Technology and calving a good combo

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Cooking in the West

This year at the MATE show, we became enthralled with the booth selling camera surveillance systems for calving barns and lots. Of course, calving was upon us, so we had a definite sense of urgency to pounce on this new technology.

Our sense of emergency as calving loomed close was not exactly given the same priority regarding the time frame of the company, and three feet of late February and early March snow complicated our request for a bid. Nevertheless by remotely accessing our computer and using Google Earth, we had a virtual meeting and were presented with a bid. The bid came in about twice as high as we thought it would, but it was mostly for configuring the cameras.

Since I am highly proficient at politely ordering our Amazon Alexa to set timers for cooking and play music for me, I decided surely I had enough tech savvy to buy some cameras and configure them ourselves. Well, it turns out that setting up a wi-fi booster at the barn, figuring out all of the hardware necessary to mount and run the cameras, and mastering the software was not as easy as reading the Quick Set-up guide. Fortunately before I ordered the cameras and all of the ethernet cords and switches and POE lines, I had the good sense to call Tara Becken, as I knew that she and her husband Ole have used a calving camera system for a couple years. She pointed me in the direction of Cow Cams, which is a rancher run mom and pop (and some kids in the background on the phone) operation based out of Grass Range, Montana.

The mom of the operation is Katie Delaney, and the pop is Michael Delaney. I have never met them, as we have only talked on the phone and through emails, but I know Katie is a tech wizard and Michael is a tech genius. I also knew from hours of pricing hardware on Amazon that their Barn Cam kit was a good deal. It took them a few days to take our measurements and transform them into a workable plan to install cameras inside the barn and in the heifer lot. They did this while they were in the midst of calving also. I drove to Grass Range to pick the kit and cameras up just to save a couple days of shipping time, because we had been calving in 30 below weather.

As soon as I got home, I set up the indoor antenna and called my son-in-law for three reasons – he is techy, he is not afraid of heights, and he does not talk back to me like the other grouchy males around this operation who by now were completely over the edge with calving stress and sleep deprivation. We sort of read the manuals and rolled out dozens of yards of ethernet cable and POE cords. We mounted the cameras as high as we could get them over the maternity pens in the barn and out in the big heifer lot. We hooked everything together according to the color coded Cow Cams diagrams. We tested the power, and then we faced our biggest challenge, which was installing the software.

For this, we enlisted two more people, Chaske Johnson and Keg Ginnaty, who had construction background and tech knowledge, but we could not get our Blue Iris software to run the cameras. It turns out that the problem was with our internet and not the installation. Our internet had chosen that very span of a couple hours to be down, and we could not figure out what we were doing wrong even after many trips up and down the ladder, tense walkie talkie communications between the barn and the house, and an abundance of curse words targeting the programmers of Blue Iris. Turns out it was just an evil coincidence accidentally perpetrated by our internet provider, but the next morning at the stroke of 8 a.m., Katie and Michael went to work on remotely solving the problem. They accomplished that feat in a few minutes and with one call to the provider for information on our router. Within minutes I was watching the heifers in the lot and those in the stalls. It took five more minutes for Michael to put our cameras online so we could remotely access them from our phones and tablets.

I felt greatly empowered – sort of the way the first person to flip a light switch must have felt. I could sit at my desk at work and see if there was a heifer calving in the lot. I could also rewind to see how long the water bag had been out. I could show everyone at work and anyone on the street who made the unfortunate mistake of making eye contact with me. I was very excited that we had put technology to good use and saved the price of several calves by using Cow Cams. The night vision capacity, range of view, magnification power, and the capability for sound and playback is quite amazing. It saved many a cold dinner also, as we could eat beside the computer and watch the progress of the heifer instead of making several trips to the barn in the middle of dinner, which is when many heifers choose to calve. It might not provide the best dinner ambience, but it sure beats eating cold food.

There are a few drawbacks. Without multiple cameras, invariably the heifer calving will be blocked from view by another cow. It is almost as if they know they are being watched and seek out a spot for some privacy in which to calve. We need a couple more cameras next year, and we need to saw down all of the trees in the big lot, because they also seem to go behind a tree to calve. When the lot got so sloppy we had to move the heifers to another lot, it would have taken so much effort to move the cameras, Remi suggested I just mount one of the cameras on my head like a GoPro camera and circulate through the heifers every half hour or so, and he could watch them from the house. BTW, this suggestion was not met with my official okey dokey stamp of approval.

The best part about the cameras is that after you pull a calf in the barn and leave the mama quickly to let them bond, you can watch them on camera without disturbing them, which is very helpful and speeds up the mothering process for those new mamas and their babies. You can also check the heifer’s calving progress without disturbing her, which also speeds up the calving process.

What is our next technological advance you might ask? They now have drones that are virtually uncrashable and can be programmed to fly a set pattern over our calving pasture at regular intervals. I am saving my money for a calving drone for next year! Perhaps before I die, Amazon will have an Alexa robot that I can simply command, “Alexa, pull the calf... please!”

My featured cooks this week are featured in one of my favorite cookbooks, “Celebrating 90 Years of Food and Friendship,” which was published by the Big Timber Lutheran Church in 1997. Thanks, ladies!

Judy Riter’s Coffee Cake

Beat until smooth:

1 box white cake mix

1 small box instant vanilla pudding

1/2 C. oil

1 C. sour cream

4 eggs

2 t. vanilla

In a small bowl, mix:

1/3 C. sugar

1/3 C.chopped nuts

1 t. cocoa

1 t. cinnamon

Put layer of batter into 9 X 13 pan. Alternate layers of batter, then sugar mixture, ending with sugar mixture on top. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour or until inserted knife comes out clean.

Classic Leg of Lamb

(by the cookbook committee)

1 leg of lamb (6 to 9 lbs. bone-in)

2 cloves garlic, cut into slivers

1/2 C. lemon juice (juice of one lemon)

1 t. dry rosemary, crumbled

1/2 t. dry basil leaves, crumbled

salt and pepper to taste

Place lamb in a shallow roasting pan. With a sharp knife, make slits in surface of lamb and insert garlic slivers. Gently squeeze lemon juice over lamb, rubbing into slits and surface. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, rosemary, and basil, and rub seasonings into the surface. Roast in 325 degree oven for 25 minutes per pound or until meat thermometer registers 150 degrees for medium rare. Remove from oven. Cover and let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Dorothy Hanson’s Yorkshire


(Batter puffs up around chicken to make this delicious dish.)

1/4 C. flour

2 t. salt

1.5 t. ground sage

1/4 t. pepper

1 disjointed chicken

1/4 C. fat

1 C. flour

1 t. baking powder

1 t. salt

3 eggs, well beaten

1 1/2 C. milk

1/4 C. butter, melted

1/4 C. chopped parsley

Combine 1/4 C. flour, 2 t. salt, sage, and pepper. Coat chicken with mixture. Brown in hot fat. Place chicken in casserole dish. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine eggs, milk, butter, and parsley. Add to flour mixture and stir until smooth. Pour over the chicken. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until chicken is tender.