Friday, July 1, 2011

Late Winter 2008

By late January 2008 our calving season was in full swing, but weather was very cold. In mid-January Michael and Carolyn bought their cows down from the Gooch place, leaving cows that had already calved. They sorted out the ones that would calve during the next few weeks, and put them the field below our house (where they could be watched at night and put into the barn if needed).

The newest calf on the Gooch place was born in deep snow and became too chilled to nurse its mother, so they took it home to their house, where they fed it colostrum by stomach tube. It spent the night in the basement and they took it back to its mother the next day.
Two cows calved in the big field on the lower place, so they brought that group up to the corrals to sort, putting the most ready cows in the fields below our lane. Michael and Carolyn hauled the later-calving cows to Maurer’s (their rented place), making 6 trailer trips and hauling the last load just after dark.

Later that night we had a blizzard and severe wind, so they came in the middle of the night to check the calving cows. They had several new babies that had to be put in the barn.
The next day a semi-load of straw (small bales, to use for bedding in the barn stalls) arrived and Michael unloaded it here in our holding pen. He and Carolyn spent most of the day feeding, taking care of new calves, putting straw in both barns and hooking up the light for our old “sick barn” that they now use for calving. They cleaned out the old trailer house so they could stay here nights and watch the cows round the clock. It was too cold for new babies out in the snow (down to 28 below zero several nights). One cow had a set of twins but one was tiny and soon died.

A load of big straw bales arrived last Thursday. After it was unloaded, the empty truck could not make it up our icy driveway, spinning its tires. Michael put a big straw bale on his loader hay tines, and after a couple of tries (and as much speed as he could get from the chained-up tractor going up the lane) was able to push the truck up to the top of the lane, using the straw bale to push with.
Samantha’s 5th birthday was January 15 and Emily baked her a cake.

Emily’s 10th birthday was January 19, and we went to see one of her hockey games. Her team played several games in a tournament that weekend, and won them all. Andrea brought a cake for Em to share with the team after their final game. We didn’t get to see Em and her siblings very much that winter; Andrea and her kids were staying with a friend at Challis, 70 miles away.
Andrea was having a really tough time. She and Mark were divorcing, and at that point the divorce was far from settled. Mark and his lawyer were pushing for Mark to have custody of the kids, but Mark was physically abusive when Andrea went to pick up the kids at his house (after she let them stay with him a few days). That led to a restraining order, and Mark could only see the children under supervision, at the local family safety center. The judge thought that would be best for the kids, because Mark would not be drinking or abusive in that environment.
We were hoping that eventually Mark might realize that if he’s to have a decent relationship with his children he must make an effort to help make it work, rather than just trying to cause Andrea as much grief as possible. I kept praying that someday he’ll look at the bigger picture—for his sake and the kids. Andrea was suffering a lot of stress because of all the emotional trauma Mark was putting her through, and the financial challenges, but those little kids gave her a purpose to keep going.
Lynn and I were in anguish again that winter (another lesson in priorities) when we learned the sad news that our neighbor’s daughter-in-law shot herself. She’d been going through depression that fall and winter but everyone thought she was doing a little better. Things like this make us reassess our priorities once again and get our small crises into perspective--and spur us to hug our kids and grandkids and be grateful for all our blessings, and to let the small problems run off our backs like gentle rain. It’s not always easy to learn life’s lessons, but more and more I am convinced that our purpose here on this earth is to be more loving, more tolerant, more compassionate and understanding. Life is too short for anything else.
A journey through the burn center certainly puts all of life’s other challenges and traumas into perspective. As an interesting note regarding Andrea’s burn injury, which by that winter was 7.5 years past—Andrea fell off a stool trying to reach a top shelf in her cupboard, and hurt her knee, and the x-ray of her knee showed NINE staples (still there from the skin grafts) in that part of her leg. Three were caught in the knee itself, one was stuck into her femur and the others just floating around in the tissues.
During January, Lynn made bookshelves for our living room, shelves that we’d originally planned to build but never got accomplished—many things got put “on hold” in the years following Andrea’s burn accident. With the new shelves, I spent time sorting and putting many of my stacks of books, magazines, manuscripts, etc. on shelves, getting the piles off the floor. It finally began looking like a living room again, instead of a very cluttered office! That month I also finished the glossary and other final loose ends for my cattle health care book—a companion book for my Essential Guide to Calving, which was published that January.
Our weather in late January became more cold and windy. The wind created such a big snowdrift above our house that Lynn had to plow with the tractor so we could get through the gate with our feed truck to feed our cows. He also plowed the neighbors’ driveways. The drifts were too deep for their cars.

Lynn opening gate to field, in snow Michael and Carolyn had to warm many chilled calves by the stove in their trailer—sometimes so many at once that they used duct tape (writing the mama’s numbers on a piece of tape, stuck to the calf’s back) to make sure they didn’t have any mix-ups when taking the calves back out to their mamas. They took turns checking cows at night, to find any new calves before they froze to death.

It was a tough calving season. Michael and Carolyn bought 150 new cows the previous fall, bringing their total to 450 cows. They had a hired man for a while, but after they found out he wasn’t doing his job during his shifts (resulting in a number of calves freezing to death) they had to fire him—so they were struggling through most of the calving by themselves, with not much chance to sleep.
The coyotes began harassing the cattle, killing 2 newborn calves. One night the cows on the lower place trampled a calf in their efforts to defend their babies. The cold weather and constant night work with the cattle, with very little sleep, took a toll on Michael and he got pneumonia. He finally went to a doctor, who put him on a powerful antibiotic and wanted him to go to the hospital. He refused to go to the hospital because he had too much work to do (they had 18 new calved that day).
One night in early February Lynn and I were awakened by a baby calf bawling by our back door. It had come from a small holding pen where cows with new calves were kept for a day or 2 before going down to the big herd on the lower place. The calf had wandered back toward the barn pens where it had lived day before. We woke Michael and Carolyn and they took it back to its mama.
After our own chores and feeding, Lynn was helping Michael and Carolyn most days, driving a feed truck, helping Carolyn catch and doctor sick calves on the lower place, etc. They were getting some cases of scours (diarrhea)—in calves that were born during the cold weather and didn’t get their colostrum soon enough. The colostrum contains antibodies against calfhood diseases.

Lynn and I were helping our kids as best we could, but we were slowing down in our abilities to be much physical help. Lynn did almost all their town errands, however, which saved them time and energy. And we often let them know whenever there was a calving problem in the groups close by, where we can watch those cows.
When Lynn and I calved in January, for 35 years, we had some challenging weather (a few years that were extremely cold, down to 30 or 40 below zero for awhile) but we lived with the cows and didn’t have as many (only 180 at most)—and our cows were all trained to respect us and to be handled on foot. We put almost every one of them in the barn to calve; whenever we’d see one in labor we’d put her in the barn. We still had to dry some calves in the house by the stove when it was too cold in the barn, or if one slipped by our notice and was born outside, but at least the cows were manageable, which made everything a whole lot easier.

Lynn had to plow driveways again that February, after we had more snow and wind. One of the drifts was more than 3 feet thick and crusted. We hadn’t had that much snow since the year Em was born (1998)—when we had to constantly keep the driveway plowed in case Andrea had to head for the hospital at a moment’s notice to have the baby. Later that same winter it snowed so much it broke power lines and we were without power for 22 hours.
After a short span of warmer weather in mid-February, we had more cold, and a blizzard. Michael and Carolyn had some new babies that had to be warmed up in the trailer house “cow camp” and fed colostrum. Some of the cows they bought the previous fall were so wild and uncooperative they couldn’t get them in from the field to the barn to calve, and when they left them out in the field to calve, the cows wouldn’t follow their newborn calf in the sled. The only alternative was to bring the baby indoors, to warm and feed, then hope the cow would claim it when they took it back to her in the field. One big ornery cow refused to mother her calf after they brought him back, so that calf was living in the trailer along with a couple other “bottle babies” awaiting adoption—to be grafted onto any cows that lose their calves.

One of the house calves was named Tigger, a tiny twin. Tigger was so small and timid that one of the big heifer calves in the house took delight in bullying him, so he’d hide under the table or behind the stove. The big heifer was very aggressive and made herself at home in the trailer house, even jumping up on the bed to sleep!
Our 10-year-old granddaughter Emily was playing ice hockey with our local girls’ team, traveling with the team to various jockey tournaments around Idaho and Montana. She stayed overnight with us one night so Lynn could take her to town early the next morning to catch her ride to Butte, Montana for a game. Parents had to take the kids to the games and sometimes Andrea was unable to go—so Emily went with another family.
Our other grandkids were also doing well in their sports; Heather and Nick were finishing up their basketball season and Nick was ready to start track again. He and another boy from Salmon were invited to go to Australia that summer, to compete in track events, traveling around Australia for 2 weeks. He was really excited about this adventure, and our community helped with fund raising projects to raise money for the two boys to make that trip.

In late February Lynn and I brought our small herd of cows in from the field. Heather and Nick didn’t have school that day and helped us put our cows through the chute and vaccinate them. While putting our cows through the chute, our biggest cow got stuck in the runway. She couldn’t go forward or back, and Lynn had to pound the crosspieces off the tops of the upright posts (crosspieces that hold the runway in place so it can’t widen). Then the uprights had a couple inches of “give” and the cow was able to squeeze on through. After we finished vaccinating the cows we sorted them; we were selling 10 cows and 12 bred heifers to Michael and Carolyn. Michael hauled the 22 head to their leased place where they had about 100 cows that would calve in March and April. Our little group fit right into that herd.
We put the rest of our cows on Heifer Hill, but the snow was so deep that we could hardly drive through it with the feed truck. We had to feed going downhill, so we wouldn’t get stuck.

We kept Andrea’s 3 youngest kids (Dani, Samantha and Charlie) with us for 4 days while Andrea took Emily to the regional hockey meet at Miles City, Montana, nearly 600 miles away. They came through a terrible blizzard on their way home and were held up by a traffic jam on the freeway near Butte, Montana. Several semi trucks had slid off the road and were blocking traffic. They finally got to Butte and stayed there overnight, coming home the next morning.
Some of the “late calvers” at the Maurer place started calving. Michael and Carolyn were exhausted. They were hoping the weather would warm up so they wouldn’t have to check the cows so often at night.
One of the cows Michael bought a couple months earlier at a sale calved at Maurers, and when he went to move her and the calf out of the pregnant cow group, she started pawing the ground before he even got out of his truck. Then she charged him, and all he had for a weapon was an old shovel handle. She kept pounding him with her head and all he could do was keep hitting her on the head with the shovel handle (and knocked one of her horns off) until she finally backed away. He realized that if he’d tried to get away from her she would have knocked him down and killed him. He finally got her and her calf into a different pen—so she wouldn’t be a hazard every time they had to go into the group of pregnant cows.
We had a blizzard the next day, and the power was off for several hours (I cooked lunch on the wood stove). Lynn and I put one of Michael and Carolyn’s cows and new calf into the barn just before the storm hit; the calf was newborn and already chilled in the wind, and would have gotten colder in the blowing snow.
That storm put down several inches of new snow, making it even harder to get around in the deep snow on Heifer Hill, to feed. A few days later we brought our cows down and sorted off a few to leave in the maternity pen here by the house. One young cow, named Kitsel, had been getting more udder for a couple weeks, even though she was not due to calve until early April.
The next morning when we fed, we noticed blood in the snow, and Kitsel had blood on her tail. She wasn’t acting like she was calving; she ate her hay and showed no discomfort at all. But I watched her through the window as I did my morning typing and noticed she discharged some fluid. So after lunch we put her in the headcatcher by the barn and Michael and Carolyn helped us check her. Her cervix was partly open so she was definitely calving, but all Michael could feel at first in the uterus was a mass of spongy tissue that had to be placenta, even though the “buttons” (cotyledons) were not normal. He finally located the calf, very small and coming backward. We gave the cow an IV injection of oxytocin to hasten dilation of her cervix so we could pull the calf.

After we got the hind feet out, the calf wouldn’t come on through the birth canal—even though there seemed to be plenty of room. I was able to put my hand clear up over his hindquarters, through the pelvis, but we finally had to use the calf puller to get him out. When his body finally came out we could see why it was so difficult; his belly was 3 times as large as it should have been!

The placenta, when the cow passed it a few hours later, was abnormal, with no blood in it at all (very pale and clear) and only a handful of normal cotyledons; the rest were big, flat and rotten. Our vet told us later he’s only seen a couple freaks like this, and he had no idea what might cause such an oddity. The bright note, however, was that we were able to graft “Rosie” (Michael and Carolyn’s orphan calf from an old crippled cow) onto Kitsel and they became a happy pair.

Michael and Carolyn sorted off and hauled the last of their pregnant cows from our place to Maurers—so all their calving cows were in one place. The next day, they had another calving problem; one of the cows they bought was trying to have a big calf with head turned back (down underneath its body). Michael was unable to get the head straightened out, and finally had to call the vet—and together the two of them were able to get the calf out. It was dead by then, so Carolyn came back to our place, loaded up Tigger (the last orphan bottle baby) in the pickup cab and took him over to Maurers to introduce him to a new mama.

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