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.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

On the Mooove!

Wellie had just finished a nice nursing under the tree by our back fence when the dogs suddenly went crazy barking.  I looked out back to see what it was and saw two deer racing off through the field (just through the trees beyond Siobhan's ears) with their white tails bounding away.

Since the dogs kept barking, I thought there might be more deer on the way and grabbed the camera to go out and get a shot.  As I went out, Hero got out with me and raced right up to the fence where he set up a thunderous barking right in poor Siobhan and Wellie's ears.

So I didn't get a shot of any deer bounding through the fields, just cattle!

They weren't scared--it was just an excuse to have a romp and a run on a perfect fall day.

Need a Hug? Grab a Cow!

There is nothing like a hugging a warm, sweet-smelling cow around the neck to make your day!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Our Dexter Breeding Priorities

A reader recently asked how we determine what to breed for, and it got me thinking.  There are certain things that are very important to us in our breeding program, others that are less so.  But we had never sat down and put a list in writing, much less tried to list our priorities in order.  It took a lot of thinking and re-writing!  So here, by request, is a first attempt to list our priorities for breeding.  NOTE: This list is subject to re-evaluation and change, and we reserve the right to throw it completely out the window if we so choose!

Our Breeding Priorities

1) Temperament. For us, if our Dexters are to be family cows, good temperament is an absolute requirement. Warning: Aggressive animals will be eaten on our farm!

We halter train our heifers, and our bull is halter-trained. It so happened that we needed to move both him and a heifer in season from one pasture to another. We put his halter on, clipped a lead rope on hers, and we each led one. It went very well. Of course we don't TRY to plan to disrupt a breeding pair, but it's good to know that if we have to, we can safely do it.

Many are the times we've been thankful to be able to walk up to an animal in the pasture, put on a halter or clip on a lead, and take it where we want it.

It's extremely important to me that my cows don't kick or even look like they want to when I'm milking and that I can handle their calves without trouble. For us, this is the essence of a "Family Cow."

2) Calving ease. Any cow can have a wrong presentation and a difficult delivery; if it happens again, it's time to check whether the cow has a problem. A low-birth weight bull is a great asset to calving ease. One of the best things about our Dexters (and Dexters in general) is that they have calved without difficulty and have good mothering skills with little or no help from us. Waking up in the morning to a healthy, dry, nursed calf is a huge blessing!

3) Dual purpose, meaning equal emphasis on beef and milk. For beef you want good muscling, length, good width across the body, and good depth through the heart girth.

For milking you want good milk production with plenty of butterfat and protein (also necessary for raising a healthy calf). You want good udder conformation with a level floor, good front attachment, high rear suspension, good spacing of teats and well-shaped teats. A cow with "sausage teats" that a small calf can't get hold of to nurse becomes a burden.

Temperament is especially important for a true dual purpose animal. The cow with the greatest milk production in the world is worthless if she tries to kick your head off every time you milk her!

4)  Good conformation.  We wouldn't cull an animal with less than perfect conformation if it has other good qualities.  We would breed it to a better animal to try to improve on its faults.  This is why a good bull is so important, since he is going to contribute his genes to every calf born on the farm.

Good feet are an often over-looked part of conformation, hidden away in the grass as they often are.

Note:  One of my pet peeves is breeders whose animals have "good confirmation."  We have yet to take a cow to church and serve it communion, and until we do, I'm afraid none of our animals will have "good confirmation!"  But we hope they will have good conformation!

5)  Polled.  Our foundation cow  (left) had horns, and we knew we didn't want to deal with them, so choosing a homozygous polled bull for her was a very high priority.  Our  current herd sire is heterozygous polled.  Being homozygous polled would have made him "Perfect," but he is so excellent in every other respect that we wanted him even with one horned gene.  With all our breeding stock being heterozygous polled, we will eventually have a horned calf, but we are willing to dehorn it.  What we don't choose to do is to keep both horned and polled animals together.  For our safety, the safety of our grandchildren, and the safety of our other animals, we have chosen to go hornless.

6)  A2 status, homozygous A2 (A2/A2).  The photo of our granddaughter eating yogurt is here because our family's health is the main reason we are interested in the whole A2 issue.  While it may not have been conclusively proven to the satisfaction of the dairy world at large, we like the idea of breeding for A2.  When we decided not to keep our A2 foundation cow (pictured above), we did decide to replace her with her better-tempered, polled, A2 granddaughter.  However, we plan to keep our A1/A2 cow because of her sweet temperament and easy keeping.  In looking for our herd bull, homozygous A2 status was a priority.  You can cut horns off, but you can't filter the A1 out of the milk!  However, A2 is only number 5 on our list because we feel other things are more important.

7)  Grass-based.  Also for our family's health, we want to raise grassfed beef.  Our steers should finish well on grass, and our cows should be able to raise healthy calves without a lot of supplemental grain.  Currently we feed one cow 4 pounds of 16% protein feed a day, while the other gets 3.  Their calves are 6 months and 4 1/2 months old, respectively, so both are at their peak lactation.  Both calves are on their dams full time with grass, hay and minerals.  Both are healthy and shiny and chunky.  Our vet is happy with the condition of the cows on this amount of feed, less than the rule of thumb would dictate.  (The rule of thumb is 3 pounds of 16% protein per gallon of milk.)  I know of full-sized dairy cows that consume a 5-gallon bucket of grain twice a day.  Ours get four (or fewer) tomato-cans full per day!

8)  Size.  Our aim is to stay within the ADCA height guidelines.  Again, we would not necessarily cull an animal based on this, but we will breed toward that goal.  We love Dexters partly because of their size, and we have no desire whatsoever to "upsize" them to get more beef or more milk.

9)  Color.  I put this last because it's just the gift wrap, as far as we're concerned.  Beef and milk from black, red or dun cattle taste exactly the same.  That being said, we were thrilled to get our first red calf this spring.  They sure look pretty on the green grass, they're a lot easier to spot at night, and there's anecdotal evidence that they are less troubled by flies.  (That's something we'll be watching.)  Both of our cows carry red, and now that we have a red herd sire, we'll be getting some red calves.  That's just window dressing--fun, but not important to us.

There are other things I didn't list, even some things we test for (or will test for).  Here's why they didn't make the list:

PHA - All of our animals are PHA-negative and always will be.  There would be absolutely no reason to add a PHA-positive animal to our herd.  I believe that almost every Dexter breeder with a PHA-positive cow is trying to breed a replacement heifer.  Many with PHA-positive bulls have castrated them, despite their other great qualities.  We don't test for PHA any more because our animals are obligate non-carriers.

Chondrodysplasia - We bred a cow to a chondro-positive bull, twice.  We got one sweet non-carrier heifer and a carrier bull (pictured above).  While we love our sweet, chondro-positive bull calf, we have personally decided not to breed chondro carriers.  We will be castrating this bull calf and raising him for beef, NOT because of his chondro status, but because of his dam.  And THAT is another post for another day: "What Makes a Bull Mother?"  Meanwhile, he's looking like mighty tasty beef!

Kappa Casein & Beta Lactoglobulin - These are milk components that can be tested for with other DNA tests.  If they were computer programs, you might call them A2-2.1  They relate to cheese-making, and while they are interesting--and we've already tested one animal for them--they will never be a reason to cull an animal.  They fall into the Fun-to-Know category, that's all.

So there it is, our breeding priorities at 6:29 p.m. on October 8, 2014.  And now we've got some hungry animals waiting for hay!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Weekend on the Farm

Charis and Kol spent last weekend with us from Friday night through Monday morning, and we had a marvelous time!  (This could have been a "Wordless Wednesday" post--except I didn't finish it on Wednesday and I can't do "wordless!")  However, a picture IS worth a thousand words, so I don't need too many . . .

Happy to be here!

Misty helps wave goodbye.

Off to feed the animals Saturday morning.

Siobhan is the perfect, un-scary size--and she loves petting.

Back from a long morning walk with Didi.

Good thing Mimi came to the rescue with the Doodad!

A Hotdog Man for lunch . . .

. . . revives tired bodies and spirits.

Fall evening + Pony = Perfect Farm Fun.

Julie is ready for supper, and so are we.

Marbleworks always fascintates.

Some good, old-fashioned fun.

A Sunday Bible story fills a quiet moment.  You might not know it from the busy photos, but we have lots of story times here.

Face Time with Dada, Mama and Eden.

Ah, the wonders of modern technology!

What goes up . . .

. . . must come . . .

. . . down!  We proved that one over and over!

Only one aunt in the entire world . . .

. . . would let her niece and nephew climb and slide all over her new truck.  Aunt Kara rocks--and Tacoma is Kid Tough!  (Are you listening, Mr. Toyota executive?)

Tractor Supply is fun for kids, too.  Charis and Kol show off their new toys--Pegasus-Julie and a blue truck.  (Eat your heart out, Aunt Kara!)

All good things must come to an end, including fun-filled days and time at the farm.  Good night, sweet kiddos!  We loved having you here!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

For Love of Romeo

In July 2001, we returned to the States after eleven years in France, leaving behind two wonderful horses, Tsar and Vanille.  Herb promised Kara and me that we could have horses in the States, and we didn't wait long to take him up on that!  I found my Angel in November.  The lady who ran the horse farm where I boarded Angel promised to look for a horse that Kara could use for jumping.

On December 1, 2001, Kara saddled up Just Romeo, a five-year old registered Quarter Horse who had been in the University of Georgia equine program, both English and Western.  Kara was allowed to try Romeo out for a week before deciding to buy him, and it just so happened that a jumping competition was taking place that day at the horse farm.

Kara and Romeo hit it off immediately and began collecting ribbons.
Six ribbons out of seven competitions was not bad for a first ride!  Two weeks later we took Kara back to the horse farm to meet her 13th birthday present.  It wasn't much . . . it was "Just Romeo!"
I was usually riding Angel at the same time Kara was riding Romeo, so I don't have too many photos of them, but I did get some when they did a Ride-a-Test at a local polo venue, Bendabout Farm, in April 2003. 

Although the jumps were low, Romeo performed beautifully as always.  Jumping was his and Kara's real love.

Neither Romeo nor Kara cared much for dressage, which was (unfortunately) what the lady who ran the farm preferred.  She tried her hardest to extend Romeo's trot, which was very comfortable trot, but tended to resemble a Western jog.

Romeo made a reliable trail horse and a fun family horse, too.  For Hallowe'en that year, my daughter-in-law Monique dressed up as "Juliet" and rode her "Romeo" in the farm Hallowe'en parade.

No matter who was riding him, Romeo was, pure and simple, a "love."
In July 2004, we trailered Romeo, Angel and our two dogs all the way out to far West Texas--a long-time dream of Kara's and mine.

My brother- and sister-in-law always generously provided horses for us to ride when we visited, but having our own horses with us made that trip very special.

They both adapted to the rough west Texas country as if they'd been born there . . .

. . . although they both also found a new affinity for every tank and water hole to cool off in.

Romeo was alert to whatever he heard moving through the brush nearby, but as steady as always.

When we decided to move Angel and Romeo from the first farm, the place we found to board did not have a riding ring for jumping.  Along with Kara's changing interests as she grew older and found new friends, this meant that she wasn't riding much any more.  We thought about selling Romeo, but we hated to part with such a good horse.

That was how, in March 2005, Romeo headed out to west Texas to live on a family ranch.  It wasn't so much a "goodbye" as a "see you later."  We did see Romeo several more times when we were out there, and Kara got to enjoy riding him.  But then we all got older and life got in the way, and for seven years we didn't make it to Texas.  

When we finally did, Kara had a poignant reunion with Romeo.  It was clear that we weren't the only ones that had aged.  Romeo wasn't a five-year old youngster any more, but an eighteen-year old senior horse.  He was fine and healthy, but Kara realized that sooner or later he would die on the range and be eaten by buzzards and coyotes, because that's the way things happen out there.  She realized that she wanted him to come Home. 

And that is how, at 2 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 8, Romeo came home.  The commercial hauler had a pretty adventurous time getting his semi-horse trailer down our lower drive and up a hill in the pasture to turn around, but everyone made it safely.  The driver and I walked Romeo up to the barn and got him settled for the night.  (Kara was still in West Texas, having had to delay her flight to allow her to be there to get Romeo loaded.)  The next morning Romeo's new "harem" was waiting as close to his stall as they could get, his old friend Angel (the black mare) eager to greet him.

Romeo isn't the best traveler, although he does much better in an air-ride commercial trailer, so we'll be feeding him up a bit as he settles in and gets used to his new life.  He probably thinks we dragged him from Heaven to Hell, it's been so horribly humid here compared to what he's used to!

On the advice of our equine vet, Dr. White, Romeo will be in quarantine for three weeks until any danger of shipping fever is past.  He's already gotten his immunizations to protect him against Georgia's illnesses.

Meanwhile, Julie, Angel and Brandy are waiting impatiently--for love of Romeo.