Sunday, April 3, 2011

Hurray for April! Maybe

During March, the snow level has dropped a lot.   April 1 at my friend's house in town.
 March is supposed to come in like a lion and leave like a lamb.  That's not the way it was this year at the ranch.  The first part of March was wonderful but the last week of March was wet, cool, and windy.  This kind of weather  is harder on new calves than really cold dry weather.  They need to be watched constantly.  I was gone for the last week in March to attend a couple of meetings with other cattle ranchers and to visit with the grandchildren during their spring break.  It was warm and windy on the front range with dry ground and temperatures which didn't drop lower than freezing. Because Jim and I are the owners and hired hands, we cannot both leave the ranch at the same time during the winter or during calving season.  While I was enjoying the warm dry weather, Jim was feeding and calving during the cool, wet, snowy last week of March.

On March 1, only the top pole could be seen.  This is April 1.  Lots of snow has melted.

The twin, no number, got a friend while I was gone.  The second bucket calf was one of three born that day and she shouldn't have had any problems.  The day was cool, not cold, and while it was snowing, they were only showers and the winds were calm. During the wet days, we feed the cattle twice a day instead of once.  The calves can snuggle in the dry hay to be warm and dry.  Jim had taken the first load of hay out to the cattle and  was moving snow to clear more area for the cows and calves.  He watched as the first two calves were born and got up and fed.  After some time spent having lunch and doing some trenching around the house, Jim returned to the meadow to give the cattle their second feeding.  He noticed a cow off by the trees which looked like she was trying to get a calf up to nurse. After he took a second load of hay out, the cow hadn't yet seemed successful in getting her calf up.  It was then that he went to check on her.  For some reason, instead of calving on a high spot, this particular cow had chosen to calve in a low spot.  The calf was stretched out in 3 inches of water, sopping wet, with her head resting on a frozen cowpie (what we call cow droppings because they're usually round, fairly flat, and about the size of a large pie.)  The calf's head resting on that cowpie was the reason that the calf had not drowned.

Jim waded into the water and stood the calf up.  He put his fingers into the calf's mouth.  The calf weakly tried to suck on his fingers but her mouth was cold.  This is an indication that the calf had not fed and this calf was too weak to stand to suck from her mother.  Jim loaded her up into the cab of the tractor and brought her to the house.  She was weak, wet, cold, dehydrated and shivering.  (Shivering a is mechanism used by mammals to generate heat within their body but it does use what energy stores the animal has.)  The first order of business was to get some energy and fluids into the calf.  For cases like this, we keep powdered electrolytes to mix with warm water.  There are two methods of getting the electrolytes into the calf, through the mouth or through a needle inserted into directly into their vein. ( Humans use electrolytes for the same purpose and get them in the same manner; think Gatorade.)  We give our calves electrolytes through the mouth.  Because she was so weak and cold, she could have only about a cup at a time.

Between the feedings of electrolytes and then colostrum, the calf needed to be warmed and dried.  When drying a cold, wet calf, you begin with lots and lots of towels,  You rub and rub.  This, however, only gets the surface moisture off and the calf is still cold. Much of the wetness has come off the legs, tail and ears; but the thicker hair around the core is still very wet.  The core is that area which covers the heart, stomach, and other organs. If the calf it to get warm, you need to warm the core (Underside of the calf ) If you get the blood warm in that area, the warm blood is pumped to the rest of the body and this warms all parts of the calf.  This is when you bring out the blow dryers.  It takes a long time to dry a calf if you are using only one hair dryer.  The fastest we have ever dried a calf is 20 minutes when I called three neighbors to bring their hairdryers and four of us worked on one calf at the same time.  Jim, because he was alone, had to alternate between feeding and drying the calf and it took most of the evening.

Early the next morning, the calf was returned to her mother.  The mother had been looking all over for her calf and was delighted to get her back.  It was another cold, wet, windy, day but all the calves were bouncing around, chasing each other, snuggling in the hay, and feeding; except for the calf that had gotten to come to the house.  Due to her being born in water and nearly drowning,she just didn't have the energy to keep up with her mother.  She was standing with her head down to her knees, wet and shivering by the second feeding of the day.  She just wasn't going to make it on her own.  She got to come up and join the first bucket calf.   Once we got her strong enough to stand and feed on her own, the bond between her mother and her was broken. She would have to become a full time bucket calf.  We had the same options for her as the first calf;  instead of going to the grandkids, she was going to live in Craig and get a new cow mother. Yesterday, April 2, the calf left for her new home.  It is our obligation to make sure that every calf gets a good start and is a healthy calf.
This calf is healthy and ready to be adopted by another mother cow in the low country.

A sign of spring, the snow gets rough on top.

The end of March has seen a lot of changes in the snowpack.  The snow depth has begun to fall as the snow melts.  One sign of spring is the golden willows change color.  They go from gray sticks along the river and creek banks to an actual yellow gold.  The surface of the snow changes from smooth to bumpy and the texture of the snow goes from a fine powder to coarse sugar granules and the snowballs go from smooth easily packed balls to hard to pack ice balls. When the snow melts, it melts from underneath.  Under the crusty surface, the snow becomes like a honeycomb, lots of air pockets with a crust on top.  It becomes impossible to walk on the crust and even the lightest weight breaks through.  Only the fox can maneuver across the crust on a warm afternoon.

Snow melts from underneath.  In April water runs everywhere.

April brings warm sunny days, mostly.  It also brings water running everywhere.  This is when all the ditching that we have been doing all during the month of March pays off.  It helps the water run off down the hill.  On the meadow,however, there is a berm between the feed and calving grounds and the river.  This keeps the water from running into the river and causes it to settle into the ground where the soil serves as a natural filter.  This is one way that we help to maintain good quality water in the Yampa River.

April is so changeable.  The first of April had sunshine and temperatures in the low 50's.  The second of April had sunshine and temperatures in the high 50'.  Today, April 3, wasn't a nice day on the ranch. It was cold with a blizzard of wet snow.  We have been monitoring the animals all day, making sure their mothers are well fed, that each calf is well cared for and warm.  Tonight, the twin will have a guest.  One calf seems to be weaker than the most and can use a night out of the cold and wet.  He will be brought up to the shed late at night, given supplemental feed both night and morning and returned to his mother in the morning.  We have found that our cows will take their calves back if we keep them only 12 hours at a time.
April 3 brings a blizzard with cold wet snow.  Maybe the sun will shine tomorrow.

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