Thursday, September 18, 2008

Goin' Against the Grain

I had a nice visit with our conventional pesticide and fertilizer supplier dude earlier today. I'm sure he has a title, but I have no idea what is is. So pesticide and fertilizer dude will have to do.

It was really nice to have a long talk with a farmer who's squarely planted in the conventional world but who also doesn't freak out and have a heart-attack when I tell them we plan to go organic. We had a long chat about different planting options, about my concerns with our ragweed problem (which wasn't solved by the machete work), about his concerns with soil erosion in organic grain systems, and about the challenges of balancing our concerns for the environment with the economic health of the farm.

I must say it was pretty cool to receive advice about different things we could do to help us reach our goal faster, especially coming from a man who spends most of his Spring driving one of those tall, monstrous pesticide-sprayin' vehicles that just look evil and remind me of a giant moon rover. (Not that I've ever seen a moon rover.)

Because I gotta tell ya, I can feel myself faltering once and awhile. It simply gets harder and harder for me to maintain one foot in the organic world and another in the conventional world. Let's be honest. I have to constantly explain the rationale behind keeping part of the farm conventional when talking with my organic cohorts. And then I have to explain why I won't plant GMO crops to my conventional cohorts. Especially when I see, we all see, the major weed pressure in our non-GMO fields and a simple switch to Round-Up Ready would take care of it.

I know where I want to be. I just want to be there already.

OK, I admit...patience isn't my strongest quality. But this path in the middle is not easy. Not at all. And the worst part is that I know the longer we allow the ragweed to populate our fields, the larger the problem is going to grow. I am pretty sure that within a year or two, we'll be at the point of no return, especially in one particular 45-acre field.

I asked Mr. fertilizer dude about planting wheat. Wheat requires less nitrogen and harvests mid-summer, which would cut back the ragweed. It also bumps up your future soybean yields, something that has lagged on our farm for years. He said the ragweed could cause a big problem with our wheat crop, though. Plus, we'd have to coninue to mow the fallow field the rest of the season if we wanted to keep the ragweeds down. Can you say diesel, diesel and more diesel?

The best option we came up with is to take that field out of row crops altogether and sock it into hay ground. We could get a premium oat-hay crop in late Spring, and then two more cuttings of Alfalfa that summer. Which means we'd mow down the ragweed 3 different times. The field could be left as hay ground for two more full summers, getting mowed 4 times each summer. Then you plow in your hay field and plant corn, which would need no nitrogen since the alfalfa provided it for us. Follow that with a year of soybeans and then back into alfalfa for three more years.

And maybe, just maybe, after three more years our cattle herd might be at the size that we'd need the land for grazing. So we wouldn't even need to put it back into corn or soybeans.

Hmmn. Hmmn. Hmmn.

The only teensy-weensy miniscule problem I can find with this new little seed of a plan is this: we'd have about 95 acres of hay to cut, dry and bale next year!!!!! And you'all know that cutting, drying and baling hay without it getting rained on isn't an easy task. It isn't an easy task when your dealing with 42 acres. Add another 40-odd acres and what do you get? A stressed-out farmer, that's what you get!!

Guess I've got me some thinking to do. And guess I gotta consult with the family.

Let's see. What should I bring up first? My great idea on how to get rid of our ragweed problem? Or the fact that we might be hayin' on 95 acres next year?

If you have any advice, this is the time to cough it up. Unless you're the conventional-judgemental type or the organic-judgemental type. Then you can just keep it to your nice little self. Thanks in advance.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pink Eye

Around the time we had our chicken harvest, our baby calves came down with Pink Eye. We noticed it first in the second youngest calf...the one that was too lazy to search out his mom, if you so recall.

We check on our cattle every day, often times more than once. But, as you well know, cows run in herds. And when you see the herd mullin' around, nicely chewin' their cud and swattin' at flies with their tails, well.....well, they check out just fine.

Mother cows keepin' up their conditioning? Check.
Grass supply sufficient? Check.
Babes nursing? Check.
Water tank in workin' order? Check.
General all-around happiness? Check.

I guess what I'm saying is that we don't literally look them all in the eye, every day of the week. And especially not in each eye, as was needed in this particular case.

When I checked on little lazy calf, he looked just fine. Perfectly fine. Until he turned his head the other way, which provoked me to loudly exclaim, "WOA....What is THAT?"

*Insert violin soundtrack here*

Oh no! His eye! His poor, poor eye. It was all squinty, and runny, and sportin' a nice crop of flies, those despicable creatures. The worst part was that his eyeball was snow-white. White as could be. The kind of white that you know means one, and only one thing: Blindness.

My heart sunk. My (s)mothering instinct kicked into full gear. And my thoughts started racing: Could he have impaled himself on a piece of wire? Did he get kicked by another? Was there a possible predator attack?

But then I knew. I just knew. I knew the truth when he walked out of the shed for a moment, only to immediately turn around and high-tail it back in.

Oh no.


No, no, no.

Not Pink Eye. Anything but Pink Eye.

But Pink Eye it was. I started looking, really looking this time at each and every calf. In each and every eye. And in all of the calves but one, I saw it. I saw the signs of that blasted disease, and in the blink of an eye (sorry) I knew our lives had become much more complicated.

I called the vet and arranged to pick up an antibiotic spray that would need to be sprayed in the affected eyes, once a day. The exact indications read: 2 squirts directly on the eyeball, every day until the infection clears up.

Did I mention that it could take over a month for the infection to clear up? And that we had to spray the antibiotic directly on the eyeball?!?!? It was going to be one long month. Sigh.

All but one calf had Pink Eye, so we decided to treat them all. The flies were carrying the infection from one calf to another anyway, so it was only a matter of time before the last one would contract it as well.

And hence began the rodeo at Irish Grove. 'Cause for the next week, once a day, we had to corral the little buggers into a corner pen in the bullshed, handling them one by one, until we had sprayed their infected eyes with the antibiotic.

Marcel came to the scene armed with a lasso, I came with the spray. Marcel would gently slip the lasso over the head of one calf, and then quickly pull it tight. At this point the calf would go nuts, bawlin' and kickin' and jumpin' all over the place. Marcel would hold on tight until the calf was close to a corner of the pen, at which point Marcel'd shove his butt into the corner, and I'd shove his head and neck against the wall.

We'd have about 3 seconds before the calf figured out that if he jumped forward, he could get out of this hold. Umm, 3 seconds is not a lot of time. Especially when you've gotta ply open an eyelid and spray 2 squirts of antibiotic onto their bare eyeball. I'm sure you can imagine that the calves just somehow weren't quite goin' for the whole scene.

I'd usually get one squirt in before the kickin' and jumpin' and bawlin' started up again. Oh, and did I mention that we're in a pen with all 8 calves, not just one? Yeah, so while we're trying to wrestle one calf into a corner, we're also tripping over and generally trying to avoid gettin' kicked by the other 7. But it's easier to control an animal when he's with his buddies then when he's alone, so believe it or not, this was the better option.

After a few days of corraling calves, squirting 'em in the eyes, and leaving the barn covered from head to toe in manure, we noticed the calves weren't getting any better. The spray wasn't working.

We didn't want to, but we had to call the vet and have her come out. The vet came the very next day, and we repeated the rodeo scene for the last time. But instead of spraying them in the eyes, she gave them a shot of antibiotics in the neck, and then a shot into the tear duct!

*Cringe. Wince. Shudder.*

The shot into the tear duct bathes the eye with antibiotic every time they blink, as the intra-muscular shot works its way throught the blood stream to the infection. As horrible as it was, I was relieved that it was finally going to help the poor calves.

I have to brag and say that the vet was very impressed with our setup, and especially with how smoothly it went. It's always nice to be complimented, but especially by the veterinarian!

Pink Eye is a horrible disease to suffer through, and a horrible one to treat. But I've gotta be straight with y'all: I enjoyed every last minute of it. Handling those calves was exhilarating!

A little extra swagger in my step? Check.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Rest and Relaxation

Happy Labor Day! I hope you're taking full advantage of your day off.

I see these guys sure are.

They deserve a break. I mean, it's hard work following your mother around all day, trying to sneak a drink of milk here or there.

The calves tell me that Labor Day is the perfect day for relaxing,

visiting friends,

and just hanging around.

Obviously I'm not the only one who agrees!

It must also a great day for daydreaming. Take this chicken, for example. She's wondering if maybe, just maybe, she'd make it as a flamingo.

What do ya think?

The goats also have an active imagination.

They think they'd make great mountain climbers.

As for me? Today I'm dreaming of vacations, good food, and great company in a far away land.

That's me and Madelina in Boquete, Panama. Isn't she the cutest, sweetest thing ever?

Hope you find a restful, relaxing way to spend your day.