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!

Peggy – Last Phase of Healing

On Wednesday, Peggy was 21 days old and had been unable to walk normally for 19 1/2 days of her young life. Dr Comyn made one more trip to the farm to remove the cast. In spite of the damaged leg, Peggy has thrived and was definitely a lot more heifer to lift than when the first cast went on.

With the cast removed, her right rear leg was thinner and weaker than normal and the left leg was slightly bowed from compensating and hauling the cast around.

The repair of the break was successful but both the bone and surrounding leg muscles were too weak for immediate, unlimited use. Peggy and Ruby, her mom, had to remain in the small area of the corral until the leg strengthen.

In the confines of the small end of the corral, Peggy was able to slowly and carefully exercise the leg.

With a cow and calf occupying the corral, daily life was modified for some of us. Sundance was a bit sad about his run-in being temporarily converted to a sick bay, but he had three cows, Pippie, Lucy and Heidi in the Front field to keep him company. Pippie was in the Front field so I could work on building up her condition, Lucy and Heidi were there as the last two cows expecting a calf.

I quickly discovered that scooping cow pies twice a day was a lot more work than cleaning up horse poop. Each of Ruby’s pies weighed so much that the tines on my fork bent with the effort. Loaded with a day’s worth of pies, the ridiculously heavy wheelbarrow took all of my effort to wheel to the pile and dump. Of course, Ruby was very unhappy at being alone in the corral. Being one of the herd leaders, Ruby began to occasionally moo loudly, letting everyone on the farm know about her displeasure at the situation. One night, she kept moo’ing well passed 11pm and I worried something was wrong. Throwing on a coat and boots, I grabbed a flashlight to go check on her and Peggy. Thankfully, everything was fine. Ruby was just irritated.

Four days after her cast was removed, Peggy’s leg was greatly improved so I let her and Ruby have access to the entire corral. Peggy loved running around and was putting weight on the leg, improving her muscle tone daily. I fed Ruby a little grain every day to help make her confinement a little easier.

With a healing heifer, Ruby became even more of a protective mama. Several times when I was snapping pics or video tapping Peggy, Ruby would get between us and move me out of the way. She is a very good mama!

This was a tough circumstance from the start. When I saw the broken leg, I knew my choice was between saving the calf but depleting her market value or putting her down and cutting my losses. A vet’s expertise is invaluable at times like this but also comes at a cost. Dr Comyn did a fantastic job restoring Peggy to a healthy, happy heifer who will lead a normal life and potentially give birth to many of her own calves.

I chose to save the calf.

Peggy’s Second Cast

Ten days ago, Ruby’s little heifer, now known as Peggy, had her right rear leg broken. On Monday, Dr Comyn returned to the farm to remove the first cast and put on a replacement. Calves grow so quickly that the first cast was already too small.

Peggy with her first cast

About an hour before the vet was scheduled to arrive, Bill and I began the process of separating Ruby and Peggy from the herd and getting them up to the corral. Neither large or small bovine was pleased about heading back to the corral, but thankfully both cooperated enough that the effort didn’t take too long to accomplish. Of course, the oldest bull calf in the herd decided to tag along making the task a bit more complex. Hazel, his mama, didn’t miss him at all during the 20 minutes he spent cavorting in the corral and was only slightly curious when he finally reappeared in the field.

Looking longingly at the exit gate.

When Dr Comyn arrived, we move Ruby into the crowding pen so that we could work with Peggy and not worry about a protective mama. After giving Peggy an injection of Ketamine to sedate her, Dr Comyn began work on removing the first cast. This morning, Peggy took up a lot more space on the tailgate than she had 10 days ago.

The outer wraps of the first cast were cutaway, exposing the set of wires that Dr Comyn had placed between the cotton layer and the hard cast.

We set Peggy on the ground for better stability, and then Dr Comyn secured each end of one wire to a handle. Sawing the wire back and forth, a clean cut was made through one side of the cast. Then we flipped Peggy over, and the process was repeated using the second wire on the opposite side of the cast.

We lifted Peggy back up on the tailgate and the cast easily peeled off, exposing the soft cotton padding and cotton sleeve underneath. When everything had been removed, Dr Comyn examined the broken area on Peggy’s leg. Her injured leg was a lot thinner than a normal leg and had developed a callous that could be felt along the break line.

And then the process of casting the leg was repeated. Pull on a new sock, add a couple rolls of soft cotton, enclose 2 wires one each side of the leg, add two rolls of wet cast, add a rubber glove on the hoof for water proofing, and finally add a roll of adhesive cloth bandage for extra protection.

Peggy will be back in the field for the next 10 days, walking through grass, rain puddles and mud, cow pies and horse poop. This cast has to hold up and help her leg heal as she follows mama to the water trough, to the shade tree, as she nurses and when she plays with the other calves.

We laid Peggy in the corral on a bed of hay to sleep off the effects of the sedative. As soon as she was awake enough to stand, I let her mama back in with her. Before noon, the pair was back in the field with the herd.

Drowsy heifer.

The next morning, Peggy was fully recovered and comfortable with her new cast. She easily kept up with her mama and all of the other calves in the field.

Peggy sporting cast #2

Next week, the cast will be removed and then Peggy with her Mama will spend a week or so sequestered in the corral while her leg gains strength and rebuilds muscle and bone.

Winter storms and a broken leg

Two days ago on Wednesday evening, there was a cold front moving through the area. Storms were predicted, followed by temperatures dropping into the 20’s. So of course when I checked on the herd one last time before nightfall, Ruby was in the center of the field, tail high and moo’ing. Her baby was on the way. I hung out by the fence for 45 minutes until darkness fell and I could no longer see Ruby. No hooves were present yet, so I knew there was time before the birth. After eating a quick dinner, Bill and I grabbed a flashlight and headed back to the field. Ruby was close to the rest of the herd with a freshly born calf next to her. I was thrilled, but also a bit worried because of the weather. By 8pm, a cold rain was pouring down along with thunder and lightning. Ruby was a good mama, I felt sure the little calf was warm, dry, fed and staying close next to mama.

First thing yesterday morning, I headed out to check on the new calf. Ruby had her baby nestled on hay on the lower slope of the field, well protected from the wind. The baby was a beautiful little red heifer!

As we began unrolling hay to feed, the other heifers realized a new member of the herd had arrived and a few came over to check her out.

In spite of enduring a February thunderstorm just hours after birth, the little heifer was spunky and thriving.

And then this morning, just 24 hours later, I walked into the field to feed the herd and found Ruby and her heifer lying a good distance away from the others. As I took a closer look, I saw the little baby was limping. Ugh!

Bill and I finished unrolling hay, and then turned our attention to getting Ruby and her calf into the corral. I moved Sundance into a stall in the barn, then opened a path through the electric fence to the corral. Driving the mule into the field, we loaded the calf into the back. But as cows will do, the entire herd began following the mule anticipating sweet feed, while Ruby headed in the opposite direction, searching the field for her calf. Sigh. Bill ran to the barn for a bucket of feed to distract the herd, while I desperately tried to get Ruby to realize that her calf was in the back of the mule. After a frustrating 15 minutes (I kept repeating to myself, “to work cows fast, work them slow”), I finally convinced Ruby that her calf was in the mule and she followed me into the corral.

With the calf safely in Sundance’s run-in in the corral and Ruby pacing nearby, I dialed the vet’s office. Dr Pat Comyn was available and could get to the farm within the hour. I was certain the calf’s leg was broken and was very worried she would have to be put down.

Dr Comyn arrived, performed a thorough examination of the heifer and determined the leg was in fact broken. One of the other cows had probably stepped on her. I held my breath waiting for his next sentence, was this fixable or the end after a short 36 hours of life. Because the break was not a compound fracture, Dr Comyn felt the leg would heal with a caste. I was so relieved!

We moved Ruby to the other side of the corral to keep her out of the way while her calf was being handled. Dr Comyn gave the little heifer a shot of anesthesia and once she was sedated, we lifted her on to the tailgate of his truck. Then, Dr Comyn got to work wrapping the first layer of bandage, followed by a layer of padding with a set of wires sticking out on each side. These wires will be used to remove the cast in 10 day. After 10 days, the first cast will be removed and a second cast added. Calves grow so quickly, that a second larger cast is needed before the bones are mended. I learned so much today!

A layer of orange tape was added to hold the wires in place and the padding on, and then Dr Comyn wrapped the leg with the wet cast layer.

Another layer of sticky tape, followed by a rubber glove on the hoof end to help keep the plaster layer dry and clean. Which realistically, will only be as dry and clean as a little heifer’s leg in a muddy field can be kept.

Dr Comyn suggested using a calf coat to help the heifer stay warm in the cold nights forecast for this weekend. With her broken leg securely cast, and wearing a cuddly warm calf coat, we set the heifer on a bed of dry hay inside the run-in to let the anesthesia wear off. I kept mama away from her calf until she was wide awake and back on her feet.

Soon the pair was reunited, although Ruby was a bit wary of the strange attachments her calf was now sporting. Because the heifer was so small, Dr Comyn recommended a different style of calf coat which fit her a lot better than the first. So I replaced the black one with the tighter fitting blue coat.

Ruby encouraged her baby to stand and move with a mama cow’s soft moos and licks.

All was going well except I realized the heifer did not nurse for the rest of the day. At 6:10pm, I checked on the pair to find Ruby laying on one side of the corral and her calf on the other. I knew the heifer had to be hungry and needed to nurse, so decided to get the two together before dark. After stopping by the house to get my farm clothes on, I then headed back to the corral about 15 minutes later just as the sun set. Amazingly, the heifer and Ruby were both standing up with the heifer nosing around for the milk, quite steady on her newly repaired leg. I sent a quick text to Dr Comyn with the good news. Wonderful ending to a long day!

This morning, I could hear Ruby was moo’ing at 4:00am. I figured she was still upset at being separated from the herd so I waited until daybreak to check on the heifer. The baby was fine, curled up and laying in the dry hay.

An hour later, mama and baby were happily starting the day together. Content, well fed baby and calm mama cow, perfect start to my day as well!

Strong enough to get breakfast
She can also hobble back on her own to the dry hay for a nap.

Scarlet’s Twins

With two healthy heifers close by her side, Scarlet’s work has begun in earnest. Neither heifer was very large, which undoubtedly contributed to their successful, natural delivery. The first one weighed a bit more at about 65lbs while her sister was a petite, 55lbs. In contrast, Hazel’s bull born on the same day, weighed in at around 75lbs.

With both heifers up and nursing, poor Scarlet is always busy. She is either cleaning one heifer while nursing the other, or nursing both at the same time.

Once in a while, Scarlet gets a free moment to eat a few bites of hay.

Twin #1 is adorable, with dark red fur and a pink nose.

Twin #2 is also super cute with large ears and bright eyes.

Scarlet is a great mama. She lets us get close enough to touch her babies, but calls them to her with soft mama moo’ing.

In an effort to help Scarlet keep her energy and milk production up, I have been taking a couple of scoops of sweet feed to her every afternoon. I hide the pan as I walk into the field, or the other cows would mob me. In a couple of weeks, I will put up the creep feeder to let the calves access and eat grain as well, and maybe take some pressure off of poor mama.

2020 Spring Calving Begins

Of course, the best made human plans are at the mercy of the rhythm of the farm. Last May, “bull-in day”, the day that Shane joined our ladies, meant that the earliest start date 2020 calving season was February 18. Even with 3 heifers, the chances that any of the ladies would have their calves in mid-February were slim. In past seasons, I was always anxiously waiting for weeks past the earliest start date for the first calf to arrive. So when my daughter asked if I would babysit my grandchildren in Massachusetts the week of February 16, I had no worries. Our calves wouldn’t arrive at least until early March, or so I thought.

As my departure day approached, a few of the cows began to show signs of their impending motherhood by “bagging up”, looking “floppy” or “springen”. Three ladies in particular, Billie who is an experienced mama, Scarlet who’s first calf we had to pull last spring and a heifer Hazel , a first time mama. Last week, we moved the herd closer to the house into the front field for easier observation and to be close to the working area in case of problems.

As I left at daybreak to begin my all day drive, I saw Hazel already up and grazing, away from the herd. Certain she might already be in labor, I texted Bill to keep an eye on her. Hazel is one of our Braunvieh-Angus crosses, and has a beautiful, chocolate brown coloring. An hour into my trip, Bill sent me an update text and a photo. The first calf of 2020 arrived but not from Hazel, from Scarlet. The season began with an easy birth and a healthy calf.

The weather has been oddly mild for February, heading north there was no residual snow on the ground and the next few hours of my drive proceeded uneventfully. Just before noon, my phone buzzed with another picture from the farm. Wait, what? Two red calves next to Scarlet, she had delivered twins! I immediately called Bill to get the full story. Apparently, when he and TA fed the cows and checked the gender of the calf, the older heifers were all hanging out at the far fence line, staring at something on the edge of the field. Walking closer to investigate, they heard a small moo and found a second calf, hidden in the grass nearly under the fence. The guys carried the second calf all the way up the field to Scarlet, where she immediately cleaned and nursed both little heifers, happily accepting the pair!

Bill kept an eye on the trio through out the rest of the day, making sure that Scarlet was tending to both of the babies, nursing and licking either one or the other. Scarlet herself was our first pure bred, red angus heifer born on the farm, and her calf last year was the first calf we had to pull. This year, she gave us our first set of twins!

Eight hours into my trip, I received yet another text and pic from Bill. I was almost afraid to look at my phone. Sure enough Hazel, the first time mama, was in labor. Bill had to call and ask TA to come back to the farm and also called our neighbors, Bev and Paul to come over to help bring Hazel up into the corral. With daylight dwindling, he also put in a call to the vet to give her advanced notice in case help was needed. Once safely inside the corral, Hazel’s water broke and labor began in earnest.

One of the best sights to see when a cow is in the process of delivering a calf is two hooves, pads down followed by a nose. This means that the calf is in the correct position to be born. Heifers still may need help delivering a correctly positioned calf, especially a large one, but the job is more straightforward with a calf in diving position. Hazel was thankfully delivering a correctly positioned calf.

I arrived in MA after an uneventful, 10 hour drive but without hearing any further news from the farm. As the day turned into evening, I began to fret.

Well passed dark, I finally received the update call from the farm. After 2 1/2 hours had passed without Hazel making any further progress, Bill contacted the vet and said her help might be needed. As if on cue, Hazel gave one more push and out popped the calf. Needless to say, both Bill and our vet were delighted and relieved. Hazel was the proud mama of her first calf, a healthy little bull!

Three calves arrived days early to start our 2020 calving season off in a flurry. Fingers crossed that the other expecting ladies wait until the end of the week for me to come home to the farm before delivering their bundles of joy!

The next morning, just 12 hours later, Hazel’s boy in the morning sun all dried and well fed. He is beautiful!!

“Let’s Get A Puppy”

Beware of the phrase, “Lets get a puppy”.  

  • 6am. I am up, putting on my coat, hat, gloves and boots to take Puppy outside. 
  • Puppy suddenly thinks the furnace steam vent is a threat but finally takes care of his business . 
  • Back inside as I unsnap his leash, Puppy grabs my glove and races towards the kitchen.
  • I run after Puppy, desperate to get there first to put the gate up between him and mudroom where the cat food bowls sit.
  • Barely in time, I scoot Puppy to kitchen side of gate, while Slick bats and snarls and Louie cowers.
  • I feed Slick and let Louie outside.
  • I feed Puppy.
  • Just as I pour my coffee, Puppy finishes eating and starts chewing on my slippered feet.
  • As I sit at the kitchen table and open my computer, Puppy jumps on me wanting on my lap.  
  • I lift Puppy with his chew toy on my lap, but he continuously gnaws on my sleeves.  
  • I put Puppy in his playpen, just beside the kitchen table.  I sit down and take a sip of coffee.
  • Puppy poops in the playpen.
  • Puppy is out of playpen so I can clean up the poop. Puppy chews on my feet.
  • Slick jumps over the gate and sits on his chair at the kitchen table.  Puppy immediately terrorizes Slick.  Slick fights back.  Puppy goes back in the playpen.
  • My coffee is now cool enough to gulp. I decide to grab a yogurt before I head outside to take care of the farm animals. 
  • Puppy is out of the playpen, finally focused on chasing around a toy.
  • Louie appears at the kitchen door.  I quietly open it a crack to let him in. Well, a bit more than a crack because Louie is a fat cat.
  • Puppy immediately drops his toy and darts out the door.  
  • The chase begins.  Louie bolts, Puppy is in hot pursuit, followed by me desperately trying to catch Puppy before he plummets off of the deck.  
  • Thankfully Louie cowers by the mudroom door.  I pick up Puppy, let Louie inside and put Puppy back in playpen.
  • I sit down at kitchen table to finish my coffee and take one bite of yogurt.
  • Slick, sitting on his kitchen chair, projectile vomits.

Beware of the phrase, “Lets get a puppy”.  

Hugo

Origin of “Bullheaded”

Shane’s 2019 work at TurkeyCrest has been completed. He spent the summer with our main herd of cows and the fall with five heifers. Sunday would be the day for Shane to head off to his second job, to our friend August’s herd just a few miles down the road. Sunday was also the day when we were hosting a holiday dinner with friends at 5pm. From prior experiences loading on to a trailer, Shane had a reputation for walking on before the gate to the field was closed. August agreed to bring his trailer over around 9am in the morning. Expecting Shane to be moving down the road by 9:30, we decided there would be plenty of time to also separate and work the three youngest heifers before combining all of our cows into one herd for the winter.

In retrospect, we should have moved the young heifers into another field a few days prior to Sunday, giving Shane time alone to grow bored and restless. But that didn’t happen, so at 8:30 the bull strolled into the corral while the heifers watched from the field just over the fence.

August arrived on time and skillfully backed his trailer into the corral and opened the doors. Shane took notice but did not make a move towards the trailer. Hmm, not what I was hoping to see. I grabbed a bucket of sweet feed, held it to his nose and led this huge bull to the edge of the trailer. And that was as far as he would move, not one more step. So much for Shane jumping right on the trailer. Thirty minutes passed with everyone trying to entice this bull on to the trailer, only to have Shane return to the fence and gaze at the heifers. I jumped in the mule, grabbed another bucket of feed to lead the heifers to the backyard field and out of view. The girls followed me gleefully, kicking up their heels and running along side the mule, happy with the change of scenery, which was the polar opposite behavior from the stubborn bull in the corral. I had a nagging feeling that the backyard field was not completely fortified since the last storm. With 5 excited heifers in tow, I discovered nearly 100 feet of missing fence. As nonchalantly as possible, I quickly set up a dozen step in posts and strung a poly line before any of the heifers noticed the gaping hole along the creek. As the morning was quickly sliding by, I hurried back to the problem of the bull.

The guys had not made any progress loading Shane in my absence. Everyone was still calm, including the bull, but it was clear he had no intention of jumping on the trailer. At one point, I found myself next to the fence and too close to Shane. He took a step towards me, turned his head and rubbed me against the wood boards. No real harm was done, but I took that as a clear warning to remain cautious and stay in the moment.

Shane became more and more obstinate, which is safer than more and more excited, but fairly frustrating to the humans. We decided to change strategies and run him into the working area, down the alleyway, through head gate and then onto the trailer. Shane slowly moved to the working side of the corral, and August repositioned the trailer close to the head gate.

“Run” turned out to be the wrong description of the actual event. Shane had grown bored and tired of the sweet grain. Where as a cow will turn away when you walk up to their shoulder, Shane instead turns and faces you. Standing in the working pen, I started googling “how to work with a bull” but didn’t find any good tips. We spent over 45 minutes getting him into and through the working area. When he finally decided moved his 2500lb body into the chute, everyone was hopeful but then again, all progress ground to a halt. Shane refused to move any further. We curled his tail, poked his hooves, scratched his back and pleaded with him to try and push through all to no avail. The chute was too tight for his shoulders and he wouldn’t budge. As I stood between the head gate and the trailer, just a foot away from this huge, unmoving head in the chute, all I could envision was Winnie The Pooh, stuck in Rabbit’s front door.

There was nothing else to do except remove the chute. Bill went to get the tractor, swap out the hay spear for the fork lift while we undid the chains and moved the palpatation cage. But first, we had to move Shane BACKWARDS out of the chute and back into the alleyway. As I lightly pushed on his curly head, I realized how ineffective pushing on a bulls’ head would be to move him backwards. Obviously, a bull’s inclination when pushed on the head is to push back. August used a board as a lever against Shane’s chest to slowly edge him in reverse. A couple of steps backwards was all we needed to have enough room to move the chute. TA closed the palpitation door then put a board behind Shane’s butt to keep him in the alleyway.

In place of the chute, we chained a panel on each side of the alleyway to the trailer. Shane waited patiently for all of these modifications to be completed, not at all upset or anxious. As the minutes steadily ticked away, the time left for me to accomplish my long hostess to-do list dwindled. I was not quite as calm as Shane.

Before opening the door to yet again try to entice Shane onto the trailer, I double checked that my escape hatch was opened. The last thing I wanted was to be trapped in the trailer with Shane.

Finally, more than 2 1/2 hours after our first attempt, we opened the alleyway and Shane slowly but steadily made his way onto the trailer. I realized that the adjective “bullheaded” was based 100% on working with real bulls. The four of us breathed a huge sigh of relief, Shane was loaded and no one injured.

With Shane heading down the road, there was still the small detail of 5 heifers lollygagging in the Backyard field with a flimsy fence, 3 little heifers that had to be worked and then the two herds combined together in one field for the winter.

Working the cows was almost refreshing after dealing with one stubborn bull. After putting the chute back onto the alleyway, we separated the three little heifers and ran them through the working area.

I removed Pearl’s weaning ring, and put another one on Annie so that Pippie, her mama, will be able to put on some weight over the winter. Rose’, our last calf of 2019, finally got an ear tag and her vaccination.

With Bella leading the way, we moved all 15 cows of the main herd including the three young heifers, back to the south field.

Then, we gathered the 5 rowdy heifers from the backfield and combined them with the main herd. There was some jostling and posturing, but everyone settled down after a few minutes.

One last move of all 20 cows and heifers to the Mountain field before we called the day’s work complete at 2pm. Well, at least the cattle working was done. After feeding the horse, pig, goat and chickens an early meal, I was finally able to turn my attention to preparing for our dinner guests. That evening, with just 10 minutes to spare, I relaxed and enjoyed a wonderful time with great friends, who fortunately also have cattle so our conversations always involve cow tales.