Jan 25, 2012

"How Do We Get Them from: 
HERE....... THERE?"
In the early weeks of June the weather had warmed enough that we could start to
"take out the cows".

We wanted to have it all accomplished before the haying season started at the end of the month.

The older cows were kind of "seasoned" professionals.  They could feel the change in the air and after a long winter of being in the barn,
 (warm and cozy as it is),
 we only had to unhook them,  open the doors and gates, lead them out,
and they were ready to roll!

The young calves, however, were a different matter.

They had been born indoors.
Their experience bank to that point had consisted of:

1. Being inside their mother (safe and warm),
2. Being in the birthing stall with their mother (also safe and warm),
3. Being in the secure calf box where two large bottles of warm milk were delivered to their tummies each morning and night along with no end of soft talk and petting (continuing the 'safe and warm' mode),
4. Being in Play Group with all their buddies to frisk with when they wanted to and snuggle with when they needed to (safe and warm AND fun).

Now suddenly they were haltered for the first time, however gently, and led out into the sometimes still-brisk early morning air,
 on their way to--  
who knows where or what!
(It was a total rodeo!)
In the late Spring we had been contacted by a  French high school student,
 Anthony Louvel. 
 He was looking for a five week internship on a Swedish ecological farm to fulfill his school requirements.  We filled out all the legal forms  e-mailed to us by his Headmaster and sent them back. We wondered how he would do, being  young and having somewhat limited English.  He had been raised on a very large dairy farm, so that was a plus and we hoped it would be a factor in having him feel at home and comfortable with us.  When he arrived he seemed quite shy and a little homesick.

 The first task at hand the next morning was taking out the   calves,   (talk about being thrown in at the deep end....), but at the beginning it felt like maybe it would be OK.  The baby calves seemed like they were going to co-operate....
 not a chance.....
The minute they were out the barn door those beasts headed in every possible direction but the right one.
Take a look at Gustav on the left side of the picture...he was barely keeping his balance with the calf at the end of the rope yanking him
 back and forth.

And then an amazing thing happened.
 With all hesitation falling victim to the inborn need of every male of the species to COMPETE, Anthony yelled in his French accent:
"We see who get there first!" 
And the race was on....

Anthony looked like he had it in the bag (or in the field) but suddenly his calf took a hard turn to the left and he had to fight to get it back on track.  

Meantime, Gustav and his calf had charged into the lead and made it through the first gate only to have  the calf break free and run through to points unknown, leaving Gustav scurrying from one end of the small field to the other in a vain attempt to catch it. 

 That allowed Anthony to leap into the breach with his savage after which he very magnanimously went over to help Gustav corral his and get it back where it was supposed to be.

In the end, both of them were laughing,  breathing very hard, and 
 calling it,
 a draw.

Finishing up the gates for the new training field.

It is so often said that one of the most valuable things about living the farm life, and there are many valuable things about it,  is that you are always facing a new challenge.  There is always a way to try and do it better.
For these small calves we wanted to try and do it better this year in providing them with an added step in the transition from being in the barn to being outside.  We understood that it is a big change for them spatially as well as in their diet. 
When they were in the confined area of the barn, after they had been weaned off the milk bottles, they had hay from the past year's crop, buckets of grain,  and fresh water every day. 
But when it was time to take them  outside they would be in a very large field with the lush green grasses of Summer all around.  They were only eight weeks old and that could be an adjustment for them in their surroundings as well as in their still young and sensitive stomachs.
We had learned that from previous years with the new calves. 
Before we took them out we made a much smaller "training field" with a finer gauge fence for increased safety and a stationary feeder that could hold a bale of hay.  We wanted to see if they would settle down better in a space that was a reduced size and 'self-police' with their eating so that their new-grass intake would be in better proportion.
It worked beautifully. 

We left them there for a week or so until they were more accustomed to being out. 

  That first day with Anthony was one to always be remembered. 
It confirmed once again that there is no language or cultural barrier that cannot be removed by working together side by side.
With the calves safely into their new training pen, the boys were ready for a hot shower, an evening snack and a bowl of homemade ice cream from our dairy. 

One thing we had learned for sure...
 Anthony was a gem. 
But even after that day, as successful as it was,  we could not have known how far-reaching the effect would be that this young man would have on our family and our farm.
 For the busy summer season that was unfolding he would make a major difference. 
We grew to love and appreciate this French farm boy who came to us at exactly the right time to move not only our baby calves, but us as well,
from here to there!

Jan 19, 2012

"War and Peace"
(with apologies to Mr. Tolstoy)

(Goofing on the kitchen sofa with Gustav)

The time that Lauren was with us was the shortest of any of the wwoofers we have ever had....just two weeks.
But eleven of those fourteen days were the vital period between the blooming of the hägg tree and the blooming of the lilac (syren) bushes.
In northern Sweden everyone understands the incredible pressure that exists "Between the Hägg and the Syren".

The earth is awakening for another season of growing, the lambs and the calves are being born, preparations for the the critical haying time are being made, gardens must be tilled and fields readied for plowing.

No battle field could compare to it for sheer chaos if you aren't focused and efficient.


It was Gustav (arguably the most experienced),
 Lauren (ready, willing and able),
 and Me.
   As soon as the cows were milked in the main barn, there were bottles to fill and carry to the small animal barn for the morning and evening feeding of the calves...

and here she was with "the savages" as they were called because they
up to the bars every time,
slurping up the warm milk, pushing and shoving and butting each other out of the way.
For the couldn't do this job without simultaneously laughing and gently scolding the calves during each and every session.  It was such a zoo.

In the grain room between the large and small animal barn, in an area called the höladsporten,
 the barley had to be crushed and bucketed out to all the animals.  While I was milking and tending to the new mothers, Lauren was holding the fort in the "kornkammare" and doing a terrific job of both crushing and cleaning up.
                                                                                                                                                                        And as if there wasn't enough going on......the trucker with an entire year's worth of  chopped wood, arrived and had to have help with the unloading from the main road. So Lauren hitched a ride on the tractor and if you look very closely you can see her out there helping with the transport back and forth.

Did we mention the indoor duties?  It just never ends!

Feeling tired yet?  
Take heart.
One of the most unexpected things about life on the farm is that there are moments of deep peace that come even during the most demanding of times.
It is a peace that seems to instantly satisfy every need or longing in your soul and it appears just when you think there could not BE any peace with all that is required of you.

These four pictures (two above and two below) are an example of that experience.

I asked Lauren one day if she could get us some flowers for the kitchen table and she went out to the hägg tree, cut an armfull and brought them in the house. It was still quite cold and the air was really nippy.  When she came in with them their scent filled every corner of the kitchen and drifted through the entire home.  Later there was a quiet tranquility as she worked with and cuddled the animals in the barn.

 Gustav says that there are times when he just dreads going to the barn, but once he gets there he always feels good.  It is so true, because that same peace seems to come as you enter the barn even when there is a lot to do. 
Maybe it's because you are working with the animals and that in and of itself has a very calming effect. 
 I'm not sure what it is in total, but I do know  how it feels. 

The great Russian author, Leo Tolstoy, is described not as one who wrote
 "a novel"
 but, more importantly, as one who wrote
"a piece of life".

The day Lauren left we talked about how much she had affected our family in such a short space of time.
She worked hard, she participated with us in every kind of dinner table discussion, she had a great sense of humor and a loving heart.

In just fourteen days, she became a very real
 piece of our lives.

Jan 18, 2012

 "Track Record"

Calving time is always intense.

By the middle of March, when the worst bite of winter has passed, the bulls and the female "mellankalvar" (heifers that were born the previous year), have to be moved out of their winter stalls in the small animal barn,

to the "gated community" out in the open air 
of the new doorless hay barn.
There they have enough shelter and deep,  fresh, straw in their pens to give them warmth and protection that is more than adequate in the still brisk Spring air.

 Their departure to the great outdoors makes it possible for us to power wash that area of the barn and scrub up all the necessary facilities to make room for the mothers who will be having their babies within a few weeks. 

This year we had done everything we could think of to be prepared but we got hit with an 
unexpected glitch 
that we never could have foreseen.

Normally the process goes like this: 

The mother has her baby in the soft, clean straw in the birthing stall and the two of them stay together by themselves for five days.  During that time the mother feeds her baby and takes care of it.

Then it's time for the baby to be outfitted with an identification eartag.
 The ear tags are the system that allows us to keep track of which calf has come from which mother. That birth record must be submitted to the government since we have pure-bred animals.
 Once it is safely tagged, the baby is taken into a calf box where it is taught to drink milk from a bottle.  For the next five days it will be fed  it's mother's milk from the bottle,  and have access to  fresh water and hay. 

Finally, when it can drink from the bottle well enough it goes to a larger pen with the other new baby calves who have also graduated through the calf-box training process.  
We call that larger pen "Play Group",
 where the calves will continue for eight more weeks to be bottle fed until it is time to go out into the field for the summer.

When the baby goes to the calf box, the mother goes back to the main barn and into the milking line. 
We have learned that "5" is the magic number for both mother and baby. 
 If they are separated earlier than that the mother cries and so does her calf, but if they stay together for five full days, they both seem to make the transition just fine.

This year, with the calving in full swing, we discovered that the stash of government-issued ear tags that we had in the drawer of the big storage cabinet of the ladugårdsporten (entry to the barn), were...

This was very bad news....After #119, we ran out of CALF TAGS completely. 

 When we called to get the next numbered sequence of tags from the government control office they said,

"Sure...we can have them to you in about three weeks"!

We made a desperate attempt to keep track on the chalkboard in the milkroom.....not working.

Meantime, the untagged calves were adding up in Play Group at an alarming rate and we were beginning to panic.

We tried giving them descriptive names like "Full-Dip" (see the one that looks like it's entire ear was dipped in ink?)  or "Half-Dip" (front and center), or even "Bambi" (that would be the one in the back that is brown and white). 
But there were just too many!

Pappa's good idea in action.
It was Pappa who came up with the idea of taking a close-up picture of each one of them and writing the date of birth, mother's identification number, gender, etc. on the back.  

When the tags finally arrived Gustav and Lauren went to work and while she was feeding bottles to one group, Gustav was tagging the others.
It was such a blessing that we had the pictures with all the information.
   We never would have been able to remember without them.

Maxie always says, 
"There is no problem on the farm that can't be solved",
and maybe this proves that he's right.

Look closely at the tag numbers on those fluffy calf ears and you'll see they are.. 
All Done!

Jan 11, 2012

"Pouring SALT, 
(Oh wait! - I mean..)  
on the Wounds"

Right around the time that Lauren came,  Gustav, to his great delight, became the proud owner of a new

We tried to snap pictures of him speeding along with the wind plastering his hair back from the sheer  force  generated by riding this new and wonderful item,
 but no......
the only shots we could ever  manage were of the multiple wounds he inflicted on himself in his attempts to master the instrument.
The amount of cream, rubs,  gauze bandages,  saunas, and sympathy was  reaching epic proportions, but somehow it didn't seem to be enough.  After a while we weren't sure how to comfort him anymore - each day seemed to bring a new scrape or graze or bruise.

But Lauren knew how.

With her kind heart and deep belief in the old adage
"the way to a banged-up teenage boy's heart is through his stomach",

she baked and cooked up a storm on Gustav's (and the rest of the family's) behalf.  
And she was a formidable force herself in that respect!

Pictured above is a Princesstårta, one of the classics of Swedish baking.

Not only did she make the "from scratch" cake with it's rounded top draped in bright green marzipan, but she  hand-fashioned the pink marzipan flowers that decorated it.

It was deluxe! 

And guess who was first in line to dig in?
You got it....(notice vestiges of wounds on lower forearm).

 She made cream-filled, fruity masterpieces, she made super frothy smoothies,

but her pièce de résistance was unquestionably,
The Swedish Pinocchio Cake.

She made so many of them we lost count and every single one was vacuumed up by the family in record time.

A light meringue-y top and bottom housed a luscious billow of sweetened whipped cream in the middle and toasted almonds crunched up the top. 

We loved it all, but even more we loved her kindness and sweetness as she worked away on the treats every day, even with all the other responsibilities she shouldered with us on the farm. 

It is still such a happy memory.