Friday, April 8, 2011

People Who Help the Rancher/ Not all Calves Live

 It's been a hard spring here in Northwest Colorado.  Some of the old timers would tell you that it has been a normal kind of spring from their youth.  They'd say that a 4-wire winter was normal.  That's how they measure snow depth up here in the snowy ranch country.  A 4-wire winter means that the snow covers the top wire and the fence posts for most of the winter.  During the last 30 years, most winters have been 3-wire winters.  This year it was a 4-wire winter.  We've even had years with more snow but the snow has always melted from the valley floor earlier and then there would be 10 or 12 inches of new snow in one day but it would all melt the next day.  The snow this year has been really wet with even periods of rain mixed in and the snow  on the valley floor has remained longer.  There is still 2 feet of snow on the meadow, or two feet of water in the low areas with a crust of snow on top.  This is actually a good thing because it marks the end of the snow on the meadow.  In less than ten days, the snow will be gone from the meadow and maybe even in the yard.

Please don't make me stay here on the porch!
It's been a hectic week here at the ranch.  For the most part, the weather has not cooperated.  We've had 4 or 5 calves every day during the blizzards and rains.  Today is the first time we have had two sunny days in a row.  The cold and wet is hard on everyone.  People are grouchy because they're used to sunny skies even if it is cold, even the dog's really wet, smelly and sad because he isn't allowed in the house, the cows come to the gate and want to get on the road because it is dry, and the calves shiver.  Luckily, it only takes about a half day of sunshine to make things better for everything; but the dog still smells so he can't come into the house until he gets a bath.
Even when you use a kind, soft voice, Fritz doesn't like to be told he's too smelly to come into the house.

This weather is hardest on the calves.  Like all living things, they need the vitamin D from the sunshine to be healthy and during this past week there has been a decided lack of vitamin D available since there was no sun. They spend so much energy staying warm that their immune systems become week and some of them get sick.  We don't know why some calves get ill and other calves born under the same conditions remain healthy.  The day that the calf  in the last blog was born, there were two other calves born also.  Of those two calves, one remained healthy and with its mother.  We watched the other one carefully. It never seemed to get its strength after it was born and was more susceptible to the cold.  He had to come to the house.  He was given every bit as much attention as any calf  but he just continued to get worse.  It is hard for a rancher to lose a calf.  They'll stay up all night long, spend more money on supplies and vet bills than the calf will ever bring, do everything in their power to try to save the calf; but sometimes you just can't save them.  Every rancher I know is devastated when a calf dies.  They rejoice in helping things live, grow and thrive and it's almost like a personal failure when you put that much effort, energy and prayer into helping a calf and it dies anyway.

  I always tease my husband, Jim, about when he chooses to go swimming in the Yampa Rive in April. He usually has to wade across the river in waist deep water carrying a calf during the this month. That's what happened this week also. There always seems to be one cow each year that thinks she needs to have her calf on the island even if there is more snow there. We watch and when the snow goes down enough, we hook up an electric fence but one morning we looked out and. there she was, a cow with her newborn calf on the island. That meant a trip across the railroad bridge, over the fence, across the deep snow to the calf.  The cow ran to the river calling her calf and waded in.  The calf stepped into the shallow water and then jumped into the deeper water.  There was only one thing for Jim to do, follow her into the water and grab her when she started to sink.  He waded across with waist to chest deep water with the calf in his arms.  Of course, they both were cold and wet.  He put the newborn bull calf in the tractor and they both came to the house.  I dried the calf off with towels and the blow drier while Jim took a hot shower to warm up.  When the calf was well dried, we gave him his ear tag and returned him to the meadow and his mother.  He is doing really well in spite of his rocky start and the miserable weather.
Daren Clever, Brand Inspector for Routt, Summit, and Grand Counties

This week we have been lucky to have visits with three people who are helpful to us at our ranch; the brand inspector, the vet, and the farrier (man who takes care of our horses feet). The first visitor was the Brand Inspector. Brand Inspectors work for the Brand Board for the State of Colorado.  The Brand Board's purpose it to register and administer all  brands within the state, inspect and verify ownership of all cattle, horses, sheep, and goats in the state, inspect and license all processing plants, inspect and license all elk and deer farms and prevent stolen livestock for the entire state.  That's a pretty big job so they have brand inspectors for different areas of the state.  The brand inspector for our area is Daren Clever.  He is also responsible for Summit and Grand Counties also.  If you ask Daren what the main part of his job is, he will tell that it is to keep  livestock from being stolen .  We had him come out to inspect our bucket calf, "no number", so that we could give her to the grandkids on the front range.  He had to actually see the animal and then prepare a brand paper which will show the transfer of ownership from us to Justin and Taylor.  Because she will not have a brand the kids will need to show these ownership papers whatever they decide to do with her and allows us to take her to them.  We  pay a fee for this service.  That is where the brand board gets the money that pays Daren's salary.  Included in that fee  is a dollar for Beef Check Off.  Years ago, everyone who sold a live animal in the process of bringing beef from the pasture to the plate voted to pay this Check Off dollar to help make sure that farmers and ranchers knew the best way to take care of their land and animals, how best to meet the needs of the consumer, to teach consumers how to handle meat for safety and tastiness as well as many other things.
"I can't wait to get to the front range where there's no snow or mud."

The second person we visited with this week was one of our three veterinarians, Dr. Lee Meyring.  There are lots of vets around the state; however, there are very few "large animal" vets.  In fact, there are so few that there are scholarships being given to get people to encourage them to become large animal vets.  Working with dogs, cats, and other pets is a lot easier than working with horses, cows, and other large animals.  Most pets come into the vet hospital; while the vet frequently has to travel out to where the cow is.  Most pets can come in for treatment at an appointed time; while when a vet is called to treat a large animal, it is usually outside, during a crises, at any time of the day or night.  Luckily, the calf that we found whose mother had abandoned it was able to go to the vet hospital because she fit into the front of the truck.  (She couldn't go into the back of either truck because they were both full of snow and the trailer was still in snow that was over its tires.)  She was dehydrated, hypothermic (her body temperature was too low) and didn't have enough energy to even suck from the nipple on the blue bucket.  She spent the day at the vet hospital getting electrolytes through a tube in her neck which led directly to her blood stream. She is home now and if she survives, she will become another bucket calf.  We have lots of options for her; the grandkids, the place in Craig, and three different people have called up asking if we had any bucket calves.
One very sick calf.  You can tell by how his tail is tucked under, back arched and head down.
Entrance to the Vet Hospital
Large Animal Vet, Dr. Lee Meyring.  He comes from a ranching family which is both in Nebraska and Jackson County, Colorado.
Dr. Meyring checking the temperature of the calf's mouth.

The third person who came to help us was our farrier, Jason Stewart.  While most large ranches with lots of horses have someone who can do their own horseshoeing; since we've never had more than four horses at any one time, it has always been most efficient to have someone come and do the trimming or shoeing.  The horses hooves grow like fingernails and need to be trimmed so the horse's legs and ankles will line up correctly, the horse can maintain good balance and the hoof won't break off so that it hurts.  It's too early to put shoes on the horses here because the snow will ball up in the shoes and the horse is unbalanced. It's like they're walking in high heels. Besides, there is so much thick, gooey, mud that it has been known to pull the shoes off the horse.  We'll wait another four to six weeks, depending on how fast the snow goes, before we put their shoes on. If we only rode our horses on the soft grass of the meadow or hayfields, we wouldn't put shoes on; but, the pasture is rocky, the dirt becomes extremely hard when it dries and to take the cattle to and from their summer pasture we have to ride on paved roads.  It only took Jason a little while to trim our horses feet.  We can begin to get them into condition for the summer.

Jason Stewart, our farrier.

Come on, JB, pick up your foot.

A close up of the trimmed hoof.
Hope you are having a beautiful spring, we've got a wall of gray clouds coming our way.

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