Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kodi gets a Calf

Kodi has sheep. And a pony and goats. She hardly needed a calf, but she was game, or rather her parents and grandparents were game, so she got another animal to add to her menagerie.

Mark brought a little heifer calf in to the barn ten days ago saying perhaps he should have mercifully ended her life because she wasn’t likely to live. If she did live, she would just be another chore for us with so many other chores to tend.

I’ve written about these kinds of instances before. “Remember my line for that?” I asked him. I had described it in my blog like this: “Mark ranches with his heart as well as his head." Of course we would give the calf a chance.

Her head is a little cockeyed, which makes her muzzle slightly offset causing her tongue to slip out the side. She learned to stand on her own, but one hoof turns under and she’s unsteady at best. She can suck a bottle fine, but she can't seem to get the hang of a teat. I've contorted myself morning and evening with the cow in the head-catch trying to get the calf to suck. Holding her up while closing my hand around her muzzle to get the suction required to draw milk is an exhausting affair. Not getting the milk flowing to suit her she would keep pulling off. And not being solid on all fours, she kept collapsing. Plus, her mother has what we call "anvil tits" meaning they're tough to milk. We kept trying, but she never made progress. It would take two of us to suckle her and we'd still have to milk the cow out and give the rest to her in a bottle.  

Maybe we could find a family who would want a pet for the kids to tend? Call cousin Dennis!

The phone call to Dennis yielded his wife Teresa, who brought granddaughter Kodi out the next morning. Teresa happily loaded the calf in the back of her SUV. She even thanked us! Wait, what?

Our Pratt cousins know the value of tending animals. They're 4-H enthusiasts and have helped raise a bunch of community kids through sheep projects for umpteen years. Dennis and Teresa are exemplary grandparents, immersing the grandkids in the life of . . . well. . . living.

They know that through the magic of domestic animals, children learn how to give, how to care for a living being, and about compassion and tenacity. These kids learn to say goodbye, and to accept the sometimes bitter realities of the cycle of life. These lessons will serve them well in the myriad of life situations they’ll face in the future. 

Happy National Ag Day everyone!

p.s. we even had a twin to graft on the cow, gotta love that

Kodi and Bestie

Monday, March 13, 2017

New Neighbors

We’ve had a glorious spring day. It’s been warming, but today the sun came out for the first time without wind since . . . forever. A choir of birds welcomed me on my morning walk to ranch headquarters – red wing blackbirds, meadowlarks, killdeers, robins of course, and a lone chickadee with his two tone lyric. 

We moved the drys (cows that haven’t calved) away from the main herd to a neighboring pasture. That’s always nice for Mark to not have to look through a couple hundred calves to see the new ones.

Seth rode our Muggins horse, and it was such fun to see him out in the herd with his Dad. He and Leah are here for a few months trying out the ranching life. They set up housekeeping in Grandma Bonnie’s home and it’s been grand to see new life there in that sacred space. The future is a big question mark. These kids both work remotely for agriculture firms and have the world by the tail. None of us know just yet how big a role the ranch will play in their future. We’ll just do this one day at a time, knowing that ranching is about relationships after all. Cattle and grass, horses and dogs, water and soil, older generations and younger generations.     

Leah fixed pork loin and seasoned red spuds the other night for their debut dinner party. We had a lovely time visiting and headed home about 9:00 pm. Mark then took his nightly drive through the heifers and called the rest of us back out to tend a prolapse. He had lightly assisted a heifer, a first timer, a few hours earlier. She had gotten up and tended her calf, but for some reason kept pushing and expelled her uterus. The calf was walking around out in the dark looking for his Mom who was in no shape to get him nursed. Leah took off with a flashlight looking for him, a newborn red calf with a brocle face and no mother. Sure enough, she found him and she and I loaded him in the pickup while Seth and Mark put the heifer back together.

Once in a while a cow will prolapse after giving birth; in this case we have no idea why because it was not a difficult delivery. The quickest remedy is to get the tractor and loader and put a tow strap around the cow’s back legs and lift her so that her hindquarters are upside down, which allows gravity to help with the procedure. Seth cleaned the appendage with soap and water and pushed it back inside, and then took a few stitches in the vulva for good measure. (Too much information?) Anyway, it’s messy business, but needs done, and done quickly and cleanly.

It was a mild, still, night. We got both the cow and calf back to the barn and I knelt in the straw to help the calf to his first suckle. A good ending. I’m not sure what Leah, not being raised on a ranch, thought of the whole affair, but it made for a memorable night for her first dinner party on the ranch. 

at the original 1904 homestead ranch headquarters

newly born about two hours after the move

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A New Calf Crop

It’s calving time. Gone are the long winter evenings with time to read and to fall asleep in front of the wood stove. I must like winter because I hate to see February fade to March. March is too close to spring and I don't feel ready for all the work that spring brings to the ranch.       

The weather has been brutal. In my twenty-six years on the ranch, I’ve had a newborn calf in my bathtub only twice, and once was this week. The little fellow came on a particularly bitter night and Mark found him just in time to get him back to the house and a warm tub for a quick thaw. He was fine and sucking the cow by early afternoon.

Usually if a calf needs help, a visit to the barn is all that’s needed. Our calving barn is the oldest building on the ranch still in use. It’s got a lot of character, but could use an upgrade. Sand sifts through the window over the sink, and the heavy sliding door opens and closes only if you really mean it. The door knob into the warm room won’t catch and the carpet remnants on the floor need replaced. This year’s maintenance consisted of a new recycled rope release on the head catch and a new recycled hose reaching from the sink to the corral outside. Those two repairs and a load of straw in the straw room and we were good to go.

But the barn feels good. It’s functional. The warm room is warm. There’s a fridge for extra milk and hot water for washing up. It’s soothingly quiet and dimly lit. The wind can be howling, but inside the cattle are cozy in their freshly strawed stalls. Underfoot are three half-wild barn cats.

We do all we can to promote our momma cows calving naturally outside, but if they need help, the barn is a life saver.   

There's always the occasional dystocia problem, but weather, mostly wind, is a concern. We’re trying out a new weather app that shows wind speed, temperature, and precipitation chance and accumulation by the hour. It said it was going to snow at 11:00 and sure enough it started snowing at 10:55. Tonight we loved to see it was 29 degrees and “felt like” 29 degrees, which meant no wind!   

I posted a photo of the barn on my new Instagram account. It’s like a blog, only none of that annoying stuff to read - just a photo with a line or two of caption. We went to an agriculture seminar where the speaker urged us to reach out to consumers to tell the story of ranching. Who better to combat the anti-agriculture misinformation presented through social media? It's what I'm attempting with this blog but it's always been more about my artistic proclivities.

I can show you reach out. If you want real food you can't beat nutrient dense beef. If you're concerned about industrial agriculture, let me show you a 5th generation tradition. If you think ranchers don't embrace animal welfare, follow Mark around during calving season. 

coaxing him out of the barn

more coaxing

shelter for cats and cows

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