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.