat in the house and try as I might, I could not get it back outdoors. It disappeared in the house. Now all weekend (with company!) my office and the hall beside it smells like something dead. And, I still can’t find it. It has got to be the bat we smell.
August 23, 2004 Monday: This was a beautiful day. It did not start raining until 7PM. My cousins stopped in for dairy products and they helped me carry giant zucchinis to the barn. Helen would not pass them by when I let her out after milking. Even though I had not gotten them cut up she managed to eat most of one. The damp weather has done wonders for my phlox. One clump is as high as my shoulder and 5’wide. It is a mass of pink flowers. Helen gave a bit over 4 gallons today. There were 15 eggs.
August 26, 2004 Thursday: Now we have had three days in a row of fine weather. I spoke to my hay man. He is optimistic that he will actually be able to bring my hay in a day or two. Helen is not much interested in the hay I bought last week from my neighbor. I bought a bag of alfalfa cubes for her. I was going to soak them but she ate them OK without soaking, so I guess I won’t bother. There have been lots of friends and family to see the cows this week. Two little girls, 6 and 4, when asked what they were going to be when they grow up, chorused “Farmer!” But, then the older one added that she would also be an artist. I visited my grandchildren Shireen and Roshan today, who are home sick, and they had set up an elaborate farm in the living room. Today two more grandchildren arrived from Alaska and little Roger Augustus travels with a full set of tiny farm tractors. This is encouraging. My granddaughter Rosemary and her husband Nate have a fishing boat out of Cordova, Alaska. There is a nice little processing plant in Cordova that will flash freeze fillets in shrink wrap packs and Fedex them in gel ice. Rosie hopes to sell some this way directly to people rather than to the processing boat. Several of us have gotten together an order that is to be sent next Monday. It comes to about $8/lb including shipping. Rosie says they are beautiful fish. Alaskan wild salmon is the only really good salmon. They work very hard for this fish. Rosie says she is “haunted by the thought that somebody somewhere is leaving some on their plate.” Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons yesterday and today.
August 27, 2004 Friday: It was another fine day, but a little hotter and more humid. Helen came in clean this morning. When she is clean she is very, very clean. For some reason the three calves are always perfectly clean. Helen is being very good about coming when called. The mornings have been misty and when I call her I can’t tell if she is coming until she and the boys materialize out of the fog. I am expecting my 450 bales of hay tomorrow. I skipped milking this evening because we went out to my daughter’s camp on Lake Webb for dinner. The moon over the lake was lovely as ever. We heard loons and two blue herons flew past.
August 30, 2004 Monday: My anticipated hay delivery did not arrive. My hay man called to tell me that the field from which he expected to get it had gone by, what with all the rain there was no hay making. He now hopes to cut this week, but it is raining again today. Right now thunder and lightening are in the distance. I have been making qvark cheese about once a week. It is extremely simple. I just warm up clabber in the Aga simmer oven until whey shows around the edge of the bowl. This takes about an hour. Then I hang it in cheesecloth for a few hours until it is about as firm as cream cheese. I made some today from clabber that sat for three days because I was too busy to get at it. I thought it might turn out too tangy, but it is fine. I also made butter today, or tried to. The temperature is in the 80’s. I set the cream yesterday with a little clabber for flavor. The buttermilk was marvelously tasty, but the butter was like mush. I put it into the refrigerator twice to firm up, but as soon as I tried to work it, it was mushy again. I will never get the buttermilk out of it. Right now I am sitting up waiting for my son Bret and family to arrive from the airport. Amy and the kids have been here for five days. They went to Portland to pick up Bret. I hope the electrical storm and rain did not threaten their driving.
August 31, 2004 Tuesday: On August 24 while milking with the machine I dropped one of the teat cups and it vacuumed up some sawdust off the floor. It was not filthy or wet sawdust but it had been there all day on the old barn floor, no doubt with chickens and kittens walking across it. Later when I inspected the filter there was at least a tablespoon of sawdust on it. I marked the jars so as not to sell them and put it way in the back of the indoor frig and forgot about it. Today I got it out to decide what to do with it. I tasted the cream and drank some of the milk. So far as I could tell it was fine. I gave it to the chickens, but I don’t think it would have hurt anybody. I think it is interesting to see how well the milk seemed to survive this contamination.
September 1, 2004 Wednesday: The salmon we ordered from my granddaughter Rosemary arrived today. She and her husband, Nate, fish out of Cordova, Alaska, in a 25′ bowpicker. They live on the boat. There is a packing plant in Cordova. Early last Tuesday morning they caught silver salmon and it was flash frozen and vacuum packed in plastic the same day. The plant ships only on Mondays, so it was sent day before yesterday. It arrived today in perfect condition. At dinner we were five adults: my son Bret and wife Amy from Alaska, daughter-in-law Mitra, and grandson Rafe who drove down from Bar Harbor, and myself, and four little grandchildren. We are pretty sure we never had better salmon. It seems so amazing to have salmon this fresh so far from its source. Rafe is now on his way home to Alaska to catch salmon for his parents in Lutak Inlet. To cook the salmon all I did was lay it in a pan skin side down with olive oil and butter and baked it for 20 minutes. The weather here today was perfect. Bret went sailing. He also constructed the door to my milking area that Max and cousin Jeff had prepared, but ran out of time to finish. Helen gave four gallons. I got 16 eggs.
September 2, 2004 Thursday: Bret hung the newly assembled door on my milking area. It is a double door. It looks great, and roosters madly pursuing hens through shortcuts under my cow will no longer plague me. Today started out very cool, down in the 40’s all over Maine. It was bright and clear. I did not hear from my hay man, but must assume that he was busy making hay. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons. I got 16 eggs.
September 3, 2004 Friday: My hay man says he has not forgotten me, but must hay another field first. He is trying to stay ahead of Hurricane Francis, which is expected to bring more rain. I can’t keep up with the garden. Food is going to waste. I wish somebody would come and pick beans. The tomatoes are finally ripening. My grandson Rafe sees Leah occasionally up in Bar Harbor. Leah is Helen’s daughter that I sold last November. Rafe says she has a nice pasture with a tree in it and that tourists often take her picture. She still has her daughter Gita with her. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons today. I got only eight eggs. Most of the hens are moulting. All my company is leaving tomorrow. Rafe is driving home to Alaska with a canoe and a seagoing kayak he built on top of his truck.
September 5, 2004 Sunday: My Alaska family left today leaving happy memories of the kids swimming in the river and visiting the milking operations. They are home schooled and doing well. They don’t get raw milk at home but liked Helen’s milk. Before leaving, Bret raced down and picked as many as he could of the last dried up, raisin-like currants. He is very fond of currants. This afternoon Max and Mitra, my son and daughter-in-law, came over and picked beans. I have three kinds, all pole beans. There are green ones, yellow wax and a pale Italian Romano type that was given to Max and Mitra in California by a neighbor. They picked the first of these today and I have not tried them yet. While we were picking beans their girls, Shireen and Roshan, kept busy feeding the cows over the fence with comfrey, over sized beans and everything else they could find. The cows were eager customers and began shoving on the fence. This is deeply alarming behavior. I am always fearful that they will come back in the night and really knock the fence down. This has happened many times in the past, but not for two or three years since Max and my daughter Sally reinforced it. Today I further reinforced it by wiring up some gaps and weaving in a board. Last year a moose got in and ate the cabbages, but of course they leap anything just like a show jumper. We have now had five days without rain except for a light sprinkle. My soil, except where heavily amended with cow manure, is very sandy. I already see things drying out. My milk customer, Joe, took a kitten today for his daughter. His wife, Crystal is the one who believes herself to have severe lactose intolerance and is having to give up milk. I hope we can find a cure. She loves Helen’s milk.
September 6, 2004 Monday: Another summer is ending. My daughter Marcia and son-in-law Jack are leaving tomorrow from camp in their RV. They may have to go to Florida. They have a house in Wellington right where the storm hit. They are talking of getting their camp winterized and coming back to Maine, but I doubt this will happen. My garden is finally producing tomatoes. I will need to pick every day for a while now and get some canned. I turned the hose on the beans and gave them a good soaking. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons today. I got one dozen eggs. Most of the hens are moulting and due to lots of people here I have not had much extra milk to make into clabber for them.
September 7, 2004 Tuesday: Murphy, the mini Jersey bull, left today. His owner, Sally L from Massachusetts, came for him with her trailer, accompanied by her farrier in case we needed assistance. Murphy is a mellow little guy and loves grain, so I did not have much trouble getting a halter on him and coaxing him into the trailer. He is on his way to a new home in Arizona. I had Murphy waiting inside the Beefer Pen, as I call the run-in, with his buddy Sammy for company. Helen and Albert spent the morning grazing in the vicinity of the barn. At milking time Helen seemed annoyed. She does not like it when an animal leaves. Not that she was a great admirer of Murphy. Almost every morning when I let her out after milking the first thing in her routine was to go push him around a bit and tell him, ” This is Big Mama, and don’t forget it.” Helen’s milk was down a bit today, slightly less than 4 gallons. There were 14 eggs.
September 8, 2004 Wednesday: Helen seemed settled today, although she did stop in the main aisle of the barn to sniff all the old bells, collars and halters from cattle no longer with us. I assume she wanted to see if Murphy’s was among them. Her production was back up to 4 ¼ gallons and there were 14 eggs again today. There are a lot of tomatoes to pick. I brought up one basket, about all I could carry. I must pick more as soon as possible. They are predicting a cold snap.
September 10, 2004 Friday: Ooh, I am tired. It is 11:30. I think I undertook to do too much today. I am not sure there is that much to show for my efforts. I made bread (whole wheat), butter, and a three-decker carrot cake for Martin’s guests at camp. I used Martha Stewart’s recipe. It calls for three cups of shredded carrots which I pulled from my garden and two cups of oil. I don’t use vegetable oil much, as I consider it hazardous to health, certainly I would not put two cups into anything. Instead I used a pound of melted butter. While it was melting I got very involved in the Discussion Forum and allowed it to get a bit browned. I believe this improved the flavor (it was store butter). I swiped enough of the dough to make myself a large cupcake, which I just ate for an 11:00 supper with a big glass of milk. This was unequivocally the best carrot cake I ever ate. One thing I tried to make today but failed, was cottage cheese. I allowed the curd to get too hot (once again engrossed in the Forum) so gave it all to the chickens. While down in the garden harvesting carrots, tomatoes, fennel and zucchinis I noticed a horrible mass of bugs I did not recognize. They were clustered in masses of hundreds on mildewed squash leaves. I don’t know if they caused the mildew or chose to sit on it. These were ugly beetley grey bugs shaped like elongated shields and they varied in size from ¼” long to ¾ ” long. They looked soft. It was creepy to see so many. I have no idea what they eat. Helen had a happy day. It was cool and partly sunny. She gave only 4 gallons and I have a feeling that is not going to improve unless that hay that has not been delivered is better than I think it will be. This is too late in the summer to be making hay. I only got 12 eggs.
September 12, 2004 Sunday: The fine weather continues. I finally heard from my hay man. I am to expect the hay tomorrow afternoon. I am trying to round up some help. None of my sons are around on a Monday. Max, Martin and Martin’s house guest, Sean, went for a mountain bike ride today in Mount Blue State Park. Max took a bad fall and probably has cracked ribs. His bike snagged on a bush and he went flying into a rock. He is an expert rider but I guess occasional falls are inevitable. He set out on his five-hour drive to Cape Cod, his current job site, armed with ice pack, aspirin, vitamins and lots of advice. Martin and Amy had a small house party this weekend. Last night they served some of the fine Alaskan Silver Salmon (Coho) and I brought my carrot cake. It was the joint birthday of one couple. As noted earlier, I used a Martha Stewart recipe that called for three cups of carrot and two cups of oil for which I substituted two cups of melted butter. The frosting called for two eight ounce packages of cream cheese for which I substituted 8 oz. of qvark and 8 of cheese made by draining yogurt. The instructions for the cake called for three layers, one 10′ pan, one 8′ pan one 6′ pan. By the time I had it stacked and frosted it resembled an unknown grave in winter, or possibly a small Ziggurat. I will say, it was extremely good. The butter was a huge improvement over oil, and the fresh juicy carrots made a difference too. Yesterday I canned eight pints of applesauce from the wild apples my grandson, Rafe, brought me before he returned to Alaska. It has great flavor. I made a couple more quarts today and made an applesauce cake using whole-wheat pastry flour. I also baked two loaves of sour dough bread using my raw milk starter. The dough sat a long time and got rather tart and I was not sure anybody would eat it, but everybody loved it. Max and family and Martin were here for a mid afternoon meal of home grown chicken in gravy. Martin’s fiancée, Amy, stayed at camp to do computer work and joined us later. Martin got the wheels back on his Ford 9N tractor. Everybody says that their hens are falling off in production and mine are no exception. Yesterday I got only seven eggs. Today there was one dozen. Mitra, my daughter-in-law, took six to put under a broody hen. Helen gave four gallons.
September 13, 2004 Monday: At last my hay came today. I got 450 bales. Some is reed canary, some is timothy. This has been a nearly impossible year here in Maine for hay. It rained every second or third day for the last three months with often four or five days with no sun at all and just a few sunny patches in there. George and Diane, the hay makers, and two local boys and I unloaded and stacked it all. George brought a hay elevator to send it up to the hayloft floor. It looks good, considering that this is so late. Some may turn out dusty later on but I am grateful to have it. Frost is predicted for tonight, so I picked the ripe tomatoes. I left them in a cart near the garden with a blanket over it. It is too heavy for me to pull back up the hill. I do hope it is a light frost and that I still have some flowers tomorrow. Because of the cool summer, the dahlias are only just now half open. I had another cod liver oil adventure today. Some may recall that last winter I discovered a miraculous cure for hives. I got a terrible case of hives and nothing was working. Then I heard that fish oil is used for skin disorders in Uzbekistan. I had cod liver oil and was ready to try anything. I rubbed myself with it and within three minutes the hives were gone. I know this sounds “fishy”, but it is true and was amazing. Today as I was finishing with the tomatoes, going barefoot, I got stung on the toe by a bumble bee. It hurt like the dickens. I hobbled back up to the house and went straight for the cod liver oil, just to see if it would work. I put on plenty and laid down. Within three minutes the pain was gone, replaced by a numb feeling. Later it started to itch to I put on more, which helped. Now after handling all that hay it is bothering me again. It feels swollen. I will put on some more cod liver oil and report tomorrow.
September 14, 2004 Tuesday: My barn smells lovely now it is full of hay. As Claire said, one has a great sense of wealth when the haymow is full. Now I walk between towering aisles. The samples I have put down for the cows are being eaten right up. When I went out to get the paper this morning I saw that when George left with his rig he took out the gatepost. Fortunately it is the side with the hitch, not the hinge. So replacing it will not be so difficult. I hope maybe Max will have time to fix it. It looks awful. George’s wife called and said he would come and fix it, but I said we would do it. They are working 12 or more hour days to finish haying, plus it was obvious that the post was pretty rotten. Helen gave 4 gallons today. There were only seven eggs. I need to thin out the roosters again and have begun separating them into a room of their own.
September 16, 2004 Thursday: Such beautiful weather we had today. I took a half-day holiday and joined my daughter-in-law Mitra in their woodland home where she served me home grown fried eggplant and we watched a DVD. I don’t remember having had home grown eggplant before and can report that it shares that astonishing flavor edge that we notice with so many of the fresh home grown foods we eat including fresh milk. It has a creamy sweet taste with no bitterness. The DVD was good too. We watched the first half of the 1996 Masterpiece Theatre production of Pride and Prejudice. It was about three hours long. We hope to repeat the occasion next Thursday and see the last half. I was pretty late milking Helen and she was waiting for me in the Beefer Pen lying in a big mess. Her preferred end of the room does not drain well, in fact has a chronic upwelling of moisture. I sure need to get some more gravel in there. She was dripping with wet manure. I really would have told her to go away and come back tomorrow, except that I was afraid that she might have started to let down and her open teat ends would be an invitation to mastitis. It took a whole edition of the Lewiston Sun Journal to wipe her down before I even started with wet towels. I do envy those with a cow-bathing set-up. She has no let down issues and begins streaming great puddles of milk on the floor soon after she is in the stanchion. For the last two weeks she has been coming in nice and clean because the perfect weather tempts them to take their naps in the pasture. I pitch all the fresh patties out of the Beefer Pen around noon. This helps for a few hours. But, if she chooses to lie down while waiting to come it, it is usually in that same spot. There was an abandoned kitten sitting in the middle of the barn crying loudly. No sign of the mother, so I brought it in and fed it a bottle. Mostly I just dribbled milk down its mouth. What a nuisance. Sigh. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons today. There were ten eggs.
September 17, 2004 Friday: Tonight Helen came in only halfway dirty, but I was in a rush to get to camp for dinner with Martin, Amy and her dad, so the clean up was a nuisance. Machine milking is not quite so conducive to contemplation as hand milking, but still I manage to do a bit of pondering while listening to the pulsator. It came to me that I could put up boards or saw horses or something and stop Helen lying in that messy area. I will definitely do that tomorrow. When I got to camp Martin and his future father-in-law were just returning from a paddle across the lake. On the far shore in a swampy area they saw a perfectly enormous bull moose. It had huge shoulders and a massive rack that interfered with it turning back into the woods. It did a lot of grunting and snorting and splashing about. I have figured out how to stop this kitten from yowling. I have it under my sweatshirt Helen gave 4 gallons today. Only got eight eggs.
September 19, 2004 Sunday: It rained much of Saturday, thus saving me from watering. Martin, Amy, her dad Ken and I went to Max and Mitra’s house for dinner. I skipped evening milking so that we could go earlier and all together. Helen made up this morning for the loss, but not completely. Over the two-day period there was about a half gallon less milk. Ken lives in Arizona and is involved with a group called Native Seeds Search. They find and grow nearly lost seeds from the Hopi Indian culture. Today was very fine. The cows spent all their time on the pasture and had a lovely time. There are very few flies now and as a consequence of a very rainy season, the pasture is all green, no brown anywhere. My lovely spring sink has got a leak in the line and I am not getting any spring water in the kitchen. I must go see if I can find the leak. I hope I don’t see a moose in the woods. NPR’s Doug Fine recently interviewed my daughter Sally in Alaska about her little bakery in a remote region. It has been highly successful. The interview was aired today in some places but I have not heard it. Many bears frequent the Chilcoot River, a salmon river that runs past her place. Sally is interested in defending the bears from the effects of tourism, so I rather imagine she steered the interview in that direction. Sally got up about 4AM every day and made all the bread and pastries sold in the bakery. She picked the wild blueberries and raspberries for the bear paw pastries, too.
September 20, 2004 Monday: I have a small black kitten in the kitchen that I am fostering since last Friday. It spends most of its time pasted up against the Aga. I am feeding it with a tiny bottle, but it dislikes this arrangement and I think very little goes down its throat. This morning I thought it might be dead. It went all limp. But then it perked up and toddled around the kitchen, crying. I don’t think it is more than three weeks old. Bagel and I set out this fine day to check my spring line for breaks. Before we got past the barnyard I noticed that an out door nest where a bantam has been setting was destroyed. The eggs were thrown around and eaten and all that was left of the hen was a trail of black feathers. The next thing I found was a pile of scat. All signs point to a raccoon. That is bad news. There as no sign of a break in the spring line. So now I have no idea why the water is not running. But it was a lovely walk. Down in the woods I found three metal stakes left behind from fence removal early last spring when the ground was frozen. I was only able to pull up one of them. This sort of thing cannot be left in the woods or some day when it rusts off an animal will step on the stub and be injured. I did not have flagging tape with me so when I got home I posted a note for myself on the fridge, “Remove stakes”. I have been noticing some late ripening elderberries coming on long after the main crop, which I made jelly of three weeks ago. I went out with my basket and got nearly a gallon. Helen gave only 3 ½ gallons today. This is probably a result of my having skipped milking Saturday night. At least she was very clean. There were ten eggs.
September 22, 2004 Wednesday, Equinox: Today was one of those days of flawless weather. I got outside as much as possible, but baskets, bowls and boxes of tomatoes are reproaching me at ever pass through the buttery, “Don’t forget about us!” The little kitten didn’t make it. In the morning it was too weak to eat. It began to cry and I carried it around under my shirt for an hour or so until it quieted down and went to sleep. Then I laid it down on its nest of Polar Fleece next to the Aga and it kept on sleeping and never woke up. Poor little Tiny. Yesterday I had so much extra milk I had to pray for customers. Today they came and cleaned me out. They wanted eggs too. My hens are not laying the way they were six weeks ago, but evidently they are doing better than some other folks’ hens. People were saying they could not get them from their usual sources. I got a dozen today. One young couple that has been steady customers for a couple of years is moving to California. On their reconnaissance trip they tried all the brands of organic and raw milk they could find. They said none compared favorably with Helen’s milk and it was grossly expensive. Helen gave four gallons today.
September 23, 2004 Thursday: This was another day of perfect weather. Mitra and I went up to camp for a few brief minutes. It was lovely there by the lake, but also very fine at the farm. I did some more work on my tomatoes and gave some to Mitra. Helen enjoyed her brushing so much that she did not want to leave her stanchion tonight. For a while it looked like I was going to have to carry her out. So far we have had only light frost. It killed most of the leaves on the squash, but has spared the flowers. Mitra and I will go to the County Fair tomorrow morning in Farmington if I can manage it. As they say, be careful what you pray for. I was getting swamped with milk and eggs a few days ago. Now yesterday and today people bought every egg and all the milk. I even had to go look under hens to make up a dozen eggs for Mitra. But I always have a little milk saved back for myself, and plenty of cream. Helen gave 4 ¼ gallons today and I got one dozen eggs.
September 24, 2004 Friday: Yet another superb day. This sort of thing worries Mainers’. We know we will have to pay for it sooner or later. Mitra and I went to the Farmington fair. This is an old fashioned fair that is mostly animals plus a bunch of rides. There were many 4H animals. These included young beef animals, sheep and pigs, with pigs being the most popular. Surely the judge had a hard time awarding ribbons. All the pigs were pink perfection. There were also a surprising number of heavy horses, all Belgians so far as I could tell. My, what awe-inspiring horses they are. There must have been twenty of them. I got to watch a little bit of sheep shearing. I miss having sheep. The cattle were mostly Angus and Beef Shorthorn. There were a few Belties and one pen of Brangus. There were at least ten pens of matched oxen. They ranged in size from six-month-old babies to some that looked to weigh 2000 lbs and had impressive horns. There were also a half dozen huge Short Horn and Angus bulls, totally placid acting. The only dairy cows were a pair of Irish Dexters, a mother and daughter. This being Friday, next to last day of a 7-day fair, the dairy cows may have gone home. Helen gave almost 4 ½ gallons. I got 11 eggs. Every bit of milk was sold again today.
September 25, 2004 Saturday: The fine weather turned to gentle rain this evening. The pasture is almost as green and lush as in May. Possibly because of this, Helen seems very little interested in her new hay. I do hope it is good hay. I stayed busy all day mostly in the house. I put up eight pints of tomato sauce and six quarts of tomato juice. I made two loaves of cracked wheat bread. I soaked 1 ½ cups of cracked wheat overnight in clabber and added this to plain white dough. It made a puffy well flavored loaf. A second elderly lady in Dixfield now wants cottage cheese. These ladies say they can’t stomach commercial cottage cheese and long for the dry, flavorful product they remember from childhood over which they poured cream. So, today I put up two quarts of cottage cheese for them. I charge only $3/quart. Such a bargain. The middle of last week I picked some late ripening elderberries and today made them into cordial. All I did was fill a two-quart glass jar with elderberries, add a cup of sugar and top it up with vodka. I have been taking an occasional nip to see what I think of the flavor. It may need more sugar. The cordial should be ready by Christmas. Also today I picked another half bushel of tomatoes and left them down at the garden for somebody else to carry up. My back has not totally recovered from that 450 bales of hay. I have not processed the last lot I picked. It is still sitting in the buttery. The bantam hen that raised three chicks over the summer has now told them they are on their own and started a new nest. I found it today with two small beautiful blue eggs in it. I took one. I don’t intend to let her raise another family this year. The young birds go around together acting bereft. I keep a pan of mash for them in the grain room, which they consider their home, having spent their chickdom there. Helen gave just over four gallons today. I got 10 eggs.
September 26, 2004 Sunday: While tidying in the barn, I picked up and overturned a cardboard box. Underneath was a trapped hen, poor thing. She must have hopped on the edged of the box and it flipped over on her. I don’t know how long she was under that box, but more than 24 hours I think. She did not seem much the worse for wear. She wandered off with a slightly weaving gait, disoriented I would say. I watched her for awhile but she acted pretty normal. I have a batch of red tomato chutney on the Aga. I prefer it to the green tomato type of thing. It is very versatile. Many adults prefer it to ketchup. I got a dozen eggs but forgot to write down the milk this morning so I am not sure what Helen gave.
September 27, 2004 Monday: There was a big surprise waiting for me this morning, a surprise the size of a cow. When I went out to the barn for my early trip to let out the chickens, who but Helen should be lying down chewing her cud on the lawn by the big barn door. I think she said, “Oh, good, you finally got out of bed.” She let me lead her right back inside the barn. Fortunately Albert and Sammy had not gotten out. I discovered later that she had busted through a place that Sally Lakness and I patched up the day Murphy came and all the cows got out on the road. This was a bit of fence leading into the small horse paddock. I believe it will hold them now. Helen gave barely 4 gallons today. I got 14 eggs.
September 29, 2004 Wednesday: The shelves in my cellar are getting crowded. Today I made six jars of sweet cucumber pickle. This used up the large cucumbers. I labeled the 16 jars of red tomato chutney and carried everything down and arranged it. I still have done no plain canned tomatoes. I picked more today and carried them up from the garden. But it is going to be too much for me. A lot will go to waste if it frosts tonight. Helen gave only 3 ½ gallons today. There were 12 eggs.
September 30, 2004 Thursday: It did not frost and I picked more tomatoes, mostly the small variety. I spent a happy half hour with my Japanese saw tooth sickle whacking out the invasive wild raspberry that wants to engulf my stone wall. At least I freed up my rosebush, Fantin Latour. It looks great. I fed it twice this season with whey. Whey is ideal rose food. I just pour it on the ground under the bush. Or, I make a foliar feed by adding water 3 to 1. I also cleaned out around one rhododendron, one peony and my tree peony. I canned 10 quarts of tomatoes. But I am still way behind. Helen gave 4 ½ gallons today and there were 12 eggs.
October 1, 2004 Friday: We had another beautiful day here. I picked tomatoes and beans and pruned out my raspberry canes. Martin came up for the weekend. His Amy will come tomorrow. She had to attend something at the museum where she works. My granddaughter Helena came with him and did the driving. She likes driving his little Toyota Prius. Helen’s production is declining. She only gave 3 ½ gallons today. My hens aren’t doing any better than anybody else’s either. Only eight eggs today. There are several gallons of unsold milk in the refrigerator. Maybe I will make them some more clabber.
October 2, 2004 Saturday: It is beginning to really feel like fall now. The days are much shorter. Every morning lately has been foggy. In the foggy dark morning I make an early racing trip to the barn in my bathrobe to let out the chickens while passing traffic can’t see me. I need to fix up a light on a timer for them. Pretty soon it will be too cold for this sort of excursion. I noticed mushrooms coming up in my old horse stall. The common mushroom, agaricus campestris, favors horse manure and that is what these mushrooms appear to be. I brought some in to study. Yesterday I ate a bite of one raw. It tasted just right and I am none the worse, so I have started watering them with the wash water I take to the barn. I expect a nice patch of mushrooms. More have already come up. I made the qvark cheesecake from the recipe posted by Midge. This was not the first qvark cheesecake I have made but is the first using that recipe. It was a big hit. Helen did not give more over 3 ½ gallons today. There is plenty of green grass, but the nutrient value has fallen. I am starting to put out hay, but they are not very interested in it. I got 11 eggs.
October 3, 2004 Sunday: Helen and the boys did not show up for milking this morning. I called and swept and tidied the barn and still no cows. Forty minutes later, seriously picturing disasters such as hunters or impoundment by crabby neighbors who found them in their garden, I was heading back to the house to check my phone messages and change into boots. Then they appeared as though by a magic trick heading into the barnyard. Cows sure can sneak up quietly. We had a beautiful fall day, but probably the last day for the flowers. Hard frost is foretold. How I loved all my zinnias and nasturtiums and marigolds. Helena and her friend Nick carried up some more boxes of tomatoes that I picked this afternoon. Helen gave slightly under four gallons today. There were a dozen eggs.
October 4 2004 Monday: Helen was waiting nicely this morning. Last night some critter got into the buttery and tore into the dried fruit. I think it must have been a raccoon. The chickens got a bonanza of spilled raisins and other treats. There is a black hen in the barn, one of the unconfined group, that is hobbling around with a broken leg or something. I caught her, but I could not figure out where she is injured. I fixed her up in the grain room with chicken fed and a pan of sour milk. I also have another orphaned kitten. I suspect it is the sibling of Tiny. It is slightly more mature than Tiny was but it still cannot figure out how to eat properly. I have tried a wee pet bottle, a spoon, a medicine dropper and a saucer. It fights and dribbles and gets very little down. It spends most of its time by the Aga either sleeping or yowling. It came in foggy so we were spared a frost.
October 5, 2004 Tuesday: Yet another frost free day, but surely the last. It is supposed to go down into the 20’s tonight, so I picked a big bouquet of dahlias. Max came over and finished up the lawn mowing that Mark could not get done on Sunday. He also went to the mill and got me two dustbins of sawdust. That should last until freeze-up, after which it becomes a solid, unusable block. Then I will have to get along without it until spring. My lovely spring water has not been running in the kitchen for a couple of weeks. Max and I went up the mountainside to have a look at it. Nothing was blocking the outfall line. Back at the farm, Max connected a hose to the high-pressure domestic water supply (I have a good drilled well), attached this to the pipe in the cellar where the spring water enters the house, and back flushed it. It requires two female connections on the hose in order to do this. He took his car and raced back up to the spring and was able to observe water rushing into the spring. Then we let that drain back and before long water was again flowing from the spring. Presumably there was an air lock in the line. I am so grateful to have it running again. Helen gave four gallons today. There were 12 eggs.
October 6, 2004 Wednesday: I have been wondering what to name this kitten I am fostering. I think “Nuisance” would be about right. Although it probably does not weigh above 7oz it runs screeching after me whenever it sees me. I have taken to creeping about the kitchen in hopes of not waking it up. It has now decided it can eat out of the tiny pet bottle but it does not suck. It chews on the nipple with its back teeth while I squeeze out the milk. It did get down a bottle and a half today. I am feeding it a mixture of creamy milk and goose blood. Goose blood? Yes. I defrosted a package of goose giblets that have been living in the freezer for a year and added the blood that seeped out when I defrosted them. Truly yucky, but he goes for it. We got our killing frost last night. It was down to 23F. Everything remotely tender is gone. Without their tops the purple potatoes cannot be grow any bigger, so I dug them up. My daughter Abby wanted purple potatoes and I failed to order any seed, so finally in July I took a chance and bought a handful of them from the supermarket. They had been treated with growth retardant hormone, so I had few hopes for them. Abby planted them in a good spot with lots of rich manure, but for weeks they did not come up. Then somehow they decided to grow and they put up a huge top. There were just three or four small potatoes all together in a nest, but they made a plant two feet high and three feet across. I dug up a third of a bucket of table-sized potatoes and there were many small ones that would have come on if they had not lost their top. Helen only gave 3 ½ gallons today. I got 15 eggs. The weather was beautiful.
October 7, 2004 Thursday: I was awaken by the phone a little before my alarm went off (It is set for five AM). It was my oldest son John calling from Townsville, Northern Queensland, Australia, to tell me he has accepted a position as Research Fellow at James Cook University. He will be developing computer modeling of fresh and ocean water mixing around the Great Barrier Reef. He sounded very happy. It was still dark when I hung up the phone. I went outside and saw the moon and Saturn. Little Nuisance is pretty lively. He has become more efficient at drinking from the pet bottle and drank at least three ounces today. I can’t move in the kitchen without him chasing me yowling for another feed. The rest of the time he snoozes in a sunbeam or by the Aga. It did not freeze last night, but was in the low thirties. The house was cold. I discovered late last night that cold air was pouring in through a broken windowpane in the bathroom. It must have been broken for several days. A double layer of curtain was in front of it. I stuffed a bath towel in the hole. I broke down this morning and turned on the furnace for a little while. Helen gave 3 ¾ gallons. I guess the hens outdid themselves yesterday. Today I only found 7 eggs.
October 8, 2004 Friday: Well I did it again. I went off and left the electric churn running and over-beat the butter. Now I have about two pounds of butter filled with buttermilk. I left it unsalted. People have been remarking that Bagel is getting more of a dark red hue, not the buff color he used to be. I wonder if this could be the raw meat diet. Only seven eggs again today. I have noticed yolk on some eggs. This means egg eating. Bad news. Helen gave 3 ¾ gallons today. She is being friendly and cooperative for the last few days. I screamed at her last week and tied her tail back with a hay string because she kept whapping me with it on purpose. I guess she wants to be friends. I am amazed how much green grass I still have. My kitten, Nuisance, is doing pretty well. He played with Lulu, Max’s dog today, and played with a ball.
October 9, 2004 Saturday: My son Mark and little Hailey came bringing my new friend Nina Planck to visit for the weekend. We are having a good time chatting about nutrition. Her particular interest is local food. She came to the barn and watched the milking. Helen was well behaved. My orphaned kitten looks like he/she will make it. I ran out of goose blood with which I had been fortifying its milk and have defrosted some colostrum for it. It clearly likes it. Helen gave 3 ¾ gallons today. I got 11 eggs.
October 10 Sunday: Nina and I kept very busy. We walked back down to where yesterday we found some fence damage and fixed that. On the way back we spotted an old truck tire in a shallow part of the river. Nina took off her shoes and dragged it to the riverbank. Later my son Mark and she went down in his pickup and got it up the bank and hauled away. Mark took it to the dump but they refused it and he had to bring it home. It seems homeowners just have to store things that they will not take. Nina dug my crop of Finnish potatoes. There were some purple potatoes among them. These are all now drying out and awaiting storage. Nina also weeded the comfrey out of my raspberries and manured them. I should get a good crop next year. We all went up to camp and I waded in the lake. The fall colors are getting brilliant. Max and the girls came over. He and Mark rode their mountain bikes and then we all had dinner. I stewed a home raised chicken and Nina prepared a number of vegetables dishes, which were a hit. These included baba ganoush, an eggplant dip that everyone likes a lot. Nina assisted with the milking. Helen gave 3 ¾ gallons. There were 10 eggs.
October 11, 2004 Monday: Mark and Hailey and Nina left after breakfast. This was another fine day with deepening color in the hills. The predominant hue today is a misty apricot. Helen gave 4 gallons today. Perhaps the pile of comfrey that Nina threw over the fence yesterday gave her a boost. There were 10 eggs.
October 12, 2004 Tuesday: My car has some kind of front-end problem that I hope to get fixed before I drive to Portland on Saturday. The Maine Cheese Guild has asked me to speak informally at their cheese day at the Public Market. They have me out on the plaza so I hope it does not rain. I wish I could bring Helen. She would pull in the audience. On the way to pick up a part for my car I stopped at Walmart and bought a pair of dairy boots. All the ones around here leak. I have two more trays of tomatoes drying in the Aga simmer oven. It rained and blew hard most of the day. Then it cleared and we had a gorgeous sunset. What a treat it was. Helen gave 3 ½ gallons. There were 8 eggs.
October 13, 2004 Wednesday: Bagel and I took a lovely walk today across the river on Sally’s field, the Oxbow Field. There are plenty of highbush cranberries. I hope to have time to pick them. I see there are tracks on the field. Somebody has driven a pickup over it. Sally has planted many trees including an Amur Maple from seed. It forms a round bush and is more that four feet high. It is covered with tiny fiery red leaves. I dug my carrots and also brought one of the mangels up for Helen to try. These are a beet meant for cows and are a gorgeous orange color. I whacked it up for Helen’s dinner and she loved it. Helen gave 3 ¾ gallons today. I found eight eggs.
October 14, 2004 Thursday: That raccoon is determined to get into the buttery and help itself to the food kept there. This morning there was a pile if wood chips by the door that is between the buttery and the shed. It had chewed the edge of the door so that it could get in and eat more raisins. Now the door is too gappy to keep it out so I wedged in a shovel and tied the door shut with rope. We shall see what morning brings. Helen has been behaving very well but her production is falling. Only 3 ½ gallons today, and 8 eggs. She is beginning to eat some hay. I am going to keep on giving her one mangle at each milking until they are gone. I planted only a few. She really likes them. I cut them up into chunks.
October 15, 2004 Friday: We had warm rain most of the day. The cows kept right on grazing. Helen’s rumen was stuffed when she came in this evening and she had not been near her hay. Production continues to be disappointing, 3 ½ gallons again today, and I had to fight for that. I got eight eggs. The raccoon was frustrated by my elaborate lash-up last night involving a shovel. Don’t those things hibernate? I don’t want to go through this every night. I picked over the last of the tomatoes that were in baskets in the buttery and canned them up. I got another six quarts and would have had twice that if I had got at them sooner. I threw a lot down the bank. The chickens won’t eat many tomatoes. I must have left two bushels in the garden that I did not manage to bring in before frost hit. Max and Mitra and the kids are driving me in to Portland tomorrow so I can address the Cheese Guild. This will be a treat.
October 16, 2004 Saturday: The weather turned out fine for my trip to Portland. I got everything done and was ready to leave by 9 am. Max and Mitra and the girls drove me down, which made it a fun day. I was glad I had done little to prepare for talking to the Cheese Guild people about cows since they had done little to notify anybody of my presence. The Cheese Festival was held at the Portland Public Market, which occupies a huge new building. The loudspeaker was loudly urging everybody to come to the big Cheese Cracking at the very time I was invited to talk. At least I was not in a forgotten classroom, but out on the Plaza next to a nice pen of Nubian goats and a sweet red Holstein calf. This was at one of the entrances to the market and next to a busy downtown sidewalk. There was a steady stream of upscale shoppers to the market and a considerable representation of street people who rolled their eyes, babbled and dragged along their pathetic possessions. I was only expected to be there for one hour. After this we went inside. My son Mark arrived from the nearby Maine Medical Center where he works and he bought me excellent fish and chips. Then we all walked down cobbled streets to the marina where we were joined by my son Martin. Helen was mooing when I got home. She obviously knew I had been gone and returned home. I was late milking her but she didn’t mind. She gave 3 ½ gallons again today. There were 11 intact eggs, but egg was smeared onto the eggs in one nest. This has been happening a lot.
October 18, 2004 Monday: Helen’s production is inching downwards. For the last few days I have increased her grain a little to see if I could get any bounce from this, but no. This late in lactation it is unlikely. She’s in her 14’th month. Yesterday and today she ate quite a bit of hay. I refilled the feeder twice. It rained all yesterday afternoon, so they stayed in. She has been coming in very clean lately because she likes to stay outside almost all the time. Abby, my daughter, stopped in today and we walked down by the river. We were able to pull up a couple of old metal stakes I found two weeks ago and couldn’t get out of the ground. There are still a couple there. I marked them with flagging. My daughter Sally hates to see a tree in pain. Last year she put a spiral plastic wrap on a wispy pine tree on the riverbank. The sheep had gnawed it. Today I noticed that it has made a fluffy new top. It still does not look strong. Maybe I should stake it. This morning I lifted the dahlia tubers. I expect a hard frost tonight. Dahlias are a nuisance, but these certainly were spectacular. They got about 5 feet tall and had innumerable 6 inch pale yellow flowers. Speaking of a nuisance, Nuisance, my kitten, is hungry all the time and still will only feed from a shot glass. It is a lively little thing. Helen gave barely 3 ½ gallons today and I only got 6 eggs. Two silly hens have gone broody. I’m not letting them have any eggs.
October 19, 2004 Tuesday: Everywhere I went today folks remarked on the fine crisp weather. Last night was cold. It was 23F at my house. I don’t believe it got above 50F all day. I stopped at the farmer’s Union and picked up a new cattle weight tape. Mine disappeared. I also stopped at an orchard stand and bought a peck of Milton apples. They are an old fashioned variety. I bought some there a couple of weeks ago and they made beautiful pink applesauce Helen gave 3 ½ gallons again today. I got ten eggs. Sorry to say I set the box down carelessly. It tipped over and dumped them all; five broke.
October 20, 2004 Wednesday: I seldom see as many people as I did today. The piano tuner came, also a neighbor to whom I sold two yards of cow manure for $20 (bargain!), Doug Fine, a reporter, and my daughter Abby who to my eternal gratitude raced around with the vacuum cleaner. Doug Fine is a friend and neighbor of my daughter Sally in Alaska. He is on a book tour. Occasionally you hear him on NPR. Last year he broadcast from the top of Kilimanjaro. We had a fine visit. I got to tell him lots of things about cows. With what was left of the day I made some more lovely pink applesauce with the Miltons I bought yesterday. It is getting colder now every day. It was 24F this morning and did not get above 50F. I had the furnace on for a while. Helen gave less than 3 ½ gallons. There were eight eggs.
October 22, 2004 Friday: It is beginning to feel like November. The days seem so short and the sky is overcast. Son Max came over to help me winterize. He repaired an awful gap in the weather stripping on the kitchen door and rolled up many hoses, put in more nails and hung them up in the cellar. He fired up the Kubota and removed the manure pile that has accumulated outside the beefer pen in the last two months. The Kubota does not have forks on the bucket but he was able to get most of it. Then he back flushed the spring line to see if he could get it running again. I had assumed it had another air block. This did no good so we were faced with the fact that the line was broken somewhere. We called Bagel and took a walk down to see if we could find the trouble. Sometimes it is easy to see a fountain of spray or at least a fast dribble, but there was no sound of water to be heard. We stood and stared at the line where it crosses the brook and is buried in sand. Max spied a slight unnatural effect of the current, a little boil-up. He crouched down and began digging. That was it! The more he dug the bigger the boil-up became but without a shovel he could not get to the problem. We went home and Max drove to town and purchased 300′ of new line to splice around the problem. We agreed this made the most sense. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I canned up my applesauce and made cappuccino for my dear cousin Marcia. Daughter Abby had arranged to take my extra roosters to be dressed off Saturday, but then dear granddaughter Helena and her young man, Nick, offered to do them at home. Nick is a real country boy and has all the equipment. Hurrah! Yesterday I found a sneaky place the hens have been laying and got 13 eggs, but today only nine. Both yesterday and today Helen gave about 3 ½ gallons. I made 1 ½ lb butter today and have enough cream to make it again tomorrow. For my dinner I roasted some root vegetables in a clay pot, beet, onion, garlic and carrot. I also put in a small mangel to see if roasting would bring out any more flavor, but it still tasted very bland. Roasted root veggies with butter make a satisfying meal.
October 23, 2004 Saturday: My granddaughter Helena brought one of her brothers and her particular friend Nick over this morning and they dressed off five roosters. They did a beautiful job. Nick owns a wrought iron stand that has a propane gas ring and holds a big deep pot for scalding birds. He set it up and boiled water out in front of the barn. Usually I have to heat water on the Aga and then they do the plucking in front of the garage. Feathers are blowing around the driveway for months afterwards. I had the fellows save the feet this time. After they did the chickens they brought over a splitter and split some more firewood for me. Sons Max and Mark spent a couple of hours this afternoon repairing the spring line. To my great joy, it is once again running at a good clip. I stood in the kitchen frying doughnuts. I used my Grammie’s recipe. It is simple and tasty. The doughnuts were so popular that I stirred up a second batch. I fried them in a mixture of beef and pork fat. They turned out crispy with a three dimensional flavor impossible to achieve with vegetable based fat. Helen gave a tad under 3 ½ gallons and there were nine eggs.
October 24, 2004 Sunday: Helen was limping this morning on her left front leg. When I let her out tonight she lay down by the hay feeder instead of eating. Mark made a temporary repair to the front gatepost. It is now possible to close the gate if needed. Helen gave well under 3.5 gallons today. My customers are taking nearly her whole production. However, one couple is about to move to Laguna Beach so that will reduce the pressure on the supply. 10 eggs. Weather cold and bleak.
October 25, 2004 Monday: Helen didn’t seem to be limping so much today. I could not see any limp in front. But when I let her out after this evening’s milking I could see a limp in her front left shoulder again. Maybe she strained it on some hilly place. I have been wondering if I should start collecting some of the herbal materials I have here on Coburn Farm. I have comfrey, burdock, viburnum trilobum, coltsfoot, witch hazel, hawthorn (oxyacantha), barberry, Valerian, to name only a few. Helen gave 3 ½ gallons today. I suppose I should not be entirely discouraged. I was looking back in this diary at April and see that before the summer grass came on she was giving only 3 gallons. I found 10 eggs. Under one hen it was a scrambled eggs mess. One or more eggs had broken. I am finding this fairly often.
October 26, 2004 Tuesday: Helen was not limping so badly today, but I could still see it. She ate a lot of hay. I put the weight tape on her and it read 1091 lbs. Albie weighed 928. From a distance they look very much alike. Tomorrow I will try to measure Sammy. My daughter Abby has been suffering from an intractable diarrhea that came on after she took an antibiotic for an abscessed tooth. She suffered with the problem for almost three weeks before going to a doctor (or mentioning it to her mother) Tests identified the bacteria as Clostridium difficile. It is difficult to treat. C. difficile produces a neurotoxin which paralyzes the gut. The immobilized gut creates favorable conditions for C. difficile but prevents re-colonization by normal gut flora. The body is defenseless against the condition. C. difficile is common in day care centers. Antibiotics, especially certain ones, enable the condition by wiping out normal gut flora and permitting the overgrowth of C. difficile. Thus most antibiotics are contra-indicated, or simply useless. Other forms of diarrhea are characterized by excessive gut motility (peristalsis). Drugs such as Lomotil or Immodium that slow the gut are prescribed. These must not be taken when C. difficile is involved. What you have to do is try to get the gut back in business with normal contractions. The suggested diet includes foods high in soluble fiber (pectin) such as apples and pears. These support bacterial fermentation by the normal flora, which flourish and inhibit C. difficile by their metabolic products (volatile fatty acids). I also got the idea that colostrum and whey would be helpful. One of the main jobs of colostrum is to coat the gut with proteins that foster colonization by healthy flora. And Claire Weldon gave us a dramatic account of the efficacy of whey in assisting survival of WWI soldiers with wounds in the gut. So I gave Abby colostrum saved in the freezer from Helen’s last calving, and made her some curds and whey (clabber). She is still very weak but says that the colostrum appeared to be the most effective food so far. Max came over today to help me and I gave him two laying hens to add to his flock.
October 28, 2004 Thursday: Abby has now finished off two quarts of colostrum and a couple of pints of clabber. She believes the colostrum has cured her. Her twin sister and husband have driven up from Virginia and will take her back down there. They took me out to dinner tonight, an unusual event for me. Abby was well enough to come down and set my hair (Another unusual event. I usually look like a Polish hen.) This morning I dug around in the garden to see if any potatoes had been overlooked, and lifted the beets. I also transplanted several perennials. It was down to 24f this morning, so any more transplanting had better get done pretty quickly. Because of going out, I skipped the evening milking. I carried Helen’s pan of grain out into the barnyard for her. When I got home tonight I went out to the barn and saw all three bovines sleeping inside the barn. I had expected they would decide to sleep inside tonight and left fluffy bedding spread out. But they pulled out more.
The tiny kitten I was nurturing in the kitchen last week, Nuisance, has a new home with my son Max and his wife, Mitra. She loves kittens. She took it right to the vet and got medicine for its cough and bought it a new nursing bottle. Its name is now Harriet Nuisance. It is a lively scampering little thing and plays all the time with their dog, Lulu.
October 29, 2004 Friday: Helen gave three gallons this morning. That is one gallon more than usual due to not being milked last night, when I would have gotten about a gallon and a half. So that half gallons was lost. Tonight she gave one gallon plus about two cups. Skipping a milking definitely depressed her production. She is eating a lot more hay now. That may help. I put a piece of salt block into the feed tray in front of her milking stanchion. She licked it like crazy, mostly from boredom I believe. They have a salt block in their run-in all the time so she is not lacking.
October 31, 2004 Halloween: We are having a nice warm spell. It got up to 50F today and the heavy cloud cover broke up for a while and gave us some sun. Son Martin and his fiancée Amy came up for the day. Martin rearranged the garage so that he could get his Kubota in alongside my car. He put the Minneapolis Moline inside the Beefer Pen, as I call it, in the space beneath the haymow where the cows eat their hay. Last winter the cows damaged it by chewing on the wiring and radiator hoses. I need to think of a way to stop them. Martin wonders if a tire would amuse them. After lunch they left to winterize their camp. Before supper Martin trimmed Helen’s hooves a little bit but one did bleed. I only got 6 eggs today. Helen gave 3 ¼ gallons of milk. During this morning’s milking I left her to go start the manure pitching. When I returned I discovered on quarter was still full and hard. I panicked for a minute thinking, “Mastitis!” But the problem was that one of the little vacuum hoses was crimped so that quarter was not milking. Then I sat there for another five minutes while it milked out. Helen has an annoying new way of teasing me. She waits until my back is turned and makes a big plop. Were she to do it when I am watching I would catch it on the shovel. This has happened at every milking for a week so I know it is on purpose. I checked for the location of the whorl on her face to establish her temperament, but she is so fuzzy that I can’t find it. There is little doubt that she is the naughty type. I met my new neighbors to the north. They have a better view than I do of my lower field, the Pocket Field. They said that the other day a bull moose was in the field and Helen ran it off. She stomped her feet and chased it.
November 1, 2004 Monday: My vet stopped by today and I finally was able to get a pregnancy test on Helen. Yes, he says there is a big calf. It is due about the middle of March. After my experience last spring when she came in heat when I thought she was five months gone, I needed somebody’s arm in there to really confirm it. When I dry her off after the first of the year she will have been milking a year and a half. I did not know ahead of time that my vet would be by today so I had to get Helen back in after he called about 10am. After her experience yesterday when she was trapped in her stanchion for two hours and then had horrid toenail clipping, she was quite suspicious about coming back in. I opened the gate and she walked halfway thorough, then stopped and stared at the house, lawn and driveway. I was not sure if she was checking for strange vehicles or strange men, but she was not taking any chances until she saw the coast was clear. Once again she had to wait two hours. Max was here too. He changed out one of my bathroom taps that had a problem. Then he went down in the woods and did a proper repair to the fence where Helen and the boys have been going through to visit the neighbors. He also scrubbed out the stock tank and moved it inside the Beefer Pen for the winter. Helen stood outside at the old spot pleading for water and by dark had still not been willing to drink from it in its new location. It isn’t like she doesn’t know where it is. She stood right next to Albie while he drank, but I guess she has her principles. Helen gave a little over 3 gallons today and there were seven eggs.
November 3, 2004 Wednesday: A very cold wind blew in today. I lost both power and telephone for several hours. My telephone is still out. It felt very strange to know that all my usual methods of communications were absent. And, so many of one’s usual activities depend on electricity. I prepared myself for hand milking early so there would still be daylight. However, the power returned before it was time to milk. This morning I took an axe down to the garden and chopped the huge cauliflower plants. Some I threw over the fence for the cows, some I carried to the chickens. The chickens finished theirs off within a half hour. Something has been hopping into the garden and eating the broccoli and Brussels sprouts plants. All their leaves are gone. I could not see any tracks. In yesterday’s election Maine failed to pass an initiative that would have made it illegal to hunt bears with dogs, traps or over bait. I do not know enough about hunting bears with dogs to be able to comment intelligently, but trapping and baiting are patently cruel and unsporting in my opinion. The arguments used by the hunting enthusiasts were embarrassingly untruthful and specious. Other states don’t use these methods, yet are not overrun with bears. Helen gave 3 ¼ gallons today. I got eight eggs.
November 4, 2004 Thursday: They are telling us to expect snow tonight. I piled the hay feeder high, then stood and watched. Albie didn’t want to eat. All he wanted to do was bully Helen. He kept making her go around and around. Every time she started to eat he made her move. I have never seen this behavior before from him. In the past she has always bossed him. He is getting almost as big as she is, and of course since he is not trying to produce milk and grow a calf, he has more time and energy for mischief. He may have to go live in the freezer sooner rather than later. I just learned my granddaughter Rosemary and her husband Nate will be visiting me starting November 17. They are both able and willing to butcher, I think. That is, if they have time. I don’t know their plans. Helen gave 3 ¼ gallons today and I got 8 eggs.
November 5, 2004 Friday: I found a simple way to defend my old tractor against having its wires chewed by Albie and Sammy. I dragged an old 12 foot 2×6 down from the loft of the barn and put one end through the steering wheel. It slants down just right to block their access to the wiring. Weather was cold and blustery today. Bagel and I took a walk around the fields, which was fun despite the weather. I think I need to pick up some Dr. Scholl’s insoles for my boots. The ground is getting cold. I visited my old dog Muffin’s grave. I miss her a lot. Her grave is now nearly invisible in the pasture. I have a sturdy wind chime in a nearby tree to make tinkling music there. A ravine below has a pretty little brook running through it lined with moss. The young leaves of forget-me-nots carpet the area. I must not forget to go admire them next spring when they bloom. Helen gave 3 ½ gallons today. I got 8 eggs.
November 6, 2002 Saturday: Helen was rather naughty when she came in this evening. I could think of no reason for this except that I am gradually switching the animals onto new time. On the old time it was 6pm when I got to the barn, not my customary 5pm. She walked ahead of me as always, but pooped all over everything on her way in to the milking room. Then a few minutes later when I went back to get something she did it again, which had to be on purpose. She managed to get it all over the outside of the milking machine necessitating my carrying it outdoors to hose it off. Ungrateful cow. She had a big serving of apple peelings with her dinner too, gift of Cousin Marcia. Son Max came over for milk with little Shireen. He also brought his dog Lulu, She and Bagel love each other and had a fine time rolling and chasing. Bagel took a long nap after they left. Max reports that the tiny kitten, Harriet Nuisance, is thriving. She is great friends with Lulu and sleeps with her, or under the wood stove. Harriet N. gets a meal of raw liver every morning. Max filled two dustbins with composted cow manure for their garden. I forked a cartload of chicken litter out of the hen house. Daughter Abby tells me that I never mentioned what happened to the black hen that had a broken leg least month. She slowly got a little better each day until now I can’t tell which of my six black hens she is.
November 7, 2004 Sunday: My Surge milking machine has been slowing down lately and not responding to adjustment. I have not been sure if the vacuum pump or the pulsator was at fault. Even with its intake valve in the Off position the pump was low. But, the dumb thing varies all the time anyway. I blame this on barometric pressure, but what do I know? I have not had the pulsator apart in six months to clean it, so brought it into the house and dismantled it. I always lay it on a newspaper and lay out all the parts in their proper relationship. Anyone who has done this will know that keeping it straight is not easy. It has to be turned over after the covers are unscrewed and this changes the relationship of everything inside to everything already taken off. It is also hard to keep all the bits properly oriented while reaming out its many mysterious air holes and wiping down its oily surfaces. The innards do not lock together.They slide around on each other and are held together by those covers I mentioned. The whole thing has to be turned wrong side up and held together manually while you replace the four screws in the covers. So, I did not get it back together right. And I had to take it apart again. And again. I was trying to calculate the number of permutations possible. It was at least ten, and the light was fading when finally, either by luck or with the assistance of the guardian in charge of pulsators, it worked. You know right away when you assemble the milking machine and turn on the electricity. The pulsator has no “maybe”. Either it works or it does not. Just in time for milking, it worked. Helen was very good tonight. After milking Helen lay right down and her breathing sounded labored. I am going out later to see if she is chewing her cud. She gave 3 ½ gallons today. I got ten eggs.
November 8, 2004 Monday: The milking machine worked fine this morning, but then this evening it was unable to maintain pressure sufficient to pulsate. I had to flip the slider with my finger for each pulsation. Had I not already had the machine on Helen I would have just gone back to the house for the bucket and milked by hand. With this manual flipping I was able to get the usual amount of milk, somewhat to my surprise. Helen was very good. This afternoon Bagel and I took a walk by the river. I had along a bag and trowel and dug up some composted wood from a rotting stump for my African violets. I found a place where the cows have been going down to the river to drink. Albie and Sammy don’t like Bagel and they milled around and hopped up and down in an annoying way. I finally chased them away with the command “Back”. I taught them both this command when they were small and have been brushing them up on it lately so that I can set down their grain pans without being mobbed. They are very cute the way they back off and stand side by side while I set down the pans. Another cute thing they do is stand still and stretch their necks while I get the burrs off of them. They especially appreciate having the burrs pulled out of their ears. The strange little witch hazel flowers are opening. It grows by the river. I got tired of cheese sandwiches and made myself a lentil stew for dinner. It wasn’t half bad.
November 9, 2004 Tuesday: Due to the milking machine refusing to work, I milked by hand both times today. I have scarcely milked for a year and a half. I was not sure how it would go. My hands feel fine, but between my shoulder blades sure hurts. I need a spa! Helen behaved perfectly and I got the usual amount of milk, I think. She came in very clean both times. Once a day is as often as I can usually manage to carry out the plops. Today because of numerous trips to the barn to see if my latest attempt had made the pulsator work, I was able to keep up with them. Now that they are eating hay and wasting a lot, Helen gets a better bed. I have to make the whole room into a bed. If I only made a bed for Helen, Albie would steal it. I got a little over three gallons from Helen today and eight eggs. The weather has turned cold. The prediction for tonight is down in the single numbers.
November 10, 2004 Wednesday: It was down to 15F this morning. I got up early enough to see the crescent moon and Jupiter, a lovely sight. There was a good half-inch of ice on the stock tank, which is now indoors. Next thing I must do is put in the submersible heater. I am still milking by hand. Helen does not seem to care. Actually, I thought she was quieter with the hand milking, but either her production is going down or I am not getting it all. She and the boys look very comfortable in there in their hay nests. They are eating a lot of hay. We are tossing around ideas and plans for slaughtering and butchering Albie. One problem is, none of us is sure exactly where to shoot so as to be sure to drop him with one bullet. Avoiding stress is the whole point of home killing. The neighbor dogs were back again today pestering the cows and getting them all excited, always bad for cows. The larger dog, a male Lab, got in with the chickens. The chickens were so roiled up and flapping that the air was like smoke. Max arrived in the nick of time and he got to the hen house just as the dog was biting down on a Barred Rock, a new layer. He sat on the dog until I got there with a rope. The owners are worried and concerned about their dogs running over here, and I hope will be able to keep them home. I called the animal control officer because I could not find their number. I think they now realize that we take it pretty seriously. Until they moved here, the folks and their dogs were city dwellers. It’s a different world. The hens were so frightened that they did not lay their usual number of eggs and tromped on some that were in the nests. So I only got five. I got a routine tetanus shot today and a pneumococcus pneumonia shot. My shoulders don’t feel too good.
November 12, 2004 Friday: Max and Mitra and the little girls came over today. We had a lovely lunch of hamburgers made with half homegrown beef and half lamb from a local source. I also made a pie that I saw on TV. It did not have much redeeming nutritional value. It resembled a fudgey brownie with pine nuts. Lately I have been fighting a sweet tooth, but I think this pie got me over it for a while. Mitra loves pomegranates. After extracting the juice from one she gave the red seeds to her chickens. They went totally crazy for them. Her two Buff Orpingtons, recent acquisitions from me that never venture outside the hen house, forgot their fear of the unknown and joined in the feast. Max winterized my hen house today using hay bales and cardboard. They will have much warmer quarters now. I have written before about the difference between vegetable shortening and real animal fat. Animals know that vegetable shortening is not good for them and they will not eat it. I once left a container of it out in the buttery all winter thinking that maybe the cats would lick on it. They never touched it. Last month I set a pan containing a mixture of beef and chicken fat and homemade lard out for them. This was fat I had used for frying doughnuts and I didn’t intend to use it again. They have been licking it every night and now it is completely gone. Now just as Helen’s supply is dropping off, my customers desire for raw milk is growing. I have totally sold out the last few days. Tonight a lady sat in her car for half an hour while I milked so she could get her gallon. Helen gave 3 ¼ gallons today. I only got seven eggs.
November 14, 2004 Sunday: I’m still milking by hand. Daughter Abby and daughter-in-law Amy are taking pity on me and ordering a new pulsator off eBay. Milking by hand is not really a hardship right now with the temperature only down to 20F and Helen only giving 3 gallons a day. Nonetheless, I will be very glad to get it. The temperature is sure to fall soon. Max and Mitra and the girls went out for a Sunday breakfast and saw an amazing sight. They saw a Golden Eagle being pursued and driven by a raven. Mitra said the wingspan of the eagle looked like six feet. It was only about 30 feet away from them. Things are coming together for a humane slaughter of Albie next Monday. It will definitely quiet things down in the beefer pen. Even though Albie is really sweet and I love him, he has taken to teasing Helen, he is over 900 lbs., he eats a lot of hay and contributes to the ten to twenty deposits I have to carry to the manure pile each day. With him in the freezer my hay will last longer and I will have easier clean-up. Plus there is considerable interest in beef within the family. And, of course the clincher: I didn’t raise him for a pet.
November 15, 2004 Monday: I took a drive over to Max and Mitra’s today and delivered their milk. The kitten they took a couple of weeks ago, Harriet Nuisance, has doubled in size, but still looks tiny. She pre-empts Lulu’s bed. Lulu is their lively black dog, a Lab mixture. They play together all the time. I took Bagel along. He and Lulu love each other. They run in great happy circles. Mitra took them for a walk in the woods while Max and I went to a food store that sells nothing but locally grown food of the highest quality. They have beef, lamb, pork venison, chicken and turkey, all frozen, and a number of dairy products and vegetables. I bought a lot of things including bacon and thick slices of ham cured without nitrates. At this evening’s milking I could feel that the fingers of my right hand were all sticky. I looked at them and they were bloody. Helen has a small cut on her left front teat. It did not seem to bother her much. I just grasped firmly and tried not to let go. That worked. Every day lately I find evidence of broken eggs. This is aggravating. I found a new nest with one egg in an unused manger. I left the egg to encourage the hen to keep laying there. I got only six eggs today. Helen gave three gallons.
November 16, 2004 Tuesday: Max and Lulu stopped in today. He unloaded the grain I bought yesterday and moved the manger back under the hay drop. The cows keep pushing it around. The weather was lovely. I went along with him on an errand up to camp. He needed to put antifreeze in the sinks, toilets and sumps at Martin’s camp. The lake was beautiful as always. For supper I fried some of the nitrate free bacon that I bought yesterday. It is excellent. One has no idea how superior the flavor is without the rank taste of nitrates. One understands why pork has been such popular meat for thousands of years. It’s because it tastes so good. Helen gave three gallons again today. I only got six eggs.
November 17, 2004: I taped Albie at 990 lbs. That is a gain of 2.8 lbs/day since I taped him in October. Helen taped at 1111 lbs, a gain of 4.95/day. I don’t know if I believe these figures. I did increase Helen’s grain after the previous taping. It showed her nearly 100 lbs less than in June. I think I will cut her back again. The added grain is not doing anything for her milk production. It seldom does towards the end of lactation and she has been going 15 months. Today she only gave 2 ¾ gallons. I don’t want her any fatter. I didn’t tape Sammy. He was too ticklish. I will try him again in a day or two. Only got six eggs. Bagel and I took a nice walk to the river. I picked more witch hazel.
November 18, 2004 Thursday: My granddaughter, Rosie and her husband, Nate are here for a few days. They repaired a treacherous bit of broken fence out by the driveway. Nate got out the Kubota and used it to move an old metal hay feeder from the paddock to in front of the barn. Tomorrow we will see about getting it inside the beefer pen. I am in hopes that it will make Helen less wasteful of her hay. Rosie and Nate took a long walk into the hills with Bagel. They were gone for about two hours. Bagel does love outings. After supper this evening Rosie made lasagna noodles for tomorrow. I am going to attempt a wild mushroom lasagna that I heard about from my daughter Marcia in Virginia. She had it at a new restaurant in The Plains. Helen gave a scant three gallons today and I got only four eggs.
November 19, 2004 Friday: Rosie and Nate started the day by climbing Tumbledown. It is a beautiful mountain that can be accomplished up and back in half a day or less. The top is mostly exposed granite and there is a nice lake on the summit. Bagel went along. They said he got pretty tired. At the end he was just dogging along, not bounding through the woods. I had streamers of orange flagging tape on him, as his coloring is much like a deer. I have been up the trail countless times starting when I was a baby in an apple basket on my father’s back. That was in the days before people had back packs as we know them today. Later they worked on clearing some dead wood from the copse at the end of my driveway. Nate started repairs on the metal hay feeder. The bolt on one upper corner has disappeared allowing the sides to spring apart. He is fixing it with a piece of metal bed frame. Rosie and I made the wild mushroom lasagna. We all thought it was very good. Rosie used spinach with cream cheese (made by draining yogurt) in a Béchamel for the first layer. Then a layer of sautéed mushrooms. I made a sauce to go on top of dried tomatoes (from my garden) blended with Parmesan cheese that I made last year, garlic, herbs, and orange flavored olive oil. Nate ate three servings and then finished off Rosie’s. Fresh lasagna noodles do make a nice difference. Helen had a lovely day. It was quite warm and sunny. All three bovines cleaned up on the small new area of paddock that Rosie and Nate fenced yesterday and opened for them. Helen gave three gallons. I got six eggs.
November 20, 2004 Saturday: Such fine weather we are having for November. The woods are hopping with hunters, but my granddaughter, Rosemary and her husband, Nate, who are visiting from Alaska, were not to be discouraged from several long walks. Sons Max and Mark went mountain biking. Nate got the old metal hay feeder moved into the beefer pen. It takes up a lot more space that the former one, but they still have plenty of room. It is too soon to tell how it will affect hay wastage. My daughter-in-law Mitra came to the barn with me tonight to watch the milking routine. They think someday they might have a cow. They already have a fine group of Coburn Farm chickens. We had a lovely dinner with all of us. I served a side of Coho salmon shipped frozen from Cordova, Alaska last August. Rosie and Nate caught it. Helen only gave 2 ¾ gallons today and there were only four eggs. I have not had any extra milk to make clabber for several weeks. And, with the cold weather the bugs are pretty well gone.
November 21, 2004 Sunday: I was awakened ahead of my alarm today at 5am by the sound of the plow going by. When I looked out the window all was white with snow. It is wet soggy snow. Helen and the boys spent a lot of time wandering around the fields anyway, trying to graze. Then they came back in and ate their hay. Rosemary and Nate left this evening on their trip to Europe. They are going first to Rome, then around the Adriatic including Croatia. They want to see places where people are still farming with animals. Either due to my hand milking or the natural course of events, Helen’s production is lower every day. Only 2 ½ gallons today. And only six eggs.
November 22, 2004 Monday: Today was Albie’s date with destiny. All the arrangements went much as planned. Max showed up after breakfast with his friend Tim. They got the tractor out, raised the bucket, and arranged chains on it. I had all three animals, Helen, Albie and Sammy, shut in the beefer pen. I did not want him to be alone during the wait until the men arrived. With help from them, I let Helen out the back door and kept Albie in. I gave Max a pan of grain and went into the house. Albie was my friend and I preferred not to be present. They opened the big double doors on the front of the barn and Albie stepped forward to eat the grain. Tim dropped him with one point blank shot in the forehead. I had gotten the exact location for the shot from friends. Albie died eating grain, one of his favorite activities. They put the chains on his feet and hoisted up his carcass with the bucket. Tim cut both jugular veins and bled him out. He re-opened the veins after a while to get rid of clotting and give a better bleed-out. Then Tim backed his truck under the hanging carcass to load it. Martin arrived with the company van, but they decided it made better sense to use the truck. Max and Tim drove the carcass to the slaughterhouse, a 45-minute drive. Martin stayed with me and sawed some wood and took care of both of his tractors, the Kubota and Ford 9N (Century). Helen was not alarmed at any point. She gave her usual dwindling supply today, a bit over 2 ½ gallons. I got six eggs.
November 23, 2004 Tuesday: So far as I can notice, Helen is not pining for Albie. But, she does seem irritable. I finally tied her tail up this evening to stop her whapping me. As for myself, I already notice I have to put less hay down. The one who misses Albie is Sammy. He is not accustomed to being alone during milking. He goes around and around the barn bawling. Come to think of it, that is probably what was bugging Helen. Max kindly went today and picked up the liver, heart, tongue and tail for me. I should be out in the kitchen right now packaging them. The snow is mostly gone. In fact the weather is odd. The prediction is for it to go up to 60F tomorrow.
November 24, 2004 Wednesday: Not until today did I get the liver taken care of. I have evolved a way of doing it which makes it easy to have any number of slices as required without defrosting more than needed. First I slice the liver into serving pieces. I spread wax paper in a large baking pan and arrange a single layer of liver slices barely touching each other. Then I lay on a double layer of wax paper. Then another layer of liver as before. Separated by a double layer of wax paper, the layers do not stick together. When all the liver slices are layered in, I put the entire pan in the freezer for a couple of days until the liver is frozen solid. It all comes readily out of the pan and into a big plastic bag. When I need a slice I just have to tear it off from its sheet. I was able to milk by machine tonight. I got up my courage to try one more time to see if I could get the thing together correctly based on a suggestion from Cricket. This time it worked. I am still looking forward to the actual instructions, which Kevin hopes to be able to send after turkey season. Helen did not much like it when I changed from machine to hand milking and she did not like it any better when I changed back. In fact she tried to kick it off. But I just said, “Now now, brown cow” a few times while patting her rump and she settled down. But, I know I did not get all the milk. Total for today only 2 ¼ gallons. I hope she will let me catch up in the morning. Six eggs today.
November 25, 2004 Thanksgiving: Things went badly this morning. I chugged out right on time to the barn and dished out the breakfasts. Helen came in absolutely filthy. It rained an inch and a half last night (no telling how much snow it would have been had it been a more seasonable temperature) so Helen and Sammy stayed in and stayed damp. Helen had created a disgusting wallow for herself. When it came to cleaning her left front quarter, she kicked. I soon discovered that underneath the layer of poop was a nasty cut on her teat. It was the triangular cut that is diagnostic of a stepped on teat. As such cuts go, this one is small, exposing only about the area of a dime, but bothered her enough to require acrobatics on my part to get it washed up. I consoled myself that milking a cut teat by machine is a lot easier than by hand. By this time Helen was letting down all over the floor. But to my dismay, this morning the machine would not pulsate. It would pulsate reluctantly when I flipped the slider with my finger, and I tried this for a while, but Helen became irritated and kicked off the machine when I tried to put the cup on the cut teat. She also kicked off the surcingle. By then I knew it was going to be me and her and the pail. I had to go back to the house to fetch it. By the time I returned Helen had made her second big poop and peed on everything. I kept telling her all would be fine and she should try to be brave, which I think she did, but I had to tie up her tail. It too was filthy. She stood for milking better than I dared hope, but by this time she was out of the mood and did not let down well. She seems to find it less painful if I wrap my hand over the cut and don’t lift it away between squirts. Sammy still bellows the entire time he is apart from Helen, so we had his background music. Thanksgiving dinner was marvelous. We started with roasted red bell peppers and eggplant on French bread. Max’s wife, Mitra, roasted the turkey, made the stuffing and a salad and brought it all here. I made mashed potatoes with creamed garlic, a colorful mix of my own garden carrots and the last of the Brussels sprouts, and a pan of rolls. Max made a pumpkin pie with a locally grown heritage pumpkin. Helen contributed a big mound of whipped cream. My son Mark brought the wine. My granddaughter Helena helped all day with everything including the clean-up. She has a great mind for detail and remembers everything that needs to be done. I hand milked before dinner. Mitra came with me to the barn. She likes to observe everything. Helen came in clean and was quite well behaved considering that her teat probably hurts as much as ever. I slathered it with vitamin E. She gave three gallons today. I have dropped all but two of my customers because of her declining production and will be dropping them too pretty soon. Then just the family will have milk until I dry her off. After dark I caught two Bantam hens for Max and Mitra to add to their little flock. They have been reading on the Forum about raising turkeys. They paid a lot for today’s bird and think it would be fun to raise a few next year. There were seven eggs.
November 26, 2004 Friday: As the weatherman promised, it is much colder today, down in the low 20’s. Helen managed to be nice and clean this morning. I milked by hand. During the morning, my granddaughter Helena, who has an aptitude for fixing things, applied her skills to my pulsator and installed a packet of replacement parts. These were a lot of little washers and gaskets. We took the unit out to the barn to test it with the vacuum pump and I am pleased to report that it now works fine. This evening I milked Helen with the machine and she was perfectly cooperative, although there was some tail swishing when I got near her cut teat. But she did not kick. The cut is healing fast. Sammy still bellows when she leaves and does not stop until she comes back. Helen gave 2 ¾ gallons today and I got six eggs. I took Mitra’s suggestion to medicate the food that I give my collection of young barn cats. They have all been sniffling. I am sprinkling Terimayacin (sp?) on their kibble. They all look better already.
November 28, 2004 Sunday: The weather is strange. It rained hard much of the day and now at night it is still oddly warm, about 40F. The power was off for some hours. I thought I might not be able to write. It went out just as I was leaving the barn. I had put on my headlamp because everything was dark and wet. So, I had little inconvenience. With the Aga, my running spring in the kitchen and the good little kitchen fireplace everything was cozy. My son Martin and his fiancée Amy were here all weekend. They sorted through family photographs for pictures they will use in a video montage at their wedding. It was lots of fun. They also got in more wood for me. Martin always helps me in the barn. Helen was way down in the pasture this morning, but ran right up when she saw Martin. She was so sure he would have an apple for her, as he usually does. Apples are her favorites. She gave 2 ½ gallons both yesterday and today. I got 6 eggs. After a couple of hours the lights came back on. The hard rain continued. As I sat writing water began to fall on me. Now my roof is leaking very badly. I had to get up and put towels on my books and papers and plastic over the electronic equipment. This is not good news.
November 29, 2004 Monday: There was so much rain that Maine rivers are at flood stage. Had it been snow it would be up to the windowsills. Max was hoping for snow so he could try out the old Scout with a plow that he bought. Bagel and I walked down to our river, the Webb River. It was up to the top of its banks. A small tributary, usually a trickle, which derives from springs on my pasture, was so full that we had to detour around. I visited Muffin’s grave. I retrieved pieces of her wind chime that had been torn off during the storm. Sammy continues to moo mournfully all the while I am milking. This morning he got the door open and came in and joined us. I have been leaving that door unlatched so that Helen can open it with her nose when I turn her out after milking. She gave 2 ¾ gallons today. I only got five eggs.
December 1, 2004 Wednesday: I’m surprised that I still have power. It has been storming rain since last night. Of course, this meant that Helen came in filthy both this morning and tonight despite my best efforts to make her a dry nest. Since she does not understand a whole lot of English and may not have understood my muttered insults. Tonight it took me 15 minutes to get her cleaned up for the machine and only five minutes to milk her. Had I been hand milking I might have just skipped milking. But, I ended up with a perfectly clean filter. She gave barely 2 ½ gallons today. And I got only five eggs. The flap of skin from Helen’s cut teat has finally fallen off. The wind is so high that I shut Helen and Sammy inside. I think the river has gone over its banks. The rain and fog were so thick that I could not see properly from the house. I had nice company today or probably would have bundled up and walked down with Bagel to have a look.
December 2, 2004 Thursday: The wind blew violently all last night and most of today. I thought my windows were going to lose panes. It is quiet and clear tonight and we are told to expect the single numbers tomorrow morning. Max came over and helped me set up an area heater in the chicken room. Four hours later it was quite comfortably warm in there. I thought Helen’s cut was healing pretty well, but tonight when I had stripped her after the machine my hand came away all bloody. She is being a pretty good sport about it. She moos a little bit and begins swishing her tail when she knows I am about to touch it. She gave 2 ¾ gallons today. There were seven eggs. My granddaughter Rosemary and her husband Nate wrote the following today. They are traveling in Europe with their backpacks. They are the ones that fish for salmon in the summer. Sounds like you guys had a heck of a Thanksgiving dinner. I’m jealous. We have been eating lots of wonderful cheeses and bread, but thanks to the fall of the dollar that’s about all we have been eating! Well, we supplement it with fruit and sausage, of course, but we’re trying to limit ourselves to eating hot meals only once every three or four days. Luckily, breakfast usually comes with the room, and now we’re in Eastern Europe that is a very substantial affair, with platters of salami and cheese, yogurt, rye bread, muesli, etc. We spent the last few days in the Slovenian Alps, walking between villages. Up there, horse drawn agriculture still seems common. Many houses had goats or cows tethered in the yard and chickens strayed through the streets of the villages. Very pretty country. Now we are in Ljubjana, the capital, waiting for a train that will take us on to Croatia.
December 3, 2004 Friday: Twice now somebody in my herd of two, and the finger points at Sammy, has picked up the submersible water heater and pulled it out onto the floor. Fortunately it was not plugged in either time and fortunately I saw it lying there. I feel sure that if it had been plugged in, the hay on the floor could have ignited. I also feel reasonably sure that if it had been hot he would have left it alone. However, it is now fastened down in such a way that he can’t pick it up any more. The silly booby still moos and bellows all the while I have Helen in for milking. It snowed all day but there was little accumulation. I am amazed how much less hay I am using now, partly because I am not feeding Albie, partly because with the new hay feeder they waste less. There are still almost as many poops to carry out. They are inside a lot more now.
December 4, 2004 Saturday: Helen came in quite clean both times today. It was down to 15F this morning. Colder means drier, so the Beefer Pen stays in better shape. Still, it is mostly luck where she decides to lie down. She gave about 2 ¾ gallons today. Kevin sent me a copy of the Surge Manual, which has prompted me to alter my milking technique somewhat. I hope to be more efficient. I never had an instruction book before. Rosemary wrote today as follows: Nate and I are now in Zadar, Croatia, a small port city with a beautiful old town where the streets are paved in marble. The food is much cheaper here than it was in Italy and Slovenia, thank goodness. Yesterday we had both lunch and dinner in restaurants, a treat since we got caught in a Mediterranean downpour whilst hiking in the afternoon. We were exploring a national park full of extraordinary lakes and waterfalls. No one else was there at all and the lakes were so flooded that the wooden paths were floating in places. Suddenly the skies burst open with thunder, lightening, torrential rain, etc. We took shelter for a time in a cave, and then made a run for it. Just as hope seemed lost, a four star restaurant appeared before us, stocked with waiters in tail coats, blazing fires and shining bottles but without a single guest. It had the strangest fairytale quality. We lunched on lamb stew thickened with cream and eggs, local slivovitz and sweet pancakes, then continued on our way to Zadar, where we found a room for the night in the apartment of a young man whom I believe to be a ballet dancer. This afternoon we are continuing on by boat into the Zadar archipelago. The people here have been extremely kind to us. It is a pity there is such a language barrier, but the faces of the people I see all look both healthy and intelligent, such as is, sadly, not the case in so much of the US. They must eat well, I think. Yesterday we passed two different smallholdings where people were in the process of butchering pigs. Cheaper food notwithstanding, we are indeed looking forward to hot meals back on the farm. We talk about it often. It is so nice to feel that someone is taking care of you, and food prepared with love is far better.
December 6, 2004 Monday: Last night was the coldest so far this year, 10F. My lovely spring water that runs into a granite sink in the kitchen was not running this morning. The line runs above ground in a few places and freezes. Now it will probably not run again until April or May. I have tap water from a well, but the flavor does not compare. Also, this morning my furnace quit. The oil company sent a man out to get it going. He got it working, but said it is an inefficient, older design that is wasting oil and recommended I replace it. The cost seems overwhelming. Helen gave 2 ¾ gallons yesterday and I got eight eggs. Today barely 2 ½ gallons and only seven eggs. All the critters seem comfortable. I chopped up some old suet for the barn cats. They seemed to appreciate it. It stayed cold all day. Here is another letter from our travelers: I think it is fascinating to see how well small farming seems to be surviving here in Croatia. We have spent the last three days exploring some of the islands near Zadar, all of which are under cultivation although at first sight they seem to be wild. The dense woods contain olive and almond trees, the bare slopes support sheep and the bees are returning to a hive in someone’s yard. Here and there, at the end of stony lanes, were small villages. Each house had a large vegetable garden, orange trees, a donkey or chickens. In the larger market towns women sat at stands selling oranges and cabbages, honey, walnuts, fresh olive oil, home dried figs and homemade cheeses. The cheeses we have tried are delicious, reminiscent of your queso blanco, but made from sheep’s milk. We have also noticed men fishing from bridges and quays, apparently while on their way home from work. Last night we went to a restaurant that was empty except for us as it was Sunday. I ordered white ravioli in a spinach cream sauce, and Nate had spaghetti Carbonara. After the waiter served us, he sat down to talk. I told him how much we liked the food, and he promptly explained that all Croatian food was delicious because it was all locally produced. And, that because it was delicious it was also healthy. I thought it sounded exactly like something one of us would say, but here he did not seem to be a voice in the wilderness. He also told me that when he was a very little boy two of his cousins who had grown up in America had come to visit him, and that he had refused to believe they were his cousins because they were three times as big around as he was.
December 7, 2004 Tuesday: It has snowed all day and is still snowing. It is wet, wind driven snow that is icy. I think all the animals are comfortable. It is not so very cold, only around 20F. Helen’s production continues its downward trend. Today it was not much above two gallons. There were seven eggs. Sammy continues to bellow while Helen is in being milked, but he is less persistent. Helen never seemed to like him much. He was a bottle-fed adoptee. Nonetheless, his bellowing disturbs her and she nearly always lifts her tail. She likes to wait until my back is turned, so I can’t catch it on the shovel.
December 8, 2004 Wednesday: My new beef is ready to be picked up. I overcame procrastination and went down to the cellar with a basin of hot water and disinfectant and cleaned my Number Two freezer so as to have it ready. Dear Max came over today and got out the Kubota, which started right up despite the cold weather and it being diesel, and scraped the icy berm left by the road plow at the end of my driveway. We have had steady snow and sleet for a day or so. It was so wet and windy that it packed down to two of three inches. I switched to using my sled for hauling the milking machine to the barn. Helen’s cut teat is still not healed. I am applying pure vitamin E to it. This is working better than any of the salves I tried. She gave a bit over 2 ½ gallons today. And, how about this! I got a dozen eggs, all from the layers, none from the ones that live in the rafters. I attribute the better laying to their heater and being able to provide them some clabber now that I cut down on customers, and more cracked corn. The corn gets all the timid ones off their perches and down where the feed and water is.
December 10, 2004 Friday: It is snowing again and this time the weatherman says he is serious. So we will see. It is above 30F and could easily turn to rain. I left the back door of the Beefer Pen open in case Helen and Sammy decide to go outside and save me some clean-up. When it is this humid nothing dries out in the barn and Helen inevitably comes in dirty. I had to tie her tail up this morning during the ten minutes it took me to prep for milking so that I would not get it in the face. Because of her low production and the good progress of healing of her cut I milked by hand this evening. She only gives one gallon now in the evening and is seems not worth the bother to wash the machine. She gave 2 ¼ gallons yesterday and 2 ½ today. Sammy still comes around and stands under the window where I milk and makes mournful noises. That is mostly when Helen begins pooping and peeing. She can’t really be missing him. In fact the first thing she did this morning after I turned her back out was butt him amidships. The hens have not managed another big day of laying. Yesterday and today they only laid seven. Rosemary is now in Dubrovnik. She writes: Last night our dinner plans were slightly upset. We went to see our landlord in the early evening, as we were planning to leave town very early in the morning. He invited us in to sample some homemade wine and then he started talking about boats. Apparently he found us an adequate audience, because it was almost three hours later when we managed to slip out. I was more or less pie-eyed by that time (I could not refuse his hospitality), and thus, although I did enjoy dinner, I’m not sure what it was like. We are in Dubrovnik now, after a rather harrowing crack-of-dawn bus ride along a highway better suited for mules than anything else. Alaska has some amazing roads, but this was definitely the most dramatic I’d ever seen. Luckily, we were met at the bus station by our landlady, who gave us coffee on her terrace. Very nice lady. She mentioned that she spent three years unable to leave her house during the war, and we noticed shrapnel scars in the terrace. I am becoming more and more ashamed at my ignorance of what happened here. In the afternoon it was so hot that we went swimming, to the stark amazement of passers-by, all of whom were wearing parkas. We couldn’t explain to them how different the weather seems to us. They just thought we were mad. Anyway, I should go. I still haven’t reached my aunt or my friend, but I think I now have a handle on the telephone system used here, so I hope for future success.
December 12, 2004 Sunday: It snowed enough Friday and Saturday for my man to come and plow me out. It was heavy, icy snow and not a really pretty storm. It is not even cold, only about freezing, so the eves are dripping constantly. The Beefer Pen where the cows spend almost all their time does not dry out properly. I decided to see what shavings would do for the area. I bought two bales and opened one in there this morning. I forked out enough to cover the worst wet spots and left the bale in the corner for next time. There was no next time. Sammy attacked the bale and mashed it all around. Now I am going to try using some poorer hay for bedding. It was cheaper than the shavings. I will give the remaining bale of shavings to the layers. My granddaughter Helena helped me today to put plastic on some of the walls in my milking room. My daughter Abby sent me a little dairy heater for the area. So far it has not been cold enough to cause me any suffering, but when it is I will be ready. After Kevin sent me the Surge instruction book I put a number of the suggestions into practice, also installed new inflations. I will make better use of the machine in future. I have decided to go to hand milking. Helen is only giving 2 ½ gallons or less with twice a day milking so this will be easier than hauling the machine to the barn. There were eight eggs today.
December 13, 2004 Monday: Helen was sweet and friendly today, but she only gave 2 ¼ gallons. Maybe she felt like eating some of that poor hay I chucked down to use as bedding. It is not dusty, but I think it was rained on twice. Cows do like a change of feed. But, poor hay displaces better stuff partly because it remains longer in the rumen and much of it passes through. It is high in indigestible lignin. The hens got back up to 11 eggs today. I gave them that bale of shavings. Max came over today and made a carpentry repair to Helen’s feed trough and the hundred-year-old flap door in front of it that used to have leather hinges.
December 14, 2004 Tuesday: As promised, today was much colder. It was also bright and clear, the first such day we have had for some time. It made Sammy very frisky. He ran round and threw his heels in the air. I thought it best to stay out of his way. While I was mucking out he even managed to nudge open the door into the main part of the barn and ran in there to stomp around. At this evening’s milking for the first time since Albie went away, he did not bawl while apart from Helen. Helen’s cut teat is still not completely healed over. She is awfully good about being milked, but I know it must hurt. All she does to make her statement is make a big plop. Max came over again and helped me haul around some hay bales to further block drafts in the barn. We both stuffed hay in cracks and crevices. Then we went together to cut me a Christmas tree. I figured to get one from the cluster across the road from on the riverbank. The only one I could find that met my criteria of not being important to holding the bank was a wispy pine. Definitely a Charlie Brown tree. It is a white pine. At this evening’s milking I used the new diary heater that my daughter Abby sent. It made a significant difference Helen gave a scant 2 ½ gallons today. There were nine eggs. For those interested in the report from Eastern Europe, here is another letter from Rosemary. Cordova is the Alaska fishing village from which they fish commercially. Saturday night I was stepping into an internet cafe in Dubrovnik to post off a message to you when I heard someone shouting my name and turned to see my friend Pepo running down the street. I don’t know if I’ve described him to you before? He is a Croatian man in his fifties who works in Cordova in the summertime as a net mender, deckhand and stone mason. He was very excited to see us, and immediately offered us to live in his house for the rest of the winter, borrow his car, etc. We went out with him to his farm, which is in a village just north of Dubrovnik, and stayed there for a couple of days. It is a lovely place. He lives in an eight hundred year old house built of stone, with a large outdoor kitchen room in which all of the cooking is done over an open fire. The house is surrounded by olive trees, figs, pomegranates, oranges, grapefruits and vines, growing in something of a jungle. He said that ordinarily one would keep sheep to keep the brush down in the orchard, but he is unable to because he works in Alaska half the year. All the same, he produces an unbelievable amount of food and liqueur from his land. He also has an encyclopedic knowledge of traditional Croatian medicine, and gave me a recipe for a cough syrup that may help Mum’s lungs a bit. We had a wonderful time at his place, and will return after visiting Belgrade to help him for a few days with a land clearing project. This morning, we left Croatia on the bus, and traveled all day up through Bosnia. Very lovely, barren country, but the people seemed extremely poor, and the fields were littered with trash- also, presumably, land mines, which are still a constant danger here. Many of the houses were pocked from machine gun fire, and many more seemed empty. At the moment, we are stranded in a Serb-controlled suburb of Sarajevo waiting for an overnight bus, and Sarajevo is the grimmest of all, since it is a city and thus seems poorer than the countryside could ever be. Tell Mum not to worry though, we are being careful to stay on the pavement. And the people seem kindhearted and courageous in the extreme, as we have found everywhere throughout this area. Tomorrow morning we should reach my aunt in Belgrade. We will stay with her for a few days, and then, I think, travel back to the coast via Montenegro.
December 16, 2004 Thursday: Yesterday and today were aggressively cold, right about zero. It takes the fun out of working in the barn. My fingers get very cold while mucking out. The little heater is able to raise the temperature in where I milk sufficiently that I can remove my coat, just wear my sweater while milking. I hate milking in a bunchy coat, so this is a big plus. Helen goes all bug eyed when she walks in and sees the heater. Max came again today and helped me move around some more hay bales to stop drafts in the hen room. We also turned their heater up a notch. At 2:30 when I did the midday round of chores I turned on the milking room heater to pre heat the area, as I have been doing, this time to its highest setting. I wanted to see if the wiring could take them both at once. Nothing happened. When I arrived with my bucket about 5:30 all was dark in the barn. No lights would go on. I groped around and found the barn flashlight. The breakers in the box in the barn were all on. I unplugged the hen room heater, then went back to the house and into the cellar to find the main breaker and turn it on. I suppose when either the heat tape of submersible stock tank heater cycled on it over taxed the system. My first thought was for the tap. If the heat tape on it goes dead I am in danger of losing my barn water. But all is now restored. From now on I will turn off the hen’s heater while I am milking. Yesterday I got 11 eggs, today eight. Yesterday Helen gave barely over two gallons, today 2 ¼.
December 17, 2004 Friday: It was so cold and blustery that I shut Helen and Sammy inside. After milking this evening I opened their door back up so that I could muck out. By then it was six o’clock, no wind and a bright moon and stars. Both of them marched right outside to look at the moon I guess. Anyway they chose to stand out there quietly for fifteen minutes. Helen gave just above two gallons today. I have started freezing cream in pint freezer jars to help us through that awful time that is coming when I have to dry her off. The hens must like their life pretty well. I got 13 eggs today.
December 18, 2004 Saturday: It was down to zero again this morning. This takes the fun out of barn work. I left the heater on low with the hens and put a thermometer in one of the nests. It was only 10F in there. The sun shone for much of the day. Helen and Sammy stand outside to enjoy it, but go back in where there is hay on the floor to lie down. Helen’s cut teat is now healed over. She has stopped switching her tail when I grab that teat so I know it is no longer touchy. Max and Mitra and her parents from California were here for dinner. Mitra came to the barn with me to “job shadow”. She tried milking and really got the hang of it this time. Helen did not give much over 2 gallons today. I got eight eggs.
December 19, 2004 Sunday: It has been so cold that I have had to stop using my outdoor fridge. The milk was beginning to freeze. I knew this was a risk and I caught it just in time. Unfortunately I forgot that the veg drawers were likely to freeze first. I had them stuffed with my carrot crop. Carrots are no good thawed. My loss, Helen’s gain. The hens in the heated room with a rather dim 24 hour light laid 13 eggs today. They also get all of the table scraps and clabber when I have it. The bantams and bantam crosses in the rafters have corn every morning and ad lib chicken mash, but they are not laying at all, leastwise not that I can find. Today was considerably warmer. 20F felt balmy. I Express Mailed some of the new (Albie) beef to my sister in California. She had herself a hamburger today and said it was the best ground meat she ever tasted. Helen gave a bit over 2 gallons today. She has developed an annoying habit of making a big plop, which she must save up, during milking at the point when she finishes her grain. I keep loose hay behind her so it does not splash. I have been telling her I don’t like this but she does it anyway. Tonight I stood up fast with the bucket, as always, but this time I screeched at her and brought my elbow down hard on her rump to make my point. I wonder if this will make any difference.
December 20, 2004 Monday: Helen was happy and cooperative this morning. As the day went on the temperature sank from about 20F to zero at milking time. There was an icy Canadian cold front blowing in their back door so I kept it shut all day. Maybe that is why she was crabby this evening. She danced around the entire time I was milking and even raised her foot. Also, she made her usual huge plop. When I let her back out she went out of her way to pick a fight with Sammy. She gave just a bit over two gallons today. I got nine eggs. The hen house is cold despite their heater.
December 21, 2004 Tuesday: This was the coldest morning to date, -15F. Doing the barn chores was painful. If it gets much colder I think I will have to get warmer gloves. The milking room heater does make it possible to milk comfortably. All of Helen’s whiskers were covered with frost. It would have made a funny picture. I made two big loaves of Russian Rye today. They turned out very well. Helen’s production was down this morning and I noticed that she had drunk no water since yesterday. I could not see anything wrong with it. I put my finger into it while touching dirt and could not detect any stray voltage. I saw her playing around with the edges of the water so I figured it must be safe. This evening when her production was down even more and still no water had been drunk I got a flashlight and confirmed my growing suspicion: Sammy had pooped in the tank. I know it was Sammy because steers make a formed lump, not a plop like a cow. So despite the cold and late hour, I got a bucket and bailed out the tank. I had to just pour that water on the ground next to the tank, which makes a mess and will freeze, but I threw old hay onto it. I rinsed out the tank and started filling it. Helen drank as fast as the water came in. She gave under two gallons today. There were nine eggs, ten if I count a soft shell.
December 22, 2004 Wednesday: It was about 4F below zero this morning. When I went in with Helen to let her in for milking I heard peeping. Not what one should hear at this time of year. I have suspected a hen was setting in the haymow. Several of us have looked for nests but had no luck. The peeping sound was muffled. By the time I got back from locking Helen in her stanchion, no more than a minute, the peeping had stopped. I ran around looking for a chick and did not find one. But I knew it must have either gotten back under its mother or be frozen. It would not last more than a minute in this cold. After milking I searched some more but with no audible clues among more than 300 bales of hay it was hopeless. I had to go out on errands but Max was coming over for milk and I asked him to look. Somehow he found her. She was against the outer front wall of the barn. I am sorry to say the chicks must have begun hatching more than a day ago because they had ventured away from the nest. The poor hen could not leave because she was blocked in by hay that Max had piled up last week to cut drafts. She had been trapped ever since. Most of the chicks had fallen through a crack and were down below in the snow, frozen. Three were still alive under the hen. Max put them all into a cat carrier. Then he found that one of the chicks that appeared frozen quivered slightly. He brought it in and set it on the hearth to thaw out which it obligingly did. Now the family of two yellow chicks and two black stripy ones is next to the Aga. The mother hen was terrible hungry and thirsty. I fed them clabber and wheat germ. If chicks don’t have a proper waterer, they have to have their drink in a flat saucer. This is messy and wasteful, but in even the shallowest bowl they will drown. I always start chicks on yogurt or clabber to colonize their guts with benign bacteria. This prevents coccidiosis. Now I am boiling eggs to give them mashed hard-boiled egg for breakfast. The second feeding principle is plenty of high-grade protein, if they are not going to follow their mother and get bugs. They will not live more than a day or two on corn meal alone. They will even die if fed 18%-20% layer mash. Helen was a bit strange this evening. When I opened the door to let her in for milking she ran out into the moonlight and started for the field. I had to canter out there and head her off. She gave just two gallons today. There were a dozen eggs.
December 23, 2004 Thursday: The chicks are still in their cat carrier next to the Aga awaiting one of my sons to carry a largish chicken coop up from the barn. I will have to put it in the cellar, I guess, unless I can induce somebody to accept the little family. I had to reach into the cat carrier a few times to root out the little black chicks and get them up to the dish. They ate yogurt cheese, hard boiled eggs, clabber, wheat germ and bread crumbs. I gave them a cat food can full of sand. The weather is weird. It had rained hard most of the day and a warm 40F wind is blowing. Helen gave two gallons. I only got seven eggs.
December 24, 2004 Christmas Eve: Mark, Martin and Martin’s fiancée, Amy, have come for Christmas. The boys brought a chicken coop in from the barn and stapled plastic all over it. Otherwise the chicks would be able to go through the chicken wire. The coop is about 4’x2’x14″. They put hay into it and carried it to the cellar. Now the little black hen and her family are ensconced there. She looks a whole lot happier. She was getting desperate in the cat carrier. It is about 50F in the cellar. The chicks won’t need any extra heat because their mother keeps them warm. I will just have to try and remember one more set of animals to feed. Helen’s days stay much the same. If the sun shines and it is not windy she and Sammy stand outside. Otherwise they spend their days in their run-in eating hay and chewing their cuds. It is dry and comfortable in there. The room is 30’x30′. There were 12 eggs today.
December 26, 2004 Sunday: Christmas, yesterday, was a lovely occasion spent mostly over with Max and Mitra and family. I skipped the evening milking. I got home about 7:30, so could have done it, but was not in the mood. I went out and put out hay and cleaned the Beefer Pen, their run-in, and picked up the eggs. Only nine eggs, eight today. This morning Helen gave about 1 ¾ gallons, tonight only ¾ gallon. I hope skipping a milking does not knock down her production too drastically. The hen and chicks are making it ok in the cellar so far. They seem to eat a lot. All four chicks are alive at this writing and the hen does not seem too upset about being in there. The cellar is pretty cold so the chicks spend most of their time under their mother. The submersible heater in the cows’ stock tank got pressed up against the side and melted a hole in the side of the tank about halfway up. Now it has a leak and can only be filled to that point. I will leave it unplugged now most of the time for safety’s sake while I plan what to do about it. The weather on Christmas Day was around 20F but sunny and no wind. Today is colder and it snowed much of the day. The roads are icy and treacherous. Max wanted to bring his kids and in-laws over to see Lake Webb and Martin’s camp, but at the bottom of their two mile hill the van just drifted forward about five feet at the stop sign. It had already fishtailed onto the verge once on the way down. They turned around and went home.
December 27, 2004 Monday: It snowed much of today, pretty snow. The hard, icy, rained-on snow is under there making a treacherous layer on the driveway, but traffic is moving normally on the road. Getting to the barn is tricky. I have not figured out what to do about my stock tank. I have to fill it now twice a day and without the heater it is half frozen. Tonight is predicted to fall well below zero. The chick family in the cellar looks pretty good today. But, I am making a plan for moving them to the barn next time I have help after this cold spell. Helen gave two gallons of milk today. There were 11 eggs.
December 28, 2004 Tuesday: It was just zero this morning. I put on extra layers and did not suffer except for my toes and fingers. I must be getting used to it. The worst thing was my Aga was out this morning. It holds heat a long time and boiled water ok for my tea, so I did not immediately notice. I supposed it went out about 4am. By the time I put the kettle on for my barn water it had cooled enough so that kettle would not boil. I built up the fire in my little kitchen fireplace and made ready to cook on it. The fireplace has a crane in it and I have a wrought iron grate that fits into it nicely. It is easy to cook in a fireplace except for the constant need for the right wood and the fact that all the pots and your fingers are soon sooty. The gas company man arrived about 11am and filled the tank, although it was not empty. He also started the Aga burner quite readily. But, it stayed lit only 5 hours, so now I must have a burner service man out tomorrow. It is a real downer to me when my Aga misbehaves. Nothing wrong with Helen, though, except she gave barely 2 gallons today. I should be grateful for that in this weather. The hens laid 14 eggs. My chickens in the cellar seem reasonably happy. They are getting clabber and chopped hard-boiled egg along with regular layer mash. I gave them a teaspoonful of cod liver oil in their clabber. One little black chick is not quite so forthcoming as the rest. When I put water in I make sure he drinks, and all drink, before putting out the food.
December 29, 2004 Wednesday: It was a lot warmer today. I think it got above 20F. Helen and Sammy spent a lot of time outdoors. Helen mostly stands around. If there is a little sun she faces it and soaks it up. Sammy is looking for mischief. He keeps attacking the dead burdock near the barnyard and getting his tufty bits jammed full of burrs. He likes it when I claw them out. A burner service man came today and replaced the thermocouple on my Aga and cleaned and tuned up the burner. It is going nicely now. What a relief. My little kitchen fireplace, which is at waist level, is a loyal friend. I had tea water boiling on it in five minutes. But those blackened pots are a threat to my disposition. Tonight instead of coming in when I opened the door for her, Helen turned around and marched through the snow and around to the far side of the barn. She has always much preferred the gate around that side because she does not have to make it up any ramp. I went out front and shook the gate to show her it would not open because it is blocked by a snow bank. She was most reluctant to give up her idea. I went back and filled her water tub, cleaned the beefer pen, shook around dry bedding and called repeatedly. No response. So, I had to traipse all the way around by starlight to bring her in. I slipped and fell on an icy stretch, my first fall of the winter, but was not hurt at all. Helen gave two gallons. I got eight eggs.
December 30, 2004 Thursday: Helen did not get away with running out into the dark tonight. The moment I got to the barn while she and Sammy were still lying down chewing their cuds, I scooted through and shut their door. I find I do have a few twinges from slipping on the ice last night (shoulder and bum). Don’t need any more. Helen did not make it to 2 gallons today. I am stripping faithfully and pondering herbs and molasses, but the trend seems relentless. She does get apples or carrots every day, also kelp, vitamin E and diatomaceous earth. My best hope at the moment is for increasing day length to have an effect. I got 10 eggs plus one more that broke in my pocket. What a mess.
December 31 New Year’s Eve: The thermometer stood at 20F at dawn and the temperature climbed steadily all day. It reached 40F. There was no sun. The eves were still dripping after dark when ordinarily things freeze up again. The cows stood around outside despite occasional drizzle. I notice the traffic was moving slowly, so I expect the roads are bad. I hope there are no accidents. My chick family in the cellar continues to thrive, but the hen is getting annoyed with her confinement. Maybe tomorrow I will be able to move them to the barn. I got nine eggs. Twice now one of my “rafter” hens has laid an egg. It is a nice large egg and she is laying in a convenient spot. Helen surprised me by giving nearly 2.5 gallons today. I picked up some apples yesterday stored in the cellar from my cousin who is in Florida. There are lots of mushy ones that I gave to Helen. Maybe these have perked up her production.