Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

It's Raining Acorns!

It's been a long, hot, dry summer, and we're more than 15" short of rain for the year.  We've been feeding hay to all our animals since mid-June--in a year when the first cutting wasn't up to par and the second cutting was very scant.  An oak tree right behind the barn has died--turned completely brown--in just a few months.

However, there's one beneficial side effect to the drought:  It's raining acorns!  You can hear them plopping on the ground like hail with every slight breeze.  Our steers and young bull are the only animals that have been pastured for most of this summer.  Right now they have the run of both the Home and Middle pastures.  Every day they come up to eat off their round bale, get a drink of water--and hoover up acorns across the fence from the giant oak in our back yard.  The past few days they've been joined by a flock of bluebirds (one is perched on the fence by Wellie's head in the photo) swarming all over the ground.  I finally figured out the bluebirds are enjoying buggy acorns.

That brown, crisp pasture is a sad sight, but I find comfort in the Bluebird of Happiness--along with the Wellie of Happiness and the Remy of Happiness!

(Merci, Kathleen Magnan, pour la poussée si douce de reprendre mon blog!  Bisous!)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Siobhan a Year Later

This is a follow-up to Siobhan's story from last year.  That story told how Siobhan got Pseudomonas mastitis in her right rear quarter and nearly died.

I was a day away from putting Siobhan down to end her intense suffering when my son and our three grandchildren joined me in the milking parlor.  They prayed over and sang to Siobhan while I stripped her swollen, painful quarter.  They also fed her treats and for the first time since she got sick, she didn't kick in pain.  Shortly after they left, a vet from the University of TN called me--on a Sunday afternoon--and begged me not to put Siobhan down.  He said if I gave her a chance, he believed she could get well--even though Psuedomonas is considered untreatable and incurable.  That vet ended up being a lot like the biblical angel that told Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac--he played his part and disappeared from the story, never to be heard of again!  He never answered my emails or calls, and I was on my own with a cow I hoped and believed God might spare, but not quite sure what I was supposed to do.

Before I learned it was Pseudomonas, a local vet had already given me a shot of Excede and a prescription for Pirsue (assuming it was Staph A again).  So I carried through with the Pirsue in all four quarters for 8 days; gave Siobhan large doses of oil of oregano essential oil in her feed twice a day, along with Vitamin E and probiotics; and massaged and stripped the RR quarter twice a day until the calf could keep her udder milked out.  At that point I quit milking her to avoid spreading anything.  Siobhan and Remy lived in the barnyard while I hauled all the manure and bedding away to a separate compost heap where it would not be spread on the pastures.  

An update from late August recounts some further challenges Siobhan faced, including an annoying fungal infection of her udder, another residual of my grave mistake in using the Tamm Udder Support.  Essential oils, colloidal silver and Lotrimin finally resolved that problem after months of treatment.  However, there was some hopeful news in her further milk tests--especially that throughout her illness, the Staph A she had in Feb. 2014 never reappeared.  That was the best news I had during a horrible year!

In October 2015, Siobhan and Remy got out of the barnyard for the first time since he was a few days old, the end of May.  They had two months out in a pasture until I weaned Remy in early December, and Siobhan came back to the barnyard so I could supervise her anti-self-sucking harness.  Our vet came for a consultation about Siobhan's future, and we made a plan.  The plan changed a few times for various reasons, but here's what we finally did.  Remy was weaned, Siobhan tested negative for Pseudomonas again, and I dried her off.

Once Siobhan was dried off, she was ready for surgery.  I consulted with vets at UT and the University of GA, as well as two other helpful vets with experience in mastitis.  There was a general consensus that, due to scar tissue from the Pseudomonas and probable damage to her lymph system which drains the udder of infection, if Siobhan ever calved and lactated again, she would almost certainly get mastitis.  That much the vets agreed on.  As far as how to prevent that, the vets had various solutions to offer.

1)  A complete mastectomy, a very serious surgery under general anesthesia, with a risk of death, infection, seroma, etc.  This would obviously completely eliminate any chance of her getting mastitis.  It could be followed a couple weeks later by an ovariectomy (spaying her) to keep her from getting pregnant.  That could be done through a flank incision (more risky) or laparoscopically (much less risky, but more expensive).

2)  An ovariectomy (spaying) through a flank incision, at the same time tying off the main artery that supplies the udder.  This would result in atrophy of the udder.  There was a slight chance that collateral circulation might develop, but as long as Siobhan would not be calving and lactating, this should greatly reduce her chance of getting mastitis.

The anxious part of me wanted Siobhan's udder to be gone so she could never have mastitis again.  A friend who had it done for her cow was very supportive and helpful--without making me feel guilty if I decided against it.  The cow mama part of me did not want my cow to suffer the pain and months-long recovery of a total mastectomy, and after the months of stress I endured last year, I wasn't sure *I* could deal with the pain and suffering and potential complications.  Our vet highly recommended against it.  Herb supported whatever I decided, and in the end I had to make the decision for Siobhan; no one else could do it for me.  After spending time in meditation and prayer for wisdom, I felt convinced that the Lord had brought Siobhan this far to spare her--and the ovariectomy at UT kept coming to mind.

On March 21, we took Siobhan up to the University of Tennessee, 2 hours away.  She led off the trailer like the sweetheart she is and got the attention of a crowd of vet tech students, who thought she was so cute!

It was SO hard to leave my girl there, but I knew she was in good hands.   Siobhan had her surgery on March 24, with the assistance of three different vets.  They used a left flank incision.  The ovariectomy (spaying) was as easy as expected, although they had some difficulty reaching the right pudendal artery due to her smaller size, and the surgery took several hours.  As a precaution, they gave Siobhan IV fluids and antibiotics and decided to keep her over the weekend to observe her.

We picked Siobhan up on March 28.  They didn't even bother leading her through the chute, but just led her out the door.  We had a chance to talk with all three vets who worked on her and get their input for her follow-up care.

Here's Siobhan back at home four days post-op, showing off her incision.  The stuff around the edges of the shaved portion is sterile drapes that they glued to her hide to keep them from falling off if she moved.

A close-up of the incision, which would need the stitches removed 10-14 days post-op.  Meanwhile, I was instructed to take Siobhan's temperature every morning for the next 10 days and to closely observe the incision for any redness or drainage.  By God's grace, her recovery was textbook-perfect with nothing to cause me any worry.

On April 8, two weeks after Siobhan's surgery, came the moment I'd been dreaming of for more than a year.  It was a moment I had hoped for, even while I dreaded that it might only come figuratively for Siobhan's spirit when her body found relief from suffering.
(Even a year later, it makes me cry to write that!)

The moment Siobhan didn't know to hope for, but that she sure knew how to enjoy to the fullest . . .

Psalm 29
(verses 2, 4 & 6)

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox. . . .

Every time I see these photos of Siobhan leaping like a calf, I smile all over again.  Her joy was and still is infectious!

About two weeks after Siobhan's surgery, our vet took out her stitches and pronounced that she looked excellent.  It was time to let her really go free, so that Ebby and her calf Buddy could enjoy the Home Pasture.

Despite Siobhan's stellar behavior on the lead rope at UT, I thought it would be wise to tie her behind the Doodad while I drove it slowly and have Herb walk nearby, in case she got excited and pulled too hard for one of us to lead her.  It's a good thing I know my girl so well!  I took this photo from the driver's seat, and Siobhan was definitely leading!

Siobhan was happily reunited with Royal, and after determining that he was Head Bull and she was Head Cow, they set off to enjoy the large Back Pasture together.

That evening I was filled with joy at the sight of Siobhan grazing beside Royal, being a cow again . . . for the first day of the rest of her life.  The last verse of Psalm 29 expresses my feelings perfectly: "The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace."  It was a long and difficult year for both Siobhan and me, but at the end of it, we both have peace, and I thank the Lord from both of us!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Bull Market

We're in a bull market here at Zephyr Hill Farm.  Ebby's calf was born today, a black, horned bull.  He may not be the red, homo-polled heifer I was hoping for--but he is healthy and lively and sweet, and we're very thankful for him.

Last night at the 3 am check I could tell Ebby's pins had gone, so I figured today would be the day.  Ebby's restless pacing of the pasture all morning confirmed it.  By 2:30 all she had done was get up and down in various places for the last half hour, so I went into the house to verify how long the various stages of labor should take.

I came back out at 2:53 to see bare hooves, quite a different sight from Ebby's calving last year.  Concerned that with the water bag broken the calf might aspirate amniotic fluid, I called the vet.  It was possible, he said, but advised me to let her push the calf out by herself if she could.  Ebby could--and did.  By 3:04 the head was out, and I could clear the calf's mouth of fluids.  By 3:05 the calf was on the ground.  Nine minutes later it was trying to stand, and by the time it was eleven minutes old, it was on its feet.

Although Ebby's poll hair predicted her calf would be a heifer, and my first glimpse of its sweet face made me think it was, it soon turned out that "she" was really a he.

Unlike many bull calves, this little guy was quick to find the udder and nurse--and even quicker to begin exploring.

He came over to meet Herb and me . . .

. . . checked out the grass, took a brief nap, and started exploring again.  He didn't just walk, though--he bucked his way along.

It was a lovely to sit in the green grass watching a healthy, lively calf interact with the warm, sunny world.  A gentle breeze blew over us--a perfect April day.

Looking at his face now, it's clear this little calf is all boy!  However, between his birthday being close to April Fool's Day and Ebby's trick with her "heifer poll hair," I decided to name him ZH Royal Pretender.  We're already calling him "Bucky" as it seems to suit this happy little buckaroo.

Rain and thunderstorms were predicted for tonight, so before it got dark we walked down to the bottom of the pasture to fetch Ebby and Bucky.  Herb packed 55 lbs. of calf up the steep hill with Ebby following anxiously along.  Bucky cooperated surprisingly well, without struggling to escape.  He and Ebby were safely ensconced in a stall about five minutes before the lightning and rain hit.  That means a good night's sleep for me, knowing our bull market will safely weather the storm.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Poll Hair Poll

Some people say you can predict the sex of a calf by the dam's poll hair in the last weeks of pregnancy.  Neat, straight poll hair indicates a bull calf while messy poll hair means a heifer.  Last year was the first year I paid attention.

Here's Ebby's poll hair in early April of 2015.

She had a bull calf, Seb.

Here's Ebby's poll hair today.

And one from yesterday--or should I call it "pole" hair, as in telephone pole?

I'm hoping this year's poll hair is just a little messier and spikier than last year's because I'd love a heifer.  But let's take a poll:  What do you think Ebby's having this year?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

My Favorite Things

This evening I got to enjoy three of my favorite things:  Springtime, a beautiful sunset . . .

 . . . and a friendly Dexter coming up for a scratch.
What a perfectly beautiful evening!  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Think Dirty!

If you thought this was a post about gardening, you're mistaken!  And as cute as Ebby is, it's not about Dexters giving themselves clay facials, either!

This post is--believe it or not--a review of an App!  Don't worry, this is still a farm blog, but I just have to share this great App, which I found through my interest in essential oils.

I first came across essential oils (EOs) when we lived in France in the 1990's, and a doctor suggested them as an adjunct to the medical treatment of our daughter's pneumonia.

After that I continued to use the lavender EO as an antiseptic for cuts and scrapes, but that's as far as it went for years.

I became even more interested in EOs when I discovered that the thyme, lavender and eucalyptus oils we used for our daughter's pneumonia were also great to treat edema in a newly-freshened cow.  (See?  You knew cows would get in here somehow!)

However, when I came down with shingles earlier this month, I decided I wanted something better than the oils I've been buying locally.  That's when I ordered my first Young Living oils.  (While I'd love to tell you about Young Living, that's not what this post is about, so if you want to know more, please contact me.)

I discovered Think Dirty when it was recommended in one of my essential oil Facebook groups.

The website states:  "Think Dirty® is more than just a mobile app - it’s a consumer revolution for safer cosmetics by learning one ingredient at a time, changing to cleaner options, one product at a time.  Join me to take back our power to vote for products that are safe, clean, and not “Dirty”. The time is now."

It sounded like a great idea, so I got the App and tried it out Sunday afternoon.  Using Think Dirty is very easy and rather addictive in a fun way, although the results were a fairly damning indictment of my bathroom contents!

I've never even used the scanner thingy on my iPhone, but I could figure this App out without much trouble.

Enable the camera on your phone, then hold the camera over the barcode of the product you want to scan.  You'll see a small window appear with a red line through it, and the barcode shows up inside the window.

This photo is so blurry because it's easier to do this than to take a photo of oneself doing it, using a camera in the other hand!  The Think Dirty scanner works so quickly I could barely get a photo of the scanning process.  At least you can see how the barcode shows up in the window with the red line through it.

If products are already in Think Dirty's system, they pop up fairly quickly, showing a "Dirty" rating from 0 (good) to 10 (bad).

Here's a decent rating of 3.  It's easy to remember, green means "go," so you can go ahead and keep using this one.

Look at the"Dirty Meter" on the left.  You'll notice that nothing pops up under the "Carcinogen,"  Developmental & Reproductive Toxicity," or the "Allergies & Immunotoxin" scales.

Here's a cream for sensitive skin that I used to slather all over myself during the winter.  It gets a half 'n half rating of 5--yellow for "caution."

Now look at the "Dirty Meter."  The allergic index isn't too bad (unless you consider that this product is made for sensitive skin!), but do I really want a 5 out of 10 on the Carcinogen scale soaking into my skin all winter?  Not really!

Think Dirty offers a lot more than a numerical rating and the Dirty Meter, though.  Notice the "Ingredients" tab in the center.  The 19 ingredients in this product don't all show up on this screen shot, but the six worst ones do.

The "5" rating on this product corresponds to the ingredient with the highest score.  It's not an average, which is a good thing because 18 low numbers averaged with one very high number could lull you into thinking the product is safe.

Finally, check out the "Our Picks" tab on the right.  Think Dirty provides 54 alternatives to this product and gives you their score to compare.

That makes Think(ing) Dirty a great thing to do while you're shopping.  In fact, I can't wait to go shopping and Think Dirty!  Last time I looked at "healthy" shampoo options, I ended up not making a selection because I couldn't narrow the choices down.  With Think Dirty, I can easily weed out any that aren't "clean" enough and find good alternatives.

I think this picture is worth 1,000 words.  This is a product I bought for my grandchildren to use on their cuts and scrapes.  Look at "Developmental Toxicity" in the Dirty Meter.  And this would go directly into their bloodstream--Yikes!

Think Dirty comes with ready-made lists you can save your products under as you scan them.  You can also create new lists of your own choosing.

Here's part of my "Dirty Products" list.  Next time I go shopping I can look up suggested alternatives for each one to be sure I replace them with something safe.

As I scanned items in our bathroom, these three came up as 5's.  I decided, however, that we aren't going to brush our teeth with something that's 5 out of 10 on the Carcinogen scale!
These items ranged from 6 (on the left) up to 10 (on the right).  I plan to replace them all with the help of Think Dirty.  Notice that lots of words on their labels don't mean what you and I might think they mean:  "natural, therapeutic, herbal, pure and nursery."

One final, great feature is that if a product you scan is not in the Think Dirty database, you have the option to send it to them and request it to be added.  It's easy to do, and I sent quite a few in myself.  Now I just have to wait on the notifications to decide the fate of these items.

If you care about your family's health, I highly recommend that you start to Think Dirty!  What's not to love about an App that does all this--AND has a name that just begs to make puns?

Think Dirty about the Bare Necessities of Life . . .

Think Dirty cleans up your life . . .  Sorry, I couldn't resist!  Try Think(ing) Dirty yourself and let me know what you think!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Cost of Raising a Steer on Pasture vs. On a Factory Farm

One of my most popular posts ever (second only to the one on the cost of raising pigs) has been this one: The Cost of Raising a Steer:  How Much Does Our Beef Cost Us?  Over the three years since I posted this, I've gotten several questions in the comments.

Today I got a real poser, and I'd like to share it with you:
"I have a project for school due soon and one thing I have to figure out is how much it costs to raise a free range cow, versus the cows treated in factories, and how much money is made from each of them. If you happen to know any of this information that would be amazing and greatly appreciated for my project is due on Tuesday. Thx so much and pls respond asap, your information is already so useful and you seem like a very knowledge person for this type of thing, thx and hope to hear back. :-)"
Let me start with a disclaimer:  I am NOT at all knowledgeable on this subject!  Everything I know about it I did NOT learn in kindergarten. In fact, everything I know about this subject I have learned from other people who ARE very knowledgeable on the subject.

I do, however, love our cattle.  I love what we're doing and I love sharing what I've learned.  So now that that's settled, how did I answer this young person's question?

Their question was so good and the answer so complicated that I thought they deserved their own post.  So thank you, Tristan, and here's the answer to your question . . .

I'll try [to answer], but this question doesn't have a black-and-white answer that you can write down in neat columns to compare. I hope your teacher or professor will be open to seeing this. I listed the costs for raising our pastured steer in this post; unfortunately, I can't give you a comparative number as if he had been raised in a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) or factory farm. In fact, I doubt any such number exists, and here's why: 
The costs of raising beef in CAFOs far exceeds the list of expenses that get written down on paper. The feed is GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) and a high concentration of grain, which is not the natural food a cow's rumen is designed for. This creates health issues for the animal. In addition, the crowded conditions lead to disease and injury, which requires the use of antibiotics, which contributes to antibiotic resistance when the meat passes into the food chain for humans. Then there's the problem of waste disposal from all the animals crowded together in one place, leading to flies, pollution, odors and a general negative environmental impact. These are just a few of the related impacts which can't be quantified--and that is without even mentioning the quality of life for the animal. 
Here's a link to an article that has photos of two ways to raise cattle.  I think that illustrates the ethical issue of humane treatment very clearly, in addition to the issues of overcrowded animals in unhealthy conditions.
Here's an excellent interview with Michael Pollan on PBS, talking about a feedlot steer he bought and followed through its process to learn some of the things you're asking about.  In this article he mentions the statistic that if an animal is fed grass or hay for the last few days of its life, the E coli in its intestines plummets by 80%. But the CAFO way of handling this problem is to throw antibiotics at the animal, and those are passed on to us in the beef. This Michael Pollan article is very long, but it's a thorough discussion of some of the issues I've mentioned, and more. 
You'll notice there aren't very many numbers in that article! But I believe it clearly shows that the cost of raising beef in CAFOs instead of on pasture is one our society can't afford. I hope this helps you with your paper.

My answer to Tristan's question came from things I've learned from many other, much more knowledgeable people.  But I have learned a few things myself.  As a firm believer that a picture is worth a thousand words, here are some of things that I've learned personally . . . 

You can't calculate these things on a balance sheet, but they are very, very real.  Be sure to show this post to your teacher, Tristan--and I guarantee you'll get an "A" on your paper!