Sunday, March 22, 2015

Not Belize

Seth and Leah spent their spring break at the ranch. Yesterday as we were riding horses through the Wapello sandhills, we joked about their choice of destination during their week-long college vacation. “There was sand, maybe not beach sand . . . but still!”

They successfully pulled two calves, one backwards and one with a leg back, then delivered a pair of tangled twins that didn’t make it. They weighed yearlings; Leah learning how to run the scales. They moved pairs, which was a semi-wild affair with young babies and concerned mothers. And on their last day of break they moved drys, those cows still to calve, to new pastures. Oh, and they fed cows of course. Leah got the hang of the new used diesel truck and figured out it’s pretty easy to keep Seth on the bed and to steer around the calves.

We made a drive up to our summer range at 6500 ft elevation. It was pretty sobering when you know that on a normal year we would still be snowed out at 5500 ft. We were kicking up dust most of the way. We stopped at Brush Creek to look around and Seth snuck up on slumbering cutthroat trout on a quiet waterway that should be rushing with snow melt.

We had some good conversations throughout the week. You always will if you spend time with Seth. He is a homebody with an international focus, if that’s possible. I guess we all have divergent parts of our personality, but his are more pronounced than most. Leah is just good company, cheerful to tag along at whatever needs done.  

They're grappling with those difficult career, educational, relationship decisions that all young people face. Seth graduates in May and then what? I wish we could reassure them that even though next steps seem life altering, massive, monumental, that in truth things will work out fine if, as Gary says, "you'll just let 'em." There's lots of time and room to make mistakes and make corrections and figure it out on the fly. Two more able kids we cannot imagine.  

It was grand having them here. I don’t know how they felt about using their spring break to help us. But, after all, they’re at that stage where they delight in each other’s company no matter what they’re doing. Remember that?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Twin Work

We had three sets of twins enrolled in the ranch's risk management program. Today we collected on one set.

Mark found a dead calf this morning that he thinks had both front legs back. Luckily the cow was okay. Mark loaded the dead calf and fetched the cow to the barn with his favorite mount, Jane. He then skinned the calf while I milked out the cow and tried to suckle one of the twins on her.

To “suckle” means just as you’d expect, put the cow in a head-catch and put the calf to her udder. The baby was having none of it though. He probably wasn't hungry enough and when they’re a few days old they don’t like being handled and can refuse to nurse. I tied the cow’s leg back but she was still trying to kick and scared him even more.  

I got a good pitcher of the cow’s colostrum, her first milk. Just like humans, the mother’s first milk is loaded with antibodies and critical for the calf’s future immune system. And in fact, things need to go pretty right because the calf’s stomach can only absorb these antibodies in the first 12 hours or so of life, so getting up and sucking right away is crucial.We like to have extra colostrum on hand for this very reason as once in awhile we might need to step in and help. We have an old relic of a refrigerator, the kind with a lever handle, in the barn to store the milk.

Even though the grafted calf didn’t want to suck just yet, Mark put the skin on it and poured a little O-NO-MO on his head. It’s a product that claims “orphan no more,” and is made from granular dried placenta. It must taste salty as the cows lick it and start to bond with the calf. This cow licked as intended and then hummed to her now reincarnated calf - that motherly, soft coaxing murmur we hear only when a mother addresses her baby. Cows don’t say much, but this vocalization is unmistakable. 

Speaking of twins, we celebrated Jesse’s kids’ third birthday today. It was a nice gathering of family and friends with pizza, ice cream and cake, and lots of March sunshine coming through their south facing windows. It’s fun to watch Jesse with his kids. I even think - yes I’m sure of it - I heard him humming to them once or twice today.   

beautiful and thick

she thinks she thought of him

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

It Must be March

It’s raining calves here on the ranch. Mark has a running tally and tags the newcomers when they are one day old. 

The cows expecting their first or second calf are in one field, the veteran mothers in another. Mark keeps a close watch on the heifers, the neophytes, but lets them all calve on their own for the most part. He walks a thin line, letting them do what nature has equipped them so well for, and also being around should they need assistance. If there’s a problem, it’s most likely a mal-presentation, a leg back, head down, etc. In these cases we fetch a horse and walk the cow into a nearby corral and haul her to the barn for help.

We have two sets of twins so far. They come at the front end of calving season, arriving early like human twins will. The cow is okay nursing two for a while until they get too big, then we’ll steal one to graft on another cow that loses a calf as the season progresses. We keep the twins and their moms in the corral so they get extra feed. In closer quarters away from the larger herd it’s also easier for them to keep track of each other.

Jesse and I arrived with two trucks to the feed ground today and found Mark with a grin on his face. He had been out checking cows on his 4-wheeler. “Guess what I saw this morning?” I thought he was going to tell us about a coyote or eagle scavenging on the calving ground. Instead he told us that while making his early rounds, and while the frost was settled all across the sagebrush to the east, and there wasn't a cow in sight . . . all of a sudden a shaft of steam burst upwards out of the brush. A new life! He had caught that cool moment from a totally different visual vantage point - when the calf slips from the birth canal surrounded with warm amniotic fluid and breathes its first breath.

It's happening on and off all day and night for a while. A mini-drama in a world of cows.

The mother of the twins, not so sure about entering the barn

getting used to two

this one is taking too long and might need help