Get it done

Last summer, a nasty storm brought down a large red oak tree on the edge of the Mountain field. Two large branches stuck in the ground holding the trunk about a foot off of the top line of the fence. In the fall, we trimmed out the top of the tree leaving just the large central trunk and a few branches. Since then we cordoned the area from the cattle just in case the tree gave way, if or when, the cows rubbed against it.

Last week, felling the remaining trunk of the tree finally bubbled to the top of farm to-do list. With the two limbs holding the trunk high off the ground, we decided to use the excavator bucket to get high enough to cut the trunk. This was my first time running the excavator and I was more than a little nervous. My job was to lift Bill up in the air close enough to cut the tree but far enough to avoid the falling limbs from hitting the bucket.

I took a few minutes to practice with the controls. The last thing I wanted to do was confuse up and down while he was standing in the bucket holding a running chain saw. No pressure.

Let the chain sawing begin! We follow many safety practices such as ear muffs, gloves and pre-job planning, but the harness was too constraining so Bill took it off. We also reviewed our own personal hand signals before beginning. Closed fist is “STOP”, thumbs up is “Raise The Bucket”, thumbs down is “Lower The Bucket” and middle finger is “Put The Phone Down And Move the Machine”.

Suddenly, as the chain saw cuts and tree limbs fall, the cows begin to take notice – a cow is basically a very curious creature. At first, two of the young heifers Rita and Pearl, gather to watch the activity happening at the end of the field.

Then the two Wise girls join in, not wanting to miss anything. The grass around the fallen tree has not been grazed all summer so as soon as they realize the line is down, all of the cows move in, excited for the fresh food.

I think this is an example of why farming is one of the most dangerous occupations. There is always so much to take care of around the farm that farmers learn to just get it done.

Soon every cow had gathered to oversee the tree removal and sample the fresh grass. As if removing a huge, dangerous tree was not enough to concentrate on, we suddenly had to deal with a whole herd of curious cattle milling about the work site.

As I drove the excavator from one side of the tree to the other, I liberally used the horn to startle the cows out of my path. Otherwise, they would just stand and stare at me, not moving at all.

At the end of the job, Shane decided to check out the remaining stump and rub his neck against the rough bark. Before we left the field, I put the posts and line back up to keep the cattle away from the remaining tree trunk. Just in case!

Crazy Heidi

In early June, when we moved the herd from the Mountain field to the South field, Crazy Heidi balked at the gate. She turned and ran the back the length of the field, taking Billy and her calf, Billie Boy with her. Those three spent weeks alone, not being vaccinated or fed sweet grain and without the protection of the herd. The lack of being with the herd bothered Billy but Heidi’s fearfulness was infectious so there they remained.

Fast forward a few months, the time came to again when we moved the herd from the Mountain field to the Front field, and this time Crazy Heidi cooperated. She and three other cows were separated out to join the heifers in the Front field, close to the working facility.

My initial plan to get Crazy Heidi to market was to tranquilize her in the field with a dart gun, lift her into the trailer with a tractor and then take her to the auction. After running this plan past Dr Amanda, I learned that there is a multiple day waiting period to allow the tranquilizer to exit the cow’s system before she could be sold. I had to come up with another way to get rid of this cow.

My next idea was to hire a few expert cattle handlers to help us load her into the trailer. After Crazy Heidi twice chased me up and over the fence the day we moved her to the heifer herd, I was not looking forward to another rodeo. Unfortunately, finding this kind of help proved difficult, there is not a “Cattle Wrangler” category on Angie’s List or Care.com.

The day before the next cattle auction, I sent a text to our friend and neighbor, the cow whisperer who helped us deliver Scarlet’s calf, to ask for his advice. Later that afternoon, he stopped by the farm and listened as I described the harrowing experience of separating the fearful Crazy Heidi from the herd.

He liked our corral improvements and felt the pens were mostly sufficient to contain the wild cow, suggesting we add height to one section of fence to discourage any thoughts of jumping. He also strongly encouraged us to load Crazy Heidi ourselves, without anyone else helping. Crazy Heidi had grown comfortable to me feeding her so adding an unknown person would make her wary. He reminded me to move slowly and quietly, using just my presence to calmly pressure Crazy Heidi to walk in the direction where I wanted her to move. The goal was to move her from the corral and into the trailer without any running or jumping cows, without any extra cows in the trailer and with no one (me) getting hurt.

Later that evening after we fortifier the corral fence by adding old gates on cinder blocks for more height, I snacked the herd sweet grain inside the corral. As everyone was enjoying their feed, I slipped around behind them and quietly closed the gate. The herd of 4 cows and 6 heifers spent the night in the corral.

Just after daybreak the next morning, I filled two buckets of sweet grain and again snacked the herd in two troughs, one in the main part of the corral and the other in the crowding pen. While the cows were distracted, I opened all of the gates from the working area through to the head gate. The 4 older cows, Crazy Heidi, Pippie, Garnet and Gilley began wondering where this breakfast was leading while the young heifers kept their noses in the feed, oblivious to the activity.

When there was not much grain left in the corral trough, Crazy Heidi moved into the crowding pen, joining a few heifers to eat there. I quietly followed her into the pen and closed the gate, one step closer to our goal. In this picture, the extra gates we added temporarily extending the fence height and the blinds to block the view through the gate are visible behind the trough. The white face heifer at the trough is Crazy Heidi’s daughter from last year, Aretha. Thankfully, she did not inherit her mother’s fearfulness.

As she surveyed her situation in the smaller pen, Crazy Heidi grew suspicious but not yet frightened. Seeing the second trough of sweet feed, our oldest cow Gilley stood by the panel gate wanting inside. Having a seasoned companion cow in the pen would help keep Crazy Heidi stay calm, so I opened the gate and let Gilley into the crowding pen.

Keeping our friend’s advice in mind, I stood in the crowding pen without even a cattle prod, using just my presence to encourage the cows to walk towards the alleyway. When the feed was gone, a few of the heifers meandered through through the alleyway where Bill let them out into the corral. Crazy Heidi saw this and wandered into the bud box and then hesitated, looking around for direction. I had slowly followed her and now stood blocking the exit out of the bud box. And then Gilley, as if knowing she was there to help, walked past me and basically showed Crazy Heidi the path into the chute. Seeing the opening through the head gate, Crazy Heidi walked down the alleyway where Bill caught her in the head gate.

With Crazy Heidi finally securely captured, we opened the gate so the rest of the herd could head out of the corral and into the Front field.

This next two pics tugged at my heart. Crazy Heidi turned and watched as the cows and then Gilley left the corral. As difficult and dangerous as Crazy Heidi was to move and work, all of her actions came from fear not meanness. I felt sorry for her.

Bill backed the trailer up to the head gate and I opened the latch to load Crazy Heidi for her trip to the auction. At one point, she had her hoof up on the wall of the trailer trying to escape.

At 8am after just a 20 minute ride, we arrive at the auction barn.

To limit her movement and keep her safe during the drive, Crazy Heidi made be trip at the front of the stock trailer behind the cut gate. Even in that smaller space, she moved around so much the trailer felt like it was swaying.

Heading off the trailer at a trot, Crazy Heidi moved on to her next adventure.

Before leaving the auction barn, I checked in on her one last time. Her ears were not pinned back, she had calmed down and was more relaxed. Even seemed to be making a few new friends.

Good-bye, Crazy Heidi!

Pippie’s Hoof-icure

Pippie has been limping for a few weeks now. She and her 3 month old calf, Annie, were with the main herd all of the way out in the farthest field, 3 fields away from the working area. Last week, we moved the herd all of the way back to the front field and separated four problem cows from the herd (Separating Cows). Once we safely added Pippie and Annie to the heifer herd in the Front field, I called Dr. Amanda and scheduled a farm visit to diagnose Pippie’s limp.

Beforehand, I did some research on my own and found that there could be 3 probable reasons for a cow to a limp:

  • a foreign object stuck in her hoof
  • hoof rot
  • a stifle injury or leg joint swelling

After examining her hoof in the field and not seeing any foreign object, I mostly ruled out something stuck in her hoof. From my research, although most bovine limping is caused by a foot problem, either a stifle injury or upper leg joint swelling would be very serious for Pippie. Unless the problem is not very severe and easily responds to antibiotics, the ending is a trip in the trailer to auction. With a young calf still needing nursed for a few more months, Pippie had to see the vet so I would have a better understanding of the problem.

Dr Amanda arrived with her bovine tilt table in tow. She backed up our chute and head gate, aligning the tilt table to the left side. This was going to be interesting!

Bovine Tilt Table
Setting up the Tilt table for Pippie

The tilt table extends the chute so the cow walks through our chute and then right into the tilt table. Pippie is so tame (she loves a good neck scratch and pat) that even with her calf waiting in the crowding pen, she confidently walked through the alleyway, through our chute and into the tilt table. Dr. Amanda watched Pippie walk and saw how she held her hoof off of the ground and the way she hitched her hip each step. Her preliminary diagnosis was a foot issue and not a stifle injury – good news!

Pippie waiting for the palpation door to be opened so she could walk through our chute
Through the chute …
and into the tilt table.

With Pippie securely inside, Dr Amanda locked the gate and strapped her in. The look on Pippie’s face seems like she is thinking, “Well, this is something new!”.

The table rotates clockwise a quarter turn and Pippie finds herself in a position that she has never experienced before, laying on her side, about three feet off of the ground. With chains securing each of Pippie’s legs, Dr. Amanda begins her examination.

After the ride to horizontal, Pippie becomes a bit more concerned about this whole new adventure. Her eyes were open wide with surprise but she never really struggles and only lets out a moo when she catches a glimpse of Annie, pacing in the background.

There is swelling in her injured hoof, her ankle and a bit up towards the knee. Dr Amanda shows me the swollen areas and we both can smell the foul odor coming from the hoof, clearly indicating hoof rot. Having Pippie so far away from the working area delayed treatment but hopefully we will get it dealt with in time to get the rot under control. The tilt table is perfect for this type of examine, not to mention that this was the first time that I have seen a cow’s udder from this perspective.

With the examination and diagnosis for the limp completed, Dr Amanda plugs in the grinder and trims all of Pippie’s hooves, a bovine hoofi-cure. With bits of hoof flying all around, Pippie’s feet have never looked better.

Pippie getting her hoofs ground and shaped

The treatment for the hoof rot is a slow acting antibiotic, Exceed. Interestingly, this medication is injected into the cow’s ear. In case the cow’s condition worsens and she becomes unable to easily walk, the medicine moves out of her system and the cow can be taken to market reasonably quickly, after just 15 days. And since the injection goes into the ear, any site damage is irrelevant as the ears are not used. We are all fairly optimistic that Pippie will not have this fate.

Dr Amanda injects Pippie with antibiotic

And now for the rotating dismount! The tilt table rotates counter clockwise to set Pippie back on her feet.

With a look of stunned disbelief at what just occurred, Pippie regaines her composure and exits the tilt table.

Annie watches closely from the crowding pen, but is also keeping her distance in case she might be next.

Pippie, now with beautiful hooves and hopefully with the infection under control, takes one last look at the contraption she just survived. If cows can communicate, I am sure she will be telling tales in the field to the herd later in the evening.