Moxie, Elsa, Pee-Wee, and Mel

January 8, 2017

Or: A Cattle Update

My cow Moxie did not get bred back after calving in the summer of 2015. I had a bull, Leo, at the time, but Leo was small and was kept from her by two much larger steers (both drunk with power). I didn’t realize Moxie hadn’t been bred until long after Leo and the steers went to slaughter — and also after her 2015 bull calf and foster calf had been castrated. Thus, there was no calf born on Fairhope Farm in 2016, and no way to ensure one for 2017, either. The dairy where I had always bought bull calves had gone out of business. I figured I was stuck.

I mentioned this one day last August while throwing hay bales with Rick, my hay man.

“I can bring you a bull,” Rick said. “I got a yearling. No problem.”

I was immediately nervous. Bulls are dangerous. Jersey bulls are particularly dangerous. I raise my Jersey bulls from day-olds; by the time they are big, they know me and my routines — and I know them. The thought of bringing a strange, full-grown Jersey bull to the farm was frightening. However, I could see no other way to get Moxie bred, so I agreed. Nervously.

There were delays. The yearling was sold. No, the buyer backed out. Rick would bring him this day. No, it would be that day.

I fretted — I knew I would be out of town the weekend of October 15 for Jon and Amanda’s wedding. Damon, who is not experienced with cattle, would be caring for my animals. For safety’s sake, the bull had to be off the farm by then. A cow’s heat cycle is roughly 21 days. It would be best if the bull were on the farm at least six weeks, so there were two potential opportunities for breeding.

Rick finally pulled in to the farm with a trailer the afternoon of September 5. I stepped up on the bumper to peek in at the scary bull.

Big dark eyes looked up at me out of a worried baby face. The bull was small and scrawny, so thin he looked like a hound dog. When I turned him out with my girls, even Elsa (who is a petite heifer; below right) was larger.


Neither Elsa nor Moxie was impressed with their new suitor. I began calling him “Pee-Wee.”


Pee-Wee had unfortunate conformation. Despite his boniness (I could count all of his short ribs), he had the usual bull neck — but zero hind end. No muscles at all.


He had been locked in a stall indoors most of his life. I told myself all he needed was groceries and exercise.

However, for now even Elsa felt free to push him around impatiently. Pee-Wee was so anxious and deferential I worried if he would ever get up the gumption to do more than stand apologetically with his hat in his hands.

In the meantime I was thinking about future breeding. I needed a calf now, to keep Moxie milked out and breed her in the fall of 2017. After a lot of advertising on Craigslist, I finally found a Jersey bull calf ninety minutes away. It was another sad reflection on farming today. The calf was three weeks old. He had been earmarked as a future herd bull — but after looking at their milk check, the dairy had decided to fold instead. They were happy to sell him to me for $75.

I drove upstate one afternoon after work to get him. I named the calf Mel Gibson, and prayed he would have a nicer temperament than his namesake.


Being older than the usual newborns, Mel caught the hang of nursing very quickly and soon was thriving.


Fall moved in. The view at the lake house was spectacular.


However my big focus (apart from planning for the upcoming wedding) was to get everything at the farm mowed one last time before winter.


The cattle were eating hay. It was gratifying to see Pee-Wee becoming rounder, sleek, and snorty. He was not yet threatening, but I now could sense that I had a bull in the barn.


Rick returned to pick him up October 11, just before the wedding. Pee-Wee had been on the farm five weeks; I was sure they had been the best five weeks of his life. Rick said he was going directly to the sale barn.

It is always hard for me that I can’t control the world.

Fast forward to January. In the months since Pee-Wee’s departure, one or the other of the cows has come into heat several times. I’m not sure which girl didn’t settle. Maybe both. Elsa has been the one flinging herself around in a frenzy, but hysteria when pheromones are in the air is normal heifer behavior. Moxie is more sedate at nearly eight years old.

Last week I sent off a milk sample from Moxie to the lab in Oregon. They received it Friday.


I should know tomorrow night if she is bred. Fingers crossed.

Creeping Upward

January 7, 2017


Yesterday was clear and cold. The high was due to be 14° F, so I did not know if the men would be working. However, when I arrived at the farm after work for evening chores I found the beginnings of our second story. The rear half of the exterior walls are up!

The building currently looks rather like a fortress, as when they wrapped it in Tyvek they did not cut out the window and door openings in the first floor and basement. The housewrap will block the weather until the windows and doors actually arrive and can be installed.


These openings on the second-floor south wall are our bathroom window, the children’s bathroom window, and Lucy’s bedroom double window. Lucy lived in a very dark bedroom for her first eighteen years and our stay in this lake house (where she has a wide south window) has given her an appreciation of light. A sunny bedroom was her only request when I was planning the house.

Here is 2/3 of the west wall with our bedroom windows, which face the mountains.


Mike built a temporary door and he and Nick added insulation to the basement to hold in the warmth of a torpedo heater. After months of eating in their trucks, Mike said, “We need a lunch room!”


The basement is now also a tool storage and work space. The tent canopy they had been using was not only too cold for winter but in one of our windstorms was crushed into a tangle of bent metal pipes — now forlornly sticking out of a snowbank.

A Little Brisk

January 6, 2017

It is 7° F this morning. Yesterday we had wind gusts of up to 55 mph. This is not ideal weather for building, or even for being outside. Last night when I let the cows into the barn, Moxie’s every step was accompanied by a sound like castanets. It was ice balls clicking on her fetlocks.

The first-floor exterior walls were covered in house wrap on Monday. Given the sleet, snow, and wind, the project has made no visible progress since then. The daily highs for the next few days are due to be 15°, 13°, 8°, and 14° F. The farm is coated in thick plate ice with a thin skim of snow on top, like powdered sugar.

I am trying to be patient with the cold and the short dark days of gloomy skies. I know 7° is actually not very cold for Lake Placid in January. I remind myself that often it’s -25° at this time of year. I tell myself to count my blessings.

In the meantime I pull on extra layers and try not to eye the lonely house site too yearningly.

Buttoning Up for Ice

January 3, 2017


Yesterday morning it was 2° F at morning chores but almost 40° by afternoon. Everything was melting, and the building crew took the opportunity to get everything snug before today’s coming ice.

All the lower exterior sheathing was cut and fitted.

On Sunday while I was mucking the sheep stall, Nick had come to work and shoveled 95% of the snow out of the first floor. Yesterday, he, Mike, and Jerry removed the floor tarps and swept out the last drifts of snow. They tacked plastic over the window frames (on the west wall, shown below, they left OSB to block the wind).


It is starting to look like a real home site.


I’m almost ready to move my desk and bookshelves into the office.


The tarps from these floors were shaken out and carried to the second floor deck, where they were tacked down with 2x6s and nails (the builders have learned the force of the winds here). We are slated to have freezing rain for two days — the men probably won’t be able to work — and then a return to cold. It would not be helpful to have a second floor skating rink when it’s time for the next round of walls to go up.

I spent most of yesterday doing paperwork to return to teaching today. After this long vacation when I twice slept until 5:30 AM, today my eyes popped open at 2:15, my brain whirring. DH got up a few minutes later. We’re back on the job.

Last Day of Vacation

January 2, 2017


Yesterday was a rare sunny break in the clouds and a great lift to my spirits.

Tomorrow I go back to work at my teaching job. Despite having a fat two weeks of holiday break, I haven’t touched half my “Vacation To-Do List.”

However, I did get the sheep wormed and by last evening the deep bedding mucked out of their stall, two big jobs that are always a relief to cross off.


And I still have one day to knock off a few more chores.

I must try not to cheat and scan for the easy ones.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2017

As always on January 1st, I am making New Year’s resolutions. Many of them are the same from year to year. Get to church more, take the dogs for more long walks, spend more time with my loved ones, spend less time on my computer. Also: less complaining, more counting my blessings.

One would think I would have figured life out by now, but no. Despite my advancing age, I am clearly a continuing Work in Progress. I wonder if this is just me, or if this is a reality for many and a well-kept secret.