4 March 2019 – Frigid and negative 15 this morning
I’m eating my words for bragging about the last polar vortex missing us. This morning the wind chill was -23 and nothing would start. Rancher Dave went out to start the gas generator which he uses to heat up the tractor, but the generator said, “Um, NO! It’s too cold!” We use the generator because our house is completely on solar power so it would not work to have a block heater plugged in all night.
Unfazed, Rancher Dave plugged the tractor block heater into the house once the sun came up and we were harvesting as much solar energy as we could use. He also went to start the Mule, but the Mule was on strike too. About an hour of heating the tractor started right up, but the Mule would not participate. Rancher Dave drove the tractor to the field and the Sheriff and I loaded up in the pickup which started without protest. Out to the field we went and Joey and I were quite happy to be inside the warm pickup cab instead of the open air Mule. Rancher Dave was nice and cozy inside the cab of Babe, too.
After unrolling the bale of hay, I let the cows out from the adjacent field. They looked miserable. One of the cows that we call Dirty Dozen had so many icicles on her mouth I wondered if she would be able to eat. They came charging through the gate and I was happy to see the Dirty Dozen chowing down on her breakfast.
As the cows walk through the gate I try to get a good look at each one of them because we are about four weeks away from our first expected calves. I try to look at their eyes, ears, and feet, and since all the ladies are very pregnant I try to get a good look at their udders (bags) and their backsides as well. Under the careful tutelage of Cowboy Dave and Linda, we have learned a lot about calving. The best indication of impending birth is a bag full of milk and teats pointing straight out. Second, we try to look at the underside of the tail for any mucus. Linda says, “Get a good look up their address!” Also, a cow with labor pains will spend a lot of time licking her belly and you can tell if she’s been doing that by her fur.
After Rancher Dave gets the hay rolled out, he gets out of the tractor and walks amongst the feeding herd to give them the once over as well. Two sets of eyes are definitely better than one, but it is also nice for the cows to get used to us walking around them. That way, if they do have any problems birthing they won’t panic because the ranchers are right up in their business.
We are really hoping that nobody calves in this weather. A lot of local ranchers are already calving and could really use a break from these unusually low temperatures. A wet calf in minus 20 wind chill doesn’t have much of a chance. Cowboy Dave and Linda told us that one unusually cold spring they lost 3 calves in one day to the bitter cold. Ugh. Hang in there ladies! No babies yet, please!
Next we go about breaking the ice and filling the water tank. You can see we have really only been able to keep one big hole open on this tank. This proved to be a blessing in disguise the other morning because Muzzle, one of the pregnant girls, decided she wanted to get water and no one was going to stand in her way. Our little bull, Hugo, was trying to get a drink when Muzzle came up beside him and head butted him in the side so hard he came off his feet and landed right in what would have been the middle of the stock tank. Fortunately there was so much ice there he just slipped right off and back onto solid ground. Mean old Muzzle. It’s not just her, all the cows seem to be cranky and headbutting each other. They are sick of the cold too!
Once everyone is fed, we put up all the equipment in the barn and head into the nice warm house. It feels so good coming in out of the cold, and Joey immediately passes out. From our windows we can see the cows eating for about two hours and then they go to the stock tank for a drink and up into the woods for some shelter.
It’s getting to be pretty routine, but this will come to an end once the calfies come. When the snow melts and there is green grass to graze the feeding chores (and hopefully chopping ice) will come to an end. We will still have to fill water and check cows daily, but the focus of the day will shift to disking and planting next year’s hay crop. Of course many other outdoor projects will take over when the weather warms up and we will probably be spending most of the days outside. I can’t wait! Meanwhile, it is going to be a warmer night, forecast only to get down to zero. Maybe some of the equipment will start in the morning!