Thursday, June 8, 2017

Spring Sprang and Now Summer is Simmering

Despite my most sincere New Year's resolution, I can't seem to find time to post on this blog  regularly. But I want to keep trying, so here is a quick catch-up post.

First, we found a beast to help fill the gigantic hole left by LaFonda. Actually, I found a Scottish Highlander heifer, but then the  owner decided to keep her, so when Eeyore, this mini-donkey appeared on Craigslist it seemed like he was meant to be Jitterbug's companion. He is 15 (mini donkeys live to be 30-40, so that is only middle-aged) and so, so mellow and sweet. He looks melancholy, but I think that is just due to his shaggy, saggy eyebrows--I believe he is happy here.
A couple days later,  I found another Scottish Highlander heifer, this one even cuter than the first, and at a nearby farm. It took me a couple days to convince Rog we needed her--how can we have a Cow Puja without cows?!  She is nine months old, and about the same size as Eeyore now, but will grow to be about the size of Jitterbug, the Dexter heifer. Jitter is polled (meaning she has no horns) but Scottish Highlanders grow very long horns. Right now she has little nubs. Highlanders are a very docile breed, but this calf had not  been handled much and was very shy. I kept her in the loafing shed for a week and spent a lot of time every day getting to know her. Now she loves to be brushed and petted and get peppermint treats. I think she will be a great Cow Puja star. We named her "Courgette," which means "Zucchini," because the name sounds appropriately  glamorous for a cow with long, strawberry-blonde bangs in her eyes and of course because we are Squash Blossom Farm.
Jitter, Eeyore and Courgette, make a darling herd. Surprisingly, Jitter has become a much less moody and grouchy animal now that she is the boss cow.
We have also been  focusing on farm-improvement projects this  spring.  Rog did all the prep work and we hired Marvins Gardens to lay the brick and rock for a lovely path to the greenhouse.
It will now be so much more civilized for fancy dinners in the greenhouse and wedding parties!  You can also see in this photo the wonderful deck Rog built along the south side of the barn from two humongous redwood greenhouse tables. He is planning a pergola to offer shade to the deck and the inside of the barn.
When they aren't gardening, our assistants and WWOOFers have been painting siding and trim boards for
the re-siding of the Loafing Shed. Eric Eggler and his son Ethan are tackling this project; they did a fabulous job re-roofing and re-siding our chicken coop last fall.  All the buildings on our farm are over 100 years old and in pretty good shape--our intent is to restore them to make them survive for the next 100 years.
Another thing that kept us busy last month was TedX Zumbro River in Rochester.  We were honored to host the speaker dinner in the greenhouse the night before the event. We also  made 500 "Handpies of the World"  (savory turnovers in combinations such as  Samosa, Reuben, Beef Stroganoff, Greek Lamb, Carnitas & Sweet Corn) and we coordinated all the food for the big event.
The Willow and Twig Furniture class taught by Bob McNeely was held three weekends at the farm. Everyone built truly beautiful chairs and benches. One weekend I managed to join in and I built a butterfly bench for  the Pollinator Garden. (Just happened to have been saving the perfect butterfly-body newell post for the past 10 years!)
We got a new (used) car! A Honda Element--which has an amazing  amount of space for a hauling all our Farmers Market stuff!  I ma so relived to be rid of that vicious, ugly old pickup which tried to kill me on so many occasions.
The garden is finally nearly planted!  We had a long delay because our heavy clay soil was too, too wet, and then we were occupied with the TedX event. I am so grateful to my incredible gardener Denise, her dauhgter Willow and our WWOOFer Ari for working so hard to get this garden in and whip the flower beds into shape, More about  that in a future post.

On a related note, the CSA program has also begun. Our members have gotten lots of asparagus,  rhubarb and mint so far, with pansies, scallions, and even nettles to help fill out the box until the greens, radishes and other early crops are ready.  Hopefully next week!

Summer Sundays at Squash Blossom started last weekend, with wood-fred pizza and live music The first band was Cook With Honey. We  sold out!  We are off to a good start to the season.
The Rochester Downtown Farmers Market  summer season has begun! Find us and our wood-fired breads and fancy pastries in the northwest corner of the Saturday Market!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

LaFonda: In Memoriam

This is the saddest farm post I have ever written and I have been bawling as I write it. My beloved cow, LaFonda is gone. This is the last portrait I took of her.
Three weeks ago, when I fed the cows their evening meal I noticed LaFonda did not seem like her usual self.  Instead of gustily eating her hay, she  went onto the shed and  lowered herself heavily to the straw. In the morning she was standing, but did not come out to eat, so I called the vet. We both suspected pneumonia because it had been so rainy and cold.
When he got here, she was down and could not stand. He warned me, this was very bad - when a cow goes down there might be a 50-50 chance they will  stand again, but odds are much lower for a big, older cow like LaFonda. However in her favor was that she  seemed otherwise healthy, no fever,  and he said her conditions in the  shed were perfect.  I was determined to do everything to get her up again. While her went to his truck to get her an injection, she managed to stand and sort of stumble outside, but when he gave her the injection, she went down, atop the compost pile, We got her up on her brisket, supported with water and hay, and hoped that with the pain relief she would get up again.

Half an hour later I looked out the window and she was standing by the feeder - which I though was great news! I went out out make sure she had hay in there, and water so she wouldn't have to try to walk too far, and discovered that she had not walked there but had actually dragged herself on her  bleeding knees to get there, leaving two deep grooves in the muddy cow yard,  then somehow stood up.   I was simultaneously scared and encouraged she had so much determination.

A bit later I saw her lying down again and went out to check on her--and then I panicked--she wasn't really lying down--she had stepped (or crawled) off the harder surface into the deep muck in the corner of the yard and her front feet were stuck in the  mud, her back feet were  stretched out behind her like you never see cow legs go. I called my vet (sobbing) and he said we were going ot have to get her pulled out quickly to not to permanent damage to her back or legs. I rushed over to my dairy farmer neighbors and told them the situation and Mark came right over with his skidloader. The only option was to pull her out by her hind leg. Rog had just  gotten home from work- thankfully -so there were 3 of us. I cannot descibe how horrible it was to see her pulled by a back leg--and  not at all easy for  the skidloader in the muddiness.
When we got her up to the dry area,  Rog and Mark rolled her into the  bucket and held her in as I did my first ever skidloader operating, tilting and lifting the bucket up with her in it.
Mark set her down in the shed, and  we made her comfortable getting her feet under her, propping her with straw bales, giving her food and water, and closing the gate on the shed so she could not get out into the mud again.  Mark was not very optimistic, he has dealt with many downed cows over a lifetime of being a dairy farmer, but I was  determined my TLC and  attentiveness would help her recover.  The hard part for the next few days was keeping her upright-if she laid down on her side she could not get up and could bloat. And we had to move her regularly because all that weight in one position would permanently  damage her nerves and muscles,  It is not easy moving a 1200-lb or more dead weight. I am so grateful to our farm assistant Ruth, neighbor Mark, gardening helper Denise, and Rog, of course, helping move her around every few hours, and getting her back upright when she went over or when she dragged herself and her legs went  backwards.

By the third day I was losing hope, She did not seem in pain, really but she did not to try to stand or move around anymore and did not eat or drink very much. I had been trying to find someone with a lift or a sling to suspend her and I finally found a vet in Zumbrota that had one I could use. I rented it and my other dairy farmer neighbors came to help lift her with their skidloader  - they have occasionally done this with their cows before.

The lift has two clamps that pull her up by her pins (hip bones), plus we supported the front half with bands around her chest. It was absolutely heartbreaking -- she  had no response in her back legs and even her front was extremely weak and futile. We had to make the decision then that it was time. It was a beautiful day so they moved her to a grassy patch by the front of the barn and we made her a deep bed of straw so she owuld be cofortable and  it would be easy to transport her.  A downer cow truck was coming to the neighborhood the next morning. I had really no idea how a downer truck worked, but it sounded like it was what farmers do-- but then a farmer friend told me that would  be a terrible way for her to spend her last few hours, so I decided to put her down on the farm and bury her here.
Ruth and I spent nearly every minute with her. I  reminded her of all our adventures together --how Cadence and I found her in a Craigslist and and drove hours to see her and fell in love with her, how pathetic I was at handmilking and she was so patient and would  turn her head around and tug gently on a lock of my hair to encourage me, the sweet, beautiful calves she gave us (Lindy and  Splotch), those times she and the other cows sneaked out and went on adventures to downtown Douglas and the neighbor's golf putting green, her being honored at the Cow Puja every year, how she has been the a muse for so many artists and has been the first wonderful introduction to bovines for so many children. I sang her all our old milking songs. I gave her bananas and a few tortilla chips - her favorite junk foods. I wept constantly.
We had coffee together her final morning while the hole was dug. I was surprisingly relieved the decision had been made. The hardest part had been second guessing myself--not wanting to prolong her suffering, wanting to give her every chance, hoping against hope, and catching a horrendous cold from  lack of sleep, physical exhaustion, constant crying and being in the hay for days on end.
My deepest gratitude to Mark and  Denise and Ruth, who carried out the final act without me because I am so cowardly.  I regret not being there in the final instant - I didn't think I could bear it, but maybe my imagining of it is worse than the reality would have been.

LaFonda is buried at the crest of the pasture where she liked to lounge and chew her cud and watch the world go by. I had planted a small orchard in that spot when we first moved to the farm, not realizing we would soon get cows that would make quick work of those fruit trees. So now we have planted 3 little plum trees around her--she can now nourish the orchard that once nourished her.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to  become a cow person through LaFonda. She lived a good, long life for a dairy cow--she was at least 15, and her last 8 years being pampered at Squash Blossom Farm would surely would be the envy of most any cow.

Thank you, LaFonda. You were  gentle, patient, nurturing, beautiful, kind, magical. I learned so much from you.  I miss you, my friend.