Oct 092017


Sometime mid-week, the changing colors of the leaves went from drought-stressed, washed out reds and oranges to bright, flaming scarlets and green-yellows reminiscent of springtime. Overnight, the harsh edges of the dry summer and fall appeared to soften, to warm, and to relax once again.

Phil and Ben brought Teeter and Leona, along with Fred, the bull,  up from the lower ‘dry cow’ paddock to the main pasture with the dairy cows. Bonnie, too would be in heat soon and ready to see Fred, and Teeter and Leona would soon calve and begin the walk back and forth to the barn with the milking cows once again. Teeter’s udder is filling with milk and we expect to meet her new calf this week. On Friday, Leona calved. Last year, she didn’t take well to milking at all–it was more of a wrestling match than seemed beneficial, so we let her raise two calves instead. This year, we’ve been hoping she might prove to have settled a bit, and become a milk cow after all.  She had a little red bull calf, fuzzy and rugged, already showing all kinds of curiosity and bounce.

Leona was born and raised right here on the farm. She is Cricket’s daughter and built an awful lot like her–sturdy and large-boned. She was a bottle calf and has always been something of a love–seeking out a nice pat, rubbing up from behind to induce us to scratch her under the chin, not one bit skittish. UNTIL…that is, she came into the milking parlor.  Phil worked with her some last year, but, in the end, decided that Leona would be a great candidate to nurse a few calves and he’d have a go at it again this year. Saturday evening was the moment of truth, the first try at it again.  It didn’t go well.  Leona is a kicker.  And, this time around, her hoof found Phil’s eye. He’s sporting a milking shiner for the first time I can remember. And, won’t be making a milk cow out of Leona after all. Some days you get it, and some days you get got. He’s been gotten. He’s doing just fine, however. On day two he reports no pain and that it simply looks worse than it is. It looks pretty bad.

Away from barn and pasture, far away in Omaha, Nebraska, where all things USDA are decided, that agency has decided that it doesn’t like our proposed amendment to the food sovereignty law, and will ‘neither approve or endorse’ it, which, doesn’t, as you may imagine, mean that it won’t meet the necessary requirements. But, they don’t like our “tone.” The legislature is set to reconvene on October 23rd to take it up. We’re working on building consensus with the Department and Committee before that date. This may all be a bit like working with Leona. It’s just fine out in the field, just fine in the barn, but when it comes down to business, sometimes you get a kick in the eye. The Department has shown itself to be a bit like that already. But, what can you do? Do good work, act in good faith, and get down to business. The rest is a bit beyond our control.  The time is soon coming to mobilize.  Just as soon as we know, I’ll pass on the good word.  Sometimes, a cow settles after one lactation and doesn’t kick. You just don’t know until you try. What’s true on the farm may prove true in Augusta.  You just can’t know until you try.

Happy Autumn!  May scarlet blazes and yellow-green glows soften any harsh edges in your week.

Heather and Phil Retberg together with their three children run Quill’s End Farm, a 105-acre property in Penobscot that they bought in 2004. They use rotational grazing on their fifteen open acres and are renovating thirty more acres from woods to pasture to increase grazing for their pigs, grass-fed cattle, lambs, laying hens, and goats. Heather is Master of Halcyon Grange #345 and writes a newsletter for their farm’s buying clubs for farmers in her area and has generously given us permission to share some of her columns with Grangers throughout the state.

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