With a brave heart I faced the girls on Thursday and said, "The ad is in the paper - you are for sale!"
"Fine!" said the girls, "No hassle - just give us a day to think about it."
And that was all they needed...a day to hatch their plans.
On Saturday morning, Cream Cheese came in for milking, the end of her lop-sided horn broken off and blood dripping down. She looked like something out of a Dracula movie. Little-Out-of-Africa had stepped back into the fence (while obviously displaying her derriere to the boys next door) and had taken quite a chunk out of the bottom of one heel. She came in on three legs. Poppy had found everything disgusting possible to lie in and arrived smelling as if she had come straight out of the 'Black Hole of Calcutta'. And Bossy Boots, who was supposed to have given birth last week and, therefore, have a charming wee calf to show off, still didn't look anywhere near to delivering the goods. That left Sweet Pea who was just that - sweet. Now, how could I sell her? So, when the phone rang over the weekend my cowardly ears attached to my cowardly mind didn't hear. But, the girls are for sale...as soon as Cream Cheese has had a visit from the vet...and when Africa's heel has....
At the moment, Middelmost is immersed in its own personal incense. Beautiful wafting wafts of baleage from the east and beautiful wafting wafts of baleage from the west. With the paddock next door temporarily shut up for hay I have had to bring everyone home and house them in the forest. Feed is not a problem as I have access to a continual supply of square-wrapped baleage from a not-quite-so-local-farmer. I pull into his yard with the horse float, he spears a big bale with his front-end loader and pops it into the float, I hand over some cash, drive home, and let the girls dine on the best quality baleage the district can offer. With an hour's grazing on the roadside each afternoon, as well as their cut grass, Sweetfeed and straw, they are very happy and their change of grazing is not showing in the milking bucket. The only disadvantage is that any use of the horse float has to be co-ordinated around feeding out the last of the current bale and the collecting of the new bale. But, as the sweet smell of the baleage seeps around the driveway, and in and out of the sheds, and through the garden and over the fences into the forest - who cares? And then, to really make my week brighter, the neighbour across the road cut his oat paddock for oatage and I stood with the girls as they leaned over the fence at a ninety degree angle trying to take in the rich goodness by osmosis. It smelled divine and I couldn't resist negotiating a price for four bales. They are now parked neatly on the side of the road to be used in the event of an emergency.
For a small property, baleage is the answer to a hayshed. If I built a hayshed big enough to store all of the hay I would need for a year, there would be no ground left on which to put the animals! And, if I had enough of a fortune to build this said shed, the investment would only be construed as an over-capitalization on a property of this size, location and value. Yet, the storage of wrapped bales can be a problem as well because they need to be protected from your stock, and from other things such as marauding tree branches trying to tear them apart in high winds. The system that has evolved at Middelmost is simple, cost effective and requires little effort. I hoard a few square bales on the roadside tucked up beside the fence and disguised by the long grass - this is my 'money-in-the-bank' supply and a passing contractor easily delivers it. The rest is bought as I need it, a bale at a time collected and fed out from the horse float so there is no need for any lifting. This leaves the only available shed space spare for the storage of a few conventional bales of straw and some good, anti-depressant hay. My hay for this coming year is already organised and in the shed but, as yet, I haven't been able to source any conventional bales of straw. The not-quite-so-local-farmer will be baling straw in the autumn but it will be the large square bales and he has offered to put some aside for me. With ten conventional bales equaling one big square bale I will need at least five of his bales. His suggestion is that I pick a bale up in the horse float as soon as there is room in the shed for it, back into the shed, put the float door down, hook a rope to the base of the bale via the string, wrap the other end of the rope around the corner post at the back of the shed and drive off, hopefully depositing the bale in the centre of the shed. It's worth a try. I'm sure it will work, as the bales are not all that heavy and it will certainly solve the straw difficulty. It is such a shame being a little person - a small farmer's needs are not recognized or acknowledged in the present climate of "the bigger is better" mentality. It's a bit sad to think that the traditional Christmas nativity scene at the community church will not look so traditional as the small conventional bales disappear into the realms of expensive rarity.
Little Miss Pumpkin scoured. It was so runny it could flow 'through the eye of a needle' so to speak. I couldn't understand it. There had been no change. Her best friend, and calfateria mate, Pie, had no problems. Perhaps it was something she was eating in the paddock? But, no - none of the other dairy calves were scouring. Perhaps she had a bug? But, no - she didn't have a temperature. My mental checklists rolled back and forth as I searched for reasons. It was only by accident I found the source of the problem...it was Africa!
At milking time Sweet Pea comes into the middle stall and feeds her babies while I milk Cream Cheese in the milking bay. With a 'change of the guard' Africa comes into the middle stall to feed her babies while I milk Poppy and when Poppy and Africa are finished and are out, Pumpkin and Pie come into the middle stall for their feed from the calfateria. Something made me stop milking Poppy yesterday and turn around. There was Africa stretched out to the end of her lead and pressed right back up against the gate which separates the middle stall and the end stall. And there was Pumpkin, head pushed through the gate and plugged strongly into Africa's udder having a great old feed! No wonder she was scouring. The little piglet was having two big feeds twice a day! I have now swapped the feed bin over to the other side of the stall and Africa is tied up with her face towards Pumpkin. Africa is cross and Pumpkin is cross but Africa's babies think it's a much better idea for her to be turned around.