Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Return of Nurse Ratched

Last year I told you about the new nurse cow the boss brought home. She supposedly was easy to milk and loved babies. A few minutes with her proved that the one thing she REALLY liked doing was goring things with her horns, people and friendly cows being at the top of the list. Two of my most aggressive orphan calves were so traumatized by her, they never tried to nurse anything but a bottle again.

The boss’ wife helped and I got her roped and snubbed to a post, and after 3 weeks of her head tied to a fencepost and being hand watered and fed, I was able to get 2 calves grafted on to her. Shortly after, one real smart leppie realized if those two were nursing, Ratched wouldn't notice if she snuck up from behind, so she raised 3. 

She is a beautiful cow to look at, Brown Swiss/Milking Shorthorn X but pretty is as pretty does. She poked a hole in DollyMoo the first night she was here, which did not endear her to me in any way.

Yesterday, Nurse Ratched had a pretty little heifer calf. I noticed them down in the back pasture and Randyman and I drove 4 wheelers down to take a look. The heifer was still wet, so she wasn’t very old. She was already up and sucking, so all was well. Nurse Ratched’s bag was plenty engorged so I told the boss’ wife and daughter to let him know, as we might think about finding a way to milk out some colostrum to save for orphan calves that may come in later.

This morning the cowboys rode out and roped Nurse Ratched and brought her and the new baby up to the corrals.

#5 (youngest of the 5 ranch kids), showed up at my back door requesting a milk bucket. I washed one up and followed her to the party. Two cowboys had a head loop and a heel loop on the cow and one of the boys was working at putting a halter on her without getting horned. A halter would protect her from choking or getting hurt while they milked her out. We are much kinder to the stock, than the stock are to us.

She chased #2 over the fence with her horns, as he snubbed her up, and then they took up the slack on the heel rope and #2 and his sister #5, commenced to milking. 

After acquiring a pitiful amount that would have made my goat giggle, I suggested we employ some 'professional' milkers.
The girls coerced them into joining us and the job was done in short order.

After the experts were through,I strained the colostrum from the bucket, marked and froze it in a ziplock and once the ‘pros’ were finished, they were spirited away to an adjoining corral where the old battle axe could not injure them when she was turned loose. Hopefully, it will not take too long for her to accept them and I am REALLY hoping to get that heifer calf away from her in a month or so and gentle it down, so she will grow up to be a safe and pleasant nurse cow to have in the future. Perhaps I will call her “Nanny”...unless she acts like her mother, then I guess we'll call her "Ninny."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Good Clean Fun

Living on a ranch, there is just no excuse to ever, ever, EVER be bored. There are always plenty of things that need to be done. Convincing Moose that he is still a COW and cannot continue to drink goats milk forever is one of them. There is also feeding calves, orphan lambs and goats, or milking goats and cows, playing with the dogs, watching the chickens putter around, riding my horse and helping move cattle, brand, clean cabins, work in the garden, mow the pasture or do housework,  or on days when I am not feeling quite up to snuff, there are always other options…like maybe, reading, stained glass work, crochet, cooking, or, today’s choice, making soap.

I really should have made more earlier this year, but between the goats who were born in January, the bottle lambs in March and chicks in the house and now the bottle calves, I have been off my routine. Today I set out to correct that. It has been pouring rain and I’ve been hurting, so weed-eating and mowing have to wait and the garden is put on hold. I got the cheat-grass in the pasture mowed already, so no big deal…I mean after all, doesn’t everybody mow the Back Forty, before they do their yard??
Today is soap making day and I thought you all might like to follow along on this little procedure. Lots of folks, including me, like to cook and bake when it’s cold and gloomy outside. But I have discovered that soap brings many of the same benefits without making me FAT!

I ordered some new soap fragrances for spring and summer, so I have lots to choose from. I also got some new micas for color so of course, we have to play with those. I never got swirling down the way I want it with my deep molds, so this would be a good time to experiment with it.

We are going to make Cold Process, or CP soap…although, since I plan to put it in the oven to gel, its CPOP or Cold Process Oven Process, but lets not split hairs.

It’s important to clean the kitchen up and eliminate the clutter first. So, out with the calf bottles and nipples, gastric tubes, syringes, vaccines, chicken feed container, milk pails, cheese pots and livestock thermometer.

Next, I get all the ingredients and necessary implements and tools out. That would be my oils, lye, fragrance oils, stainless steel pots (mine are dedicated just to soaping) stick blender, measuring cups, gloves, goggles, postal scale (precise measurements are critical), molds, freezer paper for lining the molds, colorants and my formula. The recipe is one I have formulated previously and made a lot of and of course, checked my specs out on ‘soapcalc’, one of the online lye calculators which is a ‘must-do’ for safe soapmaking.

I measure out my solid oils, in this case coconut oil and Crisco, but with our milk soaps we will use lard or tallow, which is awesome in soap. These go in my big pot to melt on the stove.

With goggles and gloves on, I measure my lye into a plastic container, then in a separate stainless steel pot measure the liquid into which I will mix the lye. You always pour your lye into the liquid, never, ever, ever the other way around. I use lye beads, which can bounce around due to static electricity and can get in your eyes, so I also use a dryer sheet to wipe down the containers I pour into and out of.
My liquid of choice might be water, or goat/cow milk, tea, coffee, beer or something else depending on what kind of soap I am going for. I even have one I will be making with tea made from stinging nettles that is supposed to help with skin ailments. That is high on my list lately. Liquids may be frozen to keep the lye from overheating it, like with 100% milk, honey, or cloves and often just room temperature if I am adding at trace, depending on what I am soaping. All the ingredients, from the oils to the liquids bring different qualities to the soap.

I don my goggles and gloves, open the back door and a window, and with the pot in the sink, as a precaution, I slowly and carefully pour my lye into the water. It begins to heat up immediately and caustic vapors begin to rise and I have to keep my face turned so as not to breath in the fumes. It’s at this moment I am glad not to have a phone, or a whole lot of friends and neighbors who stop by. A few minutes later, the lye mix settles down.

Once my hard oils have melted, I combine my liquid oils with them and when my oils and lye mix cool to the temperatures I want, I pour the lye mix into the oils, careful not to splash. I use a stick blender in bursts to help bring the mixture to what is known as ‘trace’.  Today I am going to only bring it to a very thin trace as I want my ‘swirls’ to penetrate better when I pour my soap in the molds. I dip about a cup of the mix into a glass measure cup and add colorant until I reach the color I like. I color the rest of the oils in the big pot, and add my fragrance oils, stirring thoroughly.

I pour it all in my molds, which are already lined with freezer paper, add the lids and set it aside to saponify, usually overnight. I am going to help speed the cure a bit by ‘oven processing’ the soap. I check the flashpoints of the fragrance oils and set the oven to 150 for 2 hours with the soap inside. Then I turn off the oven and leave it all in there for the night.

This means dinner has to be cooked on the stove tonite. I can probably cut the soap log into bars in the morning, and set then out to cure for about 4-6 weeks.

Meanwhile, back to feeding calves, goats, sheep, pups, and clean out a freezer. It konked out a couple weeks ago. Nothing like having a freezer failure when its full up and you are 4 hours from town where you can replace it, IF you had the money. We rescued what we could and true to form, I forgot we left a few bags of tomatoes in there and a couple other items I was going to quickly pressure can…so today, I have to clean out the ‘science project’ and re-purpose the freezer.

Last winter my little house was a wreck from all the soaping supplies and the curing of hundreds of bars of soap. There just isn’t any place to put it, as our little cracker box is so small there isn’t even a broom closet! But I am thinking the big upright freezer might be an answer to part of my problem. If I can put a de-humidifier inside of it, and alter the racks, I can fit a LOT of soap in there to cure and store! It will keep out the light so colors don’t fade and with the de-humidifier, they should cure at a much faster rate. I just have to figure out where to put the freezer...

In the morning I unmold the soap, cut it and stamp it, just for fun. The green swirl didn’t come out quite like  I had hoped, but its still nice soap and it smells great!

Now, wasn’t all that better than cruising the malls?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Moose in the Milk Room

Those of you who have been following the blog, know who Prissy is. She is a contrary Nubian doe, who had triplets in Jan., her first pregnancy. She promptly rejected them, ramming them if they came anywhere near her. I had to resort to milking her twice a day to bottle feed the triplets, while she kicked, twisted, and bucked, dumping the milk bucket over on me with regularity, turning the entire milk stand upside down with some frequency. I tried tying her entire body down, I tried begging, patience, bribing, and the third time she broke open my bloody knuckles, I lost both my temper and my mind and BIT her!

The boss wife’ keeps saying “Get rid of that animal! There are way too many nice goats around to put up with her.” But…Prissy gives 1 ½ gallons a day of some of the best milk I have ever tasted. So, she has remained until someone, hopefully her daughter, can replace her.

This morning, my RA has flared again, it is painful to move my thumb even  the slightest degree. I was not able to milk, and there is no one who can stand in for me. I tried to milk with just my left hand, but it was taking forever, and that hand was cramping and starting to give me grief. Desperate for help, as I could not just leave her, due to the possibility of her developing mastitis and being ruined, I decided to try something…well…in HER case, something totally outrageous. And destined for failure. I decided to employ one of the 13 leppie calves I have been bottlefeeding. Not just ANY calf, but MOOSE.

MOOSE was born a week ago. One of the ‘day cowboys’ found him just after his mother gave birth to him. She had a ‘bad bag’ and would be unable to nurse him. He is a calf of enormous proportions. Most of the calves here weigh from 30 up to 60 or even 70 lbs at birth. Moose weighed about 120. I was surprised his mother didn’t die from having him. The cowboy managed to get him in the horse trailer and hauled him in. I prepared some colostrum for him and gave him his first meal, in a bottle. Moose has done well, but thinks I am his mother. He will follow me anywhere, unlike the other calves, so Moose was my first choice as a ‘volunteer’.

Prissy was already on the milk stand, trussed up, and tied down, when Moose followed me in. I expected her to start tearing up the place the minute she saw him, as that is her response if a lamb, or kid goat manages to get loose and show up in the milk shed while she is there. If she even HEARS them she starts pitching a fit. She looked at Moose with little interest and went back to eating her grain.
 A friend and I sort of led Moose up to where the ‘faucets’ are, and I sat on the milkstand and held onto Prissy’s leg, waiting for the rodeo.

Moose needed very little encouragement. He latched on and went to drinking and smacking his lips. In no time Prissy was all milked out, Moose had a warm and tasty breakfast, and I stood, lower jaw hanging, unable to believe what I had seen. Not only had Priss allowed him to nurse her, she was CHEWING HER CUD! This is a sign of contentment in ruminants!

Mulling it over and assessing the situation, I have come up with this theory. She hates baby goats. She hates lambs. She hates me milking her. Moose being there and nursing her did not seem out of the ordinary to her… I can only assume that the reason behind this, is that she is either in denial, or thinks she brought this on herself, because every time I milk her…


Sometimes you just have no idea what the day is going to bring you.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Electrifying Work

Ranch life is hard work and the people who do it, do so because they love the lifestyle, because there sure ain’t a lot of money to be made. There is much fun and excitement to be had, and there is also much risk.

In the past couple of years here on the ranch there have been a fractured collarbone, (me) broken shoulder (me) broken ribs (me) a badly broken nose (a guy working the chutes) a severe spiral fracture of the leg (a cowboy) broken ribs, collarbone and clavicle (cowboy) badly bruised spleen and kidneys from being pinned by a tractor (cowboy), as well as a variety of bumps, bruises, lacerations and concussions. Since we have been here, there has been one Heli-vac, one ambulance and several back-of-the-truck trips to the hospital which is 2-4 hours on the road, depending if one goes to Burns, Bend or Boise. Those are the only choices.

A horse broke a leg 2 years ago in a freak roping accident; another died on his feet after having a horned cow pierce his heart. It’s always hardest to have your ‘partner’ die like that, but this is what they live for as well. It would be wrong to deny them such a life in the name of safety. Besides, just as many overly coddled horses die of colic and other maladies in their show barns.

It’s a place where kids and parents can still work together and children learn early on, that they have great value. They develop a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility for family and for nature. Everyone works together for the good of all. There is no room for a “that is not part of my job description” attitude on a ranch. Everyone pitches in, and if you don’t know how, then you will soon learn. A wife may not be amenable to driving a tractor, but if her husband gets hurt, she’s got to do it. A ten-year old may not have a license, but if someone’s truck breaks down, or their horse goes lame, she’s gonna have to drive that truck and trailer out to where they are at. It’s a great life, with lots of challenges and many rewards, some intangible. Just knowing that a calf is alive because you saved it, or the ranch is in the black this year, because we all helped get it there, these are things worth living for.

Currently, there are summer ranch ‘tours’ here. A well known horse trainer gives ‘ranch schools’ in the summer, where some of his clients come spend a month learning how to work cows, increase their riding skills and improve their horses. This means that on top of all the regular work, cabins must be cleaned and prepared for visitors. Walls are washed, floors mopped, windows cleaned, beds changed, rugs shampooed, etc. Acres of grass have to be quickly mowed, weed-eating accomplished, and food stores brought in, on top of the regular work that is done, which for me is feeding leppies, lambs, goats, milk cows, chickens and Randyman…somewhere in there is laundry and on a good day, a housecleaning. (Well…now that about choked me to say ‘housecleaning’ and ‘good’ in the same sentence…) Everyone else has a much heavier workload, but we all manage to get it done.

These tours are advertised as teaching “every facet of being a ranch cowboy”, but that is not really true. They teach them to do the fun stuff, like roping, branding and cutting cows out from a herd, but they don’t teach them anything about how to build or fix fence, run heavy equipment, irrigate, doctor, ship cattle, drive a semi truck, mechanics, welding, horseshoeing, cooking for a crowd, doing bookwork, or any of the other things that are vital skills required of real ranching. Being on tour wouldn't be so bad! But then, we DO get to live here all the time.

Currently, there are 11 leppies (orphan calves) that I take care of. They are orphaned for various reasons, either the cow has a ‘bad bag’ or died, or left it. Most of them do pretty well, as long as I can get some nutrition in them. There are occasional colds, scours, pneumonia, etc. but those are usually easily handled with medication.
milk replacer can

Last weekend, the kids brought in one that was pretty sick. She has what is known as “Navel, or Joint Ill”. That means that bacteria traveled up the umbilical cord and went septic in her bloodstream. The infection has settled into her joints, so one ankle is the size of a cantaloupe, one knee is very swollen as well as one hock. She has a high fever, and cannot stand up, or eat.  Per phone consultation with the vet, I give her daily injections of anti-inflammatories and every other day, a very powerful and expensive ($600 a bottle) antibiotic, in hopes it will improve her. Her prognosis is poor, at best.

Today they brought in 2 more leppies, bringing the total to 13 now.  There are 3 in the barn, and the rest are outside. I filled up 10 half  gallon calf  bottles and got them in the wagon.  A visitor to the ranch wanted to come help feed them so we decided she could stand behind the barrier fence and place the bottles and I would go in with the leppies and guide the ones who had trouble into their little ‘feeding chutes’.

The leppie pen is currently divided into 3 spaces by electric fence. It is only 2 strands, and keeps them behind the barrier, and splits the herd in half so they are easier to feed. I went to step over the first electric fence and didn’t quite get my leg up as high as I THOUGHT I did...consequently, I got a WHALE of a shock and hit the ground. My leg got tangled up in the wires and as I continued on with my self electrocution, wanting like blazes to pull my leg out and roll, but unable to because I was still being shocked, I tried grabbing the wire to extract myself, (not a good idea). I was sure my heart would stop before I ever got undone. Finally, I extricated myself and laid on the ground, breathless. It’s a cinch why they don’t want me to do the more hazardous work on the ranch!

I hope to quit vibrating before I go feed the 3 in the barn.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dolly Moo & Emma Lou-Rated R -naked cows

It was a long winter for Dolly and Emma. It was cold, cold, cold.  Dolly spent a good bit of it wearing her "prom dress" to keep warm so we could keep weight on her. Emma did fine. Having their little tent shelter helped a lot too.

Thanks to "Free Willy" Emma should be calving around July 1. She has a cute, perky little bag developing!

They have been out on the large pasture below the corrals for a month or so now, and are getting fat!

And I can't swear to it, but I am suspecting that even though we never caught her in heat...Dolly just MIGHT be in a motherly way herself!! Her baggy bag is not as baggy as it used to be.

And she is getting too big for a lickin'

Sunday, May 8, 2011

REAL Homemade Yogurt

I confess. I love dairy. Ice cream, cold, creamy milk, whipped cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, all kinds of cheeses and yogurt.

Yogurt is a great food. It’s filling and it has essential bacteria needed by your body for healthy GI system and proper digestion. It boosts health, helps and speeds healing from intestinal infections, helps prevent yeast infections, lowers cholesterol, and provides calcium and protein.
When my calves or baby goats get sick or stressed, they get…you guessed it, yogurt.

It can be subbed for sour cream, strained and used like cream cheese, used for marinating lamb, in salad dressing or just as a snack. I love it for breakfast with raw honey and granola mixed in, or even better, a tablespoon of homemade fruit jam. It even lends itself well to baking muffins and such. It can also be used as a thermophilic culture for making cheeses.

It isn’t necessary to pay a buck and a half for those little bitty cartons of yogurt, when it’s so easy and inexpensive to make your own.

 All that is required is liquid milk, a bit of powdered milk, (which helps provide body), culture, a thermometer, and an incubator of sorts. Some folks use the oven light, others use a heating pad, and some even have a big enough food dehydrator to make their yogurt in. Whatever it takes to keep it at a steady 108 degrees. I have a Yogourmet Incubator because I use it a lot, and I can make a 2 qt. batch at a time.

You CAN use store bought, pasteurized milk.
I, however, prefer to procure my own milk, raw, with all the healthy vitamins, minerals and probiotics it contains. Plus, it has natural cortisone in it, which helps with my pain levels. Pasteurization is a necessary evil in most commercial dairying, due to sanitation hazards. Pasteurizing milk also kills all the beneficial bacteria as well as the vitamins. That is why vitamin D has to be added back to commercial milk, because your body cannot take up calcium without it. The difference is like fresh vegetables vs fastfood. The practice doesn’t do your milk any favors.
Having my own milk goat or cow is a privilege for which I am very grateful. It’s one of the greatest luxuries of my life, as well as one of the greatest pleasures, but I digress.

Currently, my cows are both dry and not due to calve until July. My little bummer lambs are just about old enough to be weaned, so we are finally getting a little hard earned goats milk for our OWN use.

Greek yogurt is made with sheep or goats milk, which is one reason it is so smooth. I can definitely tell the difference between my goat yogurt and cow yogurt, although both are good. Today, I have surplus milk, so I made …tadah!! YOGURT!!

Here are the steps.

I have 2 big Nubian doe goats…sisters. I call them “Scarlet and Prissy” after the ladies on Gone With the Wind. Scarlet is unflappable and greedy, and Prissy…well…Prissy is a drama queen who has panic attacks and can’t truly do anything right. She is the most insecure goat I have ever known, screaming loudly if she thinks she is alone in the milk shed, crying if someone else is getting fed first and generally just being a pain in the caboose. She had triplets her first birthing and because they caused her some discomfort, she immediately freaked out and rejected them. Hence, I had to milk her by hand twice a day. She gives a surprising amount of milk, (1 ½ gallons daily) with an unprecedented amount of cream for a goat. I just let Scarlet feed her twins, as we have enough milk from one goat for our needs, now that the lambs are older.

As with most things, there is a price for this wonderful milk. Prissy hates having her udder touched. She has tipped the milk stand over multiple times with her tantrums and gymnastics. It is necessary to lock her head in, tie her hind legs together, and chain them down to the floor. Then milking can commence. She can only lift her feet about 4 inches in this manner, and only kicks about 80 or 90 times before I am through. She rarely picks up both hind feet at the same time anymore, lifting up the milk stand and slamming it back to the ground with a bone-jarring crash, spilling milk all over me and the pups, who learned early on there might be a spill to clean up and valiantly volunteer. We have only been enjoying this routine for 5 months now.That would be a mere 300 or so milkings in this manner.

Here is where we will begin:

1. Grab a stainless steel pail and a bucket of grain, let your goat in on the milk stand, wipe her down, set yourself down and fill your pail with nice, fresh squeezed milk. Then take it to the house and strain it, just in case any hairs or pieces of hay fell in. Goats are usually cleaner than cows. Probably because they don't produce nice warm 'goo pies' that they then lay in, immersing their entire  udder so you can spend an hour cleaning her up before you start to milk. You can either chill it now, or put it right in the pot.
You could also go to the store and just buy 2 quarts of milk, but for me that would be ridiculous, as it would cost me about $200 in fuel.

2. Put your 2 quarts of milk, and about 1/3 cup of powdered milk, into your pot and heat over med heat to 170 degrees. A candy thermometer is fine for this. Stir it once in awhile. I use a cheese thermometer that has an alarm on it when it reaches temperature, as I have a very short attention span and will find something else to do while the milk heats.Oh look! A squirrel!
I usually practice deep breathing to follow my fabulous daily goat milking experience. It helps take the redness out of my face and lets my hair go straight again.

Meantime, get your culture ready. You can buy culture tablets, or you can do what I do, and just buy some commercial, live culture, plain yogurt at the store. You can use Fage, Greek yogurt, or Cheap-o yogurt, just make sure it is live culture…my very favorite is Tillamook. They have excellent dairy products.

 I take about ¼ cup and put it in a glass-measuring cup, then put the rest in ice cube trays and freeze it for later use. This way I don’t have to keep buying yogurt, to make yogurt. The next batch, I will save some of this batch as the culture for the next, and save the frozen cubes for when I either run out, or the culture finally weakens.

After your milk hits 170 degrees, cool it back down to 108 degrees. I place the pot in the sink and fill the sink with some cold water and keep stirring until my milk cools down, as I am very impatient, and “Oh LOOK! A butterfly!”
Once the milk is 108 degrees, I pour a little into my cup with the culture and mix it up good. This is like tempering eggs. Then pour the mix in the cup back into the big pot, stir it all up, and pour it into my big container, which I then place in the incubator for 4-6 hours. The longer it incubates the sharper it will get. Six hours seems to work fine for mine.

After the 4-6 hours are up, place the container in your refrigerator and let it cool and set up.

Next morning, you will have a nice, thick, smooth yogurt. You can dish out and flavor anyway you want. A tablespoon of homemade jam mixed in is fantastic. You can use syrup, honey, Jell-O, Vanilla, or any combination or number of things.

Welcome to REAL food! Caution though…you might get hooked!

Let’s recap, shall we?

Homemade Yogurt

2 qts milk
1/3 c dry powdered milk
live culture yogurt or other yogurt culture

Heat milk  w/ powdered milk to 170.
Cool to 108, temper culture.
Mix culture back into milk and incubate for 4-6 hours.
Dish up and flavor as desired, or use plain.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Puttin' On the Dawg

This week Cletus spent some time in ‘solitary confinement’. He KNEW it was wrong to chase the rooster, because I was running behind him TELLING HIM SO. Still, he could not help himself. Flipping him onto his back and pretending to choke the life out of him when I finally capture him doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, so he was locked away by himself, with no animals at all, while Bruno stayed with the lambs and also watched over the calves and goats alone. Hopefully it will shame Cletus into better behavior.

After a couple of hours, I caught one of the big chickens that Cletus likes to terrorize and brought her in the shed with us. I set her down and Cletus perked up…I could see his enthusiasm, as he thought I was giving her to him like a Happy Meal and prize all rolled up in one. He started to go after her and I grabbed him and hollered ‘NO!!!!” He sat sullenly but continued eyeballing her. I started to check him just for thinking 'it' and made him lay down. I then grabbed previously mentioned hen and set her on top of him. After a couple of minutes I lifted her off. I repeated this several times, even stuffing her up underneath his leg like it was a wing. Cletus was beyond mortified. I then put her in front of him, between his big old pie plate sized paws. He turned his head away, refusing to look at her. I could tell my point was starting to be made, hugged and freed Cletus and let the hen back in the yard.

This morning dawned bright and beautiful. There are very few puffy clouds in an otherwise clear blue sky and I can feel the warmth from the sun. Good thing, because the last few weeks have been pretty painful and this makes a welcome difference to this high mileage body. I was determined to have a cup of coffee for a change, before stepping out to feed the dreaded leppies and the lambs. Once all the bottles were loaded in the wagon I headed out back. The new “fix-it” guy who has been coming to do odd jobs, hollered and asked if I had fed the leppies yet. He had something for me. I jumped up and down, (as much as is possible, for one who can no longer jump) because that meant he finished my very wonderful and very beautiful, much appreciated and anticipated ‘bottle box’. It’s a heavy box large enough to hold 6 of the half gallon calf bottles so they cannot knock them over, knock them out, or otherwise misbehave while I am feeding, coming to butt, bump, suck on and stomp me. I was sooooooo excited. The first test drive was a COMPLETE success! I could tell it would be a VERY good day! A once dreaded chore was reduced to mundane again.

After feeding all the bottle babies, I invited Cletus and Bruno into the back yard, for another cup of coffee. They were evicted a month ago, when I decided they were mature enough to stay with the bummer lambs. They need to be more bonded to their stock than to me and I need a back yard with flowers, trees and vegetables instead of holes, bones, puppy treasures and doggy doo. Visitation isn’t out of the question however. The chicks are still ‘free ranging’ in the yard until I can get the coop cleaned out and disinfected. I hate putting a brand new chicken into an old dirty coop. It was time for a bit more ‘chicken training’.
 I put the spray collar on Cletus and we went to sit with the chickens. The little guys are already kind of used to seeing him, so they don’t have a big reaction, but the 3 surviving older chickens have been terrorized by Cletus sufficiently that they are NOT going to relax. They took off running and squawking.
Cletus looked anxiously at me and I praised him…then I noticed a flash out of the corner of my eye. BRUNO was chasing the rooster! I commanded “NO!” and he immediately stopped. The rooster, however, in his panic, did NOT stop, and went racing past Cletus who then picked up the pursuit. I hit the spray button on his collar to no avail. The only thing that saved the rooster was doubling back past me so Cletus had to notice me standing there with murder in MY eyes. He stopped and became very cagey. I asked him nicely to come to me, but he turned to avoid me. I asked him to come again and hit a “no tone” and then the spray button. THIS time it registered and he didn’t like it one bit. He darted for the gate and I hit the tone again, then the spray. He headed in several directions to get away, including ducking around the house out of sight, but I continued to hit the tone and spray each time I asked him to come and he refused. Finally, as a last resort, he came crawling to me, tail tucked between his long legs, hoping there would be some sort of sanctuary there from the awful citronella scent that was ruthlessly targeting his nose. I praised him again, with big hugs and a ‘happy tone’. We spent a bit more time with the collar with food rewards and happy tones and a couple of corrections. He doesn’t TOTALLY get it, but he did figure out there is sanctuary by my legs. Now I can’t get rid of him.
I have 100 pounds of lanky dog leaning relentlessly into my leg every step I take, as happy chickens scratch around me. I guess that is the face of progress.

Good boy, Cletus.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Dangers of Beef

So far this year, they have found 5 leppie (orphan) calves. My job is to feed and care for all the leppies up until the time they are weaned and sent with the other calves, which is anywhere from 3 to 8 months.

A single bottle calf is always cute. Their wet little noses and big eyes with drooping eyelashes are hard to resist…but as soon as there is more than one, the cuteness quotient is gone. It’s amazing how destructive an herbivore can be! Little 60 and 70 lb calves butt like battering rams, slobber, suck off your elbows, and kneecaps, leaving giant hickeys and black and blue marks from your ankles up. Competition is fierce and as soon as one bottle has been hung, its on the ground with all the leppies struggling to grab it at the same time. Some suck more than others (you can take that any way you like). This year, every single one of them has been black so far, so it is impossible to tell which one has not been getting fed due to the bottle thieves. The stronger calves tend to suck theirs down in record time, then knock the other guy off and steal his/her milk too.

Enter, Number Five and her friends. #5 is the youngest of the boss’ 5 kids who work here on the ranch.

After my whining and complaining bitterly about not knowing who lost the bottle, or who stole the bottle, #5 stepped in with her usual problem solving skills. Three high school girls showed up armed with grease pencils in varying colors. Into the leppie pen they went, Cletus hard on their heels. Running around and grabbing calves by hind legs, ears, or whatever else was available, they drug them to a central spot, ‘mugged’ them and began to cover them with ‘war paint’. Bruno and Cletus were alarmed to see the calves flanked and sat upon, Cletus licked their noses and continually checked for breathing while Elizabeth sat on them and painted, and Bruno barked out empty threats and alarms from the lamb pen where he remained, to insure no mistreatment would come to his lambs.

With the flourish of a Rembrandt or Picasso, she marked the calves so I could easily tell them apart. She did a fine job of it, as she does at everything. This is a highly capable youngster, who rides, ropes, drives a backhoe, tractor, and excavator, cooks for groups, and has been hauling me around in a pick up and horsetrailer since she was 11.

Nothing escaped her artful eye, not even the lambs.

Today, it was time to move leppie #5 out of the barn and into the leppie corral. It is necessary to keep them in a stall the first few days, to insure they are not scoury and to get them on a bottle. Once they are taking the bottle well and will follow it, I put them outside in a big corral where they can soak up the sunshine and nibble on grass. Leppie #5 is the most aggressive yet, having bashed open the stall of the barn in a temper tantrum after drinking her half gallon of milk replacer. She wanted more. I knew this was gonna hurt trying to move her, as I am not very fast anymore, so I nominated Randyman to be the bottle carrier. We put a little warm water in the bottle as bait. She walked along, pushing hard against him as they headed to the house. I opened the gate up to let them pass. She suddenly realized “I” am the one who brings the milk, not this clown carrying the insipid water that was currently in her bottle. With a grunt, she cranked it into high gear and I with a scream, I gave my best effort to running across the backyard, while she butted me and tried to suck the pockets off my jeans, repeatedly stepping on my heels. Laughing loudly, Randyman helped get her through the gate and into the pen.

There is a hotwire fence that separates me from the leppies so I can sneak into a wooden alleyway to feed them without being battered. It is necessary to teach them that hotwire ‘bites’ so they don’t wind up running through it and leaving the country in between feedings. It did my heart good to see the newest and pushiest leppie lay her wet nose against that electric wire. She knows what it is now, and Bruno and Cletus are busy welcoming her to the asylum.

All I can say is, bottle calves suck.