Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Diary from Sky Range Ranch – March 26 through April 24, 2017

April 1 – This past week has been cold and windy with most night temperatures below freezing. Andrea’s kids were home for spring break early in the week and enjoyed helping with chores and feeding. Dani helped Andrea and me corner and tag Zorra Rose’s calf and move that pair to the big ben below the barn. That evening she helped me take more hay and straw down to that pen and we made comfy bedding areas in the windbreak corners.
Zorra Rose's new calf

Fonzy had a cow and new calf out on the road along Gooch place – she was part of the group that got out of the lower place when he left his gate open. She went over the hill onto the range and calved somewhere out there, then brought her calf back to the field a couple days later. There wasn’t enough grass out there yet to survive on, and she decided to come back to where the cows were being fed hay.

Lynn had his last session of physical therapy on Tuesday. Now he’s supposed to keep doing some shoulder exercises at home to keep strengthening and regaining range of motion. That evening Starfire (another first-calf heifer) was calving. We put her in the calving pen with Buffalo Girl to keep her company. After dark it was getting cold and windy so we put them in the barn, in adjacent stalls. The heifer calved shortly after midnight and had a heifer calf.

Wednesday morning was very cold. Outie (daughter of Innie and granddaughter of Onnie) started calving so I put her in the calving just before daylight. She calved after breakfast—a big heifer calf. The wind was cold and the calf was a little slow to get up so Andrea and I tried to help it get going. The calf was getting chilled and the cow wasn’t very helpful so we finally put her in the headcatch and helped the calf nurse.

It’s amazing how much difference it makes when a cold calf gets a bellyful of warm colostrum with all its rich energy. The calf was soon bouncing around and quite self-sufficient. That afternoon Magnicate, a daughter of Maggie, calved out in the horse pasture—a big bull calf. Soon after, it started raining hard, so we put that pair in the barn. It rained hard all night and I had 6 inches of water in the bottom of my wheelbarrow the next morning (probably the equivalent of more than an inch of rain).

Thursday was a little warmer. Robbie fixed leaks in the water trough above house—coated the bottom with a rubbery product that dried and sealed off all the rusted-out spots. Friday he went with Andrea on her trip to Idaho Falls for her appointment with her pain doctor. That evening at a restaurant they met a Canadian couple from Saskatchewan who know Gregory and Heather (my granddaughter), and go to church with them. Small world.

While they were gone, Lynn and I discovered that the electric fence wasn’t working. All the rain (and leaky roof in the old shop) had shorted out the electrical system in the shop and blew a fuse. We had to get a new fuse to fix it.

My brother Rocky called that evening to tell us there was a dead elk caught in the fence right next to their house—and he needed some help to remove it. I told him he should probably have the Fish and Game Department do something with it, and I called and left a message for one of the Fish and Game Department officers, since it was a weekend and no one was in their office. He came out and looked at the dead elk today and said it was killed by a cougar; the cat was probably chasing it down the mountain and it hit the fence—which slowed it down enough for the cat to grab it and kill it. The cougar had grabbed its neck, and slit open the abdomen to eat the liver, but then must have left quickly without eating much more of it, perhaps because there was activity at the house a few yards away. We’re hoping the cougar isn’t hanging around because we all have cows with new calves, and the Yoder’s little boys could also be at risk when they are outdoors playing in that woodsy area.

This morning Andrea, Lynn and I tagged and banded a few calves and put several pairs up to the field above our house. Here’s a photo of Magnicate’s calf.

Magnicate’s calf

April 9 – Last Sunday Lynn, Michael and Carolyn, Andrea and Robbie spent all morning burning the ditchbanks along the field below our house. Even though the heifers grazed there for several weeks and got rid of most of the old tall dead grass, there was still a matt of old grass in the ditches. It needed to be removed before we start irrigating, to get rid of the obstructions. Rain in the wee hours that morning made everything wet and more difficult to burn (and it took quite a bit of propane and diesel to keep the fires going), but also ensured that there would be no danger of wind-blown sparks setting something else on fire (like our haystack nearby). The wind did come up quite strongly before they were finished, but there was no risk for the fire spreading out of control

Shrek (one of our middle-aged cows with ogre-ears) started calving mid-morning so I quickly put her in the calving pen. It was very windy and cold, so I put her in the barn. She calved quickly even though it was a huge heifer calf.

Andrea and Robbie picked up the kids that evening from Mark and we all had dinner here. Em and Robert came out to join us. After dinner Dani helped sort out the cows most likely to calve, to put into the orchard for night—where we can easily see them from the house with a spotlight and binoculars.

On Monday Michael hauled Sy Miller’s tractor and hydraulic jack-hammer post-pounder over here and he set all the posts for the new fence on two sides of the field below the house where the heifers are wintering. We had a blizzard while they were setting posts, but it didn’t last long and they kept working. Then Michael and Robbie set the gate posts in concrete.

Tuesday morning was very cold (17 degrees) with some new snow. It melted quickly after the sun came up, but there was still a bit of snow hanging onto a spider-web outside our dining room window so I took a photo through the window.

snowflake spider web

Michael and Robbie worked on the fence again, putting on the top rails. Andrea’s bad cold settled into her chest as pneumonia so she went to the doctor and had a shot of antibiotics and a got a prescription for follow-up. I cooked lunch for the fence crew again. Lillie Annie started calving so we put her in the barn and she had a nice heifer calf later in the evening. Michael and Carolyn’s cows are calving now, too, and they are nearly 1/3 done calving.

Wednesday Michael and Robbie worked on the fence and put more top rails.
putting top rails on fence

That morning the cougar killed a doe in Michael’s field, right next to his cows, and Rocky found another dead elk just a few hundred yards up the creek from his house. It’s probably one of the two female cougars that was hanging around our places last fall, killing deer. Maybe it’s the one that was stalking Michael and Carolyn’s horses the day some hunters driving along the road shot at it to scare it away, as it was sneaking up behind Carolyn’s mare and ready to pounce.

working on fence
building fence

Michael & Robbie building fence
Thursday was our warmest day this spring, up to 62 degrees that afternoon. Robbie helped Michael put barbed wire on the new fence and hang the gate, and net wire on the fence between the field and the horse pen. Dani didn’t have school that day due to parent-teacher conferences, so she helped Andrea and me feed the cows. When we drove out there we discovered that one of the young cows (StarFire) had a tangle of old electric wire around her chest and shoulders and was dragging about 100 feet of wire. She’d apparently rubbed some of the old wire off the upper fence and got tangled in it. We had to bring her and her calf down to the pen in front of the barn to catch up with her enough to get it off her—before it choked her or before she got a bunch of calves tangled up in the dragging end of it.

After we fed the cows, Dani helped us put straw in the calf houses, so they’ll have a dry place to sleep during the rain and snowstorms. I fed the guys lunch and they worked on the new fence again all afternoon. Twinkle calved late afternoon—another heifer calf. We have mostly heifers and very few bull calves so far.

Friday morning at 3:30 a.m. Panda started calving so I put her in the calving pen where I could watch her more closely from the house. Since she’s a first calver, I put Buffalo Girl in with her, to keep her company so she wouldn’t be so upset. I worked on a couple articles (always deadlines to meet), and kept watching Panda from the window. By daylight she was in more serious labor and trying to get away from the pain, pacing the fence, pushing on the gates, kicking her belly and getting up and down.

I did another phone interview after chores and breakfast and by that time Panda was more serious, with the calf’s feet appearing. They were huge feet, however, and it looked like we might have to pull the calf. Also, the weather went nasty and started raining, so Lynn and I put Panda and Buffalo Girl in the barn. Andrea and Dani came down to help keep track of her (hiding in the barn and watching her from a couple stalls away where she couldn’t see them). She was taking too long and we decided we needed to help her, so Andrea called Robbie. He arrived just after Lynn, Dani, Andrea and I started pulling the calf, and Robbie added his strength to the pulling power—which was a good thing because the calf hiplocked and it was a tough pull to bring it on out the birth canal. But we got it safely born—a huge heifer calf. It was up suckling before long and Panda was a good mama.

Then Michael, Nick and Robbie worked all day on the fence. I cooked lunch for them, and it rained hard during lunch and they were afraid they might have to postpone until the next day, but then it cleared off a little and they were able to continue working all afternoon.

Meanwhile, Deerling (another heifer, and one of Dani’s favorites) was calving and we put her in the barn stall next to Panda. She calved mid-afternoon, much easier and quicker—a small heifer calf—but she wasn’t at all interested in the calf. Unlike Panda who was a super mom in spite of our help with the calving, Deerling (who had no interference whatsoever) didn’t mother her calf. When it got up and tried to nurse, she kicked and bunted it. We had to put her in the headcatch to restrain her and tie a hind leg back (so she couldn’t kick) so her calf could suckle. She didn’t have much milk. Perhaps she calved a bit early (though her due date was fast approaching) or for some other reason the hormones of motherhood and milk production just hadn’t kicked in yet.

The calf was still very hungry at chore time and Deerling kicked her every time she tried to suckle, so we put Deerling in the headcatch again and let the calf have at it. Deerling still didn’t have much milk so we gave her a shot of oxytocin (a drug that stimulates milk let-down and motherly attitude) but that didn’t help much. We were able to put Panda and her calf out in a pen (they were so well bonded by then) and put Deerling’s calf in that adjacent stall so her mom couldn’t beat up on her or kick her. We fed the calf a bottle of colostrum replacer because she still hadn’t had enough to eat.

Andrea, Sam and Dani came down at 2 a.m. Saturday morning to help me put Deerling in the headcatch again and let the calf suckle and fed the calf another supplemental bottle. At 10 a.m. we put Deerling in the headcatch again (at least she wasn’t very reluctant to go into it, which was a blessing) so her calf could be nursed. She still didn’t have much milk and seemed a little dull, breathing with labored effort, so we realized she might be sick. We cornered her behind a panel in the barn and tied a rope behind her so she couldn’t back up, and I gave her injections of antibiotic and Banamine (an anti-inflammatory and painkiller). I didn’t want to give her any more injections while she was in the headcatch because I didn’t want her to refuse to go into that chute again; we needed her cooperation to keep nursing her calf. We put Buffalo Girl in the stall next to her to keep her company since at that point in time there were no other cows or heifers in the barn.

We put Deerling in a different, bigger stall in the barn (next to the headcatch right outside the barn door). In that big stall we could panel off a corner of it for her calf—so it would be right next to her but safe from her kicking. We gave the calf another supplemental bottle that afternoon. That evening it was very cold and raining when we put Deerling in the headcatch again, and let the calf suckle, with a towel over the calf to keep it dry (the headcatch is outside the barn).

Dani & Andrea suckling Deerling's calf

Andrea and Sam put her in headcatch themselves at 2 a.m this morning. At least Deerling is easy to handle and doesn’t kick much when she’s in the headcatch; she just won’t let the calf nurse yet without being restrained.

I got up at 4 a.m. to work on articles, and at 6 a.m. Lynn heard a cow bellowing (I couldn’t hear it over the sound of my computer). I rushed out to the barn and discovered that Buffalo Girl had just calved. She’s a too-aggressive mama and always needs someone there to keep her from rooting her calf too vigorously when she starts to lick him. Once he can get up and nurse, she’s fine, but she needs supervision to make sure she doesn’t keep shoving him around so he can’t get up.

Andrea came down and together we guarded the calf until we could get him on his feet and then helped him nurse his mother.

Put Deerling in headcatch again at 10 a.m. She finally starting has a little more milk and the calf no longer needs a supplement bottle. We’re putting Deerling in the headcatch just 3 times a day (mid-morning, and at evening chores and at 2 a.m.) instead of every 6 hours and the calf seems to be getting enough to eat. We no longer have to tie her hind leg back (to keep her from kicking); as long as she is restrained in the headcatch she lets the calf nurse.

April 17 – We’ve had more calves—mostly heifers and very few bull calves. Last Monday the guys worked on the fence again and I cooked them lunch—and we had a nasty blizzard during lunch and then the snow quit and they were able to resume work.

On Tuesday the guys finished the fence between the field and the horse pens and put up the hot wire along the sides (to keep the cows from rubbing on the netting and to keep Sprout from chewing on her top pole) and I put Sprout back in her “new” pen.

The guys put new poles along the top of Ed and Dottie’s pens where the horses chewed them this winter, and a new hot wire out from the fence that will keep them from chewing on the new poles.

Wednesday morning started turning the corner on Deerling’s attitude. Lynn helped me at 2 a.m. that morning (and let Andrea sleep) and when we let Deerling out of the headcatch she just stood there for a few minutes and let the calf continue suckling, without kicking. This was progress! At the next feeding we let Deerling out of the headcatch very soon after the calf started nursing and she stood there calmly and let the calf continue. So we put the pair in the second day pens –out of the barn at last—in adjacent pens, where the calf has more room to run around and the cow can see and smell her (Little Miss Firecracker LuLu) more readily through the fence. At nursing time we fed Deerling in the corner next to her calf’s pen, and let the calf come through the gate and nurse. This is much easier than having to put her in the headcatch each time, and one person can do this chore. Here’s a photo of Deerling’s calf, taking a nap.

LMFC Lulu taking a nap
That afternoon Rocket (a 2nd calver) and MiniMag (a first calver) went into labor about the same time. We put them in the calving pen, and later into the barn. Rocket was named by Dani because she was born very quickly—like a rocket, according to Dani. It must be a family trait, because she didn’t have a problem this year and she calved FAST. Last year wasn’t so easy, however. She had twins and they were not presented correctly. We had to go fishing for them and pull both of them (the first one was stuck and the second one was breech). But this year she didn’t even bother to lie down. One minute she was just standing there in the barn and when I came back to check on her 10 minutes later she had already calved (dropping the calf on its head in a heap with its head underneath it’s body). It’s a good thing I checked, because the calf couldn’t breathe like that, and I got it untangled in time, before it suffocated.

MiniMag didn’t calve so easy, however, and we were glad we had her in the barn because her calf was huge and we had to pull it. It’s easier to sneak up on a heifer in the small barn stall and put chains on the calf while she’s lying there laboring. Andrea got the chains on the calf’s legs and Robbie helped us pull the calf—another hard pull. Most of the heifer’s calves have been born easily this year, but some of the Zorro daughters (who were big themselves at birth) have had big calves and needed a little help.

Thursday it rained, but Michael and Robbie went ahead and set the gate post for a new gate in the corner of Ed’s pen (to replace an old panel that’s hard to open). The little walk-through gate is fine for taking Ed in and out, but when we need to take a machine in there to clean the manure out of the pen we need the bigger gate.

That evening it rained more, turning to snow, making it difficult to see the cows from the window. The spotlight doesn’t work very well in a snowstorm. Andrea took a little hay out to them in the middle of the night so the cows would eat and spread out and not be all huddled in a tight group where we couldn’t see whether any of them were calving. She also put new straw out in the 2nd day pen windbreak corners for the new babies so they could lie on something dry and not be so cold and wet.

Dani had a friend overnight. They helped us feed, and played with Deerlings calf

Emily and Robert made a trip to California to see his grandfather, and stopped to see my cousin’s husband, Ray. There was new snow on Donner Pass on their way home, and the road was closed for cars without chains. Since they didn’t have chains they camped in a gas station and slept in their car until the road opened again the next day.

Saturday was cold again. Lynn and I tagged the newest calves. Rosalee started calving so I put her in the calving pen by the house. She took a while, and then was having a little trouble; she got up before the calf was fully born and it hiplocked. Andrea and Robbie had to pull it out – putting the chains above the calf’s knees because the calf was so long, with front feet dragging the ground.

This is what Rosalee did a few years ago when she was calving the day of Bill’s funeral (Lynn’s brother). I stayed home from the funeral because we realized she was calving, in case she needed help. She had a big bull calf that hiplocked and I had quite a time pulling him on out by myself, but finally managed to do so.

Yesterday was cold again, down to 22 degrees in the morning. Deerling has made a lot of progress and she didn’t try to kick her calf at all after I left them together for the whole time I was doing morning chores, so I just left them together. They are now an official pair! Michael and Robbie finished up the last of the horse pen job, hanging the new gate and putting hot wire along Dottie’s pen.

I cooked supper for everyone that evening when Andrea and Robbie brought the kids home from Mark. After supper they went out to start the tractor (it had been plugged in all day) but it wouldn’t start. The battery was run down, and the battery charger wasn’t enough to get it going soon enough. Michael had to bring his tractor down just before dark to load our feed truck for morning and take a new bale out to the heifers.

This afternoon Andrea and Robbie burned the grass off ditch above the little field where the cows and calves are, so Andrea can start the water through that ditch.

APRIL 24 – Merrinina calved last Tuesday and as soon as her calf nursed a little we moved that pair out of the calving pen to the 2nd-day pen with a shelter--a tarp over one corner--since it was raining. By afternoon it was raining very hard and I went out to herd the cold little calf into the sheltered corner where there was a dry place to lie down.

Buffalooky started calving that evening and we put her in the barn because it was still raining hard. She had a big bull calf. The bulls are still way behind; we have a lot more heifer calves than bulls this year.

Wednesday morning it quit raining so Andrea, Lynn and I tagged and banded Rosalee’s big calf. He was hard for us to put down on the ground to band him (he weighs a lot more than I do because he’s big and was already several days old), but we got it accomplished. At least Rosalee trusts us, and though she hovered over us, mooing, and concerned about her calf, she didn’t try to bash us.

We put Buffalooky and calf out of the barn to a 2nd day pen, and briefly put Deerling and calf down in the big pen with Rosalee and calf, thinking Deerling and calf could probably “graduate” from their pen and start living with some other pairs. But Deerling was still a little confused and was letting Rosalee’s calf attempt to suckle, so we put her and her feisty little heifer back in their own pen.

Thursday morning at 1 a.m. Cupie Doll and Malulamae were both calving so we put them both in the barn. Malulamae is a first calver and needed a baby-sitter in the next stall so it was handy that we had an older cow calving at the same time. Malulamae got frantic when the labor pains hit, and tried to climb the walls and bash the doors down. Andrea had to stack several bales of hay on the outside of the barn doors (along with the props we usually put against the doors) to make sure she didn’t get out.

When she started serious labor Andrea and I sat quietly in the back stall by the back door where the cows couldn’t see us, and watched—in case we needed to help. The heifer took awhile, with a big bull calf, and we did end up pulling it, but it was an easy pull. By that time (5 a.m.) Andrea was exhausted, having been up all night, so she went home to bed and I continued watching Cupie Doll. She finally calved (a big heifer calf) and Malulamae’s calf was up nursing, so I went out to do my morning chores.

We let Andrea sleep, and Lynn helped me feed the cows, get firewood and put Rosalee and calf up to the field with the other pairs. After that he got the tractor started (the battery seems ok now, after being recharged) and brought some big bales around for the bulls, and loaded the feed truck. About that time it started raining hard, so I put Buffalooky and calf down into the larger pen below the barn where there’s a better windbreak corner and an overhanging tree that gives more shelter.

Friday we did chores and feeding early, took a big bale out to the heifers, tagged all the new calves and put the two pair out of the barn. Lynn went with Andrea to Challis to watch the girls’ track meet. Both Sam and Dani did very well.

It was a nicer day and I took some photos up in the field above the house, of some of the cows and calves.

cows and calves in the field
dinner time

Saturday we tagged and banded the newest calves then Lynn went to locate a water well for a rancher across the valley. Sunday we had rain off and on all day, so Lynn was glad he did the water-witching on Saturday.

Sunday morning we fed cows in pouring rain, put pairs to the field in the rain, and then it let up a little and Robbie and Andrea put up the hot wire to split the field below the lane and lock the heifers on the creek side that we always pasture because it’s too boggy to put up hay. This will give the hayfield side a chance to start growing, without the heifers continually grazing it into the ground. They are hungry for green grass, even though the grass isn’t ready to be grazed yet. The kids ate dinner here that evening, after coming home from their dad’s place. Dani enjoyed seeing Deerling’s calf again, and walking out to see all the cows and calves in the field above the house.

We only have two cows left to calve—LilyAnn and a first calf heifer, Gemini Cricket (a daughter of Emerald). This morning LillyAnn is restless, so maybe she’s in early labor. It would be nice to have both of them calve soon!