Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ranch diary – March 20 through April 19, 2015

MARCH 30 – I’ve been working on my next book, Cow Tales from an Idaho Ranch, writing chapters about some of the memorable experiences with various cattle we’ve raised—some humorous, some challenging.  It’s been fun recalling those adventures, and finding old photos to illustrate those chapters.
            Andrea’s kids have enjoyed helping with evening chores after school—feeding the horses and the yearling heifers.  Dani likes to help load the wheelbarrow and take the alfalfa hay out for the heifers.
            Our old black cat (the one that always had her kittens in the cab of the dump truck, before we had her spayed) likes to hang out around the big bales of hay I feed the heifers and the old horses, and catch mice there.  She always “helps” us do chores, and sometimes sits by the gate when we feed the heifers.  One day when a heifer decided to come through the open gate instead of following the loaded wheelbarrow, the cat stood her ground and hit the heifer in the nose with her claws when the heifer tried to come through!  She thinks she’s Lynn’s special cat and always goes with him around the barnyard.
            Last weekend Michael and Carolyn brought their truck and trailer and hauled their cows to the upper place, to calve up there.  We sorted our cows and put the ones closest to calving in our maternity pen and horse pasture, and left the later-calving cows in the fields above the house.   On Sunday Andrea and I rode Ed and Breezy for the first time this year—after their winter “vacation”—and we also caught Dottie and Rishiam and brushed them.  I saddled Dottie and led her around the barnyard.  The next day, I led Dottie down the road a ways, then Andrea and I rode Ed and Sprout, for Sprout’s first ride of the season.  
            I trimmed Veggie’s long feet.  He’s doing a little better (not so stiff) now that I’m giving him bute every evening, dissolving the pills in warm water and giving it to him with a little molasses mixed in.
Twinkle Twinkle, the sick pregnant heifer, started eating a little better.  Then on Tuesday she calved—nearly 3 weeks ahead of her due date.  The calf was alive, which we were relieved to see, in spite of the mom’s high fever a week earlier.   She simply calved a little prematurely, but the calf is ok, a little heifer.  Andrea’s kids were out of school for spring break and they enjoyed seeing the first new baby of the year, and helping with chores and feeding.  Dani named the new calf Surprise.
Later that day Sam and Dani helped me clean house, and Charlie helped Lynn put some netting along the gate on one of the second-day pens below the barn, so that when we moved the mama and new baby into that pen the tiny calf wouldn’t be able to crawl through or under the gate and get out into the field with the yearling heifers.  We had some wind and snow off and on that day, but the little calf managed to nurse mama and had shelter in that pen with its windbreaks.
Sam and Dani cleared off the stairway to the little attic room and took their bean bag bed up there.  They enjoyed sleeping in their own little “hideaway” room upstairs during their spring break, and helping with the chores and cattle during the days.
On Wednesday I rode Dottie on her first ride of the year, and Andrea rode along on Breezy. Then we rode Ed and Sprout on a longer ride.  In the evening Andrea and kids went to the upper place, where Emily took photos of the other kids posing with one of young Heather’s horses.  She got several good shots, for Heather to select from to choose a cover photo for her first book, which will be published later this summer.
The next day Andrea and I took Sam and Dani for their first ride (on Breezy and Ed) with us.  Then they helped us do chores and put the other 3 heifers in the barn for the first time.  We are feeding them a little alfalfa hay in the barn, to get them at ease with going into the barn—in case we have to put any of them into the barn to calve.  With the crazy weather we’ve been having (wind and occasional blizzards) it’s nice to have a barn!
On Friday we had visitors from Canada.  The editor of Cattlemen’s Corner in Grainews, Lee Hart, and his wife stopped by on their way home from a vacation.  It was fun to meet Lee for the first time (after writing monthly columns for Grainews for more than 30 years, and working with Lee for about 8 years).  He and his wife ate lunch with us and we had a nice visit.  Emily took a photo of Lee and me.
            After they left, Andrea, Sam and Dani and I went for another ride after I trimmed Breezy’s feet a little bit so she wouldn’t be tripping on long toes.  All went well until we were heading home, and then Sprout was misbehaving a little.  That wasn’t much of a problem until she tripped, going through some sagebrush, and nearly fell clear down, pulling Andrea forward.  About the time Andrea was quite forward over her neck, Sprout leaped back up to try to start bucking, and the top of her head connected with Andrea’s chin, cutting it open.  The blow to the bottom of her chin was severe enough that she started to black out, and wobbled a bit, but managed to keep Sprout from bucking.  Her chin was bleeding severely, so when we got home her friend Robbie took her to the hospital to have stitches.  Her chin was very swollen for a few days.
            Saturday we had a hard rain and strong winds that lasted a few hours.  Michael and Carolyn were helping a neighbor, Bruce Mulkey, brand calves that morning, and they’d just gotten the cattle rounded up and into the corral when the storm hit.  They put their horses back into the trailer and waited out the storm until it let up.  After the calves dried out that afternoon they went ahead and did the branding and vaccinating.
            Yesterday our friends from Canada, Pete and Bev Wiebe, stopped here to visit on their way home from working all winter with the Mennonite Disaster Service in Florida and the Southwest, rebuilding homes for people who lost their homes to flooding.  They ate supper with us, and spent the night at Andrea’s house, and this morning came down here to watch our second calf being born.  Bev had never seen a calf born, so she was excited that Merilena waited until daylight to give birth.  Merilena is a first-calf heifer, and we were delighted that she had the calf very quickly and easily.  Dani named the little heifer Starfire.  The next morning, before they left, Pete and Bev took photos of the calf and its mama in our windbreak pens.
APRIL 10 – The past 2 weeks Dani has been helping me with evening chores after Lynn brings the kids home from the school bus.  She likes to help feed the horses (she gives old Veggie his grain) and sort the cows for evening.  At night we lock the most-likely-to-calve cows in the small maternity pen where we can see them under the yard light, and if any of them start to calve we put them in the calving pen—where we can turn on the lights on the hay shed.
            Lynn and Robbie put a little straw in the barn in case we need to put a cow in there to calve (if it’s snowing!), and Andrea and Robbie replaced several burned-out light bulbs in the barn.  Andrea and I cleaned out the old bedding in the two calf houses up in the field and put some hay in for bedding, and put the first calves and their mamas up there.
Andrea checks on the cows during the first part of the night, then I get up about 3 or 4 a.m. and type (finishing up the Cow Tales book chapters, and writing articles) and check on them until daylight.
Last Saturday Em’s dad Jim Daine brought his mule to stay in one of our corrals until he can take her with him to his trail-clearing job in Montana.  In the meantime, Jim is staying at Andrea’s house.  He rode his mule (Reba) on a couple of long rides in the mountains behind our ranch, looking for elk horns.
Saturday afternoon Carolyn called, as she was hurrying home from her job at the vet clinic.  Michael had called her, to tell her that her old mare, Thelma, was foaling, and needing help.  He had gone to their upper fields to get something and noticed the mare was foaling—she had the feet out, but no head.  He hurried to get a halter, and led the mare a half mile down to their round pen by their house.  The foal went back into the uterus and was able to reposition, and Thelma was trying to lie down by the time he got her to the corral.  She started straining again, and this time the head was there, and she was pushing the foal out.  She didn’t lie down, and he had to try to catch the foal and break its fall as it was born.
The foal was alive, but a little wobbly at first because the umbilical cord broke too soon (with the mare standing up to give birth).  Then the next challenge was to help the sassy little critter nurse!  She refused to nurse the mare, and young Heather had to milk the mare and feed the foal from a bottle.  Every time they tried to get her on a teat, she refused; all she wanted was the bottle!  By evening, everyone was exhausted, but finally, just before dark, the stubborn little filly figured it out and started nursing Thelma.
            At 4 a.m. the next morning (Easter Sunday), Thelma woke them up, whinnying, because her baby had shimmied out of the pen, underneath the bottom rail, and was wandering around outside the pen.  They got her back in.  It snowed later that morning, and they created a 3-sided shelter for the foal with tarps.
            It snowed all day.  Michael brought a skid-loader down to our place and cleaned out a couple of our deepest horse pens (Sprout’s and Breezy’s).  The new little calves up in the field have all learned how to get into their calf houses, and out of the storm.
            This weekend is the annual Salmon Select Horse Sale.  Emily will be taking care of her dad’s table (where he will display some of his antler lamps) and plans to have some of my horse books there, too, in case anyone wants to buy one.

APRIL 20 – The horse sale went well.  Young Heather sold a couple of the horses she’s been training, including a gray mare named Angel. She showed Angel in the trail class before the sale, and Angel did very well.  Heather also rode another mare through the ring for a man who wants her to train a group of horses for him. 
            We’ve had a bunch of calves the past 10 days.  Dani named most of them.  As examples, Emerald had a heifer that Dani named Geminy Cricket, and Rosalie had a nice heifer that Dani named Zorrarose (the sire’s name was Zorro).  Magrat had a heifer that Dani named Malillamae.  Buffalo Baby’s calf got named Buffaloona.  Buffalulu had a bull calf named Buffalo Biffer.  As you can tell by some of the names, several of these calves are closely related; their mothers are daughters of dear old Buffalo Girl, who was Emily’s pet cow, raised on a bottle after her mama died.  Buffalo Girl is a family pet and the kids enjoy picking grass for her.  Dani fed her some grass in the maternity pen, a few days before she calved.
            It was very cold and windy the night that Magrat calved, and since we didn’t put her in the barn, we helped her calf nurse before it got too chilled, and then moved the pair to a windbreak pen.
The next night Buffalo Girl started calving, and we put her in the barn—not only because it was cold, but because she always needs a little help during the first hour of motherhood.  She bellows and roots her calf around too vigorously and won’t let it get up, so we have to intervene, so she won’t hurt it.  After it’s up and nursing she’s fine.
            This year Sammy, Dani, Andrea and Emily sat out in the barn with her, quietly watching from the next stall.  After she calved, Andrea, Emily and I protected the calf and helped him get up, and helped him nurse.  He was a large fellow, and it was all Em and I could do to hold up his hind end while Andrea guided his front end to a teat.  Buffalo Girl is Emily’s pet and was actually calmer this year than in previous calvings, maybe because Em was there to help.  After we assisted Gilbert in his first nursing, Buffalo Girl had settled down and was a normal mom.  The kids all enjoyed petting that calf the next day, and again after we put that pair up in the field with the other cows.
            Andrea didn’t get much sleep the night Buffalo Girl calved.  By the time we finished helping the calf nurse, it was 1 a.m. and Andrea had to get up early and take Charlie to a doctor appointment in Pocatello. 
That morning Magdalena had a heifer that Dani named MiniMag, but we were lucky to save that one.  I saw the cow calving just before daylight, with the water sac and amnion sac protruding, but no feet.  Lynn and I put her in the barn, in the stall next to Buffalo Girl, because it was a very cold, windy morning.  I kept checking on her during chores and feeding, but nothing was happening.  Then the next time I checked, there was placenta coming out, hanging clear to the ground. 
            This was a serious emergency!  The calf’s “envelope” and lifeline were detaching from the uterus and it would soon die.  So Lynn and I put her in the headcatch to check her.  The calf’s feet were coming through the birth canal, but the head hadn’t started through yet and the cow wasn’t dilated enough.  We attached chains to the legs and started to pull.  Andrea stopped briefly on her way out the driveway, heading for Pocatello with Charlie, but she’d called Michael and Carolyn and left a message for them, saying we had a calving emergency.  Michael was heading off to work, but Carolyn came down to help us.  With her added strength we got the calf delivered before it died.  We’re not sure why it was detaching, unless it just took too long for the calf to get into proper position for birth.  The little brockle-faced heifer seems to be fine.
            We had another calf the next night.  Cub Cake was finally calving, and she had a huge bull calf that Andrea and Robbie pulled.  The bull we used last summer (Lightning Zorro) sires bigger calves than the bull we used the previous years, and we’re having a few more calving problems than normal.  This makes it all the more important to be watching the cows at night, in case any need help.
            Dani named Cub Cake’s calf Cinnamon Bear (he’s golden red) and the kids all got a chance to see him the next day.
  Then Mary Mary Quite Contrary had a black bull calf with one little white spot on his face (so his name is Spotrick). 

 Our most recent calf is a big black brockle-faced bull, born just before midnight last night.  He needed a bit of help to be born; Andrea and Robbie pulled him, too, but he’s doing fine today.
            Meanwhile, Andrea has been harrowing the fields with the big tractor, scattering all the manure piles and wasted straw (from the feeders) around the field, before we start irrigating.  The straw the cows didn’t eat, and the manure, serve as excellent fertilizer.  We try to feed on the areas that need more organic matter to increase the soil fertility, and thus don’t have to buy any chemical fertilizers.  The natural stuff is best.
            Michael brought the backhoe down from his place (where he’d been smoothing more areas for additional horse pens for young Heather—for the horses she will be training this spring and summer) and cleaned one of our ditches that was filled with silt from all the snow melt run-off last month.  We have several more ditches to clean before we can start irrigating the fields.