Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Power of a Good Design

We made it all the way to 78 degrees last week, and today a soft rain is falling. The green and the beauty in our world has exploded. Mount Putnam in the distance never looks more beautiful than this time of year when it's still white, but framed in the foreground with the greens of spring.    

The quakie leaves out our office window are the size of a dime, which is significant only because Grandpa Eldro used to say that when the quakies in the mountains had dime-sized leaves, it was time to turn out the cows. My biologist friends would call it phenology, nature's calendar, in rancher-speak.

The barn is empty at the moment. I was thinking about my last two blogs and how readers might assume we have lots of calving trouble. Not so. What I don’t write about are the “invisible” cows - all those hundreds that calve on their own unassisted. They’re our favorite cows and the ones that make our business sustainable. 

We shipped yearlings out of the new loading facility. Our new “Bud Box,” named for Bud Williams, the now deceased guru of animal handling from Bowie, Texas, worked like a charm. It’s designed in a square with the exit to the chute at a right angle to where the cattle enter. This funnels cattle back to where they came from, so that in their natural inclination to return to familiar surroundings, they load into the stock trailer with little pressure. Our old chute is like most traditional facilities in that cattle go straight into a smaller loading alley and into the truck, with the handler having to get right behind them in their blind spot, which cattle don’t like. In the new scenario, we work them from their side where they can see us and remain calm.

And the new chute is safe - for livestock and their human handlers. I’m forever campaigning (not complaining, campaigning) for our equipment and cattle handling facilities to be safe enough for anyone to use - young and old, male and female, experienced or not.

I have always believed in and appreciated the power of a good design. The Bud Box is one example; it lubricates, simplifies, even beautifies the art of cattle handling. 

thanks Bud

coming off the scales, Gary and Seth

what remains of the old chute to the left . . . and the new

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Must be April

Two days ago we woke to a couple inches of fluffy snow. Yuck. Today looks much better. The willows are greening, the most delicate of chartreuse. Catkins are drooping along the poplar branches and the grass has pushed up their solar collectors waiting for sunshine. I must get the pruners out and work on the dogwood at the porch. Left to its own proclivities, the bush would obliterate my office window.  

The calving goes along in fits and starts. We’ve had a premature calf dubbed “Penny” that we’ve been tending. She’s a limp rag, like her muscles and skeleton aren’t fully developed. She sucks a bottle eagerly and then falls into a deep womb-like sleep. She was skinny and chilled so I bought her a children’s size LG sweater at the thrift store. I kept trying to get a good photo of her in her sweater, but she looked pathetic in all of them and that just wouldn’t do. We milked her cranky mother for a while and then finally gave her a calf whose mom was sick and not able to produce milk. They were both glad to find a partner and join the herd in the great out-of-doors.  

We have three sets of twins that need supplementation and monitoring. One mother wasn’t sure the second one was hers. And neither was Mark, after he found him alone and made a calculated guess as to which cow he belonged to. We had to put the cow in the barn and stand over her to get her to nurse the interloper. But shortly, another cow birthed a dead calf, so we grafted the rejected twin on the mother cow and now we have two happy couples! Can anyone follow this? I know I get confused!

In the midst of it all, Jesse said the barn looked like a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). It’s been five years since he and Milee welcomed their own set of twins, so he would know. I remember the year they were born as feeling thankful for their new family, but missing Jesse during calving as he spent time in the NICU.  

The latest problem is a calf that was born too big. His head was swollen and he couldn’t stand to suck. His legs buckled under him and he kept falling to one side. Mark managed to suckle him on day three and by that night he was sucking on his own, albeit in a kneeling fashion. He and Penny have the will to live, and if that’s in place, we’ll do what we can to help them. Without it, it’s only frustration for the rancher.    

Jesse took little Penny home for his twins to tend yesterday. Well, Milee will do the tending, but they’ll be in on it. And they’ll learn some lessons along the way.

My other springtime activity is burning dead-fall in the wooded areas around our home. There’s a window of opportunity when the wood is dry enough to burn, but the ground is wet and the air cold. The work is addictive - just one more limb! I love the look when the floor is cleared and the grass can grow. For a few days I came in to the house in the evening looking spent, red-faced, but satisfied. The pups liked going with me. They played, and as the sun fell to the west, the fires were lovely

I think I’m done burning for this year, now where’s my pruners?   

and none too happy about it!

moving drys to the last calving pasture

time to quit adding and watch it burn down