In between wrapping bales, we had the vet out to do some reproductive testing on our new bull.

The three letters BSE can mean two (at least) different things in the cattle industry. BSE – Bovine spongiform encephalopathy – is also known as Mad Cow Disease. That’s a bad thing. We’re not here to talk about that. BSE – Breeding Soundness Exam – is a good thing. It’s an assessment of a bull’s soundness and fertility, preformed by a vet, before he goes in with cows.

Once we’ve selected a bull (based on breed, breeding goals, and temperament), there are three main things we need to verify so we can be sure he can get the job done.

He has to be physically sound. He has 65 days to get a group of forty cows bred, and it’s demanding work. He’s not complaining, but he needs to have some energy stored heading in, because even the best bulls can look pretty rough coming out of breeding season. He’s going to be spending most of his time walking, covering a lot of ground, spending hours “dogging” the cow that he senses will be the next one ready to be bred. A bull needs four solid legs, and sufficient body condition to maintain his fertility throughout the breeding season. Any cattle manager can look at a bull and decide whether he meets this first requirement.

Second is fertility. And there basically two ways to determine that. One is to just put the bull in with the cows and see what happens. Or you can have the vet out to perform a BSE – breeding soundness exam – to test a bull’s fertility. Using a electroejaculator, a semen sample is obtained, and assessed under a microscope. Motility – the ability to move, morphology – whether the sperm cells are normal, and count- it varies with age – are the things we’re looking for here.

Getting ready to perform a BSE on an Angus bull. Looks like he’s going to get a job at the nearest burger joint.

Third is libido. Does the bull want to do his job? Some bulls are flat out not interested in breeding cows, and these are the bulls that will put a hurting on your business. Observation is about your only tactic here.

We never got to the third step. Our bull failed his fertility test miserably. The few swimmers that he had weren’t swimming, so his next job will be at Arby’s. “Buy New Bull” just got added to out to-do list!



Our flatbed can carry 10 wet bales. Final count on round bales to be hauled? 179. Do the math.

So not only do we have to haul all this home, we have to wrap it as well. Fortunately, and totally unexpectedly, a hero with his shiny Red Rhino inline bale hauler.

And between the Rhino and our flatbed, we got 100 bales hauled and wrapped.

This morning I got to finish up some of the things we needed to get done before we get into our bale wrapping operation. I bought two rolls of bale-wrap, and a bucket of hydraulic fluid.

I’m not sure how much diesel this holds, but my heart stops when the pump says $300.00.

Forty gallons should be enough to get some hay moved.


Silly babies aren’t really hungry. A new bale just provides entertainment.

I got the fuel wagon from one farm, filled it up, and took it over to the hay field, filled up the tractor, fed cows. So the cows are checked, the fuel wagon is here, and I’m waiting for Scott to get here so we can start hauling hay.


As of Sunday, I was sure we were done with hay baling for the year, and was just letting myself ease into pre-holiday mode. But it’s Tuesday, and things change. One of our farming partners just baled up some wet bales for us, so we need to get them picked up and wrapped tonight. The tractor on this end of the operation has a bad alternator, so it’s on the charger right now.

Unhooking the flatbed when it’s loaded? Arm Day!

Earlier I unhooked the truck from the flatbed, so I could go get the bale wrapper, but the wrapper wasn’t in transport mode, and I couldn’t get it buttoned up to move it. On the way back to the house, I broke a serpentine belt.

Only two hours of tool throwing and profanity to get this thing freed-up.

While the neighbor got the tractor charged (and the fuel line blown out), and the flatbed unloaded, Scott and I went on a parts run, replaced the idler pulley on the truck (the belt hadn’t actually broken), spent about two hours getting the serpentine belt unstuck from behind the tensioner housing, and another hour getting it back on.

And by 11:30 PM, we were ready to go set up the baler wrapper, and start wrapping bales. Oh, and our partner called to say that there were 75 bales, way more than the original thirty or so, and that he was only a little more than halfway done.

So the good news is that we have plenty of hay to get all our cows through winter, with some to spare. The bad news is that instead of being all cozy and domestic here, getting the house ready for Thanksgiving, I’m back in “farming” mode.


In August of 2014, a group of on-line friends started a Facebook page, then a webpage called Ask the Farmers, to help consumers find answers to their questions about agriculture. We had never met in person, but we had all come to recognize each other’s names as we bounced around, countering myths about agriculture. A couple of members of our loose alliance organized the our sporadic efforts into something a little more cohesive, which quickly grew into a social media monster, threatening to consume its creators.

I wrote a couple of posts for the webpage, including my very own “Meet the Farmers” profile.


I should have known that I was on to something when my spell check didn’t recognize the word “scrapple.” But anyway, today, November 9th, is National Scrapple Day.

I’m not sure who proclaimed it so, and by what authority, but as far as I’m concerned, scrapple is something worth celebrating.

Like most things from your childhood, you sort of the everyone’s life experience is similar, or even identical to yours, and it was a total shock to me to find that there are people in the world who didn’t even know what scrapple is.

Scrapple is a pork product, originating with the Pennsylvania Dutch, made with the parts that aren’t good enough for sausage, combined with corn meal and spices, served sliced and fried. The “not good enough for sausage” part should be a clue.

I can’t say that scrapple was one of my favorite foods growing up, it was just, well, something we ate for breakfast, sort of high protein version of oatmeal.

We raised our own hogs, two every year, and we sent them off to be butchered. Contrary to advice that most people give (and get) when raising animals for slaughter, we always named ours, and I was quite proud the year my family named the hogs after me, and my best friend Marie. (I have no idea what Marie’s parents thought of the whole thing.)

And while other people wanted to live “high on the hog”, scrapple reminds me that it’s not too bad livingĀ  “low on the hog” either.


I’m still trying to decipher all my mom’s projects, and I’ve gotten through about two boxes, leaving me about twenty or so to go. It would be a lot simpler if the instructions had gotten packed away with the projects, but that really would be too much to ask, and besides, on most of these things, she was just winging it.


I found 30 of these crocheted blocks, and even I, in my domestic ineptitude, could figure out that sewing them together would yield something that resembled a completed project. And before you go hating on my stitching, it’s supposed to look all chunky like that, because the first few blocks had already been done, and I just copied them. And if it turns out looking too ridiculous, I can always donate it to the animal shelter, because the residents there appreciate my efforts.


I’m not sure if the afghan pieces were my mom’s or my grandmother’s, but they look so wonky because they’re made with scraps, and the yarn is all different weights. If they’re my grandmother’s, they were made before she started losing her eyesight. Once her vision had deteriorated, she could only crochet in neon colors, so she’d send me these hideous fluorescent multi-colour scarves and my mom would make me wear them and it’s no wonder I have issues. If I can’t come up with some sort of covering, I can always have three potholders and nineteen coasters for when company comes over.


My kid’s doll’s had more stylish clothes than I ever did. These are some patterns my mom made for doll clothes.

Since we have the heat and water cut off at my mom’s old house, I’ve been bringing a few boxes at a time up to our house, cleaning things up, and shipping things out as I go. I’m hoping to be done by Thanksgiving, but at the rate I’m going, Christmas will be more like it.


About 15 years ago, my mom moved into the rental house on the farm, bringing with her at least two generations of accumulated domestic projects, most of them not completed. She’s now in a nursing home, and I’m left emptying her house, sorting through darning eggs, my grandmother’s afghans, and boxes of zippers to be recycled (yeah, that’s a thing, or at least it was).

When I was little, I never remember my mom sitting down without some sort of knitting, mending or embroidery work in her lap. Going through the boxes and boxes, I found handiwork that had been untouched for decades. I was able to trace my mom’s domestic artistry from the more utilitarian to the more decorative, and started to develop a clearer idea of what my two older brothers’ early years were like.

A favorite form of cultural one-upmanship in some families, particularly those bearing any traces of Appalachia, is “we were so poor”. I’m always amused by this, because, as far as I’m concerned, none of it applied to me. For my brothers though, eight and twelve years older than I am, the game is a little more realistic. They remember when things were a little rougher.


One box in my mom’s house contained a couple of quilt tops, which I readily dated to “pre-me”, since I didn’t recognize any of the fabric, though I could tell a lot of it was from old feed bags. The batting was gone, but I found the backing, two old tablecloths. And it would be fair to say that they’re not too attractive. You could call them ugly, and you’d get no argument from me, though I’m going with humble. They had been my brothers’ when they were little, and were mid-renovation when they were boxed up, undisturbed for over sixty years.

Whether I like it or not, I’ve inherited dozens of unfinished projects, and I can’t bring myself to just throw any of these things away. Some I’ll complete, some I’ll hand off. The quilt tops will go to my niece in Alabama, who’ll finish them.

And it all makes me wonder what other souvenirs I’ll find from a time long before we got all uppity with the central heat, running water and flush toilets.


c93_basement_windowIn addition to obliterating one of my crepe myrtles, C93 found a few other ways to get my attention during her convalescence. Overseeing the cleaning of our basement was one of them. She’s actually standing under the porch. This is why we can’t have nice things.


C93 looks good now, and is in the pasture with the rest of the cows. But a month ago, it seemed she was as good as gone.

On October 4, when I did my afternoon cow check, I found C93 in trouble. When cows are calving, they tend to get up and down to facilitate the birth. C93 couldn’t get up. She had experienced what we call calving paralysis – damage to the obturator nerve as the calf passes through the birth canal. The calf had died, and C93’s labor had basically stopped. Only the front feet of the calf had emerged, and even with OB chains – which go around the calves feet, I couldn’t pull the calf out. I needed help, and I needed it quickly.


Fortunately our neighbor was available, and after getting the calf pulled, he administered calcium, as a precaution against hypocalcemia – milk fever, and Dexamethasone, or Dex, an anti-inflammatory. But C93 still couldn’t get up, and without water, feed and protection from predators, she’d die an agonizing death. We had to get her to the house.

There aren’t too many ways to get a full grown cow that can’t walk moved. And C93 is a beef cow, so she’s not used to being around people that much, but she never panicked, even being moved.


At that point C93 was what we call a downer, or non-ambulatory cow, and although she could easily be fed and watered, and protected from heat and predators, there are still a lot of potential risks as the damaged nerve recovers. Though the prognosis for this condition is pretty good, a cow’s recover is dependent on recumbancy management, ensuring she’s not left in the same position for extended periods of time. The pressure of her body weight could inflict muscle or nerve damage, or inhibit blood flow. Not only did I have to ensure that she stayed in a sternal position, not laid out flat, I had to be able to roll her every few hours if she hadn’t rolled herself. And if she laid out flat, I had to get her up on her chest almost immediately, to prevent the contents of the stomach from entering her lungs. And she outweighed me by about 900 lb. If she was going to ever get up again, she needed to cooperate with me, because I was the only one around during the day.


And she did cooperate. Scott figured out a way where I could tie off her hind leg with a tow strap, pull it under her shoulders, and with her help, I could roll her over. And she ate. And she drank. And her friends visited. She had a fan, and shade, a blanket for chilly evenings, fly spray, and a vet on-call.

Cows with calving paralysis typically recover within a day or two. C93 didn’t get that memo. I’m not sure how many times I’d check her in the middle of the night, find her laid out flat and exhausted, and have to wake up our youngest son to help me roll her up on her chest. After 10 days, I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that the damage was more extensive than we had initially thought, and she was never going to get up. But on day 15, I saw this out of my office window.


C93 spent the next two weeks in the yard, working the kinks out of her legs, staying clear of her herd-mates who might want to rough-house, and keeping out of the mud, where she might risk re-injury. Thirty days later, she’s back with the group. I’m not sure what we’ll do with her in the long run, but for now, she’s enjoying the green grass and sunshine.