Apr 30, 2010

The Best Laid Plans of Mice

With the calves coming on thick and fast we had to have another "Play Group" stall in the young animal barn to corral them for bottle feeding (eight to a stall is about the limit).  We already had several mellankalvar (teenage heifers born last year) occupying the only available place. They would be going out to pasture with the young bull for breeding when it was warmer, but for now they had to be in a sheltered spot. So Papa had the idea to borrow some metal gates from Arne Ericsson, a friend in another village, and make a two-chamber area out in the new haybarn - one part for the young bull and ram and the other part for the mellankalvar until it was time for them to go out into the field.
He talked to Arne who was so generous and willing to lend his equipment. A time was arranged for us to go and pick up the 8-10 gates we would need.   We attached the large tractor wagon to the tractor and were on our way.

At Ericsson's, about forty minutes from us by tractor, Gustav was "Mr. Muscle" getting all ten metal gates loaded up
 (at about 45 kilos - 90 lbs. - each) and strapped down.  He headed home and I followed for part of the distance in the car to make sure all was as it should be.
Of course the tractor was much slower at 30 kilometers per hour than the car, so I made it into Junsele ahead of time. 
I saw the clock as I entered the village - it was 2:45 P.M. -  and
I had an idea.

We had been so pressed for time with the long days of calfing that even the supply of baked goods I had made ahead and put in the freezer was depleted.  I knew it would be a trick to get the gates home, to form the enclosure, do the barn chores, and get into the house and eat even a regular dinner before bedtime.
  At the end of each day on the farm, it is the tradition to sit together with a snack or dessert of some kind and relax as a family.  I hoped there would be something at the bakery that would meet that need on such a busy day for us.

They were just getting ready to close and had these four "bakelser" left.  They looked like something Gustav would love.
I hurried out of the bakery -
10 minutes to 3:00 - and then something caught my eye. 

On the sidewalk,  just a few doors away from the bakery, in front of the building supply store, was this sandwich-board sign.
It advertised a Flea Market sale going on until 3:00 o'clock that very afternoon only one short block away at The Forum, the Community Center in Junsele.
What luck! 
Flea Markets in Sweden are second to none.  The culture that says you must take good care of everything you own, produces well-kept articles that often make it to an auction or a  "Loppis" sale somewhere when the owner passes away.  On more than one occasion for me, that has meant several fabulous items for very little money. 
"Loppis" very quickly became one of my favorite Swedish words.

 I had been into The Forum once before when there was a school program for the parents to attend, so I knew just where it was.  And since the sale was only open until 3:00 o'clock, if I was quick, I could run in, browse the tables, zero in on any fabulous treasure(s) I was sure would be there, and be home in time to meet Gustav with the gates and help him unload.  Again, it was...
I wish I had a picture of the two ladies who were sitting at a table just inside the door as I rushed in. 
I said breathlessly, "Am I too late?" and the older of the two said,
"Oh no, Dear!  You're right on time!"
( could I be "right on time" when there were only 7 or 8 minutes left until it closed at 3:00 o'clock?)
"And it will be 50Kr to get in."
(Strange again...why would they charge to get into a Loppis?)
"And THIS LADY (pointing very importantly to the woman next to her),
(Strange for the third time...why would there be a pianist at the Loppis?
It must be for charity...and they are maybe trying to make it especially pleasant by having someone playing soft music in the background while people browse...that's kind of nice....)
"Would you like to buy one of our CD's? It's all Swedish folk music and only 150 Kr".

(Well, that clinches it.. it IS a charity event of some kind and this is the fund raiser.)
Of course I bought the CD.

With my Swedish folk music in hand, I was directed downstairs.
 I would really have to hurry to get a look at what they had at the Loppis.  I hoped they wouldn't be packing up already.

The pianist had gone somewhere a few minutes before, probably to close up her things I supposed, since the sale must be coming to an end.  I comforted myself in the knowledge that of course they would let me take a run through since I had already paid, and even purchased the CD.
(Interesting, I don't remember another room downstairs in the Forum, just the auditorium part...there must be another door I didn't notice where they're having the Loppis.)

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I looked around for 'another door'.
There wasn't one.
So I stepped inside the auditorium doorway, only to be greeted by two lovely gentlemen and the pianist who were standing together.
"Välkommen! Välkommen! - We are SO glad you're here!"
Completely confused, I smiled at them all, scanned the auditorium and saw that it was empty except for the stage area which held an enormous polished grand piano and several short rows of chairs, 9 or 10 of which were occupied by octogenarians.  Every last one of them was staring at me as I stood frozen in the doorway. 
There was nothing I could do.
(The interior of The Forum - red seats and all.  I was sitting on the right hand end of the third row back. The grand piano was stage left and the rows of chairs were center stage.)
 I decided I would just sit down quietly at the end of one of the rows of red velvet seats in the floor section, then when the lights dimmed for whatever was going to happen on stage, I could slip out. 
Good plan.
My stomach was in a knot thinking of Gustav making his way home and me not being there to help him.

When I woke up early that morning I had the distinct feeling that something wonderful was going to happen to me that day.
This didn't seem to be it.
And my "plan" was about to be foiled completely.

As I took my seat in the red velvet chair, the pianist appeared on stage to polite applause.  Bowing slightly and ready to start her presentation, she happened to glance in my direction and seeing me sitting there, hesitated, then walked across the stage until she was within shouting distance and called to me
with incredible kindness:
"Oh no dear, don't sit down there all by yourself.  Please come up on stage and be with the group."  
The stage was lit up like a hockey rink between periods...
Again - no choice but to comply. 
 Anything else would have been disgustingly rude. 
 I gave up.

What happened next,( after I took my seat on stage), was truly 

The "Pianist" was Dutch-born Gerdien Sahlin, who with her husband Salmo Sahlin, also a gifted pianist, had contracted years ago with the Västernorrland Music Society", through the Swedish government, to take classical music to all the small villages in this area.  Her husband had been killed in a tragic car accident in 2005, but, with her children raised, she decided to continue on and to fulfill all their obligations on her own. 
Very brave.
Dressed in my farm clothes and knee-high rubber boots, I was inadvertently attending a Community Concert celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Frédéric Chopin.  It was the story of his life interspersed with renditions of some of his most memorable compositions,  and..
It was beautiful.
Her playing was exquisite, the music was beyond description, moving me to tears several times.  I found myself feeling sorry that there were not more people there to hear it in all its loveliness. 
The knot in my stomach began to untie.
It was, in fact, the wonderful thing that I thought was going to happen to me that day and it lasted only 45 minutes total.

I did make it home in time. Gustav had only been there a few minutes and we unloaded all the gates.
The two-chamber enclosure went up much more quickly than we would have anticipated.

 Fashioning a halter of sorts from three strips of baling twine that I braided together and Gustav slip-knotted appropriately, we "convinced" the mellankalvar to move into their new digs, despite their protestations.
Gustav provided the stamina, fortitude, and pulling.
 I provided the verbal encouragement...
"Come on Honey!  You can do it!  No, no, not back into the barn...the other the NEW hay barn!  You're gonna LOVE your new apartment! There's a REALLY cute boy bull next door."
And they did.

It was quite a day.  The "treasures" that I thought would be found at the Loppis (which had been held UPSTAIRS in the Forum, not dowstairs,) were found instead in a different way. 
At the end of the day we had the security of knowing the animals were all safely housed and we would be able to provide for the baby calves comfortably in another stall, thanks to the generosity of a good friend.
I was reminded again of Gustav's goodness and his willingness to do his part and more in the upkeep of the farm as we work together.
The inspiring beauty of the music of Chopin came alive, brought me great happiness, and  deepened my appreciation for the gifts and talents others have and are so willing to share.

It was a Better Laid Plan than we
ever could have known.

Apr 29, 2010

Birth Order
(The Calfing Season)

We understood clearly that the calfing experience this year would be  different than it has been in the past.  The fact that it would be only Gustav and I the majority of the time was more than a little intimidating.  He and Papa and  I talked about it and tried to formulate a plan that would address all the aspects of calfing season in "full swing".
We wanted to take the best care of the mothers and babies that we could.
Papa's portable birthing stalls in the main barn gave us the flexibility we needed when more than one cow was ready to deliver at the same time.
But our main "Maternity Ward" was in the young animal barn.

                      We cleaned out a triple stall  to provide adequate room for the pregnant mother to move around or lie down. We scrubbed it all up, and put down a thick bed of fresh straw.  When it was ready we inspected all the cows and tried to determine who among them would be delivering her calf first... and we moved her in. 
Sometimes they fool you,
 especially heifers who have not calfed before, but this year we have done pretty well so far.   We moved Margot in just a few days before her delivery.  We thought she would be the first and we were right.  She had a beautiful calf and everything went fine. It was great to see that our efforts paid off.
So far so good (one down, 16 more to go).

Now that we felt we had the system in place and a good pattern to follow, we were vigilant in watching and assessing and shuffling every day.  We wanted to keep as many of the babies with their mothers for a full five days as possible, but we only had three birthing stalls,  so that meant we had to rotate pre-delivery cows between barns, out of the normal stalls, into one of the birthing stalls, then when the five days had elapsed after delivery, rotate the mother back into the milking line on the other side of the main barn and the five-day-old calf  into the learning box to be trained onto a bottle,  and the next pregnant cow into the birthing stall in time for HER delivery, etc.
Musical Bovines....
Not long into the process we began to see holes that needed to be filled...
See the innocent look on this cow's face? Don't believe it. It was time to move her from one  stall to another.  It was only across the aisle in the main barn so we thought it would be a snap...
Wrong again.

The minute Gustav unhooked her, she BOLTED,  flailing down the main aisle and up onto the feeding table with both of us in hot pursuit.  The blur you see in the right hand picture is her galloping down from the feeding table. 
Bad cow.
(Is that an understatement)?
Finally, after a lot of running and blocking and shouting and directing,  we got her herded into where she was supposed to be and hooked up again.
After that dance we learned:

A.  Don't move the cows even a short distance without a halter.
B.  Block all entrances to the feeding table on both ends before you start the move. 
(Papa actually had already installed hooks with ropes to block those entrances, but in our innocence we had neglected to use them.)
 With that slot emptied, we were ready to move post-delivery      Margot into the main barn again and into the milking line.  This time we did better...we haltered her up, led her peacefully out of the Maternity Ward, and back into the main barn.
She actually did just fine and seemed happy to be back.
Look at the top right of this picture and you will see one of the portable birthing stalls in the main barn - the wooden fence-like enclosure that creates a double stall, and the flat wooden birthing bridges that cover the dung ditch just below the back rail of the fence.  That way if the mother has her baby during the night it still has a flat surface and can't fall into the ditch.

We have line after line after line of coveralls and udder cloths.

We have milk to warm with the immersion heater and bottles to fill and nipple up for feeding the baby calves.

We have can milkers for collecting the "Råmjolk" - a Swedish delicacy - and for regulating the new mothers to make sure they don't get engorged. The row of  pipe milkers on the right are the standard 'work horses'  for the cows who are back in the milking line. Here they are after milking, all sudsed up and ready to be rinsed and put through the automatic wash cycle.

We have bottles and milkers and warmers to wash and stack every morning and night when we are done.
We are sometimes in the barn for hours at a stretch.

 Including the Dahlberg gang, in twenty five days we have welcomed in 19 new calves!
They are all well and healthy.  Their mothers are doing wonderfully. We have five mothers left to deliver, and...

 We are DOING it!!

Apr 26, 2010

It Seemed Like Such a Good Idea at the Time...

For dairy farmers, bull calves are sometimes a liability.  Because of this, many dispose of the bull calves shortly after birth.  But we, like some of our friends, choose instead to give them as much of a life as possible.  That translates into a span of about 8-9 months, from birth in the early Spring until slaughter time in the late Fall.
 We provide the warm sunny days, shelter, love, organic barley, and beautiful grazing. We love to know the calves have had the joy of life, frisking around in the fields, being fed on grass and natural grains.
Because of this, another farmer, Mårten Dahlberg, contacted us and asked if we would like to take some of his overflow bull calves.
During calving, you never know what you are getting as far as bulls or heifers are concerned until they actually arrive so its not unusual to end up with a surplus quite early in the game.
We waited for a day when Gustav was out of school and he and I arranged to go and pick them up.

With gas prices what they are (approx. $8.00 per gallon), we wanted to multi-task if possible, so Gustav loaded up some things that had been left at our farm by the interning family - a baby bed, etc. -

then he hooked up the horse trailer and we were on our way.

I am 'geographically challenged'.
That is the kind way the children have of saying that I have absolutely no sense of direction.  When I come out of the ICA in the tiny village of Junsele where I have lived for over three years,  I still have to look for landmarks to know which way to turn to get home to the farm.  So when Manny was longing to take a trip to the south of Sweden a little before his mission, and his money was in short supply, he offered to sell me his Route 66 GPS, programmed for Europe.

He even included a short tutorial on how to use it in the deal.
Sounds like I should be OK, right?
 After gassing up we headed out, confident that we would be able to make it smoothly to the village of Marieberg 138, about two hours away,  where the Dahlberg farm  was located.  We had called ahead and they were expecting us.
On our way, we stopped in Sollefteå, dropped off the baby bed, and took a quick run through the new Lidl store that had opened just a few weeks before.
Despite the icy roads and cold day, we were feeling pretty good so far.

The village of Marieberg was supposedly in the vicinity of Kramfors - see it there toward the bottom of the map?  We made it that far with the help of the GPS and also a fold out map we had just for a little extra security.  From then on,
it was a nightmare.

Look on the map:
We found Bollstabruk, NOPE - we found this wood house in Nyland, NOPE - we drove up hill and down, through multitudinous villages that all looked like each other, on icy, snow-packed country roads only to end up trying over and over again to turn around a 1977 Volvo sedan with a horse trailer on the back in an area about 3 meters square.

We kept passing this church, passing this church, passing this church....
Oh, wait a that the SAME church?
After a while we couldn't even tell!

And through it all, the designated British Female Voice on the GPS just kept saying, "Turn around as soon as possible.  Turn around as soon as possible."
It was so frustrating...I began to feel a stress level of Warp Factor 8.

Just then Gustav looked over at me - it seemed it had suddenly dawned on him, in his sixteen year old mind, that there was a problem.
Being the perceptive young man that he is, he said evenly, 
"Nainy.  You need to calm down.  We are two intelligent people, we have a GPS, we have a mobile phone that has money on it, and...see those farms up there on those hills?  They are full of people who are willing to help us if we need it."

The voice of reason. Of course he was right.

I thought to myself,  "This child is correct. I need to just calm down and relax here and think this through.  Anyway, we are probably much closer than we think we are."

 I felt better.

And just then, in his "reading the road sign" voice, I heard Gustav say,

"Cape of Good Hope....2 kilometers".
Even now, nearly a month later, I still laugh out loud thinking about it.
It was so incredibly funny, and his timing was perfect.

We did find Marieberg 138.
We did find the Dahlberg Farm.
And we did get the calves loaded up safely.

 The one at the beginning of the post, this black and white one on the left, the brown on the right,

 and finally, the winner of the 101 Dalmatians look-alike contest!
We did it!

The roads were so icy and the grade so steep that Mårten went ahead of us in his tractor to make sure we got up to the main road OK.  If you look closely in the picture above you can see the side of the infamous Route 66 GPS suction-cupped to the windshield.  Since that excursion, we have improved in our ability to program and use it.
There was nowhere to go but UP. 

We made it home safely.
 One of the little calves went into a calf box to learn to drink from a bottle.  It was only two days old and had only been with it's mother. 
The other three who were over five days old went in with our own calves  into "Play Group" as we call it. 
They are thriving and well and have adjusted beautifully. 
Soon they will be out in the lush green pasture, biting up the tender grasses and lying in the sun. 

Maybe it WAS a good idea after all.