I gazed out the window at the assortment of cattle we are keeping here for the winter:
- 11 replacement heifers who will be bred during December and January;
- Ms. Bobsey, and her twins, Freddie and Flossie;
- One-Toe, our amputee cow with only one toe on her right hind hoof, and her calf, Two-Toes;
- First-Calf Heifer #501, who was bred late and won’t calve until around December 10th;
- Cow #972, who hasn’t yet had her calf and Bill is doubtful whether or not she’s even bred.
I saw a cow lying down, head up, apparently resting after her hay breakfast. Behind her was what appeared to be a large cow pie or possibly a baby calf but I, too, was doubtful about the latter. I grabbed the binoculars but closer inspection didn't provide conclusive evidence, so I convinced myself the large, dark brown mound wasn't a calf. Then, I noticed several heifers amble over to the mound and sniff at it. Cows don’t usually gather around a cow pie to sniff it. Once again, I grabbed the binoculars, but this time ran outside for a closer look. As I watched, one end of the dark brown mound rose up and two spindly legs appeared. Then the other end rose and two more legs and a little head appeared. The mound morphed into a newborn calf with part of the umbilical cord still attached and sporting a new yellow ear tag, indicating Bill had already found it when he fed cattle. Cow #972 looked straight at me, pointed to her calf with her nose as if to say, “ See? I really was bred and here’s the evidence!”
This birth capped off a busy week of working cows and calves, a total of 130 animals. In my book, I explained the term “working” as follows:
“Working Cattle 101 – Working cattle is a catch-all term in Farmerese that includes one or more of the following hands-on procedures performed on cattle: vaccinating or administering other medications; castrating bulls, either surgically or by placing rubber bands around their testicles; dehorning; preg-checking; ear tagging; spraying with fly repellent; branding; and applying Pour-On, a de-worming and de-licing solution poured on the animal, hence its name.”
We did all of the above except dehorning, preg-checking and spraying with fly repellent as none of these procedures was necessary, and we used the rubber band procedure to castrate the bull calves. My duties as ranch hand included:
- Open and shut gates to pastures;
- Hold the trailer back gate open when we loaded cattle;
- Prod cows along the alleyway to queue up behind the working chute;
- Insert a piece of steel pipe across the alleyway behind the cow “on deck” to keep her from backing away from the chute;
- Hand hypodermic needles, banders, and ear-taggers to Bill (Most of the cows and calves were already tagged, but some tags were missing.);
- Keep the thick rubber castrating bands warm inside my gloves, then put them on the banders—not easy in cold weather because I had to remove my thick, insulated gloves to stretch the bands onto the banders;
- “Gofer” to the barn or house for anything we needed but didn’t have;
- Heat up a quick lunch for Bill to eat on the road as he hauled a trailer-load to the ranch.
A slight casualty of the human, not bovine, variety occurred during the bull banding process: Bill gashed his hand with his knife when attempting to remove a rubber band that had misfired off the bander when the calf squirmed. The band only caught half of what it was supposed to. The gash was about an inch long and bled profusely. He wrapped his handkerchief around it temporarily until the bull was properly banded, then we went to the house to further assess the damage, disinfect and bandage his hand. Stopping the whole operation at that point and making a trip to the doctor was out of the question, as far as Bill was concerned. He wasn’t convinced stitches were necessary.
Later that night Bill changed his mind when the gash still bled easily. Neither of us wanted to make a trip into Topeka to a major hospital emergency room for a four to five hour ordeal, mostly waiting. The urgent care centers were all closed for the day. He called a small community hospital about a 30-minute drive away and they invited him to come on over. It was a slow night in the ER and they appreciated the company, if only for an hour. When he arrived they set to work on him, no waiting. The needlework, consisting of three stitches, was completed by a nurse practitioner, a nurse administered a tetanus shot and he was on his way home.
So, I didn’t have time to snap photos this year. But you can go to last year’s blog, “Bon Voyage Until Next Spring” at http://www.fromhighheelstogumboots.com/gumboot-tracks-blog/archives/11-2013, for pictures showing various stages of the process.
Ahhhh…now we can relax! Oh, but wait! We only have two pieces of wood left to fuel the wood furnace and Saturday was cold and snowy. (Luckily, our propane tank was topped off this week!) The cattle spending the winter here still have to be fed and watered. This includes bottle-feeding supplemental milk replacer to the twins twice a day. A mountain of dirty and manure-y clothes is piled on the laundry room floor. The large container of my homemade granola in the frig is almost empty and someone ate the last muffin—both are among the breakfast staples around here.
No rest for the farm-weary!