oh sad day…

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Sometimes I wonder if I’m creating a fiction here. A fairy tale written with extra helpings of happy, interesting and perky and stingy with the dark, melancholy and gritty.

If so, I don’t mean to.  It’s just that I’m eager to share things I like, and tend to pass on dwelling on the things that make me cry. I’m kind of normal that way…

Hannah Banana died this week. She gave no real warning, but it was looming. She is almost twenty and has been losing her bloom,  so I’ve been kind of bracing myself for the inevitable for a while.

Still, I wasn’t ready.

Ho, ho, ho.

As always, I find solace in a brisk walk outside, doing farm chores and reading the contemporary Thomas Moore.

In his book The Education of the Heart, he says this:

“No mysteries are more profound and confounding than loss, suffering, ending, illness, and death. The death of someone close reminds us of what is important and may give us back our soul, but still the cruelties of life seem senseless. They tarnish our optimism and challenge our faith, and yet, oddly, they retain the power to make us ever more human. They do so only when we give them attention and speak for, ritualize, and keep in memory events that hurt, confuse, and keep us in the dark.”

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He also shared this poem from Mary Oliver, “In Blackwater Woods”

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To live in this world

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You must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

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against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

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Speaks for me perfectly – I let go, though it’s not what I want to do.

Goodbye Mrs. B,  you’ll always be Head Cow to me…

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You haven’t met Hannah? Click here to find out why we should all try to be a little more like her. 

 

the year of the bull

What’s that Ellis? You want to file a complaint about the lack of hefty water troughs for smashing?  Oh, and you’d like a new building to tear apart too?  Certainly Mr. destructive oaf, I’ll get right on it…

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Dragon, schmagon. Around here, 2012  has been the year of the bull, I don’t care what that Chinese calendar says.

Surely you remember my week of misery with my bulls Ellis and Henry, right?  Well, time has marched on and my tales now have endings. At least most of them…

Oh, Henry:

Henry loaded up and waiting for his ride to Mount Pleasant

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Henry enjoyed his brief interlude with Mrs.Robinson Hannah, has graduated and gone forth to make his mark on the world.

Hannah worked her magic and taught Henry about the pleasures of indoor living.  With Hannah’s help I was able to get Henry inspected by the veterinarian for interstate travel, get a tag in his ear and load him on the trailer.

Henry took a long, rainy ride to his new home at Mount Pleasant Plantation in Virginia where he now lives with eight beautiful ladies on this fascinating  restored historic property. It’s open to the public – check it out.

I’m so happy to see Henry put to use as a breeding sire – he is so very handsome and his mother is one of the most beautiful Devon cows I’ve ever seen.  Her robust self-sufficiency is exactly why Milking Devons are so deserving of preservation.  Henry has much to contribute and it makes me happy for him to have the chance. Sadly because he was so closely related to all of my cows, he would not have had a chance to be a herd sire here.

Henry in his new digs at Mount Pleasant Plantation in Virginia

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Henry’s probably busy telling his new Ladies how tough he had it, walking uphill both ways to school in the snow with holes in his shoes…  The herd has a great life here, but we’re far from fancy. Henry’s moving up in the world…

Little Bad Ass… formerly known as Max:

Hello, Max!

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Max is Molly’s  2012 calf.  Max had a little extra sparkle from the very start, so I left him a bull. Good Devon bulls can be hard to find, and one as nice as Max really needed to find a herd of his own to spread that sparkle around.  Max has gone to our friends at Ox Hill Devon Farm, where they specialize in training oxen. Apparently he wasted no time showing those future oxen who was boss which I suppose is how he earned his new name.  I have no doubt that Max will father some impressive oxen and he is waiting rather impatiently for his chance.

Max heads out to start his new life….

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Rocco gets a promotion:

Rocco was the very first calf born here so he’s especially meaningful to me. He is personality packed and had the shiniest baby coat I’ve ever seen. I’m not kidding – I’ve never seen anything like it. He was immaculate and gleaming at all times.

Rocco never had a gawky teenage moment – he was beautiful from day one. And, when he was a young bull calf, he never walked anywhere – he ran.  I was more than a little grateful when he outgrew that since nothing makes your blood turn cold faster than a full-sized bull galloping towards you. He only wanted to say hello and see if you’d give him a treat or a scratch, but still….

Rocco hits the jackpot with his new family.   I’m the first to admit bulls & steer don’t get many off the menu treats around here.  Rocco’s all for it…

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Rocco has passed his sunny nature to the few calves he had here: Honey, Sammy, Rose, Henrietta and Sprocket, so Rocco is still very much present here. He’s doing well at his new home in Corning, New York with his new family, the Kehoes. From the looks of things, Rocco  looks pretty pleased with his fortune and his new Ladies.

Ellis speaks:

Ellis at work. Always scanning to see if there’s something more interesting going on someplace else. This bull covers some ground between trawling the steer in the back pasture, looking for things to destroy in his own pasture and keeping tabs on his ladies…

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Ellis and I have established a working relationship of sorts.  He has decided to completely ignore me unless he has a complaint for management. Then he’s right in my face with his growls and grumbles.

But wait. Is this old bull learning new tricks?? I’ve managed to deal with his destruction, not by teaching him to stop it, but by fencing him out of anything he can destroy.  My watering system looks silly, but at least now it doesn’t take a ridiculous amount of time  and two or three interruptions a day. Occasionally Ellis gives a bucket of water a toss, but since there are now ten 15 gallon buckets spread around instead of two big ones, smashing water buckets has lost most of its thrill.

Recently, I’ve been worrying because mysteriously, my fence is not holding the stiff electrical charge it did. The cows are well-trained so rarely test it anymore, but still.  That thin wire is all I’ve got keeping those cows in, so I’m not one to gamble with it.

So, as with many farming chores, there’s nothing high-tech or sophisticated about it. What needs to be done is one tedious check of every single fencepost and corner of that long, long fence. What do I find? Nothing. nothing, and more nothing, then this:

What’s going on here?  There’s a boulder laying on the wire! And is that a message? What does it say?

So glad to see Ellis has learned to toss boulders and use his horns to scratch out messages on trees, fence posts and rocks. And here I was worried because he didn’t have any hobbies.

What does Ellis have to say? Well, your guess is as good as mine, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a gratitude journal.

in summary: the local food challenge dairy week


Okay, the weekend is nearly here. If you haven’t bought your cream line milk yet, you still have time to take part in this week’s local food challengeHere’s the link to part 1 where we challenge you to get out there and find yourself some locally produced cream line milk. Come on – I’m dying to hear about your experience with that rich, creamy, un-fooled-around-with nectar. Add a comment with your thoughts to this post and be eligible to win a copy of Shannon Hayes’ ever useful book, Grassfed Gourmet.

In part two, we’re making a simple, European everyday soft cheese with our milk – I promise it’s easy, takes very little of your active time, and is so worth it.  Join that challenge here for a chance to win a $25.00 gift certificate to East End Food Co-op. (hint, if you’re in a hurry, they have a veritable menu of different local milks in stock, including – gasp- goat’s milk).  Remember the deadline’s midnight Sunday, so time’s running out…

Today, I’d like to close by sharing a few tips and tricks to get the most from your farm fresh milk.  Some questions you may be wondering about:

How long will my milk last in my refrigerator?

Because your milk is not pasteurized at a super high temperature like most store brands, it will not last for an eternity in your refrigerator. You need to use it up.  Learning to make simple cheese is a way to keep your farm-fresh milk living on long after the sell-by date has passed.  Be sure to consume any soft or fresh cheeses you’ve made by the sell-by date on the milk.  Making fresh cheese does not extend the life of your milk. 

Is there any way to extend the life of my fresh cheese?

When my fresh cheese is nearing the end of it’s shelf life, I just shape it into teaspoon sized balls, air dry it in the fridge a bit to form a tender crust, store in a very clean jar and cover completely with olive oil.  The oil creates an anaerobic environment that keeps the cheese from spoiling, and they’re just amazingly yummy.  You can roll the balls in herbs, add cracked pepper, a garlic clove and a bit of crunchy salt if you like.  I have never been able to keep this cheese around long enough to test exactly how long it stays safe, it’s just too good to hang around long.

So easy you don’t really need a recipe – take your nearing end of shelf-life soft cheese, form teaspoon sized balls, air-dry on a plate if they aren’t dry enough then put into a very clean jar & cover completely with olive oil. Herbs & seasonings nice, but optional… this stuff is good just as it is

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Is cream line milk raw milk?

No, though it can be. While raw milk is always cream line, not all cream line milk is raw. Some of our dairies are pasteurizing their raw milk at lower temperatures for a longer period of time to preserve more of the live virtues of milk while killing off the pathogens.  Cream line milk has not been subject to the additional process of homogenization which smashes the milk globules through a fine screen under heat and pressure to prevent the separation of the fat.  To drink cream line milk, just give it a good shake before pouring and enjoy the creamy yumminess.

 I don’t want full fat milk – can I buy low-fat cream line milk?

Many of you fat-phobes will feel a shudder of horror at the gorgeous layer of rich cream that will rise to the top of your milk.  I too was once a worshipper of all things low-fat, and have now done a complete 180º turn in my thinking.  But that’s a challenge for another day – you can read up on that one for yourself.

Since cream line milk is virtually straight from the cow, it is not possible to buy it low-fat.  It  is however possible to reduce the fat in your home dairy efforts yourself simply by skimming the cream from your milk before using. 

It’s actually very simple: I just pour my milk into a wide bowl, refrigerate overnight and in the morning, with a large, shallow spoon, carefully spoon off the cream layer and put it into a very clean jar. Do be warned that milk is a virtual sponge for scents & flavors so if your fridge is full of salami, fish & onions don’t be surprised when that’s what your milk will taste like…

Now I have a reasonable equivalent of 2% milk and a small jar of cream for coffee, whipping or making butter.

And here’s a handy chart from our friends at New England Cheesemaking Supply shedding some light on the fat content of various milks and creams:

  • Type of Cream                         %Fat
  • Heavy Whipping Cream             36-40%
  • Light Whipping Cream               30-36%
  • Light or Coffee Cream               18-30%
  • Single Cream                              20%
  • Half and Half                              10.5% (10-18%)
  • Sour Cream                                18-20%
  • Whole Pasteurized Milk               3.25%

I hope you’ve learned something useful and approachable here and will begin widening your dairy exploration. It is amazing just how much more delicious it is, and how easy. Anyone can do it without spending tons on new gadgets and ingredients.

If you want to learn more, New England Cheesemaking Supply’s content-rich site is full of recipes, tutorials and all sorts of goodies and it’s my favorite price: free!

And, don’t forget the reason this is all so important; becoming a supporting player in the fight to keep Pennsylvania dairies alive and well. We still have lots of excellent local dairies here – let’s keep it that way by buying from companies we know!

A schmear of my marinated quark on home-made toast. I love the olive oil too, so drizzle extra on top. it’s the start of an epic veggie sandwich!  remember to keep the cheese balls submerged under the olive oil and dip out of the jar with a clean spoon for longest shelf life…and store your jar in the refrigerator.

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Okay, I’m waiting to see what dairy delights you’re cooking up this weekend… don’t let us down!

the local food challenge – let’s talk dairy

Today, as your local food challenge, I’m asking you to look at your dairy habits through a different lens.  I’d like to ask you to consider your dairy purchase in the context of how it bolsters or undermines the health of your local dairy farms.

The amount of dueling data about what to buy and what to eat is overwhelming. Obviously we consider our dairy choice from the standpoint of our own experience – as purchasers and eaters.

Do we want it low-fat? Which yogurt do we think tastes best? Do we think activia regularis has special digestive properties not shared by the live culture in any other yogurt brand?  Which is the least expensive? Which lasts longest in my refrigerator, what brand is most convenient for me to purchase and the big Organic or non-organic decision.

Talk and debate are important, but just as important are the actions we can take as individuals. Actions that are like a vote yay or nay for practices and products we want to support or not.

I guarantee the only reason corporations spend millions lobbying to restrict labelling, journalistic opposition, environmental restrictions and federally mandated milk prices is because it is profitable for them to operate without challenge.  And most of the time, all it takes for us to comply  with the corporate program is for them to obscure information.

The behind the scenes reality of the complicated business relationship between the government, dairy processors and dairy farmers is something most suburbanites & urbanites have not the slightest understanding of. On the consumer end, you worry when you hear about milk prices going up because that means food prices may be following. But what if milk prices don’t go up when they need to?

At the moment, the government set price for milk is actually lower than the farmer’s costs to produce the milk and it’s been hovering at a painful level for a very long time.  Dairy farms that have been in business for generations are being lost at an alarming rate.

And while large processors are not prohibited from  voluntarily raising the prices they pay to farmers to share in weathering a crises, national processors like Dean Foods and Dairy Farmers of America instead press to keep the federal price limit as low as possible regardless of the economic climate affecting their farmer suppliers.

Instead of using their profit to support their farmer/suppliers, they instead have invested in building their own competing mega dairies instead. Dairies that have not been solid investments and have only further undermined the income stability for existing farmers.

And, they spend tons of money on lobbyists to make labelling of bovine growth hormones on dairy products illegal. And to muscle federal milk prices down or up. And to downgrade organic standards so they can use decidedly non-organic ingredients like carrageenan and eliminate pasture requirements for cows.

That’s good business you say? Maybe from the standpoint of a shareholder. But when it comes to the availability of healthy food, we need to think more like investors.

We need to plan longer term than just the current season.  Remember the old Aesop’s fable of the goose and the golden eggs?  If I’m a dairy processor, and my milk suppliers are squeezed out of business, where am I going to get my milk?

I’m going to have to look to foreign countries, create my own supply, or substitute another material.  I don’t know about you, but none of those options is very encouraging to me. The first, importing milk? Well, many of the commercial foods you’re eating today are already using imported milk protein concentrate from China.

And processors forming their own dairies sounds like a win-win doesn’t it?   Not so fast, this has already been happening and the type of dairy created is a mega-dairy housing thousands of cows on not enough land, polluting communities with massive manure lagoons and pounding alternatives out of the dairy business.

National corporations syphon their money out of communities unlike smaller local dairy businesses whose taxes and spending dollars are spread mostly throughout their local home economy.

Of course this is my opinion, and yours may differ, but I am not a fan of consolidating many businesses into one, just as I’m not a fan of single massive monoculture crops of any type.

Diversity cultivates alternatives which prepare us with multiple strategies for weathering challenges of weather and economy. And if the last few years haven’t convinced us of the importance of viable strategies for adapting to economic and weather change, we’re definitely not paying attention.

Sure, dealing with many quirky suppliers is less convenient for big processors to coordinate in the best of times. But times are always changing – it’s short sighted to believe that any business will enjoy an unchallenged run of perfect prosperity.

When you realize that farming is especially vulnerable to uncontrollable circumstances, it’s clear that provisions for handling uncertainty need to be part of the business model.

How’s it going to serve us when there is no competition for the mega dairies and their powerful lobbyists turn their efforts toward increasing the federal milk prices and lowering production standards?

Never mind the number of amazing dairy products that will become so rare you’ll be more likely to see the Loch Ness monster than a bottle of cream-line milk.

In a nutshell, supporting local dairies has never been more important.  The Local Food challenge is an awesome opportunity for us to muddle our way through home dairy-ing together.

My challenge to you is this:

  1.  Expand your thinking about milk. Trust me, you’ll be surprised to learn how much you don’t know when you begin to consider milk from the farmer’s perspective.  Get to know the folks at New England Cheesemaking Supply – they’re an excellent resource for learning more about dairy & cheese starting with this excellent article about milk choices. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  2.  Find yourself some cream line milk made by a Pittsburgh area farmer.  Trust me, it’s out there. And it’s not that hard to find. You’ll have to step out of your usual big grocery store and look for smaller alternatives like your local farmer’s market, the Pittsburgh Public Market, a farm store like Harvest Valley or Soergel’s, or McGuiness Sisters.  The Buy Fresh Buy Local site is an excellent place to begin.  xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  3. Better yet, go directly to a farm like Pasture Maid Creamery where on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays you can get cream line milk straight from the cows, pasteurized at low temperatures and sealed into glass bottles.  xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  4. Share your milk buying experience with us here and you’ll be entered to win a special prize – a copy of Shannon Hayes’ great book, The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook. What do we want to know about your quest?  Did you find an awesome and unexpected source? Did you go direct to a farm and what did you think/learn? Tell us what you think about cream line milk.  xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

What to buy for the next part of the local dairy challenge?  You’ll need a gallon of milk and a small container of cultured buttermilk.

Come back Wednesday when we’ll be using your milk to make a soft European style cheese.  I promise you won’t need any special equipment or ingredients and you’ll be amazed at how easy and udderly delicious it is.

Okay, what are you waiting for? Get out there and find that milk.. ready, set, GO!

peace, love & pumpkins…

I broke ground on a new garden this year, and I will admit the goings have been mixed. Some things have been great, and others not so great.

Great? The years and years accumulation of organic composted cow manure we shoveled out of the old barn and spread on the garden. The soil is flat, nicely aerated,  gets great sun and the creek is nearby for irrigation.

The new plot is in an open, fairly unsupervised location far from human habitation and near to the creek. While it is a sizable drop to the creek from the garden, a short stroll brings you easily to a quiet pool deep enough for a hefty drink and a leisurely bath.

I planted corn, fodder beets and two kinds of pumpkins, and have been grooming a future site for a sizable strawberry patch.  While our start was a little slow due to the drought, all my little plants still did their best. The corn was promising, the beets coming up slow but sure and the pumpkins were taking prisoners.

It wasn’t long before the tiny stalks of corn had been trimmed as if with scissors; neatly, evenly and not a single plant spared.  The deer tracks left little doubt who the culprit was, and since the deer word for crack is c-o-r-n, I really can’t say I was all that surprised.

Once I accepted the fate of the corn and moved on, we had benefit of a few rains and things really started showing promise. The beets started to get big and bushy and stand up in tentative rows and the pumpkins began to vine and bloom all over the place.

I was pleased to see the first green orbs, and began planning my pumpkin extravaganza. I imagined pies, pumpkin caramel sauce, gnocci, ravioli, gnudi and candies. There’ll be roasted pumpkin, smashing pumpkins, toasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin puree, pie filling and who knows what else.

Of course the Ladies will be part of the Pumpkin-fest too – there are special fodder pumpkins for them too.

But wait – what’s that browning, dying spot in the middle of the pumpkin patch?  And what’s that?? Bite marks?? Grrrrrrr

And look at this! right in the center of the dead spot – a fresh, soft hole nestled under an umbrella of broad, shady pumpkin leaves. Talk about a short commute…

What’s cuter or more peace-loving than a groundhog? They harm no one, love fruits, veggies and sunshine and go about their gentle business of getting really, really fat. Which presents a quandary.

I like groundhogs. But, there always has to be a but doesn’t there?

Let’s start with their manners. Sure they’re shy and demure, and charming in their way.  I would be happy to share a pumpkin or two with my groundhog friends.  But be warned: groundhogs don’t want leftovers. They want a fresh pumpkin for every meal, even though they’ll eat just a few bites.  Clearly groundhog moms aren’t teaching their little hogs how impolite it is to take a bite and put it back…

And the digging! Groundhogs will dig a treacherous underground network you have to see to believe and you’d better hope that your barn or garage isn’t in the way. Their holes pose a leg-breaking menace to livestock and equipment.

So my animal-loving friends, what’s a farmer to do? I tend to be a little more lenient with the groundhogs than my neighbors. But even the most liberal urbanite-turned-country-dweller will have a crises of kindness when their peace-loving kumbaya theories are confronted with such a relentless and downright disrespectful agent for Nature.

Don’t think it could happen to you? Don’t be so sure – just ask Michael Pollan.  Read about his epic battle with our chubby four-legged vegans here.

Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’m not going to think about groundhogs today, but tomorrow is coming and a decision will soon have to be made.

Fiddle-de-dee…

baaa-add… very bad indeed

I’ve been chatting with Kristy Gardener, the force behind a blog I enjoy called Gastronomical Sovereignty on and off this year. I love Kristy’s ideas for reaching beyond the computer screen and creating a living breathing community of actual people who care about things like good food and sustainable living. Oh, and did I say wine?

What do I mean by reaching beyond the blog? Well, check out Kristy’s Send Something Good – how would your day be looking if you found a surprise package like that in your mailbox?

Anyway, I’m American and Kristy is Canadian. From what I can gather, it seems our two countries have much in common when it comes to industrial food systems, government regulation and frustrated citizens.

Since the main work on my farm is raising heritage breed cattle, there are several smash-ups between government and heritage breed livestock that I find pretty worrisome on two counts: first that they actually happened at all, and second that most people have heard so little about them.

I’m posting on Kristy’s blog today, so come on over and see what’s keeping me awake at night…

hello sprocket!

Who’s this? Say hello to Sprite & Sprocket

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Did you miss us? Did you even notice we were gone?

It’s been crazy busy around here and between trying to keeping up with projects and peak pollen season, I’ve been challenged.  I don’t like to whine, but let me just say, allergies are a real handicap in the farming business.

So between crying & sneezing, planting deadlines, fencing projects and hay making, blogging had to take a back seat this past week.  What that really means is, I’ve got a logjam of stuff to tell you about. Starting with Sprite’s big news.

If you’ve been following along, you know that Sprite is my special needs girl.  She’s a handsome cow, kind and loyal, but a bit stubborn in her particular way. Last year, of all my first time mothers, Sprite was the only one to have any trouble managing her new job.

Don’t get me wrong – Sprite is a very good mother.  She delivered Spritzer with no problem, she licked the baby, talked to the baby, bonded with the baby and chased him around.  But when it came to actually feeding the baby, well, not Sprite’s cup of tea.

Thankfully, with a little help, Sprite and Spritzer figured things out and did very well. Spritzer has grown big and chubby and is a happy, friendly steer batching it with the men.  And last week, Sprite had her second calf.

Of course, I’ve been very anxious to see how Sprite would handle her duties this year, and I’m happy to say, she’s nursing like a champ.  In fact, this baby is the most obedient, manageable one yet.

Sprocket spends his days hunkered down in the tall grass waiting for his mom

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And Sprite has some very modern opinions about mothering.  She spends her mornings with Sprocket just on the fringe of the rest of the herd.  She feeds him, and then, when he lies down in the tall grass, she leaves him hidden there and goes about her daily routine as if she were a single girl.  All day.

Around dinner time, Sprite sets out to find Sprocket, feeds him then they spend the evening together with the herd.

Now, all cows do this, but Sprite takes this daycare system to a whole new level.  It’s only working so well for her because Sprocket is so amazingly obedient – he stays exactly where she left him for as long as she’s gone.  That’s unusual for my calves – they’re usually challenging authority from day 2.  Day 1 if they’re Beatrice.

Sprite looks, and looks….. I kid you not,  it’s a BIG BIG field of tall grass

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The only problem is that sometime Sprite forgets.  It’s a big, big, big field and sometimes she forgets where she left him.  And he’s so obedient, he stays hunkered down until he hears her call.  And she silently looks and looks, not thinking to call until she gets frustrated.

And sometimes, Sprite completely forgets about Sprocket until she sees me head out to look for him.  Then, she trails behind, letting me do the legwork, waiting for me to call when I’ve found him.

Special needs indeed…..

Who could forget a sweet face like this? Welcome Sprocket, we’re happy to meet you!

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