Monday, January 31, 2011

Introducing: Buttercup and Trudy

This just doesn't give credit to the bulk and strength of these critters.  We might be wise to reinforce the gate to keep them from prying it up. 

I received my first batch of stale bread from the Leo Center food pantry on Sunday.  A local bakery donates bread once a week to the pantry.

Whatever is left when the new bread arrives used to go in the trash, but not any more.  Hogs, chickens, and my wild birds get a chance at it before it goes bad.

When my layers start producing eggs, the Leo Center will be paid back in full for their contribution.  Does anyone else think it may be wrong to feed Challah to pigs?

More about Galloways

Belted Galloways on pasture
Galloway cattle are noticeably more furry than other breeds except Highlanders.  They do well in cold weather without needing to put on a thick layer of fat for warmth.  The breed is known for it's ability to grow well on grass alone.  Galloways come in black, red, or dun.  They can be belted or, more commonly, solid. 
Example of a white Galloway

A more unusual pattern for Galloway cattle is white with black points.  This similarity with White Parks has led to speculation that there may be some Galloway blood in the formation of the American Brisish White Park genetics.  I'm a big fan of the white color pattern, and from the start, Galloways were in the running for my foundation stock at Bluestem Farm. 
Catalina at Bluestem Farm

Catalina, my new half-belted Galloway (that is she is a beltie that only shows the belt on her left side) will be bred this summer to the same White Park bulls as the rest of the herd.  In a generation or two, I hope to see some white, black-pointed offspring from her, too.

Farm in a box

My round trip through the Missouri Ozarks to pick up hogs and heifers went smoothly- a great consolation to Scott after my dicey truck-stock trailer-ice-highway incident last winter in Iowa. 

I met Tyke, the hog breeder, in the little Missouri town of El Dorado Springs to transfer the stock from his trailer to mine.  I had visions of stout hogs running wild in the Pamida parking lot, but to my surprise, both boar and sow just stepped daintily from one trailer to the other and settled in for the ride.  The registered Guinea Hog boar, Buttercup, probably earned his name as a two-pound piglet, but at over 200 lbs now, he isn't worried about being teased.  The unnamed sow, I christened Trudy, after a former relation of my husband's. 

Heifers did not load so smoothly.  The farm didn't have adequate loading facilities, so we had to first select the two heifers I wanted and then run the rest of the herd out of the corral.  Then, the two lonely heifers had to be convinced to mount the trailer of their own accord.  After some graceless chasing, one heifer decided to try the trailer.  With little stress, I closed the door and secured her in the front compartment.  The second heifer was in a little panic when she tangeled in a mess of scrap wire that had been left in the corral.  With wire around her neck and legs, she managed to shake free, but by that time she was cut around her mouth and bleeding.  In her terror she started charging at everyone, especially Larry, who retaliated by swinging a board to smack her whenever she got close. 

The only way to treat the heifer was to let her settle herself and find the trailer on her own.  Larry had another idea.  He loaded up an air pistol with bee-bees and started shooting at her from outside the fence.  She didn't understand what he wanted her to do, but she sure knew that he was her enemy.  I was crouching behind the trailer door, in part to swing it shut if she happened to step in, but also to keep from being pinged with bee-bees, as the heifer was now between Larry and me.  When started to load the second clip, I called halt and took my one heifer home.  This wasn't the only sign of poor management that I saw there, but it is by far enough. 

My little yearling, half-belt heifer still calls for her mother some, but the herd has taken her as one of their own.  I think she will continue to gentle up with good management.  I've named her Catalina.

If your grandma is your aunt ...

... you might be a Guinea Hog.  Welcome to the incestuous world of bringing a species back from the brink of extinction.  Never mind that Trudy and Buttercup did come from the Ozarks, line-breeding, the purposefully close breeding for predictable characteristics, is a necessary tool.  The breed had been reduced to only a few animals before efforts to revive it were underway.  There are three separate "lines" of Guinea hogs now.  My breeding stock is firmly in the "Setty" line from Ohio.  The general wisdom among breeders seems to be to maintain these three lines separately through line-breeding and then start crossing them back to each other.  Here are the known pedigrees for Trudy and Buttercup:

Biggers Arthur

DNC George

Celesky's Tulip

BRO Fred

Setty Houdini

DNC Gabby

Celesky's Tulip


Biggers Arthur

DNC George

Celesky's Tulip

BRO Homer

Biggers Arthur

DNC Chunky

714 Sky Daisy

Setty Rose

Biggers Arthur

DNC George

BRO Kelsy McGee
Celesky's Tulip

Setty Houdini

DNC Gabby

Celesky's Tulip

Setty Houdini

DNC Buttercup

Setty Rose

I know... It seems a little bizarre.  I'm more a fan of cross-breeding for hybrid vigor, but in this case I understand what the breed association is trying to do.  Still, I could see crossing buttercup with a sow of a different breed now and then for feeder pigs.  It would have to be a small, young sow that he could reach to service.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Trailer triage

In preparation for my big trip tomorrow, I picked up the neighbor's trailer and brought it back to Santa's workshop.  Last year I made a few ill-advised inter-state trips without reliable lights.  This time Scott is fixing me up right. 

Every farmer needs to be a mechanic and welder as well as knowing animal, soil, and forage health.  In this case Scott and I are a great team.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Last of the stored produce

We didn't exactly pack the larder last fall, so I've been rationing the goodies we were able to put up.  This was the first year that our Keifer pear tree put on fruit.  Only special occasions have warranted opening one of the seven jars up until now, but it's January and we needed a taste of sunshine.  We can thank the internet for our success with the pears; they were nearly pig food.  It turns out that no matter how long Keifer pears hang on the tree, they will not ripen!  We watched them from July until September remain unchanged before I went searching for answers online.  The trick is to pick them while they are still hard and ripen them for two months in paper sacks in the basement.  The beauty of this is not only that it worked, but that all the pears were ripe at the same time.  Scott and I spent a late night cutting and canning for far better results than grocery store pears.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A very sad story

Katherine and I picked up a store pizza (a splurge for us) to eat at Aunt Vicki's house last night.  On the way home, a quick brake sent our left overs sliding from their confinement and onto the passenger-seat floor... face down. 

There was nothing left to do but treat the flock to Papa Murphy's Gourmet Vegetarian.  By this morning it was all gone.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Light reading and Mob grazing

Everyone writing for the Stockman Grass Farmer  magazine seems to have read this book, so I picked up a used copy on line and read it this weekend.  It is about four parts light travel log and one part raising good beef.

Schatzker is a Canadian who visited seven beef-obsessed countries to conclude that the best flavor is produces by grass-fed and grass-finished heifers and steers about three years old.  Another revelation of his was that marbling (the only qualification needed for USDA Prime certification) is not directly related to either taste or tenderness. 

Tender animals live on grass in a low stress environment and are slaughtered while "on the gain."  Usually this means waiting until animals are full grown (at about two years) before fattening them on grass.  Spring is the easiest time to accomplish this, though far better graziers than I have managed to use summer and winter annuals to finish grass-fed beeves year round. 

The best tool available to the grass-finisher is rotational grazing.  Called "mob grazing" by its practitioners, the goal is to use extremely high-density stocking rates to harvest a small section of pasture in a single day.  Cows are moved to a new pasture every afternoon to take advantage of the greater sugar available in grass that has been soaking up sunlight all morning.

This all sounds great in theory, but it requires a dizzying amount of fencing and water infrastructure to have the 21 separate paddocks that would allow each to have a three week rest to regrow.  Most operations use temporary electric fencing.  In my experience all electric fencing is temporary, since the cows wander through it as their leisure.  If that is the route for me, I need a stronger charger at least.

Hanging out with the cows

Mary leading the pack as usual
The herd tromped out to greet me as I returned to the barn after a walk in the snowy pasture.  Cows are curious and affectionate by nature and it's a pleasure to spend time with them.  Agnes was a little camera shy at first, but she lightened up after a while.  I wonder if her
skittishness is due to a lack of socialization as a calf, or if it is a genetic trait that she'll pass on to her offspring.  I'm still leaning toward breeding her soon for a fall calf, though I'll have no shortage of breeding stock with the addition of my two NEW Galloway heifers!  I'm picking them up in Missouri near the Lake of the Ozarks on Friday.  Galloways are another prime grass-fed beef breed.  We'll hold a little competition to see who grows the best at Bluestem Farm.

Bluestem Abe, a pretty white park steer
Not-so-wild Agnes

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snow duck

Our domestic ducks are not happy with the fluffy white stuff.  If this picture had sound you'd hear her scolding me for throwing her out in the snow. Those tracks you see are one-way only... back inside.  After a day or two duck and duck relented.  (Yes, I now think they are both female but luckily their preference for each other doesn't stop them from laying eggs.)  I wouldn't move their water bowl inside for them so they've needed to toughen up and head out for a drink and a bath.  We had six more inches overnight; I might sweep them a path just to be nice.

What to do with the back 40

Bluestem Farm back 40
I mentioned in a previous post that we lease our back 40 to neighbors for conventional farming.  I've never been excited about the chemicals and bare ground, but we haven't yet decided what else to do there.  Besides, it currently provides the "seed" money for Katherine's college fund!  Check out the aerial view of our farm at this LINK.

In the running are a few (expensive) ideas.

1.  I've always dreamed of a prairie restoration here.  The cost of seed, and rented equipment to get it started is significant, not to mention the lost income.  The prairie could be grazed as part of my beef operation, but that would mean replacing 4,000 feet of decrepit, overgrown fence.  I'm looking into grants or assistance for this sort of work.  A partnership with KU or the Kansas Biological Survey might make for a good options, too.

2.  Scott's dream is to convert the land to organic grain production.  It takes seven years chemical-free to certify crop ground as organic.  (We're not likely to pay for the certification, but we'd still follow this guideline.)  Our lawn tractor is severely under-sized for a job like this, not to mention the many farm implements that it would take to plant, harvest, clean seed, and mill into flour.  That said, I think Scott's right about a market for local, organic flour.
Strip Cropping Photo credit

3.  Possibly the wisest use of the crop land would be some kind of strip cropping polyculture.  Grazing crops like grass and alfalfa could be grown in a mosaic with fruit and nut trees, grains, and veggies.  This too requires quite an investment, but may offer the best long-range return while still providing a diverse habitat for native wildlife.

Clearly I have some reading to do.  The neighbors have already fertilized and tilled the ground for next year's crop, so any major decisions will wait a year or two.  In the mean time, I think I'll beg back an acre for some experimental wheat and oat crops.  This will let us get our feet wet without disrupting our income.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Lasagna gardening

In grad school I grew the most tasty, prolific, heirloom tomatoes in my rental house yard.  Of course, I thought this was due to some skill of mine.  When I married Scott and moved to our first home in the county on 5 acres of degraded farm ground, I was shocked that not only did my heirlooms shrivel up and die, but even the commercial hybrids refused to thrive.  With next to no organic matter in any bit of our yard, the plants had to weather rounds of flood and drought stress.  I grew a fine crop of weeds and cucumbers each year we lived there.
Karen and baby Katherine in the weedy tree garden

Though our new farm had deep topsoil, I'd been burned often enough that I was content to snuggle a few lettuce plants into our tree garden and call it good.  Still, the weeding was overwhelming.  I wanted to be less reliant on grocery store produce and commercial animal feed, but I needed a new way of doing things.  Last winter I started to research alternatives to the traditional tilled garden.

The idea I decided to try is called "Lasagna Gardening," based on a book by Patricia Lanza.  The upshot is that instead of tilling to remove weeds, you smother them with layers of wet newspaper and mulch.  As a soil scientist, I always had trouble with the idea of tilling, and as a wife I always had trouble my tiller, so I was ready and willing to replace this part of gardening.  I also am blessed with an abundance of multi-species manure that was perfect for the job.  I moved spoiled hay from the cow lot, and the contents of all my animal housing, onto an area of the yard 16 x 32 feet to a depth of about 12 inches.  I never once touched the tiller or any chemicals; this all happened on top of a thick stand of yard grass.

Plants are nestled down in the mulch where their roots can spread out or down through the newspaper to the topsoil below.  Plants below the newspaper can't push up through it, so any weeds that grow in the garden have shallow roots and pull out easily.  In 20 minutes I could pull every weed in the garden any time of year!
New, expanded Lasagna garden

Allowing for experimentation, the garden produced very well and I expanded it to 30 x 40 this fall.  Never again will you see soil exposed to the sun here.  I even moved 10 loader buckets of mulch into the old hog pen this winter.  When this composts down a little in the spring or summer, I intend to plant a feed crop of beets and oats for the livestock.  I have high hopes for an edible flower and berry garden in front of the house some day, too.  Lasagna gardens everywhere!

Cattle voyeur

Agnes, you may remember, has been slated for the freezer this coming June. With the recent departures of Nellie and Molly, though, it's starting to get lonely in the pasture.  Agnes, a little wild for my herd, is still pretty gentle by cattle standards, so I'm reconsidering.  The trigger for this reversal is the attention Agnes was seen enjoying yesterday from Abe, our growing steer calf. 

Cows in heat will mount and be mounted by one another (yes, including females and steers).  The cow that stands still while others mount her is the one in heat.  Without this behavior, it's close to impossible to know when to breed a cow by artificial insemination. Twelve hours after a cow is seen in "standing heat" is the time to breed her.

Agnes, though, has always had a more reserved relationship with the females of the herd; she mounts no one and no one mounts her.  Instead, when she's in heat she gets antsy and bellows across the road at the neighbor's bull.  All fine, but it leaves us guessing about that magical window of time for precise breeding.  I just gave it a guess and had my AI tech neighbor breed her anyway.  Of course, she didn't "settle" that way, and by the time the vet confirmed her to be "open" she had developed an ovarian cyst that had kept her from coming back into heat.  He took care of the problem, but that's when I thought about beefing her.

But yesterday... I spied Agnes responding to the attentions of young Abe.  If I can predict her breeding time, she may yet have a place in the herd.  Way to go, Abe!  I have 19-21 days to consider her fate before she comes into heat again.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Biochar as fertilizer

We generate a wealth of ash and charcoal by heating our house with wood.  Up until now, we've just scattered the ashes in the yard as a way to get rid of them, but now that I'm more committed to gardening it's time to put them to use. 

Wood ash is a great source of potassium and other trace elements that can be lacking in a vegetable garden, but use it with caution!  The pH of ash is quite high; too much can burn plants.  Used wisely, it can treat unwanted acidity in the soil (a potential problem in my "Lasagna" method of gardening).  Aviod using it on blueberries, roses, rhododendrons, and other acid-loving plants.  I have yet to start testing the pH of my garden, but it was time to deal with the full ash can, so I sprinkled a bit of ash on areas where I plan to plant low-pH-favoring plants, and then enlisted Katherine and Scott in filtering out the biochar. 

Biochar (charcoal used as fertilizer) has all the benefits of ash, with less pH action, and a heap of slow-release carbon.  To separate it out, we passed about 15 gallons of ash through hardware cloth and ended up with about 3 gallons of biochar.  We have a few more months of wood stove weather left for me to determine how much ash I still need. 

Research using biochar on a larger scale in tropical soils is helping boost crop production and reduce deforestation.  Check out more about it here:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

And then there were five

Another sad day on the farm with Molly taking a new job north of Lawrence as nanny and nurse to a set of twin calves.  Jake was sorry to see her leave, but I think he'll do well without her kicking him in the head daily.  There's got to be a better way for Molly to tell him he's too old to be nursing.  She had a good life here, and if she had been nicer to me I would have kept her.

Now I can finally admit that I really don't like milking.  Someday I'll probably try it again, but for now I don't need a dedicated milk cow.  It gets too complicated trying to keep her and her calves on good grass, but still close to the barn.

Beef cows and calves...
Breeding guinea hogs...
Laying chickens...
Broiler chickens...

That's enough for now.

Coming soon- Guinea hogs!

Guinea hogs on pasture in SW Missouri
It's been a while since I wrote about hogs, but they've been at the forefront of my farm planning this month.  I mentioned in a previous post that my goal is to raise meat animals that can maximize their use of grass and forage.  My previous three years raising standard breed (Hampshire and Hamp/York cross) feeder pigs has come nowhere close to this goal.  I thought about abandoning hogs for that reason, but we do like the pork and they're a great outlet for garden waste and leftovers.  (We don't have trash pick up here, so nearly every scrap of food waste finds a home in compost or animal feed)
Guinea boar, "Buttercup"

Modern hog breeds need free-choice access to a mixture of grain and soybean oil meal ground to 16% protein.  Organic substitutes are hard to find around here and prohibitively expensive.  The alternative is to raise a heritage breed of hog that was bred to scavenge most of its nutrition.  Guinea hogs were once the most common yard pig in the South where they lived on grass, clover, acorns, food scraps, and their favorite... snakes.  When it fell out of fashion to keep just a few hogs for the family, this breed spiraled toward extinction. 
Guinea sow
 About 20 years ago a small group of breeders, in concert with the American Livestock Breeds Association (ALBA), rounded up all the breeding stock they could find (about 20 animals), to save these unique genetics. 

Guineas are quite a bit smaller than standard hog breeds, with the maximum weight of boars reaching 300 lbs rather than 800 lbs or more.  The pigs are born at just 1 lb and take quite a while to reach their mature size, but since they require so little supplemental feed they shouldn't be overly expensive to raise.

Four-year-old, Buttercup, the boar and the sow at left will be joining us here on Bluestem Farm any day now.  Pigs are expected in April!

Monday, January 10, 2011

First snow at Bluestem Farm

Agnes, Mary, and Abe back in the corral at Bluestem Farm
The herd celebrated the first snow of the winter with a nocturnal jaunt through the yard.

With Molly and Jake locked in the barn for forced family therapy, I'm making regular trips to the round bale to pull off their hand- delivered rations.  More than once when I have pulled the gate shut, it hasn't latched, but last night is the first time anyone has gotten out.  I think the north wind blew the gate open and invited them to explore.
Young oak tree in our back yard

Scott noticed the tracks before sun-up this morning and followed them all around the yard by flashlight.  When he traced them back to the herd, they were contentedly munching hay at the feeder, having determined that there is indeed, NO grass on the other side.  Had there been grass showing, they may have lingered, but with a thick coat of snow, the yard was no more interesting than their own pastures. 

The birds are active and more visible with the snow.  They've found my suet feeder in the oak tree, and something of interest in the compost pile.

I'm truly grateful for all the dry, 50 degree days we've had this winter, but now with a little snow, I can finally stop watering my fruit trees!

Male cardinal sheltering in the oak

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Heritage chickens

Katherine and a Delaware hen
The poulty world has its meat bird rock stars and its egg-laying champs, but if you want one breed to do it all, you're in for some compromises.

White cornish hens crossed with white rock roosters produce chicks that achieve 5-6 pound of growth in 6 weeks!  These are what are available in the store, and even from free-range meat producers.  We raise a batch of 50 every fall.  As hybrids they have a few faults: they can't be kept as breeding stock because their chicks will not show the same characteristics, and if kept past 6 weeks, they fall over.  That's right, they eat so much and gain so fast that their little legs just stop holding them up.  People still raise them (even humane and sustainable operations) because they are the only economically feasible option.  Every other breed takes too long to reach maturity.  The costs of housing, care, and feed keep them out of the competition.

For maximum egg production you can't beat the scrawny, nervous leghorn.  For my farm, I want animals that are personable and well-suited to our Kansas climate extremes.  I've always chosen heavy laying chickens because they need only minimal heat in the winter and fill up the pot when their time is up. 

My current flock includes: Buff Orpingtons, Red Star hybrids, Black Australorps, Arucanas, and Delawares.  Of these I'm hoping to have good results from the Delawares.  Of the breeds listed as critical by the ALBC (American Livestock Breeds Conservation), they sound like the best dual-purpose breed for our farm.  If they pass the laying test then they can expect a rooster and chicks in their future.

Delawares were the commercial meat bird of the past before the Cornish cross monster chickens took over.  I can still expect 4 months from hatch to slaughter, but at least I'll have a purpose for the males I hatch.  Up until now I've never encouraged a broody hen to hatch eggs, but that will be in our future I'm sure.  Even so, we'll still probably grow a batch of Cornish crosses for the freezer.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hen house bedding

Bagged wood chip bedding added to my cost of egg production and needed a season or two of extra composting before it could go on the garden.  Instead, I started using loose straw litter from a neighbor's barn.  All of the good bales are gone, but there is a whole room of the shattered left-overs that is free for the scooping. They're glad to be rid of it, and I'm glad to find straw anywhere this year when no one grew wheat.  Did I mention it's free?

This year I also scored two truck-loads of city leaves (Thank you, Glenna!).  I put the first load directly on the garden, but then later found that they work pretty well as bedding for chickens and cows when mixed with the straw.  Next fall I'll be out trolling the neighborhoods for more bagged leaves.

The irony is that my suburban parents spend all fall, winter, and spring bagging leaves, but they live too far away to work out a trade.

Getting ready for eggs

 Now that my new flock of chickens was nearing 4 months old, it was time to move the nest boxes from the old chicken house to their new pen.  Katherine helped me plant the fake, wooden eggs in the boxes to get the hens thinking about adding to the collection.  This has worked surprisingly well on past flocks, even though we were too cheep to buy real wooden eggs.  Round wooden balls are cheaper, and since none of these hens has ever seen an egg they don't seem to know the difference.
Three nest boxes was usually enough for my small flock, but with 25 hens this time, I need to make a few more.  If an expectant hen finds no room in the inn, she'll lay eggs on the floor- a hard habit to break.  I should still have a few weeks before my first egg, though.

Udder trouble

Molly, the Jersey milk cow
The cold, dry wind and warm, wet calf slobber have taken a toll on Molly's teats.  They've been looking a little chapped, but now her left front teat has a crack in it.  Cows are pretty tough, but Molly's been uncomfortable enough to kick Jake off when he tries to nurse.  (Not that she needs much of an excuse- she's in mourning over Nellie's departure.)  The result was one full udder. 

I shut the disgruntled parent in the barn, and, with the help of the milk stanchion, Jake and I milked her out.  He took the back teats and I worked the front two.  She protested at first, but in the end she was relieved.  I polished her off with a good coat of bag balm to sooth her sore teat against the wind; I'll repeat this morning and night until she adjusts her milk production down to just feeding Jake.  I haven't milked her now in several months.  It's good to know I still have the knack.

Bag Balm

Things you can't do with bag balm on your hands:
- lift heavy objects
- pet the dog
- brush the hair out of your face
- turn the doorknob to leave the barn

Things you can do with bag balm on your hands:
- ... I'll leave that for someone else's blog

Thursday, January 6, 2011

British White Park cattle

Mary, American British White Park cow
Most US cattle genetics are tailored for maximum beef production in a feedlot.  In order to raise beef on grass I needed to look for traits that are not favored by the commodity market: smaller-framed cows that reach maturity sooner, and will fatten well on grass.  Taste and tenderness are important, as well as a gentle disposition. 

When I was looking for a breed capable of excelling in all these areas, the British White Park cattle stood out.  These guys are not common in the US yet, but those that are here are owned primarily by grass-fed operations.

Mary is a great cow who has risen to the status of herd matriarch this year, supplanting Molly who is 2 years older.  She keeps the group together and brings them up to the barn when she hears me whistle.  Both she and her sister, Martha, "settled" on the first try when we bred them using AI.  I'm pleased with the growth and beauty of Mary's first calf, Abe, too.  It will be a while before I can attest to the taste and tenderness categories, but I'm confident that this breed is right for our farm.

Typical markings for White Parks are a white coat over darker skin, with "points" (ears, noses, feet, and teats) in black or red.  Mary and Martha are a little under-marked, but  there are plenty of well-marked bulls available via AI to set the traditional pattern in their offspring.  More about this amazing breed in fact and myth at the following websites:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Goodbye, Nellie

Bluestem Nellie, Jersey heifer
Nellie, daughter of Molly the milk cow went to a new home this afternoon.  Molly is sad to see her go, but Nellie will have many cow-friends and a nice people-family where she's going.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

I hate to break up a family...

Bluestem Nellie, Jersey heifer
Molly, our milk cow, is facing the cold weather with two growing calves to feed (Nellie, left and Jake, below) and likely a new calf on the way for summer.  That's a lot to expect out of a grass-fed cow in winter.  To lessen her load, I need to wean and sell one of her calves (the other will be weaned in spring).  Molly would prefer to keep Nellie, her own heifer, but I don't need two milk cows around here.  Jake, her foster-steer, is promised to the LEO Center food pantry in Lawrence when he's grown.

Jake, Molly's Holstein foster-steer
It's a tough decision, but I think Nellie will need to find a new home.  Luckily, the life of a family milk cow is a pretty good one.  Jake's only off-farm option is the feedlot.  Looks like I'll keep Jake with his momma, wean him onto fresh grass in the spring, and fatten him on grass.  Nellie will go on to have a family of her own, someday. 

Molly and Nellie on Bluestem Farm
Nellie and Molly make a pretty pair.  It's a rare thing for a dairy cow to raise her own calf.  In a dairy, most calves are fed milk replacer in confinement.  That would have been Jake's fate if he hadn't come here at two days old.  Luckily, at the diary where he was born, he as allowed to feed off of his mother at least once.  An other calf, Gary, that we owned briefly, was bonded with people and wouldn't try to nurse on Molly.  He had to be sold as a bottle calf.