Reality Ranching October(November) 2015


This photo shows the abundant, very dry grass. Every windy day makes us nervous.

This photo shows the abundant, very dry grass. Every windy day makes us nervous.

October is slipping away (it’s gone now) and after so much rain throughout the summer, the spigot turned off at the end of August. A dry fall makes for good harvest weather which finds Randall and Erin’s corn and Rock Hill Ranches’ soybeans combined and trucked to the local co-op. Both of these dry land crops produced well with the Debler’s corn “shelling” out incredible bushels per acre! The rainless fall also makes for good calving conditions for our fall cows. The downside of the dry fall is the dust that settles on everything and hangs in the air. There is also the concern that tall, dormant grass in the pasture would burn quite readily due to a careless flick of a cigarette butt out a car window. I don’t even like writing that down!!

Most of our rain this summer came in the form of thunderstorms, which means wicked streaks of lightning shivering against the dark thunderheads. We, like many people in Wabaunsee County suffered damage from lightning hits close to our house. A bolt of lightning hit the cable that led from our satellite dish into our basement where thankfully a small ground box stopped it from traveling further. I shudder to even think what might have happened if that ground box hadn’t been there! Needless to say the cable was a melted blob of rubber and our receiver and dish were ruined. These things could all be easily replaced but we had two cows struck and killed by lightning in separate thunder storms and different pastures this summer and that was a tough loss to take. It would be nice if cows would not graze on hilltops during a thunderstorm but obviously they have no concept of the danger lightning poses to them.

Bull Troubles

The subject of this story.

The subject of this story.

Cattle can get an infection in their hooves called hoof rot and this malady seems to be worse when conditions are wet. If a bovine contracts this bacterial disease, the animal’s foot becomes swollen and sore to the point that they don’t want to walk on the infected foot. A shot of antibiotic will usually cure the inflammation and the suffering bovine will be back to normal in a few days.

This summer Randall and Paul treated several cows and calves for hoof rot with successful results. One day Paul found one of our new, high-priced herd bulls lying under a tree shirking his duties to the cows we had placed him with. When Paul rousted the bull into a standing position, the reason for the young bulls absence from the herd was obvious. The bull was in pain due to a swollen back right foot; hence he didn’t want to try to walk any more than he had too, let alone perform his duties to the cows. Paul treated the bull using a pole syringe filled with antibiotic and assumed that the lame bull would be on the mend in a couple of days.

Two days later the sore-footed bull was no better so Randall and Paul slowly herded the crippled bull into a lane next to the pasture and loaded him into the trailer. Since our veterinarian is gone for the week, Paul took the bull to the Kansas State University vet clinic to have the bull’s foot checked out by professionals. A veterinarian, surrounded by vet students, secured the Angus bull and took an x-ray of his foot. After reading the x-ray, the veterinarian explains to Paul that at some point the bull had a thorn, wire, or nail penetrate the foot. The wound healed over not allowing it to drain so the infection spread and is now in part of the bone just above the outside toe of the hoof. The good news is the veterinarian can remove the outside toe and a little of the bone to get rid of the infection. The bad news is that a breeding bull with one half of his hoof gone on a crucial back foot may not be able to breed a cow! The bull is left at the clinic under the veterinarians care. Two weeks later, Paul goes to Manhattan and after paying the hefty veterinarian bill, brings the young bull home. We place the black bull under a shed to keep the heavily bandaged foot clean and to keep the patient in a small area to restrict his movement.

I find it amazing how solidly the bull stands on one half of a hoof

I find it amazing how solidly the bull stands on one half of a hoof

The KSU vet has given instructions for us to remove the bandages in a week, keep the bull in as clean of a place as we can, and hope for the best. At first I have my doubts about the success of the operation because when we remove the bandages, the amputated area looks raw and sore. As time goes by the bull heals up and moves surprisingly well considering he is missing half of his hoof! The veterinarian at K-State says if we keep the young bull from putting on too much weight and confine him to a small lot the disfigured bull could probably breed a dozen cows this winter. I’m skeptical and want our veterinarian to look at the bull and give her opinion of a bull, with only one toe on his back foot, having the ability to service cows. Not to be crude but the bulls’ back feet have to hold most of a bulls weight when he mounts a cow. Our vet looks the bull over, proclaims that he is moving very well for an animal that has had a toe amputated and agrees with the KSU veterinarian.

A funny aside to this story concerns Randall and Erin’s oldest son Dalton. The eight year old doesn’t miss much that happens on the ranch and he actually was the one that first informed me that Paul and his Dad were considering keeping One-Toe and trying to use him on a few cows this winter. Anyway, a few weeks after the decision had been made to use the damaged bull; Dalton informed his dad and Paul that he didn’t want either of his cows put with the one-toed bull. Paul burst out laughing and asked Dalton if he thought the bull would sire calves with only one toe. Dalton replied to Paul in a matter of fact voice that he didn’t want to take the chance that the bull might not get his cows bred! That answer rather rocked Paul back on his heels but kids growing up on the farm or ranch learn the facts of life early!  The men gave their word to the third grader that neither Flower nor Sunflower would be placed with old One-Toe:).

Flower, one of Dalton's cows that is not to be placed with One Toe

Flower, one of Dalton’s cows that is not to be placed with One Toe

Sunflower and her calf Buttercup. Also forbidden to be in One Toe's herd.

Sunflower and her calf Buttercup. Also forbidden to be in One Toe’s herd.

One Toe seems to take exception to Dalton's misgivings about his abilities

One Toe seems to take exception to Dalton’s misgivings about his abilities

Calf Problems

Paul and I are checking Randall’s four groups of fall calving cows today as he has obligations elsewhere. Randall told us that 037 below his house calved yesterday but he was unable to find the baby calf. Randall knew the calf was alive because the mama cow had been nursed out. When Paul and I ride through this bunch of cows we find 037 away from the main herd but there is no calf with her. Paul and I both imitate a distressed baby calf which makes 037 raise her head high and advance in our direction. This gives us hope that we are near the hidden calf but 037 soon leads us off in the opposite direction. This game goes on for a few minutes and we realize that the cunning cow is not about to give up the location of her tucked away baby. Like Randall, we aren’t worried as 037 has definitely been nursed recently.

Cows and calves on Rock Hill Ranch

Cows and calves on Rock Hill Ranch

The following day Randall still doesn’t see the calf which is a little unusual although we do have cows that will successfully keep the whereabouts of their calves a secret for 2 or 3 days. On the fourth day, Randall calls on the two-way radio and tells us the good news is that he found 037’s calf; the bad news is that the baby calf has a broken back leg. Randall wants Paul to come up and help him get the cow and calf penned and then they will bring the pair  to our house where the facilities are more adept at handling injured or sick cattle.

I don’t go with Paul and Randall as this shouldn’t be too hard, the guys will catch the calf, put it on the back of the pickup, one of the men will hold the calf near the edge of the pickup bed where 037 can see and smell the calf, and the cow should follow the truck/calf right to the pen. As far as I know this part of the operation went according to plan although 037 was pretty fussy by the time the human and bovine party had reached the pen. The fun began when the men returned to the pen to load the cow in the front compartment of the trailer while the broken legged calf would be put in the back compartment.

Well according to my source for this cow tale, 037 didn’t take to this idea at all and became infuriated to the point that she chased Randall up and over the pen fence to put an exclamation mark on her opinion of the matter. The men did get the cow and calf loaded separately in the trailer and brought the angry mama and injured calf home. In the mean time I contacted Dr. A who was working on a neighboring ranch and she assured me that she would come and attend the broken leg of the calf as soon as she was finished with her work there. Paul and Randall leave the hurt calf and 037, who Paul refers to as a man-eater, in the trailer until the vet shows up.

Heifer calf sporting her colorful splint.

Heifer calf sporting her colorful splint.

When Dr. A arrives the men carry the baby calf out into the small pen where the vet checks out the dangling leg (ugh). Doc tells us that the break is in a good place, midway between the knee and the hip which makes her job of splinting the leg easier. Our vet injects some anesthetic into a vein in the calf’s tail and it isn’t long before the black baby is literally snoring softly! Dr. A places an aluminum frame around the calf’s broken leg, adjusts the frame to the right length, wires the tip of the hoof to the frame to keep the leg in place and then begins wrapping self-sticking purple bandages around the leg and splint. When Doc finishes with the splint the little calf is still sleeping so 037 will have to stay in the trailer for a while longer.

Half an hour or so later the baby calf is up and probably confused by the contraption that is attached to her back leg. We open the gate on the trailer, 037 rockets out and moos for her calf. When she catches sight of her calf, the agitated cow runs into the corner pen with her baby and we shut the gate on her. Gottcha! The protective mama paws the ground sending a shower of dirt and pebbles into the air and shakes her head menacingly at us. We walk away and leave the cow and calf in peace.

O37 telling us that she means business

O37 telling us that she means business

For the weeks to come whenever we are near the pen that 037 and her calf occupy, she fills the air with dirt and slobber as she double dog dares us to set foot into the pen. The old bat does learn after a few days that two times a day I approach the pen to feed and water her. At feeding time Ms. Man-eater forgoes all the bluster and waits by the corner feed rack where I toss the brome and alfalfa hay. At first the little calf drags the large cast around when he walks but within a week the heifer calf is running and playing despite the extra bulk on her back leg.

After two weeks it is obvious the cast needs to be adjusted to the rapidly growing calf. Dr. A is coming out to semen test our herd bulls so she will refit the splint while she is here. Naturally the cow is going to have to be separated from the calf so Doc can safely do her work. Randall opens the pen gate from outside the pen and 037 sees the gap and runs out of the pen assuming her baby is right behind her. Randall has shut the gate before the little heifer can escape with mom so that went much easier than I expected it would.

The second cast

The second cast

When Dr. A arrives; Paul and Randall chase the feisty heifer into a corner and lay the calf on her side. Our vet must put her to sleep again because there is no way she can work on a struggling patient. The cast is removed, lengthened to accommodate the fast growing calf, and then the splint is swathed in white ace bandages. We leave the snoring calf to her dreams and start testing bulls. By the time we have finished testing the four bulls the baby calf is trying to stand.

After four weeks of putting up with The Man-eater rearranging the dirt in the pen every time we walk by, our vet gives us the green light to remove the splint. The guys manage to separate the cow and calf and after a brief tussle put the little heifer on her side. Randall holds the calf down while Paul cuts the bandages and pulls the splint off. 037 is pacing the fence and hurling threats at us but we just ignore her. There are some raw spots where the hip hoop was pressing on the inside of her leg so it was definitely time to take the splint off.

O37 and calf back with the herd. The heifer calf is doing great

O37 and calf back with the herd. The heifer calf is doing great

We reunite 037 and her calf and open the lane gate that leads to the brome field where the pair will at last be reunited with the herd. 037 runs the several hundred yards giving no thought to her baby who suddenly isn’t dragging a big splint around. Happily the Angus heifer calf is able to keep up with mom, although the formerly broken leg tends to kick out to the side a bit. Oh well, the good news is that the leg healed up and if the leg is a bit crooked so what. Later, Nancy

A cow babysitting calves on Rock Hill Ranch

A cow babysitting calves on Rock Hill Ranch










3 comments on “Reality Ranching October(November) 2015

  1. Alan says:

    An interesting view of the trials and tribulations of the cattle business.

  2. jen says:

    A true Ranching Melodrama!! Fun!

  3. valeri says:

    Another great blog, Nancy! It seems the cattle herd really gave you some interesting stories–I can’t believe the two vet issues. I am glad the calf and One Toe are both doing well. I do think it is very funny that Dalton is taking measures to make sure his herd gets the best stock. He does a great job of naming his herd!

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