Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The Tiniest calf

Saraswati and Kalavati – born just 4 days apart are almost identical – rich brown coat and a white spot on their foreheads.  Sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart. 

Both of them had grown up into graceful young cows and seemed in pretty good health.  Kalavati had a bad bout of Foot and mouth infection and had spent several weeks in isolated quarantine.  But she had recovered her health well. 

Kalavati in isolated quarantine with all four feet bandaged.

It was Saraswati who started looking week and skinny for no apparent reason. 

  The vet was called and he prescribed some medicines and she slowly started regaining her health although she still looked thin.  Kalavati on the other hand had started looking plump and we guessed we would soon have a little calf  on the farm.  Probably Saraswati would be late in conceiving and calving due to her ill health we thought.

So it came as a complete shock when we went to the cowshed early morning and saw a teensy weensy calf lying next to Saraswati, who had a miserable dis-interested look around her and was not doing the usual nosing–nudging-cleaning routine that all cows do to their new born calves.  It is nature’s way of ensuring that the new born calf’s body temperature is maintained, the blood circulation is improved and the young calf gets perky and tries to stand up within an hour or two of its birth.  But none of that was being played out here.  Was the calf even alive?  Yes there was life in the  tiny cold limp body.  We rubbed it vigorously with gunny sacking , tried to get Saraswati to nuzzle it, but she seemed caught up in her own misery.   The usual trick of sprinkling wheat bran and maize powder onto the calf which gets the mother to lick it vigorously failed .  We tried milking her to get some precious colostrum  into the tiny calf, but her udders were dry.  We had a premie on our hands – a premature birth – Natures cycle of the full gestation which ensures an abundance of rich colostrum to protect the new born from all the vicious infections of the outside world had been cut short and the baby would have to struggle to survive now.  I held the tiny darling on my lap and rubbed its cold feet and bundled it up in layers of cloth and yet it shivered. 

I got a bottle of warm milk and tried to get the calf to drink.   Slow erratic gulps but slowly the shivering stopped.  

The vet arrived to check on Saraswati.  He confirmed that it was indeed a prematurely born calf and the chances of survival would be very slim.  The mother would need a lot of attention and some tonics and extra calcium was prescribed for her. We were to feed the calf every two hours and keep it as warm and dry as possible.  We carried the calf into the house.  The worst of the rains were lashing the whole of Karnataka at this time and the stormy damp weather was not a nice time for the little calf.

So tiny!

Her tail - smaller than our cat's tail!

Soudamini I named her. A big name for a little calf.  A musical sounding name.  But Soudamini means lightening – and indeed she came and went like a flash of lightening.  Illuminating our home for a brief period of 13 days during which her health and our hopes see-sawed.  One day she would be perky and running all over the place following me all over the house and the next day she would be lying listless, needing to be coaxed up to even drink the warm milk that she had gulped down in the previous feed.  A rash on the skin that erupted and spread all over, a runny nose that made her breathing sound laboured, the chills, the terrible stormy weather and the never ending rain and the consequent dampness all took its toll and on the 13th day I knew she had given up the battle.  It is heartbreaking to watch an animal die and specially one who had a promise of a whole life ahead, but   that is the way it is.  When I tried to coax her to drink some warm milk, she let out a terrible bleat – the first and last sound that she ever made.  I knew that I had to let her go.  We sat with her until she slipped into the other world – a world where the meadows are always sunny.

Soudamini – you will be remembered with love.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Horsegram (Kuleeth) Cultivation

Horsegram seens to be in the news these days - the almost forgotten wonder legume!

After our Rice Harvest we had been trying out various Leguminous Crops for their beneficial Nitrogen fixation ability.   For those who have forgotten the high school Biology lesson – Legumious Plants are Natures Wonder Workers – they absorb the Nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that returns back to the soil.  All this while producing the beans that provides food for humans and stalks and leaves that provide fodder for our bovine family. Amazing isn’t it?

So last year we planted 4 different legumes in each section of our land.  Each measures about 1/8th of an acre.  The cultivation manuals presume that you are a Big Time Farmer and provide the seed rate per Hectare – so after some head scratching and calculations, a Seed Rate of 2 Kgs for each section of the land was decided upon.  So we got Mung (Green Gram) , Udid (Black Gram) ,  Cowpea (White beans with a Black eye) and Horse Gram (Well – it is Reddish Brown just in case you think I am choosing based on colours!) All 4 are Legumes and promise to do the Nitrogen Fixation equally well.

To BroadCast Or Not?

Well,  in todays age of twitter and podcasting  – is Broadcasting still used ?  You bet!  We need to announce to the Soil – Look here come the seeds for you to nurture...and they in turn will nurture and enrich you. 

So after the tractor did its job of tilling the soil, we walked around the field ‘broadcasting’ the seeds.  Small portions of seeds flung evenly over the tilled land and then seeds are covered by a final run of the tractor.  And we were all set.

Now for the irrigation.  Unlike the Rice plants which are completely rain fed, we would have to run the pump in order to irrigate the fields now.  Vivek had designed a grid of removable pipelines with sprinklers.  We worked late into the evening  fixing the pipes and the sprinkler heads.  

It was a pleasure to see the warm earth soaking up the water that fell in a gentle misty spray from the sprinklers.

Very soon the sprouts were visible.  And guess who invited themselves for a nutritious breakfast of sprouts?  Well the Health Conscious Langurs would sit around the field each day at dawn and pull out the sprouts, shake the soil off it and munch them with enjoyment.   Inspite of all their feasting, the fields were covered with a green carpet (sparse though).  The langurs stopped coming when the plants grew beyond the 2 leaf stage.  

Soon the flowers started appearing and turning into interesting looking pods – sickle shaped ones of horsegram, rod like bunches of black and green gram and thin long beans of the cow pea.  Just when the pods started looking full, the peacocks started making their rounds. They feasted on the tender green pods sometimes leaving the pod shell intact but empty. In all this, we scarcely noticed that the monkeys and peacocks were partial only to the green gram, black gram and cow pea.  The Kuleeth in comparison to the other plants had been looking quite scraggly but surprisingly the pods were intact!
Soon  the green fields started turning yellow and drying up.  Time for harvest. The green and  black gram yields were not worth mentioning at all, but the horsegram yielded quite a good harvest. 

So this year we decided to grow Horsegram in the entire paddy area.   

Shortly after the rice harvest, we got the tractor to till the land.  We used the broadcasting method on all 4 sections of the fields.  The irrigation pipes were laid down again.  The irrigation needed daily monitoring.  The far corners of the fields would remain dry when strong breeze carried the fine mist of water away and we had to manually water those sections.  

Very often the sprinkler heads would stop functioning and on taking it apart we would find small stones or sometimes a dead fish that had somehow got past the filter. 

We also had to interchange the positions of the sprinkler heads depending on the throw of water from each one.  Sometimes we had to coax an unwilling frog out of the ‘Capital’ which is the holder into which the sprinkler head fits.  All in all a busy busy time.

  And soon it was time for harvest! The damage caused by the wild life  was surprisingly less than that caused to the rice harvest. 

The horsegram is harvested by pulling up the entire plant which comes up quite easily.  The plants are piled up across the field to allow them to dry out and then carried to the threshing area.

  Our front yard was all cleaned up and the harvest was spread out.  The traditional method of threshing is by beating with a flat wooden stick – a method that had worked fine the previous year when we had a very small crop of  horsegram.  But this year, looking at the humongous pile, I wasn’t sure that was a good idea.  

No one around us had any better idea – and I found the answer in some online farming videos where the horsegram is threshed by running a tractor over it!  Now our front yard is too small for a tractor to come in, but our little Alto could do the job just as well!  So here is what we did

First gear – forward, turn,
Reverse gear – backward, turn.  
First gear – forward, turn,
Reverse gear – backward, turn. 
First gear – forward, turn,
Reverse gear – backward, turn. 
and on and on in the little yard.
Then stop the car, get out and turn over the horsegram , shake it a bit and loosen the clumped up bunches.  Then  repeat!

The grains would fall to the ground while the stalks and empty pods could be bunched up and kept aside.  Not all the pods would break loose, so a second and third threshing on consecutive days was needed.
The car was covered in a thick layer of dust by the time we were done.  Then the actual winnowing and ‘separating the grain from the chaff’  was done!

And finally we have our lovely harvest of horsegram all ready!

Our meals are pepped up with Stir-fried horsegram sprouts, soup and of course the traditional  Saar-upkari! 

Come, join us for a delicious but simple meal of home grown rice and Kuleetha saar!

Sunday, 27 January 2019

The Merry Stash

Revisiting an old hobby!

I have a big stash of brightly coloured fabric pieces –some plain some printed... some large some just wee bits  each one of them interwoven with lovely memories -  tiny baby clothes, pretty frocks, summer frocks, daily wear stuff, picnic frocks, party frocks, that I had stitched over the years for my daughters when they were little.  The left over pieces would sometimes match perfectly to make embellishments onto new kurtas when they reached their college years.  And the left over pieces from the kurtas went back into the merry stash! 

For the first few years after  we moved to the farm, our trips to Bombay would always have us carrying back stuff that we felt we would need/use here. And thus my old trusted Brother Sewing machine and yes that merry stash travelled back with us on one trip.  But as luck would have it, apart from a few strange things like stitching a cloth fence and then a gunny bag fence for our rice nursery and other odd things, I never really got creative with my sewing machine.

Gunny bags stitched together for a makeshift fence for the Rice Nursery

A cover to protect the pineapples from the monkeys!

Until the day during one marathon cleaning and decluttering session I came upon the ‘Merry Stash’ again.

And then it bit me – the Quilting Bug!  Why not use these bright bits to make colourful quilts! 

So I started with making quilted tops for my Washing Machine (Really?)  and then the Dish washer (Ha!) 

Couldn't you have made the quilt  a wee bit thicker  for me? 

And then disaster struck!  I had decided to use our extra room in the outhouse as my hobby room and I was halfway thru some stitching when I heard the dogs barking outside.  I went out to check and found that our gate had been left open and 3 cows (none of ours) had wandered into the section that leads to our main plantation. The dogs recognise our cows perfectly well and do not bark at them – also our cows walk straight down the demarcated path to the cowshed and do not stray into the plantation area. 

The path that leads to the cow shed

Our cows go so obediently through this path!

It took us a while to get them out, with the dogs trying to help and causing the cows to panic. By the time we got them out, our cows had returned and it was time for their feed and then the rest of the work followed. And I totally forgot that I had left my machine uncovered in the hobby room.  That night we had a surprise unseasonal burst of rain and as you can guess, the next day when i went back to continue my stitching, I found the machine was fully drenched (courtesy – a tile broken by a group of marauding monkeys on the roof ).  

The lower box like structure which housed the motor was full of water.  

Let me take a look - Kippi is sure she can help set it right!

We tried our best to revive it, got the motor rewound on a trip to Bombay, but then sadly it was to no avail.  My machine was an ancient relic and no one had any spare parts for it. 

So then time to get a new one and get on with my hobby!  So  here I am with a brand new machine and an old, old hobby!  Let’s see what else the merry stash can conjure up!


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