Guess what time it is?

Let me see if I can give you a few clues:

These will keep me warm, especially at night.

These will keep me warm, especially at night.

These critters are now a little closer to home.

These critters are now a little closer to home.

This place is ready for some company. (And the moon was just a cool bonus.)

This place is ready for some company. (And the moon was just a cool bonus.)

I'm gearing up for a little less sleep and a lot more "fresh air."

I’m gearing up for a little less sleep and a lot more “fresh air.”

Have it figured out yet? Here’s the last piece of evidence you need:

The first calf of the 2014 calving season is enjoying a little bit of time under the heat lamp. The next few months will be busy on the farm!

The first calf of the 2014 calving season is enjoying a little bit of time under the heat lamp. The next few months will be busy on the farm!

 

 

The definition of disaster

Earlier this week, I posted about the devastation that hit to the west of us. So many farmers and ranchers lost so much in the blink of an eye. People were quick to share photos and stories of heartbreak, but the questions started pouring in.

So I’m going to attempt to answer a few, from this farmer’s point of view. Please remember, these are my thoughts and reasons, but I’m hoping to give just a bit of insight.

1) It’s the Dakotas, why aren’t we ready for a blizzard?

Well, it’s pretty simple. Look at the calendar. It was the first week of October. And although snow is always a possibility, just about any month, the early snow falls are usually fast, wet and disappear. It was predicted to snow, but not even the most cynical of weatherman predicted it would hit that fast, that hard and bring with it the winds that were present.

There were 26 named winter storms across the country last year, according to The Weather Channel. There were many, many storms that hit our area throughout the winter. We don’t usually name them, and they don’t usually impact our lives too much. This was unexpected and beyond our realm of normal.

2) Why weren’t the cattle cared for?

This is plain not true. These cattle were being cared for…in just the way that many ranchers care for their cattle. A few weeks ago, I explained that our cattle spend a majority of their time at pasture. Which is just where most of these cattle were, out to pasture.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

You see, in my case, our pasture is located about 15 miles from our farm. The land is hilly, rolling and wouldn’t be suited for farming. Yet it makes the perfect pasture. If a storm were to hit suddenly, and packing the punch that this one did, there is no way I could drive to the pasture, have them loaded up and brought home, and do so safely, in anything less than a day.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

3) OK, I get it, it was a freak storm, the cattle were on grass…but why did they die?

Good question. And it’s simple science. The storm hit fast, the snow was heavy, many suffocated under the weight of the snow, or ended up disoriented and wandered into a more dangerous area. (Below you’ll find a video I did a few years ago, when I went out to check cows after a blizzard…you can see how they gather.)

Snow accumulates and builds in drifts, much like sand dunes. And when the wind is blowing like it did, it creates very dangerous drifts. If the cattle gathered in an area that was protected from the wind, they may have ended up buried.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

Here’s the one thought I would like for you to take away from all of this: We deal with these types of storms every year. It had nothing to do with lack of care or not knowing how to handle the weather…it had everything to do with timing. The fact that we handle hundreds of winter storms without a loss every year speaks volumes to the care that we provide our animals.

The ranches and farms that were impacted by this storm need our support and resources to get them back on their feet. We can all help out and do our part.

As I sit at my computer, typing this post and considering the challenges that face those to the west of me…all while in a severe thunderstorm watch, I can’t help but shake my head at the irony of it all.

A blizzard last week? Potential for tornadoes this week? Perhaps this government shutdown is even getting to Mother Nature? (Sarcasm…that’s sarcasm.)

I can tell you that the farm and ranch community will rally around and do what they can to help each other out. But the fact is, we may lose a few farms and ranches…and when our numbers drop, the effect is felt throughout the country.

The storm may have hit a small area, but we will all feel it.

 

 

Flexing your freedom

Censorship…it’s a tricky topic. And yet, every day our freedoms are infringed upon due to someone determining what it is we have the right to know. So how do we find the fine line and tread somewhere between our freedoms allowed by the Constitution and mass chaos?

Some deep thoughts for a fall day, isn’t it?

Yet, these are the issues troubling my mind today.

It started off as a blog post by a dear friend of mine. She was checking into what her son was reading for his sixth grade requirements. He wasn’t answering her questions as thoroughly as she would have liked, so once he went to bed, she read the book he was reading.

She was shocked, to say the least.

The book was about a teenager giving birth to a child, abandoning it by a river bank, and the physical changes and complications that arose from the situation. And it was labeled as a sixth-grade-level book.

My friend had trouble sleeping that night. She knew that her son was confused by what he was reading, but since he was on a deadline to finish the necessary points for the quarter, she allowed him to finish reading the book. But she did speak to the school administration about the book. It is no longer labeled as sixth-grade appropriate.

But is that censorship?

In my mind, no, it’s being a responsible parent…and looking out for others as well. The book is still available at that particular library, it’s just not available to a crowd that would not understand the touchy issues involved. And all it took was a concerned parent to actually read what their child is reading.

Reading is important, but knowing what your children are reading is even more important.

Reading is important, but knowing what your children are reading is even more important.

Some would say that we should be able to read whatever it is we want. That we should be able to have answers to all our questions and nothing should be kept from us…and to a point, I agree. But the problem arises when others start flexing their “freedoms” as well.

I have the freedom to write what I like…at least on my blog, within reason. I do not have to check my facts, I do not have to support my suppositions, I just need to write. And if someone wants to come along and accept what I have to say as fact, that’s their right as well.

Can you see where the problem can arise?

We are bombarded daily with things that people claim as “fact.” We want to know the answers to our questions, but we don’t know where to go for the right answer, and we don’t know whom to trust. And when it comes to things such as the food we eat and how I raise it, I can’t help but wish that we could censor just a bit more.

Much like a sixth-grade boy, not sure what to do with the information provided to him in a book, my friends and neighbors are being bombarded with information that can either answer questions with the truth, or spread fear and misinformation.

For example, many assume that our cattle spend the majority of their life in a feedlot. When, in reality, they spend the majority of their life on grass.

For example, many assume that our cattle spend the majority of their life in a feedlot. When, in reality, they spend the majority of their life on grass.

So, although I will defend your right to share what you wish, I will also exercise my right to share my own story. And perhaps, between the two, we can find common ground.

Animal care – it’s what we do…an update

Last spring I wrote about a little calf on our farm that we found had a broken jaw. In some cases, it may have been considered a lost cause, but our vets are pretty special, and most farmers that I know would do anything to alleviate pain and suffering in an animal.

This is what “Darrel” looked like when he was in the process of being fixed (read the original story here):

broken jaw fixed on calf

The calf is still sedated, but the jaw is now aligned and secured to heal. Notice the feeding tube, so that proper nutrition can be maintained.

And I’m happy to say that this is “Darrel” now:

And this is the calf a few months later!

And this is the calf a few months later!

Injured calf on the mend

Even with a broken jaw, this calf was able to continue to get the nutrition it needed.

So why share such a story? Well, it seems so many times we hear the evils of farms and ranches that raise animals for food…and most of the times those stories are exaggerated, fabricated or taken out of complete context. But it doesn’t change the fact that our farm and farms just like ours do the best that we can, for each and every animal that we raise.

Including a small calf with a broken jaw.

Sometimes it doesn’t turn out like the fairytale we wish, sometimes the cause is lost before you even begin the fight, but as we weigh the benefits and the risks, the pros and the cons, we all have one thing in common: we want to eliminate needless suffering.

Sometimes that takes a round or two of antibiotics, sometimes it takes a call to the veterinarian and a surgery…and sometimes it means letting go and making sure that the animal is put to rest as quickly as possible.

But I will admit, I like the happy endings a lot better.

Mandible mayhem

WARNING: This post may be graphically upsetting to some! (Consider yourself warned)

Really.

No, it may not be a pretty sight.

Well, actually, it’s not that bad, just makes you feel a little bad for the poor thing.

Here’s the scoop: on Easter Sunday Boss Man’s amazing sister and her husband were out helping Mark with a few of our sick calves. Sick calves happen sometimes, but we wanted to have an expert’s opinion (or opinions in this case) and wanted to make sure that the treatment protocol was correct. (Did I mention that my wonderful sister-in-law and her husband are BOTH veterinarians? We are so very, very blessed!)

While out in the lot, looking at the calves that weren’t feeling so hot, they came across one that seemed to be a bit more out of sorts than the others. And quickly realized that this calf was in need of help.

broken jaw, veterinarian, healing a calf

The calf is sedated (which is why it looks so loopy) and the x-ray showed what the vets knew to be true, the jaw is broken.

So, our vets took over and loaded the calf and the cow up in our trailer and hauled it the 2 1/2 hours to their office. And there they did an amazing job fixing it up, so that within a few weeks this calf will be completely healed.

broken jaw fixed on calf

The calf is still sedated, but the jaw is now aligned and secured to heal. Notice the feeding tube, so that proper nutrition can be maintained.

The feeding tube was placed so that we can make sure that the calf is getting all the nutrition that it needs. It’s free to suck from the cow if/when the calf is up to it, but all healing needs proper nutrition. Every day, Boss Man milks the cow by hand, and feeds the rest of the milk to the calf through this tube.

You may be wondering what happened to cause the break, and although we didn’t see it happen, we can about guess. It appears as if the calf was kicked by one of the cows. Now, it could have been its own mother, not liking something that was happening when the calf was sucking, or perhaps the calf was trying to suck off another cow and ended up kicked? We’ll never know for sure, but all we needed to know was that the calf needed help.

So, is the calf sickly and moping? Does it spend its days in the barn? Not at all. Its outside, enjoying the spring air on the farm, coming in at night to be fed and rest in the barn. It is in a more secluded pen, but there are other calves and cows with it.

calf with broken jaw

This calf is now ready to come back to the farm, all fixed up! We’ll be keeping an eye on it, making sure healing progresses, and recheck in a few weeks!

As you can see, the calf is perky and was ready to make the trek back home. Isn’t it amazing what can be done?

I want to really thank our wonderful vets for taking such amazing care of our herd, even from so many miles away. I know just how lucky we are to have such a great team.

And don’t worry, I’ll keep you up-to-date on the progress of this calf. It already looks a ton better, just from the swelling going down!

As you can see, we go the extra mile to make sure our cattle (and calves) are cared for…but we’re open to answer any questions you may have, so ask away!

Calving: Backwards Calf

Last weekend I was helping out Boss Man by checking cows. It’s become one area of the farm that I’ve been able to get more involved in, and I love it!

During these cold winter months, we check the cows that are due to calve at least every two hours. We do this to try to guarantee that calves are born inside the barn, where it’s warm and protected, not outside in the cold. Another reason to check on the cows frequently is to be able to step in when there’s a problem…and on this particular day, there was one.

One of the things that I look for when checking cows is the presentation of the calf being born. As I talked about a few days ago, sometimes calves can present in ways that jeopardize their chances of being born safely, much like when a woman is pregnant and the baby is breech, transverse, etc.

When a calf is presenting in the best way possible, they come out feet first, headlong…kind of like they’re diving out of the birth canal. You look for the feet to be toes down, or the hoof to be pointing down towards the ground.

If you look under the tail, you can see that this calf is being born with its toes pointed down. By catching the cow at this stage, she was able to walk to the barn and safely have the calf indoors.

If you look under the tail, you can see that this calf is being born with its toes pointed down. By catching the cow at this stage, she was able to walk to the barn and safely have the calf indoors.

Unfortunately, when I noticed that this particular cow was calving, the toes were pointing up, indicating that the calf was coming backwards. In this case, the calf needs to be born quickly, so that it’s chance of survival is greatest.

This is a diagram of what a calf being born backwards looks like. A quick delivery is the best way to guarantee that the calf has its greatest chance of survival.

This is a diagram of what a calf being born backwards looks like. A quick delivery is the best way to guarantee that the calf has its greatest chance of survival.

I let Boss Man know what I had found, and he was able to assist the cow in having the calf quickly by attaching pulling chains to the back feet, and pulling the calf out at the same time that the cow is pushing. Together they quickly delivered a healthy calf.

It’s great to know that your hard work and dedication can pay off, especially when sleep is short and the list of things to do gets long.

Have any other questions about calving? Be sure to ask, and I’ll explain what I can (and look up what I can’t!).

What size of brush are you painting with?

I was watching George paint the other day. It was entertaining, to say the least. He would take his paint brush, and dip it into all the colors, then get mad when the picture didn’t turn out like he had imagined.

And he expected me to fix it.

This little artist gets frustrated when his "masterpieces" don't turn out as he had planned. Sometimes instead of being a beautiful piece of work, it's just a mess.

This little artist gets frustrated when his “masterpieces” don’t turn out as he had planned. Sometimes instead of being a beautiful piece of work, it’s just a mess.

He couldn’t understand that the problem had nothing to do with the paper, or the colors, or me, but with the brush he was using and how he was using it. And it reminded me of a conversation that occurred online just a few days ago.

Someone had asked for anyone that calves this time of year to explain why they were doing it, or what benefit they perceived that they received from calving during winter months. I simply replied that with our operation and our location, calving now was what made sense for us. It’s easier for us to deal with snow and ice, rather than mud and muck.

It's not always fun making sure the cattle stay protected in the winter, but the snow and ice are easier to deal with than...

It’s not always fun making sure the cattle stay protected in the winter, but the snow and ice are easier to deal with than…

...the mud and muck of spring.

…the mud and muck of spring.

The responses that were received from people who also raise cattle was surprising, to say the least. One claimed that “winter calvers” are not profitable. Another claimed that some people were too willing to work too hard to make less money.

At first I was somewhat offended. And then I found a little humor in the situation. But it wasn’t until watching my son getting frustrated with his paintbrush, that I realized the lesson that could be learned from it all.

The humor? Well, if winter calving operations aren’t profitable…then there’s a check or two that I’d like to cancel. Mainly to the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, Boss Man will be relieved to hear that our days of paying taxes are over, now that we’re a non-profit livestock operation. Whew! What a relief that is! (Yes, my dear reader, that is sarcasm. At its finest.)

The lesson? When you’re working to make a better picture, using a broad brush will get you nowhere. Neither will dipping your brush in all the colors, expecting for everything to work out.

The same is true in agriculture…or any industry, actually. What makes our way of life great is the reds, the blues, the greens and yellows. All the different colors, all the different sizes, shapes and methods of operating. Together, agriculture makes a wonderful picture. But if you try to shoehorn us all into what you perceive to be the “only way” to farm or ranch? Well, you end up with a big old ugly mess.

We all have the same end result in mind. A great, abundant, affordable food supply for anyone looking for it. And the beauty is, in the great country we live in, the choices are there for you to make. You can decide the types of food you want, the way you want it raised and the price you want to pay for it…there’s always a decision, even if it’s take it or leave it.

Making sure that our calves are healthy and happy...that's our main objective, same as most anyone raising livestock.

Making sure that our calves are healthy and happy…that’s our main objective, same as most anyone raising livestock.

And we have choices, too. We decide our methods and what works for our operation – whether it’s calving now or in the fall, using no-till or conventional methods, growing organic crops or using biotechnology. It’s one of the main principles our country is built on.

I was upset by the insinuation that our operation was sub-par because of the decisions we made, but after the lesson my son taught me, I’ve taken something valuable away from what could have been a disappointing situation.

And that was my choice, too.