We started the year with such excitement and high hopes.
In Janurary we purchased a pregnant Irish Dexter named Annabelle with her steer (neutered male) calf.
She was expected to calve in February or March, and we desired to keep a heifer calf (female) to raise and breed or raise a bull calf for beef, along with Annabelle’s other boy.
Although Annabelle is 11, we bought her for a good price and hoped to get a couple more calves out of her before allowing her to live out her retirement years in our pasture. She is such a sweetheart and will greedily accept my pets, brushes, and scratches all day long.
A few weeks after purchasing her, she began wheezing, while also having runny eyes and discharge coming from her nose. I waited a while before calling the farm vet, but eventually decided to. When he came out, I casually mentioned that she was due to give birth “any day”. He took one look at her and said, “I hate to tell you this, but I don’t think she’s pregnant.” Since he was doing lab work on her anyway, we opted to have a pregnancy test done and indeed, she was not pregnant. I don’t believe the prior owners had been dishonest with us. They were lovely people and I do believe she had been with a bull for two months. The vet surmises that at her age her cycles are slowing down and it will take longer for her to get pregnant.
We felt quite foolish for buying this old, un-pregnant cow. She was ultimately diagnosed with lungworm, a treatable parasite, but one which she introduced to our previously-clean pasture, and we therefore had to worm all our animals. We spent $300 on the vet and lab bills, and it was discouraging to think how one thing going wrong with an animal can wipe out any profit a person might have been hoping to make. Not only would we not have a calf to raise and sell for beef, but we had to pay the vet bill, find a way to breed her, and then feed and care for her for the next year before she even calves. We obviously aren’t trying to make a living doing this, but I have a huge respect and concern for people who do. The margins are extremely tight, and it is not easy.
On a much smaller scale, I have realized this truth in raising hens and selling eggs. When hens are young and laying an egg a day in summer we can about break even on paying for feed and keeping a couple dozen per week for ourselves. In the winter when hens lay once or twice per week, or when they turn two and begin to slow down altogether, there is no margin to cover expenses. When a predator takes out two hens at once, hens we have fed and cared for and gotten to a place where they lay daily, it is a great loss. When we have to buy new chicks or medicine or cedar chips to clean out the coop (not to mention the several hundred dollars it cost to build the coop), there is no way to recover that cost. There is only so much we can charge for a dozen eggs. We charge $4/dozen for organic, pastured eggs, which is on the higher end of what people are willing to pay anyway. (Even Costco with their massive buying power charges $3.50.) And though we are certainly not the most efficient egg farmers around, I am mindful that those able to produce and sell eggs for $2/dozen must be scrimping somewhere, most likely on quality feed, animal welfare, and humane practices. (Have you ever watched one of those horrifying industrial-egg-factory videos?) It’s all somewhat discouraging and disappointing.
But I will return to the subject of cows. Since we were going to need to bring a bull in for Annabelle, we decided we might as well get one more female cow to breed along with her.
And so we purchased Nutmeg, a red Irish Dexter heifer (a female that has never given birth – I define terms because it has taken me a long while to understand them myself). Now, six months later, we are still attempting to track down an Irish Dexter bull to breed them both. A woman has kindly offered to pasture them with her herd, which includes a bull, for a couple of months this summer and we will likely take her up on that. If that doesn’t work out, we have the number of two different people who offer AI (artificial insemination) services.