On the Ranch Journal
Sage Rooster & Hens
|April 2 - Chopping ice out of river headgate
April 3 - Chopping ice cont.
April 4 - Canadian honkers
April 5 - Storm moving in
April 6 - Calving continues...
April 7 - 12-15 calves each day
April 8 - Dollar
April 10 - First gopher of the year
April 11 - The sadder part of calving
April 14 - Lightning strikes the neighbor's haystack
April 15 - Nightly heifer shift
April 16 - Bum calves
April 17 - Jack Snipes
April 18 - Cut dry cows
April 19 - Where are the Bog Frogs?
April 20 - Bog Frogs wake up!
April 23 - 3 weeks ahead of schedule
April 25 - Sage Chicken "Bombers"
April 26 - Dragging
April 27 - Dragging cont...
April 28 - Cris-kabob
April 29 - Still calving
Sunday, April 2 Rudy chopped six feet of ice out of the river headgate, so we can divert some good stock water to the calving field. The chopping job is tough and time-consuming; it will take yet another day to finish the work.
Monday, April 3 Rudy finished chopping out the headgate ice, then cranked open the gates, so the water could begin its wild rush toward the home meadow, two miles away.
Tuesday, April 4 Lots of Canadian Honkers on the river. I love to see them strut about and listen to their jabbering. The river stock water still hasn't made it to the meadow because of the heavily iced up irrigation ditches. Might take several more days to cut its way through.
Wednesday, April 5 Very windy and scattered clouds. Storm moving in from the West Coast. Very warm this afternoon. Snow settled a bunch.
Thursday, April 6 Water made it to the meadow at last. Now, we'll have to regulate its depth and flow to just a gentle, meandering stream. Hard to maintain a consistent level with the cold nights and warm days. Heifers are calving without much assistance - only a watchful eye. Hope it continues. We are always thankful for every "free" calf (unassisted birth). Don't want to have to do a Caesarian Section on any of the little ladies.
Julius Caesar entered this world by means of a surgical procedure named for him - Caesarian Section or C-section. This technique might be referred to as one of the most significant lifesaving methods used by mankind.
Caesarian sections are not used exclusively for the safe delivery of human offspring. For many years ranchers have relied upon this procedure to ensure the safe and successful delivery of their most saleable product - beef cattle.
A lone heifer stands hunched beside the old pinewood barn. She wears the suspicious mask of one troubled by the labor of birth. Other ladies-in-waiting push their ballooned bellies into position at a nearby feeder for a timothy and clover breakfast.
From an obscure position, the rancher and I observe the nervous heifer. She starts to pace around the corral, rubbing her massive sides along the pole fence. Her tasseled tail twitches like that of a cat about to hypnotize the breakfast bird. A white, amniotic fluid-filled sack - her waterbag - can be seen protruding from the birth canal. As it ruptures, one very large hoof is seen projecting from the womb.
The rancher comments that one foot might be back. As the heifer lies upon the frosty ground, her contractions strong and fast in a futile attempt to give birth, a decision is made to manually aid the delivery of her calf. An experienced rancher acquires a sixth sense in dealing with many tough situations. He knows that within a short span of time, and after exhausting normal means of extracting the calf, he might be performing a lifesaving operation. The same procedure might have to be performed if the calf is being born in the "breech" or "head back" positions and couldn't be turned, or if the heifer's pelvic structure is too small to accommodate her progeny.
On this particular ranch, Caesarian sections occur on the average of one or two every ten years. On ranches that are up-to-date on modern technology, C-sections are rare occurrences. Application of a selective breeding program improves herd genetics with respect to bone structure, low birthing weights, high milk ratios, EPD's (Expected Progeny Difference). Common sense practices of sound herd nutrition and selective culling, as well as selective replacing of mother cows, serve to harvest a product with low maintenance and high yield (money and weight).
Struggling to her feet, the mother-to-be is now being driven into the dimly lit barn. Her quick, light steps and extended tail remind me of a dainty lady stepping over a mud puddle. I notice that her eyes are glazed and riveted in a fixed stare because of this new sensation of pain.
The operating theater is a sturdy boxstall in the far corner of the barn. Even though fresh hay has been fluffed upon the floor, I inhale the musty, sour smell of cow manure and urine that lingers in the damp, cool air. The rancher and his hired man move quietly as they escort her into the stall and snap the gate closed. A quick survey of our surroundings reveals cobwebs swaying in the chilling draft. On the far wall a calf pulling apparatus is suspended on 60-penny spikes. Old blood spatterings on its many parts give the impression that this contraption originated in a medieval torture chamber.
Now, the heifer must be maneuvered into an even smaller area constructed with a hinged wooden panel that will restrict all movement when properly adjusted.
Instead, she has plans of her own. Visibly irritated, the angered cow rushes forward attempting to run full length of the men. A charging locomotive would not instill more fear, so a rush of blood and a surge of adrenaline create the primitive "fight or flight" effect. One slip of a cowboy's boot while scaling the smooth logs of the boxstall walls cause a harrowing and painful predicament for the man. During a Kodak moment like this, the cowboy's backward glance reveals the image of the bovine animal that by nature does not have top, front teeth, but suddenly she appears to have sprouted fangs and is blowing fire from flared nostrils. Her long, pointed, sandpaper-like tongue is protruding from a cavernous mouth that bellows distress signals, heralding her inescapable predicament.
Unable to connect with human flesh, the heifer swings wildly into the waiting confinement. A horse halter fashioned to fit a cow's head is slipped into place and snubbed to the barn wall. Further movement is impossible.
By this time the rancher has rushed his hyperactive kids to alert his wife of the impending surgery. "Tell your mom to see if the Procaine, that numbin' stuff, is in-date. Bring lots of catgut and see that the knife (scalpel) is sharp. Oh, yeh, tell her to bring the antiseptic soap, the hemostats, some hot water and lots of clean rags; she knows what to get," he orders after them as they scurry over the last corral fence.
Electric shears slide down the cow's left side clearing soft puffs of hair in preparation of the path that the knife will follow. "All hands and the cook" arrive and enter the stall with brown paper bags and cardboard boxes filled with supplies - a miniature mobile hospital unit. A 250-watt light bulb is turned into a fixture to become the only source of light. Some ranchers know this procedure entirely by feel, so lighting is of little significance.
A quick pumping action of the tail locates the last vertebra in the spine where five to ten milliliters of Procaine is administered epidural style to halt labor contractions. My nose tingles with the smell of Lysol and other aseptic solutions. Strangely, these odors have replaced the strong scent of animal wastes.
The general surgical area is lathered with antiseptic soap and Betadine solution and rinsed with water. Several thrusts of a needle and syringe filled with Novacaine administered at the site of the "excavation area," will allow the procedure to accur painlessly.
The heifer begins to sway. The numbing agent is doing its job. The gate is released so the animal can lie down if she chooses. The rancher and his helpers grab the animal's tail and pull sideways to help her go down with the left side upward. (Some surgeons prefer the right side, and some prefer that the cow remain standing.) Her head is still halter-tied to the wall.
Now the air is filled with blood-pulsing tension as the pace quickens. I observe sweat beads forming on pinched brows. "Hand me the knife! Let's get this calf out before it drowns," commands the man.
I watch in amazement as the rancher works deftly, hands steady like those of a skilled surgeon slicing human flesh. I decide that both are equally committed to a common cause - the preservation of life. Beneath the mound of black hide exists a life-form that is at the mercy of the man with the knife.
Soundlessly and smoothly like a skater's blade gliding across a mirror of ice, the scalpel slides downward through the massive form. First layer - the hide. Done. The subdural level is next. Done. Muscle tissue. Okay! The uterus pushes upward from the pressure created by the surrounding organs and intestines. Care is taken so that the contents do not spill onto the boxstall floor. The uterus, normally a pear-shaped organ, is grotesquely misshapen by the unborn form waiting within.
The assistants stare unblinking as the final incision is made. With shirtsleeves rolled to the shoulder, the rancher plunges his hand into the fluid searching for a hind hoof. The liquid splashes onto the man's overalls and steam rises from the pool of life, as the search continues for a limb to retrieve the helpless calf. A final examination of the "birth bed" yields the much-sought leg. Tracing to its source assures the location of its mate. The rancher pulls both feet from the womb and hands one leg to his nearest helper. With an effort produced in unison, the two men pull the calf from its mother's side.
Voices shout, "Shake it up and down so the mucous can drain!"
"Is it breathing?
Will it need CPR?"
"No, it's alive!"
"Great! I really didn't want to give the slimy, little thing mouth-to-mouth!"
Although mouth-to-nose resuscitation is intriguing to witness and extremely successful in application, the new calf will not need it. The first, rattling gasp for life has occurred during the shaking process. Already, the little bull calf is trying to hold his head upright.
Attention is returned to the mother who will be sutured, filled with antibiotics and left lying where she can see and smell her new calf. If infection doesn't set in, and if she doesn't abandon her maternal instincts, she'll forget the pains of surgery and proudly bring her healthy offspring to the weigh scales in the fall.
On tiptoes we creep softly from the operating stage, like a parent proudly leaving a sleeping baby's room. I reflect on what has just occurred and conclude that livestock are a ranch's "bread and butter." They bathe in pride and revel in the satisfaction of the battles they win, and learn lessons from those that they lose. Chance makes them "jacks-of-all-trades." Experience makes them "masters-of-many."
Friday, April 7 Calves are being born at a rate of about 12-15 each day. This number is just about right to care for and make sure that the little ones are up and nursing, and feeling quite content with life. Heidi, the Brown Swiss milk cow, gave birth to a "beige-colored" heifer calf early this morning. Each year, I let her calve down in the pasture in her own familiar territory, because she prefers the quiet and privacy of the willow patch. After the calf was licked dry and had nursed, Rudy and I loaded it into a little 4-wheeler cart, and with Heidi following, we transported the pair to the barn where I began my twice daily milk maid duties. It will be 11 milkings until we can use her milk for human consumption. It takes about that long (5-1/2 days) till the swelling, fluid, and colostrum in her bag has subsided. We'll feed her extra colostrum to other needy newborns.
Saturday, April 8 A horse trainer friend dropped off a bay, 3-year old filly that he'd started. Her name is Dollar; she belongs to my sister and brother-in-law. I'll ride her through the spring to give her some experience with being around cattle and the open countryside, then they'll probably sell her.
Monday, April 10 We saw the first gopher of the year. The ground must have thawed enough to awaken the little varmints. Heard rumors that my bog frogs are thawing out and are on their way upcountry! I took the little twin calf down to the milk barn and let her get her fill on Heidi. My nephews have been helping me bottle feed her whenever they come around, but by putting the calf onto the milk cow, at this stage, it will remind her that she's still a calf and not a human bottle baby. Then if we ever get a new mom for her (a cow that loses her own calf for some reason), the twin will "graft" with greater ease.
Tuesday, April 11 Our horseshoer came by about 8 a.m. to shoe three horses. It was a warm, quiet morning, so the horses cooperated with the inconvenience pretty well. They are veteran saddle horses and have been shod many times before. While in labor during the middle of the night, a big, heavy cow got on her back in an irrigation ditch. Sadly, by daybreak, both the cow and calf were dead - a nice mama cow and calf gone, and a $1,000 loss to the ranch. Such is this life.
Friday, April 14 I put another orphan calf onto the milk cow this morning. This little heifer's mom was kicking her away - just up and decided that she didn't want to be a mom after all. The spring weather has made all the animals (and teenage bikers!) very frisky and full of mischievous. Oh yes, those carefree, energetic days of youth! Thunderhead clouds began forming in the mid-afternoon, and by early evening - accompanied by our first shots of lightning - a cold, wet, sleet and hailstorm swallowed the valley for about one hour. The sun did come out later, though, and by dark had melted the one-half inch of slush. Luckily, it was warm going into the night to stay above the freezing mark. We heard that our neighbor lost a haystack (1000 bales) to a hot, destructive bolt of lightning during this storm. What a way to start the summer season! But, thankfully, no one was hurt, and our local volunteer fire department put out the fire before it spread across the dry, grassy meadows.
Saturday, April 15 Most of the calves are looking fit and healthy, soaking up the sunshine, and growing like the dandelions that are sprouting everywhere. Little shoots of green grass are trying to get a foothold, wherever there's some protection from the still frosty nights. The full moon has been peaking through the cloud coverage around midnight - my last heifer shift before bedtime - and the star constellations are absolutely brilliant. So bright, in fact, that they seem alive, twinkling and laughing in great delight. I always pause for a little while on my way home each night just to stand and gaze at this majesty.
Sunday, April 16 Still have two bum calves doing the timeshare thing with the milk cow and her calf. Yesterday a little calf was born in the older cows with some health problems. It has an extended, spongy belly, and probably won't live, so its mom will become a foster mother candidate to one of my bum babies.
Monday, April 17 Early this morning, I had to smile as I did my chores. Not only can I now enjoy the Robin Redbreast's first chorus of the day, but the Jack Snipes, too, have finally returned with their unique wing whistle, "Whooo, whooo, whooo," as they dive through the damp and cloudy, morning air, catching the brave first-of-the-season flying insects.
Tuesday, April 18 Saddled up and cut dry cows (cows that have either lost a calf or are barren (dry) this season) away from the cows and calves. These "unemployed" gals (having nothing better to do with their time) tend to harass and trample through the new babies. This creates a nuisance and a great risk of hurting or confusing the newborns and their moms. Therefore, we simply cut them into a field where they'll finish the feeding season all by themselves. Also, we moved some of the older cow/calf pairs into a nearby, fresh meadow. Scattering them out helps keep down scours and other illnesses, and helps keep the moms and kids from mixing up and causing trouble.
Wednesday, April 19 Dang it. Still no bog frogs to sing their hearts out to me. Soon, soon, I hope!
Thursday, April 20 Yes! This afternoon, a couple of frogs finally awakened from the long winter's nap! We were checking the calves in the meadow when I heard that familiar and beautiful frog harmony in a nearby slough. It sure made me smile.
A very HAPPY EASTER to everyone!
Tuesday, April 25 Sage chickens (we call 'em "bombers" because they fly so low and slow and seem barely to hang in the spring air) are making their annual migration back to our area.
Wednesday, April 26 Started dragging the meadows and pastures this a.m. We pull/drag a heavy, 25-foot contraption behind a tractor to spread a year's supply of cow manure into an evenly distributed form of natural fertilizer. This really makes the new grass grow thick and lush. Now we need a warm, gentle 24-hour rain drizzle to help the hay crop get a perfect start.
Thursday, April 27 Dragging meadows all afternoon at Horse Creek, again. Very windy and dusty - choking, powdery alkali is boiling and burning my nose and eyeballs. Storm clouds trying to get it together on the western horizon.
Friday, April 28 Another one of those dragging days on Horse Creek. But, the job is so peaceful, with lots of time to think and plan the days yet to come. I steered the tractor past an empty haystack pen, and laughed to myself as I recalled last year's encounter with a nesting sandhill crane. The momma was setting on her nest in a stand of dry cattail leaves. I didn't see her before she spotted me. When I got close to the fence, she jumped up, and instead of running away, big momma sprang into the air on long, limber legs that looked and performed like well-oiled coil springs. Whoa! Michael Jordan, eat your heart out - that ol' girl could jump! When she landed, she was on my side of the fence, and I swear that if birds had teeth she danged sure was gnashing hers - at me. All of this happened in bursts of split seconds, and me - well, I'm still driving toward her, trying to decide which way to go so I won't rile her even more. Still, the massive bird continued her mad, determined advance, charging headlong toward the Massey Ferguson tractor and me. Mother Crane's long neck was outstretched like a long piece of uncooked spaghetti, and her very long, very sharp beak put the sharp tip on one very upset "spear." I knew she was planning to make a shish kabob of me! By now, I had responded and wheeled the tractor away from the stackyard fence, looking over my shoulder the whole way. But still, she rumbled after me, wings spread, eyes like black holes, and fully zeroed in on her target. I'd just about come to the conclusion that I was facing a motherly instinct and fury beyond what I'd ever seen before, when she stopped dead in her tracks and headed back to her nest - probably holding 2-3 eggs, I would guess. I sure didn't try to count 'em. Needless to say, I left "her" piles of cow poop alone, and detoured around the nest for the rest of the day.
Saturday, April 29 Still calving right along. Every day we cut out cow/calf pairs into fresh fields. The little fellas are really growing and thriving this season, and branding time is creeping up fast.
|The Pearson Angus Ranch is located approximately 2 miles
northwest of Daniel, and 11 miles west of Pinedale, Wyoming. Cris can be
reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyrights: Photos and page text content copyrighted,
Cris Paravicini, 1999-2000. Drawing of Daniel Schoolhouse by Teresa Shenefelt.
No part may be reproduced without permission of the author/photographer.
Page graphics copyrighted, Pinedale Online, 2000.