Expectations

Not sure as late baby boomer born in 1959, I should expect too much any more from life. I’ve come to accept that my post WW II parents may outlive me, and admit a little jealous of those Woodstock baby boomers who are now retired while I still work to support the Social Security house of cards. Hoping if I make it to 70, the system is still solvent; but if it’s not, I’ll keep on working.

More and more thinking of the words of Ron Van Zant,

“Be a simple kind of man,

Be something you love and understand”

Not sure yet I understand cattle, but do know that I find something satisfying – familiar – simple at the end of a stressful work day waiting for me. They trust that I’ll show up, and never demand anything from me other than providing their basic needs. They give so much more than I could ever possibly give to them.

Few years ago wrote simple little verse:

The older I get

More is less

And with less

I’m blessed

Blessed 08/10/18

It’s the Small Things

Owning a small farm or homestead seems idyllic and most days it certainly lives up to the dream.

Coming home at the end of a stressful work day and seeing the cattle grazing contently at the end of the drive without a care in the world. A perfect picture of that idyllic country life for which you drag yourself out of bed each morning to go to work to sustain.

But as you round the bend and start heading up the drive – reality hits. You notice the small things that need to be tended. The grass under the electric fence that needs trimmed. The branches on trees that need to be pruned. Peaches that need to be picked. Garden that needs to be tilled and all the other myriad of items on that ever growing never ending check list.

As you enter the door and head upstairs to change out of your stiff city clothes to your comfy worn country clothes, you suddenly remember a small but important thing left over from the weekend.

It’s not a big thing, and you’re tempted to put it off till the weekend. The fence is still hot, okay maybe not hot, but current is registering on the tester, and besides the cattle don’t know it’s not hot and have learned not to test it.

But your better judgement prevails and the thought of a midnight call from a neighbor with one of your cows in their front yard causes you to spend the next hour walking the line.

If you’ve ever had an electric fence you soon learn that the short will always be at the opposite end from where you started.

But soon you see the problem – a small thing. You replace the small thing – which takes all of two minutes, and mentally mark it off that perpetual list.

Then you notice that grass growing under the bottom wire…

Yes living in the country is idyllic, and I wouldn’t trade the peace and privacy of country living for any home in any subdivision or city and I’ve learned to accept the small things (and sometimes larger scale things).

Cumulatively they are worth the price of contentment and the joy that comes from settling in on the front porch for a few minutes and watching those contented cows before crawling in bed.

It’s the small things…

First Born Calf

Photo Overload

One year ago today, after what I thought to be the longest gestation period in modern Dexter History, our first calf was born on the farm. Son of Liberty born on July 3, 2017 named after his dam, Liberty, born on July 4, 2015.

While going through photos to add to our gallery, I suddenly felt a tinge of guilt as realized that I literally had dozens and dozens of photos of Sonny. I am thankful that this year’s crop of calves do not have access to the internet! I’m sure I’d have major sibling rivalry on my hands.

It’s not that they are any less precious, and in fact Lucky Stars out of my favorite cow, and provided my first calf pulling experience this April will always have a special place in my heart. But there is something extra special about that first born calf!

Sonny left our farm this Spring intact and has found a wonderful new farm. I cried the day he left and still tear up looking at these photos. But I am thankful I took the time to chronicle his ten months with us. As for the new calves, I have some catching up to do with the camera.

A1, A2

Or Why I Don’t Test Anymore

by Danny Collins with Permission

When I began with Dexters, I was amazed at the variety of genetic testing offered. Wow, finally a scientific approach to the ideal animal – quick and easy. Just add whatever color you want (with all probabilities for offspring), mix in horned, heterozygous or homozygous polled, add a dash of chondro if you want and bake it with A2/A2 beta casein. Whee, hey presto, instant breeder.

While I knew that this shortcut to perceived success was producing poor animals I saw every day on social media, I was firmly entrenched in the thought that much testing did much good. I knew I was making my breeding decisions based on other factors, but I faithfully spent money on lab tests. Especially A2 and other variants (even if A2 is unproven science and the money goes straight to the corporation).

Last summer I had to come to terms with the fact that, while test results can be “ideal”, the actual animal shouldn’t be breeding. A bull calf I had great hopes for didn’t mature to be ‘bull worthy’.

In the fall two heifers were born, both by A1 sires. The A1/A1 cow was bred to an A1/A2 bull. I really liked the heifer and she’s a keeper. I pulled tail hairs, sent them off for the usual testing and got my results. I laughed, she was A1/A1! I couldn’t care less. Then I got to thinking: ‘Why am I doing this? I knew I’d keep her, I knew she was an improvement on her dam. Spending money was stupid.

A couple of days later the second heifer was born. Her dam tested A1/A2, the sire A2/A2. She was tiny and her dam didn’t want her to nurse, yet that little bundle of spunk was a fighter and survived. Plus, she was curious, without fear and amazing depth. That’s something no test will tell you.

The day I decided to keep her, was the day I decided to let go of testing. Sure I’ll do the $25 genotype and parentage verification, but that’s it. I can’t tell you how liberated I felt.

Breeding isn’t a simple recipe, it’s eye and education and a vision. If someone comes to buy, I don’t want the first question to be about test results. I want them to see an animal that I’m proud to sell, an animal that fits their needs.

Enjoy your milk. It’s Dexter milk, that’s what’s special!

My Beach

There was a time, when the beach was a mandatory annual summer ritual.

Florida, Carolinas, California, Cancun, and The Virgin Islands were among the destinations of these yearly pilgrimages.

Maybe I’m becoming my mother who hardly leaves her house these days except to work in her gardens, or maybe I’m just getting old and tired, or maybe I work too many hours away from the house – I really don’t know why -but anymore my favorite destination is a place called home.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the sun, water, salt, the breezes, and the powdery white sands. But over the years I discovered my favorite beaches were not the touristy ones but the ones like Trunk Bay – the ones that offered all of the above but with one more special ingredient added – Solitude.

I find after a long day, a long week, that I begin longing. Longing for a place that brings peace into my heart – a place that offers solitude – a place where the only tourists are an occasional young deer – a place where I can just soak in the sun and water and watch the cows placidly graze on a shoreline of green grass – a place called home.

How Not to Buy a Bull

There is a cow which is owned by a Dexter breeder near me by the name of Mammoth Cave Sassafras or ‘Sass’ for short. I’ve never saw this cow in person, but in her photos she is the cow of my dreams. Good proportions, deep red coat, beautiful pleasant face, and what an udder!!! The perfect combination beef and dairy cow! Love at first sight and I began secretly coveting this cow!

Last year she gave birth to a heifer, Strawberry, and as soon as I saw this pretty little girl for sale – I knew I had to buy her for our herd! I ended up purchasing her still coveting after her beautiful mother. But So far Strawberry has all the physical characteristics and temperament of her dam!

Then the owner posted a picture of Sass’ bull calf born this February and the wheels started turning in my head! If I can’t buy the mother, and I own the daughter; what would happen if I bought the full blood brother? Would he look as good as his sister? Would he throw off cows with the udders of his mother? I’ve seen pictures of his ‘steered’ brothers at 17-18 months – nice and beefy- and gave me an idea of how he ‘might’ look at the same age.

So breaking all the rules of purchasing a new herd sire, I went with my gut and purchased Danny Boy.

He is now a little over four months, and time will tell whether I made the right decision. But so far, I like what I’m seeing and sometimes you just have to trust your instincts.

By the way, the sire for both Danny Boy and Strawberry descends from Spruce Grove Farms which gives me a little bit more confidence I’m headed the right direction.

-How not to buy a bull.

I Have Cows

Most people my age have nice manicured front yards with perfect edging. I have cows.

I reflect on the years I wasted mowing, investing time and money into big Zero Turn machines, sweating and toiling to have that home and garden magazine cover manicured luscious green yard. Wish I had chose cows.

I now long for the day when I can leisurely sit on my front porch, drinking my fresh brewed cup of coffee, while the morning summer sun burns off the mountain fog, and watch my cows.

The Loss of a Friend

Man’s best friend? Perhaps. My best friend? Without a doubt.

Baylee came into my life in the fall of 2003. I remember that day vividly, arriving at the farm where I picked her up and spotted her hiding under an old boat amidst all the clutter in the rickety old barn. Still remember the look of the owner as I passed on all the puppies clamoring for my attention and selected the runt too scared to come out of hiding. But when I reached down to pick her up, from that moment we formed an inseparable bond.

Over the next fifteen years she became my porch sitting buddy, my camp fire companion, my guardian, and protector. She was my shadow and had an uncanny ability to sense when I needed a good lick on the face.

She saw me through a divorce, several girlfriends, a new wife and three traumatic moves but just accepted without judgement the changes happening in our lives.

Life always has a way of coming full circle and Baylee and I arrived back home together in 2013. But over the past five years, I started noticing the white in her coat, and around her muzzle. This Spring I noticed the life was fading in her eyes and I starting wishing my friend would pass in the night in peace and without pain. I know that may sound harsh or cruel, but I wanted her to go out her way at home.

Baylee passed last month, and there are still days when I come out to sit on the front porch that I sense her presence and expect at any moment that she’ll climb out of the green foliage of the hostas planted along the porch and join me. I suppose it’s my way of grieving the loss of a special friend.

Reflections from a French Dexter Breeder

“We have Dexters here in France, there is no dexter society etc etc. I have no idea what the genetics of my cattle are but the milk from my cows is excellent, with a very high butterfat content, they are easy to handle, will graze rough grass that a holster would turn there nose up at and the meat is just incredible. Our bull throws really nice beef calves (still waiting to see how they grow on but so far they are looking great).”

She pretty much sums up what many of us have forgotten. Dexters are an amazing breed of cattle that survive and thrive in the harshest environments with minimal care.

Sunday Evening Reflections

Work is not an option at this point in my life. Like most small farmers today, I have a Monday to Friday day job, filled with stress and deadlines, and cannot wait for the weekend to roll around.

The weekends on a farm, even a small farm, are a time for catching up and there is always something that needs to be done or repaired. The weekend vanishes way to quick.

But when Sunday evening rolls around, and Monday morning is beginning to sink in, there is something satisfying looking out across the field and seeing the cows content and enjoying the tender green grass while their young calves nurse.