Monday, March 14, 2011

Early Winter 2006

In November we had several inches of snow and then the weather turned cold. Andrea drew an elk tag for the hunt in our area, and Lynn went hunting with her, making a 7-mile hike in Mulkey Creek, which is very steep terrain. They saw lots of elk tracks, but no elk. The tracks were all heading down out of the high country. One of our neighbors had more than 100 elk grazing on his ranch and eating in his haystacks.
Andrea finally got her elk on one of the last days of hunting season, after hiking all day on our cattle range and catching up with the elk just before dark. This was the most hiking she’d done since her burn injuries 6 years earlier. Lynn helped her cut up the meat to put in the freezer. After getting a deer earlier in the fall—that she shot from her back porch one morning—she and Mark had a good supply of winter’s meat.
Also in November Andrea took Emily to her team’s wrestling meet it Rexburg, a 4 hour drive. We kept the younger children here for 2 days. They “helped” grandma. While I worked on the book I was writing, they did lots of games and artwork, drawing about 30 pictures—some to take home and some to put up on our walls.
Lynn and Michael (and 13-year-old Nick) made numerous trips up the creek to get firewood, salvaging some of the burned trees in the burned area on our cattle range, from the fire in 2003. We finally had enough wood to get through the winter. The-fire killed trees make good firewood; they are dry and well seasoned--but very black and charred on the outside. The guys came home looking like coal-miners after handling the charred wood. Sawing up the burned trees created a fine dust of soot in the air from the chain saw. This irritated their lungs and made them cough, and they got respiratory infections. Lynn's respiratory problem turned into pneumonia, so he had to go to the doctor for antibiotics.
The cold weather and snow made it impossible for the cows to continue grazing, so we began feeding hay.
The sub-zero weather also created a lot of ice in the creek and it was overflowing and making ice flows down across several of our fields. Michael used our backhoe for a couple days to work on some of the frozen ditch heads to stop the flooding. With the cold weather, deer came into our haystacks to eat. They also started coming onto our feed grounds and chasing the heifers away from the hay we fed.
One of our “fall projects” that we were slow to accomplish was to dig up a water line and replace the leaking hydrant by our calving barn. The previous winter, it froze up during calving season. The “fall list” of projects is always too long, but we finally started working on the water line. Michael dug it up with the backhoe and we replaced the leaky hydrant. They had to bury the water line very carefully so frozen chunks of dirt wouldn’t crush the plastic pipe.
In mid-December Lynn and I helped Michael and Carolyn try to save a cow that had a serious problem after losing her 7-month fetus to a very unusual condition. She had too much fluid in the uterus, distending it grossly and putting pressure on the digestive tract, which shut down her gut. We had to give her massive doses of mineral oil and castor oil to get her gut working again.

Then we had to pull the dead fetus, which was a tough job because it was abnormal and monstrous for its stage of development, and this was an additional stress for the cow. She went into shock, but we turned that around with several gallons of IV fluids and medication to try to reverse the shock and restore circulating blood volume. Her hind legs were paralyzed from the difficult birth, and she was unable to get up or to eat very much, but we kept her going for 3 weeks, feeding her alfalfa pellets soaked in water. We fed this to her in a slurry mixed with 7 gallons of water, feeding her twice daily by stomach tube.

We gave her the mineral oil/castor oil on Dec. 10, and kept up the twice-daily feedings, morning and evening, until after New Years, with one of the grandkids holding the flashlight for us in the evening feedings. The cow was out in the corral at the beginning (and could not get up) and we made a windbreak of hay bales and put tarps over her to protect her from the cold wind and snow.

A few days later we moved her into the barn with the tractor and loader. We put plywood on the loader's hay tines and rolled her onto that and strapped her on, then carried her to the barn and rolled her off.
In the barn, we situated her comfortably in some deep bedding, with bales of straw helping prop her upright

We were able to get her back on her feet using a hip hoist for her hind end and a sling made from a wide lash cinch (from a pack saddle) for her front end. It was quite a challenge!

Her gut finally started working normally and she began nibbling hay and chewing her cud. But she never ate enough and we had to keep feeding her additional food via stomach tube twice daily. The most frustrating thing, however, was her inability to use her legs. Even though we hoisted her up for awhile each day, and she took some of the weight on her hind legs, she would never use her front legs.

They couldn’t straighten out because the tendons had contracted so much from being bent under her so long. The leg joints were swollen, and it was like she’d developed joint infection--perhaps from septicemia due to toxins that circulated through her body when she was in shock.
Finally, after much frustration, we regretfully made the decision to end her life. We’d jerked her back from the brink of death, and she wanted to live, but her inability to stand up on her own ultimately defeated us. We didn’t regret the time and effort spent trying to save her (that’s what raising cattle is all about) but as calving season approached we knew that none of us would have time to continue giving her this much intensive care. And a cow that can’t stand up cannot survive. We reluctantly admitted defeat on saving that cow, and moved on, trying to make up for lost time on our many other tasks.
Michael needed to haul a load of calves to the sale—the calves that were too young and small to sell with the big group in the fall. We also needed to tag, vaccinate and delouse our heifers, and give all the cows their pre-calving vaccinations, but the weather was bitterly cold (30 below zero) and we postponed those projects until early January. Michael helped us vaccinate the cows.
When we finally vaccinated our heifers on a Sunday afternoon during the warmest part of the day, the needle on my syringe kept freezing up—but I had a jar of hot water in an insulated picnic cooler, and I could stick the needle into the hot water to thaw it out.
For several days Carolyn had a very sore, stiff neck with some vertebrae out of place, so that weekend when the kids were home from school they helped Michael do their feeding. Young Heather (age 15) drove the big truck—chained up and loaded with 5 big round bales. She did a good job, and was able to drive up our steep, slippery lane without spinning out; she was becoming a very good truck driver!
I finally got my calving book manuscript (500 pages) finished, and the illustrations and photos for it, by the January 1 deadline, so that was a big relief. I hoped to catch up on some article deadlines before plunging into the next book project (cattle health handbook), which I had to finish by September. I kept biting off big projects, but it helped pay the bills! I don't think we can ever afford to "retire". Our work is too much fun and too necessary, especially since we are still trying to help our kids. Andrea was doing very well but still had a lot of expenses that we were trying to help her with.

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