Calving season has started

Yesterday was a day to mark down on our calendars – literally. We had two heifers calve, which means that calving season has officially begun. Unfortunately, one calf was born dead, which is always a hard situation to take.

So what went wrong? Well, somehow, during the birthing process, the calf ended up having a foot back. You see, a calf should be born like this:

But instead, it looked something like this:

And Boss Man did what he could to bring the foot forward, so the calf could be born safely, but sometimes it doesn’t work out…and this was one of those cases. We do our best not to intervene unless we have to, but you never know what Mother Nature has in store for you.

This morning I was fortunate to go out right at sunrise. And with the new day:

At first light, I noticed something on the straw.

At first light, I noticed something on the straw.

The sun was just kissing the sky as I went out.

Comes new beginnings:

This heifer is a good mama.

The only problem with the calf being born on the straw, is that it’s only 19 degrees outside. Not ideal for a wet, warm calf fresh to the world. So I called Boss Man down and let him know what was going on. New mothers aren’t always predictable, can be feisty and mean, and really don’t appreciate their calves being messed with…so I let my hubby deal with the logistics of getting the calf someplace warmer. (It’s kind of like him doing laundry, I’m not happy, he’s not happy, so it’s just best if I do it myself.)

Boss Man uses the calf sled to bring the calf to the barn. Mama is close behind, making sure her calf is safe and doesn’t get too far from her!

The last 12 hours have had its highs and lows, but I know that we are where we’re supposed to be…and days like today make it all worthwhile.

No man needs sympathy because he has to work . . . Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.

– Theodore Roosevelt

Winter storm Orko

Mother Nature has once again given us a strong reminder about who is in control…not that I ever questioned it for a minute. Winter storm Orko arrived in full force today, bringing with it about 10 inches of snow and 40 mph winds – white-out conditions.

Unfortunately, our heifers are due to have their first calves any day now, so that means that we don’t get a chance to hunker in for the storm, we must keep an eye on our livestock.

The cows stay where it's protected during the storm. Their instincts help keep them safe...usually.

The cows stay where it’s protected during the storm. Their instincts help keep them safe…usually.

Today Boss Man spent a lot of time pushing snow. Although heavy snow fall is a pain, it can be useful as well. With our loader tractor, he can push the snow up into big piles, creating natural windbreaks for our cattle. As long as it’s here, we might as well put it to use!

Boss Man making a windbreak with the snow.

Boss Man making a windbreak with the snow.

I was hoping to earn some Val’s Day (my nickname for Valentine’s Day…catchy, isn’t it?) bonus points by letting Boss Man catch a few extra zzzz’s while I took the first night check for our heifers. (We check them every two hours, to do our best to make sure that the calves are born in the barn – or at least brought to the barn as soon as possible, to keep them from getting chilled.)

My mistake? Thinking I was going to make a quick trip down to the calving lot and not suiting up properly. Instead of coveralls and the whole get-up (fashion plays little in calving), I just slipped on my Bogs, my jacket, hat, scarf and gloves. It wasn’t too bad, until I started fighting thigh-high drifts.

Even then, it wasn’t terrible…except when I started losing my balance in the wind and snow. Then I was working so hard trudging through the snow that I was melting the snow stuck to my yoga pants, soaking me clear through. I was chilled to the bone! A colossally stupid move on my part. Really.

I’m guessing I’ll sleep like a baby tonight, but may have a sore muscle or two tomorrow. Anyone looking for a great cardio routine? I think I found one!

Flat Aggie visits our farm

We had a visitor at our farm this week. He didn’t eat much, didn’t take up much room, but wanted to learn about what we do. His name is Flat Aggie, and he’s a project that was started by a teacher in California.

Many people are aware of Flat Stanley, the popular children’s book that follows the adventures of a paper man. This project is very similar, except the teacher sends Flat Aggie to farms across the country, hoping to learn through Flat Aggie’s travels all about what happens on the farm.

So what did Flat Aggie learn about on our farm? He helped with tagging our heifers with their cow tags. (To learn more about what the cow tags mean, such as their color, read more here.) For our heifers, that’s kind of like being adopted. When we switch out their calf tag with a cow tag, we’re including them in our herd.

A simple hair cut around the ears helps us see the cow tag better. Notice how the number on the left is much easier to see than the number on the right? Thanks, Flat Aggie, for the help!

A simple hair cut around the ears helps us see the cow tag better. Notice how the number on the left is much easier to see than the number on the right? Thanks, Flat Aggie, for the help!

While we were tagging the heifers, Flat Aggie also helped us trim the hair growing in the cattle’s ears. This makes it easier to see the tag numbers when we are working with the cattle. It’s important that we’re able to know which cow we’re dealing with from a distance, so that we can keep track of health, calving progress, etc.

This heifer (meaning she's going to have her first calf soon) is trading her yellow calf tag in for a blue cow tag!

This heifer (meaning she’s going to have her first calf soon) is trading her yellow calf tag in for a blue cow tag!

The last thing Flat Aggie helped us with was giving pre-calving vaccinations. For our cattle, this is very important for the health of the unborn calf. Think of it as a pregnant woman getting a flu shot. The risk of being ill while pregnant, or immediately after the baby is born is greater than the minimal risk of the vaccination. In cattle, even more so.

Before she goes back to eating her breakfast, this heifer gets a shot that will help protect her unborn calf from illness.

Before she goes back to eating her breakfast, this heifer gets a shot that will help protect her unborn calf from illness.

The best part of having Flat Aggie visit our farm? Being able to see things from another perspective. Having to figure out how to explain what we do so that a student could understand was a real eye-opening experience. And it’s great to connect to others across the country that are interested in what we do, but really have no way of finding out, other than through activities like this.

Did it take a little time? Of course. Was it worth it? Without a doubt.

Flat Aggie will be moving on to his next farm, learning his next lesson, sharing his next story. But you don’t need to have a piece of paper to encourage you to share your story. You can do it all on your own.

Trust me, people are wanting to hear what you have to say…you just have to take the step to share it.

Is there a calf in there?

A few weeks ago, we had a crew of people out in our pastures. Although the set up and take down took a little time, the reason behind all the work was definitely important. You see, we were ultrasounding our cows, to find out which ones were going to have calves and when they would be having them.

Just like at the OB’s office!

That’s right, we used an ultrasound machine…much like the one that is used every day by obstetricians when they are looking for a baby’s heartbeat, measuring the size of the baby or checking for any other problems.

Why would using a machine like this be important for our cows? One reason is where we live. Since we start calving in February in North Dakota, it’s important to know which cows should be calving and approximately when. That way we can make sure that they are closer to the barn, so they can hopefully have their calves inside, where it’s warm and protected from the elements.

The head gate makes sure that the cow stands still and doesn’t hurt itself.

Another reason we use ultrasounding is so that we can more accurately determine those cows that are definitely having a calf, and those cows that are not having a calf (we call them “open”). It’s expensive to raise cattle, even more so right now. We only keep the cows that are bred and the ones that are “open” are sold. Many times our open cows go to other farms that have a different calving cycle then we do, allowing them the chance to become bred later.

The girls, waiting their turn!

The ultrasound technique is very similar to the same used in a doctor’s office…well, in general theory anyway. 😉

Once the probe is in the cow and an image is on the screen, a measurement can be taken, just like how the technicians measure the length of a baby’s bone to estimate it’s gestational age. On a calf, the measurement is taken of the space between the eye sockets on the head. The number of centimeters between correlates between the number of days the calf has been in the uterus, giving us an estimated “due” date.

The calf’s age can be measured on the screen!

Of course, these numbers are just estimates, but every bit of information that we can use to ensure our herd is taken care of and healthy is definitely a step up from before!

Calf in a cast

What happens when a 1200-pound-plus cow steps on its newborn calf? Well, lets just say that the calf isn’t usually a winner. But in this case, the vet was called in and so far, things are looking good.

He may be wearing a cast, but it's not slowing him down!

That’s right, we have a calf in a cast. He’ll keep the cast on until the first week of April or so…and while he has his cast on, he’ll be treated to a special pen in the yard, and will spend his nights next to his mother in the barn.

Broken legs don’t happen often on the farm, but when they do, it’s important to have them heal as best as they can, so the calf can walk normally and be able to stand and regain use of the limb. And so far, this little guy seems to be doing great.

Walking around, checking out his surroundings.

So what does it cost to have a cast put on a calf? Our vet bill was right at $200. Plus a little extra time for a few weeks.

And it was a great teaching moment for the boys.

And those moments are priceless.

 

The beauty of calving

This weekend was absolutely wonderful. The weather could not have been more perfect…well, maybe a little less windy yesterday, but it was still very nice. And with nice weather came a little boom in our calving.

When the weather is nice, though, it’s a little easier. The mud isn’t fun to mess with, but thanks to the wind, it’s been drying pretty nicely.

Here’s some of my shots from the weekend. And I’ll have more on Wednesday! Enjoy!

Hmmm...My calving instincts aren't always right on, but I'm thinking something here is telling me that she needs to head to the barn.

Just another beautiful bovine.

Our lilacs are trying to tell us that it's spring.

The cousins, in a race of epic proportions!

Mom, can't I just nap here?

Thankful Thursday – Shelter

Our blizzard turned out to be not so much a snow event, as it was a wind event…but it still made me so very grateful. And after the storms in Illinois and elsewhere, I thought it would be appropriate today to give my thanks for shelter.

I'm thankful for shelter for our calves...and a Boss Man that cares for them!

 

The calves love playing in the fresh straw.

 

Snug as a bug in a rug.

 

I'm thankful for the equipment and technology that allows us to care for our animals, like this bale processor.

 

The bale processor (above) grinds up the corn stubble (left over corn stalks) that our farm baled at the end of harvest last year. It provides great bedding for our cows, as well as a treat or two, as they find leftover corn cobs and other goodies in the bedding.

It's kind of like an Easter egg hunt, in your bed.

 

And I’m grateful for our home, and for all of those that make it possible for us to provide shelter for our animals, our children and ourselves.

And as I give thanks for the shelter that we have, I offer prayers and condolences to those that lost their homes and their lives during this week’s storms.