Spring Weather Taking Its Time


Last week Andrea’s kids spent a day with us, and Emily stayed overnight. She learned how to make biscuits, and helped me do chores. We brought the cow herd down from the field and sorted off cows that are about to calve. Emily enjoyed seeing her pet cow, Buffalo Girl, who is close to calving. That cow always likes to see Emily, and walks up to have her head scratched. Ever since Emily was five-years-old and Buffalo Girl was an orphan calf, they’ve had a very special relationship. The cow tolerates Lynn and me, but is completely bonded with Emily and is very trusting — and is not pushy, like some pet cows. There’s just a quiet communication between them.

Michael and Carolyn had a calf that was sick for a while, possibly with IBR. Knowing they would probably lose the calf despite treatment, they planned to graft one of their extra calves (one of several sets of twins) on the cow. Not wanting the “new” calf to be at risk for IBR, they got a dose of Naselgen (the IBR vaccine that can be squirted up the nostril, which gives more immediate immune protection than an injection) from the vet and gave it to the twin a couple days before the grafting.

They were able to keep the sick calf alive long enough to do the switch. It was in a coma the final day, and the cow was very worried and had a full udder. They pulled the comatose calf out of the pen, “put it out of its misery,” quickly skinned it, and put the hide on the twin. When they took the twin to the pen, the cow welcomed it as her own. The twin went to the udder and nursed, which was a blessing, because this cow was too wild to try to restrain in a chute to assist the inexperienced calf (who had only nursed a bottle, and not a cow). They left the pair together in the pen only one day because the cow was nervous and wanting out — just long enough to be sure the cow and calf were well bonded so they could take the dead skin off the calf before turning them out in the field with the other pairs.

The day after we sorted our herd to put some in the maternity pen, Lilly suddenly started developing an udder. I eased her over to the gate when we went up to feed, and was able to sort her out and bring her down through the field above the house, to put in the maternity pen, too. On Monday we took a big straw bale into the barn on the jeep and spread it between two aisles (five stalls) so we’re ready in case weather is bad. On Tuesday afternoon Lilly calved — a red bull calf — but the day was warm and we let her calve in an outdoor pen. The next day the weather changed — cold, windy and snowing — so we moved Lilly and calf to our “second day barn” that’s basically a three-sided shed that gives protection from wind and rain or snow. Lynn had just taken all the “stored” things out of that barn, and the four-wheeler (parked in there all winter).

More cows up in the field are looking like they’ll calve soon, so this morning we brought them all down and put several in the maternity pen and the rest in the pasture next to it — much more handy to get them in when their time comes to calve.

Outie (a four-year-old) started labour yesterday evening and we put her in the barn, with Buffalo Girl in the next aisle to keep her company. Outie calved outdoors for her first calf, and last year (second calf) the weather was bad and we put her in the barn. She was horribly nervous, trying to climb the walls. She was more at ease this time. She calved quickly, and the calf was up and nursing within 30 minutes. Buffalo Girl calved today, a nice bull calf, and Emily named him Buffalo Bill.


Michael and Carolyn are trying to build their herd back up, after selling everything they could reasonably cull two years ago, when hay prices were so high and they chose not buy any. This year, hay is priced about one-third what it cost in 2008. Their banker insists they get more cows, so we’re selling them more of ours, and the rest of our yearling heifers. Last Monday they came with their trailer and made one trip with pregnant cows, and the second trip a mixed load of pregnant cows and heifers, then came back for some pairs — putting calves in the front compartment and the cows in the rear. Now we’ll have even fewer cows to calve out; Lynn and I are ready to slow down and we don’t mind letting Michael and Carolyn have more of our herd.

On Tuesday they went to a breeder’s sale near May, Idaho, and bought a pen of 31 heifers. With those, and the cattle purchased from us this spring, they now have their herd back up to the number their banker insisted on.

On Thursday Andrea and kids left early in the morning to drive to Salt Lake for her checkup at the burn center. The roads were good most of the way, but there were five inches of fresh snow in Salt Lake. As soon as her checkup was over, they got out of Salt Lake’s

nasty roads and traffic and drove partway home, to stay the night at Pocatello at a motel. The doctors in Salt Lake were not happy with the graft surgery; the skin is healing well, but shrinking up again and negating the progress that was gained in “releasing” the contracture that is pulling on her arm, shoulder and spine.

On Friday, Cub Cake (daughter of Cubby, granddaughter of Cinnabear) started calving at 2 a. m. so we put her in the calving pen by the house where we could watch her under the yardlight. It was a very cold, windy night and we were glad she waited till morning to calve. She calved just as the sun was coming up, and licked the calf dry very quickly, so it didn’t need to be in the barn. She had a red heifer named Sugar Bear. Andrea and kids stopped by that afternoon on their way home from Salt Lake, and Emily got to pet Buffalo Girl and her calf.

Emily Binning (our good friend and neighbour) died and was buried on their property. A few days later they held a memorial service at one of the local churches, with much singing. Emily had tape-recorded her own life sketch and it was a joy to hear her voice, telling about her life, her eagerness to go “home” to be with Jesus, and some of the exciting adventures she and her husband experienced during their years as missionaries in many countries.

Today, Easter, was a busy day with family. My nephew Matt Smith came last night to stay with Andrea and then visit his grandmother (my mom) awhile this morning at the nursing home. I stopped in to see mom, too, then Lynn and I went to church with Andrea and kids, then stopped by her house to visit with Matt awhile. This evening we had a late supper for Michael and Carolyn and kids after all their chores, feeding and calving tasks. Granddaughter Heather is home from college for three days (going back tomorrow) and her birthday is next week. We had an early birthday celebration for their whole family, since all their birthdays are in April.


The day Michael and Carolyn took Heather back to college in Montana it started to snow on their way home. They hit a terrible blizzard, just before midnight, which put down eight inches of new snow. The road was obliterated and they couldn’t see from one roadside reflector to the next so they crept along at slow speed trying to stay on the road. Through the worst storm, it took them more than two hours to travel 30 miles. We got only three inches of snow here, but it was very bad weather. Nick was doing their chores and checking cows after school that evening and found a cow (one they’d bought from us) that had just calved. He managed to get the pair in from the field and into the barn just as it started snowing and blowing.

A week ago our old gentle cow Maggie calved, a nice big red heifer. Weather was nice for awhile, then we had another storm. Lynn and I went to town to watch Charlie’s school program, and the rain hit just as we were leaving to come home. We hurried home, with strong winds threatening to blow the car off the road, and put Maggie and her new calf in the barn before they got drenched with rain. Calving this time of year, we usually figure it won’t be bad weather, but we are glad we have a barn!

On Saturday Lynn put an electric wire along the south side of the field above the house, to keep calves from getting to the ditch where they eat dirt and gravel, or lick hair off the fence. Curious calves love to get themselves into trouble!

Andrea came out the past two mornings and harrowed some of the fields. Now we only have the fields on the upper place to harrow, and currently only one cow left to calve. Maybe it will soon be spring.

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

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