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2022 has arrived...Sun, Snow, and Rain

Here in the foothills of East TN the start of the 2022 New Year brought an array of weather elements -- Warm Sun, Cold Snow, and Soggy Rain. On Saturday New Year's day, I sat in recovery by a row of opened kitchen windows from a holiday "bug" that spread through the whole family. My sister's family came in for the Christmas holiday from Houston, TX. Their most delightful 1 year old, Grace Louise, had caught what they were calling the Croup somewhere back in TX, which then spread to cousin Banks, Nanna Mills, Eastenn Dutch, cousin Ellis, me, Matthew, and lastly Grampy Mills. Somehow both my sister and her husband never caught it and Matthew had a very mild case in comparison. As Nanna had the worst case of it, she decided to visit her doctor and it was concluded through tests that it was not COVID, the Flu, or RSV. With that I named it the "Holiday Croup Virus." So, back to that sunny, windy New Year's Day, other than me being sick, it was a most spectacular day. The energy of the day called Eastenn Dutch to fetch an old kite from my childhood so he could go Kite flying. It was instantaneous. As I was a window spectator, I watched how in a matter of minutes he had it out and was needing help with his first launch. I managed to muster up enough gusto to hobble out to help. As I watched him running down the bottom towards a group of calves flying that kite...laughing, hooping and a hollering, I could only help to feel that the New Year had arrived with much hope, peace, and triumphant courage. The most beautiful visions are sent often in our lowest times. It was no wonder that New Year's day reached a record high of 78. Dad and Eastenn Dutch had gone out for the afternoon hay feeding and they gave me a call saying that when they first saw L18, Watauga Redskin, it appeared that her vagina had inverted just a little bit and was hanging out about the size of a softball, but when she moved around it went back in. As we had an experience with a total vaginal prolapse last year during the winter, I immediately made myself feel well enough to take the hike to almost the top of the back hill. The wind was still blowing strong. I walked, hacked, and spit and for me felt unusually out of breath by the time I got to the top, but I made it. I spotted her and she looked well. The ground was fairly dry so I rested and watched her for about an hour. She moved around from hay plop to hay plop eating hay and all was fine. It was about dusk when I left my position to head home and the rain rain clouds were starting to push in.

By January the 2nd, the sun had been replaced by clouds and rain. The rain gauge held 1.6" of rain. Over the last few months this was the largest amount of rain we had had in one rain fall. This surge of precipitation left us bracing, for it was just the start of the weeks load. With the coming of freezing temperatures, at least the forecast showed that a good amount of our precipitation was going to be in the form of snow. Snow in the winter is much more exciting than the soggy rain. I welcome the frozen ground covered with a nice blanket of snow. It to me is like a beautiful patch, like sweeping the dust under a rug. It covers up the farmer's mucky spots and makes the ground stay frozen in time literally. Appearing weightless, cattle and tractor can traverse over the frozen white blanket leaving not a trace of pugs. The first snow is always exciting, and that it was. The only problem was that it had been so warm the week before that the ground never had time to freeze. The ground was extra saturated with the rains and then the snow. After our morning cattle chores, Eastenn Dutch and I headed out for some sledding. There was just not enough accumulation for us to go gliding down the steep hill, especially with the weight of us both. He fared much better when he sledded solo as the runners seemed to not cling onto the grassy ground underneath like it did when my body weight was added. He even admitted that it wasn't the best and decided it was time to head on back with the hopes of building his first snowman in the front yard. It certainly does take a certain consistency of snow to make a good snowman and we were finally in luck. This really was our first snowman we had rolled together and we put him front and center, what fun! Our "Frosty" was decorated with a knitted crown, a yellow fence handle nose, two eyes made out of limestone, and a hawthorn berry smile.

Somehow Grampy never missed a beat through his spell of the "holiday croup." I kept thinking he would have a day or two where he would insist that I take care of all the feeding because he really did not feel well enough to venture out. Even Eastenn Dutch and I tried hard one day to make him stay behind, but he would not have it. I will admit he is much more sure with the tractors on steep and wet hillsides than I am and winter hay feeding in these conditions is not something I look forward to. I would rather walk and help do all the manual work just as long as I am not the one having to drive the tractor in these wet wintry conditions, where as Grampy's dare devilish personality thrives in these wintry risky endeavors. When I say steep hillside I am not talking about a little knoll. Our back hill, which is in clear viewing from HWY 75, has a very steep slope. Both our tractors are two wheel drive, so this does not help my confidence level. The hill's 14 acre western side is a little less slopping upon approach and once one is on it. This is normally where a lot of winter hay feeding is done, but this year it is planted in Abruzzi grazing rye and has been fenced off till early spring for early cattle grazing.

One day when Grampy was getting a 5' X 5' round bale from our long row of hay bales the twine that holds the whole bale together decided to break and the bale of hay completely fell apart. This presented two problems. For one, it was in the perfect spot to keep us from getting anymore hay bales and two, was the tremendous volume of loose hay that lay in a huge heap. When the hay is in a round bale it can readily be picked up with a tractor spear and transported. Now the only way for it to be moved was by pitchfork and wagon. We decided to hitch up a lightweight aluminum trailer to the Ford Tractor. We backed up to the loose heap and Eastenn Dutch, Grampy and I started pitchforking. Eventually getting about three quarters of the loose hay onto the modern wagon we headed to the back making it up to about the half way point of the back hill. By following the contour, Grampy drove the tractor in creeper gear, while Eastenn Dutch and I used pitchforks to keep a steady stream of hay flowing off the back end of the wagon. The cattle lined up to eat from their manual hay dispensing machine and all was well. We headed back to gather up the remaining quarter of hay and played out the same old time manual hay feeding to the heifer group. We could have played the scene perfectly if we had only had a team of mules in the lead instead of the big blue tractor. Despite the time impediment, I felt better for the opportunity to participate in the old fashioned activity. Of course we would have never broke the hay twine on purpose, but how else would we have ever gotten to play out our manual hay dispensing machine?!

The second snow of the week came on Thursday night, the 6th, and Friday morning, the 7th. I liked this snow covering better than first and so did Eastenn Dutch and Matthew. It proved to be an excellent sledding snow. They were our out early and eager, while Grampy and I headed out to fed hay. With overnight temperatures reaching about 18, the ground under the snow this time was indeed frozen. With about 1-2", this snow covered the ground more beautifully than the first. I captured the heifer girls with the homeplace in the background with the last of the Christmas trimmings present. That afternoon while Eastenn Dutch and I were doing school lessons inside, an unusual site caught both our eyes. Looking out a south window we noticed the Ford in an unusual spot. Grampy had gone out to start the afternoon feeding, but we could not figure why he had the tractor parked kitty-cornered half way up the steep curved lane leading to the Lacy Barn. Even though the snow still covered the ground, we knew he could not be stuck, but by taking in the situation we knew there was something not quite right. Maybe the tractor just slide a little bit and this was why it was awkwardly parked, we thought. Then Eastenn Dutch and I both recalled a day earlier in the week when the Ford tractor gave Dad some hassle. This is when the temperatures had first dropped and every time he tried to turn and drive steeper up the hill the tractor would quite on him. It did this about 6 times, but every time it started back and we were able to get the cattle feed. Since the tractor seemed to continue on, nothing more was thought about the glitch. Sure enough, the tractor had presented the same glitch, but this time the glitch turned into a problem because Grampy could not get it to start again. The Ford is our main hay feeding tractor in the winter because it has a cab and it has the rotating hydraulic hay spear attached to it. This apparatus increases our hay feeding efficiency and the cab creates a barrier in between the driver and the rain and cold. The back up tractor is the International 584, which has neither of these gadgetries. Off we went a feeding, rudimentary in style. The only aspect I like about feeding with the International 584 is the hay placement aesthetic. As each layer of the round bale has to be pushed off manually with a pitchfork, in an up and over motion, that loose hay then can be placed in a continual long row that the cattle line up to and follow like the yellow brick road. Another favorite configuration has the appearance of long mini rows that run perpendicular to the tractor spear with a new mini row placed each time the tractor moves forward. Most importantly, making sure one leaves at least two cow's length worth of space in between each long mini row so that cattle can eat from each row's long side without manuring on the hay or hustling and bustling their rumps. Interestingly enough, after Dad resourced his Ford tractor manual, gathered filter changing supplies, and headed out to work on the tractor it magically started up again. With that, on he and Eastenn Dutch drove and it has been starting up and running ever since. In reality, the fuel filter is due a change and more than likely that mixed with the colder temperatures is the source point of the tractor glitch. Who knows when it will strike again?

By the end of the week, the snow turned back to soggy rain, .9" worth. This added with the melted snow created an accumulated deposit that the ground's soil did not want to accept, but because the temperatures dropped overnight to 22 it made the saturated ground seem bearable.

In closing, The cattle really enjoyed their free choice mineral/nutrient supplement of Thorvin Icelandic Kelp, Redmond Salt, and Diatomaceous Earth for the 2021 season. Every animal on the place had access to this mix all year. All herds combined ended up consuming 1,950 lbs of Kelp, 1,950 lbs of Redmond Salt, and about 350 lbs of DE. With the closing of the past year and the coming of the new it was time for us to make our yearly purchase again. This time we decided to purchase a 2,200 lb tote of Thorvin Icelandic Kelp and a 2,500 lb pallet of Redmond Beef Mineral Mix. On a nice clear day, we sent Matthew all the way up to Waynesboro, VA, a full days round trip drive, to pick up the supplies. He returned after dark, and we met him out at the barn so he could pull in the center hallway in case it drizzled overnight. We knew the following day would entail unloading the pallets. For us, we decided the best way to handle the bulk kelp was to go ahead and distribute it into 25 lb portions into a stockpile of saved bags. It always feels good to save something that in the end gets appointed for a new job. We came up with a good system of working and got to it. I think it took us about 3 hours to complete the task. By the end we were living and breathing plums of Kelp I think. When we walked into the house, Nanna sure picked up on our seafaring odor. I am excited about the addition of the Redmond Beef Mineral Mix. It contains the same great trace mineral ancient sea salt as the Redmond 10 Fine that we used in 2021, but is additionally fortified with some extras like phosphorus, calcium, selenium, magnesium, cobalt, copper, iodine, zinc, and Vitamins A, D, & E. Both this and the Kelp should be about the best organic/OMRI listed free choice supplement mix that we could offer the cattle. There are no grain fillers or artificial ingredients, plus the added perk of high bioavailability.

That wraps up the Foothill Frolic Farm's weekly Farm Post for the first week of East TN farming glance.

Until next time, Eat Well and Be Well,

Allison Mills Neal

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