Today was the most exciting day that we’ve had on the farm, by far. We are the proud new parents of a heifer calf.
I was giving the girls some fresh water at about 1:00 this afternoon. I went up to the top of the barn and started painting. About 2 hours later, I looked out and noticed Loretta on the pasture, but Patsy wasn’t anywhere near her. That’s unusual, they are always close enough to each other where I can see both of them. So I hopped the fence and walked down to the lower part of the pasture where I had seen Patsy lying down a few hours earlier. As soon as I turned the corner, I saw Patsy and her new calf standing there. I couldn’t believe it and called Anthony immediately.
Meet Dolly, the newest member of the Lucky Break family.
We are so happy that this happened naturally and without us having to intervene. Our hearts are so full tonight; thank you to all of you who have been asking about Patsy and the girls. It means so much to us that our adventures are your adventures too.
Everyone looks healthy and Patsy is already a great Mom. She hasn’t left her calf’s side and has been busy cleaning her and mooing at her. She’s also pretty protective.
Loretta is protective too.
Dolly was trying to nurse right from the get-go, but Patsy wasn’t feeling it. We’re just hoping that tomorrow when we see them in the morning, the calf is nursing and all is well.
Today we got some of the best news ever – LORETTA IS PREGNANT! The vet had to come out to give the girls their vaccinations and we had a few questions to ask him, so it was the perfect time to get her checked. He said she is about 5-6 months along and may calve sometime in July. So that means that Barney is most likely not the daddy, so it was probably one of the bulls that she was hanging with next door after the AI didn’t work, early last fall. I can’t tell you how relieved I am that Loretta is not getting kicked off the farm. Patsy is looking healthy and has about 3 more weeks until she calves.
To prepare for our first foray into calving, Anthony spent some time at the farm next door. He learned a lot and feels much more confident than he did a few weeks ago. I’m still somewhat of a wreck. I’m really hoping to wake up one morning and see a calf out in the pasture. That way I know everything worked the way it was supposed to and neither one of us had to intervene.
Anthony made a video documenting his experience next door with one the calves that needed some help coming into the world. THIS VIDEO IS EXTREMELY GRAPHIC – so watch at your own risk. It’s a heifer giving birth and it’s ALL out there. Watch if you’re interested, move along if this makes you nervous. Most of all, please wish us luck or whatever else you think we will need.
Last week, Anthony and I went to a nursery in Ixonia, about 45 minutes north of us. This nursery, Ebert’s Greenhouse Village, was offering tours of their facilities and greenhouses, showing what they do to prepare for the growing season. It was an incredible place, with over 20 different greenhouses and some of the kindest and sweetest people I’ve met at a business in one place at one time – more on that later.
I emailed Glenn, whom you might remember from this post, or this one. He’s the cow whisperer, Patsy and Loretta’s first Daddy, and he lives about 10 minutes from the nursery. We wanted to visit, catch up and of course, see all of his girls.
Glenn has been such a great friend and a huge source of knowledge for us. I email him lots of questions and am constantly asking his advice not only about our girls, but about all things farm related. This time when we went to his house, he had many things to talk to us in regard to our girl’s upcoming calving. He surprised us with some bailing twine ready to go, in case we need to assist Patsy in pulling out her calf. (I’m SO hoping things don’t get to this point) He demonstrated how to do it, and gave us a couple of sets to take home. He also saves his Ag papers for me to read, and even had custom t-shirts with our farm logo made for us as a surprise! I don’t know what we did to deserve a relationship with him, but he is wonderful and sweet and we are so lucky to have him in our lives.
After visiting for a while in the house, Anthony and Glenn and I went out to the cow yard. Glenn has a good-sized herd and is expecting some calves himself, around the first of May. We saw both Patsy and Loretta’s mothers, which was fun because we didn’t remember exactly what they looked like.
Glenn’s cow yard
Glenn told us he was trying to “bump” calves earlier that morning – which means pushing on an area where the calf is inside of the cow, and the calf “bumps” or pushes back. I had no idea what he was talking about. I asked him about it, then he took me to one of his pregnant girls to show me how to do it. I didn’t feel anything, and quite frankly it was kind of irritating that cow, so she walked away in a bit of a huff. We tried on a few more, and then I took a picture of where Glenn had placed his fist, so I could reference it when I went home.
I did some research online, and learned a bit more. Basically, you are using a soft fist to push on the cow which in turn should cause the baby inside to bump you back. The area is on the right side of the cow or heifer – which is the non-rumen side, where the calf is laying inside. Usually this can be felt after the 7th month of pregnancy – give or take a few weeks.
One guy’s method was to bounce his fist a bit, over and over, until he felt something come back. You can see that video here.
Once we got home, we went to give the girls their nightly feed. I tried it on both Patsy and Loretta. They weren’t too thrilled about it, but they didn’t run away from me. I’ve tried every day since then and so far, nothing. Wish me luck in getting some kind of bump back from that baby inside Patsy – or better yet, Loretta. I’m sure they will love me practicing on them.
About a week and a half ago, Anthony went out to check on our bees to see if they needed more food, and to clear out any dead bees on or in the bottom of the hives. He made some fondant sheets to put on the inside top of the boxes, just in case they had gone through all of their honey stores.
We had a spell of a few warm days between 40-50 degrees, which made it the perfect time to go in and check on them. Generally speaking, it’s not good to open the hive bodies when it is colder than 45 degrees because it puts the bees at risk of getting chilled. They work hard at keeping the inside of the hives a warm temperature throughout the winter, and we don’t ever want to disturb that. When there are unusually warm days in the winter, you will (hopefully) see your bees flying in and out of the hives, making cleansing flights. Bees don’t like to poop inside the hives, so they basically hold it until there is a warm day and then they fly out to “cleanse” themselves.
Anthony didn’t see one single bee flying around, so he began to suspect that something was wrong. (I was working in Las Vegas for a week while all of this went down, so Anthony had to handle it on his own) When he opened up the hives, he realized that all of our bees were dead. He called our mentor, Rick, who told Anthony that he would be able to stop by and see what might have happened. In the meantime, he began to clean out all of the hives.
When he looked at the bees, they didn’t seem to have anything obviously wrong with them – they didn’t have deformed wings or bodies, the hives didn’t smell weird and there was PLENTY of honey for them to eat. So we took this to mean that they didn’t have any diseases. When Rick stopped by later and took a look, he told Anthony that he didn’t see any evidence of a Varroa mite issue. Varroa mites are one of the biggest reasons why hives don’t survive in our area. We found the queen dead amongst all of the bees in one of the hives, so we know that they didn’t die because they were queen-less.
There was about 20 pounds of honey left between the two hives. Many of the bees had stuck their heads deep into the cells, which based on what we’ve learned and read so far, can mean that they were cold and didn’t want to break out of their cluster. In the winter, the bees form a cluster to create a big ball of warmth inside the hive. It’s actually more complicated than that, but you get the gist of what I’m saying. Rick seems to think this is probably what happened. And since they didn’t break the cluster to go up to the upper hive body where the food was, they most likely died of starvation. Here’s a video of Anthony going through the hives and cleaning them up.
So what is the answer for next year? That’s an excellent question that we still don’t know the answer to. We had some seriously cold and windy days in January, with the wind coming from the south. We have open fields across the street from us and no windbreaks, so this could have sent some very cold air toward the hives. We built a northern wind break, but we don’t want to block the southern sun from hitting the hives with a southern wind break. If we do build one, it can’t be more than 2 feet tall. We had ventilation on both the top and bottom of the hives, but maybe it wasn’t enough. Without enough top ventilation, condensation can build up and drip ice-cold water onto the bees, thus making them too cold. Our plan right now is to read more, ask more questions, make some more windbreaks and maybe add a bit more ventilation.
We’ve ordered our new bees and more beehives; this year we are growing our apiary from 2 hives to 4. The new bees should arrive sometime around the end of April, beginning of May. We are upset and very heartbroken that we didn’t successfully overwinter our bees this year. Hopefully with a few changes next year we won’t go through this again. But that’s the thing with bees, or working with any living creature, I guess. You just can’t predict what’s going to happen. All we can do is educate ourselves and make sure we are taking care of them as best we can.
As I briefly mentioned in our last blog post, I’ve started working on a little flower farm on the property. I’m approaching this endeavor cautiously, mostly because that’s how my husband is most comfortable and I really do need him to rein me in sometimes. Don’t tell him that I admitted that out loud, though.
Starting small, I decided on an area that is 46 feet x 48 feet. It is a perfect spot in between two hose bibs and slants a bit, so water shouldn’t pool if we get torrential downpours. There will be 7 – 4 feet wide beds, with 18″ in between for walking and overgrowth. It’s only missing a south-facing windbreak and we’re still undecided as to whether we will plant bushes or put up a manmade barrier. I’m voting for bushes, because I’d like to cut from those as well for bouquets. Once we figured out the best area on the property for growing flowers, we measured three times and roped it off. Gigi was great at guarding the rope.
We then removed the rope and spray painted the perimeter, just to be EXTRA sure that this is what we wanted it to look like. After asking many different people and doing a ton of research, we opted to kill the grass in that area and then tilled it up a bit to remove the dead sod.
While it looks like Anthony is working extremely hard and I’m just standing on the sidelines taking pictures, he actually only let me use the tiller for one row. He loved doing it and hogged it the whole time. But I knew there was a lot more backbreaking work ahead, so I let him have his fun with that part.
We only tilled it once, and also tilled a smaller area a few steps away where I ended up planting peony bushes. More on those later. I’m not really a big fan of a lot of tilling – it breaks up all of the fabulous organic matter in the soil and also pulls up dormant weed seeds. And I definitely don’t need any extra weeds in my life.
The first tough part was removing all of the clumps of sod. I only removed it on two of the rows where I planted spring bulbs, because I don’t need to worry about doing that now. I can work on that in the spring. I knew that I needed to plant a TON of bulbs and didn’t want to overdo it and give up or – even more likely – temporary paralyze myself from digging and raking for 5 days straight.
Look at all of that sod. I covered it with a tarp for a few weeks after we dug it up in hopes of it all dying and somehow magically disappearing. No, it didn’t work, but hey – it was worth trying! It looked great when you drove by our house for those few weeks in November – a giant tarp and paint sticks poking out everywhere next to big, unkempt piles of dirt. My poor neighbors.
I then dug trenches to plant all of the bulbs I ordered. All 2100 of them. Which, for a flower farmer, is not that many. But the previous fall I planted 80 around my house and thought I was a boss. Ha!
These are some of the lovely Tulip and Daffodil bulbs I purchased from various companies. I wanted to test a few different places out – to see what kind of quality their bulbs were, how quickly they shipped, customer service issues if any, etc.
I read Floret Farm’s blog voraciously and followed her bulb planting instructions to a T. If you don’t know about Erin and her SICK flower farm, you must check it out. Immediately. I’ve learned half of what I know about flower farming from her blog and speaking engagements.
I dug this wide trench, put all of the bulbs down until they were almost touching each other and filled it up about halfway with water. Then I put soil back on top and topped that off with compost.
I dug separate rows for the Daffodils, the Allium and the Muscari.
I used my old paint sticks to identify which variety I planted in each row. So, it ain’t pretty, but it will do for now.
Now we wait. Actually, now I try to learn EVERYTHING ELSE I can about flower farming. I have just begun to choose which seeds I’m going to start in my basement in the next couple of months. I need to figure out how much drip tape I need, oh yeah, and how drip tape and irrigation works. And how many seeds I need. And how to correctly do soil blocking. And how much landscape fabric I need. And 127 other things, but I’m taking it one step at a time. If all goes well, this is what we will see poking up out of the ground in early spring:
Wish us luck. And get ready to buy some damn flowers.
Instead of reviewing what happened at Lucky Break Acres this year, I would rather talk about what I’m hoping to see happen next year on our farm. I’m ready to be finished with this year – though we didn’t have as rough of a year as some people, we’ve got things cooking that have me excited to move forward.
This one is a biggie. After many months of thought about what we can and want to do with our farm, and after a fantastic first year in the garden, I’ve decided to try my hand at flower farming. I’m starting small, but if all goes well I will have 2100 beautiful bulbs bloom sometime in the Spring, and that’s just the beginning. My goal is to sell cut flowers – at our farm, maybe at a farmer’s market or two and to florists. I’ve also planted peony bushes and will be planting a lot of annuals once the ground will let me, starting in April when I can get the first cold blooms in the yard. More on this later.
Hopefully this is what we will see in our pasture in April
Patsy is pregnant but we are not sure about Loretta. We think she also may be pregnant because she hasn’t shown any signs of heat in the few months that they’ve been back on our farm. We still have Barney the bull hanging out with them, he will probably go back home in January. Anthony isn’t very comfortable around him and if Loretta is settled, then we don’t really need him to hang out anymore. We will have the vet come out in a few weeks to check Loretta. Anthony wants to be surprised, but I am dying to know. Regardless, Barney will be going. Patsy should calve in April – we are hoping it’s all good and if we could have everything we want, it will be a baby girl.
We have ordered more bees for next year and will start building our two new hives next month. Anthony has been working hard selling our honey and we now it is for sale in three locations. We are out of stock for this year, so we are hoping to double our honey output next year with 4 hives, instead of 2. Right now we are just concentrating on getting them through the winter. There’s not much we can do but cross our fingers and hope they are staying warm inside their hive boxes.
Chickens – finally!!!
If you have been reading this blog for a bit, you know that we have been remodeling, discussing, debating and considering abandoning our chicken coop. Or at the very least, setting it on fire (you can catch up here, if you haven’t) But we’ve finally come down to the final items that need to be accomplished in order to have our coop up and running. We’ve figured out how to get water down to the coop – as in having it in a hydrant and underground so it doesn’t freeze, rather than carrying buckets through the winter all the way down there. Now that that’s figured out, we can get the electrician back out here to finish his business. Once those things are accomplished, then we have about 5 other major things to do – finish painting the doors, put a top on the run, build the roosts and nesting boxes for the inside and design some cool decorative light fixtures for the inside. Oh and figure out how to put a green roof on top.
My sweet sister-in-law visiting during the fair
We have been so fortunate in that most of our family and friends have come to visit or have told us they are planning on coming soon. Both Anthony and I LOVE having visitors so we can share our place and try to convince everyone that Elkhorn, Wisconsin is paradise. And it’s not a hard sell. So come on over, we always want you to come and stay. Really.
So strange to see some of my favorite people sitting on my doorstep
Have more fun
Gigi enjoying the summer
Of course we (I) have so many long lists of all of the things we need to do to the house and the farm. Lots of painting is always involved. Fencing, cleaning, planting, etc. But the most fun we have had is exploring our new state, hanging out on our front deck on summer nights, and spending time in the barn with the girls. I know this is the most important item on our list. To enjoy everything, in all its imperfection. Happy New Year! Thank you so much for reading and following along on our adventures. I hope you enjoy the next year, in all its imperfection.
This week marks the one year anniversary of when we purchased our first real farm animals, Patsy and Loretta. I can’t begin to adequately describe in words how much these two have impacted our lives. So I thought I would do it with pictures.
We met Glenn, the man also known to us as the cow whisperer. We bought the girls from him and with a tear in his eye, he told us he was happy that they were being sold to us rather than going to auction. Glenn and I email each other frequently; he helps me with all of my farm related questions and also sends me cow stories, farm related publications and lots of jokes.
I couldn’t sleep the first few nights we had them. They bellowed a lot for two days, missing their herd and their Mommas.
I felt bad for them, I was worried they were cold, that they felt nervous being here, that they might run away and who knows what else. And of course they were fine. It was all just the order of things.
We learned early on that Patsy was the boss. And the hungriest – from the moment she stepped foot into the barn she started eating and hasn’t stopped since. Whenever we need to get her to move somewhere or basically do just about anything, we use a bit of corn to entice her. Works every time.
Patsy’s first two minutes in the barn
We had to stop using this feeder because Patsy would get stuck inside of it
Once again, Patsy inside a feeder
Loretta is the shy and skittish one. She always has poop on her tail and straw or grass on her head. Her sweet and nervous personality makes people love her immediately. Or it might be her beautiful long lashes, I’m not sure.
They are always together. They are their own little herd and have stuck together from day one. They lived at the farm next door for 3 months and every single time we visited them, they were together. I get nervous when I see one without the other, especially since Patsy took on a new role this summer as an escape artist.
They even lick the mineral block together
Eating together at the neighbor’s
These are Patsy’s hoof prints in the sunflower garden.
This was probably the scariest day this year. We live on a very busy road and didn’t discover her absence until about 8 am. Who knows how long she had been out and where she had been. This is also the day we electrified the fencing. Hopefully that will hold them in a bit better from now on.
Gigi’s extreme jealousy has led to us leaving her in the house when we feed or interact with the girls. I’m sad that she can’t be with us and learn to get along with everyone, but it’s better and safer for everyone with her inside. Patsy is ready to head butt Gigi at all times.
We took too many cow selfies to count, got lots of cow kisses from their giant scratchy tongues, brushed and pet them as much as they would let us. We figured out how best to clean up cow poop in our pajamas, which, as it turns out, is very carefully.
We watched them meet the neighbors and have many meetings at the fence line.
We learned that cows clean out their nostrils with their tongues. So attractive.
They went next door to be inseminated in the beginning of July. Patsy is “settled”, Loretta is “open”, meaning Patsy is knocked up and Loretta is not. So we kept them next door to hang with the bulls for another six weeks, hoping it would happen the natural way. It did not. In the middle of October, they *finally* got to come back home and this time they brought a friend. He’s a bull and he’s here to settle this business of Loretta not being pregnant. Meet Barney.
I love seeing the three of them in the pasture together, eating, grooming each other and basking in the sun. I really hope this creates the perfect romantic setting for Barney and Loretta, so that next year I can write about Patsy and Loretta’s two-year anniversary. I don’t really want to think about my first experience with culling to be Loretta, the sweetest of the bunch.
A few days ago, Anthony and I took a drive around the Walworth County barn quilt trail. He has started painting again and wanted to take photos of some of the barn quilts for inspiration. As I was going through the photos today, I thought they were too great not to share.
We saw about 25 barn quilts, which was not even half of them. But there were some we couldn’t see from the road and others just weren’t right for the paintings that Anthony is working on.
The best part of this little jaunt was when we pulled over to take photos of one of the quilts and saw the coolest herd of Scottish Highland cattle and some other type of longhorn cattle – I think they might have been Ankole-Watusi, but I’m not sure.
Last year I had an idea of where I wanted to plant some sunflowers but I wasn’t able to make it happen in time. This year I resolved to get it done.
I had been eyeing a spot right next to what we call Anthony’s barn – it’s the big barn closest to our house where he parks his truck. We had some guys out to rototill a few big spots on the property and each spot was unable to be tilled. They were all full of rocks and/or old dumped concrete. So we decided to remove the grass and fill this spot with some beautiful new soil.
These guys brought it out to us and we leveled it out.
Once that was all situated I went online and ordered up my sunflower seeds. I wanted to try a few different cultivars – long, short, amber and bright yellow. I got everything planted on June 1.
Here’s what it looked like when the seeds first started to germinate.
Here’s what it looked like when Patsy escaped and trampled through it. Don’t worry, only one little seedling was damaged in that near tragic sunflower accident.
Then they really started to grow like crazy. It reminded me of Jack and the Beanstalk. This was June 19.
This was 5 days later.
2 weeks after that.
And then it all started happening.
One of the best parts was watching the bees give the flowers some love. But once the flowers died, they looked so sad. Pathetic, actually. And only half of them died at first, which reminded me why I need to revisit succession planting next year.
Look how tall the back ones got!
Then the aphids took over. I traveled 3 weeks out of 4 in July, so I wasn’t there when they first started appearing. By the time I figured out what was happening, it was too late. They ruined what was left of the sunflowers, and I wasn’t able to harvest any of the seeds. I did rescue a few vases full last week, and that’s going to be it for the season.
This is the first time I have grown something in the ground from seed. And I loved it, but I definitely need more. Next week we are planning on removing the grass from lots of areas on our property to prepare for next year’s flower season. Which includes many many more of these beautiful and cheery flowers.