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Month: October 2013

Baby Cow Madness

Baby Cow Madness

I actually don’t know if I have it in me to properly describe the last few days.  It might take me a bit of time to break it all up into it’s component parts and try to explain each piece in a sensible way.  I’ll certainly try as I feel like I’ve learned more than my brain can handle within a very short space of time so perhaps writing it down will make sense of it all!

But here is the main story, the bit I’ll focus on for now.  Our cow Wander (we bought her in the spring and she’s been with us since the summer) was inseminated via AI in the early part of the year by her previous owners.  Somewhere along the line we seem to have got the dates mixed up because we were under the impression that her calf was due in November.  We still had a goodly amount of time to finish the second barn/dairy, learn the signs of birth and what we’d need to do as well as prepare ourselves for the additional chore of milking each day.

calf-0143 calf-0145 calf-0147calf-0151The thing is even we could see that she wasn’t far off calving out.  Our neighbour said she wasn’t far off too so we thought we’d get things moving quickly in case the calf came this month not next.  Stephen allocated thanksgiving weekend for barn prep and we got on with life.  On Wednesday when I was hanging out with the cows I noticed a teeny discharge from Wander’s rear end, I wondered if it was relevant to something but thought to myself “I don’t know anything about cows” so sort of pushed it to the back of my mind.  That is what we in the farming trade call ‘an error’.  To be fair to me she was normal in all other ways so we went merrily along with our day.

On Thursday I was keeping an eye open for Wander, I saw her at the hay so when Stephen asked me at about 11am if I’d seen her I replied a confident ‘yes’.  He said he felt a bit worried about her for some reason but he was working and I was trying to finish up school before I had to rush out on errands so again my alarm bells were muffled and unanswered.

On my way home from my errands Stephen called me to tell me to get home “right now!” I practically shrieked “what’s wrong?!” down the phone before he told me “Wander had her calf!”.  Operating within legal speed limits (of course) I none the less made it home in record time.  Within minutes I had my boots on and was dragging Stephen to the far part of the pasture to check out, with my own eyes, if she had indeed managed to calve without either my help or my knowledge.  And there she was, standing in the shelter of the tree hedge with her little boy at her feet.  A clever Mama and a beautiful calf.

calf-0162 calf-0163 calf-0164 calf-0168I’d had the good sense to drop into our neighbour on the way home and he’d swung by with a vit E injection and a bit of advice about getting them started.  We quickly prepared the barn for them to reside in there overnight and by the time everyone was settled it was dark and we were all pretty exhausted.  It was the first of several long, tiring, emotionally draining and at the same time wonderful days to come.

On Friday we became concerned that the little chap wasn’t nursing, we hadn’t spotted him doing so and though he seemed happy enough we were worried about messing up this crucial time.  Calves need lots of colostrum to keep them healthy and it is only available for a short while so they need to get stuck in.  I have to admit to being very panicky as, no matter what we tried, we couldn’t get the little chap to nurse for even a second.  I was a worried farm girl indeed.

calf-0174 calf-0175 calf-0176Luckily I found a chap on who runs a dairy of jerseys and knows a thing or 20 about cows.  He kindly took the time to help me out and gave me some great advice about the signs a calf is nursing.  We saw that he probably was and through continued detective work on my part (I hid in a bush) I finally witnessed the little chap nursing away.  A big sigh of relief.

Over the last couple of days (while Stephen has existed only in the field while he builds the second barn and milking area) we’ve watched the little chap really find his feet.  He is astonishingly cute, like a baby fawn, I can see why his Mama loves him so.  They are rarely apart and seem to have found their rhythm together, even including Aunty Morag in their family of three.

calf-0173 calf-0172 calf-0169I will describe our adventures in milking in another post (there is more to be said on that indeed!) when I’ve had a bit more experience but suffice to say we’ve tasted the nectar and it is good!  It is hard to describe the awe and wonder and well, terror, I feel when I contemplate the significance of all of this.  We now have the potential to be fully self sufficient in dairy, with spare to help feed the other animals on the farm.  The gorgeous little chap gambolling around our field will grow to a full sized animal that will in turn feed our family when the time comes.  Even their manure gives us the chance to renew our land and turn exhausted soil into the most productive kind of earth we could imagine.

As I said at the beginning I hardly have the words for the last few days, the highs and lows, the worry and stress, the joy and success.  Over time I know it will all become part of what we call ‘normal’ but for now it’s all so new, it feels like we are starting the farm all over again!  But for now, please join me in welcoming the first Fernwood Farm baby, I hope he will be the first of many, many more.

Nature Quest

Nature Quest

Yesterday we headed out into the Gatineau forest for a nature expedition organised through the NCC, my friend had organised a group to go and we all turned up on a fresh but sunny October morning ready for outdoor goodness.

I have to say the day far exceeded my expectations, the wonderful naturalist who led our group out into the forest had the kids enchanted from minute one, no mean feat.  Most homeschool kids are used to following their own drum a lot of the time so don’t always fall into a hush when a grown up starts speaking, not everyone handles this well.  Our group leader had them spell bound from the first few moments and reacted with enthusiasm at all their observations and ideas, it was a real gift to watch her at work.

october outside-0094 october outside-0097 october outside-0098 october outside-0102Our instructor led the children through a series of activities that helped them to understand the experience of the animals of the forest.  They cupped their ears like a deer to trap each noise that might signal danger, they ran joyfully along the trail using their legs to put distance between themselves and any possible predator.  They even learned how the weak and old are more vulnerable due to the fact that they are always lumbered with carrying the coats.  Luckily no wolves were about to take advantage of the so burdened parents and all made it out alive.

october outside-0101october outside-0103 october outside-0104 october outside-0105The children were definitely in their natural habitat, outside in the sunshine, free to run and move, learning at each step and sharing their knowledge with each other.  Those who had thoughts to share were encouraged rather than hindered, their enthusiasm not quashed or halted.  The littlest ones learned alongside the big ones, each child taking away the lesson that was most important for them on that day; they all learned in their own way and learned not just by listening but by doing.

october outside-0108 october outside-0115 october outside-0116 october outside-0117As the children moved through the forest, experiencing what it was like to be a squirrel storing food for the winter or a wasp that sees the world through multiple lenses, they engaged with nature in a way that was meaningful for them.  By walking in the shoes of the animals they became more connected to them, more aware of their habitat and experiences.  As well as gaining facts they were encouraged to see the world with a sense of empathy and respect.

october outside-0119 october outside-0120 october outside-0121There are many ways to teach children about the value of the natural world but, to me, there is no more valuable lesson than spending time in nature.  Children are programmed to connect to the earth, they need it in order to thrive and grow.  They need to run and move as much as they need to memorise or repeat, without the learning of the body and spirit the learning of the mind becomes impossible.

We can preach as much as we like from the front of the classroom about how important conservation is, but if people don’t have an investment in and connection to the natural world it will all be meaningless.  By homeschooling our kids we are giving them the chance to have many more of these kinds of experiences, actively learning in the sunshine, soaking up knowledge without even knowing it.

october outside-0122 october outside-0123 october outside-0124We parents could barely contain our joy as we watched our little people investigating the forest, turned into scientists and explorers, botanists and researchers; instead of being told something they experienced it, anchoring them in nature and in themselves.

After our programme the kids played in the woods for a couple of hours while the parents chatted, dished out food, tended wounds and gave support and advice when needed.  The ebb and flow under the October sky was as natural as breathing.  Children who’d never met before became fast friends as they worked co-operatively building a shelter out of fallen branches and leaves.  The oldest helped the youngest, letting them weave in and out at their own pace, no one excluded, all ideas considered.

Not every day is like this, there are many days where I quite literally feel like I’ve been banging my head off a wall, taking responsibility for your child’s education, moral identity, emotional well being and physical health can feel like a heavy burden.  But then there are days like this, days where we fly, allowing ourselves to be picked up and gentled along, coasting freely within the soft breezes of an autumn sky.  Those are the days when I know, for sure, that this life we have chosen is truly a wonderful gift.

Farm Week Days 2-5

Farm Week Days 2-5

Ok so my original intention of writing about each day of our farmy adventures last week fell by the wayside in all the busyness of actually doing all of the farm work!  Each day seemed packed with activity, whether that was keeping up with some of our regular homeschool stuff (science club, a wood working workshop, playdates) or trying to preserve our produce while the weather holds.  It felt a bit frenetic.

farm days-0070 farm days-0071 farm days-0077I managed to make apple sauce out of our bushel of apples, I canned about 8 litres of it, the rest is in the fridge waiting to be canned or eaten, whichever comes first.  I’ve also been frantically trying to save my beloved tomato crop which was struck by blight, wiping out at least 2/3 of the fruits, a devastating blow.

So far I’ve managed to can 30 litres of diced and sauced tomatoes, I’m hoping that with the extras I’ve brought in to ripen in the polytunnel I might get another 10 litres for the pantry.  I was truly hoping to get 50-60 litres done this year, a cosy amount for us to use this winter but nature has beaten me on this one and I’ll just have to do with 40 litres and a couple of litres of ketchup.  Still a good haul if not my coveted target of a year’s worth of tomatoes.

farm days-0076 farm days-0074The hard and non-shiny greens that won’t ripen up are being turned into lots of lovely chutney.  Stephen’s favourite is this one, a great recipe for anyone starting out with chutney or if you like a nice sharp flavour.  I’ll also be making one based on the River Cottage chutney, a great way to use up marrow (zucchini) as well as green tomatoes, it is a milder, fruiter chutney that can be enjoyed by those who are not accustomed to sharper tastes.

As well as chutney, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and apple sauce I went over to a friend’s house and foraged 2 freezer bags of elderberry berries (currently in the freezer) for the making of tincture, syrup and other elderberry treats for the long winter months ahead.  My pantry is slowly filling up, my back is aching from clearing the tomato patch and bringing in boxes of tomatoes for ripening and my to-do list is still long and full with farm chores as well as all the other work of life.  But in the mean time the sun is shining, we are right in the middle of my favourite season and the garden still has a few treasures to yield to us before the year is out.  Mellow autumn days.