Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Weather, Almanacs, and Bucket Calves.

It's calving, lambing, kidding, fawning season here in the Upper Yampa Valley.  This is the time that the ranchers look forward to because it is the pay off, not necessarily financially, but with the joy of new life.  All the mammals, both domestic and wild, are producing young.  There are calves, lambs, baby goats, fawns, elk calves.  Your spirits are lifted just watching the young discover, cavort and just be new to the world.  Usually at this time of year, the snow is gone from the meadow, the run off water is confined to certain water courses, and the high parts of the meadow and hill sides are dry.  The grass greens with just a couple of sunny days and all the animals are content.

We carefully planned our calving to come during favorable conditions. We have adjusted our calving time to take into account the spring weather but his year it is different. In the 30 + years we have ranched, this spring  is a month behind normal.  The snow remains, the rain or snow keeps falling and the sun doesn't shine.  I checked the Old Farmer's Almanac to see if it had predicted this terrible, long winter.  It actually said predicted a milder winter with slightly above normal temperatures. An almanac is a book published annually with weather predictions, zodiac information, planting information, cooking information and general information.  It's interesting and fun to read.  Benjamin Franklin was a publisher of an early almanac in the colonies. His  Poor Richard's Almanac was published for almost 25 years.  Two modern almanacs are the Old Farmer's Almanac published in New Hampshire and the Farmer's Almanac published in Maine.  The almanacs keep records and use patterns and statistics to determine probabilities to predict weather.  Both almanacs have been existence and kept records for over a century and have gone modern with websites and blogs.  The Old Farmer's Almanac for Children is a great site to bookmark.

  It seems terrible to be complaining about so much moisture when our friends across the state and country are in need of moisture so desperately.  My friends in town usually are out of flood danger by the first week in April.  They are concerned because the creek which runs behind their house is out of its banks and within three feet from their back door and the real run off hasn't even begun yet.  We have opened all the gates along the five mile ditch we use for irrigation and have the head gate which takes water in from the river closed tight.  This is to keep the amount of water in the ditch at a level where the water won't go over the top and wash out the ditch.  The ditch is full from the rain and snow melt along the sides of the ditches and the small tributaries which enter directly into the ditches. High water isn't due until the first week in June.

The ground in saturated and there is no place for all this water to go.  For my friend in Hayden, where the snow left about a three weeks ago, all this continued moisture has made it difficult for her lambing and kidding.  The sheep and goats are used to giving birth on dry ground and it has stressed them to be birthing in mud.  This stress in the mothers has led to stress in the babies which has left  babies do not have the strength to recover from the birthing process.

For us, the wetness has caused some unusual circumstances to arise. In one instance,  a red cow and a black cow had their calves within 30 feet of each other.  One of the calves fell into deep water and drowned , so both cows were trying to claim the one living calf.  In that case, we had to bring in the herd, sort out the two cows and the calf and watch.  The calf followed both mothers around.  It seemed to be more attached to the black cow, the black cow had a better bad and was more assertive that it was her calf. Even though we were pretty certain that the red cow was the mother of the calf, the black cow had a better bag, so we sent the calf back to the meadow with the black cow.  We've had to assist two cows in giving birth which means bringing the cows from the meadow to the corrals, putting them into the chute, reaching inside to adjust the calf so that it is in the proper position ( front hooves first with head between like a person diving into a pool) and then if necessary attaching chains to the front feet to gently pull the calf in time with the mother cows contractions.  In one instance, the calf survived and in the other instance, the calf did not make it.

The cats, Trouble and Mischief, wait for winter to end.
Since I wrote  that first part of the blog, a week has passed.  In that time, we have had one day of blizzard with another foot of snow, plus a few inches of new snow overnight except for the last two nights.  The stars have been out. It's amazing what a change it can make.  While there is still snow around the house, 6 inches below the swing set and 3 feet where the snow has slid from the roof, the ground is beginning to dry out where the snow has been plowed away, the grass is beginning to green, and the entire meadow is free from snow with some dry ground.  Things are looking up.  It's a wonder what a little sunshine and dry days will do for a place.  The house cats, instead of being curled up together are sitting in the window sills in the sun wanting to go out, birds are starting to welcome the morning, calves are beginning to have their races on the meadow and there are actually buds beginning to form on the ends of the branches of the lilac bushes.  The weatherman is now a friend rather than an enemy because he's predicting an entire week of dry weather instead of "snow in the high country".  Hopefully, this will hold so that our friends who live 5 miles to the north will reach this stage.  They are still calving in a couple of feet of snow with a foot of water underneath.

Calves show they're happy when being fed by wagging their tails.

As a result of this unusual weather, we have ended up with 5 different bucket calves.  The original was the twin who is promised to the grandchildren on the front range.  The second one was one of the calves we had to help the mother give birth to.  The weather was so bad that we had to bring the calf to the house to warm up and dry off and by the time we were able to return him to his mother, she didn't recognize him as hers and refused to take him; he is going to a friend's house to help teach her grandchildren that caring for animals is rewarding, fun and a serious responsibility.  The third was the one who went to Craig in the previous blog.  The fourth was another twin whose mother refused her.  Sometimes, cattle mothers know when something is wrong with their calves and they refuse them.  In this case, even though we brought her to the house and fed her, she never did thrive and seemed to be blind or would stand against the wall pushing her head into it as hard as she could.  We called the vet and he took her to see if he could bring her around and planned on her being a project for his sons.  She didn't get better so had to humanly put out of her misery.  She was  then used for his 4-H vet group.  They did a necropsy ( what they call an animal autopsy) to see what was causing her to not thrive or survive.  It turned out that she was bleeding in the brain which was causing pain, her strange behavior, and the inability to use her survival instincts.

 The fifth calf was one I had to rescue because his mother decided to have him on a high spot surrounded by deep water.  Because calves are unsteady when they first get up, he fell into the cold deep water.  His mother stood on dry ground and keep nudging him as he tried to get back up, knocking him down again.  I had to drive out in the deep water with the tractor, convince her to not attack me, and because he was a big calf, about 100 pounds, roll him into the bucket of the front end loader on the tractor and speed up to the house to save him.  By the time I got him to the house, he was hypothermic, had breathed in water, and I couldn't carry him to the barn.  A quick call to the neighbors brought three of them over to help me dry with towels, blow dry with the hair dryer, and carry him to the stall in the barn where I had set up heat lamps and straw.  Vigorous toweling got his blood circulating, warm colostrum warmed him up from the inside, and heat lamps, after he was totally dry, heated him up from the outside.

A photo of three of the bucket calves appeared in the local paper with an article about how the extended winter was affecting ranchers.  A ranching friend remembered the photo of the red calf and  when he had a red cow lose her calf, he came over and got him to replace her calf.  He took the hide from the dead calf, tied it onto the red calf and put him in with her.  Cows recognize their calves by smell and since this calf smelled like her calf, she just had the attitude, "Where have you been?"  The rancher did have to retrain the calf.  The calf was 10 days old and had come to recognize the blue bucket as the source of food.  He had to retrain the calf to recognize that the cow's udder was his new source of food.  He had to put the cow in a chute and follow the same process we had  used to train the calf that milk came from a bucket.  It only took the calf a couple of swallows of milk from the cow's udder to decide this was were food now comes from.  I think the milk from the cow must taste better than the powdered milk from the bucket.  Cow and calf are now bonded and life is good.
Jim teaching the calves how to get to the outside pen he has built for them.

The calves discovering grass in  their new outside pen.  They can come and go into the barn as they please.
We are quickly coming to an end of calving season, with only two cows left to calve.  Now it's time to think about fencing season!

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations -Jo! On the Colorado Ag Board - you will be good at this.

    Brenda F.