Monday, November 23, 2015

You can't always save them

But you gotta try!

I love the animal husbandry part of ranching.  As a kid I wanted to be a vet, and I can remember doctoring up all the little animals that I would find stranded;  mice, and baby birds of all types.  My most memorable Christmas gift was an incubator and I enjoyed hatching out chicken eggs and then gentling those too.  One of my darkest animal memories is when  I ordered sea horses from the back of a magazine and they didn't come with any directions and the food they sent with them just floated on the top and I slowly watched those poor little creatures die.  Today, with the internet I could have gotten all the information I would have needed. 

I use the internet a lot for my animal husbandry questions.  I even recently blasted off a question and five bucks to get an online vet to help me out.    Perse, (a bottle fed cow who is still a pet) brought her 2 month old calf into the corrals and kept it right by the cattle handling facilities. Something was wrong and she wanted us to help her. When the calf got up and moved its right front  leg dragged uselessly along. We carefully walked the calf into the chute and examined the leg and neither one of us could find a break.  I thought the elbow felt loose. Maybe.  The calf's respirations weren't very elevated and it didn't even seem to be in pain.  I couldn't figure it out, so  I asked the online vet and she came back with nerve damage from some kind of injury and that we needed to go to a veterinarian  and get some steroids to help bring down the inflammation in the nerve.   Our local vet agreed and now, about 10 days later, the little fellow is back out with the herd using that front leg again.  Albeit with a lot of 3 legged hops as well.  We were warned that it could take months before it completely heals and it might not even completely heal.  Knowing though, that the calf has no pain, really eases our minds.

Perse and calf

I haven't had to assist in any calving yet, as we try to pick bulls that sire smaller birthrate calves.  So far, knock on wood, it seems to be working and even the smallest heifers have calved unassisted.  I did have to help when our sow Sweet Pea had her first batch of piglets.  Our local vet didn't want to drive out when the she stalled in her labor, so she talked me through it on the phone.  It was so exciting and as I have  skinny hands and arms  it was easy for me and for Sweet Pea.  She successfully farrowed and raised her first batch up well. 

Contented piglets
Sweet Pea just delivered again and this time she didn't have any problems at all.  It went textbook perfect.   I just checked on her every 30 to 45 minutes to make sure.   She ended up having 13 adorable piglets.  The last one was tiny and it apparently didn't move from the back end up to the teats  after being delivered and  the placenta was  on top of it when I came down on my 30 minute interval check.   I rushed it inside and dried it and warmed it up with a heat lamp.  It just didn't have any energy all night and Mark and I kept getting up and checking on it.  Mark actually slept with it quite a bit.  He was quite smitten with the little thing.  He called her Fancy. 

Fancy soon after birth

We used an eye dropper to get a little replacement milk in and in the morning she was more feisty, so every hour I took her out to her mama and let her nurse  to get  colostrum.  With a dozen brothers and sisters little Fancy didn't have enough gumption to fight for the milk, so I had to help her out by keeping the others away from her nipple.  We tried just leaving her with the litter a few times, but she always got cold and lost in the shuffle.  For days I walked her back and forth to the sow and held her up to her mama's teats.  Sometimes she would seem to nurse well, other times not.  On day 4 she began drinking out of a little saucer and I was relieved as carrying her back and forth to the barn all day was a bit of a chore.  Then the seizures started.  That was the beginning of the end really and by the 5th morning she was dead.

Mark and I mourned the loss.  Who wouldn't.    We gave it all we had, but she still died.  It hit me hard and I couldn't really figure  out why as, with a lifetime of doctoring little critters, I've lost quite a few.  This was not a new experience.  Talking to Mark about it  I said,  "We tried so hard and she still died," and  I then started sobbing.  I then realized it wasn't the piglet I was talking about,  but my mother.

 My mom died from complications of Alzheimer disease.  Mark and I had tried caring for her in her home and eventually placed her in a care facility as it was just too hard taking care of her.  I still had guilt.  I still wished I could have saved her.  This little runt of a piglet helped me find that guilt and finally release it.  Thank you Fancy.  Thank you God.  Sometimes there is just nothing you can do, but do your best, and then let it go.    

Friday, October 16, 2015

Seeing Hope

I'm not much of a gardner, and it never seems to really pencil out financially, but   I love it because it adds an extra dash of hope to my days.  

Let me explain:

Today, while planting seeds I realized that  I didn't really see the seed, but instead pictured the plant it would become.

Perhaps I should start doing the same with people.   

Hope, it is a powerful thing.  

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Calving Season


We're very happy with our cows' mass decision to hold their babies until after we got home from our fall hike.  The jury is still out on OUR decision to tag (and band, if necessary) the newborns as soon as we meet them.  The cows we know all seem to slip away from the herd and our sight as the birth becomes imminent.  Often, a week or more can pass before we glimpse the calf, and a few more days pass before mom and newborn are regularly together.   It isn't like we have flat, open pastures where we can easily spot the calves.  The ranch is steep and wooded and full of great hiding spots, so we are having a little bit of difficulty in our new plan. 

In past years we just waited until everyone had calved and rejoined the herd and invited them all to a tagging and banding party.  Easy.   The entire herd was shuffled pen to pen into a crowding alley and then one at a time into a chute for their individual attention; vitamins, minerals, vaccines, tags, etc.   Routine.  But... calves that are only a few days old are more calm and less affected by the handling than their older selves would be.  It is also considered more humane to band the little bulls during the first few weeks of life and the ear tags help us identify each calf as well.   So,  we will try to entice, cajole, seduce, or detain each newborn calf as soon as we view it. 

For those of you who haven't met a newborn calf up close,  they are dewy eyed, pleasant smelling, wobbly-legged emissaries of peace and love, with silky curly hair and innocence.    You just want them to know that they can trust you and that you, also, believe in the possibility of world peace.  

Raising calves for beef, and the goal of world peace seem to have a common difficulty.... too much testosterone.   With our calves, the males receive a shiny green rubber band.  (As to world peace, that is for others to decide.)   This brings to a point the tradeoff with handling newborns.   They are with their moms (and maybe aunts and cousins) in the open, in the woods, on the road.  We must somehow gain their trust long enough to get close enough to catch and hold them to apply a tag and perhaps a band.   Without mom sensing that they need defending,  without the calf deciding to flee (they are WAY faster than a human by day two or three)  and without any of the herd (some of whom just got this treatment) noticing that something is up.  Spycraft, I think.   Cowboying, Tammie says.   Whatever.  

We have so far successfully dealt with the first nine.  Most were uneventful.  One, the biggest, had to be carried and led back to his mom because he just seemed to wander aimlessly after the "treatment".   Another, a female, exacted her toll for allowing the placement of an earring by kicking with a strike like a cobra.   Tammie's jaw still works, just not without pain.    So,  we will see how this latest twist works out.  

 On the plus side, after the first week all of the calves have been treated, and all are still acting like the friendly, curious babies that we met.   



Saturday, September 19, 2015


Our Toyota Landcruiser came home from the mechanic's shop today and we made a little video of it's adventure along the way.  

Speaking of homecomings... I've been gone from this blog for a long time.

In August I traveled to the foreign land of Las Vegas, Nevada to help our daughter make a warm and inviting environment for her kindergartners.  She changed schools so there was a lot of work to be done.  We moved two pick up loads of materials to her new class.  We then  sorted and organized all her materials  plus the materials that were in her new classroom.  We also had all of the regular stuff of classroom setup:  tables, desks, rugs, bulletin boards, name tags, etc.  There is a lot a teacher must do before the little ones arrive.  I get great satisfaction organizing, so I totally got into it.  I also enjoyed all the time with my family there.  Then, I was off to my oldest son's place in the Central Valley for another great visit.  Then,  Mark met me and we headed into the High Sierra for another backpacking adventure.  You can read about it on our hiking blog

When we got home last week, we got the best homecoming gift ever.  RAIN!  A good soaking rain.  It washed everything clean and made the earth smell good.  We should soon see some green grass shooting up and the cattle and hogs will be excited about that.  We are especially grateful that it helped with all of the wildfires our lovely state has been having. 

Life is good.