Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bird dog

Gus takes a rest after a morning hunt

Rick and Chuck joined us for the last few days of upland game bird season this weekend. While the birds and available shots were few, we all enjoyed a weekend full of great food and good company.


Ranchers are the ultimate "Jack of all trades"; they have to be. Mechanic, machinist, meteorologist. Over the last week or so we have been working as veterinarians. In these parts, if a cow is sick, it is a long and expensive trip for a vet to come out and even when they do, there is no guarantee that they will have the answer and the cure. The best thing we can do is to be very observant in any changes in the animal and use what limited knowledge we have to try to diagnose the problem. This week we have been working to figure out what is wrong with Molly. With many illnesses, if you don't figure out what is wrong within 24-48 hours you can expect the situation to go downhill quickly and looking back at my notes it has been interesting to see how our diagnosis changes over time.

Day 1: Molly did not come up to feed with the rest of the herd and was laying down a short distance away. Moving away from the herd usually indicates illness or calving behavior. She would stand up and walk around but looked a little pained. We'll check on her again tomorrow to see if situation changes.

Day 2: Molly off by herself again, this time bedded down in the sagebrush. She is due to calve in February so we decide that she is probably just feeling uncomfortably pregnant and is off resting. She doesn't appear to be in labor, no signs of straining and will get up and walk around. We brought her some alfalfa and she ate a little bit. We return in the late afternoon and can't find her. It is raining quite hard and we run out of daylight.


Day 3: We find Molly off by herself and in much worse condition. She appears weak, her ears are droopy, she is experiencing labored breathing and has scours (diarrhea). Molly is also an older cow (about 12-15 years old). We decide that given her symptoms, the fact she has not eaten in three days and that she won't get up, she is probably just old and looking for a place to die. She's found a nice sunny spot in the sagebrush and through my tears I wish her well and leave her in peace.

Day 4: Over night the temperature dropped and we got a few inches of snow. Nathan and Lloyd go to feed today. Thought Molly would probably gone but she is up and around and they walk her down to the Little Hay Shed. Not sure what is wrong. Our other sick cow, Dirty Seven, has been separated from her calf. Molly licks the calf to comfort him.


Day 5: Molly up and eating and drinking. Still doesn't look 100%, her eyes are dull and her ears are low but she is at least up and around.

Day 6: Molly does not look good today. When she coughs up her cud it is watery and she spits it out and her cowpies are dark and dense. She appears really swelled up which could indicate bloat. When a cow is on too rich of a feed like alfalfa (we moved her to the LHS two days ago where the feed is mostly alfalfa) without enough fibrous roughage, gas builds up in their rumen and the abdomen starts to distend out on the left side of the body. However, Molly is swelled up on the right side and she is already big because she is nearly nine months pregnant. If bloat is left untreated, the gas continues to build until so much pressure is put upon the heart and lungs that the animal dies. Lloyd and Nathan decide to bring her in to the chute and treat her for bloat anyways by feeding 4 feet of old garden hose tubing down her throat and into her rumen to release the pressure. They get a few gurgles but not what would be anticipated in treating bloat. Perhaps she swallowed a piece of wire or metal and it has pierced the guts and fluid is filling her chest cavity. While she is in the chute, they give her a round of penicillin in case there is some kind of internal infection. Should have taken her temperature but didn't have the thermometer. Dirty Seven is back with Molly and her calf and is now giving Molly comfort licks.


Day 7: Molly looks great today. All signs of swelling are gone and she has a hearty appetite. Perhaps she had a low grade infection but it seems unlikely that penicillin would have influenced the swelling so much. On our way out of the pasture we find a cowpie that tells a different story. Looks like Molly was just constipated. We feed out chopped hay up at the big hay shed and since she is older, she doesn't have many teeth to chew her cud. The chopped hay probably blocked her up and that coupled with being heavily pregnant gave her a gut ache. Not eating then weakened her but when we brought her to the little hay shed with tasty alfalfa, she started eating again but was still blocked up. In time the system normalized itself and now she seems fine.

Day 8: Who knows what I will find when I go over there today. Maybe she is better and can work on regaining her strength for calving season. Maybe we will have a new symptom to help us piece together an ever-evolving puzzle. Maybe we will never really know what exactly happened, just that she is better now. And such is the joy of being a jack of all trades, you don't know enough to have all the answers, just enough to generate more questions.

Saturday, January 30, 2010



My favorite hen died today. She didn't even act ill, Nathan just found her on the floor of the coop. She was such a sweet bird. Most of the chickens go about their chicken business and pay no heed to the people unless we have food or are going to let them out of the coop but Glenda was different.

We had only recently become pals since we had that cold snap in December. As a light brahma breed, Glenda was well equipped for the cold; she was a heavy bird (about 10 pounds) and had feathered feet. So when all the other hens were huddled inside, she would be out wandering through the snow and we became buddies.

When she saw you heading towards the barnyard, she would run/waddle/fly/hop over to you to see if you had anything interesting. Sometimes I would give her a grub or a kibble or two of catfood. Glenda, with another light brahma named Mabel and a barred rock named Lucille were part of what we called the "Old Ladies Club". One of the frequent club antics involved racing over to Lloyd's house as soon as they were let out of the coop to see if there was any food in Zoe's dog dish. If there was, you could hear them gulping it down across the barnyard by the "tink, tink, tink" of their beaks hitting the metal dish. Then they would nonchalantly saunter back over to the flock with a very full crop.

Glenda and Lucille waiting patiently at the front door

Glenda would come up to visit the garden and scratch around for bugs and other tasty bites. If there was nothing of interest to her out there she would go to the plastic rug at the back door and pull off the blue plastic scrubbers until I came outside and gave her a crushed eggshell for calcium or some other treat.

What a sweet gal. When I order chicks this spring, I'm going to get more light brahmas. I can't replace Glenda but the I adore these gentle, stately birds.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ranch guests: Jarom and Rachel


The always delightful Jarom and Rachel came to visit this weekend. At our first big gathering we hosted out here at the ranch in summer 08 our buddy Jarom asked if he could bring his girlfriend Rachel along. Not only was she sweet, funny and smart, she wasn't afraid of clamoring down the canyon walls to Trout Creek, didn't bat an eye at rattlesnake and wasn't afraid to go dig around in the garden. She was ranch approved and apparently Jarom fancied her as well because those two got married last summer out at Silver Falls (though I was deathly ill in bed with "the swine flus").

Now they are frequent (and hopefully life-long) visitors of the ranch and we always look forward to spending time with them. They understand that this is a working ranch and are always willing to help from fixing fence to baling hay to just the day to day chores of feeding livestock or moving pipe.



Rachel and I did some planning over this dark, dreary weekend about what to plant in her garden next summer. Sorting through seed catalogs in the middle of January just make it seem as if spring is right around the corner. We also spent some time tidying up my garden and giving the pigs all sorts of garden scraps from pea vines to corn stalks. The pigs enjoyed the attention and new things to play with and destroy.



All in all, we had a great weekend together and are already looking forward to their next visit. I may have even "roped" them in to coming out for branding this spring. Har har. Those baby calves are pretty cute.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


We've been planning for months and the pigs are finally here. Nathan brought home two pigs from another farm in Central Oregon yesterday and they are settling in nicely. Through the muddy season, we will keep the pigs penned in the garden where they can till the soil for spring planting and turn the compost pile. Then in the spring we will put them out on pasture where they have more space to roam and can forage for roots and tubers and other tasty things. By late spring they should be at market weight (~250 pounds) and be ready for processing.


The red pig is a gilt (female) and the spotty one is a barrow (castrated male). They weigh around 50 pounds, which is just about as big of a wiggly pig as one can easily carry. I've never had pigs before and these two are great fun to watch. They run and jump and chase each other, root around and make the cutest pig noises. When they sleep, they burrow down into the straw inside their pig house and all you see are two curly tails sticking out.

More pig posts to come, those two are irresistibly entertaining.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A good day

What a great day today. It was a balmy 55 degrees. We're on track to decent rainfall this winter. My folks may have found their dream property in Central Oregon. We got into the CSP program which means all the paperwork hassle thus far has been well worth it (though I know there is more yet to come). And finally, we have some new faces here at the ranch - photos to come. Splendid!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

When the wind's a blowin'


This summer we decided we would chop our hay and blow it into the barn and hayshed. The bales are broken down into tiny pieces about three inches in length and then blown in to the barn where it makes a big hay pile. Come feeding time, we pitch out hay into the mangers until they are full and the cows (especially the older toothless ones) are fat and happy. Sounds simple enough but now add 40mph winds to the equation and this is what you get:


I now know exactly what Beverly means by "those times when you can only pitch out one side of the hayshed". I use the smaller of the two pitchforks and tend to feed out on the windy side. Consequently, about half of the hay blows off the fork before I get it to the manger and even then, the wind catches some of the hay in the manger and blows it back into the barn. It makes feeding a very time consuming chore.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The new year

The new year is upon us and it feels wonderful. I woke up this morning to a clear blue sky and the sun peeking over the rimrock. It just feels like a great new start. Yesterday there was 6 inches of snow on the ground but you would never know it today. We drove the Jeep up to feed cows today and the light hitting the fields was exhiliaratingly beautiful. A flock of 50 or so migratory robins flitted along the fence line as we drove by only to land a few feet away and flush again as we got closer.

OK, so not everything is all happy music and cute woodland creatures but it was a nice treat to feel like the year is off to a good start.

The roads were a bit mucky today with all the snow melting so quick and I was glad we were in such a light 4WD vehicle lest we create giant ruts in the roads but I would graciously take a winter where it is 40 degrees like this and rains every couple days. By the time we got to the hayshed we had a good view of the black sky to the west and the wind had started to pick up which made pitching hay an interesting endeavor.

By afternoon we got all of our supplies together to bring in a calf with a leg injury that we have been monitoring, only to be hailed out literally the second we opened the gate to sort her away from the other calves. We got her in later and got the job done though.

All in all, I figure if these are the biggest of my problems for today, I am ready for the what the rest of the year has to offer.