Reality Ranching December 2012
How can it possibly be December already, esp. when on most days our temperatures continue to feel as though it is early fall. Our drought continues although we were given a respite from the dusty dryness when we received nearly two inches of rain the first part of November. What a pleasure it was to breathe in the fresh fragrance of air heavy with moisture and to enjoy the squish of mud under our boots for a day or two.
Near the end of November we began to question our eyes as the pools in the creek on the north part of the ranch appeared to be gaining water. As the days passed it became obvious that we weren’t imagining the water level rising as the pools filled up and small tongues of water inched their way along the dry creek bed. Every morning as we chored we took happy albeit amazed note as our creek went from an empty channel to one with enough water to run (sluggishly) through the riffles. When the trees went dormant the springs came to life and revived parts of the creek. Where Randall and Erin live and on south of their house the creek is still dry except for a few pools of water. Still, the majority of our winter water problem for our cattle has been solved!
Our calving season has ended and we got along well for the most part. We did have one odd calving problem. I was gone for this unusual delivery but received the details from the midwives (husbands?) and Erin.
Before I left the ranch on this day I reported to the guys that two heifers were contemplating calving as the mothers to be were holding their tails out and had separated themselves from the rest of the herd. As time passed and 01 was not showing any signs of progress the guys walk the heifer to the working pens. Once they secure 01 in the head gate, Randall examines the heifer to see what is holding up the delivery of her calf. Randall feels the calf’s head but the legs that should be lying on either side of the head are instead folded back beside the calf’s stomach. To add to the problem the calf is upside down meaning his belly is pointed towards mamas back. Randall needs to pull the calf’s legs up by its head before they can pull the calf. Although we have had to straighten legs in normal positioned calves many times over the years this upside down situation is a first. When Randall manages to get the legs where they should be the calf’s head falls down beneath the pelvic rim of the heifer and he has to give up the good fight. The men call Dr. Amy who performs a caesarean section to deliver the dead calf (Paul and Randall were certain the calf was dead when they began working with the heifer).
Amazingly, 01 was eating and drinking and seemed no worse for wear the morning after her operation. We made the decision to try to transplant a calf that was not getting enough milk from her own mother onto 01. We had been supplementing this calf with milk replacement for quite some time so the half-tame calf was easy to work with. Although 01 didn’t seem too interested in this calf for a few days eventually the two bonded and now are a contented pair.
I’ve been watching 043 for the last few days. I couldn’t put my finger on anything in particular but she just didn’t seem “right”. The heifer was slow but would come to eat hay, she groaned when lying down but most heifers close to calving do. Her breathing was fine, her ears were up but still something was amiss. As I went out for an afternoon heifer check the reason, actually two reasons, for her behavior were laying in front of 043 as she worked at cleaning the twins with her rough tongue. They are small of course and the bull calf is weak since he hasn’t nursed unlike his livelier sister.
I enlist Paul’s help and we move the trio under the shed not far from where 043 has calved. We need to keep them in close quarters for a while until both calves are strong enough to keep up with their mother. We lock the heifer calf whose tummy is full of milk in a small pen in the corner of the shed in order to give her brother a chance to get on his feet and nurse. Once the bull calf nurses we turn the heifer calf out to join mom and brother.
After a couple of days under the shed we move the threesome to an outside pen where the calves can be in the sunshine. It became apparent within a week that 043 was not producing enough milk for both calves even though we are feeding her grain, premium alfalfa and brome hay. We begin supplementing the calves with milk replacement but within a few days the heifer calf refuses to drink anymore and the bull calf will only drink a half bottle. As much as we hate it we take the bull calf away from his mother and bottle him. The bad news in this story is that we have a cow with a stillborn calf a few days after we separated the twins. The good news is that this cow claims the bottle fed twin within seconds after we place the little bull, draped with the dead calf’s hide, in the pen. Although the twin is a bit bewildered with this strange cow snuffling and making over him, it didn’t take him long to help himself to the abundant milk in his new mothers’ udder.
As I am feeding grain to the replacement heifers I hear Paul calling me on the 2-way radio. Well this might not be good as when I left he was out checking cows with the 4-wheeler. When I answer, he asks if I can come back to help him get a cow with twins out of the Rock brome. I agree to meet him in the field as he wants to go back and keep track of the cow and her babies.
When I arrive Paul is hazing the cow and her twins towards the gate. The twin heifers are unusually large and strong but then again their mama cow is a massive bovine. Paul has dubbed the cow a “sweetheart”
meaning gentle and easy to handle plus the calves are very lively so we decide to walk them to the pens with me on foot and Paul driving the four-wheeler. Sure enough the little calves make it to the pen which just a couple of weeks before held 043 and her babies. 454 is given the same rich ration of grain, top quality alfalfa and brome hay but in a few days we have just the opposite problem we had with 043. This mature cow is making more milk than her two calves can consume. 454’s udder could compete with a top producing dairy cow! We reduce the cow’s grain and alfalfa to slow her milk production which doesn’t please the rather gluttonous bovine. In a few days the calves are doing so well we turn the threesome in with the first calf heifers where Big Mama will have all the brome she can eat plus premium alfalfa once a day.
“Nancy there is a cow on the Brashe with twins and I need help getting them in”. I relay the message to Paul who goes to help Randall corral the latest set of twins. Big Mama still occupies the pen at our house so this trio will have to be put under the shed at Deblers place. You might wonder by now why we always bring cows with twins home. The main reason we do this is because often when a cow leaves the birth area only one calf will follow and she won’t go back to get the one that was left behind. The other reason is that with two hungry calves to feed most cows must have more to eat in order to produce enough milk to satisfy their babies.
Cow 234 isn’t as massive as Big Mama but she still has plenty of milk for her pretty twin heifers. Randall keeps them at his place for two weeks after which he brings them to our place where we turn the three of them in with Big Mama and the group of first calf heifers. This set of twins is also growing nicely and it looks as if they might be additions to our herd too.
How many times have you been going about your business when out of the blue you remember that you were to do something that completely slipped your mind? This happened to me one late October afternoon. When Paul and I fed the cows on the Rock farm we found a cow hiding in the timber preparing to calve. We intended to go back after we had finished feeding the other groups of cows to check on her but both of us forgot all about the soon to be mother. I have no idea why I even thought about that cow when I did but I jumped on the 4-wheeler and dashed off to check cow 95.
It is with relief when I spot the forgotten cow in the same vicinity where she had been this morning. Even better she has a calf by her side but it sure is a tiny thing. Looking closer I see another calf curled up next to the trunk of a tree a few feet from 95. I’m scrutinizing this scene from a distance because cow 95 is definitely not a “sweetheart”. This mother of twins started pawing the ground and shaking her head the minute she saw me, a clear warning for me to stay away. Well, I need help but Paul is gone and I’m not sure where Randall is.
I go home and call for Randall over the 2-way. I’m very relieved when he answers me and when I explain that we have twins to deal with; he says he is on the way. When the Ford truck pulls into the field, I’m happy to see Rose is with Randall as getting this cow and her twins’ home is going to be a challenge. First there is 95’s nasty temperament, second we can’t drive the truck into the brushy area where the trio is and third this cow chose to calve as far from our house as she could. This means we have a long jaunt to get her and the babies’ home.
I drive the 4-wheeler and Randall and Rose follow me to where our extrication project is waiting. As I feared 95 has disappeared with one baby but the other calf is still sleeping by the tree. This isn’t all bad as we can retrieve this twin without having to fight off a defensive mama. Randall lifts the bull calf and begins carrying him through the brush then up a steep incline to where the truck sits next to the timber. He puts a halter on the calf, trusses his legs and places him on the bed of the pickup. That was the easy part!
While retrieving the bull calf we caught a glimpse of the two escapees standing a couple hundred yards away in a thicket. Randall and I begin to wind our way through the brush on the 4-wheeler and Rose stays in the
truck ready to meet up with us wherever we emerge from the trees. We have not gone far when the Polaris comes to an abrupt halt making my head snap back. We climb off the wheeler and discover we have been
sabotaged by a tree stump. The top of the stump has a conical shape which clearly identifies it to be the work of beavers. This is old work so the stump is well camouflaged by dry grass and vines that have grown over the obstacle. Randall backs the Polaris up and I walk point directing him away from more hidden beaver cut stumps.
Upon our approach 95 tries to lead her tiny twin away from us but the calf cannot navigate the timber like mama. Randall takes advantage of the situation when the calf struggles to crawl over a large log and becomes stuck straddling the fallen tree. Before 95 realizes her baby is not following, Randall grabs the calf and drapes it over the seat in front of him. I have kept my distance while this calf napping is going on and follow on foot as Randall makes his way back to Rose and the pickup.
Once 95 is aware that her calf is riding on the Polaris she runs in circles around Randall and the slow-moving machine. Suddenly the Polaris comes to a standstill and sure enough the 4-wheeler has been foiled by another beaver chewed stump. Randall tries to back up as an angry cow snorts in his face but the stump is wedged between the tire and the frame. He steps off the wheeler on the far side from the cow and tries to pull the machine free with one hand while holding on to the calf with the other hand. I peek around the tree I am hiding behind and ask Randall if he wants me to help out. I breathe out a sigh of relief when Randall tells me I’d best stay put. When Randall can’t free the Polaris he dejectedly slides the calf to the ground. Once 95 is a safe distance away he yanks the wheeler off of the offending stump. At least 95 is leading her calf in the direction of the pickup!
The heifer twin is thwarted by a pile of brush this time and Randall again pulls the little calf onto the seat. The cow loses track of her baby and starts to run back into the timber and spies me. Great! I dash to the nearest tree and hide but the cow continues to run right for my safe haven. Oh rats, I have chosen the large oak tree where she gave birth to her twins and I guess she has decided to come back for her other calf. Randall is unaware of my predicament and so I begin yelling for him to come help me. Randall stops the 4-wheeler and mimics the voice of a baby calf but the old cow doesn’t fall for his trick. Luckily the calf lets out a loud bawl and 95 does an
about-face and races back to Randall. Thank goodness because I’m sure I would have lost the ring-around-the rosy game had I been forced to play it with this cow.
Randall gets the calf and himself onto the pickup bed without incident and Rose starts off in the direction of home with mama trotting along behind the truck and her two calves. Once there is a fair distance between the 4-wheeler and the truck I walk to the Polaris and follow the parade staying a discreet distance behind. There are a couple of hiccups on our journey to the house but in the end we have the bovine family situated in their new home which is the “twin pen”.
95 shows her nasty disposition every time we come near the pen by pawing the ground and shaking her head at us sometimes even hitting the metal bars of the pen with her head. The old bat does this whenever I am filling her hay rack with the best brome and alfalfa we have, pouring grain in her bunk or filling her tub with fresh water. One day she hits the fence when I am filling her water tub so I take the hose and spray the water in her face! This causes her to back up but alas the cooling spray doesn’t extinguish the foul temperament as in a few seconds she butts the fence again. Oh well, I know she thinks she is protecting her calves but still a little gratitude to the extra care she is receiving would be nice!
These calves are not faring as well as the prior two sets I wrote about as 95 just isn’t producing as much milk and they were so small to begin with. We have placed them into the herd with the other twins where they are doing o.k. I still forget from time to time when counting this group that although there are 27 cows in this group there are 30 calves.
The next morning after our rodeo with 95 and her twins, Randall calls on the radio and tells me he thinks he has a set of twins at Milton’s. My answer to him is “oh for crying out loud”! Twins are cute and a novelty but they are a lot of extra work and often just don’t do as well as their single herd mates. Just as I am pulling in the driveway to Milton’s, Randall calls back to tell me he doesn’t need my help after all. The calf’s mother showed up out of the feed line. The cow was so intent on getting her share of the hay she initially ignored her calf leading Randall to think that the baby must belong to another new mother. It didn’t hurt my feelings at all that there was not another set of twins to deal with. Later, Nancy