HONEY ROCK DAWN

Things I Would Post On Twitter….

….. if I could stand opening Twitter anymore:

• I was traversing a new pasture on foot and found myself face to face with a baby fox. We stood perfectly still and silent and stared at each other for… five minutes? I have a poor concept of time as it is, which goes completely out the window when in the presence of baby foxes. Eventually, I glanced to the right to see if the mother was near and when I looked back a millisecond later, the baby fox had vanished.

• Two antelope does watched the sunrise with Charlie yesterday morning. Antelope have never been so close to the house!

• Sometimes, when I’m caring for a calf, which, sometimes, is not pretty or graceful or easy, the calf will be like, “You’re scaring me you’re hurting me PLEASE STOP!!!!” and I’m like, “Baby, I’m trying to SAVE YOUR LIFE!” Sometimes, my own life feels so painful and terrifying and I’ve just started wondering if hmmmmm, what if the powers that be, powers bigger and stronger than myself, are trying to help me out, it’s just that from where I’m at, it feels like an attack. Part of me writes this off as wishful thinking. But when I let myself believe it, it feels so good to be taken care of… even if it hurts.

 

A Black Baldy And A Book

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When a black Angus cow has a white face, she’s called a black baldy.

And sometimes, her calves are baldies, too!

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An important book: DEFENDING BEEF, written by vegetarian and environmental lawyer Nicolette Hahn Niman. This book is not a rah rah eat more meat echo chamber. It is a dense but easy-to-read powerhouse of a book filled with science and history, biology and ecology, and a smattering of politics to top it off. The section on soil is pure poetry… I mean it!

If you’re vegetarian or vegan and care about the environment, you should read this book. If you eat meat and care about the effects of your choices, you should read this book. Basically, anyone who eats food should read this book. Find it HERE or at your local library.

Dispatches From A Bovine Midwife

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Calving season has been intense this year and I’m either out midwifing cows or recovering from midwifing cows (I got rolled down a snowy hillside by a cow with PPD when I rescued her calf from her headbanging; it’s been a week since then, and all three of us are doing fine, and she is now a wonderful mother). So, I haven’t been on the computer much. I sent the following story to the Star Brand Beef newsletter group the day after the Spring Equinox and, since I don’t have a post prepared for this week, I’m sharing it here, too!

.   .   .

Last night, I said to Mike, “I feel like I got nothing accomplished today.” And he replied, “You saved a calf’s life, I’d say you had a pretty successful day.”

I’d spent most of my day squatting in the damp wind with binoculars, watching a heifer (first time mother) in labor. Sometimes, heifers need extra help, and sometimes, they ignore their calves at first. I knew the latter would not be an issue for Ixchel, the cow I was watching. She had been hovering around another cow’s calf while in the early stages of labor, licking it and mooing to it as if it were her own. She was ready to be a mother. But her labor was taking a long time, longer than usual, so I wanted to watch her closely without getting in her way.

Crouching in the dirt, not knowing if what I was facing was going to be beyond my level of expertise, my heart beat ever-more-nervously as Ixchel got closer to delivery. I had my cell phone tucked into the shaft of my muck boot in case I needed to call for backup. When the calf’s hooves emerged, I knew things were leaning in a positive direction because the calf was not breach. And I also realized why Ixchel’s labor had been more prolonged than usual – her water hadn’t broke, and her calf hadn’t burst through the amniotic sac. Her calf was being delivered while still inside the amniotic sac! In humans, this is called an “en caul” birth and is quite rare.

Once the calf’s front hooves were out (though still enclosed in the amniotic sac), Ixchel lay down and began pushing in a slow, steady rhythm. The moment the calf’s head and shoulders emerged, I dropped my binoculars in the dirt and sprinted over to Ixchel and tore open the amniotic sac with my hands. I cleared the membrane and fluid from around the calf’s nose and mouth just as Ixchel pushed again and the calf’s rib cage emerged – when this happens, the baby is compelled to take its first breath. And if this calf had done so while still enclosed in the amniotic sac, she would have suffocated or drowned. But happily, she took a big breath of air and, with one last push from Ixchel, slithered out, wide eyed and perky. Birth is so wild.

Ixchel immediately got up and mooed a lullaby to her new baby and began licking her off, licking and licking and mooing and mooing. I got no paperwork or office work done, but I got to spend the day where it mattered.

.   .   .

PS: For a full-circle experience, you can read the story of Fiona giving birth to Ixchel HERE.
PPS: You can sign up for the Star Brand Beef newsletter HERE.

Winter Milking

Yesterday, we woke up to four inches of snow and a sky full of flakes, more inches piling up by the hour, and it was beautiful, of course, but incredibly disheartening because this has been a hard winter and I had allowed myself to believe that we were done with the snow and done with the mud (it had finally dried out!), but no. We’re back in winter for a while. And while this winter has been so hard, one thing I’ve loved, deeply and unexpectedly, is winter milking.

Milking, for me, is like exercise is for many – one of those things that you never look forward to and only make yourself do because you have to, but then, when you’re in it, when you’re doing it, you’re filled with so much joy and happiness it seems impossible not to look forward to doing it again the next day. Often, when I’m milking Daisy, I think to myself, “wouldn’t it be wonderful to just quit everything and become a milkmaid?” These romantic daydreams last as long as the milking session and vanish when I’m done, replaced, in the space between milkings, by another thought: “omg, I am so sick of milking.”

Milking is a chore, a chore that extends beyond the actual act of milking – there is the washing of the milk pails and cups and glass gallon jars every single day. There is the cow wrangling and the udder washing and the post-milking thank you brushing of the cow. There is the toting of the the brush and washcloths and warm soapy water and hay and halter and treats and milk pail and cup to the milking area and the lugging of it all back to the house when done (but for the hay and treats). In winter, there is the ritual of layering up – layer after layer after layer to ensure warmth while sitting in the snow for nearly an hour. And there is the task of making sure the cow is peaceful and happy or distracted and entertained, and, even if she is none of those things on any given day, that she at least stands still.

In the past, this last part has been the most challenging part of milking for me. Daisy loves her babies and is so devoted to them, in previous years she has treated me as a kind of milk thief. The best word to describe her attitude towards my milking was begrudging. Or rather, on the best days, she was begrudging, and on the worst days, she was mean. She’d try to kick me, or she’d tap dance for an hour, making the act of milking as difficult as possible for me, or she’d hold back her milk. Cows can do that! They can refuse to let down their milk and will save it for their calves, even though dairy cows produce far, far more milk than any single calf could ever need. When Daisy would pull this trick, I’d have to bring her baby alongside me, give it a teat, and then race the calf, milking as quickly as I could so the calf wouldn’t drain the teat it had been given, then steal my teats, leaving me to trudge home with a measly cup or two of milk.

This year has been different. It’s been so remarkably different, I wonder if, after her miscarriage and before we got Mara, Daisy accepted me as her baby and now I’m equally as entitled to milk as her bovine baby. She’s treating me as if this is so. This year, she has not tap danced while I’ve milked, not once. She stands perfectly still and eats or meditates while I milk, just as she does when nursing a calf. Sometimes, she falls asleep. With Daisy so calm and peaceful, I sit at her feet and rest my head and shoulders against her warm belly while I milk. Rocked gently by her breath, there are times I almost fall asleep, too.

If Daisy wants to shift the position of her hind legs, particularly the leg I’m sitting next to, she no longer uses this as an excuse to whack me as she’s done in years past. Instead, she will raise her leg, draw her hoof up and in towards the center of her body, slowly move it forward in a semicircular arc, and then set it down on the ground again. With this maneuver, she is actively avoiding disturbing me or my milking. She is making sure she does not kick me as she shifts her feet. She is being so considerate! And she hasn’t held back her milk. It flows freely into my pail. I am blessed.

All of this means milking has been incredibly peaceful and meditative for me, even in the depths of winter. I don’t really notice I’m sitting in the snow, not while I’m warmed by Daisy and watching the colors of the sky as the sun rises or sets, and listening to the birds return as the weeks pass, and looking up at Daisy’s sweet face, her eyes half shut, her posture relaxed, chewing her cud. It’s been a chance to bond more profoundly with Daisy each day. Sometimes I break from milking and lean against her and sip her warm milk from a cup, frothy and rich. When I was a teenager and worked an espresso stand and had maxed out on coffee, I’d make myself almond steamed milk – warm and frothy whole milk with a shot of almond syrup mixed in. This is what Daisy’s milk tastes like, milked into a mug and enjoyed immediately.

And when I’m done milking, Daisy grooms me. She turns to me, and with a gentle toss of her head, begins covering me in long, deliberate swipes of her tongue. I only let her groom my clothes because cow tongues are rough and will take a layer of skin off with one lick. Sometimes, I misjudge the length of her tongue and she’ll nick my cheek or wrist with her spiny taste buds and I’ll flinch in pain, but it’s worth it, to be so loved by Daisy.

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Signs Of Spring

1) On Wednesday morning, for the first time this year, I heard Sandhill cranes talking to each other in the distance. That evening, as Mike and I drove home from a rare dinner out, we saw three dancing in our neighbor’s field. Then, on Saturday, they showed up here! They soar over me while I milk Daisy and strut around our pond, negotiating territory with the geese that moved in when the ice melted.

2) Charlie is singing again. Last week, after some shift in daylight or temperature or perhaps celebrating the return of the Sandhill cranes, Charlie began howling again. He’s been singing to us every evening, and some mornings, too. As I mentioned in the book, Charlie stops howling in the winter, except on the rarest occasions. His return to song is celebrated around here!

3) Mud. Mud always comes before grass.

4) Babies! Yesterday morning, I watched a heifer (first time mom) have a smooth and perfect delivery in the morning sun. She licked off her baby and her baby wobbled to her feet and had her first meal and they lounged together in the sunshine and hay the rest of the day.

5) I found myself delighting in a novel sensation. I was outside, and I was warm! Not sweaty-hot-that’s-about-to-refreeze-you from ten layers of clothes and the cardio of chores, but a deep, permeating, comforting, comfortable warmth. Spring is arriving.

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