Calving

A new baby with Momma, off by themselves. Cattle often move away from the herd to calve.

We are in the middle of calving season. It’s a little earlier than we have done in the past, but when we moved, the calving date was already set. Fortunately, it was not January!

If you follow me, you know that we prefer spring-time calving because it follows nature’s natural rhythm, plus we live in Montana: January and February are brutal months to be calving. The weather is traumatic for their health, you have to watch them constantly so they don’t freeze–even so, they often lose ears, tails, etc to frostbite. It is not good for the cattle, the owners, or the pocketbook.

I understand that some also farm and have to calve earlier to get ready for farming or to make grazing permits work. Some claim calving earlier guarantees bigger calves–not so. That’s a possibility, but the hazards to their health and ours–(night checks at 20 below zero–yuck!) actually delay gain. We’ve had similar weight calves when calving in April to those who calve months earlier simply because it is easier on the animal.

Anyway, I digress…I have received questions about calving from people outside of the agriculture circle. Their biggest concern boils down to one thing: Are we kind to cattle?

A fair question!

Of course!

We believe cattle ought to live healthy lives that follow their natural cycles. We will not beat them or mistreat them. It is unfortunate that people ask this question because it means that somewhere it has been projected that this is the norm. *Sigh*

We’ve warmed calves in the barn because it was too cold outside after they were born. (We had calves in February from a handful of cattle. Again, not our choice, but it renewed our opinions about spring calving.) We have brought them in the truck to the barn, wrapped in old coats or blankets.

Goofy faces! No one got peed on and this calf is back with Momma in the field.

Yes, cattle are a business. Yes, we have to manage them in a way that is financially responsible. AND-we will try to nurture them in the best way possible.

Calving is a reminder of renewal. The life cycle continues and we get to watch it unfold in the fields.

Happy Spring Everyone!

THE ELK IN OUR HERD

This fall, we had an elk calf join our herd. We think her momma got hit on the highway and the ranch’s cows were the closest family.

The first time the crew moved the herd with our new “calf”, the calf took off in wild zig zag patterns ahead of the cows and the cows tried to follow her…it was a little crazy.

One of these things is not like the other…

When we sold the calves, the elk calf stayed with the cows.

When we processed the cows, we thought the elk calf was going to go into the corrals, but she changed her mind.

The next time we moved the cows, there she was… and she walked right through the gate!

The elk stayed with the herd for a couple months. I took this picture driving home not long ago… the elk has grown so much!

I’m not sure where she is now. We moved the cows out of this pasture and the elk herd came back by, so I imagine she hopped in with her kind. I kind of miss her, but I think she’s probably doing fine.

So, dear friends, you never know what you might see out in your field. But I hope 2022 brings a lot of goodness. Happy New Year!

* I know there is a concern over brucellosis with elk and cattle, so please be aware that we bled the cows to check for this. No brucellosis!

ARE YOU HAPPY TO SEE ME?

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Happy girls at the feed line.

How do you feel when you see other people?

We’ve been feeding cattle in a pasture not too far from our house. In years past, we’ve winter ranged, providing supplementation for cattle, but allowing them to forage during the winter months. This year, after drought and then high levels of snow early on in the year, we are feeding hay to our critters. It means extra time every day. It means planning around feeding time. But it also means that every day, the cattle are so glad to see us.

They start gathering before feeding time. They wait by the gate for us to pull through. They are getting plenty to eat–there’s usually a bit of leftovers in the field–they are just ready for the fresh food for the day. (There’s a balance in feeding–you don’t want too much leftover because it’ll be wasted, but you don’t want them hungry either. We calculate pounds of feed per day per animal.)

Cows will rub their backs on the truck as we are slowly rolling along forking off hay. We can even scratch their heads. Cattle aren’t necessarily wild, but they aren’t naturally domestic either. Our kids have 4-H steers and a heifer they work with regularly, so they are often like a dog on a leash. However, our range cattle, while not wild, aren’t usually the type to just walk up to you and let you scratch them. Feeding changes the dynamics a bit.

Do you remember as a kid the smell of the kitchen when a parent or grandparent made cookies? Maybe you still think about a favorite meal you had…usually you’ll remember who made it or who was with you when you ate it. Cattle tend to associate people the same way. They remember the food and it makes them more relaxed because they know you’re bringing them something good. The opposite is also true. Do you remember someone who always yelled? Maybe even at you? Cattle remember those types of situations too. They definitely act in accordance to their environment.

We too react, engage, or disengage based on the atmosphere. If you know someone doesn’t like you and you see that person, hopefully you’ll be cordial, but it’s not likely you’ll strike up a long conversation or make weekend plans together.

Watching our cattle’s joy at seeing us bringing them food made me think: What if I treated people that way? I know, it’d be weird to hand out food. I don’t mean that.

What if people knew I was happy to see them?

What if I showed genuine care?

Showing genuine care is a goal I’ve had for awhile, but sometimes time crunches and fatigue have gotten the better of me and I haven’t done it. Sometimes I feel self-conscious.

We humans are on a journey together. We are sharing experiences, be it through on-line connection or daily interactions. We have people we encounter that are easy to talk to and some people whom we have to work at conversation. Yet I truly am thankful for the people in my life.

I’m thankful for each and every one.

Since I am thankful, I’m going to work at showing you I’m happy to see you. I may not always get it right, but hopefully you’ll know that your life is important. You aren’t an accident. Someone sees you. Someone cares how your day is going.

The cows may not ruminate (bad pun!) on human interaction like I do, but we do have something in common: We are happy to see you!

 

 

Nose Clips, Part 2

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It’s been two days since we removed the nose clips from the calves. Our pastures are quiet.

I wasn’t sure that just putting clips in would truly complete the weaning process. I’m quite sensitive actually, so I was more concerned about whether the clips were hurting the calves in any way. I watched them, but none of them seemed bothered by them at all. Behavior was calm during the ten days they were kept in place.

When we removed the clips, we separated the calves from their mothers. The momma cows lingered near the gate for a short time, but the only mother that balled was the mom of the calf whose clip fell out.

This was the easiest weaning we’ve had.

We used these clips on a small group of cattle. In this group of twenty pairs, we had one loose its clip early on and still ball. Another one lost its clip prior to us removing them, but I’m assuming it lost it after several days because this calf doesn’t seem to be vocal about weaning like the other pair.

Overall, ten percent of our group lost their clips early. The rest of the group remained calm and content. They went out to pasture like nothing had ever happened.

While this method worked well for us, we did it with a small group. I believe the biggest downfall would be the labor involved in placing clips in a large group of calves.

As with other things, it seems it is best to evaluate your needs with your cattle and choose what works best for you. Happy Trails!

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A few calves (plus steers in the background) that came up for water and mineral this morning.

Surprised by Kindness

What a ride the last few weeks have been! In my last post, I mentioned needing surgery for endometriosis. I’ve since been to the Mayo Clinic for appointments and the surgery and am now back home recovering. While we were gone, grandparents were staying with our three kids. The kids were taking care of the ranch.

In the two months before we left, we had to redo our entire irrigation system. The old system was struck by lightning and was in desperate need of repair anyway. In the 18 months that we’ve lived here, there’s been so much to repair that we were hoping to eek by one more summer before overhauling the irrigation system, but when nature hit, rebuilding the system seemed better than bandaiding it for another year.

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Getting new power for our irrigation system.

Nothing went right. Every single step took twice as long and cost us twice as much. Water ought to have been going in early May at the latest, but…

We were set to leave June 13. We prayed. We worked sun-up until sun-down every day. Our neighbors kept showing up to help.

The week before we left, I got sick. I couldn’t do much of anything. A good friend took me to get groceries. When I got home, there were people in our fields. Quite a few. A few hours later, 40 teenagers showed up. (Our daughters’ youth group showed up in full force.) They helped us lay pipe. They helped fix water leaks. They did it with joy. We started a bonfire to celebrate the gift our land is to us and the joy of friendship. They worked without expectation. I fed them hot dogs and s’mores and they thanked me. Really, I was thanking them.

We left and the water still wasn’t going. It was supposed to be one more thing and then it could get turned on–neighbors showed up regularly to help. We hired people to come out. Nothing worked. Engineers couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. Grandparents tried everything they could.

The water never did get going until the day we got home. The field wasn’t as dried out as we imagined, but it doesn’t look like it ought to by early July.

Over the time we were gone, we were fighting health battles and the kids kept trying to get the water going. Plus our cattle kept getting out in Houdini fashion. We never had a problem with that pasture last year and we checked all the fences before we left. It felt like blow after blow after blow. There were little fiascos I won’t mention.

I cried a lot. With the stress of a major surgery, I didn’t want the ranch falling apart. We were sixteen hours away and could do nothing. I felt bad for all my kids were dealt. Yet even so, many blessings popped up. Not only in Minnesota for us, but also back home.

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Outside one of the Mayo Clinic buildings. Mayo is huge!

I’m surprised and utterly amazed by the kindness we experienced. Neighbors offered hours of help. People volunteered to help our kids. Friends took our youngest on an adventure or two. Our new community wrapped their arms around us like we’d lived here forever.

We’ve been in many communities and always experienced kindness by others in some fashion, yet it often takes awhile to break in and be accepted. Here we were, “newbies”, and we were treated like family.

Acts of kindness really do go a long way. I’m blown away by the love and help we received, as well as the calls we continue to receive as people check on us. Thank you my sweet community. Thank you. I look forward to being able to return the favor.

 

Why the Silence?

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Oh the pipe we have buried! We will irrigate!

My goal is weekly posts, but you may have noticed that the “week” since my last post has been very L O N G…

I’ve been debating about sharing my personal life in a blog because so much of what I share is agricultural. Do you really want to hear what happens “off the record”?

Since I believe in authenticity, maybe I’ve been cheating myself and my friends (online ones count too!) by not sharing reality. I’ve shared some struggles, but I’ve candy coated a lot and tried to end on an encouraging note because it is imperative I find the silver lining.

We love our new place. Love it. The sunrises and sunsets are gorgeous. We hardly miss one. I love the people and the land. I love what we are pursuing. I love what we are fighting for and what restoration we hope to see.

I do not love the battles.

Battles come in all forms, but lately nothing works. The tractor broke again. Our irrigation system still isn’t running after weeks and weeks of blood and tears. (Yes, we know it’s June!!) We are fighting in every regard. Including health.

I’ve struggled with endometriosis for decades. Not many people know. I don’t talk about it. It’s gotten horrible lately friends. So much so that every day life tires me out. I’m embarrassed to even admit that because I am an active person. I can put on a good front for awhile. Yet, just getting through our issues with the ranch, kids, and part-time work has left me tired. My hubby is a rock star.

It’s time I share because I am realizing I’m not the only one. My silence isn’t helping anyone and it isn’t strengthening relationships to tell everyone “I’m fine or I’m good, but busy.” I won’t promise you I’ll omit those lines from my vocabulary, but I’m reaching towards authenticity in a new way.

Thus, the long stretch of silence on my blog. Also, there may be more silence to come because I’m headed to the Mayo Clinic shortly for appointments and I’m scheduled for surgery. It seems my endometriosis may have stuck together organs that shouldn’t be touching… It’s not been a comfortable year to say the least.

I’m the type that likes to avoid pain. You know, pretend it isn’t there–maybe it will go away. I still believe in miracles and I’m still praying for healing, but it looks as though it will come through the hands of a physician. I’m praying that this pain is productive and leads to a greater outcome than we can imagine right now.

In the meantime, I’ll try to check in as I can. May your summer be off to a good start!

 

Nearly Calving…

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Some of the new girls.

It’s almost that time for us–calving season! I know its cliché, but calving season and spring are true reminders of the cycle of life. The snow will stop (although sometimes in Montana we wonder). Trees will become green. Everything that slowed for the harsh temperatures and weather patterns of winter will indeed come to life again in the spring.

As I’ve mentioned before, we downsized when we moved, selling our herd. We’ve had short-term cattle and steers and now we are building back a small herd. We picked up a few “late” calvers from some friends. They begin calving in January, but we prefer to aim for the first of April. Their lates were our on-times.

Most every rancher has their calving preference. Some like after the first of the year because it allows for older calves in the fall, it doesn’t interfere with spring farming, and rebreeding happens before you turn them out to pasture in the summer.

We like April calving because the temperatures are milder and we don’t have indoor facilities. We have very minimal farming on our place and historically our calves gain well by November. This timing works for us, but each producer must do what works best to fit their needs. Where a small group didn’t fit the winter calving bunch on one place, they were a perfect addition to our pasture.

Wouldn’t it be handy if everything in life worked that way? There are avenues were it does: that’s why craigslist and garage sales are successful.

Don’t you ever wonder sometimes though–what does work best? Certainly trial and error are great teachers. If you happen to have heritage on a place, perhaps time has shown you what works best. However, conditions (people included) change over time. It isn’t ever a bad idea to create a business plan for ranching. (More on business plans in ranching next week.) Having a vision of where you are going will help you take steps in the right direction.

We began ranching from scratch and we are thankful for the piece of land we have now. Is it feasible to stock it with a lot of cattle? Absolutely not. It’s going to need a few years of TLC before it reaches maximum production. It is in our best interests to have a small scale operation focused on instilling quality grazing for meat production. Our goal this fall isn’t to sell to a feedlot, but to sell high quality veal to consumers.

We believe in a symbiotic relationship between land and animals. This vision gives us an opportunity to grow and care for both land and animal alike with a family focused production. We’re quite excited about this spring…

Let the calving commence!

 

 

 

Taking Care

Don’t you love those days when things flow? You hit the lights right, work gets done on time, and there aren’t “surprises”?

Yesterday wasn’t one of them. 🙂

It seemed one thing after the other popped up as a surprise and needed attention right away. A family member’s health is failing and I can’t fix it. Simple life details had piled up and then we discovered an out break of pink eye in our calves. The calves were  gathered up so we could run them through the chute to vaccinate them and treat the active cases. It is just a small bunch of about forty calves, so it shouldn’t take too long, right? (Insert raucous laughter.)

A couple slipped through the head catch–which I didn’t close in time. A needle got stuck in the shot gun and no one could loosen it and I didn’t have pliers handy (we forgot to grab them before starting because we haven’t needed them in awhile…usually they twist right off). It was hot and the critters didn’t want to be run through the chute…and even though I talked nice to them (the guys can laugh at me, it’s ok) they had plans to go somewhere else. Needless to say, it wasn’t as quick as it ought to have been and I left a little before it was over to get the smell off me before hosting a baby shower that night.

It wasn’t a bad day, just not a smooth day. I’m not sure why I’m surprised when things don’t go smoothly because life just happens. Sometimes things just need taking care of…right away. When my kids are sick, then we take them to the doctor or change plans to let them rest. The same is true of cattle. Cows are living creatures and if they have needs, then we stop to protect their health.

Thankful today for the people and resources that allow us all–people and animals– to take care.

A dusty day in the corrals
A dusty day in the corrals

The Future of the Industry

We just got back from the Idaho Cattle Association’s summer gathering. Since we are fairly new to Idaho, it was encouraging to meet new people. My husband has had the opportunity to mingle with other producers, but this was my first time. There is a desire here to promote the industry and share our stories with those not familiar with cattle. I love this because sharing the heart behind the industry is vital. We want consumers to know that we work hard to protect the resources under our care.

Our land practices must provide for our cattle, native wildlife, and future generations with great efficacy. This includes not only maintaining pasture health, but promoting it. Many of our habits today are proactive rather than reactive. Water resources must be protected rather than salvaged. Nutrition programs encourage cattle health, for gestational wellbeing and birth, as well as longterm viability. Our desire is that what is witnessed in our fields will not only sustain our families, but our environment for years to come, while at the same time, providing a food source for the billions of people on our planet.

It goes without saying that ranchers desire to supply the world with sustainable beef. Not just because it is good business, but because it is good practice. Although the “law” of sustainable beef has yet to be written, there is a code that the majority of producers follow: provide the best life possible for the animal as it provides life for us.

Many consumers buy meat, not knowing the practices behind the product. Hopefully this will change. As the word gets out, may the population know that producers are enacting practices such as crop and grazing rotations, fencing off riparian areas, and animal health procedures (just to name a few) that seek to promote the health of land and animals alike.
We are blessed with the opportunity to take part in ranching and look forward to the future!

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Fill ‘Er Up

stocker calves out to pasture

We leased some pasture recently that we are filling with stocker calves. It’s a stepping stone to reach a bigger goal and another beginning. How many times I’ve started something, never thinking that I’d start it again. Yet it seems in life that there are many starts and stops! On the same token, I’ve started many things with a preconceived notion of what it would look like, only to see life paint a different picture.

While specific situtions are important, perhaps the bigger issue at hand is identity.
There are always going to be things we do simply because they must be done. However, at the core of our being we were created for purpose. I’ve watched people spin their wheels and endure frustrating situations because they do go after their calling. In fact, I’ve done it! I’ve rationalized with myself: If I just do this job, the pay will be worth it… but often I denied my heart permission to thump with excitement. Granted, we have to pay the bills, but I think there are many creative solutions in life that would push us closer to that which makes us feel alive. For us, we purchased stocker calves. It isn’t the large scale ranch we dream of, nor is it as big as the one we had when we changed location, but it is a step towards our bigger goal. Our desire is to steward land and cattle. We are happy to put our toes back in the water while we pencil out ideas for the future.
Land, cattle, and the desire to build for future generations excites our hearts. What excites yours? What makes you feel purposeful?