routines undone…

No, the cows didn’t hide my laptop, nor did the family. The laptop decided a much needed makeover was needed to appease the ‘creative muse’ (and find that ‘creative muse’… it has been awol for a while). Another discouraging aspect is that it takes almost an eternity to upload photos with our tin can & string internet service. Rural internet stinks. Carrier pigeon would be way faster. Well, those are my excuses story. So here we go…on with something way more interesting than computers.

This calving season started out as years past. We eagerly waited for the first calf to drop like kids waiting for Christmas morning. We spent days and weeks prior looking at the back-end of cows for signs of an approaching birth and their behavior patterns. Tail heads dropping, poofy/swollen/jiggly back-ends, isolation from the herd, pawing at the ground as if to make the perfect spot, filling of the udder… Soon one calf appears, then another, and another… we go out to spray umbilicals with iodine, tag them with an ear tag, weigh them and administer a dose of probios and vitamins to give the newborn calf a little jumpstart in life. Then repeat the process of watching the remaining expectant cows and keeping an eye out for possible assistance, if needed. Just another ‘routine’ path traveled year after year – we know the drill. But this calving our well-traveled path took a twist and turn onto one that we have never traveled before.

April 10rh – rain & sleeet
April 14th – 4 inches of snow

We want our cows to calve during the spring flush (mid-April) because of the lack of snow on the ground, grasses starting to grow which helps the cows to regain condition from the winter months so they should easily breed back for next season, and calves born on grass instead of in mud or freezing temperatures with the risk of hypothermia, frostbite or infection.

We also know that weather changes and is not constant every year. The weather this calving season had been okay , actually rather on the dry side. And then it all changed. Snow, cold, wind, rain, sleet, wind, cold temperatures, warm temperatures, temperature swings between 20-40 degrees in a 24 hour period (meaning you wake up to 28F temps, then enjoy a 60F day only to revert back to freezing nighttime temps), rain, snow, mud, rain, a few warm days then a few days of cold…. (I don’t remember if I mention the cold?) … and suddenly a few days of what seemed like we were skipping any sort of mild transition from spring to run headlong into summer. Oh, wait… never mind it changed its mind … maybe it’s snow, mixed with some wind, or was that rain?

During this time we were told ‘watch your calves’ by our ranching friends… okay, but what did that exactly mean? ‘Watch’ for what? We ‘watch’ our calves (and our cows) all the time for some type of issue. For example, certain perimeter gates on the property ‘magically’ open all by themselves letting stock out, or the stock water in the ditch mysteriously stops flowing to the property overnight only to return at sunrise. It’s truly an amazing phenomenon around here.

But weather-wise it had been fairly cool up to this point. Some ranchers who calve in the winter (Not to offend those who calve in snow, but spring does not officially begin until around March 21st… January or February is not ‘springtime’). But when these cattlemen calve in winter they have to watch their calves, too. It is always a battle against nature in the late winter/early spring which is what based our opinion to calve mid-April. Most wild animals birth their young in the spring so why fight against it.

Giddy enjoying the sunshine

Our mama cows and their little newborn calves seem happy in the warm sunshine and enjoy being out on green grass after a couple months of snow and cold. Cows and their newborn calves don’t appear to be stressed during this time of year and neither are we. We don’t like being out in the cold and muck either, so it is a win-win situation for all parties involved. The cows mostly calve early morning and throughout the day so there is time for them to get their calves dried off, solar charged and fed before nightfall. But the extreme temperature swings left several ranchers working overtime treating sick calves including us.

‘Normal’ people have spring flowers or houseplants on their kitchen window sill. Our view out the kitchen window had various styles of calf nipples, bottles and an esophageal tube feeders.

This calving season has been quite the adventure with educational opportunities and a few maladies caused by what appears to have been caused by weather. Two sets of twins (I know, I know…. weather doesn’t cause twins, I’m talking about the ailments). Twin bull calves and twin heifer calves. Not a big deal but we’ve never had 2 sets of twins in a calving season. One, yes, but never 2 sets. Twins can create challenges for beef cattle since they don’t typically produce a whole lot of milk to take care of two. Most likely one twin will be on a bottle as a supplement or full-time feeding. Bottle heifer calf #1 and #2 belong to Sara, the oldest cow, who has had twins before and is a good mama but she is up there in age. She had ‘twins’ last year… not really… but she did take care of two calves, one of which was her own, Josephina (Hereford) and Pip (Angus).

Mama Shaw with BOTH bull calves on day 1

The other cow… Mama Shaw Shame, had the twin bulls. Even though she’s an experienced cow, she apparently only wanted to keep track of one. She pawned her spare calf off onto Sara. After all, Sara raised up Pip& Josephina so obviously Ol’ Sara wouldn’t realize she has 3 calves instead of 2. Those Hereford calves all kinda look the same. Red & white. Sara’s eyesight isn’t quite what it used to be, this would be easy. Bottle calf #3…Shame on Mama Shame…

Sara & her twin heifers

Beyond the bottle feeding Sara’s second-born calf became ill. Not sure exactly with what – at first we thought it was scours (diarrhea) which can be caused by all sorts of things but she was losing condition and acting off. Then the what-if’s come into play… what if the condition was caused by Sara not producing enough milk possibly caused by the retained placenta? She has never had that issue in the past… or what if she had mastitis and we didn’t see it? What if it is caused by the possibility of the orphaned bull calf nipping off Sara along with her own twins? Did she eat something that was making her sick? Was the runoff water flowing in the ditch from off the property making her sick? Was it because she is the smaller calf and not an aggressive eater. We had seen her nurse after she was born but we really don’t know if she got colostrum or if she was getting enough milk. We gave her colostrum replacer, milk replacer, electrolytes, medication and treatment upon vet consultations and visits. She seemed to get better then we almost lost her to hypothermia. She received a warm bath to bring her body temperature back up …. visions of bathing a cat swept through my mind, except much larger in size and with longer legs. We have never had to do this type of treatment, but she responded well to her spa experience and the other various treatments and medications. (side note: she did not freak out getting blown dry with the hair dryer and was rather curious about the fixtures in the bathroom… good thing the toilet seat cover was closed…) And the poor little girl got an infection where her ear tag was placed. Ear tag was removed and her ear treated for infection. She will get her bling back soon.

Murphy’s Law couldn’t leave things alone. Sara’s second heifer twin gave herself a nice abscess behind her jaw from sticking her head through the barbed wire gap (we hate barbed wire anyways…. it’s not good for much beyond being a barrier except for tearing your clothes, cutting up your arms and giving critters cuts and wounds). The abscess was too close to her jugular for us to feel comfortable in lancing ourselves and the vet was up this direction to take care of it. A couple of times a day the wound was flushed and cleaned. Two times a day, 3 calves get bottle fed, or medicated, or wounds treated. And with all the feedings a dairy cow was looking pretty good at this point.

#222 in his pallet palace

During this period of Murphy’s Law a ‘spare’ calf appeared, roaming about the cows and calves. The clue that he was a ‘spare’ was him trying to nurse off one of the heavies (a cow who hadn’t calved yet). Not unusual, sometimes the newborns get confused and will try to nurse on the nearest cow. But he kept wandering and we thought he may have been a twin from a first calf heifer mama during the rash of calves we had over the last 12 hours. Sometimes a first time mama is confused about their new calf but they suddenly realize that the slimy critter that popped out of their backside is actually their calf. We suspected a repeat episode of Mama Shame. So now to round up a batch of suspect cows – heifer mama (Honey Bea) with her calf #219, another heifer mama & her calf #221, plus Sara & her brood, Mama Shame and her brat, to keep the heifer mama’s company. After watching and observing we figured out that he wasn’t a twin but abandoned by his dam. She decided that her stale calf from last year was who she wanted. Into the field she went with Sara & Company and her calf from last year left in the field with a wean ring in her nose (don’t want her nipping off the other mamas). But the cow was not interested in her bull calf. She didn’t want to take care of him so she was booted out of the field with a future one-way ticket off ranch. Bull calf #222 was left with the Sara gang and he was quite happy to be with them. Bottle calf #4. But due to the extreme temperature swings he had contracted pneumonia. We believe his dam abandoned him at birth and he did not receive any colostrum that would have provided him with antibodies from her. Despite all the medical treatments and bottle feedings he continued to become weak and eventually would not take the bottle. He was moved into the garage in his pallet palace and straw bed with warmth and out of the elements. Even with the tube feedings, shelter from the elements and medications he died from complications caused by the pneumonia. Sometimes your best efforts don’t produce the desired results.

The next situation was Honey Bea’s bull calf #219 whom we know got colostrum was doing fine and he started to scour, act off, developed a fever and was lethargic. (Note: bull calves tend to be a little ‘lethargic’ until you try to catch them) Now our concern was that we exposed the whole Sara group to pneumonia. But his condition was diagnosed as septic arthritis in his front leg joints. Another condition where the prognosis is not good. He battled through his condition and has improved to the point we stopped the antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications and he and his dam were returned to the herd. He nurses on his own and appears to be feeling better but his leg joints are still swollen and a little stiff. He may be sold as a feeder calf when he is weaned. Again, we have no idea as to what caused his condition. Most likely from infection contracted through the umbilical when he was born. Even though we spray the umbilicals, it may have been too late when we did. He’s not real super spunky like the other calves but he does hang out with them and that is a good sign.

So updates on the other bottle babies:

Bottle Calf #1 Miss Katie – her abscess healed and she is as hungry as ever.

Bottle Calf #2 Miss Kitty is now running up to the bottle at feeding time with the other two and is starting to put on weight again. Even her ear has healed though a little stunted by the fever.

Bottle Calf #3 Ka-Boo, Mama Shaw Shame’s bull calf twin she abandoned, is doing great and hangs out with the Sara group. He is an independent little fellow but he does enjoy an afternoon zoom meeting with his buddies.

And all three still nip off Sara. If one of them is not where she thinks they should be she calls them. Sara should be proud – she had ‘triplets’.

And right when we started to think things were slowing down – we hadn’t had any calves dropped for several days – one of the big mamas’ started to act like she was coming down with something or was injured. She was not walking around like the others, seemed to be off feed, acted like her hips hurt and shaked when she did walk. Closer inspection revealed she had mastitis in one quarter of her udder. Another trip to the vet, (all our checks come pre-printed with the vet’s name on them) a round of medication for mastitis and she got to play dairy cow for a while to get the infected milk out of her udder. The milk was collected and disposed of so not to spread the infection to any other cows. Biosecurity is very important for the health and well-being of your stock and yourself. She has recovered and her calf never got sick.

bottle feeding the trio

So that is it in a nutshell. The dust has settled a bit (say a prayer, knock on wood, cross your fingers…)

Oh, and if you’re wondering the total tally for calves is Heifers 23, Bulls 20. Still have 5 more that are either really super late or broken.

Until next time…

2 thoughts on “routines undone…

  1. Goodness Hobo! So much going on (nothing but sympathy on the tin can and string InterWeb; not a great deal better here either). It sounds like (more or less) things are going okay.

    How has the weather been in your neck of the woods this year? Still recovering from the fire?


    1. It’s been hot… muggy… and little windy. And, yes, still recovering from the effects of the fire. It’ll eventually come around on way or another.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: