September 24, 2021 at 6:18 p.m.
On the run
On the last Saturday morning in August, we watched as ominous clouds churned in the west-southwest sky moving in our direction. As the clouds brewed a darker color the closer they came, I could see light behind the storm and thought “Is that all there is to this storm? What a wimp.” The dark clouds passed over and little did I realize the light behind the storm was actually a wall of water and wind. This was not going to be a wimpy storm. Watching from my kitchen window, I could see a dark animal running around by the domes. It looked like our dog Bailey. As I opened the front door to call the dog to the house, the skies opened. Rain and hail pelted the ground. Surely the dog will find a dry place in one of the open sheds.
Once again Mark found himself stranded in the machine shed as the fury of the storm echoed throughout the metal building. He kept watching, studying the sky for a sign of danger. He knew the safest place during the heart of the storm was going to be under one of the big tractors, and he was ready to move.
As quickly as the storm hit, it dissipated and we emerged to start looking for damage. The buildings and vehicles looked OK. I called for Bailey, and she met us by the calf domes. Then we started to recognize the potential damage. One of the calf domes flew 30 feet across the yard. We found two calves wandering in the area and put them back in their own domes. Then I started to do a head count. We were still short one calf. I realized what I thought was the dog running around by the domes was actually a week-old black calf. As the winds and rains hit, it pushed this little girl eastward toward the corn field next to the barn. Once she found shelter from the storm in the corn rows, she started walking. We found her little toe tracks in the mud heading south. Or was it a fawn track? There are so many deer in the area. We couldn’t tell what we were looking at but it was the only clue we had as to where this calf could possibly have gone.
Mark tracked her all the way to the well and then back north again. She somehow crossed our driveway heading north but didn’t want to come in the open yard. She apparently liked hiding in the tangled corn stalks.
All afternoon we walked and searched. I purposely withheld the evening milk from the remaining calves. I hoped their bawling would call her home. As the sun was setting, I relented and fed the calves, worried about our missing little one being all alone and lost in the field. Another round of rain was forecasted for the evening. This poor little one was going to get stranded out in another storm. We all went to bed with heavy hearts.
As we started milking the next morning, Brenda called and said the missing calf was in her yard. Sure enough, it was our missing girl. We got her home. I put extra straw in her dome and gave her a warm bottle of milk. What a relief. We don’t know how she made it a mile north of the farm, across a busy tar road while avoiding a fall in a swollen water way in the middle of a dark and stormy night. We did know she was going to need a special name.
Eleven years earlier in August we had an even bigger storm go through our farm yard knocking down large elm trees. We didn’t lose any calves in the corn field that time but a couple of domes did land in the field like the Wizard of Oz house. We were in the middle of calving in ET calves from Goldwyn Carly at that time. Two were even born during the storm. We named them Cyclone, Chaos, Confusion, Commotion, Church and Chapel. So this little black calf was going to have to have a special name to mark her event.
Katie started throwing out song titles as name suggestions. Born to Run. Runaway. Fly Away. All were good ideas but not quite the right one. Then she found it. The right name/song. Since this calf traces back to our Chickadee cow family, it needed to have a bird connection. She pleaded to name her Freebird, a classic country rock song by Lynryd Skynyrd. Perfect.
During our search we discovered the extent of the storm damage to the fields. Mark surveyed the damage of twisted corn stalks and shredded leaves. He took mental notes of which varieties he was going to avoid on his next seed order. The damage meant harvest plans had to be switched and accelerated before too much moisture was lost in the feed value. Fields of silage corn seem to have withstood the winds but grain corn fields struggled to stay upright. Harvest fields were going to have to be flip-flopped.
Since we’re not back up to full capacity, we don’t need to chop as much silage as we grow. We are fortunate enough to have a large dairy neighbor who is always looking for feed closer to home. Brent came in with a chopping crew and semi dump trucks. They cleaned out 50 acres of downed corn in five hours. Mark spent 40 hours over the next week chopping silage to fill two bags and two silos from 30 acres. We will have more than enough feed supplies for the number of cattle we have on hand for the coming year. Now we wait to see how the silage corn matures and dries down for grain harvest. It won’t be a record-breaking year, but it should still have strong yields.
One of the best things about the early induced corn silage season is we can Take It On the Run to Expo!
As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark are starting a new adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.
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