Monday, March 14, 2011

Making Wages

This morning started a little later than usual - by the clock.  With daylight savings time, first light now comes at 7:00 when I make my first round through the heavies.  The temperature was 45 degrees and all was well. 

Because it was still dark, I ate breakfast before I went out, rather after the first circle, then went on to feed the horses and the heifers.  I loaded up hay for the outside cow herd, and was headed to the barn to catch a horse.  My plan was to feed those cows closer to headquarters this morning and cut heavies again.

It was drizzling rain however, and I remembered a couple of phone calls I needed to make, so I put off the horse-catching for awhile.

Then a real squall blew in with wind and snow, and it was almost time to start lunch.

Those cows were still waiting to be fed, and I especially wanted to cut out heavies if the weather was going to be bad, so after lunch I donned chaps, down vest, and a slicker and headed out to do what needed to be done.

I'd just gotten started down the road toward the cows when the pickup suddenly dove toward the bank.  Cranking the wheel back toward the middle of the road I gunned the engine and tried to power out of it, but the back end slewed toward the edge and a hind wheel dropped over.
I had only gone a few feet with the tire over the edge before I shut it down.  If a second tire were to slide over the bank the pickup would surely roll down and stop downside-up in the irrigation ditch below.

The soil on the West Boulder is predominantly a fine glacial silt.  It is good rich soil - around the rocks - and grows nice grass and hay.  But it is fragile: when it is wet it turns to pudding, and when it is dry it turns to dust.  Erosion is a real threat, and I make every effort not to wear out or break through the sod.

It had been warm for several days - the frost was coming out of the ground and snowbanks were melting.  Tire chains probably would have kept me stable on this road to the west side of the ranch, but they would also dig deeper into the mud and make things worse for next time.

As I hiked back toward the shop I weighed my options.  Lying in the mud and putting on chains was one option; The  four-wheel-drive tractor was another.  It was the precarious position of the pickup with no margin for error that made me opt for the tractor.

After connecting to the hay wagon I pulled in on the uphill side of the pickup and threw the hay out onto the wagon.  I was about to head out to continue my feeding when I heard the rumble of the neighbor's pickup.  He had picked this very time to stop by and pay a visit to my mother-in-law.

Dropping the wagon on the road ahead I returned to the pickup and connected a heavy chain to the rear bumper.  With Stuart at the wheel I raised the rear of the pickup and hoisted it back up onto the road.  In the meantime, both front wheels slid over the bank, swinging the pickup down by its tail toward the ditch below.

But the tractor was bigger and more powerful, with more traction.  We soon had the pickup back on level ground.  Tragedy averted!

In the meantime the rain had turned to snow.  I tied my horse to the back of the hay wagon, fed the cows, and cut out the heavies.  Mission accomplished.

As I fed the heavies I noticed a heifer calving.  When I returned a half hour later she was up again and walking around.  I ran her into the shed.
An hour later I returned, armed with warm soapy water.  The heifer still hadn't gotten the job done so I ran her into the stanchion, trapped her head, and pulled a gate tight against her side.  Stripping off my coat and watch and rolling up my sleeves, I pulled on a pair of arm-length veterinary obstetrical gloves and went in after the calf with a set of calving chains.

(These chains are very similar to a dog's choke-collar, 2-3 feet long, with loops on both ends.)

Both feet were in the birth canal, but there wasn't much room.  This was just a 2-year-old heifer who hadn't reached her mature size, and the calf was relatively large.  It took some struggle and manipulation to get the loops positioned above the calf's wrists, but I was encouraged to feel him wiggle as I worked.

When both feet were snared I reached for the calf-puller - a metal rod about 5 feet long with a yolk at one end to fit around the heifer's thighs. 
Ratcheting the chains up tight, I waited for a contraction - then applied downward force to pull on the calf while his mother strained.  When the contraction ended I used the ratchet to snug up the distance we had gained, then pumped on the handle of the puller again with the next contraction - just like landing a fish.

It was a tough pull, but successful.  The calf was soon out in the cold bright world breathing on his own.

Had I not assisted in a timely fashion the calf would have died.  And without intervention, the mother would also have succumbed in a few days.  This calf will bring some $750 come fall - I made wages today!

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