Tag Archives: Cows

The cows have left the croft

We say goodbye to our Dexters

This month our last two cows, Rosie and Albert have gone away to be dispatched.  It ends our dabbling in cow husbandry which, if we are honest, wasn’t a great success.  Although, if you tasted the beef that came out of it, you may not agree.

We initially wanted a housecow, a quiet beast that we could milk.  Shetlands were our preference but somehow we ended up with a Dexter, supposedly the perfect cow for a smallholder, not too big and easy to handle.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t our experience.  Maybe we were just unlucky in that we managed to buy a highly strung beast and then breed more highly strung calves.  Or maybe it was just our lack of cow-handling skills.

We bought a crush and heavy metal gates to allow us to safely carry out routine TB testing or AI, but actually getting them into the crush was very difficult.  When there was a need for some sort of procedure, we would “train” them for weeks beforehand by constructing a pen feeding them only inside it, until it was possible to close it up without them spooking.  Even so they were jumpy and if we shut them in and they heard the dogs barking at the arrival of the vet, they would start looking for an escape route.  In fact once, Pippa, the start of all our troubles, managed to lift the gates up and get out.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad, and we had 4 calves born on the croft, the last of which we reared on goat’s milk as the mother wouldn’t let him feed.  We never did manage to milk any of them, hence the reason we got the goats.  But the one thing we can never criticise is the quality of the meat.  Best beef we have ever tasted by far.

We are sticking to sheep from now on, they are far easier to manage although those rams can be a challenge at times!

Cows away

A dramatic day for us and the cows

This month we planned to take a couple of our pedigree Dexter cows to the abattoir.  With that in mind we spent some time training them to walk into the trailer so that when the time came there would be less stress for them and us.  It was a simple matter of parking up the trailer inside a pen in their paddock and feeding all their meals inside.  It took a while for them to feel comfortable with the ramp and at first we had to place the food near the opening but gradually, as they grew in confidence we moved it further and further back until they were both completely inside and we could close the gates.

On the morning they were due to go, they loaded easily and we set off in good time.  However, we had gone barely 30 miles when disaster struck and the car broke down.  The mobile had been left in a coat pocket at home and so a kind passer-by leant us his phone so we could beg a replacement vehicle from a friend of a friend.

When that arrived at our breakdown site which by this time was being supervised by a police officer, we did a quick changeover and had to head pretty quickly for the soon to close abattoir.  One of us had to stay behind with the broken down car and arrange for it to be taken to a garage.

On route it was soon evident that we would not make it before the doors closed, so calls were made with the now retrieved mobile asking if someone would be there to take the cows.  The last thing that we wanted was to have to take them back home.

By the skin of our teeth we managed to unload them at the abattoir thanks to some staff agreeing to stay behind.  Unfortunately the news wasn’t quite so good for the car which had lost a gear box and wasn’t worth repairing.

We now have a “new” vehicle and are eagerly awaiting the return of the beef which will hang for 3 weeks before it’s butchered.

Another calving

Our third calf here on the croft but still a delight

Near the end of June, and about a week before expected, our new dexter calf put in an appearance. Her name is Olive.

We were on our daily feeding round, and found that Pippa had calved in private as usual. A small bundle could be seen in the grass, and Pippa didn’t seem too keen to come over and feed.

We approached to a safe distance (cows with calves can be very protective), left Pippa’s feed, and retreated to watch. From their behaviour it seemed that Olive hadn’t been born long before.

Although Olive is our third calf here at the croft, we were still surprised and delighted when we saw her! She is a delight.

Welcome to the world

It’s a girl

January got the year off to a fairly damp and cold start, and work to keep Pippa (Dexter Cow) comfortable and warm didn’t get any easier! Pippa doesn’t like going into a shed, but she seems quite happy in her field shelter, so several bags of straw later she looked pretty snug.

Due to calf at any time (difficult to predict exactly when) it was extremely important to ensure the survival of the calf with plenty of bedding, and extra hay and cattle cobs were in order – not too many cobs though as we didn’t want the calf to grow too big and make the birth difficult.

Meanwhile, the first half of 25 fence posts were punched in along the far boundary. New fencing is required here to prevent our sheep getting out and either falling in the drainage ditch (see September 2007) or wandering about in our neighbours’ lush grass fields.

Finally, on the last day of January, and in the worst weather we’ve seen so far this year, Pippa’s Calf (Rosie) was born!

Castration

Careful preparations ensure a stress-free castration, well almost

March got off to a bang with a visit from the vet – our calf, Billy, was due to be castrated.

We have been leading up to this point for several weeks as Pippa is quite strong-willed. She is quite happy to go along with us as long as she feels like it!

We started off by encouraging them both to leave their comfy paddock, and bit by bit we managed to get them into a shed (and shut the door). They stayed there for 3 or 4 days quite happily, and on the day, Pippa was helped out leaving Billy behind.

When the vet arrived, Billy was encouraged into the crush, and the work was done as quickly and painlessly as possible.

We did try to put Pippa with Billy back in the shed, but she decided otherwise and took a couple of fences with her…

After 24 hours of trying, we decided enough was enough, and put Billy back in the paddock instead. Understandably they are much more relaxed together.

A calf is born

Pippa finally delivers our first calf

Thankfully, after several weeks of waiting, Pippa finally gave birth to a bull calf on November 14th without any help from anyone.

Despite the chill in the weather, mother and calf continue to do well, albeit we are still keeping a good arm’s length away for the safety of everyone concerned.

We are also confident that our sow is in pig to our boar, and have just collected our ram lamb. He appears to be pleased with his new harem, and we sincerely hope he is as fertile as his predecessor! Only time will tell.

Plenty more work to do though. The polytunnel needs tidying, and the fruit garden is more weed than fruit bush at the moment. Fun times ahead…

Awaiting a new arrival

The weather proves a challenge whilst we await the birth of our first calf

The weather has certainly changed for us up here. No more sun for the last 2 or 3 weeks, but plenty of rain and some quite strong gales. We’ve had a relatively dry year all in all, but the result of that seems to be that the ground surface is quite hard and the torrential rain we are getting now has nowhere to go!

We’re also still waiting for Pippa, our Dexter cow, to give birth to her calf. It would have been nice for that to happen when everything was dry but that’s obviously not how it’s going to be. Still, provided we remain vigilant everything will be fine.

Our ewes are currently paddocked without so much grass at the moment, so they can thin up a little in time for the ram to arrive. Judging by our results last year this probably isn’t necessary, but we don’t want any complications.