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Calving Season Is Underway

JANUARY 27

We had two weeks of cold, foggy weather in which we never saw sunshine. The trees, fences and cattle were covered with thick frost. Temperatures hovered between -14C and -8C. Our heifers will soon be calving, so we trained them to come into the calving pen by leaving the gate open and feeding hay in there.

Then we started training them to go into the barn. Our driveway was still a solid sheet of ice and slippery, so Lynn spread dirt/ manure (from one of the big piles from cleaning corrals) across the driveway for better traction. We opened the barn doors and put a little hay inside and in front of the barn, and herded the heifers across the driveway and into the pen by the barn. We had to herd them into one of the barn aisles the first time, then on subsequent days just took them to the barn pen and locked them there for an hour and they went in and out of the barn on their own. Now it will be much easier, some dark night, to bring a calving heifer in from the maternity pen and put her into the barn.

Some of the big 4X4 hay bales we’re feeding to the heifers are frozen and difficult to chop apart. It’s hard to get the frozen strings off. This is hay we bought in the fall of 2007 and didn’t use last year—we had a carry-over because we leased some of our cows to Michael and Carolyn and didn’t feed up all our hay. We’re glad we had hay left over, because last fall it was too expensive to buy; the cheapest hay was $180 a ton. We didn’t buy any, and hope we have about enough to make it through this winter. Michael and Carolyn didn’t buy the expensive hay. They sold some cows instead, to try to match their cow numbers with the hay they had on hand.

Saturday evening just before dark our cows were running around on heifer hill. Lynn drove up there to see if wolves or a cougar were harassing them, but couldn’t see anything, except for a deer in the small field above the house. The next morning when we went up there to feed, we discovered the fence between heifer hill and the next field was flat. The top two wires were broken, and two fence posts broken off. The cows must have run through the fence in their frantic distress. Several inches of fresh snow covered all tracks, so we couldn’t tell if there was a wolf or cougar involved, but the cows seemed okay. We propped up the fence and spliced the wires back together.

After the storm, our fog cleared up and temperatures dropped to -25C. Last night it was 28 below. Our big tractor wouldn’t start, even after being plugged in, so we fed small bales to the heifers today — since we couldn’t load a big bale. Lynn put a bale fork on our smaller tractor and we’ll use it the rest of the winter, since it starts easier. The new snow covering the ice, and the cold weather, resolved the slippery conditions. Our heifers can troop back and forth to the barn for their training sessions without falling down.

Our young cats sit on the load of hay in the sunshine, or on the hood of the jeep after we feed, since it’s warm after the engine has been running. This morning we thought we’d shooshed all the cats off the hay before we drove to heifer hill to feed the cows, but when we got up there we discovered a hitch-hiker. She was scared and crying, so I took her into the cab and she helped me drive while we fed.

FEBRUARY 2

Though we’ve still had cold nights, it’s been warmer during the days, almost up to 0C. Michael and Carolyn have nearly 70 new babies. Those cold nights kept them really busy, shuttling cows with calves into their barn and sheds at Maurers.

The mule deer doe that came into the little field above our house the evening our cows stampeded is still there. She’s injured, lame on her right hind leg. She grazes the old tall forage sticking above the snow, and sleeps next to our calf houses — and was inside one of them when I went to do chores. Lynn took her some alfalfa hay — leaving it there by the calf houses — and she nibbles on that. She’s less lame now, and today she’s recovered enough to jump fences again, and was in my horse pasture here by the house.

Another young cat was a stowaway on our jeep load of hay, and went with us to feed the cows. The red-winged blackbirds came back a few days ago, which is fairly early for them. Often they aren’t here until mid-February. Maybe they think it’s going to be an early spring. Hopefully they won’t be as mistaken as last year; they came back early and we had one of the longest, coldest springs on record, with no leaves on the trees until June.

Several of our heifers are very ready to calve, so I am checking them a few times in the night, looking out the window with our spotlight. Lynn took one of the old big straw bales into the maternity pen with the tractor, and we scattered it around for bedding — under the yardlight where the heifers are easier to see at night. They are enjoying their new bed!

Lynn’s sister Jenelle had an exciting experience when one of her weaned calves got into the old house next to their corrals, and went upstairs. It was afraid to come back down the steep, narrow stairway and was stranded up there, bawling. When Jenelle tried to herd it back down, it went into one of the old bedrooms and nearly jumped out the second story window. She finally called her neighbour, on her cell phone, and he came to help her rescue the calf. They had to rope it. The calf balked the first time they aimed it down the stairs, and got away from them again, but they finally got it herded down the stairs.

FEBRUARY 9

A week ago Andrea took six year old Samantha to the emergency room at the hospital during the night. She awoke with a terrible headache and high fever and Andrea couldn’t get the fever down. The doctor gave Sam IV fluids and medication. She had fever and headaches for five days, and they never figured out what was causing the problem. Andrea continually gave her medication to reduce her fever, especially at night — when it seemed to be the highest. Finally she is doing better and seems to be recovering.

On Thursday Bob Minor brought his wood splitter and helped Lynn split more of our firewood. We’ve gone through all the split wood already, with our two stoves going most of the time. On warmer nights we’re now letting one of the stoves go out at night, which will save a little wood.

On Friday we got a small load of straw 18 big 3X4 bales (seven tons). Straw is expensive, $70 a ton, but we didn’t have any more left from last year. Lynn put one of the big bales on our flatbed pickup and we backed into each of the four barn aisles to spread it. One bale was just the right amount of straw to straw down the whole barn.

Our heifers have been itching terribly, in spite of delousing them a month ago when we vaccinated them, so on Saturday Lynn put up a rope between the light pole and the fence and hung a dust bag on it. He also wrapped burlap sacks around the light pole, affixed with net wire, and saturated the burlap with delousing oil. The heifers enjoy scratching on that, and delousing themselves at the same time.

Yesterday morning when I got up at 5 a. m. to type an article, I checked the heifers with my spotlight out the window as usual, and nothing was happening, but by 6:30 I could see one of them was calving. When we went out to bring her to the barn, we discovered two were calving. So Alex Annie and Rosalita went to the barn together. It was nice that they already know the way. Even though it was still very dark, they trooped right across the driveway and into the barn with no problems.

Alex calved first — a nice little bull calf we named Alexander the Small. He got chilled rather quickly, since it was -13 in the barn (before up). He didn’t find her udder before he gave up and lay down again. So we got him up and stuck a teat in his mouth. That’s the nice thing about gentle heifers; they don’t mind if you assist their babies. Once he had a taste of milk he became enthusiastic and found the rest of the teats by himself. It’s amazing how much warmer a calf is after he’s nursed! The other heifer had her baby an hour later, a little heifer we named Rosetta. She was up and nursing before she was an hour old. We’ve officially started calving!

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

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