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January's End...Clear, Cold, Concise

In comparison to the rest of the month of January, the last week seemed concise. The weather was clear, cold, and bright. The cadence on the farm was rhythmical and steady. Hay feeding to the cattle groups in the morning and the afternoon. Good cold weather for spreading and slinging spent hay and manure piles. Allotted time for farm plan plotting and concocting, current year and future. Starts of a vegetable seed inventories and the selection of what vegetables and variates are to be grown for the 2022 season. A historical Holston community exploratory adventure. One good cattle round up and the find of a pleasing new gap handle product. The grounds were either frozen or in a phase of drying and we were adorned with the brightness of the sun's rays with the crisp and clear blue backdrop. The cows, the earth, and us alike hummed along on a positive accord. Interestingly, the first day of the month and the last day of the month were two of the months most spectacular days. Both bringing warmth and soul into body.

All of our groups of cattle are looking well with good flesh and shiny coats for the winter. They are getting plenty of good hay and great supplemental nutrients and minerals. Over the week I was able to make some hay conclusions for the winter feeding season. Our hay feeding season runs for about 5 months out of the year. Thus far, and on average we are feeding out ~80-91 round hay bales a month.....~60-67 bales to our large herd of 58 cows and 2 bulls, 10-12 bales for our group of 24 calves, which includes our saved heifer calves and a mix of steers and heifers that are still to be sold, and 10-12 bales to the cattle group across the road that includes 6 replacement heifers that get to be bred this year. All this adds up to 400-455 round bales of hay. With our stockpile of hay, this takes us to about the first of April. For the last two years, we have been able to start rotational grazing about mid April. More than likely, if all goes as planned, our grazing annuals of triticale and rye that were planted in the fall of 2021 should be ready for grazing earlier than our regular pastures, which means we could be on target with a very tight margin. With this tight of a margin, there is not any hay left to spare for unusual weather occurrences throughout the non hay feeding season. Preferably, it is nice to always have an extra stockpile of hay to be able to fed out during any unusual case and so with that we went ahead and secured an extra 36 bales.

We had a cattle round up on Monday the 31st, the last day of the month. The reason for this was because we have one cow, L2..."Christmas Mamma", that has an unusual left eye. It started back in the late fall of 2020 and the condition has gone through many waning and waxing stages since then. Often times, seeming like it was healed. Just about a week and 1/2 ago though, I noticed her eye had a dramatic change towards the worst. With that I decided to meet with Dr. Monin our vet to show him some pictures and talk about the scenario. He was fairly for certain it was cancer in her eye, which they call cancer eye. We decided to have him come out for a farm call so he could take a good look at the eye and give us a prognosis. Since the vet was coming out, and because we would be bringing in the large herd to separate "Christmas Mamma", we decided to go ahead and ween the last 4 calves of the 2021 season.

The rounding up of the large herd went well. We put down hay at the barn for the cattle to be able to eat and then we headed out to retrieve the herd from the back airport field. The day was most beautiful and the cattle were responsive. Dad drove the tractor with hay on the spear. I walked and did my cattle calling and Matthew and Eastenn Dutch hung in the back to gently push cattle that like to linger or are slightly apprehensive. Once it appeared to be looking like the flow of cattle was moving the way we wanted, I peeled off and backtracked to join Matthew and Eastenn Dutch. We had to cross over an area that the cattle had not been on since late summer, so there was a moment of pause as they all put there heads down to graze. After they all made it into this area we put in place a back catch fence so they would not be able to exit out of this paddock to the west of the barn. After the brief pause, Dad again headed forward with the tractor towards the barn. At this point, their alleyway narrows and this makes it easier for us to keep them moving forward from the back. We have discovered great functionality with a 300 foot roll up thick pliable measuring tape for getting different herds of our cattle to different places. Matthew, Eastenn Dutch, and I had the measuring tape rolled out to the length we needed it and kept pushing the herd from the back with the goal being for the cattle to move around the upper long side of the barn until they all get through a corral entrance that places them in their final closed in destination, on the east side of the barn. After they were successfully secured within the corral we let them eat and enjoy themselves for about 30-45 minutes before we started letting them file right back out through the middle barn hallway to where they came from. Since we only needed one cow and four calves, this was easy. We peeled off "Christmas Mamma" into a stable for holding until the vet arrived. I stood on the westside of the barn where we have a swing gate panel that I can open and close. Then Dad and Matthew worked from the east side of the barn to push the cattle into the middle hallway so they can exit through the swing gate. The goal was to keep the calves in the lower hallway and only let the cows and bulls come through, but I am there at the swing gate to close it if we want to halt the procession. My favorite part of bringing in the herd of cattle is this end part when I get to stand and watch them all walk or trot out. There is something about the perspective vision of that particular spot and motion. Moreover, if they are exiting then that means they are healthy and well, and that is always a good feeling.

The last point on the agenda was to close the calves in the lower hallway and give them hay, water, and minerals. These last four calves were all summer born calves and they make up the smallest of the four weening groups we had for the 2021 season. After going about our weening in different ways each time, to ensure there are no bandits, I have concluded that I appreciate the assurance of the confined lower hallway for at least the first week or two. Back during the grazing season, when we would wean on grass paddocks, on two occasions, in that first critical week, there were calves and mammas that would do their best to reunite and to their efforts were successful. When the weather is cold and wet, this lower hallway is a plush comforting spot. Also, the mammas and calves are allowed to connect through the panels, without the calves actually nursing. This seems to help both calf and mamma understand that they are both still in existence, thus lessening the frantic stress of thinking that they just cannot find each other. After about 3-4 days the Mamma cows eventually settle and move on. They stop coming back to check on their calves and determinately stay with the large herd again. Then, after those first couple weeks we let these newly weened calves join the larger, free roaming calf group and this they like!

From an outsiders view, one must wonder why did we have to bring in the herd of 64 cattle when we only needed 5. A herd of cattle prefers to stay together. They find comfort in their group and in general cattle need other cattle as they have shared emotions. They move in group patterns and therefore once one cow starts walking in the desired direction soon the whole group will take note and follow. We like to keep the herd calm and steady when walking them more than half a mile, so they do not feel pushed or trapped. If we were to have tried to seek out only "Christmas Mamma" to bring in to the barn, it would have been near impossible. She would have become nervous and flighty because she would have felt that it was her that we were seeking. Same goes for the four calves. So anytime we need to separate cattle or get some into a holding chute, we have to bring them as a whole herd into the barn area.

After Dr. Monin was able to look at her in the cow shoot by securing her head very well in a special halter hold that only vets know, he was able to conclude that his diagnosis of cancer eye was accurate. Sometimes when a cow has cancer eye, without going into detailed anatomical terminology, the best thing to do is to actually surgically remove the eye with appropriately sealing up the eye lid and all the insides. He had mentioned this to me the other day, if the cancer was only at a certain stage and that it was, but he then showed me her teeth. Oh, I thought they looked nice because I initially was only looking at the pearly whites, and I said look at those nice white teeth and of course in a nice way Dr. Monin had to laugh and say "NICE, LOOK AT the SIZE." Then we were all able to learn a quick course in cow teeth. By looking at her teeth, he was able to conclude that she was well over 10 years old, which in his opinion puts her into the old cow category. Her teeth had for certain worn down over all that grazing for all those years. She was still functional of course, but he said that as cows continue to get older their teeth continue to wear. This then translates into poorer processing of nutrients and lower quality milk for their calves. I had never thought about her being old. She is a very pretty cow that is large and tall, with nice flesh. He agreed that she looked very good for her age and without the teeth indication would have not guessed she was that old either. With all the talk and observation our best approach of treatment for her, in the end, hinged on her age. Since she was an older cow, he thought it would not do her any service to have to bring her into the vet so he could surgically remove her eye. He thought the best thing for her was to keep the eye as is, and to let her raise out her calf for the 2022 season. She should be one of our first cows to calve in March. Then, because of her age and eye, she should be considered for the cull cow category. She has obviously lived out a good productive life here on the farm. We were reminded all anyways that ever year it is a good idea to replace 10% of your breeding cows with up and coming replacement heifers. We wished her well as we let her out of the cow shoot to head on back with the rest of herd.

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

Until next time, Eat Well and Be Well,

Allison Mills Neal

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1 Comment

Matthew Neal
Matthew Neal
Feb 04, 2022

Lucky I married this girl, because she counts.

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