Counting in Cow Time


Bradley the bull has gone bye-bye.
The separating and loading went quicker than I expected, but it still wasn’t easy. The owner of the bull backed his truck and trailer into the access road behind the back barnyard. The cows were all in the back barnyard. The gate was opened and the bull guy used a bucket of feed to convince the bull to come out into the access road while the girls were blocked from following him. Once he was in the access road, he was herded in the appropriate direction and all went swimmingly for a few minutes until he decided to turn around. I was down by the trailer to block the open space next to one side of the trailer. I threw some feed over the fence to the girls, causing them to run down the field. This convinced the bull to run down the access road alongside them (separated by the fence) toward the trailer. At this point I was worried he was going to keep going along the side of the trailer and mow me down, but luckily he was diverted by his owner’s feed bucket to go right behind the trailer. He was eventually convinced to step on, and the job was all done in about 10 minutes.
I don’t think Bradley was too pleased to discover himself locked into the trailer, but it’s part of his job. Even if you love your job–and surely Bradley has to love his–there are always parts of it Not to like, and I suppose riding around in trailers is one of those for Bradley. He left behind three mothers-to-be, and a job well done. Bye, daddy.
Now we wait. Cows are pregnant for the same amount of time as people. The bull was here a full three months, and I think they were all bred in the first month, in the order of Moon Pie then Dumplin then Glory Bee. Calves should start arriving about a week apart, with the first one sometime around mid-April.

And then there will suddenly be six cows on the farm. That is, like, a little herd!

Cows are central figures on a farm. They provide milk, butter, cheese, and beef. They are the family farm machine, all wrapped up in one. Throw in some chickens, and you’ve got almost all you need along with a garden and some fire wood. A family cow used to be called a house cow. Back in medieval times, the cow was so important, it would actually be kept inside the house in the winter. You don’t want your cow getting cold! It was not that many generations ago that brides brought milk cows with them to their new homes as their dowries, and that families kept cows in their small yards in the cities. Most of us can probably look back to either our parents or our grandparents who were raised with a family cow, and yet in such a short time span, our collective knowledge has disintegrated to the point that you can ask kids where milk comes from and their most likely response will be–the store. Because of the workshops I do here, a lot of people come through my farm. Even adults ask questions like, does a cow have to have a baby to make milk? And does a hen have to be with a rooster before they lay eggs? (Just to make that confusing, the answers are contrarily opposite! A cow has to have a baby–and have been with a bull, of course–in order to have milk, but a hen lays eggs whether she’s ever met a rooster in her life or not.) And those aren’t stupid questions–there are no stupid questions, the search for knowledge is the epitome of wisdom–but it is demonstrative of how distanced we are from our food sources today.

The family cow is growing in popularity again, though. Not because we can’t survive without it, as was the case in the old days, but because we choose it, as a lifestyle. And it’s not a lifestyle everyone can take on, but it’s a very rewarding one if you can. Like chickens, cows are grounding. They put your life on their time, cow time. Whether it’s the big cycle of the year from breeding to calving to milking, or the daily care and tending of feeding or moving them between pastures, or the tiny moments–the sound of mooing in the morning or the feel of full warm teats beneath your fingers, life with a cow is about the cow. Moments, days, weeks, months, and years are measured in cow time. Milking time, feeding time, hay time, bull time, calving time.

I love cow time, and I am gonna love next spring. Three calves. I can hardly wait!

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Carmen Sandiego


Question from a Reader: I’ve been with you from almost the very beginning, but your posts have become more and more infrequent, and with so much less depth than your readers have learned to expect from you. I don’t know what’s happened; hopefully, your life is so good and so full that you no longer have time for you blog. However, it would be nice if you would offer some sort of explanation, even if it’s “good-bye, thanks for the good times”, to those of us who have stuck by you through thick and thin.

In other words, where in the world am I?

I’m sorry. I should explain! In my defense, sometimes I do still post daily! And do still write in-depth posts, occasionally. (Remember my exhaustive post about biscuits recently!) But it’s true that I don’t post as often as I used to, and that sometimes I can be quite sporadic. This is due to several changes in my life, but mostly due to the fact that I make my primary income these days from teaching workshops at the farm.

When I tell people that I teach workshops on Saturdays, their first thought is that I work one day a week. But in fact it’s a full-time job. I start on Mondays, making lists, taking stock of supplies and food, and shopping. Through the rest of the week, I’m cleaning the studio (from the last weekend’s workshops), setting the studio back up again for the coming weekend’s workshops, emailing back and forth with attendees, prepping the meals, cooking ahead, milking the cow, and so on. On Saturdays, I work a 12-hour day on my feet. If I can get out of doing anything on Sunday, I spend the day on the couch with my honey. Then get up on Monday, face the mess left over in the studio, and start all over again making lists, taking stock, and so on.

I give more workshops than is readily seen because as soon as a workshop day fills, I take that date off the retreats page on my website because it’s no longer available for registration. (Perhaps leaving the appearance on the surface that I’m doing nothing.) Most months, I hold three workshop weekends per month. I get one weekend off a month.

I’m not saying any of that to sound whiny. I love what I do! I have a blast giving these workshops. I love meeting the people, talking to them, teaching, sharing the farm and the animals. I’m just explaining, since I was asked! Workshops are what I’ve always done on my website, but first-hand and in-person. It’s very rewarding, just as writing my website has always been rewarding–and I have no intention of putting a stop to writing my website. I just can’t do it as often and as regularly as I used to because I’m making a living with the workshops these days, and I do need to make a living. I’ve made my living most of my adult life as a writer, which is not easy to do. I’ve been flexible–I learned a long time ago to go with the flow, follow the direction of the market. Internet advertising is more widespread as the internet continues to grow, but at the same time, that means any one individual’s piece of that pie is smaller as the internet grows. I used to be able to write my website full-time and make my primary income from my website. I can’t do that anymore, and I adjusted accordingly and followed the market to where I could utilize my skills to continue to make a living–doing the same thing, just in a different way. The traffic to this website is still very high, and I have to find more ways to support that traffic to keep all the information, tutorials, and stories here available, along with ongoing material as I have time to write it. (I’m talking about the costs of maintaining the website in hosting and other technical work. It costs several thousand dollars a year just to maintain this website. I know! A lot of people don’t realize that. This is a very large website with its own server.) Right now and for the foreseeable future, that means workshops at the farm, which is a growing market for me. Workshops are filling from 12 to 14 attendees (my limit in the studio) every weekend, and they’re filling at least two months in advance on an ongoing basis. I can’t do enough of them for how fast I’m filling them.

The past few weeks, I had some real time off. For the first time in months, I had two weekends off in a row. I almost didn’t know what to do with myself! I didn’t have to make lists or take stock or shop for retreats or clean up the studio or prep meals (for anyone other than myself and Rodney).

I cleaned my whole house from top to bottom.

I made lots of cheese.

I watched movies!

I sat around like a sloth! Snuggling with my man, who works hard all week and helps me on workshop weekends too, and is really happy when we have a weekend off to be two peas in a pod on the couch.

It was awesome!

I was tired.

By the way! Cheddaring:
Two Cheddars! The one on the left is just out of the press. I always add cheese coloring to Cheddars. The coloring deepens over time. You can see the difference in the Cheddar on the right that has been air drying for several days compared to the one just out of the press. The one on the left will take on more color in the next few days.
Gouda–I’m experimenting with vacuum sealing cheeses instead of waxing.
I really enjoyed having some time to indulge myself in my cheese love during the past couple of weeks.

But now it’s Monday and it’s a retreat weekend coming up! I have to make lists, take stock, shop, and so on! There are workshops the next weekend after also–and almost every weekend until mid-December when weather will force me to take a break until late March. I’m already planning lots of new and different workshops for next year, and I’m really excited about it. This fall marks four years since I moved to Sassafras Farm. I’ve now lived here longer than I lived at Stringtown Rising. (Hard to believe!) This is a really good time in my life, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

Lastly, I want to say to the reader who asked me the question–thank you for caring enough to ask.

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The Slanted Little House

"It was a cold wintry day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse-—as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked in the door and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die." Keep reading our story....

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