Time Flies

My cowboy took the opportunity to go on a bird hunt this month, leaving me alone on the farm, alone at least in terms of human companionship. With four whole days to fill with things I wanted to get done before winter, I made myself a list:

  • wash and detail my truck
  • redesign the garden beds
  • build the fire pit by the cabin
  • organize the guest bedroom
  • work on a friend’s website
  • mow the backyard field

In the middle of my first solo night, I awoke to the wonderful sound of rain hitting the metal roof. The rain was steady but not torrential so no worries about the cow waterer on the Lower field. This was also my first night alone since losing Thelma, and I found myself was missing that dog so much. She was such good company and my stalwart protector when Bill was away. Sigh, maybe the time has come to find another dog.

In the morning, the rain was still falling at a steady pace. As the sky lightened, I put on my rain suit and headed out to check on the cows. Happily, in spite of 2 inches of rain, the waterer was intact and all was well. I headed home to feed the other critters and eventually make a ghetto breakfast for myself. Cooking is not a high priority of mine.

Then the storm intensified, the skies darkened and the rain poured, harder than ever. While waiting for a break in the weather, I picked one of the inside tasks from my list and started to organize the guest room. Just a couple hours later, the storm ended and the sun began to shine.

Changing again into my outside work clothes, I headed back to the Lower field hopeful that the waterer had withstood the onslaught.

Nope.

Our creek crossing farther upstream, totally submerged.

When I arrived at the gate, there was Bella looking at me, almost tapping her hoof as if to say, “Yes, the waterer is ruined again. We need to be moved.”

I opened the gate so the ladies could move back to the Mountain field and the security of water from a fountain. This is when I noticed that Lucy was limping. She had been walking slower for the past for days, but now had a definite limp. I suspected another case of hoof rot.

At first I thought that I could load my pole syringe with Draxxin and give Lucy a shot in butt in the field when she was preoccupied eating grain. But the dosage needed would take two injections and Lucy was way too smart to stand still for two needles. Then, as I was consulting my very good friend and experienced cattle farmer Janet, she heard that LA300 was a better medicine for foot rot. A dose of LA300 was even more of an issue because for a cow the size of Lucy, she would need 4 shots! With antibiotics, only so much of a medicine can be put into each injection site. Without any LA300 on hand, I drove to the local co-op to purchase a bottle, and they were out, as were the co-ops in two neighboring counties. Seems the manufacture tweaked an ingredient that caused a label change which then caused a delay in shipping. My very gracious friend offered me a bottle that she had, but if the drug was in short supply I didn’t want to leave Janet without medicine in case one of her cattle needed it. Ugh, the morning was sliding towards noon before I finally procured a bottle from a co-op over 40 minutes away.

Back at the farm, job #1 was to fix the waterer and then move the cows back to the Lower field. The grass there was much better than the too-grazed Mountain field and I was hoping to isolate Lucy during the move. With the mule packed with every supply that might be helpful, I headed off to the farthest field from the house that the cows graze.

When I inspected the mess, luck was on my side as the poles were pulled up and the line tangled but everything was still usable. The cow’s hoof prints stopped just before the wire blocking the path, they had walked down as far as possible . I sure Bella was the one who had checked out the sad condition of the waterer.

I dragged everything back upstream, removed the debris, pounded in the posts on the far side of the run and then re-attached the polywire. After driving to the top of the field to flip the toggle to restore power, I drove back to the waterer and checked the current across the polywire, 6.3kv and ready for the ladies!

Taking my fencing tools back to the barn, I headed back to the field with a full bucket of sweet feed to move the cows, with the hopes of keeping Lucy back. The day before, when I had hurriedly moved the herd out of the Lower field, I remembered that there was a round hay bale, still wrapped, sitting in the field waiting for winter. Not able to pull off the wrap without a tractor and the hay spear, I decided to roll a hay ring over the bale to keep the cows away. Of course, when I drove into the field, most of the ladies were standing around the feeder, nibbling on that bale in spite of the still attached wrap. My mind flashed with images of dead cows scattered about the field, their intestines all tangled up with bale wrap. I started calling for the cows to follow me, and drove off toward the gate to the Lower field. Everyone followed at a trot, happy to change fields. After pulling through the gate, I left the mule in the field and then doubled back to close the gate before Lucy got there. Shirley, the one eye heifer balked at crossing with Lucy limping along close behind. I crept behind Shirley, convinced her to move through the opening and then literally closed the gate in Lucy’s face. The herd was back in the Lower field leaving Lucy alone in the Mountain field, closer to help for her hoof.

Next, I wanted to move Lucy as close as possible to the corral, just a mere 3 fields away. On my way driving back from the barn gathering a small bucket of sweet feed, I opened the gates to the South field. As the Mountain field came into view, I was pleasantly surprised to see Lucy walking towards me. I parked the mule, grabbed the bucket and met her in the middle of the field. After letting her taste the grain, I headed off walking towards the corral, and she followed like a puppy!

We walked out of the Mountain field, across the path into the South field, past the shop, and all the way to the gate at the Front field where Shane, the two steers and Sundance were hanging out.

My major miscalculation of the day came when Shane noticed the “new cow” coming down the lane and decided to meet her at the gate. The two steers, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, had to be part of the welcome committee and of course Sundance is never one to miss a party. I had to manage moving those four animals away from the inside of the gate and let in Lucy from the outside. With a lot sweet grain spreading and bovine enticing, everyone finally ended up safely inside the gate, although Sundance managed to get himself a full portion of sweet grain. I breathed a grateful sigh of relief.

Enlisting the help of another good friend, Bev, we decided there was still time in the day to get Lucy into the chute and treat her for the hoof rot. Hopefully, the sooner she had the medication the more successful her recovery would be. Before starting, we took a few minutes to gather the needed equipment, review cattle injection procedures online and setup the game plan.

After another round of sweet grain to isolate Lucy from the steers and bull, we got her into the working end of the corral. I opened the gates of the crowding pen and Lucy calmly walked straight through to the chute. Bev closed the alley gate behind Lucy and then I caught her in the head gate. Four injections later, Lucy was happily finished with all of the nastiness and had a reward of some sweet grain. She was such a good cow!

Bev rewarding Lucy with some grain.

With Lucy returned to the Front field, I said goodbye and thank you to Bev before beginning cleanup and feeding. The chute had to be hosed down after Lucy liberally sprayed it with cow muck. She had also dropped a patty in Sundance’s run-in and drooled in his water bucket. With the corral was back in order, I brought Sundance in from the field, fed and watered the pig, goat and chickens, and took feed and hay to the other limping cow, Pippie, and her calf in the Backyard field.

Already, half of my time alone was over and nothing had been crossed off of my list. Maybe tomorrow will be less cow intensive, unless it rains of course. Such is the wonderful life of a cattle farmer 🙂

Cycle of the Farm

All of the calves born last spring are well on their way to becoming teenagers. Last week, the little bulls became steers and then were weaned, filling the air with moo’ing both day and night for a couple of days.

Pearl was our only heifer old enough to wean. Physically, she was almost old enough to breed but we don’t put our heifers with Shane until they are at least 14 months old. Pearl would stay with her Mama in the main herd, so she had to wear a weaning ring. This contraption has sharp points facing up, so when the calf tries to nurse, the mama is jabbed with spikes and discourages the calf. The ring just slides into her nose and is tightened to stay in place. It doesn’t interfere with grazing or drinking water. After several months, Pearl will be weaned and the ring can be removed.

Pearl’s weaning ring

We moved the main herd of cows back to the Mountain field, leaving a potpourri of occupants in the Front field – the steers, Shane, Gilley and Sundance, who seems to enjoy the company of the cattle. Being weaned is hard on young cattle, so we devised a creep gate area where the steers can get a snack of sweet grain and hay whenever they are hungry but the larger animals can’t fit through the gate. Our neighbor loaned us an old, hand built creep gate that is adjustable to the size of the calves. We added a panel on each side with t-posts in the corners for stability. The whole structure is connected to the field fence posts using large eye bolts that the panels hang on.

The two smallest steers were the first to find the food inside the enclosure. Gilley tried to squeeze her large self into the pen but our design withstood the test.

Gilley reached some hay but couldn’t get the grain.

The calves ate while Gilley watched on forlornly. I didn’t have the heart to let the larger cows go without any snack so I put a few scoops in a nearby trough. Fortunately, Sundance is usually at the far end of the field during feeding time. If he hears grain hitting the trough, he will race up and chase away the younger cows. However, Shane and Gilley stand their ground with him. Feeding time can be quite the show.

Shane LOVES the sweet grain, almost to the point of being a bit scary to feed. He has no problem trying to give me a head butt if I am standing around in the field with an empty bucket. A few days ago, I was late feeding one evening and when I opened the barn door, Shane was waiting … in Sundance’s stall!

During September’s vet visit, all of my cows were checked to determine who is pregnant and the approximate due date of calf. A cow that is not bred is said to be open. This year, all of our cows were carrying a calf except for one, Gilley, and this was her second year in a row to be open. Without the demands of a calf, Gilley had grown fat from grazing which lowers her chance of being bred even more. I always give my ladies two chances, so sadly, Gilley’s time had come to move on. The local auction barn held a cull cow sale last week. Early the morning before the sale, we loaded her in the trailer and headed down the road. My “two strikes and you’re out” rule is keeps the farm a farm and not a petting zoo but saying goodbye is always hard on me.

Gilley

As a younger cow, Gilley enjoyed jumping over and onto gates, escaping from the crowding pen. As a result, there is a 8 foot high, almost solid wood wall known as “The Gilley Wall” that we built it to keep her in during vet visits. I think of Gilley each time I look at that wall.

The Gilley Wall

A happier example of the farming circle of life is that Gilley’s last calf was a heifer, born in the spring of 2018. Oprah is the spitting image of her mama, and I look forward to her giving us many calves throughout her time here. Gilley’s legacy should live on with generations of beautiful cattle.

Oprah – Gilley’s legacy

Weaning is a stressful time for the calves. For some reason, Billy Boy did fine for the first 10 days and then suddenly became listless. He stopped coming to the creep gate to eat and laid in the field looking sluggish. We brought the three steers and Shane into the corral and tried unsuccessfully to separate Billy Boy from the gang to get him into the chute. While he was jogging around the corral, I saw that he also had diarrhea so suspected a case of scours. We loaded the dart gun and gave him a shot of strong antibiotics. Finally, I was able to separate him from the others and isolated him in the crowding pen with food and water to rest. After a day and a half, the antibiotic should have begun to work, but Billy Boy grew weaker and stopped eating. We gave him a different antibiotic, one more specifically designed to treat pneumonia, and hoped for the best.

Sick Billy Boy

Despite all of our efforts, Billy Boy succumbed to his illness on Thursday. We buried him with Old Lucy very near the spot where he was born. Experienced farmer friends always tell me that you can’t save them all. I know this is true, and despite all of one’s efforts, some lives end too soon. Billy Boy’s mama is carrying another calf that will be born next spring. Through the laughter and tears, the cycle of the farm goes on.