JANUARY – After some very cold weather we had several days of unseasonably warm, windy days. The snow settled, enabling the cows to push through the soft snow and graze a little. Then it got cold again and everything became a sheet of ice.
We brought the heifers to the corral last Saturday to vaccinate. Our driveway was so slippery that we first spread a pickup load of old manure (from one of the manure piles that wasn’t too frozen) along the driveway for traction so we could get the heifers safely moved without them falling down on the ice. We vaccinated and deloused the pregnant heifers and put them in the maternity pen. Then we vaccinated, deloused and tagged (with brisket tags) the weaned heifers. Andrea helped us with the heifers. Her kids stayed in the house because it was such a cold day, and drew pictures and entertained themselves making things with paper, scissors and glue.
Michael and Carolyn hauled some of the old big straw bales from the stackyard on the upper place down to the Maurer place to get ready for calving. They had their first two calves on January 10.
We went to Andrea’s house downtown to celebrate Samantha’s birthday (she was 6 on January 15) and Emily’s birthday (she would be 11 on January 19), and got home in time to do chores before dark.
Then we had 2 weeks of cold, foggy weather in which we never saw sunshine. The trees, fences and cattle were covered with thick frost. Temperatures hovered around zero. Our heifers would soon be calving, so we trained them to come into the calving pen—leaving the gate open and feeding hay in there.
Then we trained them to go into the barn. Our driveway was still a solid sheet of ice and slippery, so Lynn spread dirt/manure (from one of the big piles from cleaning corrals) across the driveway for better traction. We opened the barn doors and put a little hay inside and in front of the barn, and herded the heifers across the driveway and into the pen by the barn. We had to herd them into one of the barn aisles the first time, then on subsequent days just took them to the barn pen and locked them there for an hour and they went in and out of the barn on their own. This would make it much easier, some dark night, to bring a calving heifer in from the maternity pen and put her into the barn.
Some of the big 4 by 4 hay bales we were feeding to the heifers were frozen and difficult to chop apart, and hard to get the frozen strings off. This was hay we bought in the fall of 2007 and didn’t use that winter—we had a carry-over because we leased some of our cows to Michael and Carolyn and didn’t feed up all our hay. We were glad we had hay left over, because it became too expensive to buy; the cheapest hay was $180 a ton. We didn’t buy any, and hoped we had enough to make it through winter. Michael and Carolyn didn’t buy the expensive hay. They sold some cows instead, to try to match their cow numbers with the hay they had on hand.
Saturday evening just before dark our cows were running around on heifer hill. Lynn drove up there to see if wolves or a cougar were harassing them, but couldn’t see anything. The next morning when we went up there to feed, we discovered the fence between heifer hill and the next field was flat. The wires were broken, and 2 fence posts broken off. The cows must have run through the fence in their frantic distress. Several inches of fresh snow covered all tracks, so we couldn’t tell if there was a wolf or cougar involved, but the cows seemed ok. We propped up the fence and spliced the wires back together.
Weather continued cold. The cats liked to sit in the sun on my haystack. In the mornings before we went to feed, our young cats liked to sit on the load of hay in the sunshine, or on the hood of the jeep after we fed, since it was warm after the engine has been running. One morning we thought we’d shooshed all the cats off the hay before we drove to heifer hill to feed the cows, but when we got up there we discovered a hitch-hiker. She was scared and crying, so I took her into the cab and she helped me drive while we fed.
By end of January Michael and Carolyn had 70 new babies. Those cold nights kept them really busy, shuttling cows with calves into their barn and sheds at Maurers.
A mule deer doe came into the field above our house and stayed there several weeks. She was injured, lame on her right hind leg. She grazed the tall grass sticking above the snow, and slept next to our calf houses—and was often inside one of them in the mornings when I went to do chores. Lynn took her some alfalfa hay—leaving it by the calf houses—and she nibbled on that. She eventually recovered enough to jump fences again.
Our heifers were very ready to calve, so I was checking them a few times in the night, looking out the window with our spotlight. Lynn took one of the old big straw bales into the maternity pen with the tractor, and we scattered it around for bedding—under the yard-light where the heifers would be easier to see at night
Lynn’s sister Jenelle had an exciting experience when one of her weaned calves got into the old house next to their corrals, and went upstairs. It was afraid to come back down the steep, narrow stairway and was stranded up there, bawling. When Jenelle tried to herd it back down, it went into one of the old bedrooms and nearly jumped out the 2nd story window. She called her neighbor, on her cell phone, and he came to help her rescue the calf. They had to rope it. The calf balked the first time they aimed it down the stairs, and got away from them again, but they finally got it herded down the stairs.
FEBRUARY - Andrea took 6 year old Samantha to the emergency room at the hospital one night in early February. She awoke with a terrible headache and high fever and Andrea couldn’t get the fever down. The doctor gave Sam IV fluids and medication. She had fever and headaches for 5 days, and they never figured out what was causing the problem. Andrea continually gave her medication to reduce her fever, especially at night—when it seemed to be the highest.
We bought a small load of straw—18 big bales (7 tons). Straw was expensive, $70 a ton, but we didn’t have any left from the winter before. Lynn put one of the big bales on our flatbed pickup and we backed into each of the 4 barn aisles to spread it. One bale was just the right amount of straw to straw down the whole barn.
Our heifers have been itching in spite of delousing them a month earlier when we vaccinated them, so Lynn put up a rope between the light pole and the fence and hung a dust bag of lice powder on it. He also wrapped burlap sacks around the light pole, affixed with net wire, and saturated the burlap with delousing oil. The heifers enjoy scratching on that, and delousing themselves at the same time.
One morning when I got up at 5 a.m. to type an article, I checked the heifers with my spotlight out the window as usual, and nothing was happening, but by 6:30 I could see one of them was calving. When we went outside to bring her to the barn, we discovered 2 were calving. So Alex Annie and Rosalita went to the barn together. It was nice that they already know the way. Even though it was still dark, they trooped right across the driveway and into the barn with no problems.
Alex calved first—a little bull calf we named Alexander the Small. He got chilled quickly, since it was only 10 degrees in the barn (before sunup). He didn’t find her udder before he gave up and lay down again. So we got him up and stuck a teat in his mouth. That’s the nice thing about gentle heifers; they don’t mind if you assist their babies. Once he had a taste of milk he became enthusiastic and found the rest of the teats by himself. It’s amazing how much warmer a calf is after he’s nursed! The other heifer had her baby an hour later, a little heifer we named Rosetta. She was up and nursing before she was an hour old.
The day after our first 2 calves arrived, I helped Lynn fix a fence in the pen below the barn and we hauled a big straw bale down there and spread it along the sides of the pen next to the brush, where calves could get out of the wind. We put the 2 heifers and their babies down there after a night in the barn. The next heifer to calve was Buffalo Chips (daughter of Emily’s pet cow, Buffalo Girl). Emily named the calf Buffalo Bunny.
We had a week of cold, windy weather, so I was getting up every hour or so to check on the cows. At that temperature we wanted to make sure the new babies were born in the barn and not outside. When Leoni started calving one night, we put the other 2 heifers (that hadn’t calved yet) in the barn with her—in the aisle next to her stall—to keep her company and help keep the barn warm. Body heat from several cows always makes the barn warmer. Leoni had a bull calf and he was up nursing in less than an hour, before he got too chilled.
That next evening no one was calving, so we slipped away for a couple hours to Bob and Jane Minor’s place for supper, for my birthday. Andrea and kids came also, and when we went home the 3 girls came with us to stay for the weekend. Andrea and Charlie left early the next morning to drive to Idaho Falls for his hockey tournament.
The next day, Valentines Day, was busy. The kids wanted to see baby calves, so we took them to the pen below the barn where Em was able to catch and pet her calf, Buffalo Bunny. The little girls were able to pet the newest calf in the barn.
One of the heifers, Lemmony Snickit, was restless all morning. We’d planned a 90th birthday party for my mom at the nursing home that afternoon and were getting ready to leave for town when Lemmony became obvious in her labor. We put her in the barn and Lynn stayed home and watched her. The little girls and I went to town for the party. My brother and his wife drove up from Boise, and we invited some of mom’s old friends. Out-of-town family members and friends sent cards and e-mail messages for mom, which we read to her at the party. Lynn had to pull Lemmony’s big bull calf, then after he was certain she was going to mother the calf, he came to town also, and was able to be there for the last part of the party.
A few days later we brought the cows down from heifer hill and deloused them. In spite of the fact we deloused them in late October, they were very itchy again. We also gave them their pre-calving vaccinations. The first cow through the chute rammed back and forth as I was trying to give her a neck injection, and she smashed/bent my wrist against the chute. These old squeeze chutes were not designed for neck injections! Fortunately she didn’t break my wrist—it was just badly bruised and sprained. After we sorted the cows—some into the maternity pen, some into the horse pasture, and took the April calvers back to heifer hill—I put DMSO and an ice pack on my wrist to help reduce the swelling and numb the pain. I kept an ice pack on it all night, and by the next day it was doing much better in spite of turning black.
We put straw in the calf houses in the field above the house and put the heifers and babies in that field. We had part of the bale left so we backed into the barn aisles to unload the extra straw in the barn, and found Shade (Charlie’s black cat) under part of the bale that had fallen over! He seemed a little dazed, but otherwise ok, and glad to be out from under the straw! He must have been on the back of the truck after we put straw in the calf houses, and got pinned when the extra straw flopped down.
Some of the cows calved in late February. The second calvers had never been in our barn; they calved at Michael and Carolyn’s place as heifers (on lease). So we used Buffalo Girl as a guide-cow to lead them into the barn.
Our last heifer, Tessiana, calved February 21. She had a nice bull calf, fast and easy and we named him Tezzarro. Later that same day Roddedendron calved (daughter of Roddenia). This was her 5th calf and she’s always had them standing up. This one was no different; she didn’t lie down to calve, just dropped the calf on its head.
EARLY MARCH - The snow started melting and our calves were eating dirt and gravel along the corner of the field where the ditch washes away the sod, so Lynn put an electric wire across that corner to keep them away. This is something we have to do every year; even though the cattle have a good salt/mineral mix available at all times, the calves still like to nibble dirt. If they ingest gravel it can kill them, so we fence off that gravel bar.
We brought the rest of the cows down from heifer hill and sorted out 2 that look like they’re getting ready to calve, even though the vet who preg-checked estimated they wouldn’t calve until April. We didn’t want to take a chance on them calving up there in the snow/cold weather, at risk for being eaten by coyotes or wolves. We led the cows down through the field, with the jeep, and got stuck in a snowdrift just above the corrals! We had to use the feed truck to pull it out.
We’re then had more cold, windy weather. One of the windows at the top of the barn fell out and broke, so Lynn climbed up there with a ladder and stapled clear plastic over the opening, to keep the wind and snow out of the barn!
One night Drosophila calved quickly, out in the maternity pen, before we realized she was calving. So we used our new calf sled to pull that calf to the barn. Freddy calved the next day, a black whiteface bull calf (Freddy George). We put those pairs out of the barn the next afternoon, but that night it snowed—a heavy wet snow. By morning Freddy George was breathing fast, so we treated him for pneumonia. We spread a big bale of straw in the old sick barn and moved Freddy and calf into that barn for shelter.
That day the Fish and Game did a wolf count by helicopter, along our Lemhi valley, and counted more than 90 wolves.
Our grandkids spent another weekend with us while Andrea took Emily to her final hockey tournament. Their little team has slowly gotten stronger, and they ended their season winning most of their games, against teams much larger, from bigger towns.
While the younger kids were here, they wanted to see more baby calves, but the weather was so cold and stormy (6 inches of new snow) we didn’t take them outside. They entertained themselves drawing and painting pictures while we were feeding and taking care of cows and calves.
Lynn hurt his back again, and I helped him for a couple weeks--opening the heaviest gates, breaking ice on the creek for cows in the swamp pasture, carrying in the wood, etc. Our friend Bob Minor came over one afternoon and split enough wood to last several days. We managed to get everything done, just more slowly.
Some nights it snowed so hard that I couldn’t see anything with my spotlight from the window, and had to go outside every hour to check the calving cows. After our biggest snowstorm the temperature dropped below zero. and we had another week of really cold weather. A couple newborn calves in the barn got chilled before they were an hour old, so we helped them nurse before their mouths got too cold. We used the old sick barn as a second day barn for calves that needed to be moved out of the main barn but needed another day of shelter before going out to the deep snow in the field. The calves there know how to use the calf houses, but sometimes it takes the new ones a day or two to figure it out. We put more straw in the calf houses, and also in the calving barn. By late March the days were warmer, however, and our snow was actually melting again. We were hoping it would eventually be spring.