Well it’s been a while since I’ve done any farm updates and to be honest it’s been a pretty rough winter.
It was always going to be a hectic winter with four calving, pushing my system, which is designed for two calves at a time, to the limits.
As you may remember, I was most concerned about Luna as she was very sick in her previous calving. However, this time she didn’t skip a beat. When Pluto was born he had 48hrs where he couldn’t stand or drink without me for some reason, but from then on you wouldn’t know he’d had a rough start.
Then came Quartz with Selenite, born one wet and cold morning, the most perfect little heifer of all time. She’s my first pure Dairy Shorthorn calf, sharing her paternal lineage with Pluto. She’s had no need for a halter as she happily goes into the pen at night on her own and I’m filled with joy that this little nugget will be a future milker.
Nancy was next with her mini-me bull calf; Billy Button. As my new cow, Nancy is an older girl who started her life as a milker but had spent the last two years raising calves. Things didn’t go so well for Nancy. A retained placenta pushed her immune system to it’s limits and the moment she came into milk I had doubts that she’d ever be a milker. For 6 weeks we managed her mastitis. A rock hard udder which tested Staph positive in three quarters. These test results made the decision for me that I couldn’t keep her. She went on antibiotics to, at least, allow her to recover. Which gave this beautiful natured cow and her gorgeous little boy the chance to leave the farm happy and healthy last week to return to where I bought her from.
For full transparency here, I have really just outsourced something which I felt uncomfortable about. Nancy’s fate will quite possibly be culling. The chance of her getting sicker if allowed to calve again is very high. I had the opportunity to send her back which I was grateful for. I had to make the hard decision that I need to focus my energy on the rest of my herd and my business. I spent a lot of time, emotional energy and money on Nancy to not be able to use a drop of her milk. This is not fair on the rest of my animals.
And Iggy, of course she had to steal the spotlight on my birthday by calving with Marianne (Faithful). Another completely bonkers heifer from a break-in with the neighbours bull. I wont keep Marianne as a milker so she’ll be looking for a home in a beef herd once weaned. The main question my nephews and nieces had when Iggy calved was did she lose any weight and the question is no, she is still the size of a bus.
I love winter, my English heritage is strong. We’ve had double the average rainfall in July, the soil is at capacity, dams full, 200 trees planted, growth everywhere with the lead into Spring looking fantastic. However the other side of the scales is moisture brings bacteria and feet problems. Daylight hours lead to a race against the light most days. Farm access becomes very limited so as not to get bogged or damage soils.
So what lessons have I learnt. DON’T calve in winter! If there are any problems, it’s a miserable time to be sick and I don’t need to increase my workload when the daylight hours are so limited. I also need to look very hard at my feed and minerals; what excess’s and deficiencies might be going on, how can cows enter calving with the best possible chance. Lastly, don’t buy cows which have already lactated, you just never quite know what going on in that udder, Nancy was the 4th cows I’ve had to let go for this reason.
As Spring starts, it’s easy to feel better about everything. This started a couple of weeks ago. I got a shiatsu, sat by the Loddon on my day off, meditating and thinking about the things in my life which give and those that take. I came back into my body. But as I drove into the farm that Friday afternoon I just had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had one last hurdle to cross.
My beautiful Stella, daughter of Luna had reached breeding age. She spent a week with the bull. When I picked her up she was sore and miserable. Then 5 days later I found her dead. No sign of a struggle, in fact I think she died in her sleep. No external signs to indicate what happened. I do know however that when a bull broke in with her when she was young she had a similar (but non-fatal) response, thus I thought she would be fine. I would have liked to have been in a position to autopsy her but late on a Saturday evening was not the time, so my best assumption is that she had some kind of internal damage, either from birth or from the previous mating. Which does mean that things where set in motion long before and for her to have gotten in calf could have been much worse.
It hit me hard, harder than I expected. I’d been preparing myself for losing my first cow, but not like this. I’d assumed it would be around calving, particularly a vulnerable cow like Berta or Luna. Not Stella, a heifer, in prime condition, after a trip to the bull. I was in shock. She was such a beautiful cow, with the same wacky energy as her mum, I was really looking forward to her joining my herd. The universe seems set on me not increasing my milking herd, first Olive, then Nancy and now Stella!
So the days following this I really did feel like what’s the bloody point, ‘we do all this just for a few litres of milk, are you serious!’
Like with all relationships in life, the better they are, the stronger the loss is felt. To have life filled with love is, I believe, what makes this crazy existence worth living. So I choose to maintain my love for these ladies, even if it will make it harder to say goodbye to them all eventually.
The light at the end of the tunnel though was my customers, community and wider networks. To witness what it means to people to have connection with the land, people and animals where their food comes from makes it all worth while. It’s highlighted for me the importance of direct customer contact for small scale agriculture.
Thank you all for going on this journey with me.
R.I.P Stella Bella