Reality Ranching July 2017

Hello again,

Rainbow seen from our front door this summer

It’s been ages since I wrote a Reality Ranching, not since last fall I believe. Part of the reason is that I have just been lazy and part of the reason is because things on the ranch have been relatively quiet (knock on wood). The spring calving came and went with nothing out of the ordinary for us. Sadly, our fellow livestock producers in Southwest Kansas went through a fiery “hell” in March.

No rain, an abundance of dry grass and high winds made for a “perfect storm” of uncontrollable wild fires. When the raging fire was finally brought under control it left in its wake thousands of dead cattle and cattle that had to be destroyed due to lung damage or horrific burns. Wildlife fared no better but amazingly and thankfully only two human lives were lost in Kansas. This was too many but hearing all the narrow escapes by many ranchers it was a miracle that more people didn’t perish. Fences were ruined, outbuildings and some houses burned. Even as I type this so many months later my stomach clenches as I think of what those poor folks had to face and how long it will take to recover from the damage, both physically and mentally. In the Flint Hills we had the same hazardous conditions and we know the devastation our friends in Southwest Kansas suffered could just as easily been us.

Not surprisingly, the ranching/farming community stepped up to do what they could to help those that lost so much in the disaster. Money, hay, fencing equipment, and volunteer labor came from all over the country. There were stories that lifted my heart and gave me hope such as the 4-H kids near the disaster area who took in orphaned calves in-order-to relieve some of the pressure on the owners who had their hands full coping with other things. Another uplifting story I read was about a group of FFA (Future Farmers of America) kids who gave up their spring break and went out to help rebuild some of the ruined fences. This is just a small example of the generosity that poured in to help the victims of the fire.

Rain arrived in April and the greening began

Our dry March was followed by rains beginning in April that have continued into May and June. The dry prairie that had us worried in March has turned into a green paradise with water gurgling through even the smallest streams. The cattle are feasting on the lush grass and the hay we have managed to put up between rains in June is yielding quite well. Since this blog has languished on the computer, our weather in mid-July has been scorching hot and dry.

Primrose on Soloscheid rd, one of the earlier wild flowers to bloom

I think this is Beebalm. Very interesting structure.

The wildflowers have been spectacular this year and I have enjoyed watching the ebb and flow of the various species that grace the prairie. The road from the highway to the entrance of our driveway puts on a wildflower show for us. I often walk the half mile from our house to the highway, camera in hand, enjoying and taking photos of the variety of flora scattered along the side of the road. There is plenty of bird song that provides a pleasant background to my morning walks, heavy on Dickcissels, but the songs of other grassland birds manage to weave their way through the four-note warble  of the dickcissels. I am cautious if I step off the gravel road to get a close-up photo of a particularly pretty bloom because Paul encountered a large timber rattler while cutting grass along the stone fence near our mailbox. Yikes. The slogan “Don’t tread on me” comes to mind knowing the rattlesnake could be hiding in the grass.

A Dickcissel singing heartily. I was shooting into the sun so the photo is a bit dark

One morning while walking along Soloscheid, I notice a few Compass plants are wilted as if they have been sprayed. That’s odd. I see that some weeds are also dying and assume Paul has sprayed them but I can’t figure out why the Compass plants were targeted. A couple of days later I see that the perky Black-eyed Susan’s are dying. I’m completely flummoxed by this, Paul is as much into the flowers and plants of the prairie as I am into the birds. Was Paul spraying something nearby and the spray drifted onto the flowers? When I ask Paul about the dying flowers, he grimaces, and says the only thing he can figure out is that the County Weed department must have sprayed Soloscheid Road. This doesn’t make sense either as Soloscheid is a township road.

I love the beautiful Black-eyed Susans.

Not so beautiful anymore

Colorful Butterfly Milkweed

A few days later they are reduced to this. I hope the plant near the fence escaped.

After discussing the sad situation of the once beautiful flowers, Paul sends an email to the weed department and our County Commissioner including before and after photos of the flowers. He points out that there were no noxious weeds along the road except for a clump of Johnson grass which he had already killed. There is a quick response to our email from both parties. Our commissioner quickly investigates and finds that the township contracted with the weed department to spray all of Farmer township roads which means this is out of the county commissioners’ hands and we must take our questions up with our township board. The weed department employee apologizes but says they were only doing what they were contracted to do. Paul then visits with one of the Township board members who also apologizes. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that we now have shriveled, brown stalks to look at instead of the beautiful, colorful, flowers we had been enjoying. Paul asks the township board and the weed department folks to take Soloscheid road off the spray program in the future and tells them he will take care of any noxious weeds if they appear. The sad reality is we don’t know how long it will take for the wildflowers to come back.

The calf in the background is cute but ugh, the dead wildflowers.

Speaking of noxious weeds, the plentiful April rains brought forth multiple species of the unwanted plants. Whenever we went to check cattle in May we always took an empty mineral sack and a spade along since the odds were, we would find musk thistle in bloom. When any of us came upon the prickly, purple blossomed plants, we would pluck the blooms off, place them in the sack and then dig the thistle up to destroy it. Paul then burns the sack of blooms so the hundreds of fluffy-white seeds one thistle can produce are destroyed.

No photos of the notorious musk thistles but this shiny green bug on a milkweed is eye-catching, (yes it is dying too due to the spraying)

No idea what this bug is but he is quite interesting.

Paul and I were checking cattle in the Rock pasture on a cool May morning and came upon some musk thistle in full bloom. My job was to pick the blooms off the prickly plants while trying to avoid the sharp barbs.  Quite often a sharp thorn would pierce my leather gloves causing me to wince and call out ouch. Darned thistles anyway. When I finish my job, Paul sends the spade into the rocky soil under the base of the thistle, severing the plant from its roots.

The sprinkle of thistles in the pasture led us off the hilltop along a rock ledge where more of the noxious plants are growing. There is a large musk thistle with a dozen or so blooms on it growing next the rock ledge. I proceed to yank the blossom off causing the plant to sway every time I remove a bloom.  As Paul steps up to dispatch the tall thistle, I turn to go back to the Ranger. I have taken a few steps when I hear Paul exclaim “Oh my gosh” or something to that effect. I turn around to see him backing away from the thistle in alarm so I ask him what is wrong. “There is a rattlesnake under the thistle” is his reply. I am skeptical and ask him if he is sure it is a rattler because I can’t hear any rattling from an angry snake shaking its tail. Paul says he is pretty sure it is.

No Rattlesnake photo but other things hide in the grass too. Baby Fawn

We both cautiously step a bit closer and peer at the ground under the thistle just in time to see the snake slowly crawling into a cavity in the rock ledge. Feeling braver we step next to the thistle and see that at the end of the snakes’ tail there are indeed rattles, about four or five. The snake is trying to use its warning system but the sound is hardly discernible. The only thing we can figure as to why the sound is so quiet is that this morning it is very cool along with a heavy dew so maybe the rattles just aren’t working like they would on a dry hot day. I cannot believe I was standing right next to that snake, pulling thistle blooms which made the plant move every time I picked one and that rattler didn’t strike at me. Holy Smokes.

Since I have procrastinated in posting this blog for another three weeks, our searing triple digit heat exited Kansas in late July. We have had three wonderful rains, each a week apart which is perfect and our temperature is below normal for early August. We have dropped to the upper 50’s the past two mornings and I have had to put on a flannel shirt for a couple of hours before the sun warms things up. The grass is amazingly green yet in fact you would swear it is early summer rather than late summer. Wonderful.

This photo was taken a few days ago (with my new camera). It could be late May as green as it is. I wasn’t happy with the sharpness of this photo but I don’t think I had set my camera to super fine yet.

My old camera called it quits so I have included a few photos I took below while experimenting with my new bridge camera.

There is a setting that takes photos and formats them into a vintage look. I like it.

Hummingbirds at our feeder

This photo is nice and sharp of the curious calf

 

 

 

 

Reality Ranching January 2017

 

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    REALITY RANCHING JANUARY 2017

 

       The fall calving season on the ranch came to an end in mid-December when the last holdout, cow 901, delivered a large bull calf. The calf was so large in fact that I’m pretty sure the little guy went past his due date by several days! We were delighted that the twenty-nine heifers delivered all their calves with no assistance from we humans. We did lose two calves on the mature cows but when you calve out one hundred eighty cows the odds are you won’t save every calf.

     I wish I could report that after the baby calves were born all was fine with them, but we have been fighting a lot of health problems in the calves this fall beyond what is normal. A new strain of pink eye has made an appearance in this part of Kansas affecting all ages of cattle. Many people fought the virus in their herds this summer but the nasty new eye infection didn’t show up in our herd until this fall. We have had ear infections, particularly in the first calf heifer calves, which is something that has been a problem for us in past years too. We also had four calves develop severe scours(diarrhea) in late November. Three of the calves survived but despite Randall’s best efforts in administering electrolytes and milk replacer via a tube, the fourth calf succumbed to the fast-acting disease after a couple of days.

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Our weather has been all over the place this winter. Above normal temps to normal temps to way below normal temps (our coldest morning it was -18). These extreme swings in temperature doesn’t help when calves are sick.

 

    Just when we thought we were “over the hump” with the calves, the babies on the first calf heifers went into a funk. The calves had no energy and stood around with their heads drooping, but they didn’t show any usual signs of illness like coughing and snotty noses. We threw up our hands and called our veterinarian who came out to see if she could figure out what was going on. On our vet’s advice, we revaccinated the calves plus she administered a different antibiotic to the calves then what we had been using. Dr. Amy checked the temperatures on the sick calves and found a third of them were running temperatures of 103 to 105 degrees! Even though the normal temperature for cattle is 101.5 that is still a high fever.  Our vet also took some swabs and KSU is running a culture on the samples in hopes that we can figure out what virus we are dealing with. The calves’ look much better now and were bucking and playing a few days after our vets visit. In addition to the problems with the fall calves we have had illness in our weaned spring calves to deal with too. This certainly adds a lot of stress to us three humans that are caring for the cattle plus it entails extra work in treating the ailing calves.

     As with all calving seasons there are events that happen out of the norm and are worthy of committing to the computer. As usual, the first calf heifers were kept at our house and I am normally the one that keeps a close eye on them. Often the young cows were calving without the giving the telltale signs that they were thinking about having a calf, so often when I went out to check on them I would find a soppy calf struggling to get to its feet or already on its feet nursing the new mom. These girls weren’t messing around, they just laid down and got to work delivering their calves.

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Petal with Sweetheart nursing

 

   One afternoon I was standing in the yard waiting for Paul to return as he needed me to go help him do something (I can’t remember what). Even though I had checked the heifers around an hour before something prompted me to take another look at them. Perhaps the reason was because Dalton’s heifer Petal was obviously going to calve “any minute” that I decided to take a quick look before I left. As I walked into the small brome field I saw Petal standing alone near the rock wall, her head pointed at the ground. Was she grazing or had she calved? As I got closer to the brockle-face cow I heard the gasping rasp of a calf struggling to breath. Oh no! I break into a run and see the calf lying in front of Flower. Flower is busy licking the baby but she is licking the rear end of the calf, not the head! The poor calf’s head and front legs are encased in the birth sac and the sac is wrapped so tightly over its head that the calf is about to suffocate from the lack of oxygen.

     I approach the suffocating calf but Flower decides to be super mom and lets me know by shaking her head and bellowing at me that I am not welcome. I retreat to the wall and literally stumble over a long branch on the ground. I grab it and rush at Flower, smacking the branch on the ground in front of her, which causes the new mom to turn tail and run a short distance away. I then grab the thick membrane and rip it off the baby calf’s nose before beating a hasty retreat because Flower is on her way back determined to defend her new baby. I stand and watch the calf from the safety of a tree, probably the one that provided me that handy branch, and give a sigh of relief when the calf’s breathing becomes normal. It seems like forever, but it probably was only a couple of minutes, before the little brockle-face calf lifts its head off the ground. Whew, the calf is going to be all right.

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Sweetheart is as unimpressed as Dalton with the fact that I saved her life.

 

 

    Later when I talk to Dalton to inform him that Flower has delivered a heifer calf his first response is a dejected “It’s a heifer!”.  I relate the story to Randall and Erin’s oldest son about how I saved the little calf’s life. I then lobby Dalton to name this newest addition to his growing herd, Nancy, thinking my heroic efforts are surely worth the calf being my namesake. The young man doesn’t seem impressed with this idea and later after the family has come to examine the newest member of the DD herd he happily informs me that he has named the calf Sweetheart. O.k. the heifer calf does have a small white mark on her poll that resembles a heart but I still think Nancy would have been a great name.

     A couple of weeks later, Paul and I are checking the cows in the brome field below our house with the Ranger. We buzz by Dalton’s second calf heifer, Sunflower, who is munching on the green brome grass. We give her a cursory look as we drive by and after Paul has driven a hundred feet or so we look at each other with the realization that Sunflower didn’t have her swollen calf belly anymore. Paul wheels the Ranger around and we drive back to the young cow. Yep, she has calved and she has been nursed but the question is where has Sunflower hidden her baby. We slowly drive around the area and as we approach the creek bank Sunflower comes on a run. Oh boy, the bank is steep here and the two of us get out of the Ranger to peer over the edge. The bad news is that indeed the calf has gone over the edge of the bank. The good news is that the little bugger is laying on a grassy ledge well above the deep pool of water below it. Paul and I come up with a strategy to get the baby back up the bank to its mama. I quietly make my way down the bank staying off to one side and come up behind the calf. This is to make sure the calf doesn’t spook and take a dive into the water below (yes it occurs to me that the calf could still spook and take me with it into the creek).  Once I am in position, Paul comes down, grabs the calf and pushes the wide-eyed baby back to safety as Sunflower peers down at us. I chastise the young cow for placing the calf near the steep creek bank but she completely ignores me, (Dalton told me one day when I was earnestly talking to some cows that “I don’t think they speak English” :).  Sunflower sniffs her calf and then leads her baby towards the herd.

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Sunflower, note the white mark above her eye

 

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This is Dandelion, the white splotch in the middle of her head is similar to moms that is above her eye.

 

 

 

    I call Dalton to inform him that Sunflower has calved and tell him how we rescued this heifer calf from her precarious perch. I suggest that since Paul and I were involved in this rescue that perhaps a good name for the calf would be Millie, short for Miller! Dalton’s reaction is an exasperated “It’s another heifer!” and I can hear mom laughing in the background. Poor Dalton, the youngster is facing a cash flow problem since he has passed the two cows for free mark so he really needs a bull calf that he can sell this fall. Dalton now must pay pasture and winter care on his extra cows and although heifer calves can be sold it is a tough decision to let go of one. Later, Dalton tells us that he has named Sunflowers’ calf, Dandelion. I look at Dalton and ask him what in the world we must to do to get him to name a calf after us to which he just shrugs nonchalantly! Man, impressing this boy is tough.

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Flower and Daisy

 

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Mickey the fall yearling heifer that Dalton sold the ranch for some much-needed cash

 

 

     Dalton has one more cow to calve and of course Flower has a heifer 🙂. I see Dalton in person and break the news to him. His shoulders literally sag when he hears the word heifer. This calf he names Daisy, so still no namesake for Paul or me! His cash flow problem is solved when Dalton decides to sell, Mickey, one of his heifer calves that was born last fall, to the ranch for a fair price. Dalton mentions the fact that he has had seven heifer calves in a row which would entail calves born in the last three years. As you can see, Dalton mostly has a flower theme for naming his cattle.  His brother Jacob on the other hand names his cattle after western movie characters. Katie Elder his only mature cow had a bull calf this year which he named Davy Crockett. Jake also has a yearling heifer that he named Crazy Alice, fortunately she hasn’t lived up to her name! Little sister Anna’s cow, Tulip, had a heifer calf which she named Barbie. I’m pretty sure that Anna was disappointed that the calf wasn’t pink.

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Crazy Alice who fortunately isn’t really crazy. Her mother Katie Elder however can be crazy.

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Jake’s bull calf Davy Crockett

 

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Anna’s cow Tulip and calf Barbie. Tulip was on high alert when I was taking this photo.

 

 

     Early in the calving season, Paul and I came upon two cows at Milton’s’ chasing after the same calf. Since the calf was tagged we knew the rightful mother was 324 but 298 was determined that the calf was hers. We couldn’t decide if 298 had calved yet (sometimes cows will try to claim a calf right before they calve) so we decided to return to check on this matter after we had finished looking at a couple more groups of cows. Upon our return, we found the two cows lying down in some tall dead grass. The rightful mother was lying several yards away from 298 and the contested calf. Obviously 298 had fought off the real mother of the calf and successfully stolen her baby. We also discover that 298 has calved as she has expelled her afterbirth while lying next to the calf she absconded. Great, we have a calfnapping and we have no idea where 298’s real calf is or if it is even alive! It is very unusual for mature cows to get confused and claim another cow’s calf, particularly when they are running on large acreage.

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The calf that was abandoned but then claimed by her mother. This photo is taken four months later. I can’t exactly stop and document these adventures when they are taking place! In fact I will just put some favorite cattle photos through this part of the blog since I have no photos of the actual event.

 

     There is a catch pen a quarter of a mile away so Paul and I grab the calf, much to the disapproval of the calfnapper, and load him in the back of the Ranger. We make sure both cows know where the calf is, then with Paul holding onto the calf and me driving the side-by-side we make our way towards the pen. 324 follows dutifully behind the Ranger but 298 has other ideas. The calf stealing cow runs in front of the Ranger which causes me to come to a stop so I don’t run into her. The old rip does this time and again, occasionally lowering her head as if she is trying to pick a fight with the Ranger, which causes me to hurl some unkind words at the thieving cow. We finally arrive at the corral and entice the two cows into the small loading pen by placing the calf in that pen. Cutting 298 into a side pen is no easy task because she is determined to stay with “her” calf.

     Randall is on the scene by now and 324 and her calf are hauled via trailer to the brome below our house. 298 is taken to the pens at our house so if we get lucky and find her calf we can work at getting 298 to claim her biological calf.  Finding that baby will be like looking for a needle in a haystack. The guys must leave to put water gaps in at one of our rented pastures so that leaves me to look for the baby calf.

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The cow who had her baby calfnapped by a herd mate.

 

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The calfnapped calf four months later

 

 

      I take the Ranger and head back to Milton’s place where I search the area where we first found the two cows chasing after the bewildered calf. I slowly and carefully drive the Ranger back and forth peering into the rank foxtail that has grown up in the brome field. I don’t find the calf so where do I look now I remember what when I checked this bunch of cows yesterday I was short several cows. I finally found them on top of the small wooded hill where the cows were munching on acorns. This year the acorns were thick and our cows were crazy for the nuts feasting on them as if they were candy. If we were short on our count in any of the herds, we would immediately head for the timber and look for oak trees where more often than not we would find the missing bovines crunching on acorns! Anyway, I distinctly remembered that 324 and her calf were with several other cows on this hilltop snuffling around the base of oak trees for acorns. I remembered 324 and her calf because we only had a couple of calves in this group so far. Hmm perhaps this is where 298 got confused and laid claim to 324’s calf.

      I park the Ranger at the bottom of the hill and as I walk up the tree covered hill I cast my eyes from side to side looking for a small black calf. When I reach the hilltop, I walk along the fence that separates this acreage from the meadow to the south. A baby calf can get pushed under a fence so I also peer out over the meadow as I traipse along. When I reach the west side of the hill I move over several feet and walk back to the east, trying to look in every grassy clump or bush on both sides of me. Five times I walk from one end of the small hill to the other with no sign of a calf. As I turn to walk back for the sixth time I have resigned myself that the unwanted baby isn’t here since I am on the crest of the hill and no cow would have had her calf on the rocky steep side of this hill. I have walked about halfway on this trek when several feet away, I spot the baby calf lying next to an old log. I’ll be darned, now the question is how do I grab the calf without spooking it and get it back down to the Ranger?

     I have no lasso or halter with me or in the Ranger but there is some twine in the bed of the side-by-side. The calf seems to have not noticed me so I decide to trek back to the Ranger for the twine. I make a careful note of the area where the abandoned calf is hiding before I leave. Once I get back with the twine I sneak up behind the calf and grab its back leg, fastening one piece of twine around its ankle. Wrapping the end of the twine around my gloved hand, I then kneel on the baby calf and tie the other piece of twine around the black calf’s neck. Surprisingly, the calf doesn’t struggle or even try to stand up while I am ensnaring him with the orange plastic twine.

    Once I am satisfied that I can stop the calf from running off with my flimsy twine rope, I try to get the calf on its feet. The little heifer either can’t stand or refuses to stand so that means I am going to have to carry her. Putting one arm around her neck and the other around her butt I heft the baby calf up. Thank goodness she isn’t a large calf, probably sixty or sixty-five pounds. That being said I’m not a youngster anymore and I find that I can only walk so far with a limp calf in my arms. When I start to huff and puff and my arms begin to protest the calf’s weight, I lay the calf down on the ground to take a rest. I haven’t gotten very far and at this rate my journey to the Ranger is going to be time-consuming! After a couple of minutes I reach down and hoist the baby calf up again and plod off but after a few steps the little calf decides enough is enough and begins to thrash her legs and head against me in earnest. I can’t control the calf and still walk so I set her down again making sure I have a firm grasp on the twine constraints.

My what big ears you have.

My what big ears you have. This photo has nothing to do with the story!

      Well shoot, maybe I can force her to walk down the hill to our waiting ride. Nope, the obstinate calf not only won’t walk but she lays back down and refuses to stand up again, just going limp when I try to make her stand. You little rascal, there is only one other way to get her off this hilltop and that is to drag her. I know, it sounds awful but luckily there is thick grass which will cushion her. I grab a hind leg and begin to pull the prone calf. She slides along surprisingly easy and after we have gone several yards I give the calf another chance at standing and walking. The little girl again refuses to stand and goes as limp as a rag doll at my attempts. I continue to pull the calf, often having to dodge around old logs, trees and bushes. When we finally reach the Ranger, I am exhausted despite stopping several times to rest and stretch out my back.

     Another problem arises as I need to transport the calf home to where her mother is. I have no way of restraining the calf as there is no place or way to tie her in the bed of the Ranger. If the calf will continue to play possum (lay still) it will be fine but if she decides to make a break for it what then? After mulling it over, I decide to lay her on the floor of the Ranger on the passenger side where she will be within my reach if the calf decides to make a get away. The next decision is how to get home, do I go through the fields where I must get out to open and shut three gates or go via the highway where I only have one gate to pass through? I opt for the route that takes me through one gate.

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This is an old photo but it shows the Ranger which I used to transport the calf home

    The scared calf lays quietly on the floor on our ride to the gate and while I get out to open the gate. However, when I jump out and run back to close the gate, I hear the baby calf scrambling to get to its feet. I’m sure the petrified calf has decided to make a break for it since that scary two-legged creature is out of sight. I jump into the Ranger just as the calf is trying to crawl up onto the seat and grab the would-be escapee. I force the calf back on the floor and get her to lay down again by flipping the baby on her side then holding onto a front leg so she can’t stand back up. Once the calf accepts that she is my prisoner again she ceases to struggle and I drive on.

     Things are going well as I turn out of Milton’s drive and onto the highway. The calf seems to have accepted her dilemma and is laying quietly on the floor. It is about a half of a mile from Milton’s drive to our driveway so I am hoping the calf continues to cooperate. Well that hope vanishes when the rascal decides that she has had enough of this adventure and starts to get to her feet just as I am coming into the sweeping curve not far from our driveway. Trying to keep an eye on the road and one hand on the wheel, I desperately grab for the calf’s leg as she climbs halfway up onto the seat. I silently admonish myself for making the decision to drive down the highway but it is too late now. I slow down but I don’t dare take the ditch as it is too steep, so I just grapple with the calf and continue towards our driveway. Once I turn into the drive I force the calf down on the floor again, waiting for him to calm down before driving the last leg of this journey. Good grief, I will never do that again!

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Hey wait a minute, I don’t have twins! Often first calf heifers tolerate other calves nursing them.

 

       I breathe a sigh of relief when I motor up to the pen where we placed the unwanted calf’s mother. I pull the calf out of the Ranger and this time the calf is willing to walk to the narrow, wooden gate and I push her through it into the pen with her mother. I watch as the cow walks up to the tired calf, sniffs it and unfortunately turns around and walks away. Well, the good news is that she didn’t try to butt or kick at the baby calf. The bad news is that the guys haven’t returned yet so I am going to have to put the cow in the alley, catch her head in the head gate and get some mothers milk into this very hungry calf on my own.

     I walk the cow into the working pen and to my surprise and delight when I herd 298 towards the alley she amicably walks right into and down the narrow passage way, puts her head into the self-catch head gate and stands quietly while I remove the boards that will allow the calf to reach her udder. I gather up the calf and hold my breath as I help guide her to one of her mother’s teats and squirt some milk into the calf’s’ mouth. This part is tricky because range cows don’t particularly like to be milked and often will kick at you or at the very least jump around in response to your touch. Again, I am pleasantly surprised that 298 stands as placidly as an old milk cow and continues to do so until her calf has filled its empty belly with milk. When the calf is finished nursing, I push her in front of his mom where 298 again sniffs at her but gives no sign of recognition that this calf is hers. Well phooey, I walk the baby calf into the big pen and then release 298 into the pen and shut the gate. I stand and watch the duo for a while, noting that the cow looks over at the calf which is now lying down on occasion but isn’t curious enough to walk over and check him out. When I get back to the house I call Randall and Paul on the two-way radio and they are delighted to hear the news that I have found 298’s calf.

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I sat down in the middle of the herd on this gorgeous October day and took photos of what went on around me. There were a lot of curious calves to take pictures of.

 

         There is a happy ending to this story as sometime in the night 298 has decided that this is her calf after all. When Paul and I check them in the morning the calf has nursed and 298 is uttering some motherly sounds towards her. In another day 298 has turned into a protective, loving mother, and on the third day we turn the happy pair with the herd that is on the Rock place.

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One of my favorite photos I took that afternoon.

 

 

      As unusual as this calfnapping is among mature cows, Randall had the same thing happen again in the same herd at Milton’s. He had tagged two new baby calves one morning whose mothers were standing nest to each other. Randall told us that something about that scenario was bugging him all day and so he went back that evening to check on them again. Randall found one of the cows with the calf he had tagged in the morning but she also had an untagged calf with her. The problem was that this was a big burley calf while the tagged calf was fairly small so it seemed unlikely that they were twins. Since it was getting dark and the cow seemed to be taking care of both calves he decided to sort things out in the morning.

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You can add your own funny caption to this photo.

 

 

     Well, we did sort the mystery out in the morning as it seems the cow Randall had seen with two calves last night had claimed the twin of the other cow and then later gave birth to her “real” calf. This calfnapper left her real calf behind during the night but luckily the abandoned calf was still lying where Randall had seen it last night. This morning the calf’s’ mother showed no interest in him so we took the calf home and put him on a bottle. A couple of weeks later the rejected calf was adopted by a cow who lost her calf at birth so things turned out alright for both of them! Nancy

A handsome coyote on the brome patch by our mail box.

A handsome coyote on the brome patch by our mail box.

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Cattle on a hazy morning. Taken from our yard

 

 

    

    

    

  

   

   

    

      

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

Reality Ranching August 2016

Reality Ranching August 2016

Photo taken in mid June

Photo taken in mid June

What a roller coaster weather ride we have had in our little corner of Kansas this spring and summer! We had flooding rains in May only to have Mother Nature turn the tap off for the entire month of June. June was also very hot with several 100 plus degree days that caused the big bluestem grass in our pastures to stop growing and begin to yellow in color in what should be the prime grass month in the Flint Hills. Corn, beans and milo gamely hung on (how I don’t know) and when a storm system blew through the first week of July providing the parched earth with a much-needed drink, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders.

Within two days of this wonderful rain, the pastures turned green again and the crops were noticeably taller. However, the heat came back with a vengeance and we suffered days of searing heat often accompanied by strong winds that felt as though you were in the middle of a blast furnace. Soon the pastures were again looking weary while the cattle found relief in the shade of trees or by immersing themselves in the stock ponds. We had two rains just a couple of days apart the third week of July along with a drop in temperature which raised everyone’s spirits. We knew it wouldn’t last and sure enough the heat and humidity returned with a vengeance but again we were saved by rains in August. Things really look good now especially for this time of year. Just goes to show you can never out guess what Kansas weather will bring.

Looking out our back door in mid August. Unreal

Looking out our back door in mid August. Unreal

Corn field in mid August. Notice how green the hill is in the background!

Corn field in mid August. Notice how green the hill is in the background!

I have often come home from various travels somewhat disappointed with the bird life and wildlife that seems thin compared to what we have on the ranch. One day in early June as I was listening to various bird songs drifting through the open windows of the house, I decided to walk the perimeter of our “yard” and make a list of the birds I saw or heard.

Stepping out the back door my first bird sighting was a squadron of barn swallows diving, swooping, banking, and doing loop-de-loops( well not really but I think they could if they wanted to) in pursuit of flying insects too small for human eyes to see. The reason for the bird’s frenzied pursuit of this prey is that they have mud nests in the rafters of our barns full of hungry youngsters. As I move into the yard, some of the bug-hunting parents decide I am a threat and begin dive bombing me, uttering angry bird expletives, warning me to not go near their precious broods.

Once the baby phoebe left the barn swallows moved in and raised a nest full of their own.

Once the baby phoebe left the barn swallows moved in and raised a nest full of their own.

Turning the corner of the house I peer up into the solo mud nest that is glued to the side of our house and find the single Eastern Phoebe chick peering back at me. The adult Phoebes managed to lay claim to this barn swallow nest before the rightful owners/builders of the nest took up residence. From here I look over at the hummingbird feeder where a pair of the speedy birds is taking turns sipping the sugar-water. Well, they aren’t really taking turns as one hummingbird will chase its competitor away and dash back for a quick sip, until the other winged bullet returns and chases the dining bird away so it can get a quick meal. There are four feeding stations at the feeder but the two contentious birds can’t stand to share the feeder. What a waste of energy!!

A hummingbird taking a short rest

A hummingbird taking a short rest

I wander over to the cattle corral that borders the south end of our yard where a bluebird house is attached to the fence. A male Eastern Bluebird is sitting on the fence, his blue feathers glowing in the sunlight. I’m pretty sure his mate is brooding eggs in the wooden house. Near the bluebird house are a clump of cedar and oak trees and a male Cardinal is belting out his territorial song as Chickadees insert their “namesake” chorus into the Cardinals boisterous singing.

Bluebird. I took no photos on the day of my bird inventory so these photos are from other walks around our place.

Bluebird. I took no photos on the day of my bird inventory so these photos are from other walks around our place.

Walking towards our shop/garage I find Brown-headed cowbird perching on the electric lines in another of our cow lots. I don’t care much for cowbirds as they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests leaving the rearing of their young to whatever bird is unfortunate enough to have their nests hijacked by the lazy louts. Even worse the young cowbirds will often push their step chicks out of the nest to their death. I guess the one interesting fact to this weird habit is that once the young cowbirds leave the foster parents nest the youngsters join up with their own kind without a second look back at the birds that worked so hard to raise them.

I hear a Baltimore oriole singing (it is one of my favorite bird songs) in the towering hackberry tree that stands near the shop. As I am looking for the bright orange and black bird, I spy a Robin sitting on its nest that is well situated on one of the trees sturdy branches. Cool, I had no idea that this robin’s nest was here. I do find the Oriole and watch the bird for a bit as it rustles through the leaves of the hackberry in search of bugs and worms.

I move on to the grove of walnut trees near the western border of our yard. A Red-bellied Woodpecker is pounding with brain-rattling intensity on a dead limb in one of the walnut trees but decides to fly away upon my intrusion. Walking along the wire fence I arrive at a dead tree and I am surprised to find a Nighthawk doing his best to melt into one of the lifeless limbs in order to hide from me. The camouflage of these birds really is incredible as their mottled pattern blends into the bark of the tree. It is just a bit unusual to find a nighthawk this close to the house.

Nighthawk dressed in great camouflage

Nighthawk dressed in great camouflage

Wait a minute! Why is there a bull in the little brome field? The culprit turns out to be the young bull we had put with a small group of heifers yesterday. We had turned the cattle on this brome patch and then opened the gate that leads into the pasture. When Paul saw the cattle grazing in the pasture later in the day he shut the gate. I interrupt my bird watching to inform Paul that we need to put the bull back out into the pasture with his herd, (evidently the yearling bull wasn’t too impressed with his harem), and then find out where the breach in the fence is that allowed the bull to get back into the brome patch. The silly bull decides he doesn’t want to be herded to the gate, so Paul goes into the pasture and calls out to the black heifers. Since the young heifers have been accustomed to being fed grain they come running to the gate in anticipation of receiving a bucket of pellets. Once other bovines are within sight of the silly bull he decides that walking to the other end of the small field is acceptable after all. We shoo him out the gate where he is reunited with his herd. I’m not sure, but I think the heifers would have preferred grain instead of the bull:). Paul and I figure out that the bull did not exit the brome field when the heifers did yesterday and we actually locked him in the brome field by himself overnight! I still saw birds on this unexpected detour including more bluebirds, Tufted Titmice and a wren that was scolding me from the safety of a dense bush.

The silly young bull

The silly young bull

I wander out by the vegetable garden where a chipping sparrow is hopping around on the ground. I hear a Blue-grey Gnat Catcher talking to itself in the foliage of a nearby tree but I never catch sight of the tiny bird. Leaving the garden area, I go back to our driveway which takes me by the lilac bushes which are filled with English sparrows conversing in their rather tuneless chatter. More barn swallows swoop and dive near the barn where we store mineral and a tractor. Halfway down the gravel drive I hear the nasal honking of a White-breasted Nuthatch as it scurries up and down the trunk and branches of a big old oak tree. I love these busy little birds that are as comfortable going up a tree trunk as they are walking head first down a tree trunk.

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

When I reach the iron gates at the bottom of our driveway a Red-tailed Hawk takes to the air from its perch at the top of a tree. This hawk has been hanging around in the general vicinity all spring. I’m surprised my yard rabbits haven’t been thinned out by the raptor. Across the road in the pasture I listen as a Dickcissel calls out its name over and over. There is also a Great Crested Flycatcher calling from one of the trees that line our driveway.

I turn around and plod back toward the house where I make another left turn once I reach the border of our front lawn. This road takes me next to the lagoon where I spy another bluebird sitting on the top wire of the fence. There are several crows flying over the treetops near the main creek, their raucous cries piercing the air like arrows. As I walk through an open gate a gorgeous Indigo Bunting flies from its perch, its brilliant blue plumage flashing in the sunlight. Continuing on I walk down to the creek crossing where a Great Blue Heron is standing like a piece of yard art in the water. He gives a hoarse croak of surprise and launches himself out of the creek. With deep, ponderous wing strokes the ancient looking fowl flies off to the south.

Great Blue heron but this photo is taken at Wabaunsee Lake

Great Blue heron but this photo is taken at Wabaunsee Lake

View from the creek crossing where I saw the Great blue heron

View from the creek crossing where I saw the Great blue heron

Returning to the road I turn right at the gate and walk the grassy path that runs along the creek for a short distance.  Our house sits maybe 300 yards north of the path I am on so I consider this part of the house grounds! I don’t see much on this short jaunt although a pair of goldfinch fly out in front of me, the male as bright yellow as a lemon drop. When I reach the cattle lots there is a Killdeer calling out plentifully as it runs around in the south lot. There is no dragging wing display so I don’t think the brown and white bird has a nest. There is also an Eastern Meadowlark sitting atop one of the trees growing in the cow lot, singing at the top of its lungs.

Purple Martins. Please come back next summer!

Purple Martin. Please come back next summer!

I have circled back to the shop and am walking toward the house when a pair of Purple Martins land on our martin house animatedly conversing with one another. I am delighted to see the Martins who showed up in our yard a few days ago. We have been putting the martin house up for several years now and there have been lookers but no takers. I have high hopes that this pair will decide this is the perfect spot for them and return to rear their young next year. Last but not least as I approach the back door of our house a House Finch is warbling from his perch in our Sycamore tree which puts a smile on my face at the sound of the pretty tune.

So, in forty-five minutes time more or less, I identified twenty-eight species of birds on our property close to the house. I was surprised not to see any Mourning Doves in the yard and I didn’t see or hear a Belted Kingfisher while near the creek. I know I would have seen a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Upland Sandpiper, and Red-winged Blackbirds if I had walked toward the highway once I reached the end of our driveway. Not a bad tally for such a short time! Later, Nancy

No turkeys seen on this walk but they are common. Out our back door.

No turkeys seen on this walk but they are common. Out our back door.

 

 

 

Reality Ranching October(November) 2015

Hello,

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reality Ranching August 2015

Reality Ranching, August 2015

Paul demostrating how tall the soybeans are in one of our fields.

Paul demostrating how tall the soybeans are in one of our fields.

 

I don’t know where this summer has gone but I don’t think I have written any ranch blogs since early spring! The drought that had Kansas in its grip for the past four years was broken this year. It began raining in mid-May and basically hasn’t stopped (well since I have taken so long to finish this blog, the rain has stopped!). The Flint Hills of Kansas are as lush and green in early August as you would expect them to be in June. The corn and soybeans look as though they will produce bin busting yields although a lot can happen between now and harvest. With the plentiful rains comes excessive humidity which is the downside of all the ample moisture, making it feel like we are in the middle of the jungle.

The summer of 2015 brought another phenomenon besides the abundant rain, and that was the appearance of the seventeen year cicada. Smaller than our normal locust, the red-eyed insects crawled out of the ground by the thousands and screeched all day long for several weeks. In our yard tree and bushes were covered with the bulging eyed insects, and if you walked under the trees disturbing the bugs into flight, often a few of the cicada would settle on you with their prickly legs.

Not the best photo but you can see the empty shells and the cicada

Not the best photo but you can see the empty shells and the cicada

The plague of cicadas made for easy pickings for insect eaters. I saw two black snakes with cicada sized bumps running nearly the full length of the snakes sleek bodies and I couldn’t help but laugh at the funny sight. I was told by a friend that a neighbor’s dog ate so many of the cicadas that it became ill and the owner had to take the dog to the vet.

Dalton, our partners’ oldest son, showed me membranes on the belly of a cicada and informed me that this is how the cicadas make their ear-splitting noise. I informed Dalton that only the males sing and he exclaimed “so that is why some of them don’t have this on their belly”. We both learned something about the interesting cicada.

The cicada would crawl on anything to get dry once they emerged from their skins

The cicada would crawl on anything to get dry once they emerged from their skins

Sure the cicadas were a bit annoying, especially their incessant, loud, so-called singing, which I read can reach 90 decibels per cicada (multiply that noise level by thousands)! However, after reading up on the life cycle of these amazing bugs I didn’t complain. I also pointed out to several people that most of us 60 and over will only experience this phenomenon one possibly two more time in our life or never again! That makes one think doesn’t it!

The front of the old truck. Does that mean it has 8 lives? I think it's been through most of them

The front of the old truck. Does that mean it has 8 lives? I think it’s been through most of them

I was working at the computer, when Paul walked in the house and announced that he needed some help. Paul has been hauling hay debris that had built up around the hay rings in our winter lots to a wash out in our pasture and dumping it in the eroded ravine in hopes that this will stop future erosion. Paul told me that the old Ford dump truck was stuck in a ditch and I would have to help him pull the truck out.

I assumed we would be taking the 4 wheel drive pickup to rescue the 2 ton Ford but Paul, after grabbing a log chain, walked to the new tractor (well it’s used but new to us) , climbed into the driver’s seat while I settled into the buddy seat. As we drive into the small pasture, I am scanning the area for the stuck truck but I can’t see any sign of it. Paul drives to the wash out where the hay litter is being disposed and I exclaim out loud. That “ditch” Paul said the truck was stuck in is actually the water eroded ravine he was dumping the loads into. With my mouth agape, I listen as Paul explains how he backed up to the edge of the “ditch” to empty the truck’s load, (the last load of the day of course), and could feel the truck slipping off the edge. Paul had the good sense to turn the key off, exit the dump truck, and then he watched as the truck rolled backwards into the abyss. The front tires of the big old truck clutch at the edge of the small ravine like a dangling kitten hanging on for dear life to a tree limb, and the front grill of the old truck points mostly skyward. Holy smokes!

The "new/used" tractor we rescued the Ford with.

The “new/used” tractor we rescued the Ford with.

I am very skeptical that the tractor can extract the swallowed truck and point out to Paul that we might need a crane to deliver the Ford out of its grave! Paul has more faith in our ability to rescue the Ford, and he backs the Case tractor up to the semi-vertical truck, attaches the heavy log chain to the back of the tractor and to the front axle of the sun bleached Ford. He tells me to get in the truck, to which I immediately reply “no way am I getting in that truck. I have never driven the “new-used” tractor but I am about to get a crash course on the basics!

Paul gives me a quick lesson on the fundamentals of the tractor, not so different from our smaller tractors, and then he climbs into the truck. When I let my imagination go it appears Paul and the old Ford are preparing for a launch into space. Paul turns the key and the Fords engine fires right up and fortunately Paul and the truck stay earth-bound. I slowly drive the tractor forward until the chain is taut and I continue to ease the tractor forward. There is brief tug of war but the tractor, with some self-help from the old truck, begins to drag the Ford from the “ditch” little by little. Once it is horizontal again, Paul and I look the Ford over which appears to be none the worse for wear. Paul backs up to the washout, making sure he stays away from the edge this time, and finishes dumping the load out of the truck bed.

The Old Ford a few weeks after we rescued it, none the worse for wear

The Old Ford a few weeks after we rescued it, none the worse for wear

Later I inform Paul that this will make a good story for my reality ranching blog, in which he replies that he was afraid I would write about it. However, partly out of relief I suppose, we begin laughing about the whole episode and particularly the crazy position the truck was in when it hit the bottom of the ravine. If the “ditch” had been a couple of feet deeper we sure wouldn’t have been able to rescue the hapless truck. Paul now admits that it was too bad I didn’t have my camera with me. Believe me if Paul had been a little clearer about the “ditch” the truck was stuck in I would have had digital evidence of the predicament the truck found itself in!

Some of the cows and calves in the section pasture.

Some of the cows and calves in the section pasture.

This summer we were able to rent a pasture that borders some of our pastures here at home. Anyone that farms or ranches knows that when the opportunity to rent ground right next to you comes up, you don’t pass that opportunity up. The problem for us was that we didn’t have any cattle to stock the section pasture with! We certainly didn’t want to buy cattle as we have a closed herd, (we raise all our own replacement females), and so we needed to find someone who needed pasture and had enough cows to fill the 640 acre pasture for the summer. By chance (maybe) a conversation with a young couple we were on safari with last summer, involved the problems they have finding summer grass for all the cows in their families operation. Remembering that conversation, Paul made a phone call to our safari friends and a deal was made to summer some of their family’s spring calving cows and their calves.

Paul and I are making our weekly check on the herd on a beautiful Sunday morning in June. We have a couple of prime square bales of alfalfa hay to scatter out for the cows in hopes of getting them lined up and thinned out to make it easier to count the cows and calves. Some of the cows begin greedily consuming the rich flakes of hay I toss on the ground as Paul slowly drives the Ranger along the edge of the herd. Other cows are unimpressed with our offering and don’t bother to walk the few steps to see what their herd mates are munching on. Since the cows are standing in lush bluestem grass with their bellies full of the native grass it is hardly surprising they ignore us. The baby calves have zero interest in what we humans are doing and like any youngsters they refuse to stand still and they run or walk all through the cows.

Some of the greedier cows looking for a treat. This photo taken on a different pasture check.

Some of the greedier cows looking for a treat. This photo taken on a different pasture check.

Once all the hay is scattered, Paul drives the Ranger on one side of the cows and I walk on the other side where we manage to get a correct count on the cows. However we notice that only two of the three bulls are with the cows. We reverse course and try to count the calves but come up a few short, so we try again. Paul comes up one calf short while I come up two short on the number of calves there should be. Darn it. The alfalfa has been consumed by now and the cows are beginning to drift away. Paul and I try counting the calves one last time and end up with what we feel is a pretty good count but both of us come up one calf short of 78. Well we know positively we are short one of the mature bulls so we will go look for him.

Paul drives to the corral in the southeast corner of the pasture to make sure the bull hasn’t managed to get himself trapped in one of the pens. I scan the pasture for any sign of the massive beast and spy what is the unmistakable form of a black bull walking along the western horizon. Paul and I know we have found the missing bull because there are no other bulls around this pasture. Even though we are looking at the wayward bull from nearly a mile away we are certain the rascal is in what we call the Brashe pasture with some of our fall calving cows.

A photo that shows some of the many tree lined ravines, many of them impossible to drive through.

A photo that shows some of the many tree lined ravines, many of them impossible to drive through.

It would be nice if we could drive a straight line through the pasture to the bull but a deep ravine between us and the bull won’t allow that. Instead we drive into the neighbors pasture and follow the fence line to a cross fence where a gate in the corner lets us get into the next pasture. The easy terrain we were driving over ends here and it is too rough to continue driving down the fence line. We are halfway to our destination so I decide to walk from here while Paul drives off in search of a crossing point for the ranger. I trudge down the hill in my mud boots, cross a stream flowing through the ravine, then climb a steep hill. As I crest the hill I see our cows with the runaway bull standing next to the gate that opens into the new pasture. How lucky is that? As I continue walking towards the cattle, I suddenly notice a young calf standing near our cows but the calf is in the pasture I am walking in. It has to be the missing calf because there are feeder steers in this pasture. Gee maybe I should buy a lottery ticket today!

The missing bull a couple of weeks after his wanderings

The missing bull a couple of weeks after his wanderings

Paul has found his way through the ravine and is approaching rapidly from the south. I move his way and begin gesturing and pointing at the calf in hopes that Paul will understand, slow down and not spook the young calf into running away. Paul sees me and eases up on the Ranger’s gas pedal and when he spots the forlorn calf, he comes to a complete stop. I slowly walk to the gate, open it, retreat, and Paul eases up to the calf and herds him through the gate. Now we go after the bull which turns out to be no problem at all because as soon as we open the Brashe pasture gate, the big boy saunters through as though we perform this ritual every day. I guess he found out that the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence because these cows are already with calf and have no need of a bull!

We need to check the fence to see how this big fellow got into the Brashe pasture and we haven’t driven far when we find the source of entry for the trespasser. The fence is leaning over slightly and the top wire is broken. I find it amazing that a ton plus bull managed to jump over this still functional fence. We look closer and see that a battle took place next to the fence as the grass is trampled into mud and there are sliding hoof prints where the two gladiators have pushed each other in a test of strength. Obviously the vanquished bull turned tail and escaped over the fence into our pasture. Dang bulls anyway.

Paul fixes the fence and now we must try to take the calf to his mother as we are afraid he will end up with our cows if we just leave him by himself. Paul and I argue about how to do this. I want to take the bull and the calf along the fence, hoping the little fellow will want to stay with the bull while assuming that the bull will be anxious to return to the herd. Paul doesn’t think the calf will pay attention to the bull and wants to take the black calf down the road and around the big ravine. I argue if we do it my way at least we will have the fence to help haze the critters. I win the argument and we start Mutt and Jeff walking along the fence. The calf soon breaks away and runs back to where our cows are standing. Oh great. We try again and this time we get the mismatched pair down to the big ravine where the old bull finds the perfect tree limb to scratch his back on. When the herd bull stops to scratch his itch, the bull calf tries to reverse course so I wave my arms at the calf in an effort to keep him headed in the right direction. The calf panics and jumps through the tight fence right back into the pasture he was in when I first saw him. Good grief. I slip through the barbed wire fence with some difficulty as the calf is hightailing it back to our cows. As the calf is receding in the distance I proceed to tell him what a knucklehead he is (well I might not have used that word), and point out that he does not belong to that cow herd!

Cows, calves and bee balm.

Cows, calves and bee balm.

Paul drives the Ranger back to open the gate (again) so we can at least put the silly calf back in the pasture he belongs in. I’m sure Paul is grumbling under his breath at my failed theory of using the fence to help guide the two bovines. The bolting calf is starting to veer away from the fence so Paul opens the gate, drives through it, and then circles around the speeding calf, bringing him back towards the gate with the Ranger. Once the calf sees the open gate he gladly runs back into the pasture he belongs in.

Paul and I agree that there is only one thing left that we can do to unite this lost calf with his mother, and that is to walk the entire herd to where the brain washed calf is standing. Paul sends the Ranger racing down the road that skirts around the deep ravine then he takes the machine off the road, points it uphill and we bump along over hidden rocks in the tall grass as we make our way back to the cow herd.

The black cows have ended up by the pens where Paul and I first saw the bull, some grazing while others are lying down, contentedly chewing their cud. Paul and I drive behind them making the resting cows get to their feet and we begin to haze the herd towards the lone calf. For a while Paul is able to drive back and forth behind the 160 head of cattle and keep them moving. Eventually the cattle begin to spread out and many decide they would rather graze grass than be forced to travel somewhere that they really don’t wish to go. At this point I exit the Ranger and cajole the cows on one end of the group to keep walking while Paul covers the rest of the herd.

As cattle, humans and machine move over the hilltop I fall into a reverie on this hilltop in the middle of the Flint Hills. Walking along I listen to a cow rip a mouthful of grass up before continuing to plod along, tails swish, hooves thud, birds sing, and I am content. A deer that was lying in the grass jumps up and runs over the edge of the hill to disappear into the trees lining one of many ravines in this pasture. Suddenly the vanquished bull appears striding with purpose towards the placid herd. The big fellow announces that he has returned by trumpeting loudly and then begins to bellow in low bursts. The conquering bull in the first battle immediately answers by snorting through his nose, then lowers his head turning it slightly sideways which shows the challenger his muscular neck. So much for our peaceful procession. The bulls lower their heads, walk towards each other, heads come together and the pushing match is on. Paul and I keep the rest of the herd moving and leave the dueling duo behind.

We almost always see deer when checking this pasture

We almost always see deer when checking this pasture

We have reached the edge of the hill that leads down to the crossing and the road and the cows that have been so cooperative with this impromptu cattle drive suddenly decide they don’t want to walk downhill. Paul and I try to pressure the cows and calves off the hill-top but they simply refuse to start down the steep slope. The cattle begin to mill around and voice their disapproval by mooing loudly. The herd could easily turn and run from us but the bovines aren’t that ambitious. A few cows test both Paul and I as they try to sneak back in the direction from which we came but my waving arms or the ranger cutting them off, thwarts the half-hearted attempts. The good news is that all the caterwauling by the cows has alerted the misplaced calf and I see him begin to move in our direction. All we really need to do is keep the cows here long enough for the calf to arrive.

That is a big bird!

That is a big bird!

As I impede the escape path of one persistent cow, I notice the two bulls have called a truce long enough to catch back up with the stalled out herd. Unfortunately the peace is short-lived and the black bulls crash their massive heads together and begin fighting in earnest. I move away from the straining, grunting bulls and keep a wary eye on which way the momentum of their efforts is taking them. Suddenly one of the bulls gains an advantage and pushes the other bull into the midst of the cows. The stationary cows want nothing to do with the two battling bulls, and the bull-fight in their midst sends them cascading down the hillside. Once the cows reach the bottom of the hill they slow to a walk, a few look for their calves while others start grazing. The little bugger that caused us all this trouble in the first place has arrived and begins lowing for mom. The calf’s mom, who I scold for leaving her calf behind in the first place, answers her calf and soon the pair is united. The calf instantly begins to nurse and all is well with his world again. The vanquished bull ends up being bested again and submits to being the number two male. The bulls coexist for the rest of the summer with no further warfare between them that we were aware of.

The morning has nearly slipped away and Paul and I need to check two more pastures while we are here. We find no trouble in these pastures thank goodness. This story just goes to show what a simple pasture check can turn into! Later, Nancy

Just a pretty back yard photo early in the morning at our house

Just a pretty back yard photo early in the morning at our house

 

 

 

 

 

 

A FEW MORE FALL CALVING TAILS (TALES)

A few more cattle tails (tales).

Vivid fall colors looking south from our yard

Vivid fall colors looking south from our yard

I have become a little lazy about typing some of the things that happen on the ranch. The three following stories happened during calving last fall and I have waited so long to write the stories that some of the details are beginning to fade. Nevertheless, I will do my best to recall as much of these calving incidents as I can.

Since I wrote about the uncaring heifer that refused to accept her calf in my last Reality Ranching, here is a story about a heifer who was just the opposite. Alas, I can’t remember the heifer’s number, where is Dalton when you need him, so I will refer to her as Sweetheart.

On my afternoon check I found Sweetheart in the early stages of calving and after a quick look I left her alone in hopes she would soon begin trying to calve in earnest. After thirty minutes have passed, I return to see if Sweetheart has either calved or is at least working hard at delivering a calf. I spy the heifer standing in a corner of the brome field but there is not a baby calf lying at her feet as I had hoped.  Since no feet are showing yet I make the assumption that Sweetheart is o.k. and decide to give the heifer another 20 minutes before I check on her again. After the 20 minutes has elapsed I find the heifer in labor but still no feet showing. Sweetheart pushes with all her heart (:)), several times before getting to her feet, walking a short distance and then she lays back down, again pushing with all her might to no avail. I do not like this scenario.

Not wanting to be a distraction to Sweetheart, I retrieve a pair of binoculars, and position myself out of the heifers’ line of sight; I peer through the binoculars to see if the calf’s feet will appear. Paul arrives home, (I don’t remember where he was), while I am spying on the heifer and he joins me. I hand Paul the binoculars and give him the time line on Sweethearts labor. He watches the heifer’s efforts through the binoculars for a few minutes and like me feels that by now the heifer should have had her calf or at the very least, a portion of the calf should be visible.

A serene scene to match Sweethearts personality

A serene scene to match Sweethearts personality

We prepare the pens and then walk out to where Sweetheart is still laboring with no results. When we approach the heifer rises to her feet and cooperates with us by walking into the lot.  Sweetheart shows no fear when we continue herding her into the working pens. We run the heifer up the alley, secure her head in the head gate, and place a halter on her. Paul then opens the head gate and lets Sweetheart into the corner pen. Paul ties the lead rope to one of the panels so we have some control over the heifer. When we need to help a heifer calve, we must do it in an area and manner that allows her to lie down, that’s why we don’t try to pull a calf in the alleyway.

Sweetheart doesn’t put up to much resistance to the halter and Paul is able to determine rather quickly that the calf’s feet are bent at the ankles and are stuck under the rim of the pelvis. Paul is able to straighten the calf’s feet out quickly and once that is done the calf is delivered easily. Thankfully the bull calf is alive but he is weak. We turn Sweetheart loose and she immediately goes to her baby calf and begins to fuss over it, licking and talking to the little creature that caused her so much stress.

After giving the cow and calf a half hour or so we can see that the calf is going to need help to get his first dinner. Again we must run Sweetheart into the alley and she doesn’t seem to mind. Paul guides the baby calf to his mother’s teats where he eagerly nurses but we must help steady him as he doesn’t have the strength to stand on his own. Once the little calf’s belly is bulging with milk, Paul carries him back into the pen and then we let Sweetheart join him. Sweetheart calmly walks out of the head gate, gives the two of us no mind, and walks over to nuzzle her now sated calf. What a difference from our last experience with the heifer that wanted nothing to do with her calf.

Though this photo has nothing to do with Sweetheart it shows a contented cow and calf

Though this photo has nothing to do with Sweetheart it shows a contented cow and calf

Paul and I decide to move the pair into the corner pen that is situated under the cow shed so the calf will be in a more sheltered environment. We load the baby in the Ranger and Sweetheart dutifully follows her mobile calf. Paul deposits the baby calf in the corner of the small pen and Sweetheart steps into the small enclosure like it is something she does every day. We shut the gate on the docile heifer and Paul proclaims “now that is a sweet heifer”. Now you know why I have dubbed her Sweetheart! The calf was on its feet nursing on its own later in the evening so we have a happy ending!

 

THE SURPRISE

Paul and I are making our morning rounds with the Ranger among the three herds of cows that we check. We are looking at the cows on the upland brome on the Rock place, when we notice a cow lying beneath a tree in the process of giving birth. She has chosen to calve not far from where her herd mates are lounging, so we retreat among the placid cows to wait for the birth of the calf.

The herd mates of 024 on the morning of Lucy's arrival.

The herd mates of 024 on the morning of Lucy’s arrival.

 

The calf’s head and feet are visible so we know it shouldn’t take long for the cow to deliver her baby. I’m not sure which one of us noticed that something was different about the emerging calf but it was quickly corroborated by both of us. This baby calf is red in color not black! Yes, the sire of this calf is a Simmental but he was sold as being homozygous black that means if the bull is used on black cattle the calves should also be black. Hmmm. Although a puzzler the main thing is to get a healthy calf no matter what color the calf’s hide is.

As we watch, the cow gives a few serious heaves and the little calf’s shoulders come into view. It shouldn’t be long now. Wait a minute, the cow is standing up and she turns around as though she has finished calving. Instead of lying back down the cow does another 180 and gravity pulls the calf farther out of its mother. Paul prompts me to take photos although I am aghast at what we know is going to happen. As the cow continues her half circles, looking for her calf that she is sure she has expelled, the baby slips out on its own and hits the ground with a splat. Welcome to the world you poor little creature. Granted, the baby calf was hanging out so far that the distance to the ground wasn’t that far.  Amazingly, the soaking wet calf right’s itself immediately and before long the red calf is shaking its head. This is a something we watch for within minutes of a calf’s birth. It means the calf is doing fine and soon will be trying to get to its feet. Momma, tag 024, finally catches up with her calf and begins licking her baby vigorously none the wiser that this calf is a lovely red color and entered the world with a literal lesson about the pull of gravity! Three photos of the red heifer being born follow, be forewarned!

Poor Lucy is about to get a lesson in gravity.

Poor Lucy is about to get a lesson in gravity.

Lucy arrives with a kerplop!

Lucy arrives with a kerplop!

Lucy immediately rolls onto her stomach.

Lucy immediately rolls onto her stomach.

Paul and I leave the two animals alone but return later to ensure that the little calf has nursed and also to give it an ear tag. We discover that it is a heifer calf and I promptly name her Lucy for the redheaded comedian I grew up watching, Lucille Ball.

Lucy growing up. Obviously her rough arrival didn't hurt her.

Lucy growing up. Obviously her rough arrival didn’t hurt her.

Paul and I discuss this standing birth and figure that it happens more than we know. We really don’t see our cows actually calving very often. Most calves are just there when we go to check on the herds every morning. In fact, Paul went back to check on a cow this spring and got there just in time to witness this cow deliver her calf while standing too, so who knows how often this happens.

The last calving tale in this trio of stories takes place on the same brome field where Lucy arrived into the world with her resounding thump! Paul and I are counting the cows as we drive among them and find we are one cow short. There are very few places in this field where a cow can hide so we quickly find our missing bovine.

The cow is lying near a small ravine below the water pond. As we drive up to the cow she stands up and we see that she is in trouble! There is one leg of her calf protruding from the cow and to make matters worse it is a back leg. The closest working pen is at our house and we need to get this cow there as quickly as possible.

The first thing we need to do is see if we can contact Randall. We know he is out checking the herds he takes care of on the 4-wheeler. We have to go home and call him on the phone and hope that he is in a spot where he has cell phone service. If not we figure he will see that the call is from us and will get to a place where he can listen to our message.

Sure enough, Randall doesn’t answer his phone but he shows up shortly after we called him. We are in the process of getting the rest of the cows out-of-the-way so the calving cow won’t be tempted to stay with her herd mates. Randall decides to go look at the cow to see what the situation is while we continue to lead the rest of the herd out of the sight of our problem cow.

Cows on the Rock place

Cows on the Rock place

Soon Randall comes back and asks if the cow we need to get in is number so and so (no I can’t remember her number). “Yes, that’s her” we reply anxiously. There is a big grin on Randall’s face as he informs us that the cow has delivered a big bull calf and it is already trying to get to his feet! I think both Paul and my jaws drop as we splutter out that we can’t believe that cow managed to have a calf when just one leg was showing. How in the world did she manage that? Yes, she is a large bodied, mature cow but still I can’t comprehend how she managed to give birth. The only thing I can figure is that the other leg was right there but perhaps the calf’s hoof was caught on the rim of the pelvic bone. Perhaps the cow managed to exert enough force to pop that hoof loose and the rest of the calf followed easily. We will never really know but we were certainly grateful that we didn’t have to trail the cow to the house and pull her calf.

Even though Randall wasted his time coming up to “help” us, I think it was worth it to him just to see the look of disbelief on our faces when he reported that the cow we thought was in so much trouble had calved! Later, Nancy

Another gorgeous sunrise at Rock Hill Ranch

Another gorgeous sunrise at Rock Hill Ranch

 

Fall calving tales of 2014

Hello,

A few of the "girls" that were having their first calves this fall

A few of the “girls” that were having their first calves this fall

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.

One of the heifers calves

One of the heifers calves

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.

A really bad photo of Paul preparing to tag this cow's calf. Notice how she has her chin protectively on her baby.

A really bad photo of Paul preparing to tag this cow’s calf. Notice how she has her chin protectively on her baby.

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!

284 tied up so the guys can let her unwanted calf nurse

284 tied up so the guys can let her unwanted calf nurse

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.

A mature cow warily watching we humans. The calf will soon be sporting an ear tag.

A mature cow warily watching we humans. The calf will soon be sporting an ear tag.

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.

baby calf portrait

baby calf portrait

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.

A fall calf peering at me over one of our stone fences that Paul hasn't restored yet.

A fall calf peering at me over one of our stone fences that Paul hasn’t restored yet.

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.

A cow with her new baby

A cow with her new baby

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.

These fall calves are a few weeks old.

These fall calves are a few weeks old.

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.

Fall colors, unfortunately this is sumac and it is an unwanted plant on the prairie. Fortunately this isn't our pasture:) It is gorgeous in the fall.

Fall colors, unfortunately this is sumac and it is an unwanted plant on the prairie. Fortunately this isn’t our pasture:) It is gorgeous in the fall.

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!

Dalton and Jake in the background feeding cows

Dalton and Jake in the background feeding cows

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 :).

This is Dalton's cow Flower giving her calf Petal a spit bath:)

This is Dalton’s cow Flower giving her calf Petal a spit bath:)

The results of the spit bath Petal received

The results of the spit bath Petal received

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.

This sunrise looked like the prairie was on fire. No camera tricks either.

This sunrise looked like the prairie was on fire. No camera tricks either.