Yesterday afternoon, I was taking a bit of a siesta when I heard Baby bellowing. When it goes on for more than ten seconds, it usually means there’s another bull around, and each is telling the other how superior he is. We’ve had a neighbor’s bull show up at our fence a couple of times (who we do not want to get in with our cows), so I slipped on my Vans and went outside to see if that bull was back. The other bull was nowhere in sight, but once I was outside, I heard another cow noise, like yelling at the top of one’s lungs, if a cow could yell at the top of her lungs. It was apparent that Sir Baby was responding to this noise, so I turned the corner to see what was happening, and there was Maia, headbutting her newborn baby calf into the dirt. Just pummeling it, over and over, and making this horrible sound.
I raced up the hill to get between Maia and her calf. For comic relief, I will mention that I was completely nude but for my Vans, as I was expecting to just peek out my door for the roving bull and get dressed only after I determined if he was present – otherwise, I was going to hop back in bed to finish my nap. And how could I turn around and go back to the house for clothes when this baby was in mortal danger?! The calf was completely slick and floppy – she had to have been born less than a minute before I got there, all thanks to Sir Baby and his foghorn voice alerting me to the baby mama drama. Maia was going nuts. She bit one of the baby’s legs and kept trying to dodge me in order to headbutt the calf. I had to get it away from her, so I grabbed the calf and ran as fast as I could, half-dragging this 80-pound baby across the pasture and the driveway to the fenced yard where she would be safe from Maia’s violence. Maia chased after me, continuing to ram the baby when she could. When we got to the yard, I set the calf on the ground, jumped the rail fence, and pulled her underneath the railings to the safe side, just as Maia stormed up. And then I flopped on the grass beside the calf, gasping for breath, covered in birth slime and dirt.
Maia continued to pace the fence and moo angrily at us, but she found no way into the yard. I zipped into the house and grabbed a shirt for me and a towel for the calf. We sat in the sun as I dried her off (usually mother cow does this), and made sure she had no wounds from her first traumatic minutes of life. Little Luna (so named when I saw her black hair shimmers with silver) was perfectly fine. Calves are incredibly resilient. Luna spent the next ten minutes wobbling up to standing, and then the next ten nuzzling me, looking for an udder. Mike got home soon after, and he took Maia down to the corrals to the squeeze chute, while I located jeans and drove Luna down to the corrals in the pickup. With Maia in the squeeze chute, Luna could nurse safely and get that essential colostrum. Maia didn’t kick or get impatient while her baby suckled, but afterward, she still seemed full of confusing feelings. When Luna wandered in front of Maia’s head, while Maia was still in the squeeze chute, Maia began licking her (good!), then headbutted her right in the ribs (BAD!!). Oh Maia. Maia had mothering issues last year, though she did end up loving Jupiter after a couple of trying weeks. I hope she connects with Luna much more quickly – with her heart, not her head.
Look at this bull! Sir Baby is now six years old and weighs over a ton. I’d guess he’s about 2200 pounds. His hooves are the size of salad plates. He stepped on my foot once, accidentally, and luckily the ground was soft and my foot sank into the earth and I was left with just a bruise. The hard part was getting him to move off my foot, because he was expecting a scratch between his shoulder blades.
Tinkerbell is a miracle baby – though she’s not a baby anymore, despite her tiny size. She’s nearly a year old and was born unexpectedly on the mountain last summer. Back in 2011, one beautiful young cow contracted a disease called lumpy jaw. A bacteria enters the jaw bone and causes the bone to grow, which severely deforms the jaw of the cow and makes it hard for her to chew. There’s no cure. The options are to sell the cow (which I was totally against, as she would be considered ‘garbage’ and treated even worse than other cows that enter The System), shoot the cow, or keep the cow and help her as much as possible (good grass, supplements in the winter, etc). We chose option 3. Though she became a very skinny cow, too thin to ever have calves, she was perky and an active part of the herd (sick and injured cows are “droopy” and will separate themselves from the rest of the herd).
Fast-forward to last October – this skinny, lumpy jaw cow came off the mountain with a baby! We couldn’t believe it – she didn’t even look pregnant when we trailed up, and we had missed all evidence of this event each time we went up to check on the cows (with 1000 acre leases, we never see every cow on these day trips). The baby was lively, frolicking and bucking, but miniscule, and already eating grass, as her mother wasn’t producing milk. I tried to get the calf to nurse on Daisy, but the calf had already been conditioned out of the instinct to nurse – she completely ignored Daisy’s udder and, instead, went for Daisy’s special high-protein pellets. So, we put the cow and her calf in the barn when we trailed the rest of the herd to fall pasture, and planned to spend the fall and winter giving them extra-special treatment and hopefully fattening both of them up.
November began with highs in the 60s, then, halfway through the month, the temperature suddenly plummeted to -21°F. It fell to -28°F the next night. And the next morning, we found mama had died in the night. She didn’t have enough body fat to keep her alive in that extreme cold, even in the barn with a sleeping bag tied on like a horse blanket and unlimited food. It was too cold, too fast. Her calf (who looks so much like she did, before the disease set in, with a long and delicate face) made it through the cold snap, as did the rest of the herd. I named the calf Tinkerbell, and I moved Sir Baby into the barn (he fights too much with the other bulls for his own good, which is why his left ear is deformed).
Tinkerbell and Sir Baby immediately became BFFs. They sleep side by side. Sir Baby grooms Tinkerbell throughout the day, licking her neck and back just like a mama cow would. He’s taught her not to fear people, and when I climb onto his back and brush his massive neck, she nibbles the toe of my boot. Tinkerbell gets a daily bucket of Daisy’s special pellets, and she’s actually grown quite a few inches in all directions. They are the biggest and the littlest members of the Farmily, an odd couple and unlikely friendship, a happy consequence of a sad story.
Little known cow fact: Cows (and bulls and calves and steers) lick the air when they are being scratched in a way they love, like a dog kicking the air with its leg. I filmed Leila while I was scratching her back. Caution: my video skills continue to hover in the D- range and my animal voice is ridic – save your eardrums and set your volume low!
I feel I’ve been swimming the Atlantic for the last two years, and didn’t even realize it till now – now that I’m out of the water, sitting on a dock, eating a sandwich, the salt water sun-drying on my face. Ahhh… exhale and smile. Some snippets: The Fustercluck – the punk band of chicks we got this spring that are now full grown chickens – were living in the chicken house with the rest of the chickens, but that crazy gang of punks have moved into the barn! They roost on the high crossbeams. Just that bunch. The rest of the chickens still sleep in the chicken house (with a few dozen sparrows, a family of partridges, and unknown numbers of wild bunnies).
It’s hilarious but frustrating – the chicken house is far warmer than the barn, which is not yet insulated nor doored. But they’re an independent band and will not be deterred. They still wander over to the chicken house during the day to eat and lay eggs in the nesting boxes, and the other chickens love to hang out in the barn during the day. I still owe a full barn reveal; Mike had put the tin on the roof back in September while l was in Seattle, and when I got back, I was waiting in vain for it to rain, to wash all the dust off the pretty blue roof before photographing it (this fall was so dry). It never rained; instead, it went from dry and dusty to snow-covered and you STILL can’t see the pretty blue roof!
Speaking of so much snow…. one day last week, I was walking back to the house after being out with the cows and Daisy was following me, as she will often do, thinking that she might get some special treats if she’s pushy and demanding. The heaps of snow must have obscured the contrast of the stairs to the deck, because as I climbed them, she followed me right up and onto the deck! I heard her hooves on the boards behind me and turned around and was like, ‘oh shit….’ and at that moment, Daisy realized she was up in the air and she was like, ‘OH SHIT!’ She panic pooped and spun in circles and I was praying I could help her get down before she broke through the deck. Thankfully, she trusted me enough to follow me back down the stairs, sloooowly at first and then taking the last few in one leap. Crazy Daisy! She got her bucket of alfalfa pellets after all, to help calm her down with her feet on solid ground. And now I shovel and sweep the stairs between *every* dusting of snow.
Also last week, I was testing something out in the Shop, pretending to be a customer, and realized (with horror) that the checkout process through Paypal was clunky, difficult, and annoying. I have changed it entirely. Paypal is still available for those with Paypal accounts who like one-click ordering (that part is handy), but a new, improved, completely secure, non-paypal credit card system is now up and running. It’s very sleek and easy and I’m so sorry I didn’t realize and address this issue sooner. If anyone has not gotten a 2015 Charlie Calendar because of the Paypal pain, I’ve fixed it for you, and in the nick of time – you’ll only miss a few days of January if you order yours now!
Speaking of the shop, I want to thank you deeply for your support and enthusiasm this fall and winter. I had the shop pretty much shuttered all spring and summer, and this blog was very quiet, too. When l finally revved up for for holiday and calendar season, I didn’t know if anyone had kept their patience with me. I’m so grateful for your presence and support, and I love sharing my work with you. I have some exciting and beautiful ideas for this coming year. I’m excited to emerge from the murky, mysterious ocean.
Mike found this fossil before all the snow arrived and gave it to me. Neither of us could immediately determine what the fossil was… until it dawned on me. It’s a fossil of angel wings.
Happy new year to all of you out there.