30 April 2019 – Snowing and blowing, and 29 degrees
Advanced warning: a long blog ahead due to a lot of happenings and a long time since the last post. In the words of Mark Twain, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
April has been a really, really long month at the Holler. After the first two calves were born exactly on time, the calving season took some strange and awful twists. I wrote in the last blog about BlackJack #21 and Catch #22, so I will try to summarize what happened since then.
The next cow to calve was Hunny, and she gave birth with ease to a beautiful little heifer which we named Andie. Hunny calved like she always has; with ease and overnight without supervision. She is an excellent mother.
We had been checking cows several times a day, keeping a close eye on the remaining heifers that we hoped wouldn’t calve for a few more weeks, but as I previously wrote, there had been a random bull wandering through our pastures and we couldn’t be sure of their breeding dates.
On Monday, Tax Day, April 15th, Rancher Dave and I were up early and out the door to feed and check cows. We put out the food and noticed that we were one cow short. Almost immediately after noticing this, we saw Cherry Bomb (one of the questionable heifers) running down out of the woods to eat. From her backside, it was obvious that she had calved but we didn’t see a baby anywhere. We drove through the woods and found a barely breathing little calf. There was no way to determine when she was born but two things were clear: 1. She was struggling. 2. Cherry Bomb was more interested in breakfast than anything we did to the calf.
Dave tried his best to dry her off while I tried to push Cherry Bomb toward her and away from the herd and breakfast. I was completely unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Cowboy Dave and Linda came out to see if they could help. They brought a shot of Vitamin B that gives newborn calves some energy to get up and eat. They also brought a sled to drag the calf inside if necessary. The shot didn’t do anything. The poor little girl bellered a few times but did not jump up and look for food as we have seen calves do in the past. We put her in the sled and drug her in front of Cherry Bomb, hoping she would follow her newborn away from the herd and give her some much needed attention.
After a lot of trying we eventually got the new baby and Cherry Bomb into a warm shed in the barn. Unfortunately, the Mom didn’t seem to care too much about the baby and seemed confused and in horror about the whole birthing incident. We decided to bottle feed the new calf some colostrum since her Mom would not do it.
As a side for all of you Hoten Holler Follerers that are not cow people, colostrum is a compound found in cows’ milk immediately after they give birth. A calf needs this in at most 2 hours after being born to ensure that they have a solid immune system. Two hours after birth, the calf’s stomach lining improves to the point that the colostrum won’t be absorbed and they will have a compromised immune system for their whole life, which means their whole life won’t be very long!
So we mixed up the colostrum and put it in a bottle and I held that baby in my lap as Rancher Dave tried to squeeze the mixture into her mouth. Her mouth was cold and dry. She was minimally responsive, giving a very weak moo here and there but unable to hold up her tiny head. We rubbed her and rubbed her and tried to get her to swallow, but she just didn’t make it. It was so sad.
Moving forward, we decided to keep our remaining heifers in a paddock where we could keep a close eye on them. We assumed 2 hour shifts throughout the evenings. Since all the cows are at the High Lonesome, Cowboy and Linda would do the midnight shift before going to bed and I would go at 2AM, Rancher Dave would go at 4AM and Cowboy was always up at 6AM which is after feeding time normally.
On the 18th, at 2AM one of the Heifers, #111 which we call Triple Sticks, seemed in intense pain and went off by herself. I watched her for about 10 minutes and convinced myself she was about to calve. I radioed Rancher Dave and said, “I’m coming home to get you, I think she’s about to calve so let’s watch together in case there is any trouble.” Sleepy Rancher Dave got up and we returned to the High Lonesome by the light of the almost full moon to keep an eye on Triple Sticks. We took turns napping in the truck in the 30 degree weather and checked on her with the spotlight about every 15 minutes. At about 3:30 AM, Dave turned on the headlights of the truck and we could see a little white face next to the big white face of Triple Sticks. She had calved and immediately the little bull calf was up and nursing. Fantastic! We named him Moonshine. We call him “Shiner” because he has a white face and one big black eye.
The next day, the 19th and Good Friday, another heifer #112 which we call the Dirty Dozen, went into labor in the middle of the night. At the 2AM shift she looked pretty uncomfortable so I watched her until about 2:45. She hadn’t moved or got up or seemed like she was in pain so I went back to the Holler, knowing Rancher Dave would be out there in an hour or so. At 4AM, Rancher Dave went back to check on her and she had calved a beautiful baby heifer. It was Good Friday so we called her Goody. In the daylight the next day we noticed she had two white back feet so we revised the name to Goody Two Shoes.
Goody seemed just fine. When Rancher Dave saw her at 4AM she was up and nursing on her Mom. The next morning, Saturday, at the morning feeding and cow check, we once again noticed a missing cow. Domino, an older cow with plenty of birthing experience, was laying off in the woods with her newborn calf. It was a heifer and we named her Fatz. She was doing great and Domino is an old and experienced mother. We looked in at the heifer’s and newly calved mothers in the paddock and all was well. Goody and Moonshine were both nursing in the morning and up and bouncing about like new best friends.Goody was still a little bit wet so Rancher Dave toweled her off and her mom, the Dirty Dozen just stood there watching him and waiting for her own head scratch. These are some very tame cows.
We were still watching #114, Valentine.
Saturday afternoon, while Cowboy Dave and Rancher Dave were disking and planting one of the fields, I took Sheriff Joe to the High Lonesome where Linda and I were going to let all the dogs go swimming in the pond. When I arrived, Valentine was beginning to calf. I radioed Rancher Dave and he and Cowboy came right down to the pasture where we watched Valentine pace around in labor. Poor Valentine really seemed to be struggling and eventually she laid down and pushed with all her might. The calf was huge so Rancher Dave ran into the pasture and gave it a good tug.
Valentine had a beautiful little girl which we dubbed “Cupid.”
Cupid was up and nursing in no time and feeling relieved about all the heifer births, Linda and I took the dogs to the swimming hole.
Life was great and beautiful on the ranch. It was a fantastic and extremely warm day and when we returned from the swimming hole all the calves were resting with their respective mothers. That was around 2PM. At 3:30 PM Rancher Dave and I returned to the High Lonesome to check cows and feed for the afternoon. We went to the paddock to count our three new calves but Goody was dead.
We were all in shock. This was a terrible event that was completely unpredictable. Considering that we had already lost Cherry Bomb’s calf, Rancher Dave and I decided there must be something wrong and called the vet. Our Vet is incredible and even though it was the Saturday before Easter, she agreed to meet us at the clinic at 7PM and do a necropsy to help determine what may have killed the calf.
We loaded Goody into a large cooler and iced her down per the Vet’s instructions. The vet did the necropsy right there on the tailgate of Dave’s truck and immediately determined that Goody’s lungs were full of foam indicating pneumonia. She had a full belly of milk so her Mom, the Dirty Dozen had been doing her job, but she had acquired pneumonia and it killed her.
Rancher Dave and I returned to ranch in the early evening hours. We had to divide and conquer. On the vet’s orders we had to quarantine the two calves that had been in Goody’s vicinity, so I drove to the High Lonesome to close some gates and isolate them. Meanwhile, Rancher Dave had to take the calf carcass to an area on the ranch we call the boneyard. He had been there two days earlier to drop off Cherry Bomb’s calf and had to return to the somber scene to leave Goody. It was awful.
Our Easter Morning was ridiculously busy. Per the Vet’s recommendation, we decided to vaccinate the rest of the calves against some pneumonia causing bacteria with a vaccine that we had to inject up their little noses. The catch was you had to mix the vaccine and administer it within one hour after mixing or it would not work. At the time, we had the two remaining heifer calves in the paddock, Moonshine and Cupid. The rest of the calves were in the field and needed to be rounded up. To complicate matters, Moonshine and Cupid were to be quarantined and any nose to nose contact with the other calves was prohibited.
We all went to work. Rancher Dave and I set up cattle panels to prevent any nose to nose contact. Cowboy and Linda worked to make sure there was water in every separate location for cows and calves. Once the facilities were set, we discussed the plan. First we would isolate all the cows from their mothers so we could vaccinate them without interference and before the vaccine expired. The only problem was the old cow, Domino, who had calved Fatz out in the field was not willing to come into the corral. We considered that Fatz was one day old and Domino is extremely tame so we planned on just tackling her in the field.
We corralled up the rest of the herd and separated Black Jack, Catch and Andy from their moms who were not real happy with us. Then we captured Moonshine and Cupid in a separate pen. We decided to give Cupid an antibiotic shot since she looked very low energy and the vet had recommended if either her or Moonshine looked dull that it wouldn’t hurt them and protect them from the possible bacteria that had caused pneumonia. . We mixed the vaccine and administered it up the little calf noses of everyone without incident except for Catch 22. That little bull was not having it, and he repeatedly charged head first into the gate that was containing him. This may sound silly since he was only about 10 days old but he could have easily broken any one of our legs. He is STRONG! Cowboy decided he would rope him and Rancher Dave tackled his front while Cowboy held his back and I shoved the vaccine up his angry little nose!
The next obstacle was getting to Fatz in the field before the time was up. Cowboy, Linda and Rancher Dave sneaked up on her from three different directions while I lured away her mother, Domino, with a bucket of cow cake. Domino is so tame and she was hungry so she came away with me without a thought about her baby. Meanwhile, Cowboy roped Fatz’s leg and Rancher Dave tackled her and they not only vaccinated her but put in her ear tag! Now that’s a rodeo.
All the calves were vaccinated and the four of us congratulated ourselves because of our performance. We had over 30 minutes left on the clock. It wasn’t a typical Easter egg hunt, but it was a memorable Easter morning. I had planned to cook Easter supper for all of us and Linda said, “Let’s just do Easter supper on Monday.” I said, “No! The house is clean, it probably won’t be tomorrow! Let’s just do it tonight!” And we did, and we had a great Easter supper and mourned our little Goody together and celebrated the victories we had had that week and that life is mostly good on the ranch.
The next day, we immediately noticed that Moonshine, one of the quarantined calves, was pretty dull. While the other young calves were up and running about and kicking and bucking, he was lying quietly off on his own and not nursing. We watched him all day and while he did nurse, he just seemed sick and laid around with no energy. In the afternoon he began panting which is a tell-tale sign of pneumonia. We took his temperature (which shouldn’t be easy to do for a young calf, but he gave not dispute) and he had a little fever. We administered him an antibiotic shot, once again without any sort of battle or even protestation….not normal.
We watched him lay around and it appeared he was going to die because he was just laying there audibly wheezing.. Of course this all happened late in the afternoon and our vets were no longer in the office. We called one of our neighbor’s vets who made house calls. The doc came out and took his temperature and listened to his lungs.
He said he did NOT have pneumonia. He thought his trachea was swollen possibly from eating grass or dirt, and that it could be the lead-in to diphtheria. UGH!!! He gave him an anti-inflammatory and said to keep an eye on him. Every day that little guy just lays around panting, but in the mornings and evenings he gets up and nurses and bucks around a little, but not like the other calves.
Rancher Dave went out and watched him one morning and said he doesn’t nurse like the other babies. Instead of latching on to one teat, he goes from teat to teat to teat and tries to get milk from each. We decided to put him in with Dirty Dozen, the mom that lost Goody, since Dirty Dozen’s bag is still large and full of milk.
She protested at first but then we watched him nurse her bag dry. We did this for several days in isolation and in the hopes that eventually she would nurse him in the open. This had not happened after about two days and we discovered that instead of nursing him, the other baby in the quarantine, Cupid, was nursing off Dirty Dozen and not off of her mom, Valentine! So in another attempt to get that guy some more nutrition, we mixed up milk replacement and bottle fed him. He did not go for it and finally showed some signs of life and ran and started nursing his true momma.
After the quarantine was up we released all the new moms and babies out with the rest of the herd. We were at our wits end about what to do about that dull little Moonshine, but he obviously is getting some food because he is getting bigger and stronger every day. It seemed like being in the herd was exactly what he and Cupid needed. Both calves were more energetic than we had seen them when confined, however, their lazy mothers went off and left them one afternoon and both of them wandered back to the paddock and were mooing looking for their moms. Moonshine even escaped under the barbed wire and wandered out into the National Forest. Rancher Dave and I shooed him back onto the High Lonesome and this time he bellered and his mother finally came to see about him. These cows are driving us nuts!
The day we released the quarantined girls out into the herd, Marzee, our giant red cow decided to calve. She was a champ calving in the afternoon (not 3AM!) and getting her gigantic baby out and up and nursing in less than an hour. This is her baby, a heifer we named Lucky because she is number seven.
A day later, we tagged Lucky and watched again in the afternoon as Patsy decided to have her calf. She was not the pro that Marzee was and walked all over the pasture, but once the baby was born it was up and nursing and also a strong little heifer. Cowboy and Linda named her Countess because her tag is #123….counting 1, 2, 3. Sorry, no pictures of Countess yet.
Today, we rounded up the two new babies and separated them from their mommas to give them the nasal injection vaccination to prevent pneumonia. It is a rodeo every day out here separating cow/calf pairs and tackling these strong babies. This part is still fun for us, as long as nobody else gets sick!
1 May 2019 – SNOWING and 30 degrees!
I am finishing this blog up this morning, mostly because it is wet and miserable outside and there isn’t much work that we can do. We did find Moolah at 6AM this morning after she had just calved. Her baby, Mitzy, was laying in the snow so we put her in the sled and drug her to the barn with Moolah following right behind. Moolah is a good Mom and was nursing her baby shortly with no incident. We are keeping them inside for shelter.
We are pretty tired because in between all the cow chaos we have been disking and planting, trying to get oats in the ground for our short South Dakota growing season. I guess we should be grateful for the snow and moisture, but we are so worried about our herd that it’s hard to appreciate it. We remind ourselves that there are many surrounding cattle ranches where the cows are out in the field without shelter and they do just fine even in this late spring cold weather.
We have seven calves to go, if all goes well. It is supposed to be in the 50’s and 60’s for the next week. Smooth sailing, right?
8 May 2019 – Cloudy and snow flurries
Here I am again, delaying getting this blog out. Although it is snowing and blowing, all of our calves seem to be doing really well, even Moonshine. We are still waiting on the seven remaining calves. In other news, we finished disking and planting all the fields.
One more sad piece of information. One of the beehives did not survive the winter. I thought we were home free since there was a lot of bee activity in both hives at the end of April, but I guess there was just one cold snap too many and I discovered a giant pile of dead bees in front of my original hive.
I am still witnessing activity in the newer hive, although this current round of snow is preventing any of them from venturing outside. If they can just hang in there, spring is coming! Everything is turning green and there are lots of little flowers and dandelions for the bees to harvest.
I’ll try to do better about posting this month. We hope everyone out there in the real world is having a great May so far!