Calf Trio

Calf Trio

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Tortellini Primavera


It's a sad state of affairs. Our freezer is dangerously close to running out of beef. When the pandemic hit last year and grocery stores were having trouble stocking essentials, consumers suddenly wanted to purchase beef and other meats from farmers and ranchers.
That's a great thing for the industry. But it created a new problem. Suddenly, producers were booking extra harvest dates for their animals at the small butcher shops. 
It pushed wait times for appointments to more than a year away. We called our processing plant a year ago. The first available date was September 2021!
While we normally would have butchered a couple of steers this spring, we are now waiting until September. I'm already out of our homegrown hamburger, and I've already gone through the first extra 20 pounds we purchased from Ellinwood Packing. 

So I've found some recipes that don't use my go-to freezer beef. This Tortellini Primavera was one we enjoyed. 

It's loaded with veggies. It also used up some frozen tri-color tortellini that had been hanging around in my freezer. So win-win!
If you have leftovers, add a splash of cream or milk. Pasta always absorbs liquid after it's refrigerated.  

Tortellini Primavera
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman blog
2 tbsp. butter
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (you can use jarred minced garlic)
3 whole carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup broccoli florets, rough chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth 
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup cooked ham, diced
1 cup frozen peas
1 pound cheese, spinach or tri-color tortellini
Extra Parmesan for serving

Cook tortellini a couple of minutes less than package directions call for. Drain and set aside.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add carrots and broccoli, stir and cook for another 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, and cook for another 2-3 minutes until the liquid reduces a bit. Stir in cream and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and stir.

When the mixture is hot and a cream sauce has formed, stir in peas, ham, salt and pepper. Allow them to heat through. When the sauce is hot, stir in the tortellini. Check seasonings and add more salt and/or pepper, if needed. Allow the pasta to heat back up, then serve with extra Parmesan. Serves 6.

If you have leftovers, add a splash of cream or milk. Pasta always absorbs liquid after it's refrigerated.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Orange "Earrings" and Vision Tests

I had one of those peripheral vision tests at the eye doctor a week ago. As a firstborn with test anxiety, I absolutely hate those blinking lights and the pressure to click my little signaling button at the correct times. 

"Did I miss one?" "Why is there so much time between blinks?" "Am I going BLIND?"

I have horrible eyesight: It's -6 in the right eye and -7.5 in the left - whatever that means. In real life, it means that my glasses are the first thing I put on in the morning and the last thing that hit the bedside table at night.

I had a vision test of another kind last week, too. It was just as difficult. It involved trying to pick out little orange "earrings" on feeder calves while they were moving. I didn't take any photos of the sorting process that day. As Randy says, I was a little busy at the time. But I found a photo I took from the feed truck which demonstrates what a challenge this eye test can be. 

Here' a better look at the tag from a different sorting event several years ago. 

Last week, we gathered the feeder calves so we could sort the heifers (girls) from the steers.


We've been feeding them silage and hay since we weaned them from their mothers last fall.

Once we had the 95 calves up in the sorting pen, our mission was to sort the heifers with the calfhood vaccination tags from the steers and the unbanded heifers.

Easier said than done. It's not easy for people with good vision to see the orange tag on the right ear. It definitely raises the level of difficulty for someone with poor vision like me!

We retain 25 heifers which were calfhood vaccinated last fall as replacement heifers for our herd. The heifers will have their first babies next January/February 2022. The heifers without the calfhood vaccinations and the steers made a trip to the Pratt Livestock sale barn last week.

To sort, we keep running the calves into smaller corrals. Randy and I were the sorters. Our neighbor, Todd, ran the gate in case one - or more - got past us. Besides the fact that the orange tags are pretty tiny on a 650-pound animal, it seems they further complicate the task by turning their rear ends toward us instead of facing forward. They also have their winter hair, which sometimes makes it hard to see their orange vaccination band on hairy ears, especially at a glance.

Last November, Dr. Bruce Figger came to the County Line to help us work calves that had been born last winter. As heifers came through the chute, Randy would decide whether or not it was one he would potentially want to add to our herd. If she was in good body condition and had good confirmation. Dr. Bruce would give her a calfhood vaccination.

The vaccination  prevents brucellosis, also known as "bangs." This disease causes abortion or premature calving. The vaccination must be performed by an accredited veterinarian, in compliance with state and national regulations.
Dr. Bruce uses a device to "tattoo" the animal to show it had received the brucellosis vaccination. Then he used green ink to mark the tattoo.

The orange "bands" help identify the calves who've been calfhood vaccinated. Most of these heifers become part of our cow-calf herd and will have their first calves in 2022 as 2 year olds. 

After sorting, the 25 heifers were sent into a separate lot, and the remainder went back to the pasture until Wednesday morning, when the semi truck arrived to take them to the sale barn. 

Selling cattle always puts a smile on the farmer's face.


 (I was smiling for a different reason. We didn't have to complete this task the previous week - when it was -14F. And I wasn't the one having to back the semi up!)

Though we have two farm-sized cattle trailers, it would take several trips to get all the cattle to the sale barn. So we hired Darrel Harner Trucking to do our hauling to market.

The semi is divided into different compartments, which can hold anywhere from two head to 25 head of cattle. Darrel told us how many calves he wanted at a time to load the semi, and we sent them on their way.

We met Darrel and the cattle at the Pratt Livestock sale barn for the unloading.

With semis and small trailers coming into the sale barn yards, it was like a traffic jam - country style.
The sale barn personnel count the cattle as they come off the truck.

After they're unloaded, the cattle are put into different lots to await sale day.

Last Thursday, the Pratt sale barn had some 4,200 cattle go through the auction ring. Ours were among them.

The price on feeder calves is down some. But it's still a good feeling to get a paycheck for all the work.

We sold 27 heifers (average weight of 614 pounds each) and 43 steers (average weight 734 pounds each.) 

January 2020 - 2nd calf born in 2020.

It's an end to a year-long journey, which began with their birth last winter. There were plenty of chapters to the story between then and now ...

... from working calves on our 39th wedding anniversary (note the ear tag number) ...

 ... to sorting, loading and transporting the calves and their moms to summer pasture ...

 ... to gathering and bringing them back home again in the fall ....

... working them again ... (missed photos of that this year) ...

... and feeding them every day since then - rain, snow or shine.

Au revoir to much of the Class of 2020! (We're still feeding and watering the replacement heifers and all the other cows until we move them to summer pasture in May.)

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Picture Day

Remember picture day at school? Back in the 1960s, you wore your favorite dress, which your mom probably made at home. Your mom rolled your hair in rollers or pin curls the night before so that you had those tight rolls of curls right next to your head. Your bangs threatened to crawl right up into the crown of your head.

For my very first school photo at Byers Grade School, I'm sure my hair was in place when I left home. However, the school photographers used to pass out these little combs before it was our turn to climb up into the portrait chair. Being the little rule follower I was, I probably tried to use that comb to "fix" my hair. I "fixed it" all right.

Experience is a good teacher:  I seem to recall telling Jill not to use the comb so conveniently provided before Lifetouch photos at school.  As I was wandering around in the corral the other day, I couldn't help but think about taking class photos. 

So, here are some from the County Line Class of 2021. (Of course, it always seem to be "picture day" on the County Line, so it's likely there will be "retakes" along the way.

You've already seen the first class member to arrive, but she's so cute, I couldn't resist showing her  again.

Even though there are several black and white faces in the corral, I'll always be able to identify her with her stylish yellow "earring." No. 100 designates that she was the first calf born in 2021. 
The first number of the eartag designates the birth year. 


You know that classmate who was invariably out of line on the way to the lunch room, where the school photographer was set up? No. 104 found its way to the "lunch room," all right. 

Some classmates are wiggly and can't sit still for their photos either.  


But others are ready for their close-ups. 
You know those people with the "if you've got it, flaunt it" attitude?


Those professional photographers always want to see a little attitude. No. 103 has that in spades.


Others have that "I'm king of the mountain!" attitude. (You know there was at least one in your class.)

This little gal got a little carried away with the "eye shadow." You know those people who end up with raccoon eyes. Tragic, No. 109!


Accessories always make a picture pop. That red feed bunk is just the right one.


Sometimes, you'd rather take a nap than get gussied up and pose.

There are helicopter parents in every classroom, right?

And sometimes you'd rather hide from the camera lens. 


I can relate!


Did this guy think the snow camouflaged him? You'll have to do better than that, little one!

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Miracle of Miracles


My Grandma Neelly didn't believe in betting. She didn't even like it if you said, "I'll bet you a quarter you will!" or "I'll bet you won't!" for some nonsensical argument among siblings. 
If Randy and I were betting folk, we'd have bet that a calf born during sub-zero temperatures last week would not make it. It didn't look good, despite our best efforts. 

My view - holding the bag up so the milk would flow while Randy tube-fed a baby calf in the pickup cab.

The mama had given birth on snow-covered ground, rather than on the straw that was available. When Randy found it, the mama had done a good job cleaning it off, but the newborn was no match for the snow-covered maternity suite and the wind. 

He wrapped it in an old blue blanket and put it in his pickup for a "sauna" treatment, then brought it back to the house. There, we mixed up some colostrum and tube-fed the baby in an effort to help it warm up from the inside out. (And this is why we use the old pickup for these tasks!)


 After it was good and dry, Randy deposited it in the straw back at the cow lot.

The mama was still waiting where she'd given birth. (You will have to pull up the photo below to see that the black "dot" in the background is actually the mama cow.)

Randy walked around the mama and herded her up toward the baby.
We left them alone, but the baby was still limp and unresponsive when we left.

Nothing had changed when Randy checked two more times that evening and night. He came back to the house and said he thought it wouldn't make it. 

However, Wednesday morning, he was delighted to discover that the calf was up. It was still wobbly, but it was up and trying to nurse. 

By Thursday, it was nursing well ...

... and following mama around the corral. 

"That is a good mama," Randy said, while we watched the pair. (The mom was not relishing our paparazzi moments.)

I've had a song on repeat in my head ever since, "Miracle of Miracles" from the musical "Fiddler on the Roof." (Click on the link to watch the clip from the movie.)

Over and over, the lyrics repeat "wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles." 

We did lose one calf from a heifer during the extreme cold. Thankfully, most of our heifers had calved prior to the sub-zero temperatures. Several veteran mamas found the straw or weeds in the pasture for cover. 

Ironically, we've had more loss outside the polar plunge. There was a dead baby calf in a pasture Sunday evening. The mama had done a good job cleaning it off, and there was no discernible reason that it didn't survive. 

Monday morning when we fed, the mama was in the same place she had given birth. She was there again last evening when we checked the ladies at dusk. It broke my heart.

In addition, we had a mama cow die on Saturday night, with a baby still in utero. However, it wasn't in labor at the time, and we don't know the reason for the mama's death. We also had a five-day-old calf die several weeks ago: Again, we don't know why that happened.

But, thankfully, there are many more miracles than heartbreaks.

Thursday morning, we watched as a brand new calf stood up for the first time.

Here was the same pair Sunday evening.

Yesterday, I watched baby calves chase each other in the pasture in the warm sunshine. No wonder I can't get "wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles" out of my head.