The fall calving season came to an end in mid-December when the last cow of eight laggards finally dropped her calf. The majority of our cows had calved by the first week of November! I haven’t written a thing about the calving season this fall and a few of the stories I want to remember are in this blog or a future blog. Since I don’t have photos to depict most of these stories I will just sprinkle this blog with baby calf photos and ranch photos.
As always we kick off the calving season in September when the two-year old heifers begin to calve. Since the setup of small brome fields and easy access to catch pens is so conducive to calving out heifers where Paul and I live, this is where we keep the young heifers. Also because the guys are often working elsewhere, the task of checking the mothers-to-be is my job. Not that I’m complaining, because I truly enjoy walking among the “girls” as I refer to them, and watching for the tale tell signs that one of my wards is preparing to deliver her first calf of hopefully many calves to come.
We had twenty-four heifers to calve out this fall, and their first possible due date was September 20th. The due date is determined by a 9 month gestation period (yep, same as humans) counted out from the day we turn a bull in with the heifers. Naturally, this is an arbitrary date and by no means do the bovines automatically start calving on the 20th. We bring the heifers home two weeks prior to the due date, as heifers always begin calving early.
On September 11th, I found the first calf on its feet and nursing when I did my early morning check of the “girls”. This seemed to prompt other heifers to join in the fun and by early afternoon, three more calves were added to the herd. Of the four heifers that calved on this day, two of them were the smallest heifers in the group. When I return to the house and check the record book, sure enough my suspicions turn out to be correct; the small stature heifers are twin sisters. Being on the small side certainly didn’t stop them from being among the first to deliver calves. I think it is pretty cool that the siblings calved within a few hours of each other too.
Things are rolling along smoothly in the heifer calving department and by the end of the month 60% of the “girls” have baby calves by their side. In the mean time we have brought the mature cow’s home from our scattered summer pastures and turned them onto the large brome fields. We check the mature cows for new calves first thing in the morning, and since we now have the side-by-side Ranger, I have opted to ride along with Paul for this chore too. Part of the reason I am accompanying Paul is because I love finding new calves. The other reason is that a neighbor of ours was checking and tagging calves this month when a cow knocked him down, and proceeded to maul him unmercifully until he managed to roll under his truck out of the angry cows reach! The heck of it was that the calf our neighbor was putting an ear tag in didn’t even belong to the attacking cow. Our neighbor spent some time in the hospital recuperating from the mama cows attack but that was certainly better than what the alternative outcome could have been. This chilling story was another reason I decided to ride along with Paul to check the older cows so he wasn’t by himself while tagging new calves.
One morning we knew a heifer was preparing to calve but reasoned that we had time to check one herd of cows, after which we would come back to see how 284 was progressing. When we returned, sure enough there was a slimy calf trying to get to his feet, but instead of fussing over her new baby, 284 was walking away from the calf. Well crap, this is not a good sign. Paul takes the Ranger and drives into the small field while I go to open the gate into the catch pen. I watch with relief when the heifer turns and runs back to the calf when she notices Paul approaching her baby calf. My relief turns to disgust when 284 reaches the calf and proceeds to butt him, knocking the little calf to the ground. The silly heifer then comes trotting to the catch pen, walks through the open gate, and joins her herd mates. Paul picks up the rejected calf, loads him into the Ranger and brings him into the pen where his uninterested mama is.
We drive 284 into the working pens, push her into the alleyway and catch her head in the head gate. The calf is hungry and greedily nurses his mother with Paul helping the still wobbly calf find his mother’s teats. We are somewhat hopeful that the act of the calf nursing will trigger the mothering qualities in 284. We are even more hopeful that the light has gone on in 284’s head when she doesn’t try to kick the calf away while he nurses. Once the calf has his mother nursed dry, Paul places him in the corner of the small pen that is adjacent to the head gate, and then turns 284 in with her baby. Our high hopes are soon deflated because when the calf approaches his mother, she viciously butts him away. Dang it you ignorant old bat!
Paul devises a plan to put the calf in the corner hay manger and places a short wire panel to keep the baby from crawling out, but leaves a small space so 284 can at least smell the calf. We leave the pair alone but when I go back to check on the pair a short time later, I see that 284 has managed to push the wire panel over enough so she can insert her whole head into the manger and is trying to pummel the bewildered calf. I won’t type the words I labeled 284 with after watching this!
Paul and Randall work with the cow for a couple of days, tying her up with a halter and letting the calf nurse, hoping that some mothering instinct will show up. 284 has her own plan and refuses to let her milk down so the calf must work hard to get any satisfaction from the stressful nursing sessions.
We call our vet who suggests trying a mild sedative along with a shot that will make 284’s milk flow. We agree to give these things a try and our vet comes out the next morning. First the shot of oxytocin, next the sedative, then we allow the baby calf to nurse. You can see the sedative begin to take effect as 284 begins to relax. Once the calf has finished nursing, Paul again places the calf in the small corner pen and then he lets 284 into the pen. The three of us watch as 284 calmly walks over to the calf and slams it against the side of the pen. Paul rushes in, grabs the calf and carries him to the safety of an adjacent pen. The hopeful calf walks alongside the steel fence next to his so-called mother, following his instinct that he should be with his mother despite her abusive nature. 284 literally butts the iron bars with her head when the calf gets near her!
I have seen cows initially reject their calves but I can’t recall any that didn’t eventually accept their baby. I have never seen the outright hatred that this heifer has for her offspring. Through the last few days I have verbally told 284 what a disgrace she is for her rejection of her calf, which had no effect on her at all of course. Today I tell 284 that she just bought herself a one way ticket to the sale barn. Looks like I have a bottle calf to take care of.
Our mature cows are due to start calving on October 1st and we begin bringing them home from summer pastures about ten days prior to that date. We first gather and haul the cows that are in the rental pastures furthest away from the ranch. We do this because if a cow does calve before we are able to bring all our cows home, at least the calf will be in a pasture at ranch headquarters.
On this particular day we are hauling cows’ home from the Chalk pasture, four miles away. There are 40 cows to gather and load into stock trailers to haul them back to the ranch. The cows willingly follow our pickup, which has a tantalizing bale of alfalfa situated on the back of the bed, into the catch pens. The black cows aren’t quite so cooperative when it comes time to load them onto the trailers but that job still goes fairly smoothly. Once we arrive home the cows are turned directly out of the stock trailers onto lush brome fields. Most of the cows only take a few steps from the trailer before they drop their heads and begin grazing on the green brome.
Once we finish hauling the cattle home from the Chalk pasture, we bring in another cow herd that is in a pasture east of Randall and Erin’s house. Paul is driving the pickup and leading the cows to the corral using the same trick of placing a tempting alfalfa bale on the tailgate. I walk behind the herd and Randall is riding the four-wheeler to nudge the stragglers along in addition to shutting the gates once the cows walk through.
When we reach the corral next to Deblers house, we hear a cow mournfully bawling from the direction we just came. I hopefully ask the guys if we might have miscounted and left a cow behind in the pasture. We do a quick recount of the black cows and reaffirm what we already knew, they are all here. Dang it, the lamenting cow we hear has to be from the cattle we gathered at Chalk this morning. We know by the tenor of the mooing that the unhappy cow is looking for a calf that isn’t here, but still up in the Chalk pasture.
I take the 4 wheeler and head south to find the lamenting cow, as Paul and Randall continue to work these cows and then sort them into groups for various brome fields. When I get to the south brome fields, it doesn’t take long to find the cow in distress. The forlorn mama is walking aimlessly, but now and then will drop her head to the ground in a vain attempt to catch the scent of her lost calf. I ride up to the searching cow to look at her tag number which is 58. As I look 58 over the obvious signs of a cow that has calved recently (messy hindquarters and tail) aren’t present. Before we bring cows home we always scrutinize the cows for these signs so it is easy to see why we didn’t realize that #58 had calved.
When I return to the corral where Paul and Randall are I report to them that indeed we have left a calf behind at the Chalk pasture. We decide that I will take a pickup with the 4-wheeler loaded on the bed, and start searching for 58’s calf, while the men finish processing the cows and turn them onto the brome. When they are finished they will join me at Chalk.
When I reach the Chalk property,( thank goodness we had moved the cows into the small pasture a couple of weeks ago), I ride to the east fence line and begin riding back and forth, hoping to see a small black form hiding in a clump of grass. The problem is there is a lot of tall, thick grass in this pasture and I will have to drive right by the new calf in order to find it. Paul shows up in the Ranger maybe a half hour after I arrived and he starts the same methodical back and forth search on the west side of the pasture. It is tedious and frustrating, but I tell myself to pretend I am searching for wild animals in Africa whenever I start to lose focus on this daunting task.
The sun is sinking low on the western horizon, when Paul joins me and wonders if we shouldn’t go home and try to drive the cow to the pens then haul her back to the pasture, so she can find the calf herself. I point out that by the time we get home it is going to be dusk and we will still have to chase an uncooperative cow to the catch pens. I suggest we keep looking until we run out of light and then if we haven’t found the baby calf, we will bring the cow back first thing in the morning. I then tell Paul I am going to walk the small ravine that runs down the middle of the pasture before we lose the sunlight and he leaves to continue searching the heavy grass for our wayward calf.
Driving the 4-wheeler to the top of the ravine, I begin to pick my way through trees and brush. I have walked only a short distance when I see the black calf, lying next to a dead tree that has fallen over. The calf also sees me and I literally hold my breath, step behind a tree trunk, and silently implore the little thing not to get up and run. I peek around the tree, and to my relief see that the calf has settled back into his hiding place. Phew.
I sneak back out of the ravine and desperately try to get Paul’s attention by furiously waving my arms, but Paul is driving away from me so I must wait until he reaches the end of the pasture and starts making his way back in my direction. Even when Paul is coming towards me, he is so intent on searching the grass around him that it takes him awhile to see his wife waving at him like she is guiding a fighter jet onto the deck of a navy carrier! In the meantime I have kept one eye on the distant calf to make sure it hasn’t lost its nerve and decided to run for its life rather than lay quietly in its hiding place.
When Paul does see my frantic signals, he races up and I tell him where the calf is lying. Paul grabs a lariat while I skirt around the calf, ending up on the other side of the ravine. The theory is that if the calf comes my way I can shoo him in Paul’s direction. Best laid plans, the calf jumps up, runs right between us and heads south. CRAP! This calf appears to be s a few days old meaning it has the capacity to run fast and a long ways. Paul lopes back to the 4-wheeler (it makes shorter turns than the Ranger) and takes off after the scared calf. I watch in despair as the calf comes up against the barbed wire fence and attempts to crawl through, it fails the first three times it tries to navigate the fence and by then Paul has caught up to the calf. I have been running (well in my case trotting) towards the action so I see Paul make a grab for the petrified baby as it attempts to get through the fence again. Paul ends up holding a handful of air because the feisty calf gets through the fence this time, and is now on the county road and still running.
By this time I have reached the 4-wheeler and Paul is climbing over the fence to follow the calf on foot. At the moment Paul is going over the fence, the cavalry arrives in the guise of Randall and his eldest son. Paul urgently beckons to them and the red truck speeds up as Randall obviously has figured out we have a calf on the run. I jump on the four-wheeler and buzz to the pasture gate, assuming the versatile vehicle may still be needed. I drive through the gate and into the farmstead across the road since the calf has left the road and entered the yard. I am just in time to see that Randall has now taken over the chase of the frightened calf. The baby calf is running through Mrs. B’s soybean field with Randall hot on the runaway’s heels. Dalton, Paul, and I watch with hope as the calf again approaches a wire fence, with Randall in reach of a hind leg. The calf jumps into the fence; Randal grabs for the calf’s leg, and comes up with a handful of air.
Paul gets back on the 4-wheeler and races to the gate that will let him into the farm ground where the baby calf is now. Randall, Dalton and I can do nothing but watch the show of the running calf and the pursuit by Paul. We heave a sigh of relief when the calf stays on the short alfalfa field instead of disappearing into a tall stand of cane. Paul pulls even with the calf, but when he leans over to grab the bugger, the baby is smart enough to stop short and duck behind the 4-wheeler. The calf performs this tricky maneuver three times before Paul finally captures the scared but determined calf.
When Randall sees that Paul has the calf contained, he and Dalton take the pickup and drive over to meet Paul. I walk through the fields and when I reach the guys, they are trussing the feet of the calf so it can’t cause trouble on the trip home. The little heifer is indeed several days old so that means she was born about two weeks early. Somehow the cow managed to keep the calf secret when we checked them a week ago plus Paul had checked them carefully yesterday!
Paul drives home in the pickup with the hog tied calf lying on the passenger floorboard, Randall and Dalton take the other pickup, and I drive the Ranger as our convoy starts home in the dusky light. By the time I arrive the men have delivered the wayward calf to a relieved mama cow. They reported that 58 sniffed her baby and begin licking her calf, seeming to think nothing about how her calf had magically appeared before her eyes. The baby recognized mama right away and began nursing since the little heifer hadn’t had a meal since this morning. Mission accomplished although it was a mission we would rather not have had to undertake!
We adults are so relieved with the outcome but irritated with the extra time and effort it took remedying our mistake of leaving the calf behind. Randall told us the next day that when he tucked his son into bed that night, Dalton stated” I sure had fun tonight Dad!” That sentence from a seven-year old sent Paul and I into peals of laughter. So besides rescuing and uniting a cow and calf, we also left a boy with what perhaps will be a lasting memory :).
In late November we were working the calves from the group of cows that includes 58 and her calf. Dalton is helping me chase calves up the alley into the calf cradle where his Dad and Paul are vaccinating, branding and castrating the calves. The largest heifer in the group manages to escape my efforts to run her into the alley several times. Dalton reads her tag number and calls out “that is the calf we chased up at Chalk”. I’ll be darned; I certainly didn’t remember her number until my helper pointed it out to me. I guess the incident is indeed seared into Dalton’s memory.