Saturday, February 27, 2010

Wish granted

Hah! Cute calf born today just as I requested:

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Dirty Face and black/white faced calf

Friday, February 26, 2010

Calf chronicles

Well calving season seemed to be off to a good start. We had six calves at the brood herd last week, but other than #55's calf on Tuesday, there hasn't been much to show for calving season this week. At least not until today. Today, just as equally sunny and gorgeous as the rest of the week, was the day that the cows said it was time.

First up was a solid black cow with a speckly bag. She calved out a reddish-tinted black bull. For some reason I didn't take any photos though I stood looking at it for a good 5 minutes.

Next up was Spits who has the distinction of having the first black and white faced calf of the season, a little steer. The black calves are cute but when there gets to be about 15 of them running around it is hard to tell them apart.

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Third calf of the day was an all black bull born to an all black cow. While out checking on the herd we spotted this pair under a tree, along the fence way out in the pasture. From a distance, we could see the calf was already up and walking around and decided we could wait until tomorrow to look over the calf and sex it. For some reason though, we decided to go check anyway and we were glad we did since the calf was on the wrong side of the barb wire fence. Normally the cows can coax the little ones back through the wire, but this section of fence was surprisingly taut. The calf must have laid down right under the fence and then stood up on the wrong side. Nathan grabbed him and placed him on the proper side and mama and baby skedaddled up the hill.

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Nearby, Whitecap had recently calved out another all black bull and was letting him nurse as we drove by to check.

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Finally, back at the house, another heifer started antsing around like she was feeling calvish. Cows, especially first-calf heifers, can act anxious as labor approaches; they wander around, repeatedly lay down and get up, hold their tails up and kick at their bellies. I'd been watching #51 from across the canyon as I worked in the garden and at 2pm she looked like she was close but by 2:30 she was in labor (not everyone is a fan of specific birth-related details, so I will keep it vague here). We walked her down to the barn where we could pen her in to a smaller space and Lloyd helped pull the calf, so by 3:15, cow and calf were getting to know each other. Here's the little red heifer the next morning out enjoying the sunshine in the barnyard.

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That brings us to five calves for the day and six total for the week. Maybe we will have a few more tomorrow. I told Nathan I want a cute baby calf born tomorrow for my birthday please and thank you. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Heifer checks and pulling calves

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The first of our two year old, first-calf heifers calved out last night. This is exciting for a couple reasons. First of all, since these gals haven't given birth before they are statistically more likely to encounter problems that could lead to the death of the cow, calf or both. This means that we do our best to keep a close eye on them to ensure we are around when they go into labor so we are always checking on them every few hours. Nathan does checks at 11pm and 3am, Lloyd checks at 6am and if the two of them are out working on projects, I do checks throughout the day. Waking up at 3am every morning to get dressed and go wander around on a wet/slippery hillside is not anybody's idea of fun in these parts. However, when you go out to do checks and find a cow in distress and are able to assist, it makes it all worth it and keeps you motivated to be there for the rest of the herd.

When Nathan went out to check at 11pm, #55 was laying out behind the barn in labor. She had the calf partway out but was tired and no longer pushing. Nathan pulled a bit on the calf's legs while #55 pushed and the calf was out. She was a great mama and started mothering right away, calling to her calf as she cleaned him up (a little bull calf Nathan affectionately calls "Drainpipe").

With the brood herd, those old gals have had between 5 and 15 calves each, and they have the system down pretty well. While these first-calf heifers instinctively know what to do, even with a small calf (we breed first calf heifers to a bull that produces small calves) they can exhaust themselves during labor. For the most part it is (hopefully) easier on the cow, calf and us, to just step in and help pull the calf. This leaves the cow with more energy to mother up to the calf, clean it up and get it nursing.

With this first calf out of the way, we only have seven more to go before we can sleep through the night again. And what a good girl #55 was, she calved out on her due date - exactly 283 days (about 9 months) from the day we turned out the bull. Let's hope her sisters follow suit.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ranch guests: Chas and Kyle

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My pal Chas, who worked with me in Gresham during my AmeriCorps days and his buddy Kyle came out to join us for the weekend. These guys are fun to be around and full of good stories. We had a pretty low key weekend and got out to enjoy the lovely 55 degree weather by gathering firewood (seems silly on a day like today I know, but it still dips to the twenties overnight) and visiting the firing range for some plinking at cans and shooting clay pigeons.

We enjoyed their company very much and they are the type of guys that would prefer to go out and help work around the ranch. Kyle even said something along the lines of, "today is a good day for some chainsawing" so I was sold right there. They can come back any time.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A trio of calves

Big day on the calf front today with Monocle, Amphetamine and Dirty Seven all calving.

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Monocle's little bull calf wandered around and bedded himself down away from the shed while mama was eating and when we returned several hours later, he was still there in the same spot. Nathan picked up the little guy and brought him back over to Monocle who instantly seemed to remember "that's right I have a calf, I knew it was around here somewhere..."

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When we first arrived to feed and check the herd, Amphetamine had just calved and was cleaning her all black heifer. She's a cute kind of snub-nosed calf like sister Margaret and has the same demeanor; she is very calm, stays close to mama, rarely moos and doesn't play much with the other calves.

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Finally there is Dirty Seven. While we were feeding, we noticed that she was holding her tail up in the air like a big question mark (a sure sign that she is ready to calve). When we came back to check this little fuzzball was napping in the sunshine.

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What a cute little heifer, and with the same markings as last year's steer calf.

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Granted he is so snub-nosed compared to her, you would think she is half mule deer with that long face and legs. The grey coat will eventually fades to the tan color of mama.

We are off to a good start of the calving season with six calves on the ground in the first week: four heifers and two bulls. That's already 20% of the expected calves from the brood herd, not bad.

First wildflowers of the season



I spotted just a few sagebrush buttercups while gathering firewood out south today. The biscuit root is not far behind. With this mild weather, we are a few weeks early for wildflower season compared to last year.

Also, I noticed the bluebirds started showing up this week.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Teardrop's calf

The third calf of the season, a little bull. He's a vocal little guy, always calling for mama who finally (exasperatingly) pulls her head out the manger and tromps over to him and moos right in his face as if to say, "Stop it! I am right here. See? I still haven't left you, now quit pestering me and go play with the other calves". To which he always retorts with a pathetic little moo, waits for her to walk away and starts bellowing again.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Little ribbits

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I heard my first frog of the season today: a Pacific chorus frog calling from the pond behind the barn. It seems a little earlier than last year but with this mild winter I am not surprised. Before we know it there will be so many frogs hopping around that you have to check the back porch door carefully lest you smoosh one of the many frogs that like to nap behind the screen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Baby chicks

I placed my order for the first batch of chicks this season to be shipped March 9th. I bought some laying hens to boost production in our aging flock and some broilers for pastured poultry. Oh boy, baby chicks!

Cattle shuffle

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Today was a big cattle moving day. We needed to move the bred heifers from the Big Hay Shed to the barn so they will be closer to the house for nightly checks. First-calf heifers have the potential to run into calving problems and require outside assistance which means that we have to check on them every three hours through the night and well it is easier to shuffle down to the barnyard in your slippers than it is to drive up on the hill.

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In preparation for the big shuffle, we brought down a big bale of hay to the feeder at the Little Hay Shed (the manger is currently under construction). The current residents were already lined up for the buffet but not everyone is staying here.

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Then we picked up the 2009 season calves (replacement heifers and beef steers) and trucked them from the barn to the LHS. They did a great job loading and unloading, what good little calves!

Then we cut Dirty Seven and Molly out (they had been at the LHS infirmary the last few weeks for assorted ailments) and put the calves from the barn in with the tan steer.

Next we brought the brood herd down from the BHS to the LHS and sorted away the bred heifers to be loaded on the truck and taken back to the barn. Those girls loaded and unloaded like a dream as well, #55 just followed Nathan down the ramp. She's a keeper for sure!

I wish it was always this easy to shuffle the herd about. Most of the time, they are really good about it (unless you are trying to herd them back into the pasture where they jumped the fence to escape in the first place) but sometimes they can be pills about it and a simple task takes the better part of the day and is frustrating for all parties involved. Today we were finished by noon and went on to other projects on the never ending ranch chore list.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Calf count: 2

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I was talking to Bev the other day and she mentioned that Lloyd used to say that he would have gotten out of the cattle business long ago if it weren't for those darn cute baby calves. I know what he means, I just love these little guys.

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This is the newest face up at the hayshed; Muzzy had a reddish-brown heifer. Her coat is the prettiest rusty red when the sun glints off of it and looks so soft.

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She's also very inquisitive and is very interested in the all the other cows, the people, trucks and equipment. She just about bumped my camera lens here (reminds me of Butterfly last season). I told her we are going to be friends, she licked my pants so I think she agrees.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The first calf

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The cows were kind enough to wait until I came back from my week away to start calving. After keeping close watch for the last two weeks, here is our first calf of the season: a black white tail heifer calf born to none other than "Red White Tail" (the white tail is a genetically linked trait).

One down, thirty three to go!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The great chicken rescue

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This mild winter has given us plenty of lovely 40 degree days and much more rain than last year. As a trade off, the weather is extending the muddy season which means that the roads are slick and rutted and you best be wearing knee boots if you plan on going anywhere near the barn or hayshed.

This poor hen got herself helplessly bogged down in the muck and was pitifully flapping her mud-caked wings when Lloyd and Nathan spotted her, plucked her from her predicament and gave her a nice warm bath. Did you know you can bathe chickens? I'd heard of it, but never done it before. That's one lucky hen.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Vet day

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The vet came out to the ranch today to vaccinate the heifer crop from last year for brucellosis aka Bang's disease which in a very abbreviated nutshell can cause abortions in cattle. From what I have read, the disease is not widespread in the US and is mostly found in deer, elk and bison populations in and around Yellowstone (I even wrote a paper on this in college). Nevertheless, heifers kept for breeding purposes are vaccinated before one year of age so that was the task today.

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First we separated the heifers away from the steers then ran them through the chute one by one. The vet administers the vaccine, puts a tattoo in the ear then attaches a metal clip with an identification number. Assuming the clip stays on, the nine digit number can be used to track cattle should the need arise. With the code 92VMA2598, 92 indicates the state of Oregon, VMA is the code assigned to our veterinarian and 2598 is the number that signifies the particular cow or heifer (in this case, Butterfly).

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While we have them going through the chute, we take the time to put in ear tags for our own identification purposes. It is pretty easy to tell black/white faced cows apart from a distance but black cow standing next to black cow standing next to black cow is difficult. Not only is it easier to make sure we are all talking about the same cow, but we can also track who had nice calves, who needed help with delivery or who is always on the wrong side of the fence.

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Overall it went pretty quick even though the gals did not like being poked and prodded. I just told them to behave; that in some cultures, getting piercings and tattoos is a pretty sweet rite of passage.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Snowdrops!

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Just like clockwork the snowdrops poked out of the soil this week. It makes you feel like spring is just around the corner.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Calving season prep

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Calving season is right around the corner for us with the main brood herd set to start calving on February 7th and the first-calf heifers on the 23rd. Most of the brood herd calve out with no issues but it never hurts to be prepared for the unexpected. The calving kit keeps all of our supplies together in one easily transportable container that can be tossed in a truck or hauled to the barn if we happen to need shoulder-length gloves to reposition a calf or chains to help with the delivery or just some towels to dry off the calf. For the most part though we let nature take its course and interfere only in circumstances that threaten the life of the cow, calf or both. Most of the time, we just go out to feed and find a new face at the hayshed like Butterfly our first calf of the 2009 calving season. Gosh she was cute; now she's almost as big as momma!

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Butterfly only a few hours old

New calves will start showing up any day now and I am trying to contain my excitement. It is hard, but I'm trying.