Painted Hand Farm is a 20 acre Civil War era farm located in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania. We raise meat goats, veal calves, turkeys and organic vegetables using humane and sustainable agricultural practices.
Last week when I was driving back from Penn State with a fellow farming friend who owns a dairy, I asked about getting a bull calf to raise up as a beef steer.
"Oh please! How many do you want? I'm overrun with bull calves right now," she said.
The possibility of plural sent warning bells since the only time we acquire more than two of anything at a single time on the farm is with fowl.
With that thought passing through my mind I replied, "One or two would be fine."
"How about three," she countered.
"Sure. I'll pick them up on Saturday." What had I gotten myself into?
Saturday rolled around and when I went to pick up the calves, there was Mel's husband with halters on FOUR calves.
"Four calves?" I asked.
"Mel said you were to get four," he replied. Looking over at her calf hutches, I saw why. There was no room left at the inn and some pens were doubled up with smaller calves.
So home I went with four bull calves.
Now many people who raise animals for meat don't name them, but my philosophy has always been to know the name of everything in my freezer. I know where it came from, how it was raised, how it was slaughtered and that it hasn't been pumped full of antibiotics, synthetic estrogen (growth hormones) and carbon monoxide to keep it looking fresh well after it has rotted.
Meet Pinky, Blacky (the colors of their tongues), Blondy and Dameon (he was born on 6-6-06).
Oh sure, feeding cute calves with a bottle...right? I DARE anyone to walk into a group of hungry calves with one bottle. They may be babies, but they are 100 pound babies with these tiny nubs growing out of their skulls that leave colorful bruises on your legs when they butt you with their heads (common action used to massage the cow's udder to stimulate milk let down). They may only have teeth on their bottom jaw, but they will still take the skin off your knuckles when they try to suck on your fingers thinking they're going to get something. And if you're not paying attention and your clothing gets chewed on (they have teeth in the back) it can be literally shredded in a matter of minutes.
So the next step was to put together something called a "mommy bucket". Two buckets with two teats each for four calves worked like a charm.
Sandra is a witty writer, farmer and damn good cook who has been slicing her finger open on the cutting edge of the sustainable agriculture and local foods movements for the last twenty five years. Her books, How to Sell At Farmers Market and How To Kiss A Chicken On The Lips will be published in Spring 2013.