St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

October's Bright Blue Weather

Finding a new born calf, hidden by her mother in the wooded cow pasture was an adventure.  Sometimes stumbling around the darkening evening brought surprises the next morning

Cows were normally separated out and brought to the youngstock barn to give birth, so we could make sure things went OK and they didn't try to hide the calf in the woods. 

Dad and Mom tried to have their cows all give birth in October, after the fall harvest, so the cows were dry in the harvest time and gave milk all winter long

Harvest was not just for the animals.  Mrs Everhart above has a piece of watermelon and the Hughes boys below (cousins of V.R. Hanson) show off the squash and pumpkins 

"Betsy didn't come home from the pasture tonight," said Dad in a worried tone, "I knew she was close to freshening (having a calf restarted the milk supply -- called freshening by dairy farmers).    " "Will you boys take the tractor and trailer and go up there and find her and the calf?" asked Dad, knowing we would enjoy the adventure of searching the 60 acres of rolling woodlands for a cow and her hidden calf.  

  As it was only an hour before dark, we hooked up the Super C Farmall to the farm trailer, threw in a few hay bales and drove the 1/2 mile up the road where for 40 years, Dad drove his cows back and forth from farm to pasture each morning and evening.  The farm was divided by neighbors who wouldn't sell their land so the cows had a leisurely stroll each morning and evening along the dirt road, grazing the ditches as they ambled along.  

   We parked the tractor in the field on top of the hill and fanned out following the cow trails down into the pasture.  Some of the pasture was open and accessible, but much was wooded and other swampland with heavy cover, favored by a dairy cow reverting to her instinctual behavior where you hid the calf from everyone and everything and defended the territory by charging anyone or thing that approached. 

  We had Lucky, our German Shepherd dog along.  He was excellent for herding cows to and from places, but had never caught on to finding the cows.  He quickly forgot about our mission as he treed a gray squirrel trying to bark it to death.  

   "You go along the south fence all the way to Wolf Creek and then double back around the big swamp and follow the ridge north," Captain and oldest brother Marv told Everett. "Byron, you go straight north along the field to the fenceline and head west to Wolf Creek and cover the hillside, Tamarack swamp and then come back a little south of the fence. Russ, you take the top of the north ridge and follow it to Wolf Creek and double back to the south and I will poke around between you and Ev.   Holler if you find her. We will meet back here after we go over and back"

   Thirty minutes later we gathered at the tractor, as dusk began to fall.  "We have time for one more pass, so let's try again, this time just walk around and poke into every little brush patch, swamp, and cover you can find.  When the sun sets, and you can't see meet back here again."

   Twenty minutes later, "Here she is," we heard Byron yell and headed towards the sound.  We converged on a tiny brush patch on the ridge between two swamps in the middle of the pasture, where Betsy was charging Byron as he dodged behind trees to avoid her rushes.  

   The calf was up and past the wobbly stage, and frisked around too.  "You keep distracting Betsy, Byron and I'll get a rope on the calf," yelled Marvin who had carried the rope with the lasso. 

  We cornered the calf, got a rope around its neck and tied it to a tree.  "Russ, you bring the tractor and trailer down here through the north field."  A few minutes later I had it there. 
The north pasture had a few fields that were very hilly and kept into hay to keep from washing.  Here the Super C Farmall mows the hay and the Jubilee Ford (with umbrella) follows behind crushing the hay stems to dry it faster.  The closely eaten cow pasture is in the foreground.  When Dad bought another farm 2 miles north, he turned these fields into cow pasture too. 

   Betsy had calmed down a little, and we tossed the calf into the trailer between some hay bales, but at the very back where Betsy could see her baby bull clearly.  I slowly drove the tractor, lights on now to see in the late evening shadows, as the other boys sat on hay bales and Betsy followed her calf close behind the trailer.  

   A slow trip down the road and then into the barnyard, then we brought the calf into the barn, Betsy following closely.  We tied the calf in the manger in front of Betsy's stall as she moved in and poked her head through the stanchion and we locked it in place.  

   The calf and mother calmed down and after a half hour, we put some grain and fresh alfalfa in front of Betsy to distract her.  Then we moved the calf to the walk behind the cows (our two rows of cows faced each other across the manger with walkways behind them and rings to tie a calf to along the wall side of the walk way.  

   We had two goals in mind; keeping Betsy calm knowing her calf was nearby, and preventing the calf from nursing.  We tried to immediately feed our calves by pail or nipple pail so they didn't get used to nursing, otherwise as they got older and shared the pasture with the cows, they might start nursing long after they were on regular food.  

   After milking the other cows, Dad milked Betsy and then took the pail of fresh colostrum (rich antibody laden "first milk" of the mother that was needed to keep the calf healthy) and attempted to teach the calf to drink from a pail.  
Many farmers shared their barns with the barn swallows.  As long as they nested somewhere away from the milking areas they were welcome, but milk inspectors frowned on birds near the milking operation.  The haymow floor beams were taken from the old log barn on the farm and reused in the new (1912?) barn.  We don't know when the barn was built, but think it was sometime between 1900 and 1920 when Ole Nelson split his farm between his two sons Axel and John.  Each built new buildings on their 40 acres.  
     The process was usually easy.  Hold the pail in front of the calf, and stick your hand into the milk, fingers up and get the calf to start sucking your fingers.  They looked enough like a cow's teats the calf started automatically sucking them.  Then lower the fingers into the pail so the calf's nose and mouth were submerged.  

  Usually after a few snorts the calf learned to stop breathing and suck the fingers and thus started sucking up milk.  Gradually you removed the fingers and most of the time the calf continued drinking and was thus weaned in a few minutes.  Some didn't so then you brought out the pail with the rubber teat nipple on the side and that always worked.  

   After a few days when Betsy's milk had returned to normal, we saved the milk for sending to the creamery and added the calf to the twice daily feeding of a pail of milk replacer -- powder mixed with warm water that was the "formula" for calves.  Eventually, many months later, the calf would gradually shift to grain and hay.  

  Dad liked to have his cows all freshen in the fall.  Before having the calves, each cow would "dry up" for a couple of months.  That meant August and September could be devoted to the fall harvest as the cows took a break from milking and their milk supply was internally used for the calves.  
Buzzing wood was what folks called cutting long pieces of trees or in this case, slabs from the sawmill, into short pieces that would fit into the wood stove.  Brother Ev's 1939 (?) John Deere and front mounted buzz saw with Dad and Byron doing the sawing and Scott throwing it onto the wagon. 

  Then when the harvest was nearly over, a flush of baby calves, and heavy milk flows for the winter months when field farming was done, and taking care of the cows and calves got full attention. 

  Most of the cows had their calves in a separate barn where lots of room and straw was provided in a birthing stall.  Dad could tell when it was close to calving and removed the mother from the herd.  However, a few times each fall, he missed the signs and we boys went on a calf hunt--an adventure that still brings memories of charging cows, hidden calves and stumbling through the woods on a darkening, cooling evening in October. 

  The bawling of calves separated from their mothers is a prevalent on the farm these autumn days, mixed with the honks of geese veeing about the country.  Beef cows have calves each year and the calves have to be weaned from mothers to let the cow grow a new calf inside.  The calves suckle and in the fall, calves and mothers are separated and for weeks, the bellowing of mothers and calves looking for each other filters through the hills and valleys of farm country.  This morning, the lowing sounds brought back memories of lost youth in many ways.