Spring Cattle Day

Monday was the day we worked our entire cattle herd, 20 cows and 9 calves. The perfect timing for this event is four weeks after the last calf is born and two weeks before the bull arrives. This year I was close, our youngest calf was born 12 days ago and Shane will arrive on Mother’s Day. Nothing like a big, red bull to make Mother’s Day special for my ladies. There is always a lot to accomplish ahead of cattle day, beginning with scheduling a farm call with Dr Amanda and creating my spreadsheet.

The cows that had calves this spring needed two vaccinations, one for respiratory disease protection and Alpha-7 to protect against a variety of diseases including blackleg. The five oldest heifers would be given pregnancy checks after spending 6 weeks with Shane last fall, an Alpha-7 shot and a respiratory vaccination that is safe for bred cows. Our four youngest heifers would receive the same vaccinations as the cows. All nine calves would get ear tags, a respiratory vaccine, covexin-8, a pour-on dewormer and finally, the three bull calves would become steers.

These following pics are from last year but they show the setup of our corral, crowding area and working pens. Below is the corral, the green gate at the bottom right is where the cows come in from the Front field. About 30 minutes before the vet arrives, we drag in the trough with sweet feed to bring all of the cattle into the corral.

Then we begin moving them into the crowding area, separating the first group to be worked into the working pens. The green gate to two small working pens is on the right side.

The crowding area and gate to the working pens.

As I gather cattle in the smaller pens, I use the gates and wood walls to flow the cattle around, separating them as needed. When we built this facility, Bill and I added a person gate for convenience and as an escape route. Things can get dicey with multiple large cows, a difficult cow or a set of rambunctious calves in such a small space.

The large green gate to the working pens and on the left side, the small grey escape gate.

After a couple of rainy days, the morning was cool and breezy but thankfully dry. The crowding pen was a mud pit, complete with puddles and standing water in the hoof prints. Everyone would have to take extra care not to slip and fall.

Wet and muddy crowding area the morning we worked the cattle.

Dr Amanda was scheduled to arrive 9am and there was much to get done before she arrived. I configured the gates for moving the cattle while Bill greased the headgate and chute doors. The cows, particularly Bella, noticed the activity especially when I drove the mule to the Mountain field to gather a second trough. When TA arrived around 8:30, the whole herd was gathered by the gate, moo’ing with anticipation.

Before starting the process, the three of us reviewed the plan and our roles. The whole herd would be brought into the main part of the corral. Then we would attempt to move the 9 calves into the working pen so we could start the day with them. With the calves separated, we would move the cows and heifers into the crowding area. The five bred heifers would be worked after the calves and followed by the cows.

My role is to move and sort the cattle in the crowding area and working pens, and I put the ear tags on the calves. Bill and TA help move the cows around the crowding area, especially when a certain one has to be sorted out. Bill is in charge of the head gate and squeeze panel while TA moves the animals through the alleyway and is the tailsman, he holds up the tails of the bulls during castration so they don’t kick Dr Amanda.

We opened the gate to the field and the cattle rush into the corral began. As I poured the grain in the trough, out of the corner of my eye I noticed Willow walking into the front yard. Wait…What? Oh no, the large gate to the front yard was open. I had forgotten to hook the latch after bringing in the second trough. Images of 29 cows running wild all across the property flashed through my mind. Thankfully, TA closed the gate keeping the other cows in the corral while I grabbed a bucket of feed. Willow, still as tame as a dog, followed me around the yard to the smaller gate and calmly walked back inside the corral. By now, Bill was calling from the front field where four of the girls had balked at the gate into the corral. TA headed out the back of the barn to come up behind them while I refilled the grain bucket, again. With just five minutes to spare, we finally had the whole herd inside the corral.

Willow’s escape gate to the front yard..

The three of us took a minute to catch our breath, before moving on to the next task, separating the calves from the herd. Using the natural tendency of cows to turn and walk away from a person, we filtered the calves around the corral and into the crowding area. Our calves are all about two months old, and at this age will sprint ahead of their mama’s with youthful joy and curiosity. All 9 calves moved into the crowding pen along with just two cows. Willow, who was already there and Lucy, who was sticking tight to her 12 day old heifer.

9 calves with Willow and Lucy in the crowding area.

I opened the gate to the working pen while Bill and TA flowed the group in and closed the interior gates. Willow was kind enough to stay behind, but Lucy was still adamant about sticking close to her calf. She is such a wonderful mama!

9 calves and Lucy in the working pen.

Now, we were able to move the rest of the cows into the crowding area. Twenty full size cows and heifers made the crowding area seem, well, crowded. Our timing was good, the vet was just pulling down the lane.

A very crowded crowding area.

And so the cattle working began. I moved the calves into the alleyway one at a time, otherwise the one waiting always tries to turn around or squish through the bars. TA gently encouraged each calf into the chute where Bill caught them in the head gate. Then Dr Amanda vaccinates each one, castrates the bulls, and I give them each an ear tag. The spreadsheet is updated and the calf is let loose back into the corral.

Bull to steer – Bill at the headgate, TA as the tailsman and Dr Amanda performing the procedure.
Front view, the calves look so little in the chute.

All went smoothly until we got Bella’s little heifer moving into the chute, only to see her pop straight out of the head gate! I ran after her, got her turned around and headed back to the space beside the alleyway. Bill unlatched one panel from the side while TA, Amanda and I blocked her from escaping. With the side swung open, we shooed her back into the alley and this time, caught her in the head gate. Figures that Bella’s heifer was the rowdy one.

On the other side of the corral, the finished crew waits and watches while each calf goes through the process. Blue ear tags are the boys, green are the girls.

After the calves, I wanted to separate the five bred heifers into the working pen so Dr Amanda could check them for pregnancy. Four of the heifers went right in, but Reba balked. I let her wait until the first four were worked, then I tried again and finally got her into the working pen. All heifers are bred, 5 of 5! Shane is so conscientious with his work. In the midst of singing praises to Shane, Bill opened the head gate and Reba ran out, completely unvaccinated. Dang, our first fail. There was no way I could get her back into the chute. A 2 year old heifer is much different than a 10 week old heifer. We would have to vaccinate Reba with the dart gun or wait until fall.

When the herd of 20 cows took their turns, I had to make sure three were kept in the crowding pen and worked last. Two heifers, Annie and Rose’, are too young to be with the bull so they will stay in the Backyard field for the summer. And then there is Pippie, one of my “pet” cows who loves pats and scratches. Despite all of my efforts to heal Pippie, her condition has not improved at all. She has been on an anti-inflammatory for the last month, which has helped her mobility but hasn’t improved her body condition at all. Asking her to carry and raise another calf wouldn’t be right, she might not even survive the birthing process. So I will take my Pippie to auction some time in June and no doubt, I will cry.

On the left, Pippie and Rose’ (wearing her weaning ring) and on the right, Annie.

Annie, Pippie’s calf from last May was fathered by the old bull and is Pippie’s only daughter, all of her other calves were bulls. Annie will be stay a member of our herd and Pippie’s blood line will continue for generations. The circle of life on the farm.

The cows, who are used to this process, flowed through the working area easily until Bella and Hazel. Bella is notorious for not going into the alleyway. She is way too familiar with me, and turns to face me instead of walking in the opposite direction when I approach her. I don’t fear Bella but neither do I completely trust her. Today, Bella happily followed a feed bucket as I led her through the alleyway. As soon as she committed, I quickly hopped over the panel because a bossy 1200lb cow can move faster than one might expect.

After Bella, came my baby Willow who is now old enough for a date with Shane. Willow walks through life at a leisurely pace, stopping to smell the roses on her way. She is a leader in the herd, and loves me to scratch her head and back. She is sweet, beautiful and my #1 heifer!

The last cow of the day was Hazel, one of our Braunvieh-Angus crosses. Hazel has always been a bit fearful of changing fields, flowing into the corral or turning into the alleyway. In the last pen, Hazel seized up and refused to turn down the alleyway. She balked every time I got her headed towards the opening. She did not try anything mean, but I was pushing her fairly hard to move and I ended up using the escape gate a couple of times. TA came in to lend a hand, then Bill joined and finally Dr Amanda was reaching in to give her tail a twist. Hazel kept balking, a 1200lb cow in very confined space with three humans kept my mind focused on safety. Then TA and Bill gathered a 8ft gate and used it to inch her toward the alleyway. She stood there, facing backwards until finally, after at least 5 more minutes of lots of coercing, Hazel spun around and headed into the chute. I fed her grain as Dr Amanda vaccinated her, hopefully giving Hazel enough good experience that next time will be easier. Dang cow!

Pretty but stubborn Hazel. She made Dr Amamda laugh!

With all of the mama’s reunited with their babies, the moo’ing subsided and the herd gathered next to the gate leading back to the Front field, knowing grass, water and peace are just an open gate away. Pippie, Annie and Rose’ headed in the opposite direction to the Backyard field, to form their own small herd.

Cows and calves finished with their vaccinations and waiting to be released to the Front field.

Our spring cattle working has been completed and I am satisfied with the success of the day. With the exception of Reba, my spreadsheet is filled with check marks, including late August delivery times for five bred heifers. And there are three newly minted steers in the Front field.

After working cattle through the chute and headgate, I always take the time to power wash the facility. Removing the caked on mud and manure from the metal makes everything last longer, there is enough normal wear and tear with just moving cows through. Honestly, if I were a cow, having a fresh chute for working day would make the event more pleasant.

Seemed like social distancing suddenly became important during the clean-up phase. My selfie with the sparkling clean head chute.

Rainy Sunday

My Dad and I have always shared an interest in researching and documenting his family’s history. With his help, I created a family tree for a highschool class project, documenting ancestors back to Germany and England in the early 1700’s. When my Dad downsized to an assisted living facility last year, I became the curator of his many bins of paper, photographs and books documenting our family history. Photographs are abundant in our family, going back many generations, including tin daguerreotypes. Over the past months on rainy days, I have worked on creating an improved family tree based on the extensive collection of photographs. One outcome is that my daughters will inherit the photographs in organized boxes by family surname. But also, working on this project has provided me many reasons to call and chat with my Dad, with questions about the ancestors, their homes and events as he is now the sole owner of these memories. I cherish each and every one of these phone calls.

On this rainy Sunday morning, I decided to go through my collection of old bibles and photo books.

One of the largest bibles has a section in the back featuring pages of black and white sketches, similar to an encyclopedia. I imagine in some families long ago, a large family bible was the only book was owned. These pages were probably used to add realism to the words and stories.

A small number of pages in these heavy books are colored and protected by a preceding page of tissue paper. Even after more than 100 years, the colors are still vibrant and in beautiful condition.

In one of the bibles, the center pages have been filled out in a beautiful, hand written script. The first page documents the young couple on their wedding day, my great-great grandparents on my Dad’s mother’s side. The following pages list some of the births and deaths within their lifetimes.

In addition to these family bibles, another old book handed down to me is a photograph book. Because of recently working on the family tree, I recognized a number of my ancestors in this photographs. But there are many more with no labels that will keep me busy trying to figure out their identities.

I have always been drawn to the photos of the children, all related to me in some manner. Looking on these young faces born so many years ago, I wonder about how their lives turned out, where they lived and what memories they made, all of which are now lost in time.

Almost every book in my collection has something tucked in amongst the pages. Going through the pages of the photograph book, I found pressed roses from a long ago event. Were they from a wedding or birthday or anniversary? The answer will never be known as no note was left on the enclosing paper.

Between the pages of one of the smaller small bibles was the program from a high school commencement in May, 19891. One of my great-great uncles, who was then 18 years old and most likely part of the graduation class, recited “The Soldier Of The Future”. Sadly, he died 4 years later. So there is another question for my father during our next chat, he will most likely remember the story of this uncle.

A morning well spent, reflecting on long ago family history and preserving the collection for my daughters and grandchildren.

Bill and I are working the entire cattle herd tomorrow, and I have many items still on my list to get done in preparation. Enough of the past, time to move forward to the present day. My great-great aunt Carrie, sister of the uncle above, would understand and be proud. She moved to Arizona as a young woman and lived her life running a cattle ranch.

Springtime

With the grass growing in leaps and bounds, we decided to move the majority of the herd to the Mountain field. Our cows love to change fields, especially this time of year. As they walked along the path from the south field, the mountain field came into view and the cows almost danced with joy. Spring was here! The daily feedings of hay had ended and the weekly field rotations through glorious grassy fields were beginning.

Left behind in the Backyard field were Pippie and Lucy. Pippie is still struggling with poor body condition and possible arthritis. I have her on pain medication which has made a tremendous improvement in her mobility. Hopefully, her physical condition will improve as well.

Lucy was still expecting her calf. Last year, she was the poor mama who’s calf got tangled up in the polywire and died. I still have nightmares of that morning. Lucy was so depressed last spring that she didn’t breed until late in the season. I waited and waited and waited for this last spring calf. Every day I walked out to the field to check on her progress, and everyday was disappointed.

And then last Wednesday morning, I sensed things were finally happening for Lucy. I watched her all day, sure that labor had started. By evening, just as the rain storm started, her water broke. With the temperature in the forties and the rain pouring down, I headed out every 45 minutes, flashlight in hand, to check on her. Finally at 10:30pm, the calf was safely on the ground. I had grabbed a calf coat and towels in case the baby was too cold to thrive, but was so relieved when just 20 minutes after birth, the calf was up and nursing. No doubt, Lucy had herself a little heifer.

Eight hours later, Lucy’s heifer was still wet from the rain but lively and nursing frequently. By the next day, she was fuzzy and happy, warmed by a sunny, spring morning.

With the last calf born, I scheduled our spring vet day to vaccinate the cows and calves, castrate the little bulls and give the calves their ear tags. I decided to spend a couple of hours on the computer updating my cattle records and generating the spreadsheet in preparation for working the herd. Suddenly, Bill came into the kitchen and announced, “We have a swarm! It’s large and on a fence post, close to the hives”. I gathered Hugo and headed to the garden shed. We haven’t captured a swarm in a few years, so I was excited. I put together a deep hive body box with 10 frames, a base, inner cover and telescoping cover. Because the swarm was hanging around a fence post, I also brought along a couple of bee brushes.

With Hugo tied to the mule, within view of the hives but a safe distance away, we positioned the hive box on the ground next to the post. And then, thankfully, Bill remembered to turn off the power to the electric fence. Trying to guess where the queen was, I used the bee brushes and my hands (with bee gloves on) to scoop up as many bees as possible and drop them into the box.

There were so many bees in the swarm, that even after I put thousands into the box, more remained on the post and in the air. However, when I stood back to watch their behavior, many of the bees were flying around and into the box, so I felt the queen was successfully and safely captured.

I checked back a couple of hours later to find no bees on the post and normal bee activity in and out of the new hive box. Success! I will check the frames in a few days to make sure the bees have built out the frames and the queen is busy laying eggs.

Nothing is more like spring on the farm than new calves and honey bee swarms!