LATE MARCH 2009 – We had a lot of windy, cold weather and some of the cows got sore, chapped teats (when wet from nursing). Freddy’s teats got so sore she wouldn’t let her calf nurse. We noticed her traveling around the field with Freddy George following, trying to nurse, but she wouldn’t stand still. If he tried to latch on, she’d kick him. So we brought them in from the field and put them in a pen by the barn. Lynn and I carried 2 metal panels around from the back yard (where we used them the year before, to make a shelter for Boomerang) and created a small pen at one end for Freddy and Freddy George. In this small area the cow couldn’t travel and the calf was able to catch up with her and eventually get his dinner, in spite of being kicked.
Several more cows calved, and weather was too nasty to let them calve outdoors. We used Buffalo Girl to lead a couple of the young cows into the barn (cows that had never been in there before). The young calves in the field learned how to use the calf houses, to get out of the blizzards.
That week, wolves killed 4 of our neighbor’s calves. The Fish and Game flew an aerial search, but didn’t find them; wolves came down from our cattle range at night and into the fields, then traveled 3 miles back up the mountain into the timber during the day, where they could hide. They also hide under large sagebrush when they hear an airplane.
Lilly Ann calved in the middle of the night in the maternity pen, between checks. Her calf would have been chilled if he’d stayed out there very long, but the yearling bull in a nearby pen awakened me by his bellowing (perhaps he smelled the birth fluids). Lynn and I took the calf to the barn in the sled, with Lilly Ann following.
Freddy’s teats were still cracked but healing, and she was no longer kicking Freddy George, but he developed a new problem. When I went to the barn to check on a calving cow I noticed him getting up and down and kicking his belly. This type of gut pain is indicative of severe intestinal infection that can kill a calf quickly.
There’s no vaccine to protect against this type of bacterial toxin. But we can save these calves if we treat them before they go into shock. We immediately give castor oil (to stimulate the shut-down gut to move again) and oral neomycin sulfate solution (a good antibiotic for GI tract infections). We used a stomach tube to give Freddy George the castor oil and neomycin and within a few hours he felt better. The next day we had another case. We brought Drosophala and calf (Melanagaster) down from the field and tubed that calf with castor oil and antibiotic. We seem to have more of these problems during wet weather—maybe because the calves drink out of mud puddles.
Grandson Charlie’s black cat, Shade, liked to ride in the jeep when we feed the cows, and sometimes climbed in and out of the cab through the window as I drove. He could never make up his mind whether to ride on my lap or help Lynn feed hay on the back. Whenever he saw us going to feed, he came to the jeep, running after us in the field if he wasn’t present when we left the barnyard. One morning he decided to ride on the hood. He perched there, enjoying his good view, all the way to the field and back. I wish I’d had my camera when we drove out in the field; some of the cows were curious and some were alarmed at our black-panther hood ornament. Rishira snorted and couldn’t decide whether to run off or charge at the cat on the hood!
MID APRIL – One morning Rodadendron had a bellyache, getting up and down and kicking. I kept checking her for a couple hours, and eventually her discomfort passed and she was fine. Then on Palm Sunday we came home from church and one of our cows (8 year old Inny) was dead, right by the water tank. She’d been ok that morning when we fed hay, so whatever killed her was very swift. Her 2-week-old calf didn’t even know his mom was dead; we had to go find him. We herded him through the gate and cornered him in the calving pen by using the jeep to make a chute against the fence. We put two halters on him (so we could both hang onto him, because he was too big for one person to handle) and took him down to the pole barn where we could corner him to feed him a bottle. By 11 pm. that night he was hungry enough to be cooperative when we stuck the nipple in his mouth. Within 24 hours it no longer took both of us to corner him, and soon he came to us eagerly for meals.
Two days after Inny died, a 3-year-old cow (Leena) was dull and colicky, getting up and down and kicking her belly. She was much worse than Rodadendron, so we brought her and her calf in from the field and put her in the headcatcher, and gave her a shot of Banamine to help ease the gut pain. We put her and her calf in a pen by the barn.
That evening she nibbled some hay. But she didn’t eat much, and didn’t pass any manure during the night. So the next morning we put her in the headcatch again and gave her a gallon of mineral oil and a pint of castor oil by stomach tube, along with more Banamine and an injection of antibiotic. By evening she finally started passing manure, after being constipated for 24 hours. She started chewing her cud again, and eating.
The next week one of the pregnant cows, Cub Cake, had a bellyache in the night and we thought it might be labor pains, even though she wasn’t due to calve yet. We put her in the barn because it was a stormy night, and I kept checking her. She periodically had horrible cramping and pain, kicking her belly and pawing up the bedding, but showed no actual signs of labor. By morning we were certain it was gut cramps and not labor, and we were worried because she wasn’t passing manure. Then her pain eased and she seemed ok and we put her back out in the maternity pen. Then she quit eating, and also stopped chewing her cud.
So we put her into an isolation pen, to be able to tell how much manure she was passing (not much) and monitored her through the night. We were about to give her mineral oil the next morning, when she went into labor and quickly gave birth to a red heifer. By this time Cub Cake had diarrhea. But the calf was healthy and nursed, and the cow started eating again and chewing her cud. Our vet was unable to determine what was messing up the digestive tract on these cows, but it might have been mold or mushrooms in the hay.
Cub Cake was back to normal after a couple more days, and her red heifer was growing fast.
LATE APRIL - Rosie’s calf got pneumonia within a few hours after he was born, so we treated him for several days, leaving him and his mom in the barn.
Maggie calved on a Sunday afternoon—the first day that was nice enough to have a cow calve outdoors instead of in the barn! By then we only had 2 cows left to calve: Rishira and Lilly.
On Tuesday Andrea came out to the ranch after she got the kids off to school, and helped us vaccinate the cows and brand/vaccinate the calves—all but the little group of very young calves in the swamp pasture. It went a lot faster with 3 of us, and we got done in time for her to drive back to town and pick up Samantha from Kindergarten at 11:30.
That afternoon Lynn and I set 10 steel posts along the old net wire fence above the house. The cows were so hungry for green grass that they were reaching under and over the netting and destroying the fence. Alex Annie crawled clear under it one morning and got into the wrong pasture. By putting steel posts between the wood posts, we were able to raise the old netting higher at the top and secure it lower to the ground at the bottom so the cows couldn’t mash it down or reach under so far. Andrea came out a couple mornings and helped Lynn set 10 more steel posts each time. Lynn’s back was bothering him a lot and he couldn’t do much without pain.
Sammy and Dani came with Andrea and played with the cats and helped feed the orphan calf his bottle. Dani named him Shiney.
The final week of April was very cold, freezing most nights, with snow and wind. I kept getting up at night to check on Rishira. She was overdue to calve and I wanted to make sure she didn’t calve outside in the snow. She was restless—often acting like she was in early labor—but she didn’t calve. On Thursday she finally seemed to be calving, and we put her in the barn at 5 a.m. but she never progressed to active labor—just a few cramps. By afternoon, we decided there must be something wrong, since she’s usually an easy calver. We put her in the headcatcher to check her. Her cervix was fully dilated, but Lynn could barely reach down to the calf; it was not coming up into the birth canal. He couldn’t get hold of the feet.
We called our vet, Jeff Hoffman, to come help us—and he discovered the cause of the problem. The uterus had a twist and the calf could not be born. The vet cut an incision for a C-section, and we mentioned that in 1972 our old vet corrected a serious torsion of the uterus (more than 360 degree rotation) on one of our cranky black cows (named Pandora), just by reaching in through the flank and lifting the twisted uterus and turning it over—back to proper position. So Jeff tried it and was able to correct the twist, which wasn’t as severe as Pandora’s. Then we were able to pull the calf.
It was a heifer, still alive, and we put it in front of Rishira by the headcatcher so she could lick it while the vet sewed up the incision in her flank. We put the pair in the barn, out of the wind, and I helped the baby nurse.
On Monday Rishira’s incision (where the vet reached in to turn the uterus) was draining fluid and a little pus. We tried to put her into the headcatcher to give her an injection of antibiotic, but she refused to go in (remembering the ordeal of delivering her calf!) so we took her and her calf around to our chute runway to put her in our squeeze chute. Her calf ran down the chute first, and Lynn ran after the calf—to try to get it on through and out the front so the cow wouldn’t step on it; she was worried about the calf and followed it and Lynn down the runway.
The cow was so close on their heels that when I opened the tailgate of the squeeze chute to let Lynn and the calf through, Rishira barged in, too, and I couldn’t stop her. There’s not room in a squeeze chute for a big cow and a person—and she pushed past Lynn and jammed him into the side. Somehow (maybe my yelling in her ear) I was able to get the cow to back up, and I shut the tailgate, so I could let Lynn and the calf out the front. Fortunately Rishira hadn’t knocked him down, but she’d slammed him into the side of the chute, scraping skin off his arm near the elbow, and squashing his forearm against his chest, cracking a couple ribs. He was really lucky she didn’t hurt him worse. We gave Rishira the antibiotic, then bandaged Lynn’s arm and put DMSO on the sore ribs to help reduce the pain and minimize swelling and inflammation.
EARLY MAY – The neighbors turned their cows out on the range behind our place. The grass had barely started growing so the cows were reaching through our fences. Andrea hiked along one boundary fence putting in staples and splicing wires where the elk damaged the fence, and Lynn patched fences on the other side where neighbors’ cows were getting into our fields. A couple days ago several pairs and a bull broke down a gate and got into the Gooch place, but Lynn was up there irrigating and saw them before they got very far and was able to chase them back out—and repaired the gate.
We’d planned to put cows on our hill pasture May 10 (we were running out of hay) but when Lynn walked around that fence to check it, he realized the grass was not ready to graze yet. Fortunately we found a few big round bales for sale, just across the valley, and Lynn made 2 trips with the flatbed trailer to get a total of 16 bales--to get us by until we could turn the cows out on the hill above our house.
The grass in our back yard finally grew tall enough to graze, so we brought the orphan calf (Shiney) out of the old barn to live in the back yard. Our last cow, Lilly, finally calved, on a sunny afternoon. That makes TWO cows that were able to calve outdoors that year, instead of in the barn!