12 April 2021

Night Calving

There’s something special about checking cows at night. Although it may still be bone chillingly cold, the wind has usually gone down. Stars shine brightly over head. The silence surrounds you.Any loud noises would be out of place so you stay quiet too, walking soft footed into the dark.

My pet heifer, Ghost, was getting near calving. I wanted to go check her one last time before going to bed. Walking into the pen the rest of the heifers barely looked at me. I walked among them so often I was nearly part of the herd. Ghost was fine. She came over to sniff my hands and ask for a treat or a scratch then  walked with me as I made the round.

One of the heifers had the water bag out. The thin weak light from  my flashlight, so blindingly bright in the house, could barely enhance the bright light of the moon. I couldn’t see any feet. The bag didn’t look dry. It wasn’t more than a couple of hours since I had been out here last. There was no reason to think there was any trouble. Except that this was a heifer.

So much for going in and straight to bed.

I stopped to tell my husband that I was going to stay up and check her again, he might as well go ahead and get some sleep. I sat on the couch and got some work done. Finally an hour passed, I had given her time to get some work done so I went back out.

This time two front feet were showing. Both facing the right way. Everything looked good. The goal is always to leave them alone to do it their way. A first baby is hard. I’d give her a bit more time to work on it.

This time I tried to sleep. It was getting late and I was going to be feeling this come morning. After fitful dozing on the couch I decided to go check again. She’d had plenty of time to work at it herself, it was getting  to be decision time. It was also about one o’clock in the morning.

She was laying down when I got there. Although there hadn’t been much further progress, I could see the front feet clearly. Those things were huge. There was no way a tiny heifer was going to be able to do this by herself.

I might as well start clearing a path to the barn.

There’s reason the heifers are kept separate and as close to the barn as possible. Much easier to keep an eye on them and bring one in when needed. And it will be needed.

I opened what gates I could. There was a heifer in the front corral who had lost her calf and a twin calf we were trying to adopt on her. I moved them out of the way. Turning lights on in the barn I opened everything needed to run her straight into the chute.

The whole time I tried to decide if I should go wake my husband. At first I thought I might as well get everything ready, then I’ll go get him. Then I thought, I’ll just run her up first then I’ll go get him. Then I found myself running her into the chute and I still hadn’t woken him.

I had seen this done and assisted many times. Even though I’d never had the chance myself, surely I could do it?

I had great faith that if I needed him he would show up at my side. Ever since I first met him he has been there when  I needed. God taps him on the shoulder and sends him my way. If I got into trouble I trusted that God would send him to me again.  So I proceeded with the heifer.

With a deep breath I prepared myself and dove in to investigate. Nothing could prepare me for the heat and I jerked my hand back. Knowing what to expect I tried again. The calf chains (nylon actually) were awkward and difficult to get securely in place. My first try slipped off as soon as I pulled. The second try worked better. She was helping all she could. I pulled, she strained, we made great progress.

In no time the calf, wet pink tongue sticking out as it coughed up fluids and gasped for air, was hanging by it’s hips. I let it hang there, lungs draining, coming to life.

Then the cow went down. The size of the calf was more than her young narrow hips could take. I couldn’t get her up. I couldn’t get the calf out.

Finally I opened the head catch hoping she would get up if she could get out of the chute.

It worked. She struggled to her feet. I hung onto the calf chains following her out of the chute. Those hips would not give though. Her were giving out as she staggered about. The calf’s were wedged tight. After following her about, trying to balance pulling with keeping her on her feet, the calf slipped free.

Keeping my grip on the chains I kept the calf from smacking into the concrete. The heifer was down again. The calf was alive and breathing, and huge!

The night was warm. I was exhausted. I left them both lay there. She could take care of her own calf when she was rested and able to get up. I wouldn’t be able to move him much anyway. He was too big for me to pick up.

Staggering into the house, my husband scared me half to death standing just inside the door. He was coming to look for me. As always, there watching out for me when  I need him and MAD that I hadn’t woken him up to help me.

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26 March 2021

Spring

It was snowing. The snow falling softly, straight down with no wind to drive it.

I stood brushing the horses. We had all the time in the world. No rush to be anywhere or get work done. Right now the work was waiting. In the next pen over a heifer struggled to give birth. With the horses I waited, watching from a distance. Ready to offer help while trying to stay out of her way.

Spring is a time of birth. New life after a cold dark winter. Giving life is not easy though, only the strong survive, both the birthing and the spring. They are harsh and unforgiving. We need to have the will to make it through in order to enjoy the warmth of summer.

The calving season has been cruel, full of death. Young lives that will  never get to lay inn the green grass with summer sun shining on them. The casualties add up in my head, a tally no one wants to keep. The new born with a broken leg. Snapped in half above the knee in front. With little chance of being able to heel the calves drive to live and strong will that had him up and determined to walk guaranteed he would never heel and his drive to live killed him. I sobbed over him, the cold of the barn floor burning into my hand as I held him down  to finish his last bottle of milk while he fought to stand, the leg flopping sickeningly as he forced it to hold his weight. He would have to die to spare him more suffering. Better while he was sill so full of energy and enthusiasm than waiting until he was wore down  from infection and pain.

But to take the life of something so young and so determined to live. Can there be anything worse?

The young heifer who was devotedly licking the hindquarters of her brand new calf. Only minutes on  the ground he had already suffocated, sh was licking the bag off his hind end while it covered his nose cutting off that first breath. I had arrived seconds too late to save him. She spent the day licking and calling to him softy.
The calf who died at a week old. Healthy one day and too weak to move the next. No medications we tried were able to help. His mom spent the next two days calling for him. She called until her voice was broken and hoarse. A cow had twins. To give them better feed and care we brought one in and gave it to the cow. Anything to make her stop calling. After all our attempts at adopting the calf she is still kicking it away as it tries to nurse.
So here I stand. Waiting. Watching. Hoping to prevent another death. It’s hard to hold out until that moment when you know help is needed. To wait and let her try on her own. She was doing good. Two feet were showing, pointing the right direction.

So hear I stood among the horses. Waiting.

Then  one last push. The calf was out. She had done it.

Jumping the fence I went to make sure everything was alright. The calf lay there a puddle of after birth and bag. He was still wrapped securely in the bag that hadn’t broken during birth. His mom lay, exhausted, resting from the work she had done.

I grabbed the bag, sinking my hands into the wet slippery home he had lived in for the last nine months and yanked it back over his head. He lay still.

Had he already suffocated? Where his lings too full of the liquids that had been keeping him alive? Would they kill him now? Usually the bag breaks and their lungs drain as they hang waiting to be fully born. I grabbed the slippery hind legs and hefted his hind end in the air. Hoping to help some fluid drain. He wiggled and jerked. His mom, thoroughly disturbed now, stood to see what  she had accomplished and what I was doing with it.

I let him down and stepped back She stepped back too. Horrified by this new occurrence. Looking on in curious horror as the other heifers came to see. They wandered off. She went to investigate. Wiping my hands on my jeans I made a mental note to remember to take them off before I went inside. Then I took my curry comb  to Ghost who came over to visit.

Again, we waited. The heifer licked her calf. The calf took a watery shuddering breath. This time we would have life.

And the snow kept falling.

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14 March 2021

Snow

It rained all day yesterday. Perfect weather to make lots of mud and get everything soaked through before the snow came today.

We went out this morning to find the cows who haven’t calved yet with their heads to the fence, backs to the driving wind, standing in the full brunt of it.

We had spent the last few days getting the pairs moved to a pen where the calves would be able to get shelter. Then they reinforced the shelter and made sure the wind would be blocked from  the east. All  of our shelter is designed to protect from north and west winds. When it comes from the east we are left wide open. The cows and calves were tucked away nice and warm and dry. Except for the couple of cows who had taken their calves out to the far side of the pen and left them there in the wind and the icy slush we were getting as the weather decided what it wanted to do for sure.

Since  they were mostly good we focused on the cows.

Between the two of us we were able to push them around the corner that was all it would have taken for them to do on their own to find shelter. Once they were all around and through the gate we locked it behind them to keep them from leaving shelter again to go back and stand in the full force of the storm which they greatly preferred.

Then we went to get food. We found a pen we don’t usually use that was fairly sheltered with the wind from  this direction and put some bales out. Then we had to convince the cows to move again. They were slightly more sheltered and didn’t want to move.

Once they were finally settled and everything fed I went to check on the calves whose moms had left them on the far side of the pen while my husband went to feed a couple of other bunches. When I walked out there one calf jumped up and ran back to where the cows were eating out of the wind. The other didn’t budge. I tried to get her to stand. She hung limp, deep into calf camouflage mode. Like a faun they will lay perfectly still counting on their stillness and lack of scent to save them from  predators.

She may also have been slightly frozen.

After failing to convince her to stand I paused and looked around. The pen isn’t large, it’s one of the smaller ones. That still meant that the calf and I were a long ways from the shelter and other cows. The cow who tried to eat me the other day was inn there somewhere. The quickest rout to the cows was straight across the middle. Far from any fences  I could climb to get away. None of the cows had any interest in us though. They were too busy eating to care about a calf freezing out here in the open.

I grabbed two hind legs and began to drag her. She was a small calf. The hooves still hadn’t fully shed their baby softness, she was probably one of the ones born yesterday. She was still more than I could carry. I drug her as far as I could then paused to breath and reassess. The distance to the cows didn’t look any less. There was no way I could get her that far. Against the guardrail fence another calf was laying there. The solid fence was plenty of shelter for a tiny calf. we made a detour.

Knowing there wasn’t as far to go I got both hind legs again  and didn’t stop to rest until we got to the fence. The cows had been far away and uninterested. My back  was to them  as I pulled the calf along. Suddenly there were cows everywhere. Or it seemed like there were. Two or three had come running, the milled about calling for calves, sniffing and checking to make sure everything was alright. I jumped the fence because I’m chicken.  Hopefully the calf’s mom would get her and take her back.

She didn’t.

The cows and other calf left. I was alone again with this limp still calf. Back over the fence again I drug her right up against the guardrail and propped her up again. I stuck  my finger in her mouth to get a quick temp check. Her tongue was cool but there was heat in there. Not good but it could be worse. I stood there trying to decide what I could do.

From behind me I heard a shout. Turning and squinting my eyes against the sleet it took me awhile to spot my husband across the corals in the pickup.  He had finished his feeding and w anted to know what  was going on. We yelled across the distance, neither having any idea what the other was saying. I’ve always said we commune on a higher plan though, he made it clear he was going to come over.

As I waited, back  to the wind, I wrung the water out of my gloves. It was warm still, I was sweating under my coat, but the water was starting to soak through.  My gloves were dripping, my legs were wet, my face soaked. The wet slushy snow was changing to solid flakes. The difference was apparent in that short little bit of time. It was getting rapidly worse.

It took awhile for him to get around,  park the pickup,  walk through the corrals. As he got to the fence though I could see that he was pulling the sled.

My knight in shining armor. I knew we communed on a higher plane. He knew exactly what was needed and had thought it through and grabbed the supplies we would need. what man. Together we loaded the calf on the sled. Of course she then  decided she had to stand up. I walked beside holding her on as he drug sled and calf to the shelter of the old barn. He pulled her up into the cows, onto the warm straw, and deposited her there where hopefully her mom would get her. At least she would be warmer and off the mud until her mom decided to go looking.

It was time for us to go inside. Tie to warm up and dry out a little before the next check. From in here the wind is rattling the house and snow is coming down hard enough that we can barely see across the yard. At least we got the cows settled before it hit hard. Now if they actually stayed in  the shelter.

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11 February 2021

Still Cold

I don’t know how long the cold has been  here. It seems like months, years perhaps. It may be as little as a week or less?

It has been snowing all day for the last three days. There is no accumulation. It’s too cold to snow. This is more like what little moisture is in the air freezing and falling down. The cattle are white though. They creak and groan as the stand up, leaving brown patches where they had been laying. The horses are frosted too. The bottom layer of their winter coats keeping them warm  and dry as the top is covered with snow.

Life right now is all about trying to keep at least one vehicle running and getting animals fed.

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. I’ve decided to amend that to a belly of hay keeps the shivers away. All horsemen should know there’s nothing better to keep our horses warm than all the hay they can eat. Cattle are no different. We keep a bunk full of ground hay and corn in front of them and round bales set out in the pen to go with it. The gates are open. They could leave the pen to go out to their pasture. If any of them  have, they returned quickly to the pens.

Baa and Violet, running out with the herd now, have their own special way of eating. Instead of fighting larger cattle for space, they crawl into the bunks and eat, standing in their food. A reminder that they stay where they are because they choose to.

Th stack yard doesn’t just provide the hay to keep the cattle full and provide a wonderful playground for the children.

All winter the wildlife flocks to it, for shelter and feed. I love to watch for the tracks of pheasant wings on the fresh fallen snow as I walk out to break ice. Where they crash to the ground, then run off, barely more capable of flight that a chicken. A flock of grouse in a tree, wobbling about. They are uncommon to see here, where we mostly have pheasant.

In a large clump of weeds the brown specks of sparrows decorate like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Along the edge of the driveway the are scratch marks in  the snow. We had fun debating what had been digging for corn until we saw the birds covering the ground only to fly away in a swarm as the car drew near. Circling and diving they circled back  to their grazing as we passed.

In the stack yard green stands out brightly along the edges of dull drab weather worn hay bales. The deer have been nibbling though the outer edge to the fresh taste of summer buried within. Out in the corn stalks I count a herd of deer numbering around fifty every afternoon as I drive to get the children after school. By the time we moved the cattle to that field it was with doubt that there was any corn  left for them.

Cold snaps are all about feed. We provide plenty of that. To livestock and wildlife alike. As I watch all animals eat on food provided by us I have to laugh at the people who seem to think that farming and nature somehow exist separately.

 

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23 December 2020

Almost Christmas Blizzard

We woke up to snow this morning.

It came as a complete surprise. The forecast had said maybe, a small chance of snow. We’ve gotten so used to not getting anything that perhaps they said more and we didn’t hear it because our expectations were otherwise. Whatever the reason we had not expected snow.

A small blizzard was even more of a surprise.

Had we known it was coming we would have brought the cows into the corrals. Fed them where there was shelter and feed. Instead they were out in the corn field. A great place in the weather we had been having. Lots of corn stalks to graze on while they search out the ears left behind.

Not a drop of shelter though and  the wind is howling down with this snow. Driving it into drifts, coating everything in its path with a blanket of white.

Looking out into the powdery white my husband sighed deeply. This would mean lots of time digging out the feed bunks and the cattle would have to be found. Cattle drift with the storm, as any one who is a fan of old westerns can tell you. They don’t exaggerate the force of a herd with heads down walking blindly with the wind until stopped by fence line or, as in my favorite by Louis L’amour, a cliff. They could have drifted down to the corrals. That was the best case scenario. The storm isn’t all that bad. We could see the hay out inn the stack yard still. The wind was whistling through the trees letting us know how much worse it was blowing away from the shelter of the windbreak. They knew the way though.  It was a good possibility really.

Or they could be gone. Off across the neighbors fields. Mixing with their cows. Hopefully not making it as far as the highway. We have a neighbor who lives on the highway and they got a whole herd of cows and one horse in  their yard and barns during a blizzard. The horse determinedly herded the cows and held them in the barn until someone came to find them.

As my husband headed out to start digging out the cattle, I went the other way to check on my horses. They have a run in shed that they refuse to use except on sunny summer days and plenty of feed and shelter. I hate fr them to get cold or wet though. I wanted to see how they felt about it and offer the option of the shed to dry off in. Checking onn Ghost, Poppy, Baa, and Violet where they have their own little pen with sheds for all I closed gates and rearranged things so the horses could get to the barn.

Then I walked to the edge of their pen and called.

In the distance I could see where they were standing happily eating hay. They had heard me and responded with heads thrown in the air and ears prick towards me. They came, ready to go in the barn.

As they came through the falling snow to where I could see more than an outline of them, I was confused. Where were MY horses? These horses were a completely different color! We didn’t have any white horses!

Even as powdery as the snow was it had coated them head to toe. All fur was white, their manes all that retained any color. The beautifully colored snow horses pranced through knee deep drifts, nipping at each other and determind in their goal. Together we turned and walked into the barn.

Wading back to the house for a curry comb to scrape the snow from their hides I paused, wondering how the men were fairing. In the distance I spotted the dark outline of a payloader, then of two. They were digging snow, clearing a path to feed. Happy to know they were out there I carried on.

Horses scraped free of their snow blankets I followed my tracks back into the snow with a pitchfork to dig up some hay. Had I known it was going to snow I would have had this ready and waiting for them! It is more pleasant when all things are dry and not buried. With a handful of pitchfork my phone rang. Rushing to dump it through the open barn door I leaned against the barn to shelter my phone from the moisture and managed to answer before it stopped ringing. My husband was calling to check on us as he worked.

Yes, we were fine. Or I was. I couldn’t vouch for the children in the house. They had computers though, great baby sitters for times like these. How were the cows? They had drifted into the corrals! They were going to feed them in n the corrals. The corral I had turned the horses out into because we weren’t using it for cows! Uh oh. I needed to shut some gates!

Pitching a few more fork fulls to the horses I started my walk. Lots of corrals with lots of gates makes a nice little track for the horses to wander through. They also make a long walk through deep drifts to close. The first gate was buried in drifts. I pushed and pulled and could barely move it. Not such a bad thing. I could close other gates and this would give the cows a bit more room. But I had to try one more time first. Walking the drift down, kicking snow out of the way the best I could I go the gate farther shut. Repeating the process over and over I managed to get the gate closed.

Out of breath, lungs burning from panting inn the cold wet air I finished the loop closing the other gate then back into the wind towards the buildings. My torso was hot, sweating under coats, and gloves, and scarf. My legs were frozen solid with only the thin covering of my jeans. You would think the two would even each other out. Combine to leave you comfortably warm, instead of dying of heat and freezing to death at the same time.

A the buildings I paused. Halfway between house and barn I had to decide. Did the horses need more hay or did I need to sit down a moment, catch my breath and alternately warm up and cool down? They had been eating when I called them. They could survive for an hour or so on what I had given them already. I gave in to temptation and went inside. To write this. Now I should go check on them. Probably let them back out. A glimpse of blue is showing through the clouds now and then. The blizzard is gone. Hardly enough moisture in the dry powdery snow to make  it worth the trouble it made. At least it will settle the dust for awhile. And I will turn  the horses back out now that they’ve had time to dry.

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21 November 2020

Moving Cows

I don’t even know where to start. This may turn into a bit of a novel. It was a grand adventure though and I want to share it. There are some typos and badly written areas. It’s a novel though and I have to go do more cow things. I don’t have time to proof read it all. Enjoy, hang in there.
Mostly though, everybody wants to be a cowboy until it’s time to do cowboy, um, ‘stuff’. 😉 Not how the quote goes but my mom would yell at me.
Our neighbor has a pasture leased for his small herd of cattle about two hours away. It’s way out in the middle of nowhere, not in the hills and trees but along them. It was time to bring them home for the winter and he needed help.
He is a great neighbor, always happy to come help at the drop of a hat, a good hand with cattle, and just an all around nice guy. I as happy to go help. My father in law, referred to from here on out as fil, was not so thrilled. All week he would groan and mumble anytime the subject came up. As in, “groan, argh, grr, I’m just not looking forward to this”. The neighbor is a great guy. The neighbors cows are crazy.
I think because the neighbor is so quiet and easy going, his cows get used to that. When anyone else comes around, even being quiet and easy, they bolt.
We drove the two hours up there, about half of that is highway. Then you twist and turn down gravel road. There is a quicker way but it is best described by C.W. McCall “there was a shortcut but unless we had drove the Black Bear Road before, we’d better be off to stay, stay in bed and sleep late” only instead of Black Bear Pass this is Pants Butte Rd. It twists down the side of a cliff and you can’t take a semi down it. Not safely. So we took the long way.
Once there we unloaded out trusty four wheeled mounts in the driveway of the place we would be driving them to to load. The guy was willing to let us use his corrals but wanted nothing to do with the cows. His daughter and some friends had gathered them last year. She wanted nothing to do with them ever again.
Not a good sign.
Down the road to the pasture we headed in. It’s a small pasture under two hundred acres so finding our way around shouldn’t be a problem. Entering in a creek bottom, low with lots of trees the road immediately climbed up to high flat ground and I started for the back side of the pasture.
Fil explored the creek bottom a bit and the neighbor, in his pickup and trailer went to opening the fence.
The cows saw me and took off for the far side of the pasture. I hurried and got around them. They started running the other way instead. The way we wanted them to go. I stopped to stare in awe at the barn on the neighboring property.
A few pictures taken I started to follow the cow heard, my hat blew off just then. I grabbed it and started to hang it on the handlebar, only to look over and see the cows running back at me with a fourwheeler sitting between them and the direction we wanted to go. I was so distracted I dropped my hat. I waved my arms, screamed and yelled a little until the fourwheeler moved.
Then I went back to find my hat.
It was no where to be found and I had work to do so I left it with a heartfelt promise to come back and look again.
The cows dove into the creek bottom and the trees. The other fourwheeler disappeared. Cows crossed the creek. I could not cross the creek. Not with my mount at least. The water was deep with a soft bottom and steep sides.
With Daisies help we kept them going the right direction. It was all going fairly smooth actually.
The other fourwheeler got back. We got almost to the gate. And it was shut. The plans were to take them out the corner instead. A handful of cows jumped through the fence anyway. The rest turned and ran back to the south, the exact wrong direction.
Normally cows without their herd would go back towards the herd. I shrugged my shoulders at the ones in the road and went after the herd. We got them stopped except for a couple that lost their minds and were determined to go south.
I went after them and tried to turn them. Instead the cow got on the fight and started taking me. I was playing a bit, letting her take me because what else could you do? Fil showed up from way off to the side. She turned and took him head on. Crashed into the fourwheeler and fell over. I laughed a bit. She was not being a nice cow. Then as she laid there kicking I got a bit nervous. Was she dying? Could she really have killed herself crashing into a fourwheeler?!
The answer to that would be yes. Apparently that is possible.
We gathered the calf and went back to the herd. Able to hold them there on the flat we got them pushed back towards the road again.
The cows crossed the creek. Of course. I found a tree trunk and walked the balance beam to the other side and was able to push them back.
The bull found a tree though and made his stand. He was not going any farther. I couldn’t get him to go. Fil couldn’t get him to go. The neighbor couldn’t get him to go. The herd was still trying to break back away from the road.
We left him.
Was it the right thing to do. Maybe not? Probably not? Apparently he isn’t branded. There is nothing to mark ownership. No one is obligated to bring him back even if they had any idea who a bull randomly showing up in their pasture belonged to. I didn’t know that. Cows were running everywhere. It’s hard to find the right thing to do with so much going on.
The rest of the cow herd went down the road to the corrals and we had them in by noon! Not a bad day at all. Except for the bull. And what ever did happen with those cows that jumped out inn the first place?
I left fil and the neighbor to load the cattle in the semi and went back to see if I could get the bull. I should have stayed.
I searched again for my hat first, with no luck I went to find the bull. He was laying in the middle of the pasture chewing his cud. I was not willing to get to close. A bull who has gotten grouchy and made his stand is more dangerous than I am willing to mess with.
Moving him was an interesting practice in negative reinforcement. Annoy him enough that he wants to leave then remove the pressure. With lots of bugging we got almost to the road. Very slowly. On the other side of the creek, that mean more tree walking and chasing the bull on foot. The gate was closed of course. I had driven over the fence the cows knocked down to get in. I didn’t know how we’d get out if we got there. He’s a bull, they walk through fences all the time. I figured we’d manage something.
Then the guys showed up. That meant the gate was opened! But the noise from that side was more annoying than me.
He ran right past no matter how much screaming and arm waving I did.
The neighbor said there was a gate into the neighbors. The ones with the gorgeous barn. They had said he couldn’t use his corrals to load out of. That didn’t mean we wouldn’t make use of them in an emergency to hold the bull.
Still walking on the far side of the creek we worked the bull up to the gates. Developing a nice system I walked on the top, out of the creek bottom so if he came after me he’d have to make it up the steep bank first, and threw sticks in his general direction when he stopped. He walked very nicely to the other side of the pasture.
We got to the gate. He stopped and stood in the opening. Then ran past it. We got him turned and brought him back down the fence line. In the gate again he stopped. Looked around and ran by.
The neighbor had driven up to the buildings and walked with me trying to get him in the gate. He said there was nowhere to load out of there anyway. 🤦🏻‍♀️
Back towards the road again. The pasture is long and skinny. It’s not a half mile square. More like a mile by what ever the width would be to give you a quarter section.
It was a long walk.
The bull was still moving nicely and we managed to get him onto the road! Yay!!
We got a half mile down the road and the bull changed his mind. He turned and went back to his pasture. Fourwheelers didn’t bother him at all. He just walked right through them. I wasn’t willing to let him walk over me. He walked through the fence and I called it good. I was done for the day.
The neighbor was still up the road where the bull had decided he was done. A pickup had pulled out of a driveway and they were talking.
The guy yin the pickup had three cows and a calf in his hay field, he gestured off that way. Sure enough, we could see little black dots.
So that’s where the first fence jumpers went!
If we wanted we could drive them up to his house, there was a gate open into a trap. We could use his corrals to load.
Or we could run them back to the pasture and try to get them together with the bull?
I pulled for that.
We went too push them on up to his corrals. He went off to town for parts.
We drove the half mile to the cows. They took off at an easy lope down the driveway. The houses were a tiny dot in the distance. The cows loped on. The buildings barely drew nearer.
He said we could run them up to his house. He didn’t say the house was three miles down a ridiculously long driveway.
Almost there one of the cows got tired of the long lope and stopped. When we caught up she turned and took us. We were able to convince her to keep going, at a trot now. As she caught up with the other three, stopped by the fence around the yard. One fourwheeler pushed a bit close and they all piled through another fence.
Driving over the remains of yet another fence I took off across the hay field as fast as my poor tired mount could carry me. We all hit the creek at the same time. I pulled up. They dove through.
And there we were again.
There were no tree trunks to climb across. I convinced Daisy, ridding with me all day, to cross the creek and try to push them back. They sulled up in a corner and refused to move.
I found one small tree and was able to climb carefully across. Daisy barked. I threw branches at them. They stood at the creek bank refusing to move.
Until they did.
They turned and came straight at me. I dove for my trust tree. They ran past.
There were no crossings in that field. I went back to the buildings. The neighbor was there with his pickup. He knew a way through the buildings and over the creek.
I followed him through the most beautiful ranch head quarters I have ever seen. The Coffee Ranch was settled way back when, not too long after the civil war, consisting at one time of as many as three hundred thousand acres. It is down to about forty two thousand now. The history is incredible. The buildings old and gorgeous, new and ostentatious. I wanted to take pictures and look around. Not only would that be rude but we had cows to get. I buzzed through and found my way to the other side.
Here’s a link to a story about the Coffee Ranch https://www.1011now.com/…/ranching-in-sioux-county-the…/
With me able to get to them again the cows dove through the creek and fil followed pushing them back towards the latest fence they demolished.
We finally got them in the corrals.
The guy in the pickup showed up having made his trip to town. I bet he was surprised to find us not all that far from where he left us.
We opened and closed gates and got the cows almost to where they needed to be. I paused a moment opening gates and turned to talk to guy in pickup.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of something and turned in time to see the orange tagged cow charging my fourwheeler from clear across the corral!
I was sitting perfectly still, not bothering her. Not sure what made her snap just then. I dove off the far side of the fourwheeler. Aimed for the gate. Missed. She stopped and turned running back to the others.
The Guy in the pickup gave me a lecture about how cows wont go over a fourwheeler. Having seen them do pretty much that I had to disagree, even though he informed me that he knew this because he ran a twelve hundred head place.
We opened the gate and the cows ran through full speed. Only then mostly because we hadn’t expected them to go so fast or easy, did we look on down the loading chute to realize the trailer wasn’t backed up to it yet! The neighbor and fil were standing there messing with the trailer door. Yelling a warning to them they waved arms and jumped out of the way.
Fortunately the cows were just out in another big corral and not loose. We ran them back in and they loaded easily. We were done.
Back to the first set of cows waiting patiently in the semi and home. It was almost dark. We had left home at eight that morning.
Driving down the gravel road towards home I could barely see the road in the cloud of dust in front of me bringing up the tail. I kept thinking I could smell burning rubber. We were going along railroad tracks. It could be from that. I kept getting occasional wifts though. Enough that I stopped, got out, and checked my tires. No heat there. I kept going. As we neared the highway I tried to call fil see if he wanted to stop and check everything before we got going. His phone rang and rang but no one answered.
I’m always paranoid, so I chalked it up to that and ignored the occasional smell.
My husband called to get the update now that we had service again and I told him about the burning rubber smell. He wasn’t overly worried. Yes, I was talking on the phone and driving. It’s not like we have traffic to worry a bout out here. I lost service again.
The pickup I was in started making a weird noise. I called him back. As we talked a saw sparks start to fly off the tire of the semi in front of me.
Now we knew the cause of the burnt rubber smell. I told him I couldn’t reach his dad. He hung up and tried to reach him again. A car passed me and got between me and the semi. I couldn’t flag him down. My husband called the neighbor leading this procession of errors and tragedy. He pulled over as we made our last turn and we managed to get fil stopped.
The hub on the wheel was glowing red hot. We were ten miles from home with a load of crazy cattle on in the dark.
He said to ‘heck’ with it and drove on.
Not sure what the other options were. I followed him again with the neighbor bringing up the rear because I discovered when we stopped that I didn’t have any trailer lights. As we drove I watched sparks fly and prayed for everything I was worth for a safe trip home without the trailer catching fire. Then as we turned back onto gravel for the last bit home I also prayed not to start any other fires with sparks and chunks of glowing hot metal flying off.
We made it. My husband as well as making phone calls got the corrals arranged and lights turned on.
Backing up to the chute we happily and quickly dumped the cows off. The wheel glowed.
They went off to hose it down while we unloaded the three cows and calf off the pickup and trailer. All the cows were safely confined in corrals with guardrail fences. They weren’t going anywhere and we could haul them to the neighbors, with the pickups, no semi, in the morning.
This morning we were ready to go start loading cattle when we got the phone call. Apparently there was something else that could go wrong.
The neighbor got a call from the guy whose corrals we used. There were still three calves in his corrals…
Category: Cows | LEAVE A COMMENT
11 November 2020

Ghost

We brought the cows home last weekend. We had warm weather  and everything went good.

Now that Ghost is home where I can get to her and we have a fence I can bring her through so we can work ALONE. I am making the best of it and trying to get to her every day.

We are going back over the things she learned before we quit being able to work because of too much help. We are reinforcing treat manners, greatly strained by all the extra help. We are learning how to do new things like work on a lead rope and give to pressure.

She is exuberant in her responses and perhaps a bit over eager to work. I’m hoping that settle down as she gets used to working together again.

I’m learning a lot too. Like that cows are more sensitive to a curry comb than I would have guessed. Or maybe it’s nerves because she isn’t used to being brushed.

Cattle are different than horses. Together hopefully we can learn to navigate the learning in a way that works for both of us.

Category: Cows | LEAVE A COMMENT
14 September 2020

Hauling Hay

As my husband walked out the door to go spend the day planting wheat he just happened to mention in passing that if we wanted to we could come by later and check the cows over that way. We could even bring lunch! If we wanted to. Hint, hint 😉

I had planned to go check on Ghost and Blossom and Joker, plus all the others since I was there anyway, at some point this week. Might as well take him lunch while we were at it.

Shortly before lunch time he called again. Was there any chance we could bring the semi with the hay trailer when we came? Since we were coming anyway. There was a pickup there that we could use to go check the cows. Sure, what the heck. We were going anyway. Might as well get a load of hay out of the way.

We got to the hot dust field and enjoyed out picnic of sandwiches and melons fresh from the garden on the side of the seed truck.  The children wallowing in the dust as they enjoyed what little shade it offered. Then we got to loading the bales. It’s so dry this year. They had cut a field of alfalfa despite it  not being worth the effort. There were a few bales from there and some straw bales from the year before. As m father in law loaded it he was complaining about the bad shape the bales were in. Straw is slippery and doesn’t like too be confined to net wrap. I needed to keep an eye out for any bales falling off, he warned.

Leaving the field I sideswiped a corner post knocking the bales askew but luckily sparing the post. They didn’t fall off though and everything was set right with a bit of rearranging. Hopefully the trip home went better.

After loading we left the semi set and went to look at cows. My son was excited to show his sister how he could work the float to fill our water jug from the stock tank. The jug was empty so we were all looking forward to that. After a cold refreshing drink we walked down the draw.

The storm that destroyed Iowa in July came through here first. We didn’t get hit near as bad but the seventy mile per hour winds knocked down many of the huge old cottonwood trees. Now they lay in the dry creek bed, perfect for climbing. The children who love to climb their tree at home scampered over the arching tree trunks making me gasp and shut my eyes sometimes. They were not afraid though and nobody did fall to their deaths, or broken arms even.

Wore out from climbing we hiked back to the pickup, cast our eyes over the cow herd on the way. All the ones we usually notice stood out, Poppy, Ghost, Joker. The herd markers were there. In with a few more cow calf pairs counting the heifers isn’t as easy anymore. As long as the colorful ones were there we could assume everyone else was too.

Back at the field we waved goodbye to my husband leaving him any left overs from lunch to get him through until whenever he finished planting that night and headed home.

On the narrow dirt road we came upon a tractor speeding along, just barely slower than us. I hated to try to pass him. With the hay on the trailer takes up almost the whole road and I wasn’t going very fast. He pulled off to the side though and slowed. I had no choice. We hugged the grassy shoulder as tight as we could and I didn’t think we clipped him. We did leave him with lots of dust as we continued down the road.

Nearly home, far past the last intersection, I slowed even more to watch for the cows that have been coming and going freely from their poorly fenced pasture onto the road. When, inn the road ahead, there was something. Not a cow. Bigger even.

A round bale!

I had been warned to be careful of loosing my load and here instead was someone else’s bale. Lost dead center in the middle of the road!

In a car or pickup we could have easily squeezed around the edge. There were a couple of feet of road and a decent shoulder on one side. In a pickup and trailer I could have backed to the intersection only a quarter mile or so behind me. In a semi with a hay trailer I thought hard about the fence post I nearly took out earlier. Would the bale already there knock my bales off as I brushed past it? Would the trailer slip off the side of the road into the ditch if I got too far off the road?

If I tried to back with no way of seeing past the trailer how badly stuck could I get it in a ditch with a small misjudgement? Was there any possibility of the children being of assistance and not getting run over if I asked them to go back and guide me?

None of the options looked good. So laughing about the ridiculousness of the situation we found ourselves inn I called my husband. That’s what I do when life has handed me impossible options, call my husband and he will fix it. Somehow. He always does.

As I explained our predicament he laughed with me. He would get a hold of the neighbor. The one whose cows were walking through his mostly down fence to graze the road. whose hay field the bale was in front of. We could sit there parked in the middle of the road and wait.

But. No! As I looked back at the semi and trailer blocking what part of the road the bale didn’t, here came the tractor we had reluctantly passed! He had caught up with us. Now he was passing us, squeezing carefully between the bales and the ditch. He fit! Driving past me standing in the road, talking on the phone, past the children hanging out the windows watching the show. With never a wave or a smile he drove up to the bale. Was it his? Was this where he was driving to?
Wrong color tractor for the neighbor of the cows my husband assured me. This one was blue. Whether it was his or not he picked up the bale. I got in the semi, released the brake, and we followed him. He went slow, looking at the cow whose calf, still in the pasture she wasn’t in, got lined up to nurse through the fence. He looked around then found a driveway to the hay field. He slowly pulled inn and we passed him once again, grateful that he was there to clear our path.

Finally, home at last.

3 May 2020

Positive Punishment? Negative Reinforcement? A Little Of Everything?

Sometimes the lines between the quadrants aren’t as clear as we would like.

My daughter hadn’t been sleeping. I need sleep, I found this to be very strong Positive Punishment. Walking through the days in a tired foggy haze made me grouchy and miserable to live with. That was not strong enough positive punishment to keep her from coming into our room every night just wanting someone to come back  to her room with her to stand there until she fell asleep, over and over again.

We tried all sorts of different techniques to get her to stop. After the first few times which were nightmare induced, it wasn’t because of fear so much as habit. She would be up and headed to our room before she was even fully awake. We tried patience, I admit I yelled a few times, my husband made her a noise machine that played audio books for her all night long. Please just lay there and listen to your book instead of coming to get us every time you wake up, we begged her.

None of it worked.

We were exhausted and our tempers were getting short.

This is where the lines start to blur.

I have been making the children come with me to feed in the mornings since they have been out of school. It’s good for them and they enjoy it once they get out there, even if they beg not to have to go every single day. It’s a fight to get them out the door.

It’s good for them, everyone needs to learn about work and responsibility. To them it is positive punishment though.

I told her that if she could make it through the night without waking us up she wouldn’t have to come with to feed.

It worked. She said the next day that she had been out of bed and almost to our door before she remembered feeding.

So she went back to bed.

What  category does this fall under?

Not positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement would be offering her a reward for doing the thing we wanted. We are, but only in the form of relief from  punishment. The one receiving the punishment, or reward, is the one who gets to decide what is punishment or reward, not the one giving it.

Had she not slept I would have been applying positive punishment by making her continue to go feed with me.

Positive punishment isn’t always a bad thing. We think of it as punishing, cruel and hurtful. By the scientific definition it is anything that stops a behavior. In real life the punishment I offered is something that is far better for her than not to be punished. So often we, our horses, everything, look at things that are good for them as a bad  thing. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, sometimes it’s hard to do. That doesn’t mean it’s not the best thing to do.

We would  like the lines between the quadrants to be well defined and clear. Punishment bad. Reward good.  Really though life is a constant weighing and re-balancing of the scales.

She is still sleeping through the night. She is still not going with to feed. Responsibility and the importance of work in life will have to be taught at some point, right now getting to sleep through the night weighs far more heavily on my scale.

24 March 2020

The Way That Calves Get Born

We were checking cows and we came across a cow that had a water bag out. Then we went and looked around. Then we came back, we saw the outline of a calf head and front legs. They were in the water bag.

We went and played around a bit more. Then we came back and it still wasn’t out!

We went and played around a bit more. When we came back it was hanging out.

We drove over and looked up close. The calf was stuck. Then mama went and tried to pull it out. Then it came out.

The end.