Many of you have expressed an interest in hearing more about what my day to day life is like out here in the country—both the good and the bad parts—so lately I've been trying to include more farm life tidbits and stories in some of my posts. (I'm also still working that Frequently Asked Farmgirl Questions page.) There are so many things I've learned during the past 16 years that I simply take for granted until I stop and remind myself things like there was a time when I had no idea what a bottle baby was, let alone anything about taking care of one, and that maybe you'd like to know something about them, too, rather than just seeing the pictures.
Of course once I start writing I have a tendency to ramble on, and since I'm not a very fast writer, these sort of posts take me a while to complete. My goal is to get back to sharing something here every day, with longer posts interspersed between the shorter ones, along with lots more recipes.
If you enjoy these farm life tidbits and stories and would like to see more of them, I'd love for you to let me know. And if you come here more for the pictures than the words, please let me know that, too! Anonymous comments can be left, and you're also welcome to email me: farmgirlfare AT gmail DOT com. It can sometimes take me a while to reply to e-mail, but as always, your feedback is greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Some of you may remember last summer when our big old tractor up and died during haying season. Fortunately we were able to finish the job with the help of a neighbor's borrowed tractor (actually the second one we borrowed, which was remarkably similar in appearance to our own) and some beyond the call of duty effort from our feisty little old diesel tractor. Boy, was that a long and not fun haying season—not that any haying season is ever actually fun. Rewarding, but not fun.
Since we were pretty sure the problem with the big tractor was very serious (read very expensive), we put off getting it fixed for months. Then a little mid-winter stroll through Shiny New Tractor Row at the farm store ($36,000 for a new tractor that doesn't even have a cab?!) convinced us that fixing a tractor we already owned would probably be worthwhile no matter what the cost.
So in early March we bit the bullet, started asking around for a good tractor mechanic, found one not too far away, and ended up paying his brother (who just happened to be the person little Fernando had gone to live with a few weeks earlier—another little tale I may or may not ever get around to telling you) to haul our big broken tractor up our extremely steep driveway and over for a visit to what we hoped would be Fix It Cheap and Easy Town.
And that's where these rambunctious little cutie pies come in. I did photograph the whole tractor hauling adventure (which was actually pretty exciting, as farm stuff goes, though part of me can't believe I just typed that), but I figured most of you would probably find adorable baby animal pictures a lot more interesting.
It turns out that the tractor guy has sheep and dairy goats, and when we drove over to his farm a couple days later to check on our tractor (and have him custom weld a piece of exhaust pipe for our other tractor after an exhausting search both on and offline for a replacement came up empty), it took me about three seconds to zoom in on the cutest critters there.
Most baby animals are understandably scared of strangers—especially people—but these guys were all bottle babies, which means that if that protective fencing hadn't been between us, they probably would have raced over and knocked me flat on the ground in an attempt to get the bottles of milk they were sure I must be holding.
There are different ways farmers who keep dairy animals deal with dairy animal babies, which the mothers have to keep having in order for the milk to keep flowing. Some sell them off right away to people who then bottle raise them. A friend of mine who used to raise dairy goats said she always kept a 'buck list;' whenever a buck (boy) was born, she gave it one bottle of mother's milk, then started working her way down the names on the list. If someone came and picked up the baby goat (which they would either keep as a new daddy goat for their own herd or butcher for meat) right away, the cost was $15. If she had to feed it for another day or two, the cost went up to $40.
If you're going to keep the babies on your farm—either until they're big enough to sell, or because they're girls and you want to add them to your own dairy herd—you have a couple of choices. Some people immediately separate the newborns permanently from their mothers and raise them on a bottle. Depending on what they normally do with the milk from their dairy animals, the babies may be fed their own mother's milk (with some of the mother's milk held back for sale or personal consumption), or they might be given milk replacer, which is a powder you buy in a bag and mix with water.
If a farmer has both dairy cows and goats—or even just one dairy cow—the baby goats might be raised on cow's milk. When I raise bottle lambs who are orphaned or can't nurse on their mother for some reason (like Cary), I give them raw, full cream Jersey cow's milk I buy from friend who lives about 6 miles down the road, mixed with a small amount of milk replacer (which is really expensive) because sheep's milk is much richer than cow's milk.
Another option is to milk the mother once a day instead of the usual two times, and let the baby get its own milk during part of the day, but this means you have to specially disinfect the mother's udder each time you milk her. No solution is perfect; some take more time, some cost more money.
The babies in these pictures were 100% bottle fed, and boy were they cute. The tractor guy tried to talk me into taking one or two of the females home with me ("Goat milk is really good for you, and these are gonna be some great milkers!"), but I was easily able to restrain myself.
As romantic as the idea of fresh milk (and butter and cheese) sounds, I know that I'm just not up to taking on the responsibility of milking something twice a day, every single day, basically at the same times each day, no matter what. Instead each Monday I gratefully buy two to three gallons of raw Jersey milk from that friend I mentioned (who pays one of our Amish neighbors $40 a day to come over and milk her cows when her family goes out of town). And yet with all that freed up time not spent milking, I still never have time to my own cheese and butter—but I really want to.
Okay, so here's the barnyard challenge: Carefully hidden amongst these baby goats is a little lamb, a triplet that was pulled off its mother and bottle fed in order to ease the strain on mom. Can you tell which one it is?
As for our big tractor, the problem turned out to be something much less serious—and costly—than we'd thought, so we even sprang for new brakes (it literally had no brakes left) while it was already up in the shop. Unfortunately it started acting up again once we had it hauled back home, and even a farm visit from the tractor guy didn't solve the problem. Joe got it to limp along for those two early hay cuttings we did, but he's afraid it really is the big problem he originally feared, and because of the rickety old state this antique tractor is in, it may or may not be worth spending the several thousand dollars it will probably cost to fix it.
We still need to cut more hay this summer—there are 617 bales stacked in the barn so far and we could really use about 300 more—and while now would actually be the perfect time to recut the section of the hayfield we cut earlier, I'm not up to the extreme physical challenge of picking up and stacking hundreds of bales of hay just yet. We'd started looking around at used tractors for sale a few months ago, but my recent week long hospital stay put a big crimp in that plan, so if everything goes according to plan, some time in the next two months both the big tractor and I will make our way out into the hayfield and do the best we can.
Want some more farm life experience right now? I'm working on creating a bunch of new index pages so you'll be able to find things a lot easier around here, but in the meantime I'll keep leaving you lots of links:
© 2010 FarmgirlFare.com, the link-o-rama foodie farm blog where I want to thank all of you who have kindly been asking how I'm recovering after the whole snakebite ordeal, which I still find hard to believe actually happened. Things are going okay. I saw the doctor for a follow up visit yesterday and will post an update in the next few days.