Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Victor

I had somewhat of a rough start this morning. Having a condition that often prevents me from sleeping, I had spent most of the night sitting up in the living room. Once I was finally able to sleep, I returned to the bedroom to find my spot had been taken. I begged and cajoled to no avail, so I crawled to the center of the bed and slept the next 2 hours until morning.

As we all know, chores can become a little more challenging in the winter.
What is interesting in my case is that they are the same chores I had in the summer, although there is a slight difference. I have to hand feed the critters now, as the pasture is kaput.

The engaging personalities of our animals make what should be a relatively simple task, extremely complicated. In other words, they are very greedy.

Dolly, the senior Jersey cow, injured her leg. We aren’t sure what happened but the vet thinks she tore the cartilege in her hock. I suspect fat little EmmaLou had something to do with it, as she likes to motor around bucking and kicking at everyone and everything, in the blush of her youth. I am hoping that calving next summer will encourage her to behave a little more ladylike and suitable for a milk cow.

Dolly and Emma must now be confined to the small pasture by our house, which previously was ruled by the goats and sheep, who have been evicted to the large corral and the big 20 acre pasture, which is known as the “Sheep pasture” but actually is full of 350 of the smallest weaner calves.
There are more pastures on this ranch than I can count. The names of them have persevered throughout generations, and can be confusing. The “Horse pasture” is full of willows and brush, and houses nothing but quail and pheasant. The “Cornfield” is where the horses live. The “Barn Pasture” is a very large pasture below the Cornfield, the “Elk Fields” no longer have elk, and the “Airport Field” would be suicide to land in. I could go on and on, as this is 250,000 acres, but I think I have made my point.
Handfeeding the critters is risky, to say the least. The 2 orphan calves equal me in weight, and tend to push on both sides of me as I fight my way to the bottle hangers to feed them. This is preferable to them sucking off one of my kneecaps, I suppose. The goats and sheep like to play interference, and block my way with their bodies, while stepping on my feet, and successfully knocking any armloads of hay or buckets of grain out of my arms. I have outsmarted them. We have parked our large stock trailer in the corral, and hidden hay in the front of it. I jump in the back and close the door behind me. I then open the middle door to access the hay and I squeeze a little out the slat on the sides. The sheep and goats race around and around the trailer in circles, desperate to the the first at the 'table' and not knowing which side I will squeeze the hay through. It always gives me a chuckle. After they all dive into the handful I tossed them, I run and throw a big flake into the tub behind the trailer and make good my escape.

I collect the calf bottles and head to the house. I then grab the cow buckets off of the back porch and put Dolly and Emma’s grain in them.

This is where it gets tricky.

I have to carry the buckets out to where the 800 lb bale of hay sits. I set them on top of it, and pitchfork some hay thru the pipe panel to where Dolly and Emma wait impatiently. I then must wrestle a leadrope onto Emma’s halter and drag her around the corner to a small feeder. After tying her securely, I then put Dolly’s bucket out for her, and lastly pour Emma’s bit of grain into the feeder. This prevents Emma from stealing her mothers grain, and keeps Dolly from having to move so much on her injured leg.

At some point, I will have to drive the old feed truck for Randyman, as he throws 2400 lb of oat hay off the back for the calves in the pasture. This is always an exciting endeavor, as we never know if I will get stuck in a ditch…kill the battery, or just pop the clutch several times, knocking him off the flatbed. Life on a ranch holds so much excitement and suspense.

One of the calves is, sadly, dying, likely from pneumonia. We have actually had a very good year, as we have only lost 2 out of the 350 that were isolated for extra care. That is out of the 4000 calves that were born on the ranch this year.

The Maremma pups have taken charge of the 350, and do perimeter checks and nose counts daily. They are very fond of the calves, but, as guardian dogs, they would instinctively eat a dead one, (or try their best to do so) in order to avoid the carcass attracting predators. They are all about protection, and predator control. I went to bring them in so the cowboys could dispose of the calf. Guardian dogs historically find anything messing with their charges objectionable, so I wanted to make sure they were not in the way.

I hollered and yelled and searched, and finally spotted them at the bottom of the pasture. I called their names once more, and they headed my way. Being Livestock Guardian Dogs, they are self directed, so of course, were in no big hurry to get to me, so a little horseplay was in order on the trip. After knocking each other over several times, they finally arrived. As I was leading them back to the house, Cletus took a right hand turn and started counting calves again. No amount of coaxing would bring them back my direction. Clearly, he was on a mission.

I saw both pups stop on the other side of a group of calves and peer intently at the ground. Clearly their protective instinct had kicked into high gear. Something dangerous and daring was about to take place. The suspense was building and I was about to scream.
Suddenly, they went into action. Dirt was flying, both dogs were deadly serious and Cletus pounced, all 100 lb of him and came up with a quarter sized gopher in his mouth.

I am not sure a gopher falls into the predator category, but you would not convince Cletus of this. He pranced along, his chest puffed out and the plume of his tail held high, convinced that he was a vicious killer. He glanced across the field of calves, satisfied in the knowledge he had certainly saved them from a gruesome death. He climbed up on a high spot to survey the rest of his kingdom. 

Bruno followed me back to the house, leaving the great, and semi-white hunter to savor his victory.

1 comment:

  1. We have a small grain and livestock farm with a few hundred head of cows. Cannot fathom 4,000 calves or sorting 350 head for 'special' care.

    Might want to consider tethering Randyman to the flatbed.... decrease the possibility of leaving him behind under the hay.... you know, safety first!

    No doubt Cleatus and Bruno understand if they let the gophers move into the neighborhood, bigger things are sure to follow! Great story.