Woohoo, new year, new start. 2021 was just one of those years but hey, it could have been a lot worse.
Have you a book out Lorna? Nope. Someone asked me recently what I do. ‘I’m a farmer and I’m supposed to be a writer,’ was my response.
Thyroiditis isn’t the best thing for energy levels or creativity. I was convinced my tiredness during calving was due to old age / oncoming menopause and eventually got around to going for a blood test in July.
My thyroid levels were sky high. The interesting thing was that although I had been tired, my body suddenly caved in once it knew there was something wrong and honestly, there were days when I might as well have been laid out such were the aches in my limbs and my need to lie on the recliner and just sleep.
It took a month to see an endocrinologist (and that was going private and being an ‘urgent’ case). The good news is that thyroiditis gets better on its own, it just takes time and part of the process is a dip in the hormone levels which meant a very tired mid Oct to mid Dec. I’m on the other side now, she reckons I’ll be back to normal by the end of January (just in time for calving) and it should just be one more blood test to make sure.
Thankfully we have managed to remain Covid free so here’s hoping for a healthy and energetic 2022.
I have written 80,000 words of a novel. But it needs a clear head, creative mind and lots of time to finish it and give it a decent edit. But I do hope to publish it by September. Yes, I’m going to self publish. I prefer the challenge and buzz of self publishing compared to traditional. If all goes well, this novel will be the first in a series of five books. I’ll tell you more about it later in the year when I feel more confident that it’s well underway.
I also have plans for two historical novels (one on Lord Galmoy set in 1830s and the other on the Cloneen Murder / Mary Daly / James Taylor set in 1902/03), and a number of non fiction shorter works. Oh, and a cosy mystery series with a female vet as the amateur detective.
So how am I going to achieve that when I haven’t published a book since 2018? Well, the garage is eventually being turned into a writing room. Between covid and builders busy with other work, it’s taking forever but it was plastered before Christmas. All it needs now is the wood stove and radiator installed; electrics finished; wooden floor, doors and skirting installed and then it’s up to me to decorate it, buy more bookcases and turn it into a writing den.
I’ve also got a cleaner starting in two weeks time. I’ve often talked about the need for a cleaner during the calving season (and the rest of the year if I’m truthful about it) as there’s nothing worse than coming in tired and hungry from hours in the calf shed and facing a messy kitchen and a floor that needs washing. I’m very hopeful that the four hours once a fortnight will transform my housekeeping … and my writing schedule. We’ll see.
Our eldest, Will, started university in the Netherlands. He is doing Mechanical Engineering. It was a tad stressful finding accommodation but we eventually got sorted.
I have visited and I loved it, especially the cycling culture. He’s having a great time between enjoying the studies, making friends, playing hockey and going karting. Kate is doing her Leaving Cert this year with plans to study History and Irish in Maynooth.
After losing our beloved Sam in early June, we purchased a pup. We decided to get a bitch as based on our limited experience, they tend to be less independent and not as hard on cows. Sam was great as we were doing bull beef when he was at his prime (and tbh, we wouldn’t have been able to do it without him) but he often had a mind of his own and certainly didn’t listen to me when he was intent on his task. He was Brian’s dog. Lou is mine. Penny is Brian’s.
Lou and Penny are getting on great, neither one tries to dominate, they’re of the same size and if there isn’t any work happening, they will play together. Penny is learning from Lou but I don’t think she will be as good. Time will tell though. After all, I’m probably just slightly biased about how wonderful Lou is.
Lou is six this month and while her juvenile arthritis is kept under control with medication, I can’t see her working life extending for a very long time. She’s still as keen as ever though, heaven to her is working with bovines first, playing with a ball second and going for a walk or following me around the yard (in hope of an escaped bovine to round up) third.
Crocheting isn’t just for old ladies!
My only other achievements in 2021 were crocheting two blankets and learning new stitches. I took part in my first CAL (crochet along) which was great as people posted questions and photos as they went along so it was easy to learn from the problems experienced and the answers provided. Mine is far from perfect but I really enjoyed it. I’ll do this pattern again but next time in my own choice of colours (prefer lots of strong colours).
I’m half way on my third blanket project now – hoping to finish it before calving starts. I tend to crochet when watching TV, my hands need something in order to concentrate.
We’re at that stage in January when so much needs to be done. Aside from a Bord Bia audit and the usual power washing, logs need to be chopped, supplies to be ordered (including chocolate and teabags) and then we’ll be well on the way. We’re calving 160 cows / heifers this year and there are about 100 to calve in the first two weeks of February (and a few will probably go early) so we have to have everything ready. Will will be home for a week in February and Kate will be on half term then too but apart from that, it’s just the two of us, beavering away and hoping we don’t go down with Covid or flu (fully vaccinated against both but …..).
Last year, we sold 74 calves with plans to sell more this year. Having cattle is all well and good until one gets sick and has to be got in from the field and treated, and then at least an hour of the day has gone if not more. And then there’s the time given to everything else not to mentioning finishing them for the factory. Partly due to trying to limit the risk of contracting Covid and not wanting various farmers coming around looking at calves, we sold all the calves via the mart. They arranged for a guy to collect each batch. We don’t have a jeep or a small cattle trailer, nor the time. All calves were between three and five weeks of age. As one guy commented, they were ‘half reared’. Legally in Ireland, calves can be sold after 10 days of age but I think that is too young. They need to be hardy for a day at the mart, let alone potential export. There are murmurs about live export being banned, or perhaps limited to animals over five weeks of age. I’d certainly welcome the five weeks of age.
It won’t be long now till the calf shed is filled with calves in a colourful selection of coats. They wear them for roughly three weeks, more if they are small or if I don’t need the coats for the next newborns. I now have over 70 coats in various brands and styles.
Any other news? Well, 2021 was another big spender of a year. Why do farms just eat money?
We updated the tractor (brakes are handy). We had hoped the loader would last another year but it wasn’t looking likely at the amount of work it gets so we purchased one. We kept the old one as a ‘spare’ and it’s turning in handy too. Hopefully it will last for many years with a gentler workload.
Having a loader with a working heater, a door that closes properly and a window that has glass, not to mention all the other mod cons makes cold winter days much easier.
We have ordered collars for the cows for this year. We will be putting them around their necks as they calve. They basically monitor the cows movement so if they aren’t moving much, it suggests they are unwell and if moving a lot, it determines that they are coming on heat and so on. They need to wear the collars for a few months before the breeding season in May so the system learns the cow’s individual natural behaviour.
I’m delighted. They aren’t cheap but hopefully will be worth it. Brian always does the monitoring for breeding. I’m useless at it! He knows the cows so well that they aren’t freeze branded. He can also pick up on the smallest of signs e.g. perked ears as a sign of being on heat. Therefore, we don’t tail paint them either as he prefers to watch the cow, not the paint if that makes sense. Between my bad eyesight (trying to read tag numbers from a distance is not my strong point) and my inability to pick up on subtle signs, the collars will mean a lot less work for Brian as well as the fact that I can do my favourite job of the day – the bringing in of the cows to be milked. The plan is to try sexed semen again too. We last used it about 6 or 7 years ago. Conception rate was okay but some calves were bulls and of the heifers born, two had very poor fertility.
Update on Claudia
Claudia is now completely blind but she is managing great. As you can see, she has a long narrow face and she stretches it out, using her nose to tell her if she touches off of a gate or wall or hedge. She walks close to other cows when going out to and coming in from the fields but is very independent when finding grass, silage and the water trough. She’s a firm favourite and yes, she still gets treated to a handful of meal if we spot her nearby. We keep an eye on her in case of bullying and to check that she adjusts to new circumstances, for example, going into the cubicles in winter for the first time. She’s happy to go into either side of the parlour. Previously, we have had cows that were blind in one eye and the occasional cow had to go in on a particular side. She doesn’t mind where she is in the row and is usually in the second or third row to be milked.
We did wonder if we should cull her. Was she content? We could only conclude that she was. Indeed, she still seems a happy cow and will do a little skip if we tell her to move along. What about safety, especially if we were to get a relief milker? As long as they know she is blind, it wouldn’t be a problem. One evening in November, I was counting the cows going in to one cubicle shed, standing by the door and didn’t notice her coming towards me. She walked into me and backed off immediately. I could tell her walk was tentative and guess she was waiting for the step down into the shed.
She’s still a small cow, about 450kg but gives as much milk as her bigger comrades. She makes us smile. What more do you want? Nothing.
To conclude then, 2021 wasn’t a bad year. Many farmers experienced drought and had to buffer feed during the summer. Although there were times when we fed meal in order to stretch the grass (much less work intensive than other types of buffering), we had a good grass year. We reseeded two fields as planned, made lots of silage, and livestock were healthy.
Here’s to an enjoyable and healthy 2022. I’m just hoping we continue to escape Covid and that the menopause doesn’t decide to rear its ugly head now that I’m nearly recovered from the thyroiditis.
Do follow me on Instagram if you’d like regular updates as I tend to upload stories almost on a daily basis. I’ve plans to use Tiktok this year but time will tell. And hopefully there will be a book out in the autumn but only if I’m happy with it.
All the best to you and yours for 2022.