Cattle experiencing the eclipse

April 8, 2024 Eclipse in agricultural setting

Eclipse over the hoop barn at Health Hero Farm

Family came from South Carolina and Burlington to experience the eclipse with us and the cattle. We set the cattle up with ample hay in their feed wagon. But we had no idea how they would react. Would they go into the barn, thinking it was night? Would they panic and stampede? Would they moo in distress? Actually, none of that happened. There was some extra mooing and some mild anxiety. But otherwise, most continued to eat hay from the wagon and minerals from the cattle scratcher bin. Although it got darker at totality, it was never night.

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Bale Grazing on frozen ground

This is how we feed out our hay from the last growing season! When the ground is frozen hard we arrange the bales in our hay field and let the cattle eat there — close to shelter and frost-free stock tanks in the large hoop barn. The bale rings keep the cattle from spreading the hay all over the ground to lounge on. We prepare the bales by removing the plastic wrap and the netting. We ensure orderly behavior with an electric wire that keeps the eager cattle away until we are ready to let them all in. The calves have to figure out how to get their share, when the competition outweighs them four to one.

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We are so lucky to have this cow

Isn’t she a beauty!?! Her name is “Fence Jumper”. Every year she delivers a healthy calf to raise. She cleans, nurses and protects the calf. She is also a herd leader, quick to notice when it is time to move to new grass or to go to where we have bales of hay laid out for the herd. She is calm, curious… and intelligent. Several years ago, during breeding season, when her mom was grazing in another paddock with the other cows and the bull, she went over two live polywire lines to be with her mom. How sweet is that? The next day, when we noticed she was with the wrong herd, we put her back with the two-year-olds who were gaining weight and would be going “on the truck” the next year. But the next year, we were surprised to find a sweet little newborn heifer in the wrong herd. Apparently, Fence Jumper had taken steps to change her career path. So we put her and the calf with the breeding herd. And she has been grazing happily ever after.

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Too much of a good thing?

We have been overtaken by grass!  The first cut haying gave us a phenomenal yield — 201 bales from our north field.  But it was 3 days and long hours of work for Bob and John Lafayette’s crew. 

Our pregnant cows are doing their best to graze down the paddock just north of all those stacked bales.   They are hanging around the barn so we can keep an eye on them as their due dates approach and so they can enjoy the shade in the heat of the day.  Meanwhile, the main herd is in the south field doing their best to level the grass.  They eat.  They trample.  It’s all good!  But the grass is so tall that we cannot roll the tumble wheels.  The polywire is suspended too low to clear the seed heads of the grass.   So every time we want to give the herd more grass, we have to pick up each tumble wheel and carry it over our head to its new location.  This has never happened before.  And it sure looks silly.  But too much grass sure beats too little.  Every year the challenges are so different.

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Swashbuckling Granny

The day before my birthday, I saw a large package on my doorstep.

Well, sever me timbers!  A battery powered chain saw just showed up on my door step.  Thanks so much, Shel.  That is exactly the brand I had been looking at, and it was well rated by consumer reports.

I immediately made plans for an exciting day:

Tomorrow, the birthday girl will be:
  • using her bale unroller to lay some hay down the hill for the cattle,
  • spreading bedding hay around the barn, so the cattle will have a fluffy spot to park their butts
  • and learning how to cut up the tree that fell down on the fence in a heavy wind storm.

The Birthday Report:

bedding hay spread in barn

Those lucky cattle. A comfy place to lie down when it’s cold outside.

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Close ups with this year’s calves

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Thanks to Maddie Dawson, we now have some portraits of our calves to share with our supporters.  Maddie described the herd as “very relaxed, happy and healthy!”  It you want to observe the cows and calves in person, they are … Continue reading

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Fourth of July Parade

South Hero celebrates independence day with a parade down South Street. This year’s theme was “essential workers”, so our Farmers’ Market needed to be represented! Our farmers worked hard last year to produce food for the community and sell it at the market. Here’s Joan driving our farm van with the farmers’ market’s banner. On one side of the van, we display the vendors logos; and on the other side, we thank our community sponsors! [photo credits: Bob Fireovid, Rob Swanson and Liz Monley]

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First Cut – incredible yield

It’s hard to believe that in just one day we mowed, raked and baled 188 large round bales of hay, with 160 bales coming from our south field. In short, the first photo on the left turned into the two photos on the right. Look how high the grass is in the first photo! Now it looks like a golf course, so green, so smooth, so beautiful. Thanks to all our help – Fred Bartle mowing and moving bales, Holden & Brad Goulet raking, John Lafayette baling.

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Kicking up our heels over grass!

Turn out day!!!! Finally, the green stuff on the other side of the fence is accessible. Bob and Joan lead the cattle down a lane to the open field where they will begin the grazing season. As they go through the “gate” to the field, they may casually stroll in, charge in, or even throw in a little kick or jump. Then we just listen for the “rip/tear” of the cattle shearing off the grass to gorge themselves. We wonder whether the cattle appreciate the view of Lake Champlain, as we do.

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Winter Bale Grazing

So what is “bale grazing”? It’s a practice of feeding out bales of hay on the frozen fields where the manure and hay leftovers will be welcome soil amendments in the spring. We do this only when the ground is frozen, to avoid soil compaction. The metal ring around the bale is to prevent the cattle from using it as bedding. January 5 was the start of this winter practice for us here in South Hero.

Calling the cattle to eat the bales of hay.

Our herd eating four bales of hay on our frozen pasture.

The next day, we check up on them.

During the winter bale grazing, we feed on alternate days. But of course, we check up on the cattle daily, as well as making sure their frost-free stock tanks in the hoop barn are working properly.

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