In which we’ve got bumps

In which we’ve got bumps

Sprite's sporting her second bump. Are you looking?

Baby bumps that is. When did the world become so interested in baby bumps? I’m not sure I get it, but then it is true I often don’t. In the days when women suffered from the “vapours”, a lady wouldn’t dream of strutting around flaunting a bulging belly like we do today. Of course, pretty much everything else women are free to do today would be off-limits to those vapid ladies too.

Well, neither the Ladies nor I are hardcore Libbers, but we are grateful for all our modern freedoms and choices. Thanks all you Freedom Warriors before us who made it all possible. We’re ever so grateful for your courage and sacrifices.

Bling made sure I got her bump from all angles she's so proud. What a ham!

Our Ladies have an odd blend of progressive and not-so-progressive in their approach to life. Apparently, in the cow world, having babies is a huge status symbol. They all strive to be mommies and seem to enjoy it tremendously. You’d have to see the pleasure these Ladies show while nursing their calves; I truly believe they have achieved Zen.

In a free cow’s world it is true that a female leads the herd. I admit to being somewhat surprised by this. The bull

Femme is a compact cutie. She looks young for her age; this is her second bump. Of all the Ladies, she was the sweetest, happiest mom and most dedicated babysitter to all the calves.

tends to watch things carefully and quietly from the middle of the herd while he decides how to best handle the situation. If you aren’t familiar with herd life, you might not notice him right away which may not end up so well for you.

More baby daddy than paternal one, no one relishes all the pleasures life has to offer more than Rocco.

Our Rocco is the first calf born on this farm and he is a colorful character. Definitely more a baby daddy than a paternal one, he spreads himself fairly among all the ladies. But he’s pretty companionable with the steer and the little ones too.

The Ladies step aside to give him the best of whatever there is and he isn’t shy about giving a solid shove to anyone too slow about it. Rocco seems pretty satisfied with the way life has turned out for him; lots of pretty ladies, plenty of good grass, fluffy straw beds all winter and freedom to roam and explore. And, the apple trees!

He also enjoys the company of the steer and a good-natured tussling session is held most evenings. I was surprised also by how much the steer enjoy each others company and how kind they usually are to one another. Rocco prefers to hang out with the boys when he has no pressing lady business. And, he’s just as likely to plop down and nap with the babies for a spell. Overall, Rocco is a sunny and personality packed fellow who spreads himself around.

More Bling bump! That's one goofy girl. She's actually trying to convince me to give her a butt scratch. We expect a total of 9 babies beginning very early this spring. Hannah, Sally and Ruby aren't showing bumps yet; they aren't far enough along, but according to Rocco, his work is done.

I wrote once before about our decision to keep a bull. In these days of Artificial Insemination, it isn’t necessary to keep an unpredictable bull around and many farmers don’t. We do for a few reasons. Since one of my primary goals is to allow these cows to show me just how capable they are of managing themselves, I always prefer the least intrusive, least human driven method of management possible. And, I just can’t ignore the lives bulls working as AI sires lead. Maybe not so bad for the Big Name Bull of the Season, but the lesser bulls really have an unfortunate life.

Rocco knows way more than I do about when the Ladies are ready. Rocco lets me know pretty early when the Ladies are settled. With his help, our babies have all been right on time.

Suki wants to make sure you see her bump too...

So, now we’ve all got bumps and the Ladies seem content. They’re ready now to part ways with this year’s babies to prepare for next years’. And Rocco seems pretty pleased with himself. As usual….

I like to say our Zay is the Pamela Anderson of cows. Somehow, she makes motherhood look hot. And all the boys seem to agree... check out that brisket!

And my goodness. What can I say about this? Gigunda? Humongous? Big, honking, mountainous bump? Say what you like; Molly could care less what you think. She couldn't be more pleased with her huge self. Pass the apples please!

in which we share some random and oddly entertaining cow facts

in which we share some random and oddly entertaining cow facts

I don’t claim to be any type of expert on anything, really. My knowledge of cows is first hand and personal, but not what I’d call comprehensive or authoritative. Based on the questions people ask about the Ladies, it’s clear that we all have much to learn about our bovine friends.

This is a funny one that caught me by surprise: cows clean their noses with their tongues!

The first cow in America arrived in Jamestown colony in 1611.

Until the 1850’s, nearly every family had its own cow.

A cow must have a calf in order to produce milk.

Today, one cow can produce the milk that it once took 10 cows to produce.

High producing cows give over 25 pounds of milk each day

Cows have no top front teeth

A 1,000 pound cow produces about 4 tons of manure each year

Cows produce 15 – 20 gallons of saliva each day

Cows have one stomach with four compartments

It takes around 3,000 cows to supply the 22,000 footballs, the NFL uses every season (I know, know; I thought they were made of pigskin too but they’re not)

Any cow lovers with other oddball facts? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.

It’s been a crazy week here… still not so organized after all our moving around, and we’ve been invited to be a part of Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs this weekend. Our presentation is Sunday afternoon not that I’m panicking or anything. Hope to see you there!

in which Saralee has a crush

in which Saralee has a crush

Sweet Saralee's discovered the handsome Angus boys across the street...

Sweet Saralee. Sally’s daughter turned one year old late August. Saralee is an original and just a teeny bit sassier than her sisters Regina and Hannabelle.

Saralee was born almost exactly a month after Regina and Hannabelle. Since they had been the only girls in last year’s nursery, they were already bonded pretty tightly by the time Saralee showed up. But Saralee was hard to resist. Her sheer jubilant playfulness won Regina over first, then Hannabelle.

Lately, our quiet well behaved heifers have been restless. Needy. And noisy too.  It seems they have recently noticed the herd of fine Angus boys just across the street. While Regina and Hannabelle returned their attentions quickly back to more pressing matters of  juicy post-rain grass, Saralee has with great loyalty kept her solo vigil.

Oh Romeo, oh Romeo....

On the other side of the two lane country road, things are pretty much the same. While all the steer are interested in spurts, 1028 is truly stricken. He and Saralee declare their young love regularly from behind their restrictive fences on opposite sides of the road.

Saralee's attentive young beau 1028...

What do you get when you cross an Angus with a Devon? Well, everyone knows that; a Dangus silly!  Saralee and 1028 are plotting their union, but hopefully well-built fences and powerful electricity will keep their teenage longings at bay.

Frustrated teenage love... I'm tired just watching it from a distance!

We can’t be too hard on the young Romeo, Saralee is irresistible. We’re pretty charmed by her too. Thank goodness we aren’t teenagers anymore; it’s exhausting just watching!

Saralee is Sally's first calf. Just like her mother; Saralee's gentle charm is hard to resist.

In which we can’t stop thinking about apples

In which we can’t stop thinking about apples

'Tis the season for windfalls

I have an ongoing romance with the notion of apples. Maybe even more than with the apples themselves. Ruddy cheeked and fragrant, apples are a treat for both the eye and the palate. And the variety of projects apples inspire in us: festivals, cider hard and sweet, sauce, butter, pie, dried, spiced, stuffed, baked, fried, vinegar, wine, cakes, the possibilities truly are endless.

I realize I’m jumping ahead with the apple talk just when the long-awaited peaches are hitting their stride.  Apples are the fruit of fall here in Pennsylvania. Crisp, snappy days = crisp, tart apples. Trust me; I’m never one to rush a seasonal moment, but there is a timely reason I’d like to talk about apples today.

Bling raiding the apples again....She thinks nobody knows...Who's she fooling?

Raising great apples is an art that fortunately is practiced with care by knowledgeable orchardists around here. I’m not one of them, but I am enthusiastic about the possibility. Fortunately for me, apples are pretty tough and for the most part want to thrive. If I can just figure out how to stay out of their way, I should have more than enough for our needs. That is if I can keep some cloven hooved Ladies we know out of the trees….

What?? Who, me?

One little considered industrial use for apples is the making of commercial pectin. This pectin is mostly imported in bulk from Europe and packaged in the United States. But really, what is it? As it turns out, pectin is a water-soluble substance found in the tissues of all fruits, though some have much more than others. It acts as a thickening and jelling agent. Typically, pectin is extracted either from tart apples or the white pith found under the peel of citrus fruit, both naturally high in pectin. As the citrus pith tends to retain a bit of bitterness, most commercial pectin is derived from apples. Commercial pectin was a great boon to many overworked home preservers upon its introduction in the early 1900’s. It’s use made preserving much more forgiving and yielded more standard, reliable results.

Ever useful apple pectin stock.

The great pectin debate among jammers is an interesting one. Myself, I tend to pass on the commercial pectin, but I don’t really have any super scientific reason for my avoidance.  I just really don’t like stiff, rubbery jam or jelly and going without commercial pectin gives a gentle, softer texture that I love. And, a failed batch of jam isn’t really a crises in my book – I love ice cream topping, glazes and syrup almost as much, so what’s the big deal?

Smugly confident with my anti-commercial pectin decision, I read Linda Amendt’s most helpful book, Blue Ribbon Preserves.  Linda is firmly in favor of using commercial pectin, particularly in its liquid form. She is also decidedly against the use of homemade pectin stock. If you haven’t read her book, and you are a student of the science of preserving, you really should. It’s indispensable in my kitchen not just for the recipes (which are plentiful and good) but for the why’s and insider tips that help me deviate safely. Needless to say, Linda cast more than a shadow of doubt on my opinionated prejudice against commercial pectin.

I think of making jam and jelly as a Devotion and form of gratitude rather than an assembly line process. Commercial pectin is a shortcut, an equalizer that lowers the quality of the excellent and raises the quality of the poor to achieve a consistent good enough. A bailout of sorts.

It makes me sad that consistent has come to define good with regard to food in America. Agreed, embracing true regional and artisanal food means risking a really disappointing experience from time to time. Maybe even the occasional bellyache. But, that’s the price I’m willing to pay to enjoy that sublime surprise you’ll rarely find at any chain restaurant or grocery.

Ruthless thinning makes the remaining apples healthier and larger. For healthy organic apples, it's important to pick up the windfalls anyway so you may as well make jelly, right?

If you have an apple tree of your own, or a friend willing to share theirs, apple pectin stock is a great way to use the immature, tart apples that fall or are thinned mid summer. Losing excess apples makes the remaining crop healthier and the fruits larger. Using the unripe green apples to make home-made pectin stock makes sure nothing goes to waste.

Forgive my geekiness, but I think that’s pretty exciting in spite of what Linda Amendt thinks. I use the apple pectin stock to glaze sweet pastries and savory roasted meats and make preserves and jelly from fruits, herbs or veggies without enough pectin to jell on their own. And, it’s already jelly, so if I never make anything further from it, it’s still good on toast or in cocktails. But my most pressing reason for making it is so I can use it later to make onion marmalade.

Pectin stock is not so much a recipe as a formula; learn the proportions and the procedure is easily adaptable.  I’m thinking of tart green apples today, but stock can be made from other fruits as well; crabapple, red currant, citrus, certain plums, quince, gooseberries – anything with a high natural pectin content. The thing about apples that makes them so useful is that their flavor is mild and willing to take a back seat so other flavors can shine.

I love that I’m not importing something from afar, I know my apples haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and they’re free – my favorite price! I accept the variability of the levels of starch in my apples and the varying content of pectin from one apple to the next. If the worst penalty is using up a batch as ice cream topping or syrup when my jam didn’t set, that’s a penalty I can happily accept. Honestly, it’s rarely happened.

What about you? Commercial pectin or no? I’d love to hear your enlightened opinions in the comments below…..

Quirky, knobby, high pectin windfalls

In which we say: hello Sammy

In which we say: hello Sammy

Sally and Sammy enjoying a few days of room service

Is it wrong for me to have a favorite Lady?

I’m not admitting it or anything, but if I did have a favorite and if I told you who it is, you’d probably be surprised because we don’t talk about her much.

Some of the Ladies are hambones and always in the middle of the action and some of them are not.  Sally isn’t a flashy girl, but she is pure, sweet and true and we’re crazy about her.

It took me a while to figure her out when she first came – I wasn’t familiar with the ways of cows and she was a little different from the others. Neither a leader or a follower, Sally holds her own without being mean or bullying.

Sally is a little shy and still doesn’t like direct eye contact.  You have to be paying attention to understand that when she comes close and looks at your feet, she wants you to spend time with her. She really likes being around us and loves to be talked to and groomed.

There’s never been a been a kinder, more devoted mother than Sally, two-legged or four. 

Last year, Sally had her first calf, a heifer named Saralee.  Saralee is a real charmer and a sweet girl herself. Saralee was born in August during the hottest, most miserable weather of the summer.  True to form,  this year, Sally was again the last Lady to deliver and while it was in July this time, it was still the hottest, most miserable weather of the summer. The poor girl can’t get a break! But Sally never gets grumpy or complains.

Sammy on the move…..


This year, Sally had a boy. He’s peppy, chubby and really, really shiny. He has an especially beautiful coat just like his dad, Rocco, had as a calf.  We sort of joke that Rocco was super-calf racing around as soon as he hit the ground (I say sort of because it was no joke – Rocco was super charged). It appears this little fellow is a chip off the old block.

He kept everyone on edge his first day because he kept slipping out of the pasture and running off. Poor Sally was bawling and running around too. What could I do? A little house arrest was in order, so back to the barn for a few days of bonding.

He needed a little time for Sally to teach him the ropes before returning to the great outdoors. Sally was happy to have a few days of room service and we got the opportunity to get to know this sassy new kid better.  Happy to say, the plan was a success and Sally and Sammy have returned to their pasture.  Sammy’s a busy fellow learning all about running, bucking and kicking and chatting up Ladies. And respecting boundaries.

Welcome Sammy!

Sammy recharging his battery….