Thursday, March 31, 2016

Making Wages

            Calving is a time of vigilance in the northern country.  In addition to the normal perils involved with birthing, one must add the weather factor.  So during this time of the year the focus of the life of a ranch cowboy is on his cows.   

  • Read here for more background: Calving.

            Most cows calve unassisted, and lead their calves away to join the herd.  Days, and even weeks can go by without any trouble.  A guy can get careless after he has seen dozens of calves born without help.  But a cowboy must always be on the watch.  This week we made wages.

     I’d noticed a cow calving as I rode out to cut heavies. 

       In fact, she had a foot out.  It was snowing, so I diverted from my primary mission to put her in the shed before I rode ‘up west’ to cut heavies.  But when I returned an hour and a half later she hadn’t yet calved.
            The cow was now in the shed, so I no longer needed a horse to run her in.  After turning out my horse I filled a jug with warm soapy water and took the Gator down to check on her.

            Two feet were presenting, but pointing to the side.  In a correct presentation the two front feet have their soles pointing downward as if they were diving out of the womb.  I ran her into the headcatch, put on gloves and reached inside.

            By that time the soles of her feet were pointing upward – the calf was coming backwards!

            I quickly slipped the calving chains onto the feet and attached the calf-puller.  I must get the calf out quickly before it suffocated.

 how to use a calf puller

            But with the help of the puller, it was no time before the calf was out on the ground.  As soon as his mother was released from the headcatch she turned and began licking him off.

            Had I not seen this cow, she would have continued straining to expel the calf until she was exhausted.  The placenta would have detached from her uterus, the calf would have died, and eventually the cow herself would have succumbed to sepsis.

            My intervention had saved the calf, which will be worth $1000 this fall.  We made wages!

            Today we saved another calf: 

            We’d missed the cow when we cut heavies from the "outside" bunch a couple of days ago and she calved this morning in a hayfield up west.  We had fresh snow on top of mud, and the calf hadn’t gotten up to nurse.

            The calf was a mile and a half from the house, so Eric ran out with the Gator and a sled to bring him in.  Rather than following her calf in the sled, the cow took off in another direction.

            As I have mentioned several times, horses are becoming a thing of the past.  Many ranches – including most of my neighbors - use ATVs to handle their cattle.  But I still don’t know how they do it.  We went back down with horses.

            It didn’t take long to spot the errant cow.  We picked up a few more with her, and brought the little bunch into the shed.

            When we returned to the calf who was now in the shed, I thought he was dead.  But it was warmer in the shed, with soft straw to lie on. 

            We ran the cow into the headcatch and milked her out into a nipple bottle.  It took only seconds before the calf responded to the warm fluid in his mouth, and he sucked the bottle dry.  It won’t be long now until he is up and sucking on his own.

            Had we left him out in the field he’d have been dead by morning; but we saved another one.  That paid a cowboys wages for another two weeks!

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