Archive for July, 2007
Esmerelda has calved. Early yesterday afternoon, a large inky-black heifer calf landed on the grass in the cow paddock. She has white socks on her two back hooves, a bit of white on her belly, and the tiniest tip of white on her tail. She is already almost as big as Rosie’s calf, even though he’s two weeks older. In no time, she was tottering around on her gangly calf legs. Esmerelda looks very satisfied with her offspring, and has been licking and feeding the calf.
Rosie’s calf, young Herman Beefsteak, seems curious about the new arrival. Perhaps he’s wondering if this new calf will be a good playmate. We can’t wait to see if the two of them will play together in the paddock.
Now only Coco is left to calve. Her udder is already full of colostrum, so we think that the last calf will soon be on its way.
I have almost finished pruning the grapes. This task has dragged on longer than I’d hoped, partly due to all the rain we’ve been having, and partly because it has taken me a long time to fight my way through the tangled mass of vines. Last winter, we were foolish enough to neglect this task, and ended up with a mass of rampant grape vines bearing hardly any fruit. What a waste! When we moved onto the Farmlet, one white grape and three purple grapes were already well established along the fence bordering the house paddock. They are good varieties, and should bear lots of delicious fruit if we look after them properly! This year, we were determined to do our best with them.
Having never pruned grapes before, I looked out the window a couple of weeks ago at the overgrown mass of vines, and felt very conscious of my inexperience in this matter. The following excerpt from The Encyclopedia of Country Living made me feel more hopeful about the probable outcome of the pruning:
An early settler planted a grape vineyard. It grew fine for several years, but eventually the settler moved on and the vines were left and the vines were left unpruned and neglected. Eventually they grew out of site and rambled along the ground. The grapes were poor in quality and out of reach. A new owner bought the property with the intent of raising livestock and pack animals in the forgotten fields. A year or two later the animals had nibbled back all of the vines. Thereafter the vines returned and fruited magnificently. The moral: Any ass can prune a grapevine.
Based on advice from a neighbour, and the instructions in The Encyclopedia of Country Living (which are beautifully simple and to-the-point), I set out with a rough idea of how to prune “European variety” grapes. The goats have been the happy recipients of any grape prunings that still had leaves on them. Of course, I’ve been finding that my nice neat pruning intentions are rather challenged by the tangle of vines I’m working with. They have snaked their way up trees and through the grass. I’ve heard that it is possible to over-prune grapevines, resulting in increased leafy growth and less fruit the following season. For that reason, I’m not pruning the grapes quite as hard as I might. Perhaps the vines will fruit better if I put off the last of the “taming and renovation” project until next winter? In any case, we hope that eventually the effort of pruning will be rewarded with an abundant harvest of delicious grapes.
Thanks to EM for her extremely generous support of both Farmlet and Cryptogon.
The day after the calf was born, he was somewhat friendly and curious about us. He walked right up to me. I went out to check on him the next day after that, and he had become leery of me and stuck close to Rosie, his almost always skittish mother cow. I thought that it wasn’t going to get any easier to catch him, so I decided to get a rope around him.
It wasn’t easy. I managed to get Rosie to go one way, and the calf to head into a corner. As I closed in, he made a break for it, but I caught him. I was completely shocked by how strong he was already. He let out a howl, bucked and kicked. I held on tight. Rosie came over and started making concerned mother cow noises. I managed to get him under control. I put the rope around his neck and tied him to a fence post. He didn’t like being on the rope. He started jumping around and trying to slip free. He tripped over himself and went onto his back. He became remarkably calm. I walked over to have a look at him, and there they were:
Bull calf balls in a little, furry sack.
“Oh man,” I said to myself, “those have to go.”
Covered in mud and shit from wrestling the calf in the paddock and thinking about how strong and fast he was after just a couple of days…well, “it” had to be done sooner rather than later.
If you happen to be clueless about how to castrate a calf, I was just as clueless at that moment, standing there, looking at his little marbles. I went inside and consulted our books. None of them addressed this situation. (Maybe they assume that people just “know” these things.) I typed “calf castration” into Google and began reading.
There are three methods, and I wasn’t looking forward to having to carry out any of them on that little bull:
1) Surgical – Cutting open the scrotum and removing the testicles
2) Burdizzo – Crushing the blood vessels to interrupt the blood supply to the testicles
3) Elastrator – Elastic band obstructs blood flow to the testicles and the scrotum
I called Paul, Becky’s cousin. Many of you will remember Paul from my Bacon post on Cryptogon. Paul is a dairy farmer, but he grew up on a massive bull farm. His dad, Donald, is a life long stockman. Paul would know what to do.
He said that the elastic band method is the way to go. He also said that he had an extra elastrator tool that I could have.
I drove over to Paul’s farm (15 minutes from us). Paul handed me the tool and a jar full of bands.
“One will do the job, but my old man uses two to be sure.”
Becky called her dad and explained what we had to do. Bruce had castrated his share of beasts and was willing to help us out.
Just before dark, Bruce and I set out into the paddock. We walked over to where I tied up the calf earlier and found an empty rope; he’d slipped out. Maybe five meters away, there was and Rosie and the calf. I had a headlamp on, and the bright light dazzled the calf for a moment. I tried to catch him, but he fled. Bruce and I got him cornered and he tried to get through Bruce this time, but without luck. Bruce went low and tackled the calf. I came up along side the calf and pulled his legs out from under him to get him on his back.
You’ve got to keep positive control of those hind legs or the creature could really clean your clock. His strength was incredible. (Well, it seemed incredible to me anyway.) Bruce put one of his gumboots down on the left leg while I held the right. I handed the elastrator tool to Bruce and a couple of latex rings with my spare hand.
He readied the tool. He then checked to make sure he could feel both of the calf’s testicles. (It’s critical to place the ring so that the bloodflow to both testicles is cut off.) He told me to feel them, so that I would know how to do it for sure the next time. I did. One. Two. A couple of seconds later, the first ring was on, and then the next. With that, we stepped away from the calf and he (for a few more days, anyway) got up and ran over to Rosie.
I don’t see things like this as pleasant or unpleasant, mean or not mean. It’s just reality. That calf represents a lot of food security for our family. These things just have to be done.
I’m probably like many of you: I’ve been abstracted from the underlying reality of eating meat for my entire life. Mentally, of course, I understood what was involved with eating a steak, but the disconnect from the process was astonishing. I have a very different outlook on the thing now; a reverence for it. There’s a remarkable feeling of accomplishment in all of this, even if we’re just trying to learn what many people were well into forgetting roughly one hundred years ago. It’s not easy, but it’s honest and real.