I'd love to put more pictures on, and I will, but not today.
We made a calf pen last week after three days of NO MILK! It is very strange to have a cow you are currently milking and then have to buy milk at the grocery store. The only stranger thing might be mob stocking your pasture with a cow and a lawn mower (more on that later). So, Jason and I said farewell to our company, got our water working (Thanks, Paul!), and built a calf pen.
When building a calf pen, you might think of a sweet little calf, with those lovely gentle eyes, and buttery coat. You might be imagining tucking that dear little calf in, almost as if you were tucking a wee baby into her bed. If your thoughts are headed that way, your calf WILL get out and drink her fill of that perfectly good milk her mother keeps just the right temperature just for her.
Our first attempts at separating Clover from her mother proved that point.
So on attempt number three, after we re-enforced the barn wall, the pen wall, the gate, and the locking mechanism (two chains and a board dropped across), we got a full bucket of milk. Violet and Clover are not pleased with our designs, and we have a some exciting moments morning and evening as we get them into the barn and Clover into her pen or as we're trying to milk Violet with her calf mewling pitifully. However, we know that if we're consistent, they'll finally accept the routine, because cows are creatures of habit.
We are also getting used to our early rising time. I guess we're creatures of habit, too. I have a very keen awareness of the already decreasing light, and I can see that it won't be too much longer before we need a lantern or something to attend us on our morning chores.
Fence moving is proving interesting as we try to find grass for Violet to eat. We would be in much better shape if we had mowed in May and more last summer, but that's not what happened. For this year, we're grazing her on any grass we can move her to without too much risk of her escaping. We've grazed her behind the barn and along the driveway; she's grazing immediately behind the house right now. If we could figure out a good way to graze her around the fruit trees, we'd put her there next.
The hope is to let her graze a small spot for one or two days, and then to move her to a new spot. This is where the "mob stocking" comes into play. If the area is small enough and you put enough animals on it, they graze what they want and poop or trample on what they don't. The lawn mower makes up somewhat for the fact that we have only one cow whom we cannot reasonably put on a small enough area to call it mob stocking. Ideally, this time of the season, each grazing area should have 40 to 60 days to recuperate in between her visits. Unfortunately, we're having trouble giving things this much time. We just do not have very good grass at the moment, so she gets free access to hay.
Someone asked recently if I like having a cow. I am not in the enjoyment part of our relationship; it's too draining at the moment. As we walk to the barn each morning, I am playing out scenes of her menacing us with her horns and our reactions. Sometimes, it's so easy I feel giddy with relief. Then we have evenings and mornings like yesterday and today when Violet gets downright pushy about her calf or about her carrot. I've gotten much more pushy, too, so I think it will get better. I hit her with my stick last night and she straightened up and I slapped her this morning. I do not like that part.
It feels very strange to be rude to this animal that eats grass, utterly inedible to humans, and turns it into milk- a delight, a beautiful food readily made into so many delicious things. We just take this from her and her calf (who will also grace our table); it seems the least we could do is respect her and treat her gently. On the other hand, when I have my body pressed close to her and she's swinging her horns around, I want very different behavior. I am nowhere close to her 800 pounds and I need a clear way to communicate "Knock it off!" to her. Many wise people told me, "Hit her and carry a stick." That's what I do. I hope it's not always this way.