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Crazy, normal week as usual

April 18, 2008

“In order to teach, there is a lot more to learn.”  Bud Williams, cattleman,  low stress livestock handler extraordnaire.

Jetta update:  Taking the heifer by the horns, literally, has put me in control.  Somewhat.  My daughter told me I looked nervous the other morning during chores.  She was right.  The routine is working and all my preliminary training when Jetta was a baby has paid off.  She is now pooping before I catch her, which is telling me she isn’t nervous.  The first few days she would put her head down and threaten me.  I would have to grab her horn and pull her head up.   She is still not wanting me to touch her much more than a few minutes at a time.  So I’m trying to touch her everytime I enter her space.  She is re-learning a few voice commands and has been generally very good.  Because I have to handle the milk cow’s calf so much, I try to imprint them as soon as possible, much the same way you would handle a foal.  We don’t pussy foot around them either, I pick their stalls, bringing the wheel barrow in the stall with them and handle them all over, so they get used to it.  If you do this when they are small, it is much safer for the handler.

We have had a few mishaps, from the wrong gate being open, or the horse giving the cows a hard time.  Both times Jetta got loose and took off, but we were able to call her back and she was easy to catch or she just went to her stall.  Times like that, you just put out the biggest fire – this time it was the horse, so we had to leave Jetta go and deal with her later.

What I learned this week:  To get a cow to “submit” you need to get them to lift their nose in the air.  This is the total opposite of horse, with horses you want them to bend their heads down for you.  All this has to do with flight response.  Horses as a general rule, hold their heads high and run, cattle usually try to fight first with their heads down.  I discovered this by accident, by trying to get Jetta to take a piece of carrot out of my hand so I could grab her halter.  She didn’t really want the treat, but she was focused on my hand, which allowed me a split second to snap the lead on her halter.  Now, I don’t have to use the treats, ( plus I don’t want her to get the idea every time she sees me in the pasture, she can just look in my pockets.)  I just grab her horn with my left hand and push her head away, and hook her up.  Once I have the lead on her, she thinks she is in my control.  (I’m not letting on)

Weed patrol: The cows have completed their first grazing rotation, and now with the snow, the grass is not growing at all.  This totally wreaks havoc with my plans.  I can’t move them forward too fast or it will set the grass back, so now I’m feeding hay.  Around all the pastures on the edges there are small pockets of pasture here and there.  These areas aren’t very productive, because the timber casts too much shade or the the ground is worn out from old “sacrifice” areas near long ago barns.  By worn out,  I mean maybe the soil had too much manure and animal traffic for too long a time or during the wet season, and now the soil structure is compromised.  It takes forever to correct these conditions. ( I’m currently fighting a spot in one greenhouse, where the hog nipple was placed for only one season. I can never get the soil wet enough to grow good plants, and the plants that do grow in this spot always end up with powdery mildew or aphids.  The plants growing 5 feet away never have the same problems. )  So these have become my secondary “sacrifice” areas, for times like this when I have to feed hay.  I use these areas in the summer too, if I have to feed hay waiting for the fall rains.

Also for the last two weeks, since I’m grazing the cows now, I have pretty much eyeballed each paddock and taken note of weeds that I need to take care of.  I have found a dozen Scotch broom plants, that will be easy to dig out.  I used to get tensed out about weeds since Tansy Ragwort Senecio jacobea  was rampant in this county.  The landowner either had to take care of it or pay the county to do it.  So as you can guess, a lot of teenagers had the job of pulling tansy.  I was pleasantly surprised to see it almost disappear from our pastures by the second season of MiG. 

biennial Tansy ragwort rosette  – Senecio jacobea  

Tansy ragwort is poisonous to cattle and horses, but they have to eat it.  I have never seen even hungry cattle or horses eat it green.  If it is in baled hay that is a different story.  The alkaloids present in the plant will over time destroy the liver.  Sheep can eat it without problem.  So I graze my sheep in the areas where there is too much to take care of by hand.  We only have two problem areas now where it grows, the grass is weak in these areas because of shade, so that problem won’t be corrected, because I won’t be cutting those trees.  I will have to deal with the tansy.  

Since I have learned to “read” what the weeds are telling me, I know what to change in my management practices to eradicate or lessen the effects.  A good booklet explaining this is Weeds and What They Tell, by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer.  Be forewarned this booklet is not a textbook on weeds and how to kill them.  If you are familiar with Juliet d’Barclay Levy’s writings in The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable then you understand what I mean.  Weeds are the “class” of plants most misunderstood.  Once you learn these basic weed “skills” you can assess a piece of ground and make real decisions about how you are going to use it.  Weeds are feared because it seems that they will just grow anywhere, but careful examination will tell you that isn’t true.  The conditions have to be right for that plant.  Unfortunately human interactions with the soil usually make it easy for the weeds to take hold.   I’m with Joel Salatin, don’t spend money on soil tests, look at your soil and the plants growing there and you will learn a lot.  The land heals in layers, just how homeopathy heals one thing at a time and reveals the next layer to be healed.  It takes time, what your soil test reveals now won’t be accurate in 6 months time.  Mother Nature needn’t be tweaked so much, relax and put on some compost or move those animals often and let things heal properly. 

Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata

This is new noxious weed on the block.  I found this on the road, where the county road maintenance team so kindly let it fall off their mower last year.  We are supposed to be on the lookout for it.  It’s allelopathic properties are wiping out natives at a record rate.  So far I have only found it in the county road right-of-way.

Greenhouse chores:  Things are growing slowly in the greenhouse because of the cool weather.  Today it alternated between rain and snow, and snow is expected all weekend.  We have been transplanting celery and celeriac seedlings.  Ugghh too tiny!  I went back and forth all weekend, worrying about my chomped pepper plants.  I decided to just go with what I have and hope that it will be enough.  Our summer nights are almost always cool.  It takes me 95 days to get 69 day hybrid sweet corn.  So, I think I’ll not start new peppers.  The little guys have good roots, if we get any sun, maybe they can muster up some more leaves and get growing.

Other than that, we have just been seeding the regulars, lettuces,salad greens, brassicas, spinach etc.  We had to cover up all the seedlings in the greenhouse with double covers.  I hope it warms up soon.  I feel sorry for the fruit growers in the Hood River Valley, all the fruit trees are just starting to bloom.

Written on the wallpaper in a upstairs bedroom!   SNOW! April 23, 1958 



11 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2008 5:32 am

    I’ve been working on my weed identification in the pasture because so many of them are good for my goats that I want to be able to distinguish correctly. I’ve been popping thistles all week to let them bake and die in the sun—hopefully. There’s a pasture corner that’s particularly covered with them. I wish you lived here on the east coast so that we were dealing with the same conditions and pests, but I still learn loads from you nonetheless.

    I love the new lichen header! I love lichen.

    Okay, I’ve found a couple of Jersey milkers available semi-locally (just over an hour down the road), and I’d *love* to pick your brain and get your advice if you’d be willing to email me: danielle at touch the earth farm dot com.

  2. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    April 19, 2008 5:15 pm

    Danielle – the pasture weeds are probably the same as here, if it is Canadian thistle you are dealing with, just keep cutting and you can eventually bleed out the plant. Horses like them after they have wilted. To get the most bang for your buck, cut the weeds just before flowering, and if you are really gung ho, you can dry the weeds and burn them and use the ashes to kill them out. I’ve never had the time to do that, but it supposed to work. They like really acidic and highly manured soil, there was probably a building or shade tree at one time where manure accumulated.

    The lichen around here is gorgeous – it’s hard to resist taking pictures of all the different types. I’m amassing a photo collection for my botanical embroidery – this is one of those. Thanks to my daughter who took the photo!

    On the weed thing I’ve had to learn many new things – we have brought in a plethora of broadleaf weeds with all our imported chicken feed – some from your area. So much for clean seed – HA HA

  3. April 20, 2008 2:42 am

    Thank you for the ID on the garlic mustard. Nasty stuff. We have it here too.

  4. April 20, 2008 7:01 am

    Oh, I meant to say, too, that I’m discovering some of these weeds can be useful for people as well as goats in that they’re medicinal or edible.

    Garlic mustard for instance is an edible:

    Which broadleafs? Plantain is a big one here, but it’s really useful stuff medicinally. It’s also edible, and it has reputed de-worming affects on sheep and goats.

  5. April 20, 2008 12:58 pm

    Hurrah, BINGO! Immediately ordered Pfeiffer’s book. I knew that weeds could teach me about the condition of the soil – but have been searching without finding a book that would get me started on the right path. Thanks for the tip!

  6. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    April 20, 2008 8:58 pm

    Threecollie – your welcome – it isn’t too bad yet. But we have to pull it, or the authorities will.

    Danielle, actually plethora was probably an exaggeration, there have only been three weeds: velvet leaf, common cockle burr and oakleaf goosefoot. Since these are weeds of cultivation, I have had to worry about them only in the gardens. The velvet leaf and cockle burr don’t like it here and are easy to eradicate. But, the goosefoot Chenopodium salinum is a bear cat to weed. It smells good though, so it isn’t too bad. Interesting even though it is in the Chenopodium family, none of the animals will eat it and help me with it’s eradication.

    On the garlic mustard, even though it is edible, because of where our farm in located – sandwiched in between Portland’s Bull Run Watershed, the Sandy River Scenic River, and the Columbia Gorge Scenic Area, we are watched closely. Any plants deemed to be a danger to the endemics, either have to be dealt with by the landowner or the government will come do it for you. At this point, I can pull the plants and deliver them to a dumpster, or they will come and apply herbicides for me. I have opted for the handwork.

    Our pastures are a mix of forbs and grasses, about the only thing the cattle don’t eat is yarrow, which is a plant I can utilize for teas etc.

    I realize the seeds of these “weeds” we have imported may lie dormant for many years, but I have no intention of plowing or breaking ground, so I think my thick sod will save me.

    Hayden – although it only a booklet, there is a good amount of information in it. I hope you find it useful.

  7. April 21, 2008 6:49 am

    Horsetail and ground ivy are the bane of my garden.

  8. April 21, 2008 9:55 am

    I hear you on the grazing rotations…my grand plans of 4 day rotations to end up back where they started next sunday has a bit of a crimp in it, now that the grass stopped growing. Hay it is.

    The worst part is I hadn’t really planned on the snow pulling the electric fence wires down. Loose cattle….bummer.


  9. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    April 21, 2008 7:46 pm

    AMWD – Gardeners are a contrary lot – I think the weeds must be a test!

    Rich – the cows are now resigned that it will just be hay – we’ve had snow every morning, it melts, then by nightfall here it comes again.
    That’s a bummer about the fence.
    I can tell it’s bad, our neighbor who rarely feeds hay after a certain day (no matter what the conditions) went by with a load of hay today.
    Hopefully, a little warmer weather is on the way.

  10. April 24, 2008 7:58 pm

    If we look after our pasture the only things we have to look out for is Death Kamais (sp)and fringed sage. I think portulaca is the bane of my garden!

  11. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    April 24, 2008 10:28 pm

    Linda – It seems like every area has its own poison(s). I’m glad I’m not moving to a new area and having to learn all over again. We had a well meaning friend “help” our daughter plant some wildflower seeds in our vegetable garden. We ended up with a larkspur that isn’t from here, but is just as poisonous as our native larkspur. We discovered it when I looked out the window and the milk cow was upside down. I still haven’t gotten rid of that one.

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