Donegan Family Dairy
Home of Happy, Fern, Selena and Ruby
Spring baby boom
Springtime at the Donegan Family Dairy means babies! I had a calf on April 4, and I'm doing just fine. That same day two other babies were born, and that week saw 15 total! So it's a busy time for new moms and farmers around here. Soon, a total of 33 of us will be providing fresh milk to the farm and, come summer, we'll be at peak production!
The birthing season doesn't happen by accident around here, nor is it just the natural order of things. Emily and Joe plan it so that most births happen around the same time in March and April. It makes it easier on everyone. This is called "seasonal" milking, and is not something all dairy farmers do.
The first 5 births gave us girls, then came 11 boys, and then a mixture. That's pretty typical, Emily says. If anybody's going to arrive early, it's the girls. The first 5 girls were all named for beloved horses in the Donegan family. Many of the rest were sold off the farm, leaving the Donegans with a good number of us to milk.
Funny looks at the store
Some of the heifers have had milk fever. Milk fever can happen to us after we give birth. It's a calcium deficiency that occurs when our bodies can't keep up with nutrient demands after birth. It's easy to detect. Farmer Emily says we get "floppy"—we hold our heads in a funny position and sometimes just lie down and stop chewing our cud. With the IV treatments the farmers give us, we look and act better quickly, sometimes within an hour.
This spring, Emily has made quite a few trips to the local pharmacy and market for milk fever treatment supplies. At the pharmacy, she stocks up on phosphorous enemas (the same kind people use) that go into the IV treatments. From the market, she gets several six packs of beer. The phosphorous helps with the milk fever, and the beer boosts our energy.
We get the beer by "drenching"---a device they use puts it right into the back of our throats, much like you might give your family dog some medicine. Nobody's really sure why the beer works, but we don't complain.
Itching to graze
The warm temperatures and sunshine are late to arrive. Grazing season usually starts around May 1, but not this year. There's still no sign of grass sprouting out there.
Meanwhile, the little farm boys are patiently watching their dad finish up the fencing around the farmyard that will let them get out and play to their heart's content. That's going to be good for everyone after a long winter.
Preparing for grazing season is all about the fences, which has kept Joe occupied daily for some time now. He uses a "strip grazing" method. That means the herd is kept to a narrow strip of pasture, but moved off it quickly onto a new narrow strip of pasture, several times a day.
Strip grazing is good for pasture re-growth, but it means a lot of fence moving for Joe. He also has to watch us closely to make sure we're taking in enough grass (and grain) to keep our milk production up. That's most important right after we give birth.
Music on the farm
The boys are in a "Music for Sprouts" class led by a neighboring farmer, which is a good outlet for everybody in the colder months. Emily has been doing a little bit of singing with that music director's children's band and she says she's looking forward to participating in a recording session with them later in the spring. They'll be sending their demo tape out to music publishers, so perhaps Emily will become a recording star!
We look forward to giving you our summer report from the warm, green pastures of Vermont.