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.

Have Heavy, Huge, Awkward Stuff; Will Haul

This morning I was going to write about all our spring preparations and brag about how we are almost ready and spring is already popping--but now it is snowing! It  won' t stick, though, and that doesn't really change what we have been doing to prepare, however, so here goes, three projects involving crazy hauling challenges.
In March, we had a terrible windstorm, with 60 mph and greater gusts.  Our farm survived ok, with the exception of the greenhouse losing a couple of  panels which had been ripped off and destroyed. Naturally, they were the panels on the northwest end, the most difficult to access because the ground drops off steeply on the west end and is soft, deep mud this time of year.
A greenhouse with a view in. The only place to get the 12-foot lengths of  twin wall polycarbonate was Farmtek, a considerable drive away in Iowa. Had to be done, as events and planting season were imminent!  So, I drove our old beater pickup down to Farmtek on St. Patrick's Day and lashed them onto the  truck bed with the tailgate down and panels sticking out yet another couple feet behind. It was still so windy (but only 40 mph gusts) I was worried about getting them home, but I made it without the panels taking flight.
Rog is the most creative problem solver, and devised a bracing system with  2x4's suspended across the peak of the greenhouse so he could clamber (somewhat dangerously) up to fasten the panels to the frame.  We hope to never have to  replace a greenhouse panel again, so this was a repair accomplished with a bit of overkill.
Our next spring project involves a buffalo. Our bison farmer friends, Ron and Bonnie Shepard, are retiring. They sold their herd and their farm, and their life-sized metal bison needed a new home.  Ron and Bon generously gave it to Squash Blossom Farm for the sculpture garden we are creating!  However it needed some  repair--the  front legs had broken off.
Fortuitously, I happened to be taking a welding class a couple weeks later, so Rog and I loaded up the 2-legged bison into our little trailer and I hauled him to class in Zumbrota. I was a bit worried about pulling the trailer on the highway, so I took the back roads, forgetting that I would drive right past the  bison's former home in Mazeppa. The coolest thing happened. As we came to the Shepard Buffalo Farm I hollered  out the window to the bison to  say one last goodbye to his old home, and at that very moment, a huge bald eagle flew slowly right over the hood of my truck!
The class is held at Custom Iron in Zumbrota and the staff there really went above and beyond, helping me make the tricky tack welds on the  thin metal sculpture.
That  evening I drove the mended bison back to Squash Blossom Farm (along with my sculpture creations--you can see the reclining  garden arbor in the back of the truck.) I took the highway this time, getting a lot of double-take looks  from passing cars!
The bison (which I have named"Sonny" in honor of Ron's  herd bull) is now proudly  guarding the hill (actually  our new septic mound) at the edge of the woods. I have seeded lots of wild flowers around him, so hope this summer he will be standing in a colorful meadow.

One of our project plans for this spring was to build a deck and pergola on the south side of our barn. Rog designed a 22-foot long deck, and then priced materials--ouch.  But, being an avid recycler, he searched Craigslist and found somebody near Minneapolis selling two 22.5' x 5.5' heavy-duty redwood greenhouse tables.  Perfect!
Our beater farm pickup was too small and unreliable for this job, so he rented a large truck and a large trailer, upon which the two massive tables were securely strapped. When he arrived home, our neighbors, who conveniently have a construction business with a lull, came over to unload the tables.

Rog spent a couple weeks digging out the deck area. He had to dig out the 275-gallon water catchment tanks and repeatedly pump out water that would fill in his holes because it rained frequently.
He designed a  multi-level deck and  cut up one of the redwood tables to create the levels and stairs.
We thought we were going to have to hire our neighbor with a skidloader to set the large table in place, but didn't want to tear up the grass with big equipment. We were  blessed with daughters, a boyfriend and an intern here for Easter who were willing to heft the 1000-lb table into place. This was done by rolling the table on plywood sheets over round fence posts-  sort of like the ancient Egyptians moved huge stones for the pyramids on logs.
Some lever power helped ease the table  into Rog's perfectly-dug spot!
Then, we relaxed on the new deck and feasted upon lemon meringue pie in the sunshine.
Rog completed the other deck levels in time for our ReBlossom Earth Day Festival, last weekend--stay tuned for those photos, coming soon!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Of Spring I Sing!

 Spring has sprung like crazy. So many things I need to write about to catch up on the past month (new intern and gardener, loss of our beloved bovine LaFonda, ReBlossom Festival, broken rib, Rog's beautiful new barn deck, to mention only a few things in the past couple weeks.)  But for now, I will just post  a few pics from my walk around the farm this evening after everyone packed up  and returned home from the ReBlossom festival. What a glorious weekend and evening. We ate our first few spears of asparagus of the year for supper; it grows adjacent to these pretty daffodils.
When I headed out for my walk tonight,  Jitter was standing atop the tall compost pile, staring longingly at the green grass on the other side of the fence, so I decided to let her in for a bit. (It has been so wet and muddy, I had been worried she would destroy the pasture with her hooves, so I made her stay in the sacrifice pasture until now.) She did a happy jig and a few leaps and  pirouettes, and then settled down to noisy, blissful munching.
The Willys looks like it has a load of magnolia blooms in the bed. About every sixth person attending ReBlossom asked me what this glorious, fragrant  little tree was, and then expressed astonishment  that any magnolias grow in Minnesota.
 Happy Moji. I was wearing this same silly grin all weekend.
The honeyberries we planted last year are covered in blossoms.  A few berries coming this year, I hope?

 Lilacs are almost ready to  burst into bloom.
The little pond is encircled by daffodils and has a healthy population of  amorous, melodious toads and frogs.

I cannot  begin to describe how absolutely overjoyed I am by spring. :) My favorite time of year.