Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Shire Farm's First Calf!

A Calf is Born! 

We've been eagerly watching and waiting on our dairy cow Rosie to give birth this winter. She was impregnated last spring before we got her from her old family.  So all we knew is she would be due some time between Christmas and Valentines Day.  Since Christmas her udder has been filling up, so that every week Farmer Don would bet that she'd calf that week. Friday evening we finally saw all the signs come together, her bag (udder) was full and looked ready to burst, she seemed uncomfortable in her stall, wasn't eating, and had some mucus discharge from her vagina.  

So cow watch began at about 6:30pm when she started having contractions and on our 3rd visit at about 10:00pm Farmer Figgins found a curly haired black male calf had appeared in the stall being vigorously licked by Rosie. We decided we would call the boy calf Pippin.    

Pippin awkwardly learning to walk, he's going to be
 a big steer, judging by how tall he is already.

Rosie is only 3 years old and this is her second calving, but handled her calf like a seasoned pro. She licked the little guy mostly clean to help warm him up on the very cold snowy night, about 5 degrees F.  To make sure he was warm enough, we helped the process by rubbing him down with some clean towels. Within an hour the calf was standing up and wobbling around the stall turning Rosie in circles as she continued to lick him dry.  

We then had to make sure that the calf began nursing so he would get a good dose of the natural antibodies present in the colostrum rich milk that is produced only for the first day or two following birth.   To aid this process, which likely would have happened naturally, we offered the calf a thumb which he readily latched on to, and guided him to a teat.   We then pulled a quick switcheroo and slipped a teat in where our thumb was.  We called it a night around midnight, comfortable that the calf and mother were happy and healthy.  

The next morning came our long anticipated first milking!  Unfortunately for the first few milkings it is not milk like we traditionally think of, but a yellow mixture called colostrum.   As mentioned above this is packed with antibodies which help the calf's immune system and encourage healthy development.  Some make colostrum butter and colostrum pie, but it has a slightly egg-like odor and so instead it went to a very happy pig.   

We are doing our milking the old fashioned way, by hand into a pail. Rosie was hand milked by her previous family, and stands very well for it, making soft moos of relief as the pressure of her udders is lessened. Occasionally she'll get antsy and shuffle a foot, and if you're not paying attention and quick some milk can get lost and has.  But as the saying goes, there's no crying over spilled milk.   We're getting the hang of it, and what with chopping wood and kindling for the wood stove and now the milking, we're going to be looking like Popeye by spring.  

Right now we're sharing the milk with the calf, so we're only getting about 1-1 1/2 gallons a day. In a few more days we'll separate Pippin and Rosie at nights and then let him in with her after morning milkings, letting him get a share of the milk, a practice called Share Milking. Rather than separating the calf and bottle feeding it, then later putting it on a grain and hay diet, we let the calf drink.

From there we'll transition to Once a Day milking--milking only in the morning, and letting the calf have the rest of the days milk production. Milking OAD does, naturally, result in a decrease in milk volume, but not necessarily half the milk. Most have found that production drops by 15-20%, but the decline in volume is offset by a rise in milk solids and protein, and a huge decrease in feed costs for the calf. There is also less labor, a stronger cow-calf bond, and a much less stressed cow at milking times.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Shire Farm's Pasture Farrowing "E-Hut"

The Pigloo

As winter was approaching this fall we knew we had to make a weatherproof, mobile shelter for the hog we selected to be our sow this spring.  As we began our search, we looked for a Port-a-Hut style steel Quonset hut structure.  This turned out to be hard to find and expensive.  We then had a neighbor who was selling plastic tanks cut in half which would have worked very well, but again was cost prohibitive.  We decided to go with a more cost effective DIY home for our hog.   Farmer Don found sketches and pictures of an "E-Hut" on an Iowa State University website.  The total cost of the hut was under $200.00 for the lumber and the most expensive aspect were the exterior plywood panels.  

We've had a hard, cold and snowy winter thus far. The hut, or pigloo as we've taken to calling it, has proven itself and we are willing to recommend this hut as a winter house for a single hog.  The last two weeks have been absolutely frigid here in Michigan, like much of the country.  It reached it's peak on Monday last week when we hit -40 degrees F with the windchill and had got about 12+" of snow.  All the while Arya (our sow to be) was snug as a pig in a blanket.  We've also shoveled snow up against the outside of the pigloo, an old trapper trick, to help further insulate the hut.  

From the E-Hut at ISU:

Here are pictures of the frame before adding the panels.  I prefer to use untreated lumber.  Yes I know it is going to rot, but treated lumber is not really safe around the animals or garden soil that this will at some point be sitting on.  Really it's not safe for humans either if you were going to rub all over it and sleep against it.

Here, the hut is in the field, off the side of last year's vegetable garden. We stuff a few straw bales in there, especially when it is cold and Arya keeps herself very warm in a nest of straw.  There is also a slight gap at the top to allow warm, damp air to vent out of the hut helping to keep her dry.  

As you can see the back overlaps itself, letting water drain down off the back rather than into the hut.  The middle panel can be lifted off both for ventilation, and for nabbing piglets from a protective mother for castration. 

Our sow at this point was likely about 350 lbs+ as a size comparison.  If you have any questions about our hut's construction, feel free to check out the rest of the plans on the Iowa state website, or contact me about how I constructed mine!  

We'll be doing artificial insemination on our sow in February, for piglets in May. Then we will be moving the hut closer to farrowing time to their pasture for next year. We'll report back with an update on how the Pigloo works for farrowing piglets in!