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Last Cows Calved On Pasture

APRIL 25:

Last week we put the three cows with new calves in the lower swamp pasture. It’s fenced off from the creek, so the calves can’t drown in the high water. We opened up our back corral for them to come in and drink at the spring that runs through it.

Rosie’s calf got pneumonia within a few hours after he was born, so we’ve been treating him. That pair is still in the barn.

Lynn has been harrowing some of the fields, but our weather is cold and stormy and the grass hasn’t grown much. We had a nice day last Saturday, however, so we got the heifers in from the field below the lane and vaccinated them — then put them in the top half of the swamp pasture. We also vaccinated two yearling steers and the yearling bull.

Maggie calved on Sunday afternoon — the first day that’s been nice enough to have a cow calve outdoors instead of in the barn! Even when the temperatures have been above freezing, it’s either been horribly windy or raining or snowing and we’ve preferred to have the calves born in the barn. Now we just have two cows left to calve: Rishira and Lilly.

On Tuesday Andrea came out after she got the kids off to school, and helped us vaccinate the cows and brand/vaccinate the calves — all but the little group of very young calves in the swamp pasture. It went a lot faster with three of us, and we got done in time for her to drive back to town and pick up Samantha from Kindergarten at 11:30 a. m.

That afternoon Lynn and I set 10 steel posts along the old net wire fence above the house where the larger group of cows and calves are. The cows are so hungry for green grass that they’re reaching under and over the netting and destroying the fence. Alex Annie crawled under one morning and got into the wrong pasture. By putting steel posts between the wood posts, we were able to raise the old netting at the top and secure it lower to the ground at the bottom so the cows can’t mash it down or reach under so far. Andrea came Wednesday and Thursday mornings and helped Lynn set 10 more steel posts each time. Lynn’s back is still bothering him a lot and he can’t do much without pain.

Sammi and Dani came with Andrea yesterday and played with the cats and helped feed Shiney his bottle (Dani named our orphan calf). The kids are enjoying another pet calf, after helping feed Boomerang last year.

MAY 6

The final week of April was very cold, freezing most nights, and it’s still cold. We’ve had snow off and on, and wind. The weather was so miserable, I kept getting up at night to check on Rishira. She was overdue to calve and I wanted to make sure she didn’t calve outside in the snow. She was restless — often acting like she was in early labour — but she didn’t calve. Last Thursday she finally seemed to be calving, and we put her in the barn at 5 a. m. but she never progressed to active labour — just a few cramps. Finally, by afternoon, we decided there must be something wrong, since she’s usually an easy calver, and put her in the headcatcher to check her. The cervix was fully dilated, but Lynn could barely reach down to the calf; it was not coming up into the birth canal. He couldn’t get hold of the feet.

We called our vet to come help us — and he discovered the cause of the problem. The uterus had a twist and the calf could not be born. He cut an incision for a C-section, and we mentioned that in 1972 our old vet corrected a serious torsion of the uterus (more than 360 degree rotation) on one of our cranky black cows (named Pandora), just by reaching in through the flank and heaving on the twisted uterus and turning it over — back to proper position. So Jeff tried it and was able to correct the twist, which wasn’t nearly as severe as Pandora’s. Then we were able to pull the calf. It was a heifer, still alive, and we put it in front of Rishira by the headcatcher so she could lick it while the vet sewed up the incision in her flank. We put the pair in the barn, out of the wind, and I helped the baby nurse while Lynn went up the creek to get one of our ditches started. Even though the weather is still cold, we need to start irrigating.

On Friday while we were feeding, we noticed Maggedy’s calf kicking at his belly and stretching, with abdominal pain. We brought that pair in from the field, captured the calf in the runway to the headcatcher, and gave him a big dose of castor oil and also some Banamine to help ease his pain, and antibiotics. He was doing much better by the next day so we put them back out to the field. By Sunday evening, however, he quit nursing and was dull. We brought the pair back in and tubed the calf with milk replacer and some mineral oil to soothe his gut. It was cold and snowing, so we put them in the barn for the night.

On Monday Rishira’s incision (where the vet reached in to turn the uterus) was draining fluid and a little pus. We tried to put her into the headcatcher to give her an injection of antibiotic, but she refused to go in (remembering the ordeal of delivering her calf!) so we took her and her calf around to our chute runway to put her in our squeeze chute. Her calf ran down the chute first, and Lynn ran after the calf — to try to get it on through and out the front so the cow wouldn’t step on it; she was worried about the calf and following.

The cow was so close on their heels that when I opened the tailgate of the squeeze chute to let Lynn and the calf through, Rishira barged in, too, and I couldn’t stop her. There’s not room in a squeeze chute for a big cow and a person — and she pushed past Lynn and jammed him into the side. Somehow (maybe my yelling in her ear) I was able to get the cow to back up, and I shut the tailgate, so I could let Lynn and the calf out the front. Fortunately Rishira hadn’t knocked him down, but she’d slammed him into the side of the chute, scraping skin off his arm near the elbow, and squashing his forearm against his chest, cracking a couple of ribs. He was really lucky she didn’t hurt him worse. We gave Rishira the antibiotic, then bandaged Lynn’s arm and put DMSO on the sore ribs to help reduce the pain and minimize swelling and inflammation. We’ve been putting DMSO on his ribs three times a day and they’re feeling a little better by today. He’s trying to be careful, feeding the hay.

With all the wet, cold weather, several of the calves have scours, and one big heifer calf, Drosophala’s Melanagaster, was very dull and off feed yesterday, so we brought her in to treat her with oral fluids and antibiotics. She’s feeling better today and nursing again.

MAY 19:

The neighbours turned their cows out on the range behind our place a couple weeks ago. The grass had barely started growing so they’ve been reaching through our fences. Andrea hiked along one boundary fence putting in staples and splicing wires where the elk have damaged the fence, and Lynn has been patching fences on the other side where neighbours’ cows were getting into our fields. A couple days ago several pairs and a bull broke down a gate and got into the Gooch place, but Lynn was up there irrigating and saw them before they got very far and was able to chase them back out — and repaired the gate.

We’d planned to put cows on our hill pasture May 10 (we were running out of hay) but when Lynn walked around that fence to check it, he realized the grass was not ready to graze yet. We waited until today to turn them out. Fortunately we found a few round bales for sale, just across the valley, and Lynn made two trips with the flatbed trailer to get a total of 16 bales — to get us by until we could turn the cows out on the hill above our house. There’s no water on that hill pasture, but we can pump every two or three days, filling three water troughs. We pump from a ditch in our field across the road, using a long pipe we put through a culvert under the road, and big hoses clamped to the pipe.

The grass in our back yard is finally tall enough to graze, so we brought the orphan calf (Shiney) out of the old barn and he’s now living in the back yard. Our last cow, Lilly, finally calved, on a sunny afternoon. That makes two cows that were able to calve outdoors this year, instead of in the barn!

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

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