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Calving Season Well Underway

FEBRUARY 20

The day after our first two calves arrived, I helped Lynn fix some broken panels in the pen below the barn and we hauled a big straw bale down there and spread it along the edges of the pen next to the brush, where calves can get out of the wind. We put the two heifers and their babies down there after a night in the barn. The next heifer to calve was Buffalo Chips (daughter of Emily’s pet cow, Buffalo Girl). She calved fast and easy—the calf was born within 15 minutes after the feet started to show. Emily named it Buffalo Bunny.

We had a week of cold, windy weather, down to 16 below zero C. at nights, so I was getting up every hour or so to check on the cows. At that temperature we wanted to make sure the new babies were born in the barn and not outside. When Leoni started calving during one of those nights, we put the other two heifers (that hadn’t calved yet) in the barn with her— in the aisle next to her stall—to keep her company and help keep the barn warm. Body heat from several cows always makes the barn warmer than outside. Leoni had a nice bull calf and he was up nursing in less than an hour, before he got too chilled.

That next evening no one was calving, so we slipped away for a couple hours to Bob and Jane Minor’s place for supper, for my birthday. Andrea and kids came also, and when we went home the three girls came with us to stay for the weekend. Andrea and Charlie left early the next morning to drive to Idaho Falls for his hockey tournament.

The next day, Valentines Day, was busy. The kids wanted to see baby calves, so we took them to the pen below the barn where Em was able to catch and pet her calf, Buffalo Bunny. The little girls were able to pet the newest calf in the barn.

One of the heifers, Lemmony Snickit, was restless all morning. We’d planned a 90th birthday party for my mom at the nursing home that afternoon and were getting ready to leave for town when Lemmony became obvious in her labor. We put her in the barn and Lynn opted to stay home and watch her, so the little girls and I went to town for the party. My brother and his wife drove up from Boise, and we invited a lot of mom’s old friends. Out-of-town family members and friends sent cards and e-mail messages for mom, which we read to her at the party. Lynn had to pull Lemmony’s bull calf, then after he was certain she was going to mother the calf, he came to town also, and was able to be there for the last part of the party.

On Monday we brought the cows down from heifer hill and vaccinated/deloused them. In spite of the fact we deloused them in late October, they’re very itchy again. We gave them their scour prevention vaccine and 8-way (clostridial) shot. The first cow through the chute rammed back and forth as I was trying to give her a neck injection, and she smashed/bent my wrist against the chute. These old squeeze chutes were not designed for neck injections! Fortunately she didn’t break my wrist—it’s just badly bruised and sprained. After we sorted the cows—some into the maternity pen, some into the horse pasture, and the April calvers back to heifer hill—I put DMSO and an ice pack on my wrist to help reduce the swelling and numb the pain. I kept an ice pack on it all night, and by the next day it was doing a lot better in spite of turning black.

On Tuesday we put straw in the calf houses in the field above the house and put the heifers and babies in that field. We had part of the bale left so we backed into the barn aisles to unload the extra straw in the barn, and found Shade (Charlie’s black cat) under part of the bale that had fallen over! He seemed a little dazed, but otherwise ok, and glad to be out from under the straw! He must have been on the back of the truck after we put straw in the calf houses, and got pinned when the extra straw flopped down.

Some of the cows have started calving. The second calvers have never been in our barn; they calved at Michael and Carolyn’s place last year, as heifers (leased to them). So we’ve been using Buffalo Girl as a guide-cow to lead them into the barn. She is learning her new job very well.

Last night at midnight the cows and calves above the house were running and bellowing, so we rushed out there with a spotlight and gun but didn’t see anything. We’ve had wolves in the neighborhood killing calves, so we were worried, but all the cows and calves seemed to be ok.

MARCH 4

Our last heifer, Tessiana, calved February 21. She had a nice bull calf, fast and easy and we named him Tezzarro. Later that same day Roddedendron calved (daughter of Roddenia). This was her fifth calf and she’s always had them standing up. This one was no different; she didn’t lie down to calve, just dropped the calf on its head.

Michael and Carolyn are three-quarters done with their calving now, with only about 100 left to calve. One of our neighbors had a cow gave birth to a hair-covered ball about the size of a big grapefruit, instead of a calf. We took a photo of this “freak”. Our local vet has only seen two others like this during the past 35 years.

This week we’ve had wind and stormy weather. The snow is melting and the calves are eating dirt and gravel along the corner of the field where the ditch washes away the sod, so Lynn put an electric wire across that corner to keep them away. This is something we have to do every year; even though the cattle have a good salt/mineral mix available at all times, the calves still like to nibble dirt. If they ingest gravel it can kill them, so we fence off that gravel bar.

Last Thursday we brought the cows down from heifer hill and sorted out two that look like they’re getting ready to calve, even though the vet, who preg checked, estimated they wouldn’t calve until April. We don’t want to take a chance on them calving up there in the snow/cold weather, at risk for being eaten by coyotes or wolves. We led the cows down through the field, with the jeep, and got stuck in a snowdrift just above the corrals! We had to use the feed truck to pull it out.

We’re having more cold, windy weather. One of the windows at the top of the barn fell out and broke, so Lynn climbed up there with a ladder and stapled clear plastic over the opening. We don’t need wind and snow coming into the barn!

A couple nights ago Drosophila calved quickly, out in the maternity pen, before we realized she was calving. So we used our new calf sled to pull that one to the barn. Freddy calved the next day, a nice black whiteface bull calf (Freddy George). We put those pairs out of the barn yesterday afternoon, but last night it snowed—a heavy wet snow. This morning Freddy George was breathing fast, so we treated him for pneumonia. We spread a big bale of straw in the old sick barn and moved Freddy and Freddy George into that barn for shelter.

Today the Fish and Game did a wolf count by helicopter, along the Lemhi valley, and counted more than 90 wolves.

MARCH 18

Our grandkids spent another weekend with us while Andrea took Emily to her final hockey tournament. Their little team has slowly gotten stronger, and they ended their season winning most of their games, against teams much larger, from bigger towns. It was an exciting finale. While the younger kids were here, they wanted to see more baby calves, but the weather was so cold and stormy (six inches of new snow on Sunday) we didn’t take them outside. They entertained themselves drawing and painting pictures while we were feeding and taking care of cows and calves.

Lynn hurt his back again, and I helped him for a couple weeks with the heaviest gates, breaking ice on the creek for cows in the swamp pasture, carrying in the wood, and other chores. Bob Minor came over one afternoon and split enough wood to last several days. We’re managing to get everything done, just more slowly.

Some nights it snowed so hard that I couldn’t see anything with my spotlight from the window, and had to go outside every hour to check the calving cows. After our biggest snowstorm the temperature dropped to minus 20 C and we had another week of really cold weather. A couple newborn calves in the barn got chilled before they were an hour old, so we helped them nurse before their mouths got too cold. We used the old sick barn as a second-day barn for calves that needed to be moved out of the main barn but needed another day of shelter before going out to the deep snow in the field. The calves there know how to use the calf houses, but sometimes it takes the new ones a day or two to figure it out. On Saturday we put more straw in the calf houses, and also in the calving barn. The last couple days have been warmer, however, and our snow is actually melting again. Maybe it will eventually be spring.

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

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