All was well on my first circle through the cows this morning – not too cold and not too wet. But the National Weather Service had posted a Winter Storm Warning. That confirmed my schedule for the day.
There was a pair in the calving shed that needed attention, and a down cow to feed. I had planned to sort off another batch of heavies, so the next task was to run in the horses. As is my method, I led my Kentucky Colt out the window of the pickup as I drove to the far field and fed off a line of hay near the gate. Then I parked the pickup on the other side of the gate and threw off a little more hay.
The Colt was a little miffed about going to work before breakfast – he first sulled up, then bucked a bit before he went to work.
Most of the cows have calved already so the outside bunch is getting pretty small. And they have become accustomed to us riding through them and cutting some out the gate – most of the sorting was done at a walk. But the Colt went to bucking again when I climbed off to shut the gate behind my cut.
This horse is 10 years old, and still likes to buck occasionally. But he is honest – he only bucks when there is nothing else going on. The ones that are dangerous blow up when you’re in the middle of a job or in a tight spot. I literally put life and limb on the line when this horse goes to working cattle over, under, around, and through the rocks and brush on the West Boulder, and I am still alive to tell about it!
With a fresh bunch of heavies cut into the calving field, I turned the Colt out to eat hay with the rest of the horses and went out to feed the pairs in Coyote Gulch, then swung through to give a short feed to the near pairs and to the heavies.
The "down cow": I had found a cow up west two days ago, who had calved and couldn’t get up – she was one I had missed the last time I cut heavies. Because she was unable to fight them off, predators had consumed her calf - leaving only a few bone fragments. I had hauled her with the tractor into the shed where I could feed and water her and protect her from predators. Her symptoms didn’t line up with any diagnosis that the veterinarian or I could recognize, so I gave her a dose of IV Calcium/Magnesium/glucose to correct any major deficiencies.
It had been snowing steadily but lightly all morning, but the threatened storm had not yet hit. After lunch I caught the buckskin mare to run in a cow that was calving and another heifer who had lost her calf a couple of days before.
The temperature was still hovering around freezing, but it was warm enough that the snow was melting as it fell. By the time I finished the afternoon feeding my gloves were soaked through and my overalls were wet and muddy to the knees.
I had just finished feeding the heavies when I saw a line of cattle coming bawling across the bridge. I ran down with the quad to turn them back and shut the gate behind them. I quickly loaded a bale of straw to take out to those cows to give them a little roughage to nibble on, and to provide some insulation from the cold, wet ground.
(These straw bales weigh 1000# each. They spread out in flakes of about 3" each, and the cattle nose through them looking for residual kernels of grain before they finally lie down on them and enjoy their soft warm bed.)
When I got out to the field with the straw I could see that the cows weren’t really hungry – there was still hay left from their morning feeding – they were simply as frustrated with the weather as I was. Their fur coats were soaked through like my gloves, and the cows were just cold and miserable.
After supper I went down to the shed with the last of the bale of straw. The mud was getting so deep that I spun the tires pretty badly to get out of there and back up onto sod. I could put on chains, but hate to do that – spinning tires aren’t good, but chains dig even deeper into the mud and cause more erosion.
At dark Max the cowdog and I ran the heavies into the shed for the night. This is the first time this season that I thought the weather justified locking them in for the night. Then I took the sled out to haul in a calf born late in the afternoon – this sloppy weather is harder on livestock than colder – and dryer – conditions.
The weather service is still calling for up to a foot of snow by Friday afternoon. I’ve done what I can to provide for my cattle – we’ll see what tomorrow brings.