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Calving Season Going Full Tilt

FEBRUARY 18

A week ago Michael and Carolyn had another set of twins and had a tough time getting them out alive. The cow was taking too long in early labour so they suspected a problem, and went fishing. The first twin was breech — nothing entering the birth canal but the calf’s tail — and difficult to reach the legs. By the time they got that calf out it was nearly dead because the placenta had started to detach. It took several minutes to revive him. The second twin was simply backward and easier to pull. They took the “slow” calf to the house to warm and dry it and give it colostrum. They now have several spare calves in case they need to graft one on a cow that loses a calf. The next morning they had another difficult delivery — a calf with both front legs turned back, but Michael was able to get the calf.

Granddaughter Heather was home from college for a three-day weekend, and enjoyed helping her folks with calving. They really appreciated the help; they had 30 calves during a 30-hour period, bringing their calf number to nearly 200.

Sunday, Michael loaded eight more big bales of second cutting alfalfa on the flatbed truck for us, and Lynn went to get it. This winter Lynn and I have been feeding some big round bales — grass hay to the cows and alfalfa bales to the heifers, using two different pickups. By setting the bales on their ends, there’s room on the flatbed for Lynn to go round and round, unrolling the hay and pitching it off. The last part we push off the pickup and unroll it down a hill. Most of the bale cores unroll very nicely that way.

Monday, Michael and Carolyn had another difficult calving. The cow had been in labour too long without obvious signs. The calf was dead, with head down between its front legs and impossible to bring up into the birth canal, even with a head snare. They called the only vet available, to do a C-section, but she said she’d be unable to come until the next morning. By the next morning they didn’t need the vet, the cow had continued to labour and the dead calf by that time was so soft and mushy that she had pushed it half out — and Michael was able to pull it in spite of the head back. They gave the cow antibiotics, and she’s doing OK. They now have more than 240 calves, and only a couple losses.

Yesterday they had another set of twins to deliver, and when Michael reached in to check the cow, he said, “Oh, good! It’s only breech!” After some of the horrendous challenges they’ve had, a breech calf was easy!

MARCH 2

Last Friday I went to town for the MRI on my knee. The doctor said there’s torn cartilage and it won’t get better. But it also won’t get worse. If pain gets unbearable he can do surgery to clean up the torn cartilage, which might help reduce inflammation, but I don’t want surgery because that would mean not being able to bend the knee at all for awhile as it recovers. We’ll soon be calving and I don’t want to be laid up from surgery. I can live with it the way it is — being careful to not squat down on that leg or bend it tightly because that’s when it’s really painful.

We had some cold weather for a few days last week, down to -18 C. at night. We had to plug in the feed truck again at nights. My brother came to visit from Boise, and while he was here we drove up the creek to visit Emily Binning — our good friend and neighbour who is dying of cancer. We had a nice visit with her, but didn’t stay very long, so as not to tire her. She is enjoying visits with friends. She has outlived the doctor’s predictions by twice as long as expected.

Calving is slowing down for Michael and Carolyn; they don’t have many left. They had another difficult birth a few days ago but managed to get the calf out alive. They had one old cow that didn’t want to mother her calf so they confined her and made her accept it. She’s a cow they bought three years ago and has a history of being a bad mother (she didn’t want the last two calves, either) so they’ll sell her after she raises this one.

Sunday we brought our cows down from the field and sorted off 24 to sell to Michael and Carolyn — 12 young cows and 12 pregnant heifers. Their banker wants them to build up their herd again, and we don’t mind having less to calve out. Even though we bred our cows to calve in April, these will fit with their late group and will breed back earlier for them next year.

Today we forgot to latch the gate when we drove out of the field below

Lynn rolls out a bale of hay for the cow herd with thoughts that spring grass isn’t too far away.

the house after feeding the heifers, and mid-morning they came trooping up through the barnyard, across the driveway, through the calving pen and up to my horse haystack. They made a mess of broken bales, but at least they didn’t go up the lane and out to the range!

MARCH 18

The “heifer escape” was a good practice lesson for them on coming out of their field. The next Sunday we brought them into the barnyard instead of feeding them — and they came eagerly when we opened the gate. We took them to the corral and sorted off the eight oldest and biggest ones that we’re selling to Michael and Carolyn. We deloused the others and took them back to the field below the lane to feed them. Michael and Carolyn came with their trailer to haul the eight heifers to the Maurer place to put with their heifers.

Lynn took another jeep load of wood to them. We’re still having some cold nights and they were nearly out of firewood for the little house where they spend time while calving. Michael loaded eight big round bales of first cutting alfalfa on their big flatbed truck and Carolyn brought it to us. We’re still buying hay from them.

Last week Lynn put a new battery in his four-wheeler so he could get it started. It’s been parked all winter in our second-day barn and we need to get it out of there when we start calving. Also, our weather is turning warmer; he’ll need to be able to use the four-wheeler to start irrigating. Snow is rapidly leaving the fields and grass is starting.

A good friend who lives a mile away had a severe stroke a couple weeks ago and was in the hospital in Hamilton, Montana. She was doing a little better by the third day, and Andrea drove over to see her. The next day she had another stroke, however, and could not recover. She was brought back to Salmon to spend her last days in a hospice room at the local care center, and died peacefully this past Monday. She will be greatly missed.

When Lynn was loading some little bales alongside a part bale of alfalfa, one came down off the stack and hit his head and shoulder, hurting his shoulder badly. He put DMSO on it to ease the inflammation and pain, but was unable to raise his arm for several days. Granddaughter Heather was home from college for spring break, and she came the next morning to help us feed our cows. Thankfully Lynn’s shoulder is doing better now and he’s able to use it again, carefully. While granddaughter was home from college she helped her folks with the cattle and they branded calves Thursday and Friday while the weather was a little better.

Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband Lynn near Salmon, Idaho. Contact her at 208-756-2841

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