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Reporter’s Notebook: Getting the hairy eyeball

I have a few cows in my parents’ herd. But they barely outnumber my hay-burning horses, so I’d never call myself a cattle producer. I haven’t decided how many cows I’ll collect in the long run. Right now they’re an excuse to help with the larger herd and a little extra income.

This spring my dad noticed that one of my cows had gone off her feed, so over Easter he hauled her into the Turtleford vet clinic. I tagged along to see what would happen.

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I’d always thought of this particular cow as a quiet one. She was certainly friendly if there was food involved. In fact, shake a bucket of pellets in front of her and she seems downright couth.

But the grid road into town was slick with mud, and the cow was put out by the slippery, bumpy ride in the stock trailer. Then, shortly after she stepped off the trailer, trying to co-operate with the annoying humans, the vet had the nerve to lock her head into the squeeze chute.

Her tail swished like an angry cat. And if you’ve ever wondered where the term “hairy eyeball” originated, I’m sure it started with an irate cow much like mine.

The vet narrowed her illness down to either hardware disease or developing pneumonia. So my poor cow received a shot for the possible respiratory illness and a magnet down her stomach to remove the suspected metal. The vet also decided to tube her, to get some liquid into her.

In case you’ve never tubed a cow, it involves sliding a tube into the mouth and down the throat. My cow did not like this.

In fact, I think she likely lost all faith in humanity. I say this because it took two adults to hold her head even though she was in the squeeze chute. Meanwhile I hand-pumped a bucket down the tube.

Personally, I thought it was all very interesting, and the vet was quite collected in the face of bovine anger. And perhaps a bucket of pellets will probably soften the cow’s hard feelings once she’s regained her health.

None of this is the least bit unusual for a livestock producer, of course. I wonder if it’s possible to be a long-time rancher without ever tubing a sick calf.

Risks and decisions

A cow-calf operation isn’t a grain farm, yet they have a few things in common. Both require managers who keep an eye the numbers. Both are vulnerable to risk from weather and markets. Producers in both sectors have adapted their practices as science and technology have advanced.

And both require producers to make decisions on the run. Can I treat that cow myself or should I call the vet? Should I spray my canola for flea beetles? Should I cut hay today or is it going to rain? Will this crop recover from that late-spring frost or should I reseed now? Some of those choices have a short expiry date, and it’s not always easy to know the right answer.

A while ago, Leeann shared some web stats with the rest of us. Grainews.ca had the highest number of Google searches of all our company’s websites. It looks like producers are turning to Grainews when they need specific information. Since our motto is practical production information, those numbers are one sign we’re getting it right.

I’m not going to pretend that I know the ins and outs of running a grain farm (or a cow-calf operation, for that matter). If your canola leaves are turning purple, I’m not the person you should call. And please don’t call me about fencing, either.

But I can report on the science behind herbicide resistance or the latest residue management research. I hope that’s been useful to you this winter. I hope you’ve picked up a few things from Grainews to help you make better decisions through the busy season.

Good luck with seeding, calving, spraying, haying and everything else you’ll be doing this spring and summer. †

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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