2004 Recap

Earlier this year I had started a journal to document the ups and downs of our little farm. Turned out to be a lot of downs. And one of the last ones is that my hard drive crashed and I lost everything I wrote. I know, I know. Backups.

So I’m going to recap what I can remember.

2004 started on a horrible, awful, no good, really bad note. Long story short – remodeling project gone really wrong left us with a humongo mortgage. I went back to work fulltime. Major stress and weight gain ensued.

I’d say one of the few high points of the year came early, when our first cow gave birth to twin bull calves in April. They were both healthy and continued to thrive, although they still are smaller than their herd mates.

We had a good response to our pastured broiler chickens. That was definitely a learning experience, but all in all I really enjoyed raising them. In the first batch most of the mortalities came in the brooder phase. There were a number of flips, and a bit of ascites. Only lost 2 or 3 once they were on pasture for a total mortality of 20%.

So with the second batch I religiously monitored their brooder temperature, their feed intake, fresh air, and the condition of the litter. I was so proud that when it came time to take them to pasture I hadn’t lost a single one. I did have to cull 2 or 3 that had bad legs.

One day it was cold and raining. The bridge was out and I had to go around the long way to get to the pasture for chicken chores. When I got out there that particular morning, most of the birds were standing around outside in the rain, soaked to the bone. One was almost dead and many others were lethargic. I was frantic. I gathered them all up and put them, along with their feeders, inside the shed. But some kept wanting to run out so I shut the door. I went to work. It was a Tuesday – now referred to as Black Tuesday around here – so Matt went out to do afternoon chores while I took the girls to dance class. It was a nasty scene when he opened the door to that shed. The chickens had overheated during the day and 22 were dead.

Bless him, he really does love me even if he did come down on me pretty hard. (He doesn’t anymore, but we’ll get to that disaster story in a minute.) He took care of that gruesome mess and disposed of all the dead ones. Miraculously we didn’t lose any more after that. We really expected to after they’d been subjected to that much stress. Matt’s comment was, “It’s really hard to do CPR on a chicken – they have no lips!”

The first batch we had butchered by a Mennonite lady and her husband. I believe they charged $1.10 a bird and they did a good job. But as bad luck followed us through 2004 I guess we spread a little of it around. On the day that she butchered our chickens the state inspector showed up. Apparently she didn’t have the proper permits and such because he shut her down that day. Fortunately we didn’t have any problem taking our chickens home or anything, and the inspector did let her finish the customers she had signed up as long as she did it at their farms.

We had set our price at $8 a bird, figuring we’d have 4-pound chickens. But I guess I did a good job growing them. They averaged over 5 pounds per bird. Our neighbor asked if they were turkeys. Still we made over $1 per bird. I guess we won’t get rich raising chickens, but I was glad to make any profit.

Since Esther was out of the chicken butchering business we had to find a new processor. I decided on Martzahn Farms poultry processing in Greene. They are a state-inspected facility, plus her husband raises pastured turkeys. So I figured they’d handle our birds with care. But she charged something like 50 cents a pound, or $2.50 for a 5-pound bird. Quite a difference from $1.10! So I made the decision to charge by the pound instead of a flat price and settled on $1.95 a pound. That way people would still get a 4-pound bird for about $8, just as we had advertised when we started. But on the bigger birds we’d recoup the extra processing fee. The price change didn’t seem to affect our sales. In fact I think we had more customers the second time around, and many of those customers came back to see if we had any more they could buy.

The bad luck certainly did not end with those 22 dead chickens. Let’s talk Biblical disasters – floods. We got hit at least 3 times. Our fencing was a mess, and the calves were continually escaping. And always when we weren’t home! I don’t know how many times my dad or my brother got a call from someone saying, “Matt & Kelli’s calves are out.” I guess it could have been even worse – we didn’t actually lose any cattle to the water. But our pasture really took a hit and we now have a seemingly permanent mud hole out there.

Then there was Bully. Once calving started he had to be separated from the cowherd. So he turned his fancy towards our young heifers. Apparently he couldn’t hold himself back and jumped the barbed wire fence that separated him from that little harem. Not good, the heifers were way too young to carry and birth a calf, but not necessarily a problem. The vet said when we worked the heifers in the spring he could give them a shot that would abort them if they were pregnant but wouldn’t hurt them if they weren’t pregnant. Nice plan, if you remember it.

But somehow it got overlooked (here’s the part where Matt stopped giving me a hard time for losing all those chickens). Fast forward to early October. We were still feeding the last 2 heifers. Matt went out one morning, and one was dead. She’d had her calf in the night and prolapsed. But there was one more tiny miracle – the calf had survived. That’s not usually what happens in situations like this. So Matt quick got some powdered colostrum from the vet and bottle-fed him. The girls called him Martin, but I called him Cinnabun because his mother’s name had been Cinnamon. He was the cutest thing, all black with curly hair. He absolutely thrived, it was amazing.

So back to Bully. We’re not exactly sure how it happened, but at some point in mid to late summer he broke his important part. Did you even know such a thing could be broken? I sure didn’t. So here we were with an out-of-commission $900 bull, and we couldn’t be sure that he had finished his mission with the cowherd. We shut him up in the corncrib and spent 6 weeks treating him with antibiotics to no avail. Bully ended up at the sale barn, destined to be a hamburger patty.

In the meantime we had to rent another bull from my dad’s cousin. It was pretty late in the summer to be breeding, but we figured a late-bred cow was better than an open cow. As soon as enough time had passed, we had the vet out to preg check them. The Osage Vet Clinic just this year acquired an ultrasound machine, which means they could preg check them much earlier than the hand method. Out of 7 cows 5 had been bred by Bully, and 2 by the replacement bull. So the 2 late-bred cows had to go to the sale barn as well. In keeping with our theme of bad luck for 2004, the 2 late-bred cows were 2 of our best and favorite cows.

So Bully, the 2 late-bred cows, my Belted Galloway cow, the girls’ 3 bottle calves, 2 of our own spring calves, and little Cinnabun went to the Waverly Sale Barn. Another mistake. Their sales consist mainly of feeders and butchers, not bottle calves and bred cows. We didn’t make nearly what we could have on them. It would have been worth the trip to take them to Dyersville, especially since we ended up buying new cows down there anyway. Lesson learned.

Yes, I said we bought new cows. They really are a nice bunch of very young cows. Two 2-year-old Herefords (Matt’s favorite breed), a 2-year-old Simmental (my favorite – I named her Carmel because of her beautiful coloring), and a 3-year-old black whiteface.

So I think that pretty much brings us to the end of 2004. Everything has been fairly calm here lately. I am planning on really celebrating New Year’s Eve. I will never have been so glad to see a year-end in all my life.

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