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Cold weather or not, fencing continued

Rancher's Diary: Extra attention including tube feeding couldn’t save premature calf

February 22

A week ago it snowed and was windy and cold. Jim finished packing his truck and drove to California where he has a couple of months worth of work fixing fences and remodelling some buildings for a friend.

We moved the yearling bulls from the orchard to the little back pen, and created a feeder in a corner where we can put the hay over the fence for them. We needed to get them out of the orchard because that’s where we’ll put the pregnant cows to have them closer for calving.

March 5

We’ve had cold weather this past week and had to break ice daily for the cows and bulls. Friday, Michael and Nick worked on the fence in spite of the cold, and hung a new gate in the fence above the house.

Thursday Michael and Nick worked on the fence again and by afternoon they had most of the new fence finished at the top of the horse pasture.

Then we had a major storm and several inches of new snow by Friday morning. Michael and Nick started working in the calving barn, digging holes next to the old support posts so we can set new posts to reinforce them. The old posts holding up the roof are starting to rot after 36 years. With the snowstorm it was nice to have an indoor project (in the barn) but the ground was frozen, making the digging slow.

This morning they started setting the new posts next to the old posts to bolt them together.

Today was our wedding anniversary (Lynn and I have been married 52 years) but we didn’t do anything special; it was just another day, but we reflected on our many blessings and the fact we have our kids and grandkids nearby and helping us.

March 13

Sunday Michael, Carolyn and Nick vaccinated and deloused their cows. They’d planned to give the cows pre-calving vaccines much earlier, but there was too much ice across the little field below their corral, making it impossible to safely get the cows into the corral until now.

Today Michael and Nick were still working on the barn, trying to get it finished before we start calving. We planned to bring our first-calf heifers down from the field today. One heifer decided to calve 28 days early, however. She was in labour when Andrea and I went up to the field to get them. So when we got the group into the horse pasture we brought Doll Baby on down to the calving pen. Within an hour she’d had a little heifer calf and was busy licking and loving that calf.

The little heifer wasn’t very strong, however, and slow to get up. Even after she got up, she didn’t manage to nurse, so Andrea and I fed her a bottle of colostrum. She still didn’t nurse the cow and got cold so we put the pair in the barn. We tried to give her another bottle this evening but she wouldn’t suck. We had to feed her by tube.

March 22

We fed the calf by tube again in the middle of the night, but she wasn’t getting any stronger. When I got up early the next morning to plug in the tractor and skid steer, I went to the barn to check on the calf, and she was dead. Her mama grieved for that calf for more than a week, even though it had never nursed her.

Saturday we decided to bring the other cows down from the field by Andrea’s house and put them with the heifers where we can watch them all. Some of the older cows are making udders, and we don’t want them calving up in the field with the coyotes.

That afternoon Michael and Nick used the skid steer to clean the last of the rocks and gravel (from their post-hole digging) out of the calving barn, and now the whole barn is ready for use.

Monday morning I started training the heifers to go in the barn. We sort them off from the older cows (into the orchard where I can feed them extra at night) so all I had to do was call them into the calving pen, then Lynn and I took them across the lane to the barn. After they realized there was some alfalfa hay in the barn to eat, they decided it was great. Now it will be a lot easier, some dark stormy night, to get a calving heifer into the barn if we need to.

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