Farming Heartbreak

I sat next to that new life with so much hopelessness. “What do we do?” I asked my husband. “We’ve done what we can do. Can’t save them all.” To which I responded, “I don’t buy that.” He looked at me in a way to say I understand this is hard, but this is life.

I went to bed that night without much success of sleep. My mind raced, I prayed, and I felt sick with the looming reality. Around 5 a.m. I stopped trying to force sleep and went out to check on the calf.

This calf was born just three days before from a veteran cow without complication or any indication that something might be wrong. Two days later, Cody noticed the weak condition and lack of weight. He obviously was not nursing. I hurried to the store to purchase a bottle, colostrum replacement, and feeding tube. This is our fourth calving season and until this point, we had no need for those items.

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Calves are pretty hearty creatures. They quickly gain strength to stand just minutes after birth and begin nursing. They just know. The same is true for the mamas, even the first timers. This year I had the opportunity to witness two births–something that had never aligned in previous years with nearly two dozen calves introduced to the farm. Ellie and Discovery both blessed me with the opportunity to watch God’s perfect design and nature’s miraculous harmony.

Occasionally in conversation when people learn we are ‘hobby beef farmers’ they are often intrigued by what that takes. They expect long hours on the farm, pulling calves and constant feeding and herd monitoring. There are long days and no shortage of chores. And certainly, we could fill the days with farm-related activities if we did not have other obligations. The reality is we are spoiled with a very functional setup and we take a natural approach to farming which limits inputs.

With each new addition, I am in awe at how it just happens. And I am grateful that we can foster what nature intended.

But we have experienced farming heartaches when harmony is missing.

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As I walked outside I could hear the cow calling out. Grief set in. When I reached them it was obvious he was gone. Mama stood over him and let out low moans and groans, over and over. Her hopelessness and desire weighed down on me. I don’t know how long he had been gone, but she stood there with him encouraging him to no avail. The evening before I swear she looked at me in a way that suggested she wanted my help. Helpless, I prayed that our intervention would be enough, but it wasn’t.

It was Mother’s Day. While I know cows don’t celebrate or understand this holiday, I still thought it was a pretty crappy day to have this happen to her. And I wished so much that we had noticed a problem sooner. I stood in the barnyard and sobbed out loud protected from anyone seeing or hearing other than my cow and dogs. So many emotions rolled through me. From the unfairness of it all to the feelings of a mother unable to control the world around her. I looked at her swollen utter and was reminded of the days after we lost James when my milk came in and I too was uncomfortable with engorgement but had no baby to feed. The miscarriage of a calf earlier in the year and now the loss of this young, fragile life reminded me of the hurt of our own pregnancy losses–not that it takes much to remind me.

Our naming system is on the letter G this year. I named him Grant. He was only granted to us for a short while.

A saying I was introduced to when we started this adventure, and one I am not particularly fond of, is, “if you have livestock, you’ll have dead stock.” Farm losses are common and part of the business. Many farmers lose calves each year. We’ve been fortunate to grow a healthy herd and experience very few complications. Perhaps it’s an odds game… that is hard to buy, too. Perhaps I’m too soft. But I know all too well that lives planned for are never guaranteed and that loss is a part of life.

New blog site

I first started using bearvale.com as a blog site and primarily posted about our adventures in pregnancy and farming and shares of our personal life for journaling purposes. The website then developed to support future marketing efforts for our grass-fed beef operation and as recent blog posts have revealed our most intimate experiences, I felt it was time–overdue perhaps–to separate personal blogging from our farm site.

Writing has been powerful therapy for me and I plan to continue but to do so in a new environment better suited for such personal reflections. I also want a platform to write about my passions. To share information I’ve learned from the collective wisdom and shares of other bloggers and countless hours of reading.

So while I will still post blog entries from time to time that matches the initiatives of our farm, I am excited to also begin drafting for my new blog site at bearvalelife.com. I gave a lot of consideration to the name for this new blog, one that would capture the essence of all of my passions and the likely topics I’d publish. Most ideas were taken, others were too long to be appealing… With the help of a good friend, I decided on Bear Vale Life. My values and beliefs, passions and interests, adventures and stories….my Bear Vale Life.

I’ve copied over past posts to this new site and look forward to building on it. You’ll find posts on pregnancy, miscarriage, nutrition, natural living, gardening, cooking, health care alternatives, organics, parenting, preservation…and anything else that moves me. If any of these interest you, welcome!

I’d be honored to have my subscribers of bearvale.com also become subscribers to bearvalelife.com.

I hope I can return some value to the blogging world in which I have gained so much from.

Happy reading, and to your health–Cheers!

MOSES Conference

In late February I came across an article about two young farmers who were serving 65 CSA members on roughly four ares of land. I was impressed. The article mentioned the MOSES Organic Farming Conference and I thought I’d look it up as something for Cody and I to consider attending in the future.

Upon searching for the event, I discovered it was taking place the very next week. I printed off the agenda, we reviewed the sessions and decided it was worth our time. So we loaded Miss Connie and the pups and dropped them off with Grandma and Papa on our way to La Crosse.

Continue reading

First Market Offering

We began our grass-fed beef operation in 2013 and this past month were able to offer our local market the option to buy. We excepted family orders first and then opened it up to the public. I was excited at how quickly we not only filled this order, but also the next order for November. There is definite interest and even those unable to buy this time around shared their appreciation for future availability of grass-fed beef.

With this first order, we are also excited to proclaim that our beef distribution is national! We will be sending orders to California and Florida! To non-family members! 🙂

Three steers head in this week, and as has been the case each and every time I have sent cattle off for processing, I will cry. Regardless of people telling me to not get attached, I do. I work to earn the trust of our herd, give them treats (apples), and bestow them with names. This week I have to say goodbye to Charlie, Clay, and Claude. It will not be easy. But I find peace in the knowledge that we provided them with a good life. Our methods ensure they get to graze and roam, naturally. These same methods also allow them to live longer lives than they would elsewhere. And finally, I know we gave them a better life than they likely would have had. They were loved, and their sacrifice is appreciated.

Now for those I haven’t turn vegetarian with my sappy reflection…..We have just one quarter remaining for our November order–let me know if you’re interested!

Here are some random pics of the herd:

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Spud Returns to Bear Vale

In January we learned that our rented bull “Spud” had a 100% success rate with our ladies. We were expecting seven calves this year. We are excited and feel blessed that all seven mamas delivered healthy calves without complications!  We had four mature cows and three heifers (delivering for the first time). After experiencing a loss last year, I was so relieved that all our ladies and their babes sailed through our calving season which took place May 9 through July 5. The result was five heifers and two bulls. The bulls just happened to be calves #6 and #7 for us, breaking our streak of nine heifer calves in a row from 2014-2015.

You may recall our fist year “starter kit” I gave all names that started with “C”. Additions in 2014 begin with “D”, so we are now on to “E”. 2015 calves are Ellie, Elsa, Eva, Emory, Eleanor, Elbert, and Eddie.

Spud returned to Bear Vale on July 17 and, if my math is correct, we have the anticipation of a potential 11 additions to the herd in 2016.

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Spud here with Cora

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Spud’s markings proved to add a bit more color and splashiness to our new calves. A couple have white on the bellies, and a few have white facial markings. Eleanor has a full white face!

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2015 Calf #2, a heifer, Elsa, from cow Cecilia

Emory & Cora

2015 Calf #4, Emory, from cow Cora. Interesting facial markings.

Madi & Eva

Madi was visiting from Arkansas when Dakota, our wedding gift from Cody’s father and step-mom, had our third calf of the year. I gave Madi naming rights with the only direction it had to start with an “E”. Here’s Eva. A full black calf.

Splitzy & Ellie

Our first calf of 2015, Ellie, from cow, Cplitzy. A bit of white on the belly.

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A glimpse at our herd on May 15, 2015. We had 15 at this time. With the addition of our 7 2015 calves, we are 22 strong now!

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Our last calf of the year, a bull calf, Eddie, from cow, Crazy.


Beekeeping

I’ve wanted to get bees for years now, but had no idea where to start. I looked into it here and there but still didn’t know how to get started. Earlier this year Green TTEC held some workshops–one of which was a beekeeping class. Awesome! ….sort of. I left with more questions than answers and still held the fear of murdering swarm after swarm while trying to get it right. That led to a conversation with a friend who put me in touch with a professional bee keeper. Schultz Pure Honey came out to Bear Vale and we identified a good location for 32 hives. We provide the land, the bees pollinate our gardens and plants, and the bee keepers do what they know to do–keep the bees alive and well. It’s pretty neat and I enjoy watching the growth of our hives and the friendly winged visitors around the yard.

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Our Wedding Day

Well overdue with sharing our wedding photos, and as a follow up to our wedding video montage, here we are! Photos are below. (Click on an image to open the slide show.)

Our wedding day. It was everything I hoped it would be. We held our ceremony at our home, on nearly the highest point of the farm. This provided an interesting ride via hay wagon for our guests, but once there, you couldn’t beat the view. Choosing to marry at our home was the single best decision we could have made… aside from getting married! It allowed our day to be that much more special and personal, made it truly ours, and will serve as the reminder and foundation of our marriage all our days here.

Our family and friends, our awesome wedding party, all came together to make this a truly unique and memorable event for us. Thank you all for your love and support. I will treasure our wedding day always and the souls that filled it.

We decorated in “country vintage” style with lace, burlap, mason jars, signs, galvanized tubs, and barn wood.  Our family was at the forefront of our ceremony and plans. My eldest brother became ordained to perform our ceremony, parents held our bands, all of the wonderful kids in our life were involved, and I wore Cody’s great grandmother’s brooches in my hair. AND… We married on my mother’s 63rd birthday.

We had a beautiful day! Though it got pretty cold once the sun set, the skies were brilliant blue with big white puffy clouds. Everything was just perfect. We were blessed to have had this day created for us. To be surrounded by our most favorite people. I’m blessed to have had Cody put on my life’s path. To find love with him. To build a life and home with him. And to call him my husband, now and for always. What an amazing gift he is to me.

Thank you for sharing in our joy and viewing our wedding day images. In addition to the tremendous support of our family and friends, our day was also brought together by our vendors. A big thank you to:

Photography by Rachel Manzke Photography

Second photographer: Flutter Photography

Videography by MatKat Productions

Bride’s and Groom’s Rings from Pamela’s Fine Jewelry

Bride’s Dress & Veil and Bridesmaid’s Dresses from Dreams Bridal Boutique

Bouquets created by Viola Gift Shoppe

Ladies hair and makeup by Toni Rae Harris and crew

Food catered by TJ’s Catering

Cake and Cupcakes by Occasional Cupcake

Entertainment by Screaming Scott of Full Tilt DJs

Pews and unity ceremony table from Joy’s Junque 4 Sale

Tent, tables, chairs, linens, and dance floor rented from Tents & Events

31 Week Update

This week marks 31 weeks into the pregnancy. Babe is doing great. Staying active and growing stronger each day. We have our maternity session this weekend with the wonderful Rachel Manke! And next week is the baby shower. I can’t believe how quickly it is going, and at this point, I would be OK with having a longer pregnancy! Many have informed me that I’ll feel quite differently in about six weeks. I can already tell that I will miss the belly and the movements. Cody claims that will be short-term since we’ll be adding another to the womb in no time! He talks! Let’s see how we adjust with one babe. :))

29-30weeks

Last weekend we wrapped up the new living room project! There are still final touches to administer such as setting up the entry way with a bench and coat hooks, sealing the walls, installing the light fixtures. decorating…. so we are not done-done, but we are moved in! This is Cody’s handy work. It took over three months to get here, but he did it and I am so proud of this space because it has his touch, skill, and calculations. A big thanks to those who helped along the way. We just love the space. And there’s pleny of room for photo sessions too! I’ll have three sessions in this space before the week is over.

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Light fixtures coming soon! 🙂

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Pups are still getting adjusted

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And once moved in, we were able to do away with the nasty, white carpet in the old living room, soon-to-be my office! We rolled up the carpet to reveal beautiful hardwood underneath, as well as years of ground in dirt and grime below the padding. Yuck!

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Before: white carpet, circa 1990, stained and abused and gross—-it’s got to go!

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Hardwood underneath! Fabulous, beautiful hardwood! My only regret is we didn’t yank this up before we moved in!

Anyone who is upset about this snow can blame me. I wanted snow for our outdoor maternity session photos and so glad it came! The cows and horses probably don’t feel the same….or Cody, who has to plow and shovel it, but we’ve been kind of spoiled this winter, and snow is good for the fields! And it sure is prettier than dead grass and mud.

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Dutchess | First 2014 calf

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Cybil Cow

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Sadie does love the snow, loves it more when we come out to play in it

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Legend, sporting ice from his mane and coat, this part I don’t like….always amazed at how resiliant our farm animals are

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And to close this post, a promise to my mother-in-law….my next post will contain a sampling of our wedding photos! Long overdue. Coming soon!

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Spud’s Seven

We’re not the only ones expecting around here!

Our goal with Bear Vale (in addition to producing our own food source) is to provide our local area with grass-fed, organic Angus beef. In time, perhaps we can find distribution partners. To obtain this goal, our herd needs to grow. We began with a “starter kit”—5 cow/calf pairs. With some additions, births, and an unfortunate loss, we have 15 cattle, 9 of which are cows or heifers, that could potentially help us add to our herd. This summer we implemented a tried and true breeding program: we rented a bull. He was a cutie! Just a yearling himself, he wasn’t very big compared to our mature cows. I teased Cody that we might need to get him a step stool. But in fairness, we did not want a large bull with yearling heifers. For the two months he was with us, I affectionately named him “Spud.”

Well today was the day to learn Spud’s potency!  The vet confirmed we have 7 expecting cows! Which is fabulous! While two shy of perfect, it’s not really…. you see… Claire is younger than the other heifers, and I supposed I secretly hoped that she would not be bred as she is my baby. And Charlotte is a twin. Scientifically the odds of a heifer calf who is a twin of a bull calf conceiving is extremely low. The vet confirmed during the exam that there is no way for Charlotte to give us a calf. 

Bummer. But the exciting news is we have a near perfect breeding success rate and can look forward to welcoming 7 calves this summer. 

The other good news, is I am due before the cows! :)) Cody thinks the reverse would be better, but I think it’s good that I will have my little one and be on leave from work as we are busy with calving season. 

2015 will be a great year, full of life, love, and excitement. Cheers! Continue reading

Our Engagement Session

The Engagement Session Photo Post! Nearly three months ago we had our engagement session with Rachel Manzke, and a week before our wedding, I am getting them posted! It’s been a busy summer to say the least. I am very excited to walk down the aisle next week, to the man in which my soul finds peace, happiness, and joy with. He has enriched my world, shown me true love, friendship and partnership. God placed him in my path and lead me right to him, and I am forever grateful.

In true fashion, Cody humored me. I didn’t just want a couples photo session to commemorate our engagement, I wanted a themed, multi-wardrobe, multi-location, prop-infused session. 🙂  Continue reading

Photographer’s Paradise

In preparation for some upcoming sessions, I went out for a hike to scout locations.  I don’t have to wander far to find wonderful backdrops, beautiful vegetation, and amazing views.  Bear Vale Farm features nearly 120 acres of photographic possibilities!  Many of my sessions have been shot at my home for this very reason.  

I know I have a beautiful setting here, but my scouting reminded me all the more what a great location this provides for portraits and what a truly beautiful place I get to call home   I am very excited for my next sessions and honored when clients choose my land for their portraits.  I know they won’t be disappointed.  

Here is an assortment of images captured along the way featuring a variety of locations and views from atop our hill.  These are what photographers refer to as “SOOC” — no post-production, just taken straight from the camera as captured and shared.  A peek at the possibilities.  If you are considering outdoor portraits but don’t know where, you’re welcome at Bear Vale!  

p.s. The kids joined me and are featured in some of the images…five dogs (we are currently fostering a lab mix which adds to our count), the goat, and even the cats.  We must be quite the sight.  Blessings! Continue reading