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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.