Situation

Over the past twenty-plus years raising cattle and handling animals, my husband and I have developed a code word of sorts when things have, or will, or might – go horribly wrong. We call it a situation and both of us better be paying attention.

One most memorable adventure was probably the advent of this code word about 12 years ago. It was during calving season. It was a dark and stormy night. We had a heifer calving too long and subsequently needed our help. We needed to get her into the barn into the headgate where we could all be safe. But she went rogue on us as soon as she entered the supposedly secure environment of the barn.

Of course she did! She was a heifer! First calving experience, first time inside the barn and two humans poking and prodding her already stressed-out-self. By rogue, I mean she charged us both within seconds! Headed me up the steep stairs of the barn loft and my nimble hubby onto the top rung of the pen panel.

As she continued to roar, push and beller, we looked at each other from across the barn on our respective precarious perches with her between us in the throes of mid-calf distress and trauma and hubby could only gasp….

“What a situation”

We chuckle about it now and even did so then (nervously so). It was the type of predicament we honestly couldn’t see ourselves getting out of at the time. I can’t seem to recall how we were able to get her secured…we must have simply tuckered her out eventually and managed to pull her calf successfully. What I do recall vividly though is the incredulous look on my hubby’s face and the sound of his subdued voice as he declared our situation from the top of that pen.

From that day on whatever we define a “situation” has definitely got our respect, attention and wariness.

Twin Tales

Ahhhhhh…always a joyous sight to come across a cow who has just delivered twins. Lively twins too and up and ready to suck right away. Sure makes up for the drama and losses of last week when we were just getting underway with this season.

The weather forecast for tonight however, alerts us of snow to come so we decided these little treasures would be best off in the barn tonight.

How do we do that? The hubby lifts them up into the back of our ATV and FlickaRancher sits on ’em (gently, I do!) all the way to the barn. Good thing we’re into the end of the cold season because those two little poopers sure messed up my gloves!

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Next we walk momma from the field through the muddy corrals right to the barn where she can sense her little ones are near. She was very willing to be guided….didn’t even mind the pooch close to her heels. She just wants her babies!!

And they wait patiently cuddled together just inside….not so sure of what-on-earth happened to them.

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Scooped off the lovely straw bed, basking in the spring sun and temporarily snatched from momma, sat on by a two-legged human in a noisy machine, bounced over the choppy frozen terrain to be unceremoniously plopped into a big old barn. Momma looks at me as if to say…….”After all this “well-meaning” human intervention…it better snow tonight!!”

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Calving Capers 2018

The days are drawing near whereby the calves will soon begin to come on our ranch. Each year as we personally get a little more advanced along the timeline of life we push out our calving start date later and later – in hopes that weather will be warmer and more favourable. In hopes that we will rule out the spring storms. In hopes that we can make our calving season a little more graceful on our aging bones and ligaments.

As I write tonight, we are experiencing the usual wet snows that start and stop day in and day out and frustrate our efforts to put out straw bedding for the cows comfort along with some other minor frustrations. But these are small inconveniences in the overall scheme of things because we value the beautiful moisture these types of snows provide. All I can think is how green our pastures can be if this keeps up.

As the calving season approaches we make sure to walk amongst our herd and in particular our group of heifers – the gals with the letter “D” tags – born in 2016. We want them to be as used to our presence as much as possible so we can safely move amongst them if they need our assistance during this new adventure about to enter their lives. Ideally, we trust we have made the proper bull choice and the deliveries will come naturally and without incident. But until then we stroll amongst the girls.

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Hard to believe but for all intents and purposes our “calving season/calving capers” has wound down to this handful of faithful cows due any day now. We don’t need to check on them every two hours as had been the case during the beginning weeks of our adventures. We are content now to let these girls do it on their own. After all, they’ve done so successfully for many years now.

I did however have a little short-lived excitement this week when hubby brought in Dilbert from the field. From the slough actually, which is where he had been lying in. He couldn’t stand up and his mother was certainly not able to assist.

Dilbert has been “slow” from the start. He is “different”. He has small eyes and big dumbo-elephant-like ears and it took quite awhile before he took to naturally feeding from his momma. We’re not sure what set him back on this day to be stuck in the slough but whatever the reason, I was ready with the bottle and nursette and ultimately to be his caregiver. There hasn’t been a year yet that I haven’t had some little character to fuss over.

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But this episode turned out to be short-lived. I guess it was my few hours of TLC that encouraged him there was hope to carry on. By the end of the day he was standing on his own and able to navigate, albeit unsteadily, around the pen. By morning, I was out of a job and he was happily reunited with his momma…health returned.

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Thankfully, hubby agrees that we should keep Dilbert and his mom close to home this year instead of the pasture. After all, he’s a little bit slow and he just might need me yet!

 

 

 

Calving Capers 14

Calving itself has it’s own level of stressors and concerns but I find that the “harder” part of calving and raising cattle is keeping the little critters healthy, thriving and ultimately alive! 

This little gal [ears drooping, lethargic, barely able to keep up to mom] needed to be brought closer to home for treatment. Yes, we care for our sick animals with proper medicinal intervention and close observation throughout. To my mind, this is humane treatment of the animals in our care who depend on us for their well-being. I would much rather provide effective antibiotic medicine and see our little calves return to their energetic selves within a few days than have them needlessly suffering and dying in misery in the fields.

 

 

 

Calving Capers 12

I find myself at somewhat of a loss for words when I consider just how close we came to losing our entire home and ranch this past week. Just a mile away from us a raging bush fire was out of control and rapidly growing, fuelled by gusty 70-75 KM winds and heading our way!

My husband and other neighbouring farmers quickly got into action by hooking up their tractors to their discing machines and racing to the surrounding fields to work up the ground around the menacing flames in an effort to contain the inferno. The entire community of local and surrounding volunteer fire departments wasted no time either in getting on scene, working together along with the farmers and ranchers to save all the surrounding properties.

I wasn’t even home when all of this was happening. I was at a photography convention in a city five hours away! When I got the call from my husband, as he headed out to the “war zone” with our own tractor and disc … well, all I could think of was his safety and our animals. What do you do to protect 400+cows, calves, bulls, horses, dogs and cats? At that point, and for the first time in my life, photography meant absolutely nothing to me. I just wanted to get home.

Instead I was encouraged to stay where I was, of course I would be no good for anyone driving alone in a panic for 4-5 hours. Cooler heads prevailed, the community proved themselves as heroes and the fire was contained and controlled by midnight.

The aftermath from a close call such as this is extreme gratefulness and a further enhanced appreciation of our home and livelihood. We came so close to losing everything in a matter of minutes. Our diligence towards safety is heightened as we continue to face a very dry spring with daily winds and no hint of moisture for sometime yet. It is most comforting to know we have such a great community that will jump into action and work together for everyone’s safety.

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And so….my husband and I have made a pact, a promise to each other for next year’s calving season . No more conferences, seminars, curling bonspiels, conventions or long trips away from home from mid-March to mid-May. We need each other’s support and joint efforts on-site  to run this operation safely and effectively during the critical calving season. Because, through wind, rain, snow and even fire…the calves just keep coming!

Calving Capers 11

The day has settled down

The night is still

There are no winds, not even a breeze

Hubby is sleeping until his 2AM shift

The world is mine on the ranch

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Out in the darkness a cow will moan in search of her calf. The calf will reply with a soft cry of his own.

Silence returns

They have found each other once again

 

THIS is my favourite part of calving…the Midnight Shift – My Shift

The stars, the moon, my cows at rest … my world

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Calving Capers 10

Our 3W cow has had a pretty tough calving season so far. At the outset she delivered a set of premature breech twins – well, hubby had to certainly help her along on that. Sadly the first twin out was deceased and the second little fella just took forever to “spunk up”.

His first few days of life were spent inside our cozy barn and then in the “executive suite ” pen….the very same one where my pampered blind calf Ugo used to reside. I came to call his subsequent environments “Wayne’s World” and he then became “Little Wayne” to me.

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So Little Wayne would sleep in the straw in a corner in the pen day in and day out. I would bring his mom 3W in at night and let her out in the morning and Wayne would muster enough energy to get up and suck for awhile.

That was pretty much his exciting life and routine until I went away for a few days on the conference and I got the news that Little Wayne had died while I was away. I pretty much knew he wouldn’t make it. Being a premature calf and a lonely twin, the odds were stacked against him.

So this week the oddest thing happened. I happened to be walking in the pen where 3W was feeding and she looked up at me with such a “look”- hard to describe. The oddest thing was she then started to follow me around the corral. I realized that this was the first time she had really seen me since losing her Little Wayne and she may have thought perhaps I would take her to him once again just like I always used to do.

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Well of course this kind of thing has a way of breaking my heart. I put too much human emotion into the lifestyles of our cows and I think it costs us some extra energy – that which we have little to spare these days at full-bore calving! However, this behaviour encouraged both hubby and myself that perhaps she was able to take on a recently born twin, in essence to replace her Little Wayne and take the load off the other twin mom cow and ultimately keep her a productive member of the herd.

So we are now in the process of attempting this “transplanting” activity, to turn 3W into the adoptive mother of Little Wayne. It requires separating the “new” twin from his original family but luckily we have another fella living in the barn to keep him company.

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Calving Capers 8

What happens, more often than not, during springtime on the ranch in the early stages of calving is – a winter storm. We just departed from probably the mildest winter in decades to be greeted, on the second day of spring with a blizzard.
Also, what happens, more often than not, a blizzard-y storm brings on the birthing! Our heifers started to calve one after the other. Between hubby and myself we were getting up to check the herds every two hours.
We are so fortunate to have a big old hip-roof barn for shelter and warmth for the critters and their babes. It doesn’t take long, however, to fill it up when these girls just keep dropping their calves! We are at full capacity!

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My heart goes out to these young females, on a good day, when they experience motherhood for the first time. Throw in this nastiest of nasty weather to compound their new adventure – all I can say is….it builds character! For animal and human alike! So far we are very gratified to see they have taken to their calf almost immediately and become the strong, quiet mothers we have raised them to be.

This gal was so quiet in fact that we were able to pull her calf right in the barn pen where she lay. Here you go….freshly pulled!

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Calving Capers 7

Recent events have resulted in bringing our cows in from the field this week…TEN days early. Our official calving start date was “calculated” to commence March 26. Wellll, as I started to say…recent events have encouraged us – most strongly – to bring them home within eyesight and a close by stroll from the house.
So this is my new view from the kitchen window. Suits me just fine. It has been a chilly few days, during the snow squalls and winds, riding the quad out to the far field to check on these girls.

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“The Watch” is now underway. Flicka Rancher does the midnight check as I am the night owl and like the quiet evening hours to tackle the paperwork projects back inside until it’s my turn to head out. Then hubby checks whilst I sleep…..but the deal is….if there is a hint of trouble….I am to be rousted from said slumber!
And so…it begins…