22 Jan

Certified Organic Baby Heifers

Pleasant Meadow Creamery makes certified organic baby heifers! That would be the headline if we were in the news, but really this post is two different topics.

The first has to do with heifers, since they are the best thing on the planet. They offer so much promise. We have a cow named Laci. Laci was bred by AI (artificial insemination) last late winter and early spring. We show her as having been bred on 04/06, and was again in heat on 04/24, missed a heat, and then back in heat again on 05/30.

We bred all three. In all three, except the last one, her signs of heat were strong. She stood mounting, had extremely low milk production, and was active with other cows for a significant portion of the day.

After 05/30, when her next heat was due, she stood mounting once, but that is all I saw, so I did not breed it. We confirmed pregnancy by blood test, called her pregnant, set the due date as 03/15, the dry off date (start of vacation) to 01/15 and moved on with life.

Around January 7 this year, coming up toward vacation, we noticed she was starting to develop anew on her udder, not in production volume, but size. There were other subtle changes. So, we immediately dried her off and reviewed our notes. We reasoned that she must have actually bred on the 04/24 heat and thus the 05/30 was a “trick”. We therefore knew her calving date would be around 02/08. We would barely get 30 days dry.

Unfortunately, in the last several days, it became obvious there was no way Laci was going to February. This morning, at 0730, I took one look at her, felt her tail head, and immediately moved her to the calving pen. By 0830, we had a certified organic baby heifer. Well, we are in certified organic transition and will be certified organic this summer, since we are in year three of some of our transitional fields, and the cows transition one year, concurrently with the final fields.

Dad’s name is Lightning, so heifer’s name is Pleasant Meadow Lightning Luci.

Laci and Luci
Laci and Luci

The second part of this post is about being Certified Organic. We believe in certified organic. It matters to not only claim “organic” practices, but to certify – to have someone look over our shoulder and audit what we say we are doing. First, this certification verifies we are meeting a standard. Second, it catches potential slip-ups before they occur. It forces us to prove out every step to be sure we are in compliance. We are not just saying it.

To get where we are, we first had to develop our own hay making capability. However, we knew we would most likely not have enough of our own hay to supply a growing dairy. We came close this year, but needed at least another 8 tons or so to get us to grazing season.

Over a year ago, we were contacted by a certified organic hay producer in the Missouri River valley of Montana near Great Falls. The name of the ranch is 7 Bar Heart. They have been certified organic since the 80s when owner Gregory saw that the chemical combinations he was using were having the effect of “sterilizing” the soil. He immediately changed course and became certified organic at a time when it was not “the thing to do”. He did it because he reasoned man had been farming that way for centuries mostly successfully. The 70s and early 80s were the heyday of chemical ag with antibiotics, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers. They were also the days we were starting to see the downside of these technologies.

Back to us – we have a lot of hay growers literally right next door to us, so to want to be certified organic is a serious commitment if we are going to truck in hay all the way from near Great Falls. This year was the year I was going to see if I was that committed.

It turns out I am. I care about me. I care about the cows, and I care about you and your health. I care about the earth, the soil, and the wildlife and domesticated life that depends on a healthy balance.

So, we purchased our trailer-load to get us through the winter season. Depending on how much our herd grows, and how good yields are this coming summer, we may have to switch to semi-truckload of this stuff for next year.

If we keep making certified organic baby heifers, we definitely will need truckloads.

Driving to Ulm
Driving to Ulm
Big Round Bales
Big Round Bales
12 Jan

Hazard Tree Removal

Having a large ponderosa pine tree growing right next to the cow barn, on the north side in fact, and with north winds seemingly getting stronger in the last several years, it was time for a hazard tree removal.

The Hazard Tree
Another view of hazard tree
Hazard tree is directly north of cow barn

Years ago, this property was entirely a dense forest with large trees. Within that forest was this large ponderosa pine tree. Its age is at least 100 years old, and it was healthy, but with an interesting looking “crook” or bend about 30 feet up that caused it to lean slightly south. Also, there was a larger branch load on the south, and further up the tree, the tree split into two different tops.

I liked the tree because it served as a great perching point for many birds, including herons occasionally landing there.

When I removed the forest, and in fact after I had built most of that cow barn, which at the time was intended to be hay storage, I left the ponderosa there. I reasoned that it was exceedingly well-rooted, and did not have any obvious defects.

Also, even using a 55,000 pound excavator to push it over requires digging a decent-sized hole on three sides of it, and still takes effort. Ponderosas can be just exactly that well-rooted, especially in a clay soil. Furthermore, at the time, I did not have a use for lumber from it. So, I left it there (this was in 2014).

Since that time, with still a few trees left here and there to provide shade for animals and perching spots for birds, we have been finding that north winds seem to be more fierce than they used to be, particularly after removing the surrounding forest. In the past several years, we have had numerous trees go down, mostly in the bull pen and in the forest line between our north field and the south 20.

Watching the wind blow and really tweak on this tree, I realized that this tree is quite hazardous, and based on watching old ponderosas topple in many locations, especially in the last two years, root balls and all, it became obvious this tree is a danger to the building. Particularly, this tree was dangerous because cows will likely be sheltering in the building when the tree goes down. No tree is important enough to risk building and especially cows. The potential loss is just too great.

So, it became my commitment as of early fall 2020 to remove the tree. Usually, I do these things myself, but with the branch load, the slight lean, and the proximity to the building and potential loss should things go wrong, I decided this was a job for a large machine or professional.

Since I have no plans to rent a large machine soon, I called an excavating company I have had do a couple of jobs for me. He told me he would drop by and give me an estimate at the end of October or early November. He never showed.

Then I forgot about it for a bit, but it was still in the back of my mind. I needed a hazard tree removal! As we headed toward the end of the year, I tried contacting a local tree service. He was very courteous to call me back on a Sunday and promised to drop by within a few days, but he never did. I called him again a week later, and he promised the same, and never came.

So, I contacted a second tree service. I got the same result.

This week, I took a look at that tree and thought – it has to be gone before the next arctic front comes. I texted one of my clients, who owns a logging company. She called her husband, and he came out yesterday afternoon within three hours of me contacting her.

He assessed the tree and said, yep it should be taken out. We decided on a falling direction and a strategy and I asked him when he wanted to do it. His reply, “I have my chainsaw right now!”

Okay. So, we had decided I would also push on the tree with my Gradall, just slightly, in order to act as our insurance policy in case anything went wrong.

While he got suited up in safety gear, I fired up the Gradall and quickly knocked over two birch trees that were dead and in the falling patch of the ponderosa. Then, I put a meal out for the heifer group so they wouldn’t approach the fall line while Alex (Barnhart) got to work.

He made his notch while I lined up the Gradall and then he made his back cut and put wedges in etc. I pushed slightly on the tree and he finished the backcut.

The tree came crashing down perfectly in the fall line. According to my daughters, who were in the house several feet away, it made enough of a thundering sound on impact with the ground that the cats laying around all started.

Alex, with some help from me, quickly delimbed it and cut it into 20 foot logs, and then I thanked him and he left. I finished the job by using the Gradall to push all the slash into a pile, and deck the logs for a future trip through my Woodmizer. Mostly likely, this hazardous tree removal will result in great green pine siding for my future commodity barn at the front of the farm.

All in all, the total job took from about 3 pm to 5:30 pm by the time the logs were decked and the slash piled. We made sure to pile high so the heifers and steers don’t stand around munching too many pine needles – since those aren’t generally good for them and can especially be abortifacent for cows in their third trimester of pregnancy, though there are none in that group currently.

Alex was an awesome guy to do that for me! It took a bit of stress off me. I told him I get very nervous falling tall trees like that around buildings, though generally I have been very accurate. He said he feels the same way, though generally (he did not say this but I know it to be true), he is exceedingly accurate.

Trees are great, just not when they could potentially destroy a building. Do you know exactly how dense and heavy a ponderosa pine tree is? Very. Had it ever fallen on the barn, it would have been very devastating in its effect. I am very pleased to see it no longer in the sky line.