So I would like to thank all the people that have waited around on this page. This past year has been a blur and I have decided to hand the reins over to my daughter. Maybe she will pay more attention to it than I do… we’ll see. Buckle up. I think that she’ll keep it a little better updated. 😉
Well dang. That moment you realize it’s been a year since you sat down and typed up something for your blog. Wow. Time flies.
Let’s do a quick recap of the last year!
#3 is still here!!! YEA! After reading my blog post about her, our neighbor called. Said he had an embroy transfer calf that’s mama was old and he felt that she wasn’t growing well. So, he wondered if I wanted to try to graft her on to my beloved. Three days and they loved eachother! #3 raised her clear out to weaning and then we sent her home! Great success story. Now, she’s bred back to calve again in late March or early April. Here’s hoping all goes well this year!
Liz got another job! Well, as I don’t seem to have enough going on in my life (insert sarcastic laugh here); I took on a new endeavor. In November, I was accepted as the Executive Secretary of the Nebraska Sheep & Goat Producers Association. I am truly loving this job. Gives me something to do instead of coming home from my other job and sitting around staring at the TV.
It’s just kinda been organized chaos around here since I last posted. I will work harder to keep things up to date in the future!
As a rancher, I know, no matter how hard you try, there will always be one of those critters that picks at your heart strings a little harder than the rest. You will latch onto them like the abominable snowman and “George.” And no matter what they do or how they act, you will love them all the same.
My “George” is #3. She is an adorable lady. She also happens to stick out like a sore thumb amongst our herd. Why you ask? Because she is a red cow amongst a sea of black. Genetics have always fascinated me, but are a complicated subject. So to explain why she is red even though she had black parents; it goes back to recessive genes and more complicated lingo that I don’t care to dive into right now. Just know, that she could have been black, but she chose (well not really…but in my mind she did) to be different and for that…I have always liked her. To be the red cow in a herd of black.
It also helps that she is the sweetest lady. When caking, she stands patiently (no, I do not bake a cake and take it out to the cows. I have Distillers Cubes that I feed them for extra calories). She will stand and wait for her turn and for her patience, I normally reward her with a handful of cubes she doesn’t need to eat off the ground. Straight from the palm Baby!
As a rancher, you come to realization early on that no matter how hard you try, you cannot save every single animal on your place. You will try and it will break your heart, EVERYTIME. I know that and have been reminded that every time I get in the dumps about loosing one. That does not make it any easier of the load to bare.
So, March 17th rolls around. #3 is standing down in a grove of cedars. She’s doing little “mommy moos.” (I call them this for lack of better words. The cow before she calves will start quietly mooing and when the baby is born, she will do it to him too. Little I love Yous). Now, generally, when a cow starts doing these and secludes herself from the herd, it’s go time. But, the day ends without a calf.
I really didn’t give it any thought. Maybe she just needed to be alone. I mean, I need that time to myself. Next day, same thing. Next day, same thing. Now I’m getting worried. I call Hubs up (he really likes it when I call during work). “No. Three is acting strange,” I tell him. “Does she have any mucous?” He asks. “Nope. Just standing there. Looks like her bags full, but I can’t say as I’ve seen any signs of water breaking or anything.” I reply. “She’s fine. Leave her alone. See ya later.” Call ends.
Well, ok. So leaving her alone. Waiting for water to boil…same deal.
So now March 20th rolls around. It’s go time. I see a sack hanging out. I get all giddy. She is an excellent calver. She has HUGE calves every year with no problem. I decide she’s feeling too nervous with me watching, so I leave to go inside and eat me some chow. While there, I folded some laundry. About an hour and half later, I run out to check her. No hurry, she’s got this. Doesn’t need me.
What?!? She’s standing by the creek, drinking. “Well, she must have the calf hiding and came down to get a drink.” I run (haha…ok…drive the mule) around looking for a calf. No calf. Hmmmm. This is NOT good.
So I run home and grab Trusty Stead. We trot down and bring up mama. On the way up, my heart sinks. The fluid she is leaking is yellow instead of clear or blood tinged. I know that means the calf has defecated while in utero and that means that it is stressed. Get her in the head gate. Sleeve up and disinfect. I stick my arm in to find a tail and a butt. Now I know I’m in trouble. Calf is coming backwards. In these cases, you need to be quick or the calf with suffocate. I grabbed the side of the calf in utero and pinched hard. No response. Calf is dead. My heart dies inside. Now, I get to try to get a calf out, knowing that the reward is gone. It is gut wrenching. But I know, that it has to come out.
This calf is big and it is backwards. So now, I have to push the butt back out of the canal and try to grab a foot and pull it up into the canal, then the other foot. However, I am 5’4″ and though I was standing on the rails and trying like heck, I could not even grab a foot, hardly could grasp a flank. Because of the way the calf was positioned I could not physically get in the womb far enough to do any good.
Here again, I’m on the phone. Though this time it’s to the neighbors. “Hey Troy, are you super busy? Well, I got an issue. I have a calf backwards and my arms are not physically long enough to grab the feet to pull the calf. Is there any way that you could swing over and give me a hand?” THANK GOD FOR GOOD NEIGHBORS! Troy was able to get in there and manipulate the calf enough to get the feet around and he could pull it then. Just then, neighbor #2 shows up…always good to have a backup.
I weighed the heifer calf and she was a little over 120 pounds. Big Girl. But she didn’t make it. She was dead before she hit the ground. Poor #3 was devastated. She walked around mama mooing for hours. She tried to claim the lambs, then latched onto the pig…much to the pig’s dismay. The pig finally abandoned ship and broke through the fence to get away from the cow.
Now in these situations, you can do a few different things. One of which is to get a calf to graft onto her. I looked around to several places, but I couldn’t see paying what they were asking for a bucket calf when the price of calves has gone down considerably and shows no promise of going back up to where it was last year. I would be paying over half of what a feeder calf was worth for a day old baby. Takes too much profit to do something along those lines.
So as much as I HATE to see her go, instead of looking for a calf for the cow, I’m looking for a home with calves for the cow or at least one that she can be rebred and calve for someone else. Economically, it is not feasible for us to keep her without a calf. Pastures are a scarce resource and high priced commodity. She would be eating too much and not raising anything to pay that bill. It’s like going to the grocery store and charging your account everyday and at the end of the year, not paying your bill. Store manager (me) is not gonna be happy footing your bill all year without anything to show for it.
The thought of her being sold for slaughter at the age of eight breaks my heart. She raises a phenomenal calf every year and is just too dang sweet. It was not her fault that the calf came backwards and so I hold nothing against her. But I do hold myself accountable for the calf’s loss as I should have known things weren’t going well from the get go. All the signs were there, I just chose not to listen. I pray I can find her a good home where she can have a second chance. She’s too good of a “George” to just let go.
What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of the word Cowboy? Is it John Wayne in a western movie telling them doggies to get along? How about the old fashion cowboy verses Indian stories? A rough stock rider in a rodeo? How about a guy racing across a pasture to get ahead of the stampeding cattle? Or is it a more romantic notion, like the painting of the man horseback carrying a Hereford calf home?
I’ve heard the word cowboy often used derogatorily to refer to someone with poor cattle handling skills or girls that call themselves Cowgirls but have no experience with cattle. A quick search of the word “Cowboy” on Bing brings you to two definitions. The first definition will be included later but the second one is the one that bothers me. “A person who is reckless or careless, …” Quite frankly, it drives me nuts to hear the misuse of the word.
Let’s dissect the word Cowboy for a minute. Cow – a female bovine critter. Boy/Girl – the sexual orientation of an individual. So, by very definition of the word, a person of a certain sexual orientation should have had experience with a bovine critter to be referred to as Cowboy or Cowgirl. The first definition I was referring to earlier is: “a man, typically one on horseback, who herds and tends cattle, especially in the western US and as represented in westerns and novels.” Notice in this definition it says “herds and tends cattle?”
The Cowboy Responsibility
So onward with my ramblings. I will begrudgingly refer to myself as a cowgirl. For me, it is a badge earned and not taken, so I hate referring to myself as a cowgirl, though proudly wear it when called Cowgirl. My husband is a cowboy. He can outride most people I know. The man knows no fear. He literally risks his life to save a calf’s life. No kidding. I have seen the aftermath of his crashes where his horse missteps and flips over going at high rates of speed while trying to rope a sick calf . And folks, though it is sick, it can still run…it is part of evolution. Evolution has lead a sick herd animal to perk up and look healthy and naturally gravitate to the center of a herd or flock to “look” healthy. Then when singled out, the animal has short burst of speed to save it from being eaten.
It’s my husband and my responsibility as cowboys and ranchers to insure that our livestock as well fed and healthy. We take it very personally when we see a sick animal. That means, at some point, our management has had a breakdown. Was it a missed or ineffective vaccine? Was it a poor feed source? Did they ingest a poisonous plant in which we should have been aware or maybe even ate some net wrap? Did they not have enough access to a clean water source? Many things can cause a sick critter, but it is our job to decide what the most effective and humane treatment for the animal.
Horses and Our Operation
We have chosen to utilize our horses as effective means of capture containment of the bovine if we deem it necessary to treat. Why? I’m so glad you asked! Well, first off, a horse can travel anywhere a cow can. So, we can cross creeks and rough terrain without having to find a passable spot for the ATV or pickup. Horses are also faster than cattle (well, at least most horses). That means that during those short bursts of speed that evolution has so nicely instilled in the fight or flight reflex of these animals, we are able to catch them quickly. Quickness eases the stress on the cattle. Often, we (cough…I mean Joe) are able to throw a quick lope and catch them while they are in the herd. So, there is no running involved at all.
But Doesn’t It Hurt?
But what about the rope? Doesn’t it hurt the cattle? I relate it to the rubber band turniquet thingie (I know…super technical there) they put on your arm to pop veins for blood draws. It is there for a short period of time. Then when it’s off, after a very short few seconds, you don’t even realize it was there. The rope is only tight for a short period of time. I have actually timed us from the point of the rope on the calf, through doctoring, to let up. It took us less than three minutes. How many of the nurses you know can draw blood that fast? Efficiency is the name of the game. When Hubs gets a head loop on, I’ve got to be there to throw that heal loop and make it catch. Then the calf is tugged, gracefully falls to its side and one of us already has the treatment in a syringe, jumps off the horse, administers the treatment according to Beef Quality Assurance standards and then starts throwing loops off before remounting. The calf jumps back up and runs back to the herd (ever heard of the term herd bound?)
Why Not Use A Catch Pen?
But wouldn’t it make more sense to take the sick animal to a catch pen and catch it in a head gate? To be honest, yes, sometimes it would be a good option. When there are multiple sick cattle or you need to vaccinate, yes a catch pen with a good head gate is an amazing tool.
Here’s the deal with most of the pastures we ride. These are rough, canyon filled pastures. There is a reason in our part of the country that land is not farmed. It is full of ditches and ruts and cattle paths and holes and drop-offs. There is no way a tractor can maneuver around them.
Cattle are not stupid critters. Don’t let their wide set eyes deceive you. I’ve been outsmarted by a sneaky old cow who has seen the catch pen one too many times before. They know those pastures better than anyone. They live in those pastures. They know where to go when it gets hairy. Whether it is where to hunker down during a blizzard or disappear into the trees when they get scared, they know the good nooks and crannies.
So, when we try to pull a single animal from the herd to run it to a catch pen, their first instinct is to what? Run and hide. So, now we are on a trot or run. Then we’re pushing a sick animal possibly hundreds of acres to a catch pen. Back and forth we go, as they try to escape you and get back to the herd. They’re panicked. “Where did my friends go? I need the safety of my herd.” They’re adrenaline is pumping, their pupils dilate, they’re breathing quickens. They get hot and lathered. They’re sick; they don’t feel well much less feel like cooperating or going to that dang pen. Think about what you would feel like if you were sick and then someone pushed you to run a marathon. Do you think that your treatment would be effective with your vitals sky high and temperature through the roof?
Just Move the Whole Herd…duh!
So why don’t you just run the whole herd up to the catch pen? That is a great idea for bringing home pairs or shipping out. But…instead of catching a single animal and doctoring it where it stands, you’re thinking we should run the whole herd to another part of the pasture? Then when we get all the cattle into the sorting pen, sorting off one critter? The horses are hot, the cattle are worked up and now we get to sort off one calf. This whole process could take several hours. Doesn’t sound like the best option to me, when we can rope a calf and have it doctored in less than three minutes.
What are you talking about this for anyway?
I guess the point of this rambling was to tell you, us Cowboys and Cowgirls don’t take the career lightly. We wear that badge with honor. Next time you see a guy or gal slowly meandering around in a herd of cattle with his rope ready to swing at a moment’s notice, know there is a lot more going on under that hat than a ‘Yea Haw’ and ‘Getty Up Pony.’ When we have a sick animal, we think in terms of efficiency and efficacy and overall herd health. That my friends, is why when you call someone a Cowboy because they are careless or a Cowgirl because they ride a horse…it irritates me to the very depths of my soul.
“Some call it the middle of nowhere, I call it the center of my world!”
The Ranch – My Heritage
I grew up on the ranch where we currently live. My parents and grandparents staked claim to this land. I guess that makes me a proud, third generation rancher on this spread, who’s raising the fourth generation the only way I know how, ranching.
The ranch isn’t big. It doesn’t have mountains or flowing rivers. It isn’t covered in a waving sea of yellow sunflowers nor green tasseling corn in the summer. It’s rather mundane, flat and boring. However, there is a pride associated with this piece of dirt that only heritage can provide.
My kids run the fields and pastures. They climb the creeks and fish the ponds, same as I did and my dad did before me. My great grandparents planted tiny acorn trees in the harsh ground, which now tower over a lot providing the horses and cattle shade from the fierce sun. My uncle placed the rafters over the old hay loft that graced the middle of the old barn and there were rumors floating around of my aunt dangling from them waiting for Grandma and Grandpa to rescue her.
The ranch has changed so much just since I grew up. First and foremost, the title of the land has shifted from farm (crop production) to ranch (livestock production). Two small words with huge management differences. A tall tree that makes small appearances in photos from my youth now lay in my basement to be burned to heat this old house. Buildings that stood proud in the back yard are now demolished. There are fences my grandparents put in, we replaced and now my future grandchildren will hopefully get to replace.
Why Do I Do It?
A ranch is a burden and a blessing wrapped into this beautiful package. It’s a romantic life, but certainly not for the faint of heart. Hard work, long hours, high inputs, cold winters, hot summers and drought are just some of the daily struggles ranchers face. But the pay is phenomenal. And no, I’m not talking about those green dollars growing on trees around here (insert sarcastic laugh). I’m referring to my blessings as my salary.
Watching a mama lick the slick babes as they’re born and listening to her sweetly “telling” them she’ll care for them till the end, that she loves them like no other and that she will risk her life to save them. Watching that slick baby make his first wobbly steps miraculously driven to the udder and swallowing those first few gulps of liquid gold (aka life sustaining colostrum). Planting a seed in the soil and waiting and watching for that first sprout to pop out and say hello, heaving a sigh of relief that it was not a futile effort to plant them. And yes, even getting to say goodbye to your old partners. Those that you have watched come into the world, take those first steps, grow into an amazing animal who you look forward to seeing daily and then comforting them in those last few breaths, knowing you gave them a great life.
I’ve had the privilege of watching my children slowly growing into strong, passionate, caring individuals through hard work and small lessons along the way. My daughter (nine years old) can now teach a lamb to nurse an inexperienced ewe. Her patience is unmatched on this ranch. My son (six years old) is the doer. You tell him something needs done and he’ll do his best to get it done. They draw a small wage for their efforts that hopefully someday will help them pay for their colleges, but their contributions to the ranch and our family are simply irreplaceable.
Will my kiddos stay and work the land and care for the livestock, take over my legacy? I’m not sure. And to be honest, I don’t know that I want them to carry that burden. While, I’m certain there is no better way to grow up and live, as a mother, I wonder if they need to struggle during their lives as we have done. If they need to work their fingers raw and collapse in your chore clothes in the chair because you simply don’t have the muster to change before bed. As a mother, I think maybe they should be a banker or a lawyer instead and fight for those one percent of the nation who have a small voice. Or maybe a doctor, who understands that when a rancher comes to the doctor, he or she certainly is not feeling well. Maybe an agricultural education would be a noble profession so they can teach the youth about where their food comes and how farms and ranches really work. It would be hard to watch them chose a profession off the ranch, but would I understand? You Betcha!
Only time will tell if they will have a strong sense of pride associated to this piece of dirt as I do, and the drive to make the ranch work when times get tough. But one thing is for sure, I will do my best and try my hardest to give them that opportunity. The same opportunities my parents gave me. The opportunity to carry on a family tradition.