My Farming Week: Flighty Calves, Paper-Eating Heifers, Red Spray and The End of an Era

Between the bank holiday for St Patrick’s Day, the children being off school for two days and the fact that I wasn’t doing any training or mentoring, I’ve had a pretty full on farming week. I’m doing 2.5 days of training next week and I know I’ll probably end up with a croaky voice as a result. Teaching requires a lot more talking than the occasional chat with calves and cattle!

Telepathy Alternatives

16 cattle went to the factory on Wednesday morning so yet again, we had to separate the 16 from the total of 50 odd. As they are all castrated, we can keep them in one large group and they have access to cubicles and two bedded areas to lie down. They can eat from two feeding areas too so they have plenty of space. With bulls, you can’t reintroduce them to each other as they will fight so they have to be kept in fairly small groups and kept in those groups. There was one lad who still had a ‘stone’ and his testosterone was making him rowdy so he was going too.

Despite nearly 23 years of marriage, we still can’t read each other’s minds. Knowing we’d probably end up shouting at each other while separating them, Brian had walked amongst them earlier and sprayed each relevant animal with a spray of red paint which made it a lot easier. It even meant that I could put him in the gateway and drive the relevant bullocks towards him to put them into one house or the other. Interestingly, although he probably ate more meal than the others, the one with all the testosterone made ?400 more than the average. It made us wish we had a few more bulls to send!

Sod’s Law

We had a farmer coming to look at our maiden heifers as we were considering selling up to twenty of them. We had a list of tag numbers and decided the easiest way to do it was to run them through the cattle crush, read the numbers and then divide them as they came out of the crush. The ones for sale were put into a shed, while the others were standing around in a largish area by the crush. They mingled around and didn’t mind us. I was noting things in the book and as it was a bit large to put in my jacket pocket, I was leaving it and the biro on top of an upturned bucket as we separated them on exit and then got more into the crush. All went fine until the second last lot when I went to pick up the book and noticed it was on the ground with a muddy hoof mark on the cover. Picking it up, I noticed a jagged edge. Yes, a page was missing and as is Sod’s Law, it was one of the pages we were working from. If anyone had been watching us, they would have been creasing up with laughter.

Paper Eating Heifer left us with this

Paper Eating Heifer left us with this

I called Brian, still not quite believing my eyes.

We both start looking at the ground wondering if we’ll see a page fluttering around.

We were hoping the heifer might not have appreciated the taste of paper and spat it out.

We start looking at all the nearby heifers with suspicion, hoping to see one still chewing and we might be able to wrestle the remnants of the page out of her mouth.

We start looking through all the heifers but they all looked back at us with innocent stares.

The dog hadn’t even noticed! Mind you, it’s hard for him to sneak around, he needs a ‘grooming’ so badly that he rattles as he walks. When the weather gets better, he’ll get a haircut!

Watching and Waiting

Watching and Waiting

Luckily, Brian had scribbled numbers of a loose page which was in his pocket so we were able to finish the job without too much interruption but talk about Sod’s Law that she ate one of the relevant pages from a book of about fifty pages. Of course, I got the blame for leaving the book on the upturned bucket where it looked inviting and tasty!

Butter Wouldn’t Melt!

This calf may look like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth but she gave me the run around last night. ?I often comment on the calves’ individual personalities, saying this one is quiet or this one is greedy or another one is bolshy and Brian will often say that the mother is exactly the same. ?I went into the parlour last night to get the biestings for this newborn and Brian commented that the mother was a complete and utter stubborn ‘hoor’ to milk – between reluctance to let down her milk and to stand still. The calf had hopped out of the calving box earlier and was in the long wide space, probably 14 foot wide by 100 foot deep, between the maternity units and the straw bales. ?Except she wasn’t – she had hopped in with the two pregnant cows in the maternity unit so in I had to get to propel her out between the feeding barriers. So far so good.

Butter wouldn't melt - now!

Butter wouldn’t melt – now!

It’s usually fairly easy to catch a newborn calf to feed them. The occasional one can be flightly but once you catch them by the mouth and they get the taste of the mik, they tend to slow down. The only problem is this one was extremely flightly. I’m not exactly flexible in that I like to catch the calf with my left hand and feed / dose them with my right hand. Every time I almost caught her, she was on my right side and was gone again by the time I’d transferred the bottle to my other hand and tried to grab her. I must have gone up and down that wide space about six times, I’d catch her and then by the time I was transferring my hand to open her closed mouth to feed her she was gone again. In the end, I sort of tripped her up and got the bottle into her mouth before she could get up again.

Moving a calf across to one of the calf sheds usually involves either carrying them or pushing / propelling them as they walk along. An occasional one will follow you while feeding but that can be rare enough. I wasn’t letting go of this one! She wasn’t going to follow me while feeding, her feet were now firmly wedged against the ground so I fed her where we were and then took tight hold of her tail while guiding her over to the calf shed. She skipped across – if she had disappeared off into the dark, we’d never have got her back! She’ll be fun in the parlour in two years’ time!

The End Of An Era

There’s only ten days left of milk quota in Ireland and to read some of the reports, you might be forgiven for thinking that every single farmer is going to be quadrupling their supply of milk. However, many parts of the country had plenty of quota to divide amongst its suppliers for years and while some of their farmers increased their supply, others gave up dairy farming completely. It does mean opportunities for farmers who want to increase and there are some who have expanded significantly already and will be paying their superlevy fines over the next three years.

We’re not going to go mad. Last year we milked 86 cows and we will increase to 110 cows this year. We breed our own replacements (selling surplus too – we sold 35 replacement heifers to other farmers this year) so while it is an expense to stock them ourselves, we don’t actually have to shell out money to do so. ?We could probably go to about 140 cows with our land base but it would be pushing it – for many reasons. We would have to build more housing, we’d probably need a new parlour really plus we would need a labour unit. Therefore, any profits from the extra 30 cows would be swallowed up by those expenses.

There’s many would argue that we need a labour unit as it is and there are occasions when I would agree with them. Brian is one of those people who is high energy, doesn’t require much sleep when it is busy and if he has time to himself, is much more likely to be spending it gardening rather than socialising or relaxing. I wish I didn’t need as much sleep – I’d get a lot more done! There are times when it concerns me from a safety point of view and yes, there’s many a night I woke at 3 or 4 am during the calving and got up to check he was okay but if we are honest, we like working on our own. One of the joys of farming is the isolation, the peace, the solitude. I know not everyone feels like that, indeed, this article featuring a young dairy farmer shows how he likes having other people around for the company and also for the motivation. This farm had a workman for many years, one was here for over twenty years and was part of the furniture.

Bringing in the cows

Bringing in the cows

However, I love going up the yard or for a walk across the fields and knowing the chances of seeing anyone other than family is virtually nil. We do use contractors more during the year now – getting them to spread slurry, dung and some fertiliser and we could probably do with part-time help or a student at this time of the year but we just get on with it. ?We tell ourselves we can’t afford hired labour as there’s so much money going to the bank each month but the truth is we do prefer the solitude.

Farming is a way of life and for me, part of the beauty of it is the solitude. I have a good mix at the moment. I really enjoy training yet when I’m out training for a couple of days, I really really appreciate the solitude of working from home. Oh, and to say Brian’s eyes were watering when I mentioned I wouldn’t be around to feed calves two mornings this week is an understatement!


2 thoughts on “My Farming Week: Flighty Calves, Paper-Eating Heifers, Red Spray and The End of an Era

  • Sally

    What a lovely post, Lorna, It’s so interesting to read about your life on the farm. You sound to me like you have a load of energy, the amount of work you manage to get through! I would never be able for it and appreciate the work our farmers do. I love working in solitude as well, but realise sometimes that I am overdoing it when I get excited about going out to buy a loaf of bread!

    • Lorna

      Ha Sally, well, I remember marking exam papers for weeks and hardly talking to anyone and getting really excited when Brian came home from work but maybe it’s old age is turning me into more of a hermit. I’ll go to all sorts of lengths to avoid going to the shop a mile away if I’m having a home / farm day. Brian passes the shop most days going to the outfarm so he pops in or else if I’m short of bread, we make pancakes!



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>