Heifer Story

Sooner or later, you do a job long enough, something unusual will occur that makes the entire process glow with a new light…

So it is with checking heifers…
I mentioned before how I check the heifers sometime between 10 and 11 pm.
There are no street lights.
Moonlight and starlight exist in its phases, but believe me, no moon and a cloudy sky make for impenetrable blackness.
That is a fantastic time of night for my imagination to run wild.  As a child, I was scared of the dark.  Those horrors were based on a premise of a strange man coming and looking in my window or being in the house.  I now know, that a strange man, coming into my yard at night, would be surrounded by my pack of English Shepherds, who would give him no quarter!  That fear has poofed into a smoky memory… and as a result, new fears have had to take its place!
I get the creeps when my sister calls and talks about UFOs… or Bigfoot.  I will hurry my steps if the ice isn’t too bad… until I look at Lucas and Elsa and Dally, and know that ANYTHING strange is going to be met with repeated and threatening barking.  Sometimes the black shape of a heifer laying down is enough to set them off!  If something in the darkness is different than it is in the daytime… they let me know.  So why creep out that Bigfoot is gonna come get me until the dogs alert me to that fact??
Unfortunately, years ago, I wasn’t surrounded by English Shepherds.  I had Josie Mae.  A blue merle Aussie known for her ability to sit and “beg” until her backbone turned into cooked spaghetti and she’d flop over for a belly rub.  She was also known for her ability to trot alongside my horse wherever the horse’s cool shadow ran along the ground…  except underneath, though I’m sure she’d have liked to try!
Let’s just say that Josie Mae wasn’t a hard worker… she was sweet.  She was a companion.  She was NOT an aggressive cowdog!
Walking with Josie to the calving shed one evening… my pitiful flashlight battery was weak and barely punctured that blackness.  It would show me a few steps ahead and that was as far as its energy could project.
I checked the heifers.
I closed the gate to the corral.
A short distance away were a few unfortunate calves that had lost their struggle to be walking the earth.  As we passed by, Josie Mae, quiet-easy-going-lovable-gentle Josie Mae, went ballistic!
Hackles raised.
Eyes peering into the darkness.
As my feet returned to the earth, I made myself inhale, then exhale, and turned the miniscule flashlight beam towards the “dead pile”.  The weak light was met by two glowing eyes.  I couldn’t tell you what kind of critter belonged to those eyeballs, because, frankly, I didn’t stick around to do any deciphering!
Upon further reflection the next day, they were large (not raccoon or skunk), low to the ground (as if whatever-it-was was crouching), and wide enough to reassure me that the animal was BIG ENOUGH.
I don’t think so…
Mountain lion?
My best guess… but I can’t say for sure!
Josie and I were OUT OF THERE QUICKLY!!!
Whatever-it-was could help itself to some dead beef if it wanted!

Heifers 4

Ah… the last of the video series…


Will you miss them??
I enjoy doing these, because they can explain things much better in some respects.  Like most areas of expertise, it is easy to forget to explain simple things that we take for granted.  Hopefully these videos have filled the gaps of my writings.  Please keep in mind, though, that each ranch and rancher is different… and what is typical here, may not exist or function in any other setting!
Vernon had penned this heifer a couple hours before… and had asked me to check on her.
That is where Scene 1 begins.
I try to be quiet… and keep the dogs back… just to lessen her stress.
I waited almost another hour and she still hadn’t made progress.  But look at the size of those little hoofies!  This is gonna be a big calf.  If you’ve ever birthed a child over 8 pounds, you can relate!  Daniel was 8 pounds, 10 ounces… so I tend to be very sympathetic for these ladies!
About the time I get the chains out, Vernon and Daniel arrive and decide to help her out.  This is just like a doctor getting some forceps to help pull a baby.  The chains have nylon straps on them which are placed above the “dew claws” as not to damage the ankle joint down lower.
We return her to her pen, so she was taking her first turn about when I started filming again.
She quickly settled down, and the guys provide traction.  They pull only when she is having a contraction.
No, they don’t always calve standing up… but occasionally they do…
Yes, front hooves and little noses appear first… if the hooves are inverted, then the calf is coming backwards… and that can be bad news!
Sometimes the water bag protrudes, causing the “bubble” I talk about in Video 3 … but this lady had broke her water already.
Dogs are not welcome here… Cows will instinctively defend their calves from “wolves” and if they can’t get to the dog, they may just come at you instead… so dogs are told to go away!!
No, it didn’t hurt the calf to fall to the ground!
Watch closely and you’ll see Daniel stick some straw up the calf’s nose in order to make him “sneeze” the mucus out!
And though I wasn’t really paying attention then… if you look closely at the rock on the rimrock… it does look like an eagle is sitting there!
And so…
This is what it is all about…
I LOVE this part of ranching!

Heifer 4 from Carol Greet on Vimeo.

Heifers 3

So, we have gathered and sorted heifers, and now we do our night checks.

I’m in charge of the 10:30 pm night check… I’m more a night owl than Vernon, so while he might have been in bed for a couple of hours already, I’m just finishing a craft or watching the news, or reading a book… and ready to take my walk to the calving shed.
Vernon checks them at 2 am.  Johnny checks them at 5 am.
If they are calving, we’ll check them every hour or half-hour… and them help them along if they have problems.  Heifers are like teenage girls… they can have babies just fine, but are more likely to have problems and are higher risk pregnancies.  Some just need a little encouragement in what it takes to be a good momma.  Some larger babies we just help along a tad… though we use chains instead of forceps!  More on that in tomorrow’s video!
It only takes me a few minutes to walk over, depending on the depth of the snow, the presence of ice, or whether the mud is frozen or not!
I usually have a dog or two that comes with me…
depending on the temperature,
their soundness of sleep,
whether Lucas wants to get his sore paw in the mud and poo,
or whatever strikes their fancy.
I’ll share some Tales of Heifer Checking in a few days…
but for now,
listen closely,
and I’ll prepare you for your next professional calling of Heifer Checker!

Heifers 3 from Carol Greet on Vimeo.

Heifers 2

What a wonderful springlike day… 

snow melting everywhere…
runoff turning the creek from clear to red…
and more babies!
Our cows have now started having babies as well, so within two weeks we’ll be surrounded by calves – bucking, playing, running wild with tails in the air!
For now, I have the second video part of our “Heifer Chores” that we do every night.
The first video shows how we gather the heifers and put them in the corral.  Here we look closely at their udders to see if they are “bagged up” – full of milk – ready for babies.  If not, they can spend the night outside the corral.  If they are close, they’ll stay inside the corral, so if they have problems calving, we can help them.  I like this bunch of heifers… they are very calm and sweet… which helps Dally learn to slow down and relax while moving them!
Oh, and I also point out where I hit Dally with the axe the other day

Heifers 2 from Carol Greet on Vimeo.

Heifers Step 1

I have a series of videos showing how we calve our heifers.

Tonight is step one…
The gathering of the small area where they spend their days.  If any calves want to be born in daylight, we’ll just push them up to the corral and pen them.  However, if they choose to be born at night, we’ll have them in the corral and easily inspected.
Dally has been doing this task on her own.  She is calmer and works much better when she’s alone.

Heifer 1 from Carol Greet on Vimeo.