Monday, December 20, 2010

The Farmers Have Flown the Coop

Being the Midwestern, rural, hospitable and generous people that we are, we're giving our family a long-lasting Christmas gift this year:  the wonderful and most desirable opportunity to experience winter chores for 3 weeks! 

And while they're here basking in the winter glory and having the time of their lives.....

we'll be in Panama, suffering with the heat and the humidity and the terrible, terrible company of friends and family.  

 We'll suffer through the tropical fruits....

 the mountainous vistas....

the comfort of mom/grandma....

 the pristine beaches....

the fun with cousins....

the jokes and hilarious stories told by brothers...

the reminders of why you fell in love with your husband...

and the comforts of home.

It may be a long ways from Irish Grove, but it's home all the same.

Yes, it'll be rough.  But we'll make it through the next few weeks somehow.  And so, since we won't be seeing you for awhile....we wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

See ya in 2011!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

'Sibling' Rivalry

Remember those days when you were little and your brother or sister got sick?

Maybe they had the stomach flu or a perhaps a fever?  And everyone, including you, joined in the rally cry to take extra good care of them?

Grandma would bring over chicken noodle soup......

and mom would buy soda crackers and 7-Up, just for them.  

"That's OK," you'd think.  "I'm healthy enough to run around and play, eat a full supper, go to school...I don't need any pop or crackers." 

"I'm a good sister, I won't be jealous.  They're sick, after all."

But slowly you started to get tired of all the attention your sibling was getting.

Grandma came by a second time with jello.

Their friends were calling to see how they were.

And you had seen them playing a little bit....especially when Mom wasn't looking. 

That was the moment you were able to justify the sheath of crackers that somehow ended up in your room.  

And that glass of 7-Up you chugged down when no one was looking. 


This, my friends.....

is a lot like that.  

Sunday, November 21, 2010


At a meeting the other day, I was fortunate enough to be in the same room with a some wonderful organic farmers from the CRAFT network.  Like most farmers, organic or not, they are hard workers, dedicated to wholesome food and healthy farms, and willing to take time out of their busy schedules to help others who share similar goals. 

The topic of the meeting was Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)--What Works and What Doesn't.  I really enjoyed listening in on the conversation and found it super interesting to hear about the struggles that these farmers have with customer retention, optimum box sizes, keeping the vegetables fresh, season-extension, etc. I kind of felt like the proverbial fly-on-the-wall.  Except, of course, that instead of cleaning poop off my wings and leaving brown spots all over, I got to ask questions and make comments once in awhile.  Fun!

Something from the conversation struck me, though, that has been on my mind ever since.  A few farmers were very frustrated with a lack of participation at their on-farm events.  These farmers want their farm to be the place where people go to find good food, make friends and restore community.  Or maybe this is what they think their customers expect when they subscribe to their CSA?  

Fostering community is all good and wonderful, of course, but it also seems like a lot of pressure.  So not only do these vegetable farmers have to perform back-breaking labor, 10 hours a day, 6-8 months of the year for nominal pay, they now have to organize social events, provide a relatively clean space to socialize, remember everyone's name, and provide the entertainment, the education or both.  I think I'd be in a coma before anyone even arrived. 

To me, this doesn't sound like the community is supporting agriculture; it sounds like agriculture is supporting the community.

Which brings up the question:  Is this what people want and/or expect from farmers?  Because if so, then gosh I'm failing miserably.  Our yearly farm tour is hard enough and all we have to do is show people the animals and pastures and be available to answer a few questions.


On another somewhat related note, I've recently read a few thought-provoking articles--rants, really--on the state of the good-food movement.  You can read them here and here.  In the first one, the author is obviously a meat-farmer like me and lays out what really needs to be done to change agriculture for the better. And yet the article is a veritable smack-down of people who act all uppity because they've participated in upscale farm-to-table dinners, purchased a few pounds of grassfed beef, or bought organic veggies a few times at the local farmers market.  Yikes and readers beware.

The second is written by a columnist for the New York Times and touches on whether our 'I-eat-local' snootiness is off-putting and hurts the very movement we've embraced.

If you have time, read the articles and let me know what you think.  I can relate to their feeling of frustration with so called food-snobs, but I find it interesting how they seem to come to different conclusions.  The first author seems to be saying "Do more!"  The second, "Don't lecture me if I don't do more!"  

And if you have a little more time, please tell me:  What do you expect from your farmer?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Open Letter to Detour Drivers

Dear Road Construction Victims,

Welcome to my road!  I hope you enjoy your new route to the outside world and that it be most temporary.  I understand that detours have the ability to adversely affect your life in the form of longer commutes, lack of turn lanes, and low shoulders.  Please allow me to give you a short orientation to my road, in the hopes of improving your experience.

1.  My road is extremely picturesque, please enjoy the view.
2.  On the West side, among others, you will see undulating fields, cattle dotting the hillsides, a few mules (look hard!), a barn with the flag painted on the side, and some quaint, broken down, rusty old farm equipment deposited oh-so-lovingly in someone's field.

3.  To the East side, among others, you'll see a round barn, some chickens, a shelter-house, a horse farm or two, as well as the requisite undulating fields and cattle dotting the hillsides.

4.  If you happen to have car trouble, don't panic.  A friendly farmer will be along shortly to help you.

5.  Please don't flip that same farmer off as you pass him/her at 80 mph tomorrow morning when you're late for work.

6.  You are lucky to be driving through the rolling hill country of Illinois.  A few 20 miles south of here, it's flat for as far as the eyes can see.

7.  On that note, I'll make the respectful request that you don't pass me on the uphill when I'm on the way to move cows, driving the farm ATV.

8.  Yes, it's legal to drive farm-related ATV's on the road.

9.  No, it's not fun to off-road it when you're loaded down with fence posts, electric wire, and a 50-lb. bag of salt/mineral blend.
10.  This area of the country is called the Heartland, not the Wasteland.  The bread basket of the world, not the waste basket of the world.  Get my drift?

11.  Ahhh, it's harvest time.  What a wonderful time of year.  You have the unique opportunity to observe, up-close and personal, how our nation's crops are harvested.  Take advantage of it!

12.  You also have the unique opportunity to be squashed into an accordion by a random bale-mover crossing the road if you decide you can text and drive on our quiet route.

13.  WARNING:  There are farm implements, attachments, and trailers sticking out, parked along, and blocking the road entirely at any and all random times and locations throughout harvest season.

14.  Rural people are friendly.  We're also isolated.  I know you had a bad day at work, but put it behind you and wave at us, for Pete's sake.

15.  Oh, this one is important!  Rural people in cars wave by raising their pointer finger off the steering wheel.

16.  Yes, we're raising a finger at you.

17.  No, not that one.

18.  I know you're frustrated that you can't get to work on the main thoroughfare and I'm so sorry for your inconvenience.

19.  Our stop signs are not optional.

20.  We love to have people stop by and visit our farm animals.

21.  Not all farmers feel the same way.  Ask first.

22.  Which reminds me:  the fences are electrified, the horses and goats can bite, yes, that's a bull in the pasture, you might get some chicken and/or cow poop on the bottom of your shoes, and we have rusty nails galore.  Keep your wits about you and don't sue me if you or your kids do something foolish.
23.  We try our best to keep the chickens out of the road, we really do.  They have wings.  Enough said.

24.  Please don't go bowling for chickens.

25.  The speed limit is 55.  Not 65, not 75, and certainly not 85.  Please SLOW DOWN.

26.  If a farmer is pulling a wagon loaded with grain, s/he absolutely can't pull off to the side to let you pass.

27.  We also really don't enjoy holding up that long line of cars behind us.

28.  Unless you're one of those who flipped us off while passing us at 80 mph.  Then we do.

29.  Farmers love to flag down other farmers, idle in our pick up trucks in the middle of the road, ideally at a corner or on a blind hill, block traffic, and chat about the corn yields over coffee in styrofoam cups.

30.  You should try it sometime.

31.  Finally, farmers know that manure stinks.
32.  If you don't slow down, a random farmer might just lay a strip of that stinky manure down the center of the road.

Well!  I'm so glad I've had this opportunity to show off my Midwestern hospitable nature.  Once again, enjoy the drive and rural scenery.  Soon enough you'll be back to your regular route and our quaint little farm road will be but a distant memory.  Until then, be well and have a wonderful day!

Most sincerely yours,
The Farmer

Monday, September 13, 2010

Product Endorsement

I hate to make sweeping generalizations here, but farmers don't traditionally have a lot of money.   We're what you call asset-rich, cash-poor--all of our money is tied up in land, equipment and livestock and pretty much the only way to access that money is to sell the farm.  You can get the money but then you're out of a home and job.  (Please remind me once again why I signed up for this?)  Of course I use the word 'we' here in the most general sense.  Marcel and I are even better off:  asset-poor, cash-poor.  Please dial back your envy.

Anyways, the point of this post is thriftiness.  Thrift-i-ness.  Farmers have to be thrifty because we don't have alot of cash on hand.  I know most of you are used to the common definition of the word thrifty--showing thrift; economical or frugal, but did you know that thrifty also means thriving or prospering?

That makes sense, doesn't it? If you're thrifty you'll become thrifty and probably stay thrifty, unless of course you start being unthrifty.

Wait, what?

In the spirit of thriftiness, I'd like to now endorse a product that has enhanced my life dramatically in the past few months. It is Pampered Chef's Quick-Stir Pitcher.

I purchased this pitcher from my lovely cousin who used to be a Pampered Chef saleswoman.  I unwittingly attended someone's Pampered Chef party, enjoyed the company, admired the hostess' ability to unabashedly sell her wares to friends and family, and then promptly gagged on the free veggie pizza slices as I saw how much everything costs.  High quality?  Check.  High class?  Check.  High falutin' tootin'?  Check.  Affordable for poor ole little ole thrifty me?  Nope. 

So I did what I always do at these types of events, I frantically flipped pages and searched through the catalog until I found something that met my criteria:  1) useful, 2) not a million dollars.  I found it in the Quick-Stir. 

To be honest, the Quick-Stir Pitcher pushed my sensibilities a bit.  I mean, how hard is it to stir up a chunk of frozen cran-lemon-raspberry-tea with my trusty wooden spoon?  Not very!  And yet, the next affordable, halfway useful item was the cheese knife, for which a butter knife had always done the trick.  The Quick-Stir won out, if only for the fun name.  Quick-Stir, Quick-Stir.  I could say that all day.

I used it.  I did.  It came in handy a few times here and there, even though it wasn't as pretty as my cobalt-blue pitcher I had bought in college.  (I have no idea why a college student need a cobalt blue pitcher, but I've been glad many times over for that unthrifty purchase.)

Fast forward approximately 9 years and 3 months, give or take a few years, and the darn Quick-Stir is my best friend.  Best friend, I tell ya!  Ever since Honeysuckle, our bottle calf, was born we've had to make up first 4, then 6, and now sometimes 7 or 8 bottles of dry milk replacer per day.  I'd start out by adding the dry powder to the bottle itself, slopping it on the sides of the bottle and the porch floor, all the while making a sticky, fly-attracting mess. Then I'd add the warm water and shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.  Shake until my back hurt, shake until my brain hurt, shake until I could shake no more.  The milk would mix, but inevitably there'd be big chucks of powder floating around in it, stopping up the nipples and frustrating the calf. 

And then I remembered the Quick-Stir.  I got it out, added the milk powder and warm water, and plunged.  Plunged, plunged, plunged, plunged plunged.  No mess on the bottles, no mess on the floor, and I'm pretty good at plunging now, just in case the toilet ever gets plugged or some sort of nonsense.  I plunged that nifty little plunger up and down until the liquid was a perfectly smooth milky mixture.  Remove plunger, pour it into the bottles, and Viola!  Breakfast is served. 

$16.50.  That's it.  That's the cost of my nifty, thrifty Pampered Chef Quick-Stir Pitcher, the one that makes my porch cleaner, Honeysuckle's milk smoother, and my life easier.  I gotta say, the next time you have a bottle calf on your hands, you just gotta get yourself one of these!  Maybe I'll pitch (ha ha, sorry) a new name to the company while I'm thinking of it--The Pampered Farmer has a ring to it, don't you think?  

Thriftily yours,

Farmer Jackie

Friday, September 3, 2010

Where's the Beef?

It feels like fall today, which means it's the season for pot roast, chili, beef stew and round steak over buttered noodles.  Yum.  Or perhaps a few grassfed rib eyes or hamburger patties are just what you need for your upcoming tailgate parties. Either way, now's the time to place your order for Irish Grove Farms' delicious 100% grass-finished beef.

Our cattle are rotated through organically-managed pastures and have free-choice access to an organic salt, mineral and kelp supplement. They are fed absolutely no grain, hormones or antibiotics.

You can order by the whole ($2.75/lb hanging weight), the half ($3.00/lb. hanging weight), the quarter ($3.25/lb hanging weight), or a 25 lb. beef variety box for $150, which contains steaks, roasts, round steaks, hamburger patties, ground beef, etc.

Email Jackie at to place your order. Or call (815) 742-6781.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Egg Recall

If you live in a bubble, you may be unaware that there was a recall of a half billion eggs recently due to salmonella contamination. If you're not in that bubble, you may wish you were--especially if you're one of the 1,400+ people sickened by the salmonella in your breakfast burrito or western skillet.

As a small farmer and small-time egg producer, I've gotten lots of attention from the egg scandal. I've had friends post comments on Facebook telling others to buy safe eggs from Irish Grove Farms. I've had comments on this blog asking how I ensure our eggs are free from contamination. And just yesterday I was contacted by our local Channel 13 News team, wanting to come out to the farm and interview me about my supposed increase in customers since the recall. (I was at work, so unable to do the interview. Whew!)

Have I had an increase in customers after the recall? I honestly don't know. But the reason I don't know is because I had so many customers before the recall, an empty fridge and disappointed customers is nothing new around here.

The reason my eggs are in high demand, however, is not because they're salmonella-free (even though they are). It's because they're so dang delicious.

A recent news release from Reuters about the FDA inspection at the two contaminated farms stated that, "During inspections conducted on August 19-26, officials found rodent holes and leaking manure at several locations run by Hillandale Farms of Iowa, and non-chicken feathers and live mice and flies at houses owned by Wright County Egg, according to reports posted on the FDA website."

As a consumer, this sounds gross. I get it: rodents and birds are dirty and carry disease, as do flies. But as a farmer it sounds normal. Can you please take me to a farm that doesn't have troubles with mice? Or flies? Or barn swallows and bats finding a way in?

Another article made it sound worse, though. At WebMD, it says, "FDA investigators found:

* Huge manure pits open to outside animals.
* Evidence that rodents, wild birds, and other animals could enter the henhouses via missing siding and gaps in doors and walls.
* Actual sightings of rodents, birds, and bird nests inside the facilities.
* So many live flies that they were crushed underfoot on walkways. Maggots "too numerous to count" were seen in at least one manure pit.
* Farm workers went from henhouse to henhouse without cleaning their tools or changing their shoes or clothing -- which can spread germs between houses.
* Uncaged birds tracked manure from the pits to the laying houses.

Some of the egg-producing hens were caged above manure pits four to eight feet deep. The weight of these vast manure pits had burst open outside doors."

OK. So some flies and mice are bad. But manure pits bursting open doors and live flies crunching underfoot is ghastly. *Shudder*

The part that has been overlooked, though , is that the egg-wash water was contaminated with salmonella. According to the Reuters article, "DA officials also said inspectors found salmonella in a water sample collected from a Hillandale Farms plant. The sample came from spent egg-wash water, or water used to wash the exterior of eggs traveling down conveyor belts to the packing facility, said Jeff Farrar, FDA's associate commissioner for food protection. DeYoung (a spokeswoman from Hillandale--Jackie's note) said eggs at Hillandale are also rinsed with water containing chlorine as an additional step to kill bacteria."

This is where the public doesn't understand what's going on. You may think that a final chlorine wash will kill the bacteria on the shell and all is well. Except for one major, glaring problem: Egg shells are porous! They have little tiny microscopic holes throughout the entire shell!

If egg shells were air-tight, how could a baby chick could breathe during development? The tiny holes in shells allow air to enter the shell, and if air can get in, so can egg-wash water. Egg-wash water contaminated with salmonella, in this case.

This is something all egg producers know. And it is why small flock owners like myself that sell "Nest Run Eggs"--meaning they aren't processed (washed, graded, candled) for commercial sale--don't wash the eggs! The eggs are wiped clean, perhaps, with a damp cloth, any nest bedding materials is flicked off, and the eggs get put in the carton as is. (If I collect a 'poopy egg', as I so technically call them, I throw it away if it's really bad, or I eat if myself if it's passable, washing it directly before use.)

When a hen lays an egg, it's wet. The wet layer on the surface of the shell is a protective coating made of protein (called a cuticle) that keeps bacteria from entering the shell. When you wash an egg this coating is lost and bacteria can pass freely into the egg. Washing eggs for a store or for market, which I can do as a licensed Egg Broker, is tricky. You must use the hottest water possible, to make the insides of the egg expand and effectively push back on the water trying to enter. If you use cool water, the opposite will happen and the egg will absorb the dirty water.

So don't be fooled when a company says they can use dirty wash-water because they give the egg a final chlorine rinse. It's not the shell you should worry about in this instance, it's the egg inside--swimming around with salmonella-wash-water. Mm, mm, good.

So what can we do? Well, we can follow the American Egg Board's recommendations: Cook eggs until the whites and yolks are firm, meaning no more eggs-over-easy or sunny-side-up, no more soft-boiled eggs, no more raw eggs in smoothies....and goodbye eggnog and custards.

And/or you can buy Nest Run Eggs from local producers with healthy birds and wash the eggs directly before use.

And/or you can buy eggs from trusted, preferably small producers that wash their eggs following safety procedures and cleanliness standards.

If you decide to buy eggs from Irish Grove Farms, though, and please do....the problem you encounter may lie more in a lack of eggs than in the quality.  Consider yourself fore-warned.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tag on the Farm

I've always loved playing tag.  It gives you a reason to sprint, which is an exhilarating feeling.  I mean, how many opportunities do you really get to just full-on run as fast as you can? 

Except this game of tag is a little different.  This time, we're tagging calves.  As in ear-tags.  And these calves can not only run super fast, but they can jump, bellow, kick, flip-flop, wiggle, scream, pant, and foam at the mouth like nobody's business.  Which in and of itself isn't so bad until you add in an angry, over-protective mother who weights 1200 pounds who also knows how to sprint. 

We try to tag the calves when they're little.  5 hours old?  Perfect.  2 days old?  Not bad.  3 weeks old, like last night's bullcalf?  Not a great idea. At 3 weeks, these suckers are big, strong, fast and super stubborn.  They also can make a noise like you've never heard before. 

Last night presented the perfect opportunity, though, as the mother had walked down to the pasture and left her calf resting peacefully in the barnyard.  Ha!  The fools!  We shut the gate to keep the calf in and the mother out, and the fun started.

Marcel was on lasso, I was armed with the ear tagger.  The calf was running wild around the barnyard, but made the mistake of heading into the barn.  Ah-ha, gotcha!  Marcel caught him around the neck and the fun began.  This bullcalf was strong, and started whipping Marcel around the entire barnyard.  Marcel was hanging on, trying to get ahold of him to trip him up, but there were hooves flying every which way--and let me tell you, these little calves kick HARD.  Finally the calf jumped close to the round bale cage.  Marcel took advantage and pushed his body against the cage, wedging him in.  I ran up and tagged him as quick as possible:  #39.  The little bugger. 

In the meantime, the kids had entered the barnyard to see if they could help.  They could not.  But they left the gate open and Honeysuckle escaped into the yard.  First off, she was scared to death from all the bellowing and bawling coming from her buddy.  And second, she'd never been anywhere outside of the barnyard before, so was immediately disoriented. 

Rodeo #2 formed, trying to catch Honeysuckle and get her back in.  I yelled at Ana to grab a bottle, the one comfort she knows, while Marcel and Rob were trying to keep her out of the road.  We live on a blind hill, the calf was about 6 feet from the road, and we could hear a car speeding in our direction.  (A good reason to SLOW DOWN on rural roads, people!)  Honey kept running erratically towards the road, then back again.  Luckily she froze when the car got close--it was a full-sized van. 

How traumatic would that have been?  Shudder. 

Marcel finally lassoed her, so was able to keep her from the road, and by then I had the bottle in hand and led her back to the barnyard.  Whew!  What an evening!

One more to go, though.  We had to drive down to the pasture to find this one--a heifer calf, about 10 days old.  She's still pretty sleepy, though, so tagging her wasn't the issue.  Keeping the mother away was.  After Marcel lassoed her around the neck, we slowly chased the mother and babe around until they were close to the fence.  I drove the PUG inbetween the mom and babe, at which point Marcel grabbed her and tried to tag her.

Only problem?  The tag didn't clasp correctly.  So now he's trying to get it to clamp down and secure itself while the mother is chasing him around the PUG.  I'm warding her off with a stick, but don't want to use it forcefully unless she's really going to attack him because we rely on trust to move these cows from paddock to paddock.  Thankfully she's calm enough to not attack, and only wants to know that her babe is OK.  Job done, Marcel tired, excitement had. 

We really need a sophisticated corral for these jobs.  Any anonymous donors out there? 

Anyone?  Yoohoo!  Hello!?  Tap-tap-tap.  Anyone?


Friday, August 13, 2010

Hot Mamas

We are in the middle of a typical August heat-wave.  You know the kind.  The kind that turns the winter-haters into winter-aficionados.  The kind that creates a perpetual background humming noise, which is the din of a gazillion air-conditioners straining to keep things cool.  The kind that gives you that lovely summer glow, a.k.a. sweat-shine.  The kind that has you sleeping in your skivies because it's so bleepin' hot in here!

I'm weathering the heat just fine.  You see, I've got that typical Irish Catholic point of view that a little suffering is good for the soul.  Marcel's holding his own--his Panamanian alter-ego might tell you to suck it up, because this ain't nothing compared to back home in Panama.  The real Marcel, of course, would never say that.  And the kids are a little more lethargic than usual, but surprisingly uncomplaining.  (We don't have air-conditioning.  Air-conditioning is for wimps.)

But the cows?  The cows aren't happy.  And who, really, would blame them?  They're stuck in the middle of a field with lots of good food and fresh water, but also lots of flies and the blazing sun beating down on them all day.  

They've responded to the heat with a little revolt.  Perhaps you would call it a small protest.  It's just a small one, but it's there all the same.  They've started purposely tipping over the moveable water tank.  That's right, they tip it over and slosh around in the ensuing mud like a bunch of pigs.  Pigs, I tell you!  Since when did a cow aspire to pig-like status?

It's actually quite a problem, though.  Because while the huge wave and ensuing splash of cool water and mucking up of my lovely pasture assuredly feels great at the moment, about 15 minutes later they get a little  thirsty.  Sure, there's a trickle of water continuously flowing out, putting a lovely strain on the water pump, have you.  But when you've got 40+ hot and thirsty cows, a trickle ain't gonna cut it.

No lecturing by me is gonna make them any happier, nor will it stop the water-tippin'. So, I'm wondering if this isn't just a bad idea.  You know, keeping them on our grazing plan, out in the sun in this terribly-hot weather.

The strict (successful) graziers might say something like, "grazing-cattle must be tough and able to withstand the extremes.  You gotta push them to the limit and select for hardiness.  How are you going to know which cows are suited to grazing if you provide them with pillows and soft blankets at the first weather-test?"

The traditional cattlemen, the grain feeders, might say something like, "This proves that rotational grazing doesn't work, that it's bad for the cows, and that the confinement and/or grain-based feeding system is ubiquitous because it's the only one that works."

(True graziers and grain-feeders might say this, or they might not.  They are a varied lot.)

The mother in me would bring them in to the tree-lined pasture for a few days, to give them a little relief from the hot sun.  Which means they would really just stand in the round barn all day, pee and poop constantly until the barn floor is covered in a green soupy mess perfect for breeding more flies, skin infections, and diarrhea in the calves.

The farmer in me, though, is inclined to leave them in the pasture and just check on the water more often.  Why?  Not because I'm a big meanie, although you can accuse me of it if you'd like.  But because for one, I don't want skin infections, flies and diarrhea.  And two, if we brought the cows in for every weather-event, be it large storms, heavy rainfall, extreme heat, stiff winds, extreme cold, etc....they'd never be in the pasture!   

I'm open to suggestions, though.  Let's hear what ya got.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cow/Calf Update

Our downed mother cow is still down.  It has now been 2 weeks and we've lost hope that she'll get up.  It's heart-wrenching to see her.  She's getting sores on her legs, and her front legs have lost their muscle tone as well. 

We've gotten her up using the hip lifters a few times, to no avail.  When we lower her to the point where she has to support her own weight, the legs just melt underneath her.  They are useless. 

The sad truth is we are going to have to put her down.  It is a painful decision to make, but we don't want her to suffer any longer.  We've kept her as comfortable as possible, with a shade tent over her, fresh grass and water every 2 hours (many thanks to Mom and Gordy for taking over this job for the past week), fly spray to keep the darn things off of her, and some green apples for treats.  But she is fading and it is obvious she is giving up hope as well--her ears are drooping and she's no longer making an effort to stand.  We are going to have to help her along in her journey so she doesn't suffer any longer. 

Honeysuckle, her calf, has given us a few scares as well.  For the first week, she would hardly wake up to eat.  When we'd call her, her eyes would open and she'd start to lick her lips but she wouldn't raise up her head.  It's quite alarming when you grab her by the ears, lift her head up, and then let go only to have her head flop backwards in an awkward position.  There were many times where we had to check her breathing to make sure she was still alive.  When she'd finally wake, she would eat only a little bit before lying down again.

The past two days, however, have been a different story.  All of a sudden she's perked up.  Marcel gave her a strong dose of vitamins in the form of a paste and I read online that perhaps I was making her milk too strong.  I've diluted her milk-replacer a bit and she's chugging down 2 bottles, twice a day and still asking for more.  What a relief!

She really is adorable.  Madelina and Armando have taken it upon themselves to be her playmates--riding their bikes around in the barnyard with her, jumping around and teaching her how to kick up her heals.  It's pretty hilarious.  And she is now my personal alarm clock, mooing loudly at the gate first thing in the morning, awaiting her breakfast.  She gets going at around 5:30 a.m., not caring that I don't like to get up that early.  Marcel just laughs and says, "Your newest daughter is calling you." 

I'd rather he said, "Don't worry, sweetie.  I'll feed her."

Oh well.  She's doing well and is the one positive outcome from this situation, so I'm not going to complain.  OK, so maybe I'll complain a little.

I wish I had happier news to share with you about the mother.  If there's one lesson that farmers learn early and often:  there isn't always a happy ending.  

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mama Cow.....

...has another calf?

A quick recap of yesterday's fiasco:

Marcel checked on the Mama.
I went to move the cows to a fresh paddock.
Marcel started whistling, yelling, waving.
I knew something was wrong.
Mama cow had a hoof coming out her rear.
Yes, I said a hoof.
The hoof was upside-down.
Marcel inserted his arm.
Yes, arm.
He couldn't find the other foot.
I inserted my arm.
I couldn't find the other foot.
I called the vet.
"The mother cow is having another calf."
"There is only one hoof presenting and it's breech."
"We can't find the other foot."
Vet said, "I'll find it."
Mother cow is lying head outstretched.
Mother cow is moaning.
Mother cow is breathing abnormally.
Vet arrives, gloves up, inserts arm.
Says, "This is going to be a disaster."
Vet pushes calf back in.
Vet works for about 10 minutes finding other hoof.
Vet pulls other hoof out.
He hooks it to the calf-puller: a pulley system used for emergencies.
I drive the tractor close to mama cow.
Marcel hooks pulley to tractor and starts cranking.
Marcel pulls dead calf out.
It was a girl.
Mama cow looks relieved.
Mama cow sits upright again.
Mama cow is all swollen on the inside.
I run home and get the antibiotics in my fridge.
Yes, there is a place for antibiotics and livestock.
This is it.
Marcel gave her 2 large injections, 50 ml total.
Mama cow drinks water and eats a little hay.

I'm stuck with the nagging thought that we failed this mama and the poor dead heifer calf. Did we think she could have twins in there? Actually, yes we did. Did we check for a twin after the first heifer was born. Actually, yes we did. But we only stuck our arm in up to the forearm. We should've stuck our arm in up to our shoulder.

The vet said the calf died about 5 minutes after the first one was born.  We have learned a very costly lesson.  Again.  

This morning the mother cow is sitting upright again.
She is trying to stand.
She is one tough mama.
This afternoon we're going to try the hip lifter.
Basically it's a big clamp.
That you hook to her hip bones.
And lift her with the tractor.
To see if she can put weight on her back legs.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

When Physiological Becomes Psychological

The mother cow's physiological problem has played nicely into my own personal psychological problem. Namely, my fear of having to pull a calf on my own.

So when the mama cow went into labor yesterday, and little hooves were sticking out her rear by 1:00 pm, and the vet told me she wouldn't be able to birth lying down without assistance, and she was literally butted up to the barnyard fence with no way to move her and no room for the calf to come out.....the reality of the situation washed over me and put me into a minor tizzy. It was just me, standing there in the barnyard, swearing a little, realizing I was gonna have to do this by myself, alone. Well, my kids were there of course, you know, but I was basically alone. It was all me.
(This picture was taken after the fact, but shows just how close the mama cow was to the fence.)

What'd I do? I called Marcel and told him he needed to come home from work NOW. Having some backup on the way relieved a bit of my anxiety (i.e., psychological problem). Then I got to work. I hooked the chains around the babe's legs and stretched open the vagina to see the calf's nose. Her tongue was hanging out and her nostrils were not moving--I needed to get the baby out right away.

Since I couldn't get behind the cow, I had to pull on the chains from the other side of the fence. I pulled, the mama pushed, and we got the calf's head out! The calf shook her head a little, she was alive, but now came the tricky part. How do we get her all the way out when there is no room for her? I was worried the mother would break her back when she moved.

So I called in reinforcements. No, not Farmer Scott. Not the vet. Not Marcel--he hadn't gotten there yet. I called my girls.

"Ana! Madelina! You've gotta help me, NOW!" I had them take over my position with the chains on the other side of the fence as I stretched open the mama cow's vagina. The girls pulled as hard as possible, saying things like, "EW! The chains are all goopy," and "This is really HARD," while I stretched the mother open, pulled on the calf's slippery shoulders, and rearranged the calf so she wouldn't get squished. The cow started to accept the help, gave a few good pushes, and the whole calf slipped out.

Thanks to the help of my girls, we got that calf safely out of her mother.  5 minutes later, Marcel arrived.  Just in time to help us celebrate our small victory and get to work caring for the mother and babe.

The mother cow can't nurse the calf lying down, so the little heifer has become a bottle calf and has moved up to a stall in our barn. The mother is still down, but she's doing OK. She is eating and drinking water and hasn't given up yet, so we aren't giving up on her either. We fashioned a sort-of tent over her, using a large tarp and some round bale cages pushed up on their sides, to shade her from the hot sun. We're hoping that with the calf born, the pressure on her nerves will be relieved and she'll get up within a few days.

That's our hope: a double happy ending and the end of the mother cow's 'physiological problem'.

Here are some pictures, taken by my sister and Ana, after the calf was born.  Enjoy.

Water for the thirsty, tired mama.

Ana, attending the mother.

 Madelina and Marcel, rubbing the calf to stimulate blood flow.

More massaging.

Isn't she darling?  We're calling her Honey.  Honeysuckle.

Ana, trying to feed Honeysuckle the colostrum replacement.

Making some shade for the mother.

The ending to my psychological problem? A successful calf-pull and darling little heifer named Honeysuckle.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Something Physiological

We are caring for an injured mama cow. We're not sure what happened, but she started limping about two weeks ago, taking care to not put any weight on her back left leg. We called the vet, thinking she had foot rot--a fungus that can cause painful sores on the hoof, but after giving her a thorough hoof cleaning, clipping and check-up he found nothing. "I'm worried it could be something physiological," he had said.

"Something physiological" sounds awfully vague and pretty scary to a beginning farmer like myself. So we locked her in the barnyard with some fresh hay and water which was effectively like sending her to bed for a little R & R.

Fast forward a few days and the poor thing can't get up anymore. She's lying upright and rocks back and forth as if she wants to stand, but then settles back down again, obviously frustrated with her inability to move. We called the vet out again to see if he could better diagnose the problem.

This time he said she must have a pinched nerve in the hip that is making her back leg useless. It could be that the almost full-term calf inside her could be pressing against a nerve. Or, it might be a "physiological injury" for which there may be no cure. He gave her a shot to get her labor started, with the hopes that we can assist her in giving birth, save the calf and hopefully relieve the pressure on her nerve.

Or, we might save the calf and have to put her down.

Or, we might lose them both.

In the meantime, I am visiting her every 1.5 hours, taking fresh cool water to her to drink, bathing her with a little water to cool her down (she's lying in the open sun), and bringing her hay to eat. It's the least we can do to keep her comfortable until her labor begins. Please wish us luck.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Left Behind

People have left many things behind when they come to buy eggs.  They've left egg cartons and money in the envelope, of course, but also sippy cups, shopping receipts, toys, etc.

Today someone left behind their child

P.S.  We were home, child was playing with the chickens, all was well.

P.S.S. Can it get any crazier than that?

P.S.S.S. Don't answer that please. I don't wanna know.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Grassfed Beef for Sale

Currently Available: Grass-fed, grass-finished beef. 

The meat will be available on or around July 14th and processing will be done at Eickman’s Processing in Seward, IL. (All wholes, halves and quarters will be picked up at Eickman’s.) Please place your order as soon as possible, keeping in mind that orders will be filled on a first come first served basis.

___Whole beef, $3.00/lb. hanging weight* (approx. 320-400 lbs. beef)
___½ beef, $3.25/lb. hanging weight* (approx. 160-200 lbs. beef)
___¼ beef, $3.50/lb. hanging weight* (approx. 80-100 lbs. beef)

*Processing fee not included. Processing usually runs about $0.55/lb. depending on how you specify your order. You will need to contact Eickman’s to specify which cuts you prefer.

___Variety Beef Box, $135
Includes approx. 25 pounds of varied cuts: steaks, roasts, round steaks and/or cube steaks, ground beef, etc. Processing fee is included in this price. You will pick up box at the farm.

Our cattle are rotated through organically-managed pastures and have free-choice access to an organic salt, mineral and kelp supplement. They are fed absolutely no grain, hormones or antibiotics.

Send your name, contact information and order to Jackie at Thank you!

Local orders only. We do not ship or deliver at this time.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Farm Events Galore

We've been busy this spring.  Busy with farm work, yes.  But also busy with events.  Farm events.

The renewed interest in local food has meant that there are a lot of people suddenly interested in and wanting to visit farms.  So far this spring we've been the destination for a local elementary school field trip, we participated in our second annual Openfields Farm Tour, and we hosted a Pasture Walk.  All of these events are a lot of fun (and a lot of work). 

The first event, the fieldtrip, brought 20 1st-graders and their parents out to see the chickens.  Each classroom at their school focused on a different farm animal, organized a field trip around that animal, and then reported what they learned back to the others.  They all visited a large farm and a small farm in the same day to see the differences in production styles, which I thought was a brilliant idea.

The kids that came here had first visited Phil's Fresh Eggs in Forreston.  There they got to see a video about egg production, they got to see the egg washing machines, the egg sorters, the egg packing machines, etc.  Everything is very mechanized--it has to be when you're packing 150,000 dozen eggs a day (!)--and must be pretty cool to watch, especially for a 1st grader!  But they didn't get to go in a see the chickens (disease control) and they didn't get to touch an egg (not quite sure why--couldn't they spare a couple?).

When they got here, I let them visit the chickens, taught them about the different breeds and showed them the food that we used.  We showed them the baby chicks and explained the difference between those used for meat production and those kept for eggs.  They got to hold the chicks and gather some eggs.  Every single one of them got to candle their own egg, grade it and put it in the appropriate-sized egg carton.  They then took home a few dozen eggs (the teachers insisted on paying for them) so they could each take an egg home with them.  I joked that I took no responsibility for school-bus-induced scrambled eggs in their backpacks. 

The kids had fun, and so did I, but the best thing that came of that fieldtrip was the packet of thank you letters and hand-drawn pictures I got back from the kids about 2 weeks later.  They were absolutely hilarious.

Next, we participated in the Openfields Farm Tour for the second year in a row.  I seriously considered not doing it this year because the tour comes at the busiest time of year for us.  But it's an Extension event, and I work for Extension, and my boss and co-worker basically told me I had no choice but to sign up for the tour, the big bullies.

That's OK, it turned out to be a lovely day, Laura and Rob and family came over to help, and we had about 90 people come by the farm.  Wow!

Look at that farm crew! (Madelina was such a good tour guide she was given a few tips and I even had a lady threaten to steal her away. We definitely have her slated for the marketing and advertising department.)

Here are some happy visitors taking home a dozen eggs.  (This lady is running for the county board!  She likes farms, so she just might get my vote.)

Rob is taking some visitors out to see the baby calves, which reminds me I need to post some pictures of them soon.

And Ana is taking advantage of the fact that we finally have enough people around to make a good go at a lemonade stand. Marketing and development for her, too.

All in all the day was a success.

Our final farm event was a Pasture Walk.  A pasture walk is an informal event for people interested in grazing.  It was hosted by the U of I Extension and the Northwest Illinois Grazing Network.  Extension did a good job of advertising for the event so we had between 20 and 25 people come, which I think was a really great turnout.

I explained our operation, Jim Morrison from Extension provided some technical information about finishing animals on grass, forage values, grazing techniques, etc., and Ed Johnston from NRCS gave the crowd some information about the EQIP program, which we used to cost-share for our fences and waterlines.  There was a nice article in the Freeport Journal Standard about it, so I'll let you read it.

That's right, I'm getting tired of typing. Follow this link:

Pasture Walk

Friday, June 18, 2010

Flynn Family Reunion

Every summer we have a Flynn picnic at a local Forest Preserve shelterhouse. Everyone in the family is invited, but usually just those of us that still live in the area show up, eat some good food, play a few games and catch up with each others' lives. Every three years, however, is the BIG Flynn reunion. The one where everyone makes a little extra effort to come, even those that live across country.

This year was one of those years. The year for the geographically-extended family to come back to their roots and hang out near Irish Grove for awhile. The Flynn's have been in America for 6 generations and counting.  So there's lots of us by now.  Here's a small sampling of the crowd.  Can you still see a family resemblance?

Lots of cousins. 

Lots of Flynn's. 

Lots of love.