How to Achieve Pet Status on a Hobby Farm

Raising bottle dairy steers is not for the faint of heart. As purchasable animals, they rival only goldfish in price and ability to keel over. I’ve seen healthy day-old Jersey calves sell for less than five dollars at the sale barn. I’ve never seen a day-old Jersey bring more than fifty dollars, which is top of the market and still a reasonable value, considering some goldfish can sell for hundreds of dollars per piece. I guess koi is good eating, probably best fried with hushpuppies.

three bottle calves in a barn stall.

Dairy breeds, however, produce a bony carcass, so most of the bigtime cattlemen don’t want anything to do with a Holstein steer, and they wouldn’t be caught dead with a puny Jersey steer on their farm. “There is more meat on a big deer,” they might say. These days cattlemen just want big beefy angus cows. This may seem rather discriminatory, but it works out in favor of some dairy steers. Many are destined for hobby farms where they live a life of leisure and get a lot of entertainment out of watching people play veterinarian. I think it’s a well-known fact among dairy steers that the way to achieve pet status on a hobby farm is to get as close to death as possible without dying and then let the farmer nurse them back to health.

We’ve raised a lot of bottle calves over the years. The ones we remember the most are the ones we nearly lost and somehow doctored back to the living. Oftentimes, they’re a little stunted afterwards, which works to their advantage cause they last longer on the farm. My philosophy with raising dairy steers is most of the work is upfront, so even if it takes longer to feed them out, it’s still worth it to recoup the time spent bottle-feeding and doctoring. We grow our own grain and run it through the old hammermill, so we don’t really have a shortage of feed.

Eventually, whenever we take the calves to the sale barn, the handlers always comment on how tame the steers are. “They’re just big pets,” I respond.

Then I walk the catwalk one last time. Though the paycheck is nice, I still hate to see them go.

a group of our steers on moving day.

There’s a New Sheriff in Town

Lowry, my wife’s eighty-four-year-old poppaw, likes shooting from the hip. He’s pretty accurate. From ten-paces, he can nail a wasp mid-flight. He prefers dual-wielding two cans of Raid while clearing the riff-raff out of the barn’s nooks and crannies. Normally, he escapes these shootouts unscathed, but last summer, he took a stinger to his forefinger; it swole up like a corn dog. 

Afterwards, Lowry hung up his Raid cans for good. He said he was “gittin too old for this line of work.” He handed over the peace-keeping duties in the barn to me. His granddeddy once did the same with him. In fact, Lowry said, “I can remember granddeddy reaching up and crushing a nest of red wasps with his bare hand. They don’t make men like that anymore.”

“Thank goodness for that,” I thought. 

To be honest, I’m glad we’ve advanced beyond bare hands for wasp removal. We now have such technological advances as Raid. One of these days Raid will come out with an organic option, so we millennial farmers can feel less guilt about massacring insects with synthetic chemicals–“at least we killed them organically,” we’ll be able to tell our grandchildren.   

Until then, I’m going to keep killing rogue wasps and yellow jackets by conventional means of cypermethrin and prallethrin. I don’t take plesure in killing them–well, usually, I don’t. Last year I got jumped by a vicious gang of yellow-jackets living in an old hay bale. I barely made it out alive, which, to be fair, technically wasn’t the yellow jackets’ fault (it’s not the venom that gets you; it’s jumping from the hay loft). But I felt some vindication when I returned in a bee suit with two full cans of Raid Wasp and Hornet Killer. I doubt Lowry would have worn a bee suit; he would have just moseyed in there, hands dangling from his side, and said, “Let’s dance.”

All this is to say, I saw my first red wasp flying this past weekend when it was nearly 80 degrees. I gave him the business and told him to get out of Dodge, to not come back round these parts, that I didn’t want no trouble. But the rascal drew on me, at which point I promptly turned tail and ran. 

Yep, there’s a new Sheriff in town. 

OLD SHERRIFF
NEW SHERRIFF

Book Review: Rust: The Longest War.

At the library, I saw this book on an endcap, calling to me like a rusty tractor implement in the weeds. I couldn’t believe it: someone actually wrote a book, a whole full-length book, about rust–and a legit publisher, like Simon and Schuster, actually published it. I’m glad they did because Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman was an interesting read, though, full disclosure, I’ve invested a lot in rusty farm equipment over the years so I might be a little biased.

Apparently, rust is considered bad by most people who don’t enjoy working on broke-down farm machinery or getting tetanus shots. Also, from reading this book, I learned that most people don’t like rust-flavored drinks, which is why the formulas for aluminum can coatings are guarded like state secrets–that, and most can coatings contain BPA (a factoid that can companies want to keep under wraps). BPA is that pesky chemical that is probably doing bad things to my body right now because I drink entirely too many Diet Cokes straight from the can.

Anyway, this book has lots of rust-related stories. The author actually infiltrated Ball’s Can School (the company that makes Ball canning jars also makes most of the aluminum cans for drink companies, who woulda thunk?) in which drink industry people, most of whom are mustachioed, get together and learn about the complexities of aluminum cans.

The author also tells the story of the eccentric guy who created stainless steel and details a group of brave Department of Defense employees who saved taxpayers a lot of money by promoting rust prevention over rust repair. The author calls this group the “Rusketeers.” Kudos to Jonathan Waldman for thinking of rusketeers and writing a good read on rust.

“On a quiet night, you can hear a Ford rust.”

From Rust: the Longest War

My rusty Ford 4610.