This guy. What a great animal he is. He was pretty old when we moved on the place, but there were only two full-grown bulls available, they were the same age, and so we just picked one and went with it. He was over ten when he became our herd bull, which is older than most farms retire their bulls, so, as might be expected, his track record with the ladies hasn't been great. Out of five years, one year we had three calves (out of five cows) but most years we've only gotten one or two.
He is now approaching sixteen, and he looks it. He reminds me of a senior horse who just can't keep the weight on anymore. I've done what I can to be sure to address any factors within my control, but it's clear he's on the downhill slide. He is certainly a mere shadow of his former self.
I've been prepping my boy for the potential loss of Big Guy since the beginning of winter. Winter is hard and Big Guy does not have any reserves left on him. I make sure and give him supplemental feed every day to give him the extra calories he needs but at some point, it will simply not be enough.
So far, our winter has been mercifully mild. Big Guy is hanging in there and seems content, so I have been happy to let him live out his best life in retirement, but I'm not sure how he'll fare in a true cold snap.
Fortunately, he is still "the man" in the herd, so I don't have to worry about him getting run off from the food. I guess having the biggest antlers does that for you. Reach is everything, I suppose. The bull herd now has six critters in it. Big Guy and five of his progenies. We finally have two new young bulls old enough to take his mantle and - hopefully - give us a full calf crop next year.
I suppose this is the circle of life. New and old. Old and new. We come, make our mark, and then take our exit. I have been preparing myself and my son for the inevitable, but since we are expecting our first sub-zero temperatures of the winter this weekend and I don't know how Big Guy will fare, I thought maybe I should prepare you for the possibility as well.
As my mom always tells me, getting old ain't for the faint of heart. Big Guy has gently taught me a lot about elk farming, and I sure hope he gets to have a nice, long retirement.
I have been waiting and waiting for Goldie to calve. She's had a ginormous udder for almost two weeks now, maybe longer, but with the way things have been going, I was starting to question whether we'd have any more calves at all (93 has had all kinds of weird issues and I have no idea whether to expect her to calve at this point or not), but when I went out to check on everyone this morning and found Goldie to be missing, I immediately went looking for her. Sure enough, she had found a quiet place to do her thing.
She had her back to me when I came up on her. Her tail kept me from seeing anything, but I could tell she was in labor. Little did I know that I caught her at the final push! What luck, I thought and started recording a video. Then Goldie got up and the calve came sliding out - which is not unusual at all, but this calf came out completely limp. I mean it's not like the calves usually catch themselves or anything, but they don't usually come out looking quite so much like a floppy rag doll. The sound it made when hitting the ground was so discouraging, I was sure it was dead.
You can hear my disappointment and concern in the video, but then Goldie started licking that calf. Mamas licking their calves is so, so important in stimulating the calf to come to and start breathing on their own and with its first twitch, I was so excited! Phew! Good grief. I wasn't sure I was ready to sustain another loss so soon.
I went out to check on them throughout the day and this calf, though it had a floppy start, it was up and nursing very quickly. It seems strong and sticks to mama like glue, which eases my mind a bit after the last loss due to the coyotes. Mama and baby hung out in the knoll where she gave birth pretty much the whole day, but just about dusk, I saw them come out and join the herd for an evening grazing session. I am now feeling cautiously optimistic that all will be well! Yay!
Four days ago, 603 started our calving season off right. That morning, I was pretty sure she was in labor based on how she was acting, but since all seemed well, I just let her do her thing. And do it, she did! Later that afternoon, I was lucky enough to catch a good look at baby - though it was from quite a distance.
The following day, I was happy to catch a glimpse of the calf nursing late in the afternoon. It appeared healthy, so I wasn't too concerned when I didn't see it for the two days. But this evening, I thought I really wanted some proof of life, so out I went with my camera to see what I could see.
Lo and behold, the girls were all in the upper pasture and I felt the odds were in my favor that baby was in the lower pasture, so I closed the gate and went hunting for him/her. 603 told me clearly that baby was in my pasture with her behavior, and then as I was watching her, I saw baby's head pop up from behind the rock wall. As I first approached baby, s/he was standing but then it decided it was supposed to hide, so it lay down. Mama was right there on the other side of the fence giving me a piece of her mind.
I didn't want to antagonize mama too much, but I figured it was my chance to get a few nice photos of an elk calf without a fence between me and it. I have a bit of zoom on my camera, so I only had to get within about 15-20 feet of baby to get some good pictures. Mama was pacing the whole time, hair standing on end, grinding her teeth at me.
Baby didn't provide me with an opportunity to identify its gender, so we'll have to wait before I can start calling it a him or a her. Regardless, it is certainly cute!!
Well, I didn't want to make mama too crazy, so I took my dozen photos and left them alone. I sure hope this little one has some friends soon!! I think 604 may be next on deck, but I guess time will tell!
We've had a few warm days - like 58 degree days!! - and so most of our snow has melted off. It's brought my least favorite time of the year... post snow dog poop clean up. Yikes! If you have a dog and live where snow lingers in the winter, you know what I'm talking about. Some of us, however, have become really excited about what the melt off brings!
Yesterday, I looked out the window and saw Maple going bananas in the backyard over something. Turns out, her beloved rock had become uncovered and it was clearly a joyful reunion with a long lost love.
You may think it odd for me to say that Maple has a beloved rock, but I don't think there is a more appropriate word to be had. Maple found this rock on a walk last summer and doggedly (hee hee) carried it a half mile home. She has been obsessed with it ever since. There are other rocks in the world, but, in Maple's mind, they are clearly subordinate to this rock!!
Here she is last September picking out just. the. right. rock. Took her a while, but once she decided, she could not be swayed. I'm not sure what her criteria was, but it certainly had nothing to do with how easy it was to get up out of the creek!
Awww, look how little she was back then!! This was also the beginning of her giving things "CPR." We joke all the time now, "Look at Maple giving that _______ CPR!" And that little yip? That's her "I'm so excited I just can't hide it" yip.
She was definitely making that yip yesterday when she was reunited with her favorite rock. What a funny girl I have!
We had our first hard frost last night. It was a bit of a surprise, kind of like the frost earlier in the week. For that frost, I was in bed ready to turn out the light when I saw they had suddenly posted frost warnings. Despite not having harvested my dahlia flowers for a few days, I sure wasn't getting out of bed at that point to do it! Fortunately, it was a spotty frost and the dahlias lived to bloom another day... well, five days to be exact.
Fortunately, I noticed the change in the forecast earlier in the evening last night and was able to go out and harvest the last few flowers of the season. Nothing like picking flowers in the dark!
It was a good thing I did so, too! This morning was white with frost. My boy looked out the window and exclaimed that it almost looked like it had snowed. Well, then the sun started to peek over the hill and I had to get out in the yard with my camera. Water drops and ice crystals are quite possibly my two favorite things to photograph! That dahlia at the top of the page is perhaps my favorite shot of the morning, but it's really hard to choose when nature gives you so many beautiful subjects.
This little blanket flower will never get to open to its full glory, but it's beauty was noticed!
The cosmos was especially spectacular. Each petal was fully lined with crystals and so was the center. Amazing.
Obviously, since I went out and picked the dahlias last night, there weren't many blossoms left to photograph, but some of the buds were worthy of a bit of attention.
I loved the little tufts of ice on this coreopsis! And the line of crystals on the blade of grass next to it was the perfect frame.
My carrot greens were challenging for composing a great photo, but the way each leaf was lined with ice meant I had to take a few photos nonetheless. I'm hoping, by the way, that this frost has sweetened up those carrots. The few I've pulled up so far were beautiful but a bit bitter. Hopefully, Mr. Frost has worked his magic. :-)
Here comes the sun!
Yes, nature is an amazing thing, isn't it? I love the change of seasons. About the time I get somewhat bored with one, a new one comes along to wow me, and what a wow it was this morning.
I rolled the dice a bit when I jumped into raising yak. I was looking another critter to go along with my elk and they seemed like a good choice for many reasons, but I'd never actually tried yak meat before I made the decision.
Fortunately, yak meat is even better than I had ever anticipated! It is amazing! I think it may be my favorite meat now. What makes it so special? I'm so glad you asked!
As you can see, it really isn't that different looking from very lean beef. In a lot of ways, it really tastes a lot like it, too... but it tastes a bit more robust. A bit more savory. And a lot more juicy, tender, and delicious, if you ask me. Because yak came about in the very high elevations of the Himalayas, it physically changed the meat to allow for the reduced oxygen atmosphere. Those changes mean that this meat, despite being very lean and healthy, is very juicy and tender when cooked.
Seriously, the first time I grilled a couple of steaks, I almost overcooked them because the meat does not firm up and dry out like beef when cooked. I have to use a thermometer when I cook yak steaks because I can't tell how done they are without it! What does that mean? It means you don't have to work so hard not to ruin a yak steak like you do with elk or venison (or even beef, for that matter). Yak steaks are tender and juicy despite how lean they are and it makes for an amazing eating experience!
I like to keep it simple and pan fry them in a little butter with a sprig of fresh rosemary for an aromatic flair. So, so good.
Here we have a tenderloin on the left and a New York strip steak on the right. I love the color and flavor the butter gives to these steaks! I made these steaks especially for photographing to show you how amazing they are, but I ended up eating both steaks as soon as I thought I took enough photos. I just couldn't stop - they were so good!
So juicy and delicious! These were cooked to medium rare (130F by a probe thermometer), but look how juicy and delicious they look. And, trust me, delicious they were!
Not only does yak taste great, but it is a healthy and more environmentally friendly choice than beef. Yak has roughly half the calories and less than half the fat of beef and yak utilize about one third the feed to produce meat as beef does. Sounds like a win, win, win to me!
I've been loathe to write this... it's been a challenging week. Farming is not for the faint hearted! Besides the somewhat normal, if not to the max this year, challenges with insect and animal pests in the gardens, we had a very disappointing death this week.
I found this baby inexplicably dead on Monday. After much research, investigation, and consultation, I believe I know what the main cause of death was, but it doesn't really matter. The end result is the same. You wait for almost a year to see those new calves arrive and to have it taken so quickly when it was initially so healthy is disappointing - to put it mildly.
I believe the calf was stricken down by a condition called fly strike. When weather conditions are just right (hot and humid, which it was horribly so with a bit of rain on top of it), fly pressure can be heavy and if the hair is moist or the naval isn't dry they can lay their eggs so quickly on a new calf that it actually overwhelms them very quickly, in as little as 24 hours. This is something I had always heard about but never seen. Having spent most of my livestocking years in the arid West, I had never come across it first hand.
There may have been confounding factors, and I won't bore you with all the details, but suffice to say, I'm very disappointed about the loss. It's funny, when we first started having calves on the place, when I didn't see a calf at least once a day, I was beside myself, and then I started chastising myself for being silly. Well, I guess when I didn't see that calf at all Sunday, I wish I'd been a little silly and gone looking for it. Hind sight is 20/20, I suppose.
Thank goodness the elk calf seems healthy so far! I didn't get to see it today, despite my efforts - the elk calves hide really well - and the mamas are not quite so magnanimous with me in there looking for them (i.e. they'd run me down me if given the chance!), but I did have proof of life yesterday and it looked very healthy, running around and appearing quite strong.
Today, I gave the yak some grass around lunch time and I was a bit concerned that Goldie (the golden colored cow) wasn't around. She's kind of a loner, often hanging off just a bit from everyone else, but when I didn't see her this evening either, I figured I'd best go looking for her. She can be a bit aggressive, so I thought I'd get the four wheeler to check on her. On my way back to the house to get it, I saw her through the trees... and... what was that black thing trotting along beside her!?! Goldie had her calf! It's our first black calf - a "trim" as they call it because it has white on the face, leg(s), and tail. I haven't had a chance to get close, so I don't know the gender yet. It was moving around pretty good and nursing though, so that's a good sign.
As you might imagine, I'm a bit nervous. When you can lose a healthy calf in the blink of an eye, suddenly they seem very fragile. But, the weather is much nicer; it's supposed to be very mild tonight, so I think s/he will be all right until morning. I'll bring them in to the corrals tomorrow and get a better look at the baby and give it a once over... and maybe apply some fly prevention.
Despite the loss this week, a new calf always makes things seem a bit brighter. I think #7 is on deck next, but I'm not sure exactly how soon. Hopefully, she will bring us another wonderful surprise soon!
It's really my favorite way for it to happen... I like to go out and be surprised, surprised by a healthy calf that just suddenly is there. Nature did what it was supposed to and all went well. After last year's lost calf, I find I've become a bit of a nervous nelly.
Obviously, I knew they were getting close, but when I went out to move the yak today, I was surprised to hear that unmistakable quiet pig squeak yak babies make. Let me show you what I mean:
I just love baby yak! They're like an interesting combination of cow and pig in the first week or two. Their little yak grunt is more like a pig grunt and they even kind of look piglet like, with their big pink noses (they don't all have pink noses, but when the muzzle is white, the nose is pink!).
I love that I can go right in there and say hi to the calf... well, as long as mama is otherwise occupied! ;-) In this case, mama had already left the pasture with the group as I was moving them I had already closed the gate before we all realized what had happened. This is a little girl and though she's a bit knock kneed, I think she'll probably grow out of it. This is 100's new calf - she was the one who had the live calf last year - and she seems quite a bit more robust than last year's wee one was in the first week. This one tried to head butt me three times already!!!
100 is such a good mama, so I know that little one is in good hands. After I left there, I went to feed the elk and noticed that 603 hadn't come to eat with everyone else, so I went hunting for her. Figures I didn't have my good camera with me, so this was my first peek at the new calf. Don't know the gender yet, but the coloration is a bit different than the calves we've had so far. S/he is more taupe colored than ruddy. It's very pretty!
After getting my big camera, I realized they had moved and baby crawled through a hole in the fence to another pasture leaving mama behind. I was a bit worried when I saw two of the other cows come over and paw at her/him. I probably don't need to worry, but in the wild, the cows go off by themselves to have their calves, so this is a bit of an artificial environment for calving. I went to get a bit more grain and everyone left the little one alone and 603 managed to get in the same pasture with baby and all the others. Then the ladies went back to check on the calf, but mama was there to make sure they behaved themselves. I've seen this with every new calf on the place: the other mamas have to come and check them out!
Fortunately, baby was along a fence line that I had access to, so I went to see if I could get a better look and maybe a few good pictures. Success! But as I got closer, it became apparent to me that 603 is bonded with her calf. No worries with this first time mom that she won't be taking care of her calf. She made it very clear that I was close enough with my camera. This is a mama who would be more than willing to stomp the tar out of me if that fence wasn't there!
At this point, I decided it was time to high tail it out of there and let her just get used to being a mom. Love that close up I got of the calf though (top photo on this post). And you know what!?! I think there might be another yak calf making an appearance tonight! We'll see what the morning brings! What a wonderfully surprising afternoon!
Last year, I happened to notice an oriole in my apple tree while it was blooming, so I ordered an oriole feeder to see if I could entice them to hang around. It worked! And then some!
Not only did they stick around all summer last year, but they came back this year and appear to have brought all their friends and family. I have so many orioles visiting my yard, it's amazing!
The original feeder I purchased was nothing special. I think it was twelve bucks or something, but they love the fruit and jelly I put out there... and as a jam/jelly producer, I always have partial jars in the fridge looking for a mouth!
Interestingly enough, the orioles aren't the only ones that enjoy the jam. It took me two years to identify the nondescript gray bird shown here with the oriole. I would hear him singing non-stop in the trees with the most elaborate songs! He was initially very shy, which is why it took me so long to identify him. For months, I could hear him but never see him. They're not shy at all anymore! He's called a cat bird because in addition to beautiful songs, he makes a call that sounds like a cat meowing!
I just love these visitors. I have feeders out most of my windows, and they use them all! I'm pretty sure I have at least four different pairs of orioles... maybe more. I think the cat birds are territorial, so I'm guessing I only have the one pair of them, but they love to sing! The orioles are no slouch either in the singing category. I love listening to them all serenading me while I work. I can't think of a better soundtrack to accompany a long day of weeding or pruning! Welcome, back, my friends!
I love winter. I love snow. It's one of the reasons I pushed for moving to New Hampshire. But I also love spring, summer, and fall. Every season in its time. The great thing about four distinct seasons is that right about the time you start getting tired of one, it's about time to start moving into another. It's just been the last week or so that I've started catching myself longing for spring. It first happened while spending an hour excavating a gate so I could move Piggy into a different pasture. And then there was today.
It's been much warmer the last two weeks with plenty of days in the forties. And then - suddenly - we're back in the single digits... with a wind. Don't let that bright blue sky fool you. It was miserable out this morning. The moaning of the wind through the cracks of the windows in the house was epic and I was NOT looking forward to going out to feed this morning.
I put it off as long as I could, but we were still registering near zero wind chills mid-morning, so out I went. This is my DANG it's bright and cold scowl-y face. Wowza! The wind was howling!
As usual, the critters didn't seem to even notice, but they were awfully happy to see me. The only good thing about the cold was that after a week of slugging through deep, heavy, slushy snow, it had frozen back solid and I could walk on top of it again. Yay!
The ice in a few areas was getting a bit silly though. This patch almost got me yesterday and I practically pulled a muscle to keep from going down, but today I realized I had yak poop stepping stones and made good use of them coming and going. Thanks, yak. :-)
Speaking of yak... that wee one is now in a pasture with a hay feeder that she can't crawl under, so she's staying a lot cleaner! Look how fluffy she is! I just love to pet her.
Of course, that does come with a slight occupational hazard. They say yak fiber rivals Merino wool. Perhaps a yak wool sweater is in my future!!
Temperatures are headed back up to the forties tomorrow. Come on, Spring. I'm ready!!