Celebrate Hay

Today, I celebrate hay.


These are some of our calves.  To the far right, you can see the edge of a large round bale of hay.  Dave had just dropped it there with the tractor. And you can see my arm where I am gathering up baling twine. The calves are “helping.”

After this photo was made, and after all the twine was gone, we put a large metal hay ring over the hay so they can’t walk on it, have a nap on it, pee on it and generally destroy it.

And that picture takes me to this story, which occurred in 2013.

culpritI’m not sure which of the two Jersey calves in this photo is the wayward boy, but it was one of them.  The black Angus calf, named “Blackie,” was innocent.

One night, about two days after this picture was made, one of those boys got part way through his bottle and began to choke.  Dave was feeding him, yelled at me for help, I came running, and by the time I got there, the calf was staggering around, quite clearly suffocating.

He went down, we dragged him out of his poorly lit stall into the main breezeway of the barn on the concrete and I called Jason (our dairy farm manager mentor).  Jason said he’d be right there and I remember telling him that I didn’t think the calf would be alive when he got there.

We did everything we could think to do. We repositioned him. We pounded on his chest. At this point, we thought that he’d choked on the milk, and got some into his lungs. I was ready to attempt CPR, although I had no idea how to do that on a calf (their mouth and nose are collectively big).

Just when we were convinced he was going to die, he coughed a little and that made it easier for him to breathe.  He went from getting almost no air, to getting a bit more.  He still was in terrible shape, but he wasn’t dead.

Jason arrived. We still had no idea what was wrong with him and were going on the assumption that he had inhaled milk.  Jason grabbed his hind legs and hoisted him upside down (look in that photo at the size of that calf—Jason is a strong guy).  He held him that way by stepping up on the gate nearby and then shook him, attempting to drain milk out of his lungs.

After a bit, he let him down and the calf stood on his own, still having difficulty breathing, but not in the dire shape he’d been in a few minutes earlier.

Jason finally decided to give him some penicillin, thinking he would almost certainly develop pneumonia. While he was getting that, the calf began coughing again and I saw a pink thing in his mouth. I had no idea what it was, but grabbed his head, forced his mouth open, caught the pink thing and pulled gently.

I dragged it out. It seemed like it kept coming forever.

strangleAnd there it is, with a glove for size contrast.

Baling twine.

The tangled ball at the end was obviously blocking his trachea and almost killed him. He was breathing through that mess.

He gave one last cough and then began yelling at me because he wanted to finish his bottle. We were all cheering and laughing and happy as clams. He was oblivious.

That calf went on to adulthood, was sold and I have no idea what happened to him then. (Nearly all our calves remain intact as bulls.)

Since then, we are fanatical about baling twine.  It all gets removed and disposed of where idiot calves can’t eat it.

And the moral of this story is this:  when a calf or a child or an adult or a puppy is choking and you don’t know why, or even if you do think you know why, open their mouth and look. You might see baling twine, or a little part to a toy, or a French fry.

Nurses know this. We are taught it. We practice it when we do CPR and emergency care training. And hell, I was a recovery room nurse. I checked patients for open airways professionally for years.  I know this stuff.

And I just neglected to look because we thought we knew what the problem was. We assumed he’d inhaled milk.

Don’t assume.


A life may depend on it.







Boy, what a repository of bullshit this is.  There’s too much here for one post, but that’s okay. We’ll take it in bits and pieces.

I am a farmer and it is sugested [sic]. . .

When you read “it is suggested” you should get out your red flags and start waving them around.  It is suggested by whom?  Leah is a “farmer” of what?

It is “suggested” that GMOs cause allergies by people who don’t like GMOs.

I got sucked into the whole “oh, my God, the sky is falling; GMOs will kill us all” thing a number of years ago. I didn’t really find out anything. I just believed the stuff I read and decided it wasn’t “natural,” and therefore it had to be bad.

I had gardened off and on for decades and knew the value of organic matter in soil, and had always tried to use as many “organic” methods as possible mostly because I’m cheap, but also because I thought that was better for Planet Earth.

And then we moved to Kentucky, eight and a half years ago, and I embarked on a journey that would change my mind entirely.


The first thing I noticed were all the soybean and corn fields. There are two of them right up the road from our house.  They alternate growing each crop annually. And they are Roundup Ready.  Drive down the road in the other direction from my house and you’ll see more corn and soy, also Roundup Ready.

It seemed that all my neighbors were crazy people.

I decided to ask them about it.

The thing you don’t do when you move into an area from someplace else is run around telling all the locals how it is supposed to be done. Instead, you put on your humble cap and sincerely ask. That’s what I did.  I didn’t understand it and I asked, “Why do you grow Roundup Ready seed?”

And they told me.

They said that they do it because it’s better for their bottom line, for their farms, and for their soil.  Yes, the seed costs more, but the benefits far outweigh the added cost of the seed.  They use much less diesel fuel, spend way less time in the field cultivating, and their fields experience much less erosion.

In other words, the evil Monsanto is not bankrupting people. They are, in fact, saving farmers money.


But what about saving seed? They can’t save the seed. Isn’t that horrible?

Well, no, it’s not.  Saving seed isn’t as easy or convenient as many people think.  You don’t just run out to the field and grab a few earns of corn that happen to be at the exact stage that is optimal for storing as seed and there you are.  Well, actually, you could do that but it’s not a good idea.

That’s because to do it right, you would need to take an ear from a plant here and a plant there, all over the field, shell all of them, mix them together, and that would be your “saved seed” for next year.  That would give you maximum genetic diversity.  Take one ear and save it and plant it and it’s sort of like incest (I’m greatly simplifying this, I know, but I don’t want this post to be a book), with less genetic diversity than is desirable.

The seed has be at the exact right stage to make sure it germinates the following year. It has to be stored under the right conditions. You can’t just shuck the ears into a white bucket and stick it in the basement.

In addition, much of the seed used for modern agriculture is hybrid. You can’t save hybrid seeds and have them produce reliably.

In short, saving seed, even from something easy like corn and soy, is kind of labor-intensive.

The way it’s done commercially is that entire fields are grown specifically for seed. They are harvested at the right moment, cleaned the proper way, stored perfectly and then sold to the farmers.  And the vast majority of farmers know this and quit trying to save seed eons ago, long before there was ever GMO anything.  It’s cheaper to let the seedsman do it in bulk.

And that leads me to cheese.  Sort of. I know it doesn’t seem like a reasonable place to go, but just go with me here.


Like this cheese, in the photo I shared the other day.  My cheese.


I start with a pot full of milk. This is my largest stock pot, which I use almost exclusively for cheese. It holds five gallons of milk.

I bring it slowly to a warm temperature, about 90 to 100 degrees F.


At that point I add the rennet. That’s the white powder in the little bag.  See those measuring spoons? They aren’t the standard type. They measure 1/8 tsp, 1/16 tsp and 1/32 tsp.  My five gallons of milk requires 1/16 tsp of rennet.

That’s not very much. See the measuring cup?  It has warm water in it, and in the bottom is the 1/16 tsp of rennet. I stir that until it dissolves and then stir that water/rennet solution into the milk.  I have to really stir it for quite a while (two or three minutes by the clock) to make sure it’s distributed well.

Then I cover the pot and leave it undisturbed for about 45 minutes.

When I come back, this is what I find.


It might look the same, but it’s not. The paddle is literally cutting the milk.  It coagulates into a mass, sort of like jello.

I cut it into squares with a long bread knife. As I do, a clear liquid starts to seep from the cut squares. The clear liquid is whey.


The squares are called curds.

This is how all cheese is made. The only difference between one type of cheese (cheddar) and another (Parmesan) is in how long the curds and whey are kept at a particular temperature and how rapidly they are heated.

At this point, for my cheese, I start slowly heating the curds, and as I do, the curds become smaller and firmer and there is more and more whey.

When the curds get “done,” that is, they become a little squeaky and almost chewy, I drain the whey (the pig loves it) and salt the curds and they go into a mold and a cheese press.


Here’s mine. The weight on the end is an eight-pound weight, but that translates, because of leverage, to about 60 pounds. The red weight is only three pounds, and it is the one I use first, gradually increasing the pressure for about two hours.  Once it gets to the max, it stays there overnight. Whey is expressed further from the pressure.

The result is a wheel of cheese that weighs about five pounds.  One gallon of milk makes one pound of cheese.

The resultant wheel goes down to the basement to cure. The longer it cures, the sharper it gets.

But what I want to talk about here is rennet.

Remember the calves and their little pens that we built so they won’t die?

Calves are born with only one part of their stomach active. That part, the abomasum, secretes rennet.  When a calf drinks milk, it goes straight to the abomasum, bypassing all the other parts of the ruminant stomach.  Immediately rennet is secreted, curds form, and the resultant curds sit in the abomasum for a longer period of time than just plain milk would, and that’s how a calf digests milk.

If the calf overfeeds, the abomasum gets too full, and plain milk, not whey, gets pushed along into the intestinal tract, and plain milk is like a gourmet feast for bacteria.  The calf gets diarrhea, the bacteria get all out of balance and the calf can become very, very ill in a very short time. This is called “milk scours,” and I hate it.  Calves beg for seconds on their bottles. They act like they are dying of starvation. They are not, and giving them extra is cruel. It can kill them.

When a calf is about a month old, sometimes a bit sooner, sometimes a little later, he will start to nibble grain and hay. As he does so, the other parts of his stomach that digest those things begin to “wake up” and become functional. And the amount of rennet secreted begins to subside.  We bottle-feed our little guys until they are eating hay and grain well, and show no signs of scouring at all. This is generally at least eight weeks and sometimes as long as twelve.  Plenty of farmers wean them much sooner, but we are softies.

But back in the bad old days, there was only way to get rennet to make cheese.


You had to take a young calf that had never eaten anything but milk and kill it and then harvest the abomasum and dry it and powder it.

Imagine Kraft cheese.  Think about all those calves.

As the demand for cheese increased in the USA, back when I was a child, people became a bit squeamish about killing all those calves for rennet.   The result was an uneven supply of rennet and resultant higher prices for cheese.

So food scientists began looking for another way.  They looked at vegetable sources for rennet. They found some. Vegetable rennet is available today, and you can find cheese in some health-stores made with vegetable rennet.  I will tell you right now it sucks.  It simply doesn’t do as good a job as the substance that evolved in cattle to make curds.

The scientists knew it sucked too, so they looked a bit more.

And in the late eighties, they figured out a way.

Wanna guess?  Got any idea?

They genetically modified bacteria with genes from calves to produce rennet.  They tested the hell out of it.  And in 1990, this genetically modified rennet was approved and has been used to make cheese in the United States ever since.  The vast majority of cheese made here is made with GMO rennet and has been for nearly 27 years.


You know, cheese.  Like this.

Funny how you never hear anything about this.  Nobody gripes or protests or marches against cheese. Nobody says, “Oh, gee, I have all these allergies, and I’m sure it’s because there are GMOs in cheese.”

But all those calves got to live.

Now, if I have piqued your interest in this subject because I am saying things you never heard before, you might find this interesting. This video gave me a whole lot to think about.

Dave and I had a lot of conversations about it. We did a great deal of reading. And then we went to the store and bought some Roundup.  Sure makes fences easier to maintain.




Shit: A Primer


They don’t read this blog, you know.  LOL

Call me dumb. . .

Okay, Becky.  You’re dumb.

becky 2

Slander is spoken.  I am not talking out loud.  I am writing. The word Becky is looking for is libel.  And it doesn’t apply in this case, anyway. What I have written about Becky is my personal opinion, quite clearly.  Obviously, I haven’t done IQ tests on Becky, so I have no way to know whether or not she is mentally challenged.  My expression (blithering idiot) was hyperbole (look that up, please, Becky and Nicole) and therefore obviously opinion, which is protected speech.

But Becky did “research.”  What she means is that she Googled a bit. And she found out that human waste is sometimes treated and then sold as fertilizer.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin has been doing this for decades. The product is called “Milorganite.”  I’ve actually used it before.

It is treated. That’s the operative word here. Treated.  It is contained and treated.  Treated how?  Actually, that’s sort of interesting. It’s treated with microbes. They are introduced into the sewage and they quite literally eat it, and then they (the microbes) are killed. Milorganite is essentially dead bugs.


Other plants treat human waste and produce what is called “biosolids.”

Remember that word?  Treated.


Of course, our sewage gets treated and then “put into the ground somewhere.”  What else would we do with it?  Fire it into outer space?

But the issue here is human waste vs. animal waste.  Why do farmers spread animal waste on their fields, but the Nauglers can’t fling their poo all around like chimpanzees?

Becky obviously doesn’t know.  Nicole doesn’t know.  And Erin doesn’t know.  They aren’t the only ones.  They are just the folks I chose to quote.

with Frances

Here I go, off the subject again.  But not really.

This is Frances the cow. Standing in front of her is Claire, the first calf she had after she came to live with us from the dairy.  We were going to do everything “natural.”  I told Frances that it was going to be wonderful. She was going to get to keep her calf with her and she was going to love it so much.

And there they are, all happy. Day 2.

And it was great, for about two weeks.

And then it started being less great. Actually, looking back, it wasn’t great after about the first two hours, but I was too starry-eyed and wanting to do everything “natural,” to understand what Frances was trying to tell me. She can’t talk.

Frances was getting sick. Before we realized it, she had gotten quite ill.  She got a condition called “ketosis.”  If you know anything about the Atkins diet, you’ll recognize the word.  It simply means “fat burning.” The Atkins diet, intended of course for human beings, promotes ketosis because the condition burns up a lot of fat, thus causing weight loss.

People generally can handle mild ketosis without many problems.  Cows cannot.

Cows get really, really sick and the condition can be fatal.

Frances started looking and acting depressed.  She would walk in the barn and stand facing the wall like she expected the wall to move for her. She had “fuzzy brain.”  She also quit eating.

When a lactating dairy cow quits eating, you are in very deep trouble.

The condition in dairy cows occurs primarily when the cow’s calorie expenditure exceeds her calorie intake. No modern lactating dairy cow can eat enough calories to stay alive on just hay and grass.  Grain is required. But you can’t feed them too high a ratio of grain to grass or you’ll get their digestion all screwed up.  So it’s a balancing act and many of them walk that tightrope without a safety net.

Stress can be and often is the straw that broke the cow’s back.

So, when this novice cow-owner finally figured out that something was really wrong, we immediately jerked the calf off her and put the calf in a pen.  Frances, I swear, gave an audible sigh of relief.

I then began giving her molasses mixed in water (we call it “coffee”) to up her calorie intake and poured molasses all over her grain and hand fed her for several days.  She had obviously lost weight.  I felt terrible about it and frankly stupid.  It took her far longer to recover than it did for her to get sick.

And she never had that calf with her again.  Nor any other calf. Ever.

My cow loves being pregnant, but she doesn’t love mothering. She is really into her calves right after birth. She does the mama-moo thing (wonderful if you’ve never heard a cow do that) for about thirty minutes to an hour. And then she’s ready to go back out to the pasture for a snack and leave the calf with the nursery staff.  I am the nursery staff.

From that point forward, she pretty much ignores her calves and within a few days, couldn’t pick her own calf out of a crowd.

So much for “natural.”

So we put the calf in a pen. And that led me to feel sorry for the poor little calf in this stall all alone. So we got some more calves.


[BTW, before Nicole can start, these are well-fed Jersey bull calves. They are skinny.  That’s how they come.  They grow like weeds and they stay skinny because they are making bone, not fat.]

We raise Jersey bull calves for our local dairy.  They buy them back from us when they get to the age where we can’t stand them anymore.  The dairy then chooses the bulls they want to keep in their herd and sells off the rest.

So it was all great.  Frances was happy and has never had a serious problem with ketosis again, and she is delighted that the nursery staff takes the babies. She gets them back when they are adolescents and they form her “herd” and she bosses them around.  It works.

But we began to have a problem.  A big one.

The first batch of calves did fine.  We have an old wooden barn with stalls.  We put the calves in those stalls and allowed them access to the breezeway as a run during the day.  They were bedded down on nice shavings and straw. It looked perfect.

calf in stall

We probably raised a dozen or more that way and everything was fine.

But then, they started scouring.

“Scours” is a farmer word for diarrhea.  Watery, awful, smelling diarrhea. There are several types, and the calf’s age and the appearance of the scours can vary depending on the causative organism.  Our calves are 3-4 days old when we get them, have had their mother’s colostrum, and they were getting sick about a week after they arrived on our farm.

We treated the scours and it got to the point that every single calf we got developed it.  Treatment consists of antibiotics to hopefully kill the causative organism and mostly of hydration, electrolyte solution around the clock.  If you can keep the calf hydrated, he will likely do pretty well.

And then we got Twister.


Named for the tornado shape on his head, he was a super big guy.

On his ninth morning of life, Dave went into his stall to give him his bottle and Twister was staggering.  He kept falling down and refused the bottle. He was scouring.

By 7 p.m. that day, he was dead.

I cried and sobbed and I just can’t tell you how upset I was.  He was our first death (of a calf).  I knew why he died.  I had no idea until then how fast and brutal it could be, but I knew why.

I just didn’t know how to stop it.

I began reading everything I could find about scours. We implemented one practice after another to cure the problem. Nothing worked.  Our calves universally got sick and what was worse, they seemed to be getting sicker. We had two or three near-misses with death, and then finally had another calf die.

At this point, I was trudging out to the barn every two hours around the clock to force-feed calves electrolyte solution and we were ready to just quit.

The problem, we knew, was manure. (You knew I’d get back to the subject at some point, didn’t you?)  There is no way in the world to sterilize dirt.  Our barn is old. We have had lots of animals in it, not just calves, but Frances and the donkeys and the bigger calves.  They poo a lot.

We tried deeper straw.  Didn’t help.

We tried cleaning the stalls out completely between calves and spraying each stall with an entire gallon of Clorox.  Didn’t help.

We tried separating the calves completely in different stalls.  Didn’t help.

We had to get those calves off that concentrated manury ground.  We thought about creating concrete pens that could be hosed off (complicated and expensive).  You name the idea and we considered it. But the big, underlying principle was that our calves were getting sick and dying because they had immature immune systems and they were being overwhelmed by organisms in the ground.

Out on a field, for instance, with beef cattle, the calves stay with their mothers and move around the field, never staying long in any place that is concentrated with manure.  (Although beef calves can get bad cases of scours and some of them die. Scours is the number one cause of calf death. )

Anyway, nothing worked. Nothing even helped.

And then we looked at how dairies do it.  You know, those evil, Big Agra, unnatural places that are cruel to animals.  How do they keep calves alive?


Like this.

This was not practical for us for a variety of reasons, but we started thinking about it. Those hutches are moved between calves to new ground, and the ground is dug out and the floors of those areas filled with new sand. The hutch itself is thoroughly cleaned.  Those calves don’t die.

calf pen bare

So Dave built this.  We now have two of them, the second one located to the left of the first.

The “floor” is made of milk crates turned upside down on a gravel floor. Dave dug out several inches of the stall flooring and filled it with gravel. This is a stall that we have never used for animals, but mostly for hay storage, so there is little to no build-up of manure.

calf in pen

Here’s a little guy in the pen.  We put a good thick layer of straw as bedding. The calf is not on the ground.  His feet never touch the ground.  Between calves, we take the whole thing apart, take the milk crates outside, hose them down, spray them well with Clorox (a whole gallon per pen is the rule) and leave them in the sunshine for a couple of days.  The wooden parts of the pen are saturated with Clorox, and of course, the feed and water trays are cleaned.

Our calves live here for three weeks. On Day 21, they graduate to the mob that live in the breezeway and stalls. By then, they have developed an immunity to the various organisms that cause scours (pretty much).

We have not had a death since we started using these pens.  We have not had a single case of scours. We’ve had a couple who thought about it, but one day of electrolyte solution and we’re good.  And we’ve raised maybe 20 or so calves this way.

The microbes in manure can be deadly.  Cow manure was deadly to our calves.  Poor little Twister.

So why are we more cautious about human manure than we are about cow manure?  Because we are humans.

Dave and I have to be really cautious about cow manure around baby calves.  People have to be cautious about human manure around people, especially the elderly and babies who have underdeveloped or failing immune systems.

There are organisms in human manure that are specific to human manure and harmful to humans and not to dogs or cows.  Ditto with cow manure and cows.

There are a few organisms that are present in all manure and pose a problem for people, mostly commonly listeria, e. coli and salmonella.  And in fact, those three manure-spread organisms show up in food-poisoning recalls over and over again.

And the biggest offender seems to be produce, but not just produce.  Specifically green leafy veggies that are eaten raw, like baby spinach and that bagged, ready-to-eat salad.  ( I won’t buy that stuff for that reason.)

Another interesting thing is that buying organic doesn’t help.

5 percent
click image for link

I was stunned to discover that of the recalls for those three organisms (listeria, e. coli and salmonella), way more than 5 percent have been organic produce or organic products.  The figure is about 25%.  I can’t link to anything because to figure this out, you have to find the stats and then laboriously go through and count them and look up each company to see if the product is labeled “organic.”  It’s tedious and this article is too long now.  But I won’t buy organic if I can help it.

Why is that?

It’s because organic farmers are far more likely to use manure on their fields since they cannot use chemical fertilizers.  Ordinarily that isn’t a problem. We use animal manure here on our garden.

But we don’t put raw animal manure right on the garden on our growing plants.  Do you know what happens if you do that?  The plant will probably die.  Manure has to “rot.”  It has to sit for a while.  Nobody would do that more than about once.

When farmers take raw manure out and spread it on their fields, they are not spreading it in their corn, or soybeans. They  are spreading it out on the grass. We do it.  There is already cow manure out there because that’s where Frances and the older calves live. We just add a bit more and spread it out.  We are not eating any of that grass. They are. And they carefully eat around the shitty areas until enough time and rain has occurred that they deem it okay.

So how does lettuce get contaminated with e. coli if the well-rotted manure is put on the lettuce field and plowed in?  The usual way it happens is that there is a pile of manure someplace near the field and the fresh manure is rained on and the run-off goes down into the field and gets on the lettuce.  It’s not the rotted stuff that is plowed in that hurts us. It’s the raw manure, with living e. coli in it that is culprit.

Notice the common denominator here?  With our calves, the issue was figuring out a way to keep calves away from a build-up of fresh manure.  With organic farming (or any other farming for that matter), the issue is keeping the crops away from any contamination with fresh manure.

So we’re back to shit.

Why are outhouses okay?  They’re okay, if dug properly, because the waste is kept from leaching into streams or ponds (the water supply), and because people can’t be exposed to it because it’s way down under the ground, and because the ground itself at that depth provides a good filter.  In practice, sometimes it isn’t really all that good, which is one reason people who are not on a municipal septic system (like us) generally have  septic tanks.

Septic tanks provide a safe, contained place for the waste to rot and then for the overflow (effluent) to be sent out into a drain field (all underground).  People are in no danger of being exposed to a properly functioning septic system.  Once in place, it’s a no-brainer and human error ceases to be an issue.

Humanure is fraught with chances for human error to screw up the whole thing.  At every step, it can be done wrong.  From spilling the bucket, to not constructing the compost bin in the right place or the right way, to not managing the compost bin so that it heats up correctly, to run-off, there are issues where those who are the neighbors of people who are using humanure systems have to trust that those crunchy,  back-to-the-land, self-described “beginner” homesteaders really read the book and are doing it right.

Why should the Nauglers’ neighbors have to worry about that?