All you need is one warm day and you leap, cheerful and charged into the chores of spring! Now, with two warm days this week, all hell broke loose. Trees got planted, vege patches in the orchard were marked out, the spot for a new garden shed (which I can’t afford to buy) was targeted with Roundup in anticipation, and my calf pen was rebuilt. Not that there was much wrong with the old calf pen - I had made it myself! It was put together with bits of old roofing iron nailed to the top edge of the petanque court fence and was strapped at the other end to a piece of down pipe smacked onto a waratah stake which I had driven into the ground. Copious amounts of baling twine held the two old wooden gates enclosing the open end together and, with plenty of straw, it was very cosy. I was quite proud of my effort - it had lasted three seasons. But, the time had come, as the walrus said.
Enter the local handyman (who seems to have every handyman tool available on earth) and with his little dog on one side and his not-so-little thermos on the other he set to and built the most wonderful pair of calf yards possible. They have a sturdy iron roof with covered in sides and with an extending pen made of strong, solid rails with inter-connecting and external gates. They look good enough to keep a ferocious bull in!
Exit the local handyman (with the contents of my bank account) and I began the spring-cleaning. The old straw was heaved out into the compost heap, the ground was raked and swept and I sprayed everything with a good dose of Asuntol. Asuntol is a dog wash preparation for eradicating all sorts of biting creatures and I use it as standard procedure for keeping everything free of parasites. Mr Pig is sprayed as a matter of course before leaving the property and again on his return. I’ll give the shed in the pig paddock a spray when I change Mrs Pig’s straw. The stable gets done twice a year and, in the fly season, the cows get a light spray each time they come in for milking. As a grooming aid it’s great and Poppy, in particular, appreciates not being chased by the flies all day. Years ago, when I was riding regularly in sand country, the horses had a wash with it every week to keep cattle ticks at bay. As you rode through the lupins you could almost hear the ticks lining up to leap on board and Asuntol was the only effective way of keeping them under control. Also, when I kept chooks at a previous property, spraying the henhouse was one of the monthly chores and I never had any problems with mites or fleas. But, Asuntol is not a preparation for cats, as it is deadly to them. This, of course, gives Albert much comfort and relief as he really prefers a ten-minute massage with flea powder.
So, the brand new calf pens were spotlessly clean and vermin free and, with a good layer of fresh sawdust and plenty of straw in the covered end, all they needed were some babies. Someone upstairs must have been watching because one of the neighbours rang to see if I wanted to go with her to get some calves from our usual supplier. Off we went and two hours later I was back with five jet-black, healthy and robust angus/friesian heifers. I only meant to get three but there was a matched set of five and I fell in love! The classy calf pens look even classier now with a fine group of girls flaunting their shiny coats to all and sundry who pass by.
Getting calves from a good source is essential and, because I prefer to buy heifers, I usually get the pick of the bunch. These five young ladies had been given a good start and knew exactly which end of a calfeteria was which. So far, only one has had to have a dose of Scourban and that was more of a precaution than a remedy. Two days after their arrival they were into the routine and I was able to let them out to gallop around in the forest during the daytime. Give them a week and I think the space between the back gate and the pen will be a danger zone when carrying buckets. It’ s very difficult to walk with five mouths trying to plug into your knees! I’m using milk powder at night and the milk from Bossy Boots in the morning - leaving the night milk from Bossy Boots (which is a bit small) for the house…and poor Mrs Pig will miss out on having her boiled barley topped with cream for a while.
Cream is a staple diet at Middelmost. I have various ways of extracting the cream - depending on how much milk I am getting - and at the height of the season I usually have at least a bucket of cream a day to process. Any milking over ten litres is processed through the cream separator, and I turn the handle according to what I want to do with the cream. Turn it fast and I get a very thick, reduced product for dips and sour cream. Turn it more slowly and whipping cream for coffee and for ice-cream making is the result. Slower still and deliciously smooth pouring cream to go on top of a great big bowl of breakfast cereal appears. I make my own cream cheese and my own butter, which stores very well in the freezer. I have a divine ice-cream recipe and containers of this are frozen and squeezed into every available space. At the height of the season Middelmost could compete with Tararua!
Once the milk supply drops below a ten litre bucket I separate the cream by tipping it into a wine fermentor with a tap at the bottom and storing it in the fridge. After an hour or two the milk can be drained off via the tap leaving a light whipping cream behind. At the moment the meagre (but very important) night offering from Bossy Boots is poured into a large glass jar and, when the cream has risen to the top, I siphon the milk from the bottom into the milk jug using a piece of clear plastic tubing. The cream left over is perfect for coffee or porridge. This all may seem a wee bit of a fuss and a bother but it’s part of the daily routine and, when you add up the cost of a years supply of milk, butter, ice-cream and general dairy foods, it makes very good economical sense.
I don’t think it is my imagination but Little-Out-of-Africa seems to be starting to spring an udder. She is a Jersey/Friesian cross and it’s going to be very interesting to compare her milk solid percentages with the straight Jersey cows. Apart from the Jerseys I have had Shorthorn cows, Ayreshire cows and Friesian cows but never a crossbreed. I’m looking forward to putting some breeding theories to the test and because Africa was the first calf to be born and completely raised at Middelmost her milk will be rather special.