Saturday, November 21, 2015

Homesteading is Not for Weaklings, Woosies, Wankers or Wannabees



 
Since the grain bin house is now in it's final stages of completion: painting, light fixture hanging, floor trim, counter top building, etc...I will shift focus outside now and then, to the rest of our homesteading world.

Sadly though, it took a turn towards crap this past week; our bovine extraordinare, Polly, died.

The vets's term is "Hardware disease." The cause of death was organ failure due to ingestion of a foreign object; she ate metal. This has been a concern of ours since we bought this land two years ago and even more so, when we moved our livestock here in April. These 7 acres were filled with trash, much of it on the surface and large portions partially buried. It had been owned by a bank for a few years and prior to that owned by someone who cared not for the land. Polly was the last of our animals we brought to The Poor Farm from our old farm. For months we have been hunter-gatherers of century old bedsprings, barbwire rolls, tin cans, piles of glass, rusty fence posts, ad infinitum.  We have made significant progress but apparently it was too little, too late for Polly.

She went off feed first and her milk production decreased, and so with a 7 week old bull calf at her side; we decided to stop milking her to allow him to get enough of the nutrition he needed. From time to time we saw her eating some, drinking some, but on day three of this behavior, concerned about her dehydration status we called the vet. He confirmed our beliefs, gave her a bolus of fluids and antibiotics, something we only use when an animals life is at risk and hers definitely was.

She perked up, got up, but 12 hours later laid down and died.

Thus the crux of this post; homesteading is not for weaklings, woosies, wankers or wannabees. In the midst of the romantic overload of articles in popular magazines, newspapers and idealistic blogs with titles like, "Anyone can Farm " or "Make a Living on 1/2 an acre in 5 Easy Steps" and "You Too Can Get Rich Selling Arugula" its easy to assume that the perfect pastoral life is there for the taking. All one has to do is throw on some Land's End boots, a $90 Eddie Bauer flannel shirt and the country life will surround you with all her milk and honey goodness. But, honest homesteading is hard: physically, emotionally, monetarily and spiritually.

 It's not like we haven't lost animals before. Life does indeed involve death. But Polly was gentle and kind, a joy to milk. Cows like that are rare. Her loss hit us hard because we cannot easily replace her; she was not a pet, she was our sole source of milk. Soon we would also be using all that milk as our sole source of butter and cheese as well. There is no longer a large herd from which we can pick a sub. Small dairy farms in this area, where its likely we could obtain a healthy cow, are limited. In addition, a replacement cow can easily cost $1200 or more. If we buy a young heifer for less, it will take a year of more before she is bred, calves, and can produce milk.

Watching her calf grieve was tough as well. Animals may not feel loss as we do, but they definately suffer when one of them dies, as is clear in these photos of Polly's baby just after her demise.







The little guy stood by her a long time and then finally laid by her side as did our two guard dogs and several of our ducks! A wake of sorts that carried on even after her body was disposed of; her calf laying on the sight where she was last. He's doing well now but it was sad to watch.

So, the first time in  over 22 years, we are without our own milk cow and we face a multitude of problems to be solved. The most glaring one is where to get the raw milk we relay on for our health? We have a one week supply left from Polly and then we are dry as she.

We have become picky in our quinquagenarion years and want raw milk from a 100% grass fed dairy. To our knowledge there are not many of those in Illinois. On our old farm our customers often drove 100 miles for our raw milk. Now we're the ones in a bind. Yeah, the irony. We are considering replacing Polly with a goat but I've never been a fan of goat milk. It's just so...goaty. Decisions, decisions. Guess this wanker needs to get stop whining and find a solution.


26 comments:

  1. Damn! So sorry to hear of your loss! It really is heartbreaking.

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    1. Thanks Art. You two work so hard too, I know you know what we know. :)

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  2. RIP Polly. So sorry for your loss. We dig up tons of trash too. Don´t know what the former residents were thinkng.

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    1. Thanks Coco. We continue to find garbage as if the more we unearth the easier it is for the stuff beneath it to come forward.

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  3. That's a hard one, especially since you did everything humanly possible to clear the area. Call me a whinny baby pants too, because no-one likes to see a baby suffer the loss of their mum. A sad and significant loss. :(

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    1. Hi Chris. A friend of mine from my hospice days, the social worker of our program, now works with vets to teach them about loss and grief in animals. All us 'whiney pants,' human and non-human need help sometimes.

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    2. Too true, and glad to see it being moved into veterinary practices as well. Animals don't have choice like we do, so cannot feel guilt associated to loss, but they most certainly feel the immediate absence of a bond they are biologically programmed to operate under. When its no longer there, they need help establishing the bond has terminated, but also assistance forming different bonds, which may be available - like a suitable animal companion or regular human contact. At least until they find their way again. :)

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  4. awwww those last two pictures near on broke my heart.
    This is why I love your blog, you aren't afraid to show reality
    I'm so sorry for your loss xx

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    1. I wish there were more workshops about the realties of homesteading rather than repeats of the same old thing. More folks might actually remain in the community of self sufficiency. Instead they jump in feet first and often get burned.

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  5. My sympathy for your loss on the many levels: the gentle cow, the milk, the orphan calf. Will you be buying raw milk from the 'old farm' while you sort out your situation? Perhaps the 'old farm' owners would sell you a heifer? And I'm sure you're very worried about putting a new cow on such 'landmine-ish' pasture. I'm so sorry....

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    1. Kris, we found a replacement heifer just after I posted this. She was from stock of ours that a young couple had bought from us. Their cow had a calf and we'll be back in business (milk) in about 18 months. In the meantime we found another farm about 45 minutes from us who sell raw cows milk from 100% grass fed animals. Life is looking up.

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  6. Sorry for your loss :(. Those pictures said it all.

    Blessings,
    Mamawizzy

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  7. So sad, we're very sorry for your loss, not only personally, but for your farmstead of course too. As was said above, we like the fact that you don't shy away from the bad too. It reminds, us, as we prepare for our own journey in a few years, there is so much more to it all. Again, thoughts with you all....

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    1. You see 1st man, that's what I like about you. You PREPARE for your big move. Not that one can plan for everything and part of the fun is figuring things out as you go, but still going slow does produce success on so many levels. If you leave the rat race on a Monday and expect to making all your own soap, butter and canned goods by Tuesday you end up drinking lye and canning bubbles. :)

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  8. So sorry to hear about Polly, heart-breaking photos of her calf. We used to keep Jersey cattle but got wiped out by TB. We never replaced them, too much heartbreak, but we did have goats, we never had goat taint, friends did, however they used to clean out the stabling ever week which does not give the bedding a chance to build up it's own healthy bacteria which naturally keeps the taint away.

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    1. wow. Your the reason I love my followers...you all are so brilliant! I too (20 years ago) thought the best barn was a sterile barn. Wrong. Deep bedding, which is not the same as wet, soggy bedding, is full of wonderful things. Keep the top dry, and the heat from the composting material below keeps the animals warm. Clean out a couple times a year and you have a excellent compost and healthy animals.

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    2. Goodness, you learn something everyday. I too would have kept everything sterile.

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    3. Donna, by "deep bedding," do you mean that you start with a bunch of straw, say, and then remove just the top, soiled layer and replace with more fresh, dry stuff? I've only mucked cow stalls a few times in my life, and on one occasion, that was the way the farmer wanted me to do it; remove just the top layer that was soiled.

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  9. Replies
    1. Thank you Pam I am. (Cool name wish I had the same)

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  10. Sorry to hear about Polly :0( glad to hear you found a replacement and raw milk source. I also find the photos very sad, and I know you did all you could for poor Polly.

    I'm not a fan of goat milk or cheese, either. I know I've had excellent samples of both, but my taste buds just don't like it.

    Any chance some of your raw milk sources are interested in your doing a workshop for others who might want to learn to make their own cheese or butter? Maybe they'd give you some milk in return, which would defray some of the cost.

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    1. You are so smart Megan. If only public health would listen to folks like you. Proposed rules on the table now would make what you suggest illegal. So I say...we go for it!

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  11. What sadness. Polly looked like a good milker. I believe animals feel loss and grieve. So now you just have to get on with it. Are there any dairy farms nearly where you can buy a cow? I guess it's not the best time to replace Polly. I hope you work something out. I send you my best wishes. xx

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  12. What a heartbreak, Donna, I'm so sorry to read this. I hate losing animals, but you're right, it happens, that's life, and we have to accept and deal with it.

    If you don't like goat milk, then I'd say you haven't yet found the right goat. Kinder Korner Goats is in Chester, Illinois and Kinders give sweet, creamy milk! Take it from a not-milk drinker!

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