A slight obsession of late.
I am admittedly not techie. I got my smart phone long after everyone else. But in recent weeks, I have discovered that one of my very favorite things about it is the camera. Don’t get me wrong, I love my big Canon, but it is a bit of a production to take it with me. Particularly if I am in the middle of other things. But having my phone in my back pocket to snap a pix when I come across it, has been so very cool. And many of the pictures have been enhanced with the Instagram settings. I hope I am not becoming one of those constant posters, but I am loving some of the shots I have got and now I will share on the blog.
If worrying was an art, I would be Vincent Van Gogh.
Here on the Canadian Prairies, January can be a very cold time of year. When the temperatures drop, it just makes sense that we need to be a little more vigilant with our livestock to make sure they have the energy and the shelter that they need to stay warm and healthy. Horses, cattle, sheep, etc need to have a bit more food and shelter on these cold days.
This means that when the weather drops, we bundle up in as much clothing as we can find and head outside, working long hours to make sure everyone is doing well.
And so I head out to check the herd and feed them a little extra hay on this fine, bright, crisp morning. The temperature is -43C with the wind-chill.
As I approach the herd, I see something that no one wants to see – a dead cow!
So, I begin to ponder all of the tragedies that may have befallen this poor girl.
Did she fall in the night, and now couldn’t get up? I worry about that, because if only I had known I would have come out and helped her.
Did she have pneumonia or some other form of illness? Well, at first I know this can’t be true because I would have noticed something like that….but wait….my son fed the cows yesterday, and being 18 and distracted he may not have been as vigilant when looking over the cattle. In fact, he may not even have noticed. Or worse, he may have noticed and forgotten to mention anything to me.
Now I am a worried, angry mess.
To completely freak myself out, I begin to calculate what percentage of the herd this cow’s death represents. Let’s see….I have a little herd of 16 cows, so this is 1/16 of my herd that died this morning. So to compare, when we had our big herd of 700 cows, this would have been like losing 43.75 cows in one day!! Oh my god!! We have never had a death loss like this on our farm. Clearly I am a total failure….and this worries me.
Oh, wait. She picked up her head as I went by the pen with the tractor and a bale.
Great! I don’t have a dead cow, but she’s clearly a downed cow who is too sick to get up.
My Animal Health Technician brain kicks in and methodically tells me in her annoying clinical voice that this is probably impaction. Due to the fact that these cows are eating hay and licking snow for moisture, her gut has probably become impacted and we need to get her stomach contents moving. I’ve seen this before, and it can go downhill very quickly. My clinical AHT voice scolds me for allowing these cows to lick snow for moisture instead of having them on a nice warm watering bowl that I get to thaw and chop at all winter long….even though cattle have been licking snow for moisture for hundreds of thousands of years with few ill effects. Maybe it hasn’t been that long….I really have no idea of how long, but it’s been a long time.
As I pick up another bale and head toward the gate, I worry over the possible treatments that I can offer to this poor girl. I decide that the best immediate remedy is to administer a solution of warm water and mineral oil into her stomach to grease up the contents and get them moving south….or more appropriately, ‘West’ due to the direction she is laying.
In my mind, I find the tube that I will use and I take an inventory of our drug shelf and determine that we have a jug of mineral oil there. I worry and ponder which restraint methods will be best to keep her still while I convince her that oil down her throat is the best thing for her to do this morning. Surprisingly, cows don’t always agree with our methods when we are trying to help them.
Of course, she’s probably so sick that she won’t even put up a fight and I can just slip in there and take care of business.
Opening the gate, it’s like a miracle has happened.
The cow gets up and has a big stretch….not the actions of a sick cow.
She cocks her tail and moves her bowels ‘West’….not the actions of an impacted cow.
She shakes her head and walks toward the group chewing her cud….
She takes charge and moves the other cows away from the hay so that she can be a big pig and eat more than her share. Clearly a very healthy cow.
So, as the day went on and I periodically slipped outside to check and make sure she truly was fine I came to realize that I worry a bit too much….which of course worries me.
On my last check, I knew that she had been fine all along, and was just enjoying the fact that when it’s sunny and -43 with the wind-chill, it’s a good day to be a black cow laying in the sun.
As I looked around at the beautiful snow sparkling on such a bright and sun shining day, my eyes fell on our horses….
…I noticed that they had some serious snotsicles….which are like popsicles, but different.
And this worried me.
“Worry is interest paid on trouble before it is due.” – William R. Inge
I know it’s kind of surprising to hear this.
She’s getting older, but apparently everything’s still working. Secretly I was kind of hoping that this wouldn’t happen again for her. She gets so grumpy when she has her babies, it can be almost dangerous to be around her. She has been known to run at people and try to hit them when she has a new baby….me included! I’ll admit I felt a little hurt when she ran at me and tried to bash me with her head. I do a lot for her!
There’s no avoiding it now though, Kelly has a new baby on the way. She’s due sometime next spring, so I might as well get excited about helping her if she needs it. Thankfully, she’s never needed help with any of her other babies so we all just give her some space for a few days until she calms down and will let us come and check on her. Have I mentioned that she’s kind of crazy?
She hasn’t got the best genetics either. If you’ve ever seen Kelly you know that she’s pretty short. Short and grumpy, that’s our Kelly. However, even though she’s quite vertically challenged, her offspring seem to grow very well. They all have grown to be taller than her, and even though some of them are still a bit shorter than their peers when they mature, they are all strong with a good amount of muscle. I have to admit that even though she’s short, Kelly has great calves. Nice calves aren’t often found on one as short as Kelly.
Kelly is a cow. No really, I’m referring to a bovine creature, not my friend and fellow blogger Kelly. Isn’t it funny that we happen to have a cow named after her? Most would be insulted by this, but Kelly (the person) sees the humor in how the cow came to have her name and I think she’s OK with it. If she’s not, it’s too late now; the cow has been Kelly for about 5 years.
Kelly the cow came to have her name one spring day when my son and I were driving around checking on our calves during a snow storm. Kelly had already calved and upon our approach she picked her head up and stared very intently at us….daring us to come any closer. She had to kind of stretch her neck way up to look at us; I think it was her attempt to look bigger and more intimidating. It worked.
My son said, “I don’t know why, but that cow reminds me of Kelly”. Well let me tell you, I didn’t care about the why. That was just the funniest thing ever and her name stuck instantly.
She definitely doesn’t fit in with our herd very well. She’s short and kind of funny looking – I’m talking about the cow here…. I’m sure we would have sent her down the road a few years ago, but I think her name is what keeps her on our farm.
So congratulations old girl on getting knocked up once again!! I hope that you will wish us luck as we calve out Kelly the cow again this spring. It’s always an adventure!
“I hope you will go out and let stories happen to you, and that you will work them, water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Author of “Women Who Run with the Wolves”
We have a guest staying with us….oops; he gets offended when I call him a guest.
We have a non related family member staying with us this week. We met him last summer when our son was involved in a 4-H exchange with kids from PEI. Taylor came to stay with us for 10 days, and our son went to stay with Taylor in PEI for 10 days. It was a great opportunity for the kids to do some travelling and make new friends.
Taylor is a great guy. (I have to say this because he reads our blog).
All kidding aside, he’s so much fun to have around. His life experiences are in some ways the same as our boys’ and in some ways different. That diversity makes for truly interesting conversations and opportunities for us to learn from each other. For example, he can teach us how to speak French or how to cook mussels, and we can teach him how to shoot gophers and ride horses.
This week Taylor has been immersed in the Western farming/ranching lifestyle, which is something that he hasn’t experienced a lot of in the past. It’s eye opening sometimes to see his reaction to the things that we take for granted. Like castrating bull calves for example….or my nonchalance at picking up the dead chicken that my dog killed, throwing it in the back of a truck and going inside to make a sandwich. Yes I washed my hands, and yes I disciplined the dog….but she’s pregnant and you know – hormones can make you do crazy things sometimes.
We were so excited that Taylor would be able to experience a neighbor’s branding party with us. Branding is one of the highlights of summer for many of us. It’s a chance to get together with friends, get some work done, and enjoy each other’s company when the day is over.
Kind of like what I imagine a barn raising might have been years ago.
Some people are disturbed by the thought of branding. Does it hurt the calf? Yes. Does it hurt the calf for long? No. Branding is the one and only way to identify your cattle from someone else’s. Tags can be removed. Tattoos are missed, or blur over time making them difficult to impossible to read. Without exception, when cattle come to the auction market, they are identified by their brands, and the cheque will go to the person who legally owns the cattle bearing their brand. We have had cows stolen from us. Their calves weren’t branded. We had no recourse for compensation on those calves. We had a cow stray into a neighbors pasture. We assumed she was dead. 5 years later she turned up in an auction market and we were paid for her. Branding works.
These calves are roped to be branded. It’s faster that way. We have used the method where they are walked one by one onto a table, but that takes much longer. The calves are stressed when they are separated from the cows, and the faster we can get this over with the happier and less stressed they are. Roping cuts the time that the cows and calves are separated by at least ½.
While they are roped, the calves are given a quick health check, branded, vaccinated and given CCIA identification tags. These tags have a microchip in them so that the movement of all cattle in Canada can be tracked from the farm they were born on, through any sales and on to the packing plant where they are processed into meat. This is a step that Canadian ranchers have taken to help ensure the safety of the food that we eat. It is illegal to cut out one of these tags, they are in the calf’s ear for it’s lifetime…. (Ideally).
The vaccine is to prevent common diseases that cattle are exposed to, including many different strains of pneumonia and diarrhea. We want healthy cattle. Healthy cattle = healthy herds = healthy food = healthy economy for the farmers, the buyers, the packing plants and the grocery stores.
Each calf is roped and on the ground being handled for approximately 2 to 3 minutes. As soon as possible, the calf is let go and he runs back to his cow, who will walk with him away from the commotion and they will go back to grazing and acting like nothing ever happened.
After a few hours of work, we all sit at tables together where we share some fantastic food and tell stories and lies and joke about the day.
It’s all over for another year. We are so happy thatTaylor’s visit this year was timed so that he could be part of a branding crew. It’s our hope that he learned something new about where Canadian beef comes from and some of the work that it takes to grow it, but if nothing else he’s got some good stories and a little cow poop on his shoes to take back to PEI with him later this week.
Our blog will feature a few stories ofTaylor’s visit to the prairies this week. He’s a good sport and has taken some great pictures for us to use, as well as sharing some yummy new PEI recipes! Stay tuned.
**All photo credit goes to Taylor from PEI**
“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes to us at Midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learnt something from yesterday.” – Inscribed on John Wayne’s headstone.