Friday, June 24, 2016

Ranch Diary: April 28 through May 18, 2016

MAY 4 – When Andrea took Sam back to the doctor a week ago to have her elbow checked again, the x-rays showed both bones broken near the growth plate. They are not displaced, and should heal ok if she doesn’t over-extend the elbow (and keeps from moving it very much). The doctor now has her wearing a hinged brace that limits the movement of her elbow.

Last Wednesday Dani came home sick from school and Thursday stayed home from school. She didn’t feel well all day, and slept quite awhile here on our couch while Andrea irrigated and took new bales of hay around for the cows and heifers’ feeders.

She was feeling better by evening. Lynn went to town that day for the MRI on his lower back, and for his physical therapy, and brought Sam home after her physical therapy. Charlie got back that evening from the music trip (with the school band) and Emily picked him up in town.

Everyone was really tired that evening and Lynn went to bed early. I put Maggeriete (nickname Shrek because of her jaunty ears) in the calving pen where I could see her easily from the house. She’s the last one to calve, and she decided to do it that night. I got up and looked at her from the window, not long after I went to bed, and she was obviously in labor, pacing the pen. I watched her awhile and then when she got more serious—in active labor, lying down to strain—I put her in the barn because it was raining. Just after midnight the calf started to come, and the feet (when they appeared) were huge. I called Andrea, and she came down from her house and brought Dani, who insisted on being present when our last cow calved. Andrea and I pulled the calf, and Dani helped get him breathing.           

Shrek is a very gentle cow and knows and trusts Dani (that kid feeds her grass!) and didn’t mind having all three of us in the stall helping with her new baby. Then Andrea took Dani home to bed and came back to help me suckle the calf. He was so big and tall that he didn’t understand how to put his head down low to find the teats. Rather than try to force his head down (which would have made him resist) we simply milked a little colostrum from Shrek into a bottle and got the calf started sucking the bottle. After a taste of that good stuff he was very eager for more, and much more cooperative about following our fingers to suck on—and readily suckled when we stuck a teat in his mouth. He was so big it took a lot of colostrum to fill him up, and we managed to get him on all four teats. By then he was starting to figure out how to get onto them by himself.

About 30 minutes after we finished that task and Andrea went home, the power went off and was off for 2 hours. We were lucky it didn’t go off while we were trying to suckle Shrek’s calf, since it’s very dark in that barn without lights!

It’s a relief to have our last cow calved out! We actually finished 3 weeks quicker than last year and got done calving in just over 4 weeks from start to finish. The next morning we put Shrek and her big boy out of the barn, into a nearby pen. He’s the biggest calf we had this year, and still a bit clumsy.

Dani still wasn’t feeling 100% that day (Friday) and had a fever, so Andrea tried to get a doctor’s appointment for her, but the clinic was booked up and they told her to just wait and take her to the walk-in clinic on Saturday. Andrea took her in early Saturday morning but the doctor’s assistant who examined her said it was just a virus and that she didn’t need any antibiotics.

She still had a fever on Sunday and felt even worse by Monday morning so when Andrea took Charlie and Sam in early to school that morning to get on the bus to go on their next band trip, she took Dani to the ER. The doctor there concluded that she had a serious infection and should have been started on antibiotics two days earlier when Andrea brought her in to the walk-in clinic.

Lynn did his physical therapy again on Monday and got the results from the MRI on his back. It doesn’t look good, and he was referred to a specialist in Missoula, Montana—a neurologist who does back surgery.

Later that day Carolyn and young Heather stopped by and we gave them their belated birthday gifts and belated anniversary gift for Michael and Carolyn. Their anniversary was April 27th.

That night Dani had high fever of 105.3 and Andrea stayed up all night with her, giving a cold shower to get the fever down, giving her medication, etc. It was pretty scary. Tuesday (yesterday) she stayed in bed and we hoped that soon the antibiotics would help her fight the infection.

Last night Dani was still pretty sick, with fever and a bad cough, and Andrea stayed up all night with her again to keep track of her temperature and bring it down whenever it got too high.

Today Andrea took her to the ER because her fever had gotten very high again. The doctor took blood tests and put her on oxygen and IV fluids; her oxygen level was too low and she was dehydrated from the fever. They decided to keep her in the hospital but it was middle of the night before they got her into a room. She and Andrea were camped out in the ER all day.

MAY 11 – Last week Michael brought us two more loads of oat hay (4 bales total) since we need to keep feeding the cows a little longer until the pasture grows enough to put them out on grass. The new water master for this year (Gary Thomas, no relation) came last week to become familiar with all the ditches and locations of headgates and weirs. We are hoping that we can have a better irrigation year without so many conflicts!

Last Thursday Sam and Charlie went on a school bus with their music teacher and a group of other students to Boise to see a musical play, but Robbie took them in early that morning so they could stop and see Dani and Andrea in the hospital. It was an overnight trip; the kids stayed in a motel after the play, and were scheduled to come back home on the bus the next morning. The bus broke down however, and they were delayed in Boise all day—and finally had to borrow a bus from a Boise school to come home, arriving home about midnight on Friday.

Emily stopped by to see Dani in the hospital a few times and give her support and comfort.

Andrea stayed with Dani in the hospital all day Thursday and Friday, except for a couple hours when Lynn went in to sit with Dani so Andrea could come home and help me move some big bales out to the feeders for the cows and heifers and load more alfalfa hay on the feed truck.
Dani was starting to do a little better by Friday evening, but still not eating much. The doctors decided she was doing well enough to come home by Saturday afternoon, but even though it was Mark’s weekend to have the kids, he didn’t want the responsibility of having to take care of Dani—and told Andrea that he thought it would be ok for her to take Dani home. 

Andrea brought her home to our house where she took a 4-hour nap on our couch (after we enticed her to drink a little water and have a few sips of chocolate milk) while Andrea did the irrigating. We didn’t want Dani to get too dehydrated, since she was no longer on IV fluids, so after her nap we encouraged her to drink more water, and a glass of milk. She actually had an interest in food by then, and ate a peanut butter sandwich (the only thing that sounded good to her). This was the most food she’d eaten at one time since before she got sick. 

Then she insisted on seeing the calves, so she and I walked slowly up to the pasture above the house and she sat on the big tractor tire (that serves as a holder for the mineral tub) and many of the cows and calves came up to her. She always picks grass for them and they were wondering why she didn’t have any! She was delighted to see her favorite calves, and enjoyed watching the calves playing around, especially her favorite one, MagDoll, who ran around bucking and then sniffed noses with Sugar Bear’s mom.

Then Dani and I walked slowly back down to the house. By then Andrea had brought her medicine and breathing treatment (puffing medication into her lungs). It’s great to see Dani starting to feel better! 

I called Carolyn to tell her that Dani was home from the hospital, and Carolyn told me about the close call she’d had that morning when she was irrigating on gopher meadow on the upper place. After all the runoff and high water from the early snow melt, a lot of sand had washed down into the ditches and one of her irrigation dams was full of sand. It was too heavy to get the dam out of the ditch, so she was going to cut the dam and let the water wash through it and take the sand with it. She had driven down into that field on her 4-wheeler, and one of their leased cows (a second calver) had snorted at her and then went into the brush with her calf. 

This young cow calved more than 2 weeks ago, up on the hill behind gopher meadow, and didn’t bring her calf down to the herd until it was about a week old. At that point, Michael and Carolyn drove toward the calf on their 4-wheeler to see if it was a bull or a heifer. It was a little bull, and very wild and crazy! It charged right at them and tried to climb up onto the 4-wheeler with them! This was quite unusual behavior for a young calf. The mama cow was also aggressive and crazy.

So when Carolyn drove into the field to irrigate and deal with the ditch full of sand, she drove around that pair at a good distance and was relieved to see them disappear into the brush. She didn’t think much more about it, and started to slit the irrigation dam with her knife—when all of a sudden she heard a bellowing snort behind her and that cow was charging at her. The cow hit her and knocked her over the dam into the ditch on the other side, and kept trying to hit her again. The only thing that saved Carolyn was the fact the cow couldn’t quite get over the pole holding the dam. Carolyn still had ahold of her shovel so she hit the cow over the head with it—multiple times, since the cow wouldn’t back off. Finally, after many whacks on the head, the cow departed, and went back into the brush to find her calf. Carolyn was lucky. She was up there all by herself and it was a good thing she wasn’t seriously hurt by that crazy cow.

The next day, Sunday, was Mother’s Day. Dani came down for a little while when Andrea came to irrigate, and they picked grass for their pet cows and calves, then Dani took another nap. Andrea kept her home from school Monday and Tuesday because she needed to rest and recuperate a more, and then was able to go back to school today.

In spite of the cool weather, it’s feeling like spring, and most of the birds are back. The killdeer are nesting in our fields, and Emily took photos of some newly hatched killdeer chicks.

We had some rain and snow on Monday—so much nasty weather that Michael, Nick and Robbie had to quit working on their fencing project (the other side of town) by early afternoon; they got soaked and cold. Yesterday was cold and windy again but it didn’t rain so they resumed their fencing. Andrea hiked around the swamp pasture fence to see if there were any repairs needed before we put the heifers in there, and shut the top gate. She and Robbie put a bunch of staples in that evening, where the deer have been going through the fence in several places. 

This morning I put some of my horse hay in the heifers’ feeder, since they’ve run out of the last big bale, and their alfalfa. After Andrea got home from town (taking the kids to school and Sam to the doctor for a check-up on her broken elbow—which is healing very nicely) she helped us move the heifers to pasture. We brought them through the pens by the barn and sorted off Michael and Carolyn’s heifers—to keep in the lane by the barn where there’s some grass, until they can be hauled up to the upper place. Then we took our group around to the swamp pasture above our corrals. The grass has grown enough now for grazing, and the heifers are eager for green grass instead of hay!  

Lynn got the kids off the bus, and Dani was exhausted after her first day back at school. She went home and took a nap.

This evening, about the time I was getting ready to go to bed, I heard cows bawling in the field above the house, so I went out there to check on them and make sure everything was ok. The heifers had crossed the creek and come down along the fence above that field, where the cows could see them, and they were bawling at the heifers. But one of the calves was up the field above, right next to the heifers, and I wondered how he could have gotten through the net-wire fence. Then I noticed that the gate between the two fields was wide open! The only thing keeping the whole herd from escaping into the hayfield was the electric fence on this side of the gate. The calf must have crawled under the hot wire and gone out the gate. So I chased him back in and shut the gate, and then it took a little time to encourage him to go back underneath the hot wire to his mom, because he didn’t want to get shocked again! 

MAY 18 – We had a few nights last week that got quite cold (down to 24 degrees one night), and froze all the apple blossoms. It took a few nights for Andrea to catch up on her sleep after being up so many nights while Dani was sick, but Dani is doing a lot better now. Last Thursday Lynn went to town for his physical therapy, got the mail and groceries, and picked up the vaccine for our cows and calves at the vet clinic.

That afternoon we had another kid emergency; after school Charlie was waiting to get on the bus to come home, and a new kid (a bully) was teasing him and messing with his backpack. Charlie told him to quit, and tried to push the kid away, and the kid retaliated by shoving Charlie so hard it knocked him down backward, hitting his head on the concrete. It knocked him out for a few seconds but he got up and insisted on getting on the bus to come home—even when one of the teachers thought he should stay and be checked out. The teacher called Andrea, who was in town for her physical therapy, who called Lynn (who was stopping on his way home from town to pick up Charlie off the bus). Charlie was still a little unsteady, with a twitch in his right eye, so Emily (who was heading home from work at that same time) took Charlie back to town so Andrea could take him to the ER and have his head checked. He had a nasty bump and probably a mild concussion, but seemed to be ok.

Our weather continued cold and windy with a bit of rain now and then. On Saturday our neighbor Alfonso had about 30 people up at the Gooch place to help him brand calves. They had a big social get-together mid-day before they started getting the cattle in, and that afternoon it was raining hard before they finished branding. Michael and Carolyn had planned to brand their calves on Sunday and take their herd to pasture on the 160, (and brand ours next Sunday) but it rained all day Sunday so the branding got postponed. Calves can’t be branded if they are wet. It would scald the tissues and create a more serious burn. Michael and Carolyn brought their trailer down and hauled their heifers home, to put with their cows and calves. The heifers have all grown very well over winter, and hopefully they will all breed this summer.

Our cows are unhappy because the heifers went to pasture and the cows are jealous; they are tired of eating hay. A few of the cows were reaching through the fence in a few places--between the net wire and the barbed wires on top, and squashing down the net wire—so I pulled it back into place and tied it up more securely.

Monday it was still rainy, but Michael and crew worked on a couple of their fencing projects anyway. Then yesterday it was clear, so Michael called early that morning and told us they’d decided to go ahead and brand, and get ours done, too, while the weather was good. They want to take their herd to the hill pasture in a few days, and just try to get both herds branded first.

So Lynn helped me feed the cows, Robbie and Andrea moved a few stored things out of the front stall of the little barn next to our calf chute, and then they went up to help Michael and Carolyn vaccinate their cows and brand their calves.

We planned to do ours right afterward, and Carolyn asked Lynn if he could go to town to pick up some more dewormer for the cows, so he did that while I cooked a big pot of chili for our lunch, and got a few gates ready. Then Lynn and I moved the yearling bulls to a side corral, and the big bulls to the back pen, so we’d have the main corral free. Then as soon as the branding/vaccinating was finished on the upper place and the whole crew came down, we got the cows and calves in from the field above the house, sorted off the calves into the little barn, and vaccinated the cows. Lynn and Robbie strung out the extension cords and got things ready for branding while Michael and Carolyn were vaccinating and deworming the cows.

Andrea hiked up in the swamp pasture and called the 13 yearlings down to the corral (they followed her all the way down) and we vaccinated them and put them back up to their pasture. Then we vaccinated the bulls, and branded/vaccinated the calves. Michael did the branding this year, and dehorned the handful (4 calves) that needed dehorned, since Lynn didn’t feel physically up to doing it, with his painful back. Lynn sat on a lawn chair and let the rest of us do the various tasks. 

Nick pushed the calves into the calf table.

Carolyn vaccinated the calves
Michael did the clipping
We always clip the area to be branded, so the branding iron doesn’t have to burn through a lot of hair. This makes a better brand and doesn’t hurt the calf as much, because the iron doesn’t have to stay on as long.
Here’s what the finished brand looks like.

Most of our calves had no horns; there were only 4 that needed to be dehorned, and Michael did the dehorning.

Everything went well, and we put the cows and calves back up in the field above the house. Afterward everyone had lunch here, and even though it was rather plain fare (a big pot of chili, with brownie for dessert), it was a nice “birthday dinner” for Lynn, having family here. He’s now 73. He said the best birthday present was having so much good help to do our branding! 

Today the calves all seem ok after their branding and vaccinating, and the weather is still fairly nice (though it might rain this evening). We’ll give the calves another day to recover and then move the herd out to pasture.