A few years have passed since I posted about June’s Junque Garden. We’ve made a few changes: added more repurposed items, and replaced rusted out enamelware pots with some that are less rusted out! The newest repurposed items are a hog feeder turned into a planter, glass plate flowers and old gates jazzed up with brightly colored enamelware lids.
A Hog Feeder Minus Hogs
Bill purchased this hog feeder at an auction in the spring.
This picture illustrates the intended use of the feeder.
The feeder is 30 inches tall so would have required a lot of potting soil and garden dirt to fill it. Bill drilled two sets of two holes directly across from each other in the sides about 7 inches from the top, and inserted two pieces of rebar as support to hold a piece of plywood cut in a circle. He drilled drainage holes in the plywood circle. His idea was to put the soil mixture on the plywood, but I remembered a large enamelware dish pan we hadn’t used this year. I trotted out to the yard art shed, brought it back and it fit perfectly! It even had drainage holes from previous years’ use. We put a layer of gravel in the bottom for additional drainage and...Voila! A repurposed hog feeder planter! We planted vining petunias in the top and rose moss in the bottom trough. Unfortunately, some critter—definitely not a hog—ate the rose moss!
Glass Plate Flowers Pop Up in the Iris Bed
After constructing glass garden totems for a few years I decided to try some glass plate flowers. I used GE II Clear Silicone Waterproof/Weatherproof Sealant, the same one I use on the totems. Once the layers were glued together and allowed to set for a week to ten days, I glued a small flat-sided bottle with at least a one-half inch diameter opening to the back of the largest plate. After an additional couple of weeks setting time, I pounded a piece of rebar in the ground and mounted the bottle opening over the top.
Here are pictures of the flowers I’ve created so far.
Put A Lid On It!
So I did—several, in fact! Two old gates now pop with color after being decorated with antique enamelware lids, plates and pie plates.
Pots Runneth Over With Rain Then Parboil In Heat
Planting of our container flowers was delayed this year by a wet spring. Bill uses a mixture of potting soil and garden dirt in the containers but the garden was too muddy for over two weeks. Once planted, the flowers were nearly drowned by more rain, followed by searing heat. It’s a miracle these poor things survived!
Cricket couldn’t let a photo op go by!
I love purple flowers! Any and all purple flowers…except this one:
The musk thistle—scourge of Midwestern pasturelands! This prickly plant with the pretty rose-purple bloom is considered a noxious weed and falls under the Kansas Noxious Weed Law, which mandates land owners eradicate it from their properties. I am quite familiar with this weed because enforcement of the law was part of Bill’s responsibilities when he worked for the Plant Protection Division of the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
The reason musk thistles are considered a noxious weed is because they are extremely invasive, choking out good grazing grasses, and livestock won’t eat them. Seed dispersal occurs 7 to 10 days after blooming. A single plant is capable of producing in excess of 10,000 seeds. Seeds can remain viable in the soil for a decade or longer. Think dandelions, except thistles are not edible!
According to Bill, the life cycle of the musk thistle is variable. Usually it’s a biennial or winter annual (requiring two growing seasons for the plant to reach maturity); but has also been observed as a summer annual, completing its maturity from seed during the same growing season.
Reproduction of musk thistle is totally by seed. Seeds usually germinate anytime there is sufficient soil moisture, but most germinate in either late summer through fall or in the spring. After germinating, the plant develops from seedling to the rosette stage and remains in this stage the majority of its life cycle.
The key to successful musk thistle control occurs at this stage by spraying with an herbicide such as Tordon, Milestone, 2,4-D or several others, in the spring or fall. Unfortunately, some herbicides will also kill other plants so careful application is critical.
If eradication isn’t started at this point, the plant will soon bolt and look like this.
Then it rapidly reaches the flowering stage as shown in the first photo. Here is a closer look at the head which looks like a rose-purple powder puff.
Once the powder puff turns white, it’s ready to blow seed all over the countryside. When the seeds find a landing spot, the whole process starts over.
These next two pictures show the progression of stages once the heads form. The first shot is of the stalks and the second is of the heads only.
Eradication at this point is a labor-intensive search-and-destroy mission: Grab a small pair of pruning shears, heavy gloves, a hoe or shovel and a bucket(s), then head for the pasture. Comfortable shoes/boots, a hat, sunscreen, insect repellent and plenty of cold drinking water are also a good idea. This chore could take a while!
The purple head is cut from the plant and dropped in the bucket. If any heads have progressed to seed stage, they must be removed carefully to prevent further dispersal. Old feed sacks, rather than buckets, work better to contain the seeds. Then the entire stalk, including roots, has to be dug up. Since there isn’t any danger of the stalks reproducing, they can be left where they lie as long as there are only a few. If this is a mission of major proportions, the stalks should be gathered up and removed from the pasture.
To dispose of the decapitated heads, Bill uses feed or large dog food sacks, folding down and securing the tops so seeds won’t disperse, then puts them out on trash day for future burial at the landfill.
Here is the reason for taking heavy gloves along on this mission. Notice the spiny appearance of the plant in the top photo. These spines grow on the stalk, leaves and directly under the bloom. I know from personal experience just how lethally sharp those tiny spines are. Get one embedded in your finger/thumb/hand and you will shriek a barrage of vulgarities you didn’t know you knew!
The spines are thin, barely visible, and can penetrate skin then disappear, leaving no entry wound. The only evidence is a painful red bump that develops within a few hours. Extraction surgery is the same as for a wood splinter. However, since the spine is light-colored, I never see it in the wound; just have to squeeze and hope it floats out in the blood. Then I douse the wound liberally with alcohol as a back-up plan to flush out the spine and also ward off infection. In case you’re wondering, yes, I am current on my tetanus shot! Whether or not the surgery was successful can usually be determined in a few hours by light pressure on the wound sight. If there is no jabbing pain, then the spine was successfully extracted. There will likely still be some pain from the needle excavation.
Another type of musk thistle control is biologic and uses two insects, the rosette weevil and head weevil, to help reduce the spread of the plant. My husband, Bill, who holds both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Entomology from Kansas State University, co-authored an article along with professors in the Entomology Department there. The article, “Biological Control of Musk Thistle in Kansas,” is available to read in pdf format at www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/pubs/L873.PDF.
In a nutshell, biological control consists of collecting these weevils from musk thistles in one area and releasing them in the area you want to control. As their names imply, the rosette weevil resides and populates in the rosette stage of the plant; the head weevil in the head of the flowering plant. The weevil infestation damages the plant, reduces its size and decreases the number of seeds that disperse. This process takes several years for the weevils to become established in sufficient numbers to significantly reduce the number of plants. In the meantime, herbicide applications and the manual seek-and-destroy method described above need to be used. For more information, please refer to the article at the link above. Don’t be afraid: except for the Latin names of the weevils, the article is not loaded with technical jargon. I struggled with science in school and I understood it! Of course, I’ve been hearing about musk thistles since Day 1 in our relationship.
As I stated in the beginning, musk thistles are a scourge with no redeeming qualities. However, I read on one website that the author of the article used them in her bridal bouquet. What?? Not to worry. They were fake ones purchased at Hobby Lobby. But they must have appeared to be fairly realistic because they fooled her grandfather, a rancher.
I know many farmers and ranchers who wouldn’t be amused!
Pretend you hear the opening notes of the “Dragnet” TV show theme song:
“Dum da-dum dum…”
Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to read is true. No names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Previously, on Dragnet!
The crime spree began in July, 2014. The first episode, “Dragnet!” was posted July 26, 2014 at http://www.fromhighheelstogumboots.com/gumboot-tracks-blog/archives/07-2014. Something had raided two bluebird houses in our yard. One contained eggs; the other, newly-hatched babies. Both were now empty. The prime suspect was Blackie, a black snake observed by me earlier in the spring, casing the premises using peony bushes for cover.
When Blackie returned to the scene for another meal heist, he was captured in a dragnet of wadded up bird netting attached to the pole beneath the bluebird house. Bill took pity on him, cut him free from the netting, perp-walked him across the road and released him into a neighboring pasture to do community service cleaning out the rodents.
A year later in June, 2015, Blackie slithered back to the scene of the crime, like the crack addict who can’t resist one more hit. But this hit would be his last. He spent at least one day, maybe two, trapped in the netting and succumbed to heat and sun exposure. No more “Baby Blue(bird) Plate Special” for him! Crime scene report and photos posted June 11, 2015, at http://www.fromhighheelstogumboots.com/gumboot-tracks-blog/archives/06-2015.
A New Generation
Fast-forward to June 5, 2019. Bill was planting zinnia seeds when he saw a trapped black snake dangling from the bird netting attached to the bluebird house pole.
For four years, we hadn’t caught a black snake raiding this bluebird house. Blackie was dead. Was this new predator his progeny?
There was no immediate danger because the former occupants had raised their young and vacated the premises. Bill tugged on the snake’s tail and got a “hiss” in response. No, it wasn’t dead. He finished planting zinnias and went back later to deal with the would-be nest robber, intending to show him the same leniency as he’d shown Blackie on his first offense. But this next generation would not live to carry on the tradition. Like his predecessor, he succumbed to heat and sun exposure.
The question remains: Are we dealing with copy-cat criminals working alone or the next generation of a reptilian crime ring? And if the latter, was this latest predator Blackie’s progeny? We’re keeping the file open pending further developments.
“Dum da-dum dum…DUM!
Early in our cow/calf operation, I learned to show a healthy respect for our cows’ protective instincts toward their newborn calves. The tamest cow on the place can morph into a raging beast if she perceives a threat to her pride and joy. On this occasion, I let my concern for the welfare of a weakened newborn calf override my better judgement. Big. Mistake!
In my last post, one of our usual calving occurrences was missing from the drama and adventure: twins! That event happened two days later.
Early the evening of September 30th, Bill was making the second of his two-a-day calf-check rounds. Cricket and I headed out on our walk and met him at the gate to one of the pastures. He’d already ear-tagged one new calf, then found Cow #59 with twins! He’d run out of tags and was returning to the barn to replenish the post-natal supply bucket he keeps in his pickup. We waited at the gate until he returned then went with him to the delivery location. The cow apparently recognized and accepted both calves, heifers, so life was good! Sometimes they don’t accept one twin and will abandon it. Later, almost dark, Bill found another newborn in an adjoining pasture. So he tagged four calves in about an hour and a half. Did these three cows synchronize their deliveries?
The next morning, as Bill made his morning rounds, he checked on the twins. He found Cow #59 and one twin about a hundred yards from the delivery site. The other twin was only about twenty-five yards from it. Mama decided to move and the second twin hadn’t received enough nourishment to make the trip so was abandoned along the way. Bill tried to get her up and walk her over to Mama but she was so weak it was like handling a limp dishrag. Time for an intervention: the calf needed nourishment fast. He would have to load it into the back of the truck and take it to the barn. By that time, Mama arrived on the scene and fussed at him for messing with her calf. She started to lick her as if to say “This is my baby and I love her. Scram!” Bill herded the other twin over to distract her long enough to load the weak one.
Once Bill got back to the barn, he put the calf in a small pen and tried to tube-feed it with just-add-water colostrum substitute. Even in her weakened condition, she wanted no part of the tube so he used a bottle with a nipple. She latched on and swallowed about two-thirds of it. He gave her the rest later.
Meanwhile, Bill went back and herded Mama and the other twin to the small pasture near the barn. She didn’t care for being relocated against her will. He got them through the gate and left them to rest. Later that afternoon, he went back to start the trip to the barn to reunite the family. By that time, Mama was clinging to her last nerve: Bill had kidnapped one-half of her pride-and-joy duo; then forcibly moved her and the remaining half from their “home” pasture; and now he thinks he’s going to move them again? Of course, there’s no way of knowing, but she may have thought her missing calf was still in the “home” pasture.
That did it! Mama lowered her head and charged Bill. He rapped her on the nose with his herding stick, not hard but just enough to make her think twice about annihilating him! They started on the quarter-mile-plus journey. Mama charged him twice more and received the deterring rap each time. They finally reached the corral and he put them in the pen. She recognized her missing calf and started licking her. Then, much to Bill’s surprise, the calf got to its feet and started to nurse! Pleased with the reunion result, he left them together for the night.
A Lesson Relearned
The next morning, Bill turned the family out into the small corral pasture to continue bonding. Mama immediately headed for a far corner of the pasture and the twins scampered after her. Then he left for appointments in town.
I looked out my kitchen window several times during the morning to check on the family. Both calves were lying down in the corner of the pasture and Mama was standing diagonally across the corner to provide shade and protection. I saw one calf nurse a couple of times, but never saw both calves at once. The day was unseasonably warm and I grew concerned about whether or not the weak calf was nursing to get not only nourishment but fluids so it wouldn’t dehydrate.
This is the point at which my concern for the welfare of the calf overrode my better judgement. I knew Mama’s mood probably hadn’t improved, considering what she’d been through the past twenty-four hours. Most likely, her mood had plummeted further as she was standing in the hot sun with no intention of leaving her beloved twins. But, I didn’t want a calf to dehydrate and die on my watch so I ventured out to check on them. I detoured through the barn and grabbed a few range cubes (cow treats) to bribe my way into her good graces so I could get close enough to assess the calves’ conditions. Approaching slowly, I held out the range cube to her at a considerably stretched arm’s length, glancing down at the twins. Mama took the treat from my hand, lowered her head and put me on the ground!
Momentarily stunned, that instinct I’m supposed to possess that tells me to reflexively roll away in case she came in for the kill was nowhere to be found! A second or so passed before I realized I needed to get away fast, but without making sudden moves that would further antagonize her. I rolled over, got to my feet and slowly backed away. She didn’t move, just looked daggers at me. Both calves had raised their heads to see what all the commotion was about. Good sign!
Once I made it to the gate I assessed the damage: a sore spot on the underside of my right hip, one on my right arm where it hit the fence panel and shaky nerves that probably registered about an eight on the Richter scale. (Luckily that part of the fence isn’t barbed wire. That could have been really ugly!) I would have bruises and soreness but no major damage. What I realized I didn’t have was a bashed-in face or crushed chest from her butting me. Apparently, she shoved me just enough to make her point, I lost my balance and fell.
As I walked to the house, the magnitude of that lapse in judgment slammed into me. I was extremely lucky that Cow #59 is one of our tamest cows. We don’t keep cows that aren’t tame. But, as I stated earlier, the tamest cow on the place can morph into a raging beast to protect her calf. Also, I was alone at home and wasn’t packing my cell phone. Another major lapse. Of course, for the cell to be effective in an emergency, one has to be conscious to use it! Which I was…this time.
When Bill returned home, I debated for a couple of hours about whether or not to tell him about my mishap. Finally, I decided to come clean. He replayed all of the what-could-have-happened scenarios that I’d already been flogging myself with. When he asked whether or not I had my cell phone, I jokingly replied that one has to be conscious to use the cell in an emergency. He was not amused! Note to self: Next time, leave out the cell phone joke.
Next time? There will be no “next time”!
Cow #59 and I are friends again and she eats range cubes from my hand. The twins are hopping and skipping around the pasture with their friends.
Mama #59 and Twins – Mama’s face is muddy. Yes, we finally received rain, over six inches earlier this month.
A few days later, I tried for better pics of Family 59. Twin 59-2 was on one side of the creek hanging out with her friends and Mama and Twin 59-1 were on the other side. It's just so hard to get the whole family together for pictures!
Current calf count: 46
Yes, we’re on the downhill side of 2018 fall calving which started August 21st. A week passed before another calf was born, but then the pace picked up during Labor Day weekend with three to five births per day for almost two weeks. And yes, we’ve had a little drama and adventure.
The drama started when Cow #301 birthed a calf but decided she liked Cow #66’s three-day-old calf better and tried to claim it. #301 isn’t a rookie; she’s had several calves so don’t know why she attempted the hostile take-over. Some quality bonding time in a corral pen quickly straightened out that situation. #301 is now a model mom—to her own calf!
The drama continued when First-Calf Heifer #166, Cow #66’s calf from two years ago, birthed a stillborn one night. Bill found FCH #166 fussing over the dead calf, trying to get it up for breakfast. Bill usually doesn’t attempt an adoption with a new mom but decided if #166 wanted a calf that badly, he’d try it. (In cattlemen-ese, the correct term is “grafting,” but you know how I like to personify these events!)
Bill bought a five-day-old Holstein bull calf from a dairy 20 minutes away. He skinned the pelt off the dead calf, punched a couple of holes in either end to lace baling twine through, tied it on the adoptee and smeared the pelt with afterbirth to make it smell like the dead calf. Then he pushed it into the pen with #166 and we cleared out to give them time to get acquainted. He went back a half-hour later to check on progress and there was plenty! The calf was having a late lunch and mama was licking it. We’ve done several of these adoptions but this one was accomplished in record time!
Next up came the adventure: If you read my book and have followed my blog, you know this starts with me finding a potential crisis situation and Bill not being home. But at least he was only 40 minutes away, on his way home and reachable by cell phone.
Cricket and I headed out on our evening walk. As we left the house, I looked out at the pasture nearest the house where we have the first-calf heifers. Most of them were close, directly east of the house. But I thought I could see one lying down near the north fence. I grabbed the binoculars for a closer look and confirmed pending birth. Remembering to grab my cell—usually don’t take it on my walks—we walked the quarter mile to the north end. I didn’t want to spook the heifer, who was in hard labor, and cause undue stress so I circled around to her rear to see if there any progress. I saw what appeared to be one hoof protruding, still encased in the amniotic sac, and couldn’t determine if the hoof was attached to a front or back leg. In either case, we had a problem: If only one front hoof appears, the other one is bent back and has to be repositioned forward, then the calf can be pulled out with a good chance for a live birth, depending on how much time has elapsed. If only one back hoof appears, the unborn calf is in breech, or backwards, position. The leg still has to be repositioned but chances of a live birth aren’t good.
Bill was at the ranch where our cow/calf pairs are wintered. We rent pasture during the grazing season and the rancher supervises the calving of 25 cows. Bill makes a couple of trips there each week, more if necessary, to check on progress and resupply mineral tubs. He didn’t answer the first time I called, but did about 15 minutes later. He was 20 minutes out and would step on it—for him, three miles above the speed limit! Meanwhile, I went to the barn, opened appropriate gates and the squeeze chute to prepare for the ordeal to come.
Bill arrived home and was able to herd FCH #460 to the corral. This part can be difficult with a stressed-out seasoned veteran cow, let alone a heifer that doesn’t know for sure what’s happening! He secured #460 in the chute and gathered together his bovine obstetric equipment. He gloved up with an OB sleeve and extended his arm into the vagina to assess the situation. Yes, one front leg was bent backwards but the calf was still alive. To reposition the leg forward requires pushing the calf back into the uterus, while the cow is trying to push it out! After several minutes, everything was in position and Bill hooked up the pulling equipment: OB strap wrapped around the hooves and connected to a chain which is connected to a fence stretcher. There is bovine OB equipment designed to pull calves, but Bill prefers to use his fence stretcher which has a ratchet to make pulling easier.
Bill’s interior examination had also revealed that the calf was large which made the pulling process very difficult. After several unsuccessful attempts, we called a neighbor for help. He arrived with his own pulling equipment, made a few adjustments and they both pulled. Still couldn’t get the shoulders through the opening. The neighbor asked about additional equipment, sending Bill and I to the barn to find it. I heard him shout and we both raced back to the chute. The calf, a big bull, was out and on the ground. He was alive, but breathing was shallow and raspy due to fluid taken into his lungs during the prolonged delivery.
While our attention was focused on the calf, the exhausted mom squatted, then laid down in the chute, creating a possible disaster. If a cow lies down immediately after delivery, a prolapsed uterus can occur. In a bovine prolapse, either the uterus or the vagina is expelled from the body. It’s a fixable condition, but requires a vet to push the organ back into the cow, then stitch up the opening. In my book, I described it as throwing out the baby with the bath water, then tossing the tub out after it!
Bill and the neighbor pushed and prodded to get her on her feet and out of the chute. A light buzz with the Hotshot, which we only use under extreme circumstances like this one, got her up and moving. Bill herded her toward the calf.
After the exhausting event, Bill knew the calf wouldn’t be able to get up and nurse. He mixed up a packet of just-add-water colostrum substitute and tube-fed the calf. When he finished, the cow was licking the calf, a good sign, so he left them for the night.
We had a celebratory happy hour at 11:30 and ate supper at midnight!
Due to the extremely stressful labor and delivery, FCH #460’s recovery has been slow and required administration of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medications. Five days later, she was feeling better and her calf was doing great!
Our 2018 calving season began on August 21st when Three-Toes gave birth to a bull calf.
Three-Toes is one of two heifers we kept from herd legend One-Toe. For the story of this special family, you can check out “One-Toe—Matriarch of the Toe Family,” posted March 14, 2017, and “One-Toe’s Legacy—The Toe Sisters,” posted a week later on March 21, 2017.
We are expecting 60 calves this fall, down from 70 last year. Earlier this year, Bill culled a few more of the older cows from the herd than he has in the past. The wisdom of that decision was confirmed when summer arrived early, grinding spring into the dust! Winter precipitation was almost non-existent in our area of Northeast Kansas. No spring rains and early scorching temperatures resulted in the worst drought since 2012, although some say this one is worse. Pasture grass dried up. Pond levels fell drastically, leaving sludge and the danger of a cow or calf becoming trapped in mud on a day when temps reached triple digits. Some cattlemen experienced a decrease in the numbers of quality hay bales which they then had to start feeding early to replace the pasture grass. The result: price of hay went up. Some cattlemen have had to sell part or all of their herds. Surprisingly, that hasn’t had much affect on the price of cattle. But then, other areas of the state have received much more rain.
We’ve coped fairly well with the drought. Bill saw the writing in the dust on the wall early and sold last fall’s calves—except for twelve heifers that will be bred this winter and join the herd—about two months earlier than usual, before the price started to fall and to take pressure off our pastures and water supply. He was forced to start feeding hay and grain in July. Cattle from three of the rented pastures were brought home so he wouldn’t have to haul feed to them. The ponds in those pastures were dangerously low anyway. He got lucky and found big round hay bales to buy at a reasonable price. We did have a decent hay crop but not enough to last through the winter for the few head we keep at home.
The good news is we’ve had a little over six inches of rain since August 7th!
Hello, My Beauties
Meet ten of our 2018 first-calf heifers!
The class totals eleven this year. The eleventh is a familiar face, or a familiar ear tag number: Mosey, all grown up and expecting her first calf. Doesn’t she look excited about being a first-time mom! Those spots on her head are mud splatters. Mud is good. Mud means we had rain!
Mosey was born in September, 2016, and was orphaned a week later when her mama, Cow #25, succumbed to anaplasmosis. We needed to confine her to the barn and corral until she was comfortable being bottle-fed, but didn’t have any other orphans (thankfully!) for company. We still had Miracle, an orphan from 2015, in the herd so Bill put her in with Mosey as a companion. Miracle couldn’t fulfill surrogate mother duties because she didn’t have the feeding equipment. After she taught Mosey the difference between “companion” and “mother,” the arrangement worked beautifully! Their story, “Mama Miracle,” was posted September 23, 2016.
New Farm Felines
Sadly, we lost Molly Bolt last winter to feline leukemia. He (Yes, he’s a male and came to us pre-named!) was a street-wise alley cat in Topeka taken in by a woman who rescued strays. His commanding arrogance whipped us and Cricket into shape quickly! I posted his story, “Molly Bolt” on January 10, 2014.
Bill wanted another cat, or two, as mousers in the barn but decided to wait until spring to start looking. A neighbor’s cat had a litter in May and Bill got two females, one black and one gray. We named them Midnight and Stormy.
Calf count as of September 9th is 19.
First Calf Heifer #372 had our 20th calf this afternoon in about 20 minutes, probably a record in our herd, even among our veteran mamas. Bill says that’s why he buys calfing-ease bulls. But this birth was exceptionally quick, like a sprint labor and delivery! Also, the calf wasted no time getting up to find the lunch table.
Will try to get pics for the next post.
…and not just in the obvious ways: getting kicked, stepped on, head-butted, charged or knocked on one’s kiester. Restraining cows in a squeeze chute during the working procedure prevents most of these mishaps. However, banding testicles of bull calves to castrate them leaves Bill exposed to the first two hazards because he is inside the chute with the calf.
Beyond these obvious hazards are two we’ve experienced in the past: Bill was accidentally vaccinated for blackleg and I was “poured on.”
The blackleg incident occurred a couple of years ago during a clumsy hand-off of the hypodermic syringe filled with vaccine.
Blackleg 101 – Known as a clostridial disease, i.e., caused by anaerobic spores that allow bacteria to live in soil for long periods. Once spores are ingested by a cow or calf the disease hits hard and fast, and can be fatal in as little as 48 hours. Symptoms are lameness, depression, loss of appetite and hot painful swelling of a leg. The best prevention is to vaccinate both cows and calves.
When we’re working cattle, one of my jobs is to hand syringes to Bill and grab the ones he hands back to me. He uses multi-dose stainless steel and glass syringes and at least three are required per cow, sometimes four depending on the season. This was a chilly, blustery day and I was wearing light-weight cotton gloves. I handed a syringe to Bill at the same time he handed the one containing blackleg vaccine back to me. The syringe slipped through my grip-less glove and I watched in horror as it plummeted to the ground, expecting the glass barrel to shatter, spilling the vaccine. Luckily, the (expensive!) syringe survived the fall intact. Unluckily, Bill’s leg broke its fall as the needle plunged through his jeans into his calf muscle. Ouch! The pain lasted for several days. This is one of many reasons farm people should keep their tetanus shots current!
I was subsequently demoted from Vet Assistant II to I.
The Pour-On incident happened last year. Pour-On is a de-worming and de-licing solution poured or sprayed on the animal. The solution comes in a gallon plastic jug. The original cap is removed and a lid with a hose and pistol-grip nozzle is screwed on. My job is to hold the jug upside down and hand the nozzle to Bill. To insure a steady stream, I have to hold the jug high at arm’s length. On this occasion, the screw lid had worked loose so that when Bill “poured” the cow, I also got poured!
No demotion occurred this time. Plus, Bill hasn’t developed blackleg and I haven’t suffered an infestation of lice or worms!
I’m happy to report we worked this year’s cows and calves without Bill being vaccinated or me getting “poured on.”
Due to the increased numbers of cows and calves to be worked plus the fact that the cattleman and his highly efficient assistant (except for the dropped syringe incident!) aren’t getting any younger, Bill changed the working schedule this year. In past years, we worked the pairs to be wintered at the ranch during one very intense week in early November, two trailer-loads (7 pairs/load) each day. Bill didn’t return from the second trip until nearly dark or later and still had to hose out the trailer so it was ready to go the next day.
This year, we started the process in October with the cows that calved earliest. We worked one load per day, one or two days each week. A much more relaxed and aging cattleman and assistant-friendly schedule! We also benefited by being able to select our working days according to the weather; no more cold, blustery conditions.
In addition to the usual steps in the working process—trimming long tail hair on cows, replacing lost ear tags, vaccinating, spraying with Pour-On and castrating bull calves by banding their testicles—a new step was added this year: changing the needles on the syringes between cows. This new step was the result of losing a few cows to anaplasmosis the last two years. Anaplasmosis is an infectious blood disease caused by a parasite. It affects the red blood cells and causes severe anemia. If not caught early, it’s usually fatal. Older cows are particularly susceptible. Reusing needles runs the risk of spreading the disease in a herd.
Bill decided the best method for the needle change-out was to do it after he injected the cow and handed the syringe back to me. We used three multi-dose syringes containing three different vaccines, so each cow received three injections. Here’s our vaccination workflow:
Except it didn’t really work that way and certainly not that smoothly.
To give you a visual, I’ve included pictures of a stainless steel and glass syringe, and our homemade syringe caddy. The first pic of the caddy shows the syringes in their assigned holes. The difference this year is that all our syringes are the stainless steel and glass type, like the first one. Also in this pic you can see part of the jug of Pour-On, on the left, and the trigger sprayer. The third pic shows the interior of the caddy.
This new step wasn’t complicated, just labor-intensive, required extreme focus and forced us to change our previously established workflow rhythm. Plus, the used needles don’t twist off easily once they’ve been jammed into a cow, and may require the aid of a pair of pliers. Remember the mishandled syringe incident earlier? Replacing needles three times per cow exponentially increases the risk of dropping these high-dollar syringes, not to mention losing track of whether or not a needle was replaced or putting a syringe back into the wrong hole in the caddy. And some of the cows aren’t very patient or tolerant in the squeeze chute. Neither are those waiting in line behind it. But the process actually went pretty well this year and we can work on smoothing it out and establishing a new rhythm next year.
I’m happy to report that as a result of the added responsibility of the needle exchange procedure, I’ve been promoted to Vet Assistant III. The bad news is there was no pay increase!
My fall calving wrap-up blog post is a little late this year. OK, it’s more than a little late. I’m hoping to complete it by the first day of spring! Why bother? I already had notes compiled, pictures taken and hated to waste all that effort!
We calved out 70 cows, including ten first-calf heifers, this past fall—the most since we started the cow/calf operation. Here are a few of the highlights.
Adoptees and Twins
The calving season started with an adventure: First-Calf Heifer #258 lost her calf and tried to adopt another heifer’s calf to fulfill her purpose in life. Usually, Bill wouldn’t attempt an adoption with a first-calf heifer but #258 wanted so badly to be a mother, he decided to chance it with a Holstein bull calf from an area dairy. I posted the full story, “Kickoff of 2017 Calving Season,” on Sept. 10, 2017.
A few days later, one of the cows, #608, birthed a stillborn. Bill made another trip to the dairy for an adoptee. That story, “Another Adoption, But Without the Drama,” was posted on Sept. 15th.
In October, we added yet another Holstein adoptee when second-calf heifer #362a lost her calf. Our adoptees are usually only a few days old, but this one was born about two weeks earlier. Since he was much bigger than the other two, Bill named him Hoss.
At least one set of twins per calving season is becoming the norm for us and this year was no exception. Our twin story, “Another Calving Adventure…or Two,” was posted on Sept. 17th.
The Hereford Dynasty
In my fall calving posts, I’ve always included pictures of one of our herd favorites, Hereford, and her calves. Sadly, Hereford’s last calving season with us was in 2015. She didn’t have enough milk for her calf, Frosty, which necessitated supplementation with milk replacer. Their story was posted in “Romper Room Calves – Part 3: Frosty, Hereford and Heartbreak” on March 29, 2016. We kept Frosty as a replacement heifer and she had her first calf this year. We were doubtful whether or not she was bred because she wasn’t showing signs of impending birth. Finally, in early November, her udder began to swell and she calved a nice bull calf a few days later—the last calf of the year.
Thanks to Frosty and her four half-sisters The Hereford Dynasty lives on, but as black white-face progeny instead of red white-face.
The Toe Family
Another one of our herd favorites, One-Toe, presented us with what we initially thought was a nice heifer. We even named her “Four-Toes,” thinking she could be a potential keeper as a replacement heifer. Later, Bill discovered that, oops, “she” was a bull!
A couple of days later, we discovered One-Toe didn’t have enough milk to sustain her calf, necessitating supplementation with milk replacer. Sadly, another of our herd legends will be taking her last trailer ride after calves are weaned in late spring.
But happily, daughters Two-Toes and Three-Toes both calved this year. The Toe Family Legacy lives on!
(Photo quality isn't good but I discovered long ago that most of the time you have to settle for what they give you; and sometimes you get lucky, but not here!)