Saturday, August 15, 2009

Joey's sucking on what?

It was quiet out in the barnyard this morning. When I went out at 9 am to feed Joey (the 6+ week old Jersey Bull calf) all the animals were still laying around. Brigid (the soon-to-be mama cow) and Gilly (her 17 month old first child) were on opposites sides of a fence backs touching. Joe, whose mama lives on another farm, was alone in the cow pasture asleep by another fence. Even the sheep, the early risers of the bunch, were still laying down under the barn awning.

I like quiet mornings when not much is happening yet. The stillness feeds something in me as surely as my breakfast does. As far as I can figure there isn't enough silence to be had.

We don't keep usual farmer's hours around here. Since we aren't farming for a living we figure it is just as good to feed everyone at 9 and 9 as it is to feed them at 6 and 6, or gasp, 5 and 5. I am sure that somebody who knows more about these things would argue but so far our leisurely mornings work for us. And nobody is starving to death out there so I figure it is working for the animals too.

Joey came to us by way of a favor. Though now, 6 weeks into this adventure I am not exactly sure who the favor was for. My cow mentor George has a beautiful herd of Jersey and Brown Swiss dairy cows who reside in that famous of all dairy towns Carnation, Washington. They are gorgeous girls, all well loved by George. Modern science allows him to make sure that 90% of the calves born to his herd are heifers (girls) that he can raise to be the new milkers. Joe, was part of the unlucky 10% destined to leave George's comfortable farm by way of the butcher. Unfortunately for Joe when he was born, George's mom was in the hospital for something ominous and his wife's mom was due to be admitted the next day for surgery. Feeding a calf that wasn't going to help out the herd added unnecessary work to an already chaotic situation. Hence the call we received that nice morning in late June..."You guys want a Jersey bull calf?"

Being a softie at heart (both for people and animals), I didn't take a lot of convincing. Steve took even less than me. Aidan, smart boy that he is and knowing that the lion's share of the work was going to be his, had a list of objections. Poor boy, we barely even listened.

From the outset, I knew that Jersey's don't make the good meat cows. They tend towards the scrawny side and take a long time to flesh out. Their meat is marbled with yellowish fat that is not well considered by the average American eye. But what the eyes don't know is the meat tastes wonderful and the calves are sweet-tempered.

Now that he is settled in on the farm. Joey is considered a happy addition by all concerned. Even reluctant Aidan has been won over by the sight of a happy calf dashing across the pasture for his bottle or a few pets. Every morning and night we feed Joe his bottle. It's actually fun. He's so appreciative, and grows so fast, it is hard not to enjoy the process.

Farmer George told us to buy a bag of milk replacer and start feeding him grain as soon as he would eat it. I couldn't do it though. We've done well with raising our other cows on grass and their mama's milk. It doesn't take too much thought after reading the ingredients of calf milk replacer to realize if you feed a calf that stuff your soon-to-be grass fed, organically raised meat is going to have its formatives weeks spent drinking GMO infused milk.

One look at that bag of milk replacer had me running to the store for real milk; which, trust me, is NOT the most economical way to raise a cow. At first I was buying organic milk but at $5.89 a gallon (and he drinks a little over a gallon a day) I quickly switched to non-organic whole milk from Costco that I topped off with a half a cup of cream to make it more like the cream heavy Jersey milk his mother would have given him. I get it, processed GMOs in liquid form, but somehow it was the compromise I could live with.

Joey likes his milk, so apparently it is a compromise he can live with too. I am sure he would rather have non-homogenized, non-pasturized raw milk sucked from his mother's teat, or worst case scenario straight from the milking room at George's. But George lives a half an hour away and his entire supply of milk is promised to Darigold. So we all have to live with this compromise. I do admit to calling George and asking via his message machine if we could buy fresh, raw milk for Joey. He didn't return my call, which I was sure his way of politely ignoring me when I do something that he thinks is crazy.

But getting back to Joey. Every morning and night we heat his Costco milk on the stove and carefully pour it into his bottle, which is almost the size of Delaware--see the picture which I can't seem to put here and is instead at the top of the post. Joey happily jugs our concoction down in about 47 seconds, stopping once or twice to catch his breath. By the end, his nose is covered in a creamy white froth and his doe eyes are the essence of contentment. Every once in a while he drinks too fast and chokes. But that doesn't happen very often. Usually he is done so fast he hasn't gotten his requistite sucking time satisfied and goes off in search of Gilly. Gilly though, is never far away as he is more than a little bit envious of that delicious smelling bottle we offer Joey day and night. "Where's mine?" his little baby cow eyes seem to ask as he looks at us from inside a giant cow sized body.

Gilly misses his milk a lot. We recently weaned him off of Brigid so she would be ready for her soon-to-be-born calf. We still have to separate them or he would try to nurse once again. So when Joey comes sniffing around hoping to 'nurse' for a few minutes longer on Gilly's sadly missing boy parts, Gilly is very indulgent. Who knew cows had such empathy. For awhile, Aidan thought that Gilly had grown an udder until he figured out what was what and became thoroughly disgusted. Oh well, life on a farm.

In the end, Joey is growing like a weed. When we got him he was the size of our dog Charlie and now (less than 7 weeks later) he is about the size of a six-month old deer. Here's a picture of him somewhere in between those two sizes. Gilly is on the ground next to him, guarding his privates from wildcat nursing calves.

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