Sunday, October 31, 2010

Late Spring 2005

Calving for 2005 was finally finished in mid-May when Michael’s old “granny cow” calved. She had twins the year before (twin heifers, which they kept, one for each of their kids) and was a little slow to breed back. That worked out ok, however. She was perfect for gentling and training the 50 heifers they bought that winter. She and our dear old Rhiney (which we sold to Michael and Carolyn in the last batch of cows we sold them) lived with those heifers and gentled them down and led the in-labor heifers into the barn. Rhiney calved before the heifers finished calving, but old Granny cow hung in there to the end, babysitting their last heifer that calved a few days before Granny did.
The next weekend—when Michael and Carolyn’s kids were home from school to help—they brought their last group of cows, with the youngest calves, down from our upper ranch to brand and vaccinate. They did this on the weekend while their kids were home, since Michael was still unable to ride a horse, with his broken hand. After we branded their group, we branded and vaccinated our little herd, all except Peggy Sue, the calf with the broken leg. When we got done with the main group, we brought Alex and Fergie (two bottle calves) around from the barn, leading them with their bottles, and branded them also.
The next week, we took the back half of Peggy Sue’s cast off and wrapped the leg with stretchy adhesive. This half cast would support the leg awhile longer but without restricting it as it grew. A couple weeks later we took the cast off completely. The bone mended nicely but the calf was a little gimpy because the tendons had been immobilized and needed to stretch. Without the cast on, she could finally go out of the barn; she her mother were happy to have green grass.
A neighbor helped Carolyn round up their big group of cattle from our lower place and brought them up to the corrals to sort off several old cows that wouldn’t be going out to the range. One old cow had been injured and was unable to travel, so she was sorted off to be butchered, and her 2-month-old calf taken to a pen to join the other orphans being raised on bottles.
We helped Michael and Carolyn take their big herd of cattle to the range. Our small herd stayed home on pasture that year, and Lynn and I were still feeding them a little hay in late May—in the small field by our house—to give our other pastures a chance to grow. Then when the grass got a little taller we moved them to our hill pasture above our house and barnyard. Lynn and I hiked up there nearly every day for exercise, and to check on the cows and calves.
That spring Carolyn hurt her knee--a cumulative injury. She’d wrenched it badly several times when working cattle, and while feeding the big bales that Michael couldn't handle with his broken hand. The doctor here sent her to Missoula to have it checked out more fully, and for arthroscopic surgery. The doc in Missoula said only one part was torn loose and she might get by without surgery. He gave her a brace and a prescription for physical therapy.
So, we were getting by. Michael was trying to behave himself and not do too much with his right arm (so the bone/tendon in his finger could heal without being torn loose again) so he could eventually have proper use of that finger again. It's hard for a rancher to hold back and not do his work, however. He was hoping he hadn't torn it loose the first evening he got home from Missoula after his surgery, when he was still under the influence of pain medication and couldn't feel his hand. Lynn and Andrea had done the feeding that morning, but Michael and Carolyn drove up the creek to check on their little bunch of late calving cows (on our upper place), after they got home that evening. One old cow had calved and didn't mother the calf. The calf was wandering around trying to suck any cow it could latch onto, and was getting kicked. Carolyn carried the calf across the field to the gate, but Michael helped her get it into their car; they brought the calf home and put it in the basement with the little premature calf (Red Chili Pepper) they'd been bottle feeding. Michael was afraid he might have used that arm too much, and hoped he hadn't put too much pull on the tendon/bone fragment that had just been screwed back to the finger bone.
With her injured knee, Carolyn wasn't able to do her work for a while either (irrigating, riding range and moving cattle) so Lynn and I were pinch-hitting (we call ourselves the battery backup!) and helping out as much as we possible. I helped ride range and moved cattle and Lynn helped irrigate.
In our profession (as cow caretakers) we can't afford to be sick or laid up. We take it on as a full time every-day-of-the-year job. The cows own us, not the other way around! But we crazy cow people seem to thrive on this type of commitment. I think it serves us in good stead for learning the important lessons of life. We are definitely dedicated.
Andrea and her kids were doing fine that spring, though the 2 oldest ones (Emmy and Charlie) had their tonsils out in early June, in hopes to try to reduce the amount of colds and ear infections they were always getting.
On the last day of school Michael and Carolyn’s daughter Heather (in 8th grade) received several awards (student of the year, and an award for having straight A's). We did our chores early that morning, in time to go see her get those awards, and then rushed off to the elementary school to watch little Emily's school program (she was Cinderella).
Michael and Carolyn brought the two calves from their basement to live with the rest of the bottle calves here at our place. We put all 5 orphans in our back yard next to the horse pens. They were glad to have more room and enjoyed running and bucking.

Then in mid June they were joined by yet another orphan. One of Michael and Carolyn’s young cows at one of their rented pastures got on her back in a ditch and died. They decided to bring her 2-month-old calf home to raise with the other bottle babies. Carolyn’s injured knee was still in a brace and she wasn’t able to ride a horse yet, so I went with Michael to help round up the orphan calf. We brought that calf with a small group of cows to a corral where Lynn and Carolyn helped sort him off and load him into the trailer. We hauled him home to our place and put him behind a panel in a corner of the pen where the other calves were, and finally got him gentled down enough to suck a bottle. After a few days he was able to be out with the others, and we were feeding all 6 with bottles. Every time Emily came out to the ranch she enjoyed helping feed them.

This was a record year for orphans, and the grandkids had fun making pets of them, and helped carry the bottles out at feeding time for the Calf-a-teria. There were too many bottles to hold, so we used bottle holders hung on the gate.
The sassiest pet was little Red Chili Pepper, who spent the first part of his life in Michael’s basement being pampered by Heather and Nick.
Part of the joy of ranch life is watching kids and grandkids interact with the animals. For all its hardships, we are glad we’ve been ranchers, able to give our kids and grandkids a chance to experience the wide variety of “real life” adventures.

Friday, October 15, 2010

October 15, 2010 Spring 2005 – Calving Season Continued…

In March 2005 our local gift shop began selling my new book Beyond the Flames. We’ve also been giving copies to many friends, including the folks who own the local feed store. They lost a son in a car accident the year before, and were trying to comfort a young woman who had just lost a child. After reading our book, in which I told about the support group at the burn center in Salt Lake (for recovering burn survivors and their families), and how much this had helped us and many others, they were inspired to start a support group in our community for parents who have lost children. Lynn and I were very pleased to know that our story has been a help to other people.
Michael and Carolyn’s cows were nearly done calving when our little herd of cows started calving in late March. We’d brought our cows down from the big field above our house and sorted out the ones that looked like they would calve first, putting them into the big “maternity pen” near the house where we can check them easily during the night. The day we sorted them one young cow, named Freddy, was very restless, getting up and down repeatedly and wandering around. We put her into the calving pen by the house at 4:30 a.m. (Easter Sunday morning), where I could watch her out the window, using my flashlight, since it wasn't daylight yet. We were worried about her calving so early, several weeks ahead of her due date.

By 5:30 a.m. she had a bloody discharge so we put her in the headcatcher and checked her. The cervix was fully dilated, with the calf starting into the birth canal, but his head was slipping off to one side. The calf was tiny, but still having trouble coming into the birth canal, so we thought he was dead. He was very small and thin, probably needing 3 more weeks' growth in the uterus. Michael helped us pull the calf, which was still alive upon delivery, with a strong heartbeat, but we couldn’t get him breathing. His air passages were full of thick mucus and though we tried to clear them, and I blew air into one nostril (holding the other nostril and mouth shut), it didn't seem like the air was getting to the lungs--it was coming back around into the mouth. The calf never took a breath on his own and soon died. But one of the twin calves that Michael and Carolyn were raising on a bottle was in a handy pen nearby, and before we let Freddy out of the headcatcher we brought the twin (Bambi) to her and it nursed. We rubbed birth mucus from the dead calf all over the little twin and when we turned Freddy loose she thought the orphan calf was hers. They bonded nicely.

We thought that was the happy ending to the story. But Freddy was still in pain and did not pass her afterbirth, nor any bowel movements. She loved the adopted calf, but was so miserable that she spent all her time lying down; we'd periodically get her up and make her stand up long enough for the adopted calf to nurse. By evening we knew she needed medical attention, so we put her in the headcatcher again and gave her a gallon of mineral oil and 2 gallons of water (to try to get things moving again in her gut), antibiotics, and a shot of oxytocin to help her "clean". Sometime after midnight (early Monday morning) Michael and Carolyn checked on her again and she'd had another calf! Another tiny premature calf, but this one was alive and had his head up, and the cow had licked him dry (his short, velvety hair was completely dry). He was too premature and weak to stand up, so we carried him to the little trailer house to warm him and give him a bottle of colostrum. He weighed only 30 pounds and was at least 3 weeks premature.

He developed pneumonia from being chilled (and because of immature lungs), and spent several weeks in intensive care. Michael and Carolyn they took him home the second night, to make a better place for him in their basement. Their kids were out of school for a week (Easter vacation) and little Heather (age 13) spent a lot of time with the calf, rubbing and petting him, which seemed to help stimulate him to try to live. They trickled a little milk down his throat every 2 hours with a dose syringe. Young Heather worked with him a lot, trying to get him to suck her finger—and finally got him sucking a bottle again. She stayed with him the most of 2 days, reading books, listening to music, and he seemed to enjoy the attention. She named him Red Chile Pepper, and we gave the calf to her.
He soon became stronger, trying to stand up. Before long he was running and bucking around the basement and they made a barricade to keep him in his corner. Nick liked to get down on his hands and knees and play with the calf, butting heads with him. Meanwhile, Freddy was doing better, too, passing manure and eating and drinking again, and enjoying her adopted calf.

Then in early April we had a newborn calf that suffered a broken leg. The cow stepped on its hind leg soon after it was born. When the little heifer tried to get up, she couldn't put any weight on it. We had to hold the calf up while it nursed the first time. We put a splint on the leg, but our makeshift job wasn't adequate so we had our vet come out and put a cast on it. Then the little heifer was able to get up and around, and nurse on her own, and even tried to run and buck.

Our only previous experience with broken bones in a young calf was one our neighbor gave us 30 years earlier; he had a newborn calf that got stepped on, breaking off about 4 inches of its lower jaw (which was just hanging there, by the skin). He was going to shoot the calf, then thought about us. We've always tried to save every animal. So we drove to his place and brought the calf home in our old volkswagon. Our kids (who were quite small then) and I held onto the calf in the back seat. After we got the calf home, I tried to reposition the broken-off part of the jaw as best I could, fitting the bones back together, then we taped it in that position with stretchy adhesive tape. We knew we could feed the calf via stomach tube, inserted through the nostril, so it wouldn't matter that his mouth was taped shut. We'd been using a stomach tube to give fluids to calves with scours (back in the days before someone invented esophageal feeders with a probe that goes down the throat). Our patch job on that calf worked nicely and his jaw healed in less than 3 weeks--and you'd never know it had been broken. If you felt the bone carefully, you could feel a small pea-sized lump on one side of the jaw, probably where I hadn't gotten the bones back together quite perfectly.

Our calf with the broken leg had to live in the barn with her mama--she could not be allowed to get the cast wet or it would disintegrate. A few hours after our vet put the cast on, it started to rain, so we were glad we have a barn. To make sure the cast stayed dry, we watered the cow several times a day and took the tub away after she drank, since calves always like to dunk their feet in their mama's water tubs!

That was a spring for broken bones. Our son Michael damaged his ring finger on his left hand April 9 when they were rounding up their cows and calves to brand. It was a cold, windy day, and he hadn't ridden his young horse all winter (that was his first ride in the spring) and the horse started bucking. Michael was trying to hold the horse’s head up, and the pulling pressure of the reins—which also jammed his finger into the saddle--tore the tendon loose from the bone in that finger, tearing out a chunk of bone with it, retracting the bone fragment up the finger. His ring probably kept it from going clear back up into his hand, but he soon had to take the ring off, before the swelling was too great to get it off.

He didn't know whether the finger was broken or dislocated (he couldn't bend it after that, and it swelled immediately) and didn't go to the doctor because he continued on with the roundup and branding, and the next day had to help a neighbor brand. His days were so busy he didn't go to a doctor (even though the finger was huge and black and would not bend) until 9 days later, when the swelling finally went down enough that he could feel a piece of bone moving around in the upper part of his finger, and a splinter of bone at the end of his finger. So he had to go to a specialist in Missoula, Montana to have surgery on it, to pull the tendon back into place and screw that bone piece (with the tendon attached to it) back on.

He was stressed and upset because he needed to be here to feed his cows. But we assured him that Lynn and Andrea could do that while he and Carolyn were gone. Andrea came to the ranch right after she put little Emily on the school bus, and I took care of her younger kids while she drove the big truck. We managed to do their chores and look after the cows that were still left to calve.

Michael was also upset about having that arm in a cast for 6 weeks to keep the hand completely immobile as it healed. A rancher can never be sick or absent from the job. But Lynn helped Carolyn feed the cows and Michael could drive the truck. He still managed to do a lot with one hand, driving the tractor to load hay, helping with neighbors’ brandings, and was also able to do some irrigating, even though it was a challenge to wield a shovel.

That spring my dad was facing surgery, too—on his shoulder. At 86 years old he wanted to have it repaired so it wouldn’t be so painful, and so he could continue to do a few things. Life sure doesn't get easier as we get older, but maybe our spirits get stronger so we can handle it. But the challenges never end. It seems like when we get to where we can struggle over one hurdle, another one looms higher. The journey is quite amazing, and it's just a good thing we don't know (when we're younger) where it leads. We would not have the strength, courage and wisdom to handle it.

I thank God that we are given the ability to handle life as it comes along, but it's not easy, and we seem to need lesson reinforcements all along the way. I guess it's for the best that we get toughened up and softened down as we go along. If we were suddenly thrust into old age and various physical challenges, we could NOT handle it. We seem to need the wisdom, tolerance, mellowing and love that are gradually gained through the adversities we meet along the way. As our bodies weaken, our spirits can grow stronger. I sometimes wonder if a person could truly gain maturity without the challenges. We humans seem to take the easy road if we can, and maybe we need the lessons in order to truly grow.

Friday, October 1, 2010

October 1, 2010 Calving Season 2005

We had a nice Christmas, spending the afternoon and evening out at Andrea's place enjoying those grandkids, and feeling very blessed to still have our daughter, and to have those lovely children.

January 2005 started out cold. Even with our wood stoves going, it was often down to 55 degrees in my office in the early mornings when I was typing, so Lynn got me a tiny electric heater that sits by my desk. I was finishing a book on handy hints for horsemen (Stable Smarts), and working on the final stages of The Horse Conformation Handbook. My book Beyond the Flames had been published, and I was writing many letters, sending some of those books to friends who’d ordered them at Christmastime.

During January I was busy doing several writing projects--articles for horse and cattle magazines, and checking over the edited manuscript for my book on getting started with beef and dairy cattle. I hoped to get most of these projects done before we began calving. We calved in January for more than 30 years (to have the cows bred in April before they went to summer BLM range) but after we sold most of our cows to our son Michael (and he began using our range permit) our herd was small enough to stay home on our private pastures and we can calve whenever we want--so that year our cows were bred to calve in late March.

Granddaughter Emily had her 7th birthday in January and little Sammy turned 2 years old. Lynn and I planned to go out to Andrea’s place for a combined birthday party but we all had colds and decided to postpone.

In early January we helped Michael and Carolyn work their cows (giving the important vaccinations prior to calving) and they moved their cattle to our lower fields, in preparation for calving. They also brought a load of poles and several fence jacks to make portable jack fence panels. Young Heather and Nick spent a couple evenings after school helping them build the jack fence to create a wing out in the field, for getting the pregnant cows in through the corner gate whenever they needed to bring one to the calving barn. With the wing to funnel them toward the gate, they can't run off and get away so easily. The panels can later be picked up with a tractor and loader and removed from the field so they won't be in the way for haying. The kids helped hold up the long poles while Michael nailed them to the jacks.

Those kids were getting big enough to be a lot of help to their parents. They help on weekends, sorting out cows to put into the "maternity field", watering the cows and new calves in pens and barn, shuttling cows with new babies down to the lower field. I remember when our kids were that age; we made a good crew, and it looks like these guys are, too. That's the nice thing about being on a ranch--you get to do lots of things as a family. Even though it's "work", some of the projects can be pretty exciting (almost too exciting sometimes, with wild cows). That winter, they often ate dinner with us on Sunday nights after they got done with their chores. Since they were using our calving facilities and spent a lot of time here during calving, we got to interact with them quite a bit and that was fun too--sharing all our wild cow stories. And the grandkids got to hear some family history about all the crazy things their Dad and aunt Andrea did growing up.

The first new calves arrived in late January and by the first of February Michael and Carolyn had 21 new babies, including 3 born down in the lower field. Michael brought those babies up to the barn in a big plastic sled. They had several sets of twins. One pair was born down in the field and he put both calves in the sled to bring them to the barn, with mama following. Our own cows hadn’t started calving yet, so Lynn and I weren’t doing night shifts yet. On my birthday we drove out to Andrea’s place for a few hours and enjoyed seeing her kids, then that evening Michael and Carolyn and kids came for supper at our place after they finished their evening feeding.

By mid-February, 85 of their cows had calved, with about 160 more to calve. One cold night, another newborn calf had to be brought up from the field in a sled pulled behind a 4-wheeler, but that particular cow wouldn't follow her calf to the barn. Most cows are good mothers and follow along, staying right with the calf, but this cow (one they bought the year before) was wild and ran off, and they couldn't get her in from the field. She's the kind that would jump over a fence or crash over a stall partition in the barn, so they left her out in the field and brought the calf to their little trailer house to warm and dry, and fed it a bottle. When they took it back out to the cow, she didn't want it--kicking it viciously. They decided to give the calf to Swifty, a sweet little cow that lost her set of twins the night before. The wild, mean cow will become hamburger.

Swifty is much nicer and belongs to granddaughter Heather (age 13 at that time) and everyone was feeling badly that she'd lost her twins. Those calves were presented backward and all tangled together, and dead by the time Swifty’s labor was obvious and Michael brought her in from the field to put in the chute and check her and assist the birth. Swifty adopted the rejected calf; she still wanted a baby.

The 50 heifers Michael and Carolyn bought (to increase their herd numbers) were wild and flighty, so they were living in a corral near our other barn, which could provide shelter for those new babies. There's a lane between the corral and the barn, so it wasn’t too hard to get a wild heifer into the barn, especially since our dear old "Rhiney" (Rhinestone Rhonda) was living with the heifers. She was 15 years old that spring and we’d used her for many years to lead our heifers into the barn. We sold her to Michael and Carolyn in one of the batches of cows we sold to them, and they used her for the same purpose.

She would march into the barn, heifer following, then turn around and come back out, so you could slam the door on the heifer. If there were no other cows in the barn, we could leave Rhiney in there with the heifer, in an adjacent stall, to keep her company if the heifer was really wild and needed a buddy in the barn. So Rhiney was still earning her keep, and they were hoping she wouldn’t calve until late in the season, so she could continue to do her job. She worked for wages--we always had to give her a "cookie" after her job (a flake of alfalfa hay). Then she willingly marched to the barn whenever we called her name.

Andrea and kids were doing well that winter, and little Danielle was growing fast. At 3 1/2 months old she weighed more than 12 pounds--making up for being so tiny when she was born. Emily was enjoying 1st grade and learning to read. She often read her books to me over the phone and was quite proud of her accomplishments. She decided to sign up for wrestling (the grade school has a wrestling program) and she was excited about that. She was very sturdy and strong for her age, and was able to outwrestle most of the boys in first grade!

Andrea continued to recover from her burn injuries 5 summers earlier, but "recovery" is a forever thing. The doctors in Salt Lake wanted her to go back to the burn center that spring for a couple more surgeries, to correct some graft contractures (one in her armpit and upper arm, and one on the little finger of her right hand) where the contracting scar tissue was pulling on her joints. She didn't want any more surgeries, however, and kept putting it off.

Lynn and I were feeling our age that winter and started hiking every evening after chores, walk about a mile up our horse trail from the house. Some days we’d go farther, up a steep trail into a mountain pasture. With our smaller cow herd and fewer chores to take care of them, we realized we weren't getting the exercise we used to (and me not riding range every day in summer--now I just ride occasionally to help the kids move cattle). Sitting at a desk typing is not a good way to stay fit. My cholesterol levels had risen sharply after I became less active, and Lynn was overweight, so we made a commitment to hike every evening. I never thought I'd have to resort to "artificial exercise" but our lives changed drastically after the summer of 2000 when we started cutting down our cow herd (selling more to Michael and Carolyn) and doing less active things, like baby tending and helping Andrea, and typing articles full time instead of being outside working so much of each day. So... it was time to do something about it.

As we pondered the changes in our lives, we realized this journey has been amazing. These are definitely not the paths we would have chosen, but Lynn and I feel this trek has made us more "alive", more aware, and more able to love other people. We look back on that abrupt "detour" in July 2000 and now realize that it's the most wondrous (though definitely not the easiest!) route our lives could have taken--the most awesome trip. And it's on-going. Once we made that screeching turn off the main road, we entered an entirely different landscape. It took awhile to really see it and appreciate it, and the path is still opening up, but what a change it's been from that freeway we were whizzing along on so nonchalantly! So much more now, to see and feel, so much new stuff to try to soak in and assimilate, so many people crossing our path, and now we find we have the ability to see a kinship with them. We can really "see" people now, for who they really are, and know that we are kindred spirits under all the superficial layers we used to wrap ourselves in. The connectedness is awesome, and a lot of these people we meet, we end up sharing our journey with--we trudge along together and find joy and meaning in the travel, and we share a sense of wonder at the breathtaking glimpses of what life is really all about.

Yes, it's been an awesome detour and I can honestly say that now Lynn and I (and Andrea) are not sorry that it happened. We can look past the tragedy, and the changes we had to make, without bitterness or regret. The terrible pain, the uncertainty, the horrible fear and worry as we plunged into the dark unknown, have been mostly dissipated (or made endurable) and replaced by Love and peace, and a calm understanding that there is a hand that guides us. We can tackle the rest of the journey with more confidence, and even with joy, because now we know we are loved. Now we know we can trust. Before, these were intellectual concepts; though we had glimmers of "seeing", we were mostly enveloped in mundane stuff that stood in the way. Now, we know these things in our hearts and not just our minds, and the mundane stuff has been effectively ripped enough that we can step through it and beyond it, and sometimes be truly free of it--free to love, free to be, free to experience the joy of being loved for what we are, which includes a new commitment to be the best that we can be--in loving, in helping other people.

A friend that I came to know because of our mutual traumatic journeys told me she is grateful for the many gifts her accident (that left her partially paralyzed) afforded her. She feels connected now to the pain of other people, and to the possibilities of a heart change spawned by such pain. This is a metamorphosis that comes from entering into and passing through the dark unknown of a life-changing crisis. She said, "To those who walk in that darkness and all those beautiful people who have been changed because they stepped into it and through it with their faith intact, I feel connected. It's not a path I'd have chosen, had I been given a choice, but having come through it a better person, I can honestly say I COULD do it again. It's funny how people will say, 'I could never handle it like you have.' The truth is, they could."

She pointed to the story about a man who carried his cross to Jesus and said it was too heavy and he wanted another one. Jesus told him to put it in a certain room and go pick out another cross to bear. The man was overwhelmed when he saw how big the other crosses were and finally found one he thought he could handle. When he took it to Jesus and said he couldn't believe the size of those other crosses but had found one he was sure he could carry, Jesus said, "That's the one you brought in."

We think we've got it tough until we see someone struggling with a bigger cross, a harder one. Then we realize we can carry our own. It's all a matter of perspective. Each of us has a cross, but no matter what it is, our Lord helps us bear it--so our own is definitely the one we want.

So, I continue my own journey with joy, and a lot more faith. Even though worry and hurry still creep in, it doesn't take much to step out of that trap and shake it off and once again breath the clean, pure air and peace of this blessed detour. Though we shall always walk with a limp because of our encounter (a person never emerges unscathed through such a life-changing detour), we rejoice, for like Jacob wrestling with the angel, we did not let it go until it blessed us. We know we can manage now, in spite of our impairments and inadequacies, our loss, or our wound scars. We know we can manage because we have a wonderful Guide for the rest of our journey, and He will see us through the tough spots.