A slight obsession of late.
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 didn’t always spend my days this way. I used to be called on for the tough jobs. If there was a bull that needed to be roped, they called me because I am big, very strong, and bulls don’t scare me…..llamas do, but who isn’t afraid of Llamas? If there was a cow who was having trouble calving, I brought her in. If there was a long cattle drive ahead of us, I went in the back to keep things moving along. I have pushed in between angry cows chasing farmers, I have tolerated excited young pups who liked to snap at my nose, and I have even pulled a truck out of deep mud!
All of that changed one day when a 3-year-old girl was plopped onto my back. She sat up there feeling my mane, and after a few minutes she proudly exclaimed, “I’m fableeous up here mommy, just fableeous.” She was hooked.
Over the years, our relationship has developed from me ignoring her while she sat on my back to where we are today. In the beginning, her feet didn’t come past the saddle pad, so I could pretend I didn’t know she was there and just continue eating grass while she practiced steering and clucking and kissing me into motion. I would never run no matter how many times she asked. I don’t like running unless there’s a good reason. As her legs have grown, and she has gotten stronger, I have found that it’s more important to pay attention to what she suggests, or her polite suggestion will turn into a drill sergeant’s command…….always followed by ‘good boy’ and lots of hugs.
My skill set has changed also. In the past, there wasn’t much criticism when I ran after a calf, but now I am expected to change leads, and be on the correct diagonal….whatever that means. I am sometimes subjected to being shown on the halter, which really makes me uncomfortable. I’ve never liked being the center of attention, and there’s something about those people looking at me so closely that makes me fidget. This really upsets my little boss, so I try to do my best.
I know the other geldings think it’s weird when I come home from a trip to town smelling like strawberries, with my mane and tail all in braids. Sometimes the elastics on my braids are pink, to match my ‘pajamas’ that she dresses me in to stay warm on the ride home. But here’s the thing – I am comfortable. I get more treats than they do. I hear the knickering and commotion when I am brought back into the pen, but don’t forget who I am guys!
I am still big, I am still strong, and I’m still the boss!
All horses should have the good fortune to be loved by a kid at least once in their life.
Taco is the name of the guy in the front. I always had an aversion to these ponies and balked a number of times when our son wanted one. However, after earning some money of his own and finding the horse-pony from a friend of ours, I gave in. They have taken a couple of driving clinics and the boy has taught Taco how to drive. Initially he was worrried about Taco being turned out with the five big geldings. But as Taco can wiggle through most fences he soon ended up with the big guys and he can definitely hold his own. In fact they all escaped last week and were racing away from so-called captivity. Guess who was the leader of the pack when they were all running flat out? Taco. Apparently he has yet to figure out he is actually the smallest, by a long shot. Below they are all out for a jog, not the high speed version.