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wisconsin life

Farm Life

Bumping cows

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.

baling twine, image

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.

Farm Life

Ice Fishing, episode 2

Anthony finally got an opportunity to go ice fishing for the first time this year. He had such a great time that he made a little video about it and wanted to share it with all of you. Enjoy!

Farm Life

What happened to the bees?

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.

Farm Life

A look forward

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.

Flower Farm

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.

Calves

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.

More Bees

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.

More visitors

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.

 

Farm Life

1 Year Heifer Anniversary

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.

Glenn and Anthony

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.

First day with the girls

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.

Paty's first night

Patsy’s first two minutes in the barn

We had to stop using this feeder because Patsy would get stuck inside it

We had to stop using this feeder because Patsy would get stuck inside of it

Once again, Patsy inside a feeder

Once again, Patsy inside a feeder

Getting Patsy out of the 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.

Loretta's messy head

Loretta in the field

Loretta up close

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.

Together Patsy and Loretta

Patsy and Loretta

Patsy and Loretta

 

Patsy and Loretta into the sunset

together at the mineral bar

They even lick the mineral block together

Eating together at the neighbor's

Eating together at the neighbor’s

patsy and Loretta together in the barn

These are Patsy’s hoof prints in the sunflower garden.

hoofprints in the 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 jealousy

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.

cow selfie

Anthony Patsy and Loretta

me and Patsy

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.

Anthony shoveling

We watched them meet the neighbors and have many meetings at the fence line.

Meeting the neighbors

Good talk

We learned that cows clean out their nostrils with their tongues. So attractive.

tongue in the nose

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.

Barney in the field

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.

Patsy and Loretta signs

The three lucky break cows

Farm Life

Real Farm S*)~!

My little brother called me a few days ago right in the middle of my current version of a rough day.  When I started to whine to him about what was going on, he laughed (a lot) and said “your problems are so funny.” And this actually didn’t insult me, because my problems that day were pretty stupid.

“I just got the tractor (it’s really a riding lawnmower, but I am a wannabe farmer and call it a tractor) wedged next to a fence post that was buried in the pasture. Anthony isn’t home today and I’m too embarrassed to ask the guys working on the chicken coop for help.” I felt like they would think I was a stupid female driver and then that made me angrier. I tried lifting it up and pushing it by myself – and that was even more hilarious, because of course it would not budge.

stuck tractor

Stuck

“Then when I went into the barn to get a pry bar to try to unstick the tractor, I pulled the giant barn door off the track. Anthony is going to kill me! I can’t get that thing on there by myself.”

“When I was in the barn looking for the pry bar, I noticed that some kind of animal has ripped open BOTH bags of the minerals for the heifers. It’s spread around everywhere. Plus they needed 10 buckets of water. AND since they are eating all pasture all the time right now, their shits are pure liquid and green and splattered everywhere”

green cow poop

more green cow poop

gratuitous cow poop shot

Then I apologized to my brother and told him I knew all of these things were all stupid, but I was just annoyed and he happened to call at the perfect time. He said it was fine, and that it was only funny because I was talking about my tractor and cow poop and a barn door. My life is so completely different now from what it used to be. I started laughing and told him he was right. And then I noticed a ground squirrel and started yelling “I wish I had a gun in my hand right now so I could kill these stupid-ass ground squirrels that are eating my bird seed and putting holes and tunnels throughout my yard!” And my brother started laughing again.

When the guys working on the chicken coop came back from lunch, I asked them to help me and they very sweetly pushed the tractor and got me unstuck in a flash. I fixed the barn door – it wasn’t as serious as I had originally thought – and went back to work on the tractor. Success!

Until I tried to back the tractor and full trailer to the edge of the pasture to dump all of the soil and weeds I had in it. I couldn’t stop jackknifing it and to top things off, my next door neighbor was working on one of his fields and I was absolutely sure he was watching me and laughing his head off. So I casually got off of the tractor and busied myself somewhere else on the farm until I was sure he wouldn’t be able to see me anymore. Then I moved the tractor to a different area where I wouldn’t have to put it in reverse and was successful in finally getting rid of the junk in the trunk, so to speak.

Patsy and LoLo

I’m pretty sure they were embarrassed for me too

This is my slice of life and day to day right now. It’s not glamorous, because life never really is. And I’m not sure what’s more exhausting, the actual work itself, or all of the steps I have to take to try and not make a complete ass of myself. But no matter what, even through all of the cow poop, frustration, hard, hard work and list of unending things to do – I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And that’s how I know we did the right thing by moving here and are exactly where we are supposed to be.

Farm Life

Fish Fry

One of our favorite Friday night activities almost always involves going to a Fish Fry. I had no idea what a big deal they were in Wisconsin until we moved here. When we lived in Las Vegas and Anthony would go fishing in Canada, we would always have a Fish Fry with friends and family once he was back to celebrate all of the delicious fish he had (hopefully) caught. Anthony thought it was hilarious when my Dad would say “I can’t wait to have that deep-fat-fried-fish!” Anthony would complain “Man,why’s he gotta make it sound so wrong?” He didn’t realize my Dad was paying him a compliment, and yes it IS deep, fat and fried. And greasy. And well, delicious.

While you can get to a Fish Fry most any Friday night in Wisconsin (learn more here, here and here) and some Wednesdays too, they really get crazy during Lent. Meaning every VFW Hall, Lions Club, random church, etc. has their own version of a Friday night Fish Fry. Tonight may be the holiest of all Fish Fry nights being that Lent has just about wrapped up.

Nite Cap Inn Palmyra

Wisconsinites are pretty serious about their Fish Fry and which one is THE BEST to go to. We’ve tried a handful of places and have many more to explore. Everyone’s criteria is different, and we are no exception. We’ve tried it on a paper plate and I think we prefer it on an actual dish. We’ve tried it in a large banquet room and while the fish was fantastic, the ambiance was not there. We’ve tried it in a no-nonsense small restaurant and for the nights when we don’t care about having the whole package (fish, price, ambiance & close proximity), that is our go-to place. Our standard is the Duck Inn in Delavan. It’s easy, just down the street and we always know it’s going to be good, with  its fabulous old-fashioned Wisconsin Supper Club ambiance.

Here are the basics of any great Fish Fry:

1. Fish (of course). The standard is Cod, but there are many other options, depending on the place. Perch, Walleye, Shrimp, Smelt, Bluegill, and any other white fish. Don’t forget the lemon wedges.

Fish Fry

The fish is battered, breaded or baked. I’m not a very accomplished (read terrible) cook so I didn’t really understand the difference between battered or breaded. I mean, fried is fried right?  NO, it’s not. Breaded fish is dipped in an egg batter and then a dry mixture. It can be bread crumbs, flour, cracker crumbs or Anthony’s favorite – crushed up corn flakes. Battered fish has a much thicker coating and is a thick liquid the fish is dipped into before it is fried. And baked, well, duh. And many times baked is actually the most delicious option.

Fish Fry 2

2. Cole Slaw – I don’t care too much about cole slaw, so I could take it or leave it.

3. Potato Pancakes – another source of controversy. Next to the fish, this is my favorite side dish of the Fish Fry. The best potato pancakes are pretty crispy on the outside. And applesauce on top of these is a must. I hate mixing sweet stuff with savory, but trust me on this one. French fries are sometimes an option. Don’t even talk to me if you get those. They totally do not count.

4. Rye Bread – I’ve never met a bread I didn’t like and Rye Bread is no exception. Again, the potato pancakes really are the star of the show for me, so it all depends on how crazy I’m going to get that night. I know, we really live life dangerously here in the Midwest.

5. Tartar Sauce – I loves me some tartar sauce, but in my experience if the fish is really delicious, you don’t need much of this. And if you get the baked fish, you don’t need it at all. Don’t be surprised if you are at a Fish Fry and you get a cereal-sized bowl of tartar sauce. That’s what you do here.

I’ve learned that your opinion on what makes the best Fish Fry is based upon a few things –  whether or not the fish is all-you-can-eat, the price, and of course, the quality of the fish reigns supreme.  Most restaurants serve all-you-can-eat, but I have never been able to order more than one plate of fish; I think Anthony has once. I’m not judging here if you are able to put down a few plates of fish, I just don’t know how it’s done. Still a rookie, I suppose. This is just the tip of the Fish Fry iceberg. There are numerous websites, how-to guides and reviews of all things Fish Fry.

Fried Smelt

So what’s your favorite place? Does the smell of hot grease bring back nostalgic pangs of growing up in the Midwest? Are you pissed about my blatant dismissal of cole slaw? In any event, cheers to tonight’s Friday Fish Fry, and to many more “Fry’s” in our future.

Farm Life

Sunday Eye Candy or The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

This week was filled with a lot of ugly, some good and some bad. A typical week for most of us, I’m sure. Some of this eye candy is disgusting, some of it is cute, all of it is 100% real.

The Good

Anthony and I completed a two-day beekeeping course together. I think we both feel much more confident about our introduction to keeping bees in the spring. More on that later. This is some of the equipment we put together.

beekeeping frames

The girls are still very curious about each other. We have to keep Gigi away from the heifers most of the time since she is very jealous of any attention we give to them.

Gigi and Patsy

Patsy and Loretta cow yard

The Bad 

Lake Geneva hosted Winterfest this past week and this weekend’s highlight was the snowcarving competition. Unfortunately it was almost 40 degrees this weekend, which doesn’t make for a long-lasting display of snow sculptures. Yesterday was the judging, today everything was melting into the ground, creating giant muddy messes. So sad that all of that intricate and hard work is gone so quickly.

lake geneva winterfest 1

melting winterfest

muddy lake geneva

I’m sure you heard about the people who parked and subsequently fell through the ice on the lake yesterday. This was the scene of the catastrophe. You should have seen the people standing around today just looking at it; I heard two different mothers teaching their children about it and why you should never park on the ice.

lake geneva ice and water

The Ugly

I am always posting photos of our beautiful farm, the gorgeous sunsets, the lovely heifers and our sweet Gigi. But the reality is it ain’t always pretty. It’s hard, it is monotonous sometimes, it’s almost always scary and there’s a lot of shit involved, figuratively AND literally. I would much rather show both sides of this coin rather than pretend it’s lovely and delicious all of the time. Enjoy. Or scroll rather quickly.

This is the main manure pile. Since the girls are in and out of the barn during the winter, we clean up their manure daily and put it in this pile. In the spring it will be spread on the fields as fertilizer. Once the weather warms up, they are out in the fields all day and night we won’t have to do this.

girls shit pile

These girls poop a lot. A LOT. A full-grown cow will poop about 15 times per day, about 65 pounds a day. So we’ve got it easy right now because they’re only half-grown. But it’s definitely not as gross or stinky as dog poop. So it’s really not that bad. Really!

Patsy poop

And more manure

more manureWe suited up and worked in the chicken coop again. We took a break immediately after day 1 because we had to order new filters for our respirators, they were absolutely disgusting. Hopefully only one more day of being suited up and we will be home free.

Michelle chicken coop suit

Farm Life

Ice Fishing

Anthony finally got to go ice fishing for the first time this season last Friday. Most of the lakes around here didn’t freeze until about three weeks ago, which is very late in the season.  I now present to you Anthony’s first official blog (actually, technically his first vlog) entry. Enjoy.