Tara and Easter

Tara and Easter
"Aw, mom"

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

My Name is Harold

....And I am the oldest calf at Moonlit Oaks Ranch.  The other calf, Ian, is a pest.  He always wants to see what I'm doing.  Anyway, I need to complain about my really bad day on Saturday.  In fact, I will call it that:

Harold's Really Bad Day


Saturday began normally.  It was cool and refreshing in the morning, but it warmed up quickly.  I made a couple trips to the milk bar (Mama Cow) and then chased Ian a little.  Grumpy old Auntie April told me to keep it down and Buttercup gave me a sneer.   I'm almost as tall as she is, so, whatever.  Holly Cow used to be fun to play with, but she's pregnant now and all grown up (so she says).  She also brags because she belongs to the Church, rather than the farmers, as if I care.  So, yeah, no fun to play with anymore.  The big steers (they spook me with scary stories sometimes) were telling me something about 'my turn' is coming.  Spare me.  Anyway, it was a completely normal day in the pasture.  

Then, the farmers were carrying a green bag and played with the chute thingy.  I didn't think anything of it because they had GRAIN.  Oh, sweet, lovely grain!  They pulled the feeders into a weird spot and we followed.  Then, they pulled them into the bull pen.  I've never been in the bull pen.  So cool!  I wanted to see where daddy spent some of his time before he left for Texas.  So, in we went.  Of course, they closed the gate behind us.  Then, the lady farmer shooed me into a spot in the bull pen where there was an extra fence.  I like her, so I went there without complaining.  Mama Cow yelled out to 'be good'.  Huh?  Well, into that chute thingy I ran and it stopped me.  I was stuck.  "Um, excuse me?", I said to the farmers that were there with their little farmer kid.  The kid (he's my favorite) petted me and I figured the farmers knew I was there and would help me out soon.  Then, the torture began.  Cold wet stuff in one ear and then PINCH!  Ow! Ow! Ow!  "I'll talk!  I'll talk!  I have no idea what you want to know, but I'll talk!", I told them.  Then, they stabbed my other ear and it felt heavier.  Oh man, now I had one of those silly yellow earring things the big cows have.  No one asked me if I wanted one.  That would have been more polite.  Then, the nasty bee sting things (must be the shots the steers warned me about).  And, yuck!  Gooey stuff down my back (it's supposed to get rid of worms.  I don't have any worms, seriously.  I would know!).  Then, as if that wasn't enough, they ripped some hair off of my tail for 'genetic testing'.  Dude, seriously?  The final evil was this heavy thing they strapped onto my head.  It felt weird and was itchy in, oh, about two seconds.  Finally, the chute thingy opened and I was on the wrong side of the fence.   I complained to the farmers, but they didn't seem concerned.  Everybody else was back in the pasture and I was stuck in daddy's pen, all by myself.  While I complained, loudly (sounded a bit more like daddy, actually.  I think my voice is changing), everyone just stared at me from the other side of the fence.  Mama Cow got all teared up with those weird happy tears mamas get.  "What?!" I said.  The steers were impressed with me.  They were the ones that told me the news. "Relax, Harold", they said (they never called me by my name; always twerp, goober, etc..  what a moment).  "You made it!  You're going to be a herd sire, like daddy.".  "Really?" I said.  "What does that mean?".  They both snorted, called me a twerp, and walked off.  Big help they were.  Anyway, all the cows, including mama said they were proud of me.  They told me I would be going to my own herd soon to grow up with strange cows, and then they wandered off to eat.  Okay, so I guess I'm going to be pretty awesome, like daddy.  But it was still a Really Bad Day!

That's my complaint.  Thanks for letting me vent.  I gotta go.  Gotta practice being awesome and doing, you know, bull things, like pawing up dirt and rubbing my horns on stuff.  I have horns, really.  They're short now, but they're growing.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Live Nativity and Xavier's kiss

Xavier is our resident donkey.  He is talkative, affectionate, and sweet.  He is very popular among visitors to our farm.  I was asked by the principal of our son's Catholic school, if Xavier would be willing to be kissed on the nose.  The deal was that if the students at our son's school raised enough money, their principal had to kiss a farm animal.  She preferred a donkey to say, a pig.  Considering how far Xavier has come in his training, and how much he seeks attention from people, it sounded like a trip to the school would be fine.  In addition, this was to be done before Christmas Break, so the children would also be doing a nativity scene outside.  I arranged to bring Xavier, Fiona the Dexter cow, and our two tame sheep for the Nativity.  The animals were perfectly behaved as our priest, Father Andy, sat down on a bale of hay between some kids in costumes and the animals gathered around, and read the Nativity story to the pre-school children.  Due to privacy concerns, I cannot show you any pictures of the children in costumes.  This picture was taken before the event.  Fiona, having some experience at schools with children, was the star.  She enjoyed lots of treats and scratches from the children, and our priests.  

The sheep were also perfect.  They enjoyed pets and scratches from the littlest children.  Father Pervaiz even helped me feed them.

After the Nativity, the promised kiss was to be done in front of the entire school.  The children formed a horseshoe around the principal and I led Xavier in for his kiss.  He did quite well.  Here is a picture from the local paper.

Tara and Tina are coming home

In 1993, I began working with cattle while in college at Colorado State University after being inspired by my advisor, Dr. Temple Grandin.  I worked as a calf feeder at a dairy, wrangled on a bison ranch, and worked extensively with CSU's herd during calving season. These were large operations and the learning curve was high. At times, it was like taking a drink from a fire hose. I was hooked. I also worked with a local mobile vet. Of all the client's herds we cared for, my favorite were the little Dexter cattle at one ranch.  After reading up on their history, I learned about their origins in Ireland.  After college, I joined the US Navy.  I did a little research about Dexters from time to time while I was serving in the military and dreamed of a farm of my own.

In 2003, while I was still serving as a Surface Warfare Officer in the US Navy, I bought my own farm in Virginia near where my ship was home-ported. I raised some commercial cattle at first to get a feel for the land. It was much different than raising cattle out west. Finally, one year before I was to be stationed on shore duty, I contacted a Dexter cattle breeder in Missouri. They had some very nice looking animals.  I arranged to drive out to their farm in September 2005 and pick up three 6 month old Dexter heifers, Tina, Tara, and Trudi. I would be returning from the war in August 2005 so I had enough time to prepare for my new arrivals.

A week before the trip, tragedy struck as Hurricane Katrina smashed the gulf coast. I looked at my big, empty, stock trailer that I would be hauling halfway across the country and formulated a plan. I dropped the trailer off on base in a prominent location and sent a message out inviting people to fill it full of school kits and personal hygiene kits. One week later, I left Norfolk, Virginia for Missouri with my two dogs in the cab of my truck, bedding, hay, camping equipment, and buckets in the pick-up bed, and a trailer crammed full of goodies for Hurricane victims.  I delivered the goods to the Salvation Army in Tennessee. They would be loading an 18 wheeler immediately to take supplies to one of the locations for displaced victims.

I left very early in the morning and pushed through all the way to Tennessee that first night to ensure the donations were delivered ASAP. The dogs and I found a hotel in Tennessee and then headed towards Arkansas the next morning.  We reached the Ozarks after dark and had to feel our way through strange mountain towns. Finally, at about 10:00 pm, we arrived at the cattle ranch in Missouri. The rancher was also a military veteran and had already insisted that I stay with his family instead of finding a hotel.

The next morning, we caught up my new heifers, haltered, vaccinated, and loaded them up for their trip home. They had the run of the big three-horse trailer. Shaving provided thick bedding, hay was piled on the sides, and a large tub of water was secured in the corner. I entered twice a day to play with them and feed them grain in their individual buckets (Tara has the green bucket and Tina has the blue).

We hauled out early the next morning and made it to an RV campground just over the border into Kentucky. The park owners were amused at the calves in my trailer. The dogs and I slept in the little tack-room area. We awoke early to the thumping of calves playing in the trailer. They had enough room to romp and took full advantage of it.

At a gas station the next day, a cattle truck, crammed full of steers, pulled in to refuel next to us. My girls were strangely quiet as they watched the random flashes of crowded cattle move behind the round holes in the sides of the huge double-decker trailer. A big, brown, eye peered out to the calves and some mooing was exchanged. It was a strange moment.

That night, I talked my way into staying at the Kentucky Horse Park's campground. The manager said I'd have to leave if the calves mooed too much. I only wanted a few hours sleep, so I promised that we'd be gone before the sun came up. My cows were quiet all night. 

A year later, I was married and out of the Navy. My husband and I took two trips with the stock trailer to haul, first the Dexter cows, then, our two horses and donkey, down to our new farm in Florida.

Florida was a whole new challenge to raising cattle. We are high and dry on our new farm in northern Florida, so it is similar to the west but the porous sandy soil means that their hooves must be trimmed because they don't wear naturally as they would on hard ground. 

Tara and Tina gave us Easter and April the following spring.  We sold Trudi because of some temperament issues.  

Over the next several years, Tina, Tara, and Tina's daughter, April, helped us grow our herd into a nice size.  

In 2011, we signed up to take ten cows to the local fair.  We had to dehorn Tina and Tara because of the fair rules.  They are at the far end in this picture from the Clay County Fair.

Our herd was too big at this point, so we sold Tina and Tara to a gentleman just starting out in Dexters.  This is one of the last pictures I have before he picked them up.  Tina is the black cow in the middle and Tara is the bigger dun cow behind her.

They had been bred to our bull, so this was a perfect "Dexter starting kit".  It seemed like a good home.  In 2013, however, I received a call from a lady in central Florida telling me a sad tale.  Tina and Tara had been left to starve in someone's pasture (not the person we sold them to).  This nice lady had picked them up cheap and brought them back to health.  She used them for milking for several years. 

This year, just before Easter, she asked us if we wanted to buy them back.  Since we are a small farm and bit light on cows at the moment, it seems like good timing.  There is also, of course, the emotional attachment one experiences when working with animals.  Tina and Tara were always easy to handle and nice to work with.  We are looking forward to bringing them home.  Cattle remember each other, even after several years.  In our herd, we have two daughters of Tina.  It will be fun to see how they interact when they are reunited.  

In addition, our bull was new when we sold them, so we never saw any calves from breeding Tina and Tara to our bull, Armstrong.  Hopefully, we will finally get that chance next year.  

I will post a picture of them, or maybe even a video of their reunion with their herd, this weekend.  :)