Reality Ranching May 2013
I am sitting in the sun room (although there is no sun) watching various birds hungrily consume the sunflower seeds I provide for them. Among them is a white-winged dove which is a rare sight in Kansas according to Sibley’s guide-book. I have only seen a white wing dove one other time in our yard about ten years ago.
Normally I would have stopped feeding the birds a month ago but it has been so cold and miserable in Kansas this spring I feared they would find little to eat. I am worried about the migrating insect eaters too. I saw a pair of barn swallows this week flying low to the ground brushing up against grass in hopes of scaring an insect into flying. The last time I saw this phenomenon (ten years ago?) purple martins, swallows and other insect eaters died of starvation. I have only observed a few swallows so far but the martins have been here for a few weeks and I don’t know what they are finding to eat.
An update on purple martins, I was in town yesterday (May 10th) and there were purple martins everywhere thank goodness.
In my last reality ranching I talked about the late March snow we had and how jubilant we were that nothing had calved during the night of the storm. Now the rest of the story!
After we had finished feeding the rest of our cows, Paul took the tractor in order to haul a large round bale of straw to the pasture where our spring cows reside. His intent was to unroll the straw providing a thick layer of the golden wheat stems for the cattle to lie on and to provide a warm dry place where a cow could calve if she was smart enough to use it. I was glad to be back in the house out of the cold wind but it wasn’t long before I was pulling on my chore clothes and heading outside.
Paul had called on the two-way radio telling me to open the gates into the lane south of our house as he was bringing home a new-born calf that was very cold and so far the cow was following behind the tractor. Less than four hours had passed since we fed this herd of cows! Evidently the cow decided she wanted breakfast before she gave birth. We had looked the cows over carefully when we fed them and were convinced nothing showed signs of calving. Mature cows however do not give nearly as many hints about an upcoming birth as a first calf heifer.
Paul laid the frigid calf in the tractor bucket which he had lined with straw. This meant that he had backed the tractor all the way from the pasture to the house, a half of a mile at least. The cow needed to see and smell her calf so she would follow the tractor thus the backward trip.
I hadn’t anticipated that the calf would be in such bad shape so was surprised to see that the poor thing was rigid and in shock. Paul fired up the small propane heater in the shop. We laid the cold calf on old t-shirts directly in front of the blast of hot air blowing from the portable furnace. I began rubbing the calf down with more discarded t-shirts that Paul uses in the shop for rags. The calf’s legs were stiff as boards and her eyes kept rolling up in her head. My vigorous rubbing would bring some positive response from the half-frozen calf and she would try to focus her eyes which gave me hope. When I stopped massaging my patient, her eyes would roll out of sight and she would arch her neck towards her back. The poor little thing.
By the time Paul and Randall returned from spreading straw out for the spring cows, I gave the care of our weather victim over to them. Frankly, I was worn out plus I tweaked my back while being a calf masseuse. By the time I handed the calf’s care over to the guys, I was able to bend the knees of little heifer and could prop her up on her stomach where she was able to hold her head up somewhat. Amazing!
Randall and Paul eventually tube colostrum into the calf once she became fully alert. Not long after this the calf was able to stand shakily on its own. Keep in mind the process from putting the calf in front of the heater to the calf standing was probably five hours. We placed the calf in a small pen under the shed with her high-strung mother by late afternoon. Paul and Randall caught the cow in the head stanchion, yeah that was fun, and worked with the calf teaching her how to nurse mama. By the time they were done the thawed out baby was picking up mammas teats on her own and her tummy was bulging with warm milk. I love happy endings:). Well, she did eventually lose the tips of her ears but that just allows me to pick her out among the other calves and remember how close she came to losing her life.
We had a rare warm day this spring on Good Friday and we took advantage of it by working two groups of cows and calves. The calves needed to have booster vaccinations and their EID tags (electronic individual identification) placed in their ears. The cows were to have blood drawn so we could send it to a lab and check to see if they were pregnant.
It just happened to be that Randall and Erin’s oldest son was home from school so we have an extra hand today. Let the fun begin! Dalton isn’t allowed to help us as we sort the calves into a separate pen from their mothers. Once we begin running the cattle down the alley and catching them one at a time in the chute the little cowboy is welcome to lend a hand as long as he stays on the outside of the pens and alley.
We work the cows first and our job assignments are Paul running the squeeze chute, Randall pulling blood, I help encourage a cow to enter the chute plus record on the paper forms the cow tag number next to the tube number that contains her blood. Dalton helps by reading the cow’s tag number out loud and for a while, he writes the tag numbers on the paper. For a kindergartener who is turning six in a couple of days he does a darn good job. His enthusiasm for recording cow numbers weakens after a dozen cows but if a cow is in the chute whose tag number contains a 5, one of his favorite numbers to write, he takes over my job again.
Dalton is impatient for us to finish with the cows as he wants to help us coax calves down the lane and into the chute. The old cows just don’t pay much attention to the little guy and I think they scare him just a bit. Why not when the big mammas tower over you and outweigh you by a good 1200 pounds or more!
Our jobs shift when we start working calves as we adults all need to work by the chute. I am changing needles on the syringes and recording the calf tag numbers on the Eid sheet. Paul and Randall are giving vaccinations and snapping the eid tag in the calf’s ear. Dalton turns out to save us a lot of steps as he is quite adept at poking the calves with his own sorting stick in just the right place that makes them move forward. If you prod them to far up on their side they will back up but if you prod them in the middle of their side, generally they will move ahead. Randall is there to move them on into the chute and Paul catches their head in the
Dalton on occasion takes a break which means he might sit down on a big flat rock not far from the action for about 20 seconds. Or he may run to the house and practice his jump shot a half-dozen times for a change of scenery. For the most part he is a steady and enthusiastic worker and we hear him say several times through the day “I love working with you guys”. Oh to hear those words in ten years!
When we have finished the first group of 35 cows and calves we take them back to the pasture and return to work another group of 36 pair. As Paul turns the truck into the meadow I ask sweetly “why are you driving in here”? O.k. I snap the question as I am already tired and we have another 70 head to work. Paul replies that we need the truck in here to lead the cows back to the pasture. I quickly point out that we haven’t worked them yet, to which he replies that the pickup will be in place to lead the cows back to the pasture once we are finished working them. I sit there trying to come up with a retort to that sensible reasoning. Dalton, who is sitting between us sipping on a soda, has been following these terse exchanges like he is watching a tennis match. He takes advantage of the quiet and pipes up saying “You have to give her a second”. I burst out laughing and Paul who didn’t hear Dalton’s statement asks me what he said. When I relay the perfectly timed one liner, Paul joins me in laughing and says something like I’m glad you said that and not me. I was laughing so hard I never took note if Dalton joined in or not. Are you sure you are just going to be six years old Dalton?
When a smaller calf comes into the calf cradle, I know by his tag number that he is sired by a Simmental cross bull. I announced to the guys that this unimpressive calf is out of a Simmental bull. Dalton in a puzzled voice says “semi-tall, what does that mean, really short”? Our laughter rolled out across the cow lot and poor Dalton had no idea what was so funny. When we adults regained control of ourselves, dad explained to his son that a Simmental is a breed of cattle. I’m laughing all over again!
When we finally finish with our cattle work and are preparing to lead the cow herd back to the pasture, Dalton stretches and comments with incredulity that we have been working cattle for six hours. I’m not sure where he came up with that number but I’m pretty sure he could add on a couple more hours. I think the little guy slept pretty well that night.
We sold 30 pair of our herd in April consisting of all cows over 10 years old plus the cows that were not pregnant. The pastures need some respite from the past two years of drought and most people we know have cut back 15 to 30 % on their stocking rate. We too, are protecting the grass in our pastures and this is the reason for reducing our cow numbers.
We have received enough rain to put water in our ponds and start even small streams running but to think the drought is over is premature. That said things are so much better than just two weeks ago it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders. Now we just need warm nights to get the grass growing in our pastures. We turned most of our cows out a week to two weeks later than normal in hopes of giving the grass a head start. Our mornings of feeding hay are over but soon we will begin harvesting hay to get ready for next winter! Later, Nancy
P.S. Paul finished with his winter fence project Sunday May 12th. It looks fantastic.