Sunday morning we were up pretty early in order to be ready for the 9am appointment we had with our veterinarian. I hated to have a full day of work booked on a Sunday, I wanted to be at church, however we had a few details come together dictating that this was our best day to tackle the job at hand. The biggest detail was Dr. Marcel was available but also we had a great weather forecast. So there we were. It meant Russ, Morgan, Laurie and Dawson being saddled up by 7:15. They left the barn just before 7:30 after waiting for the sky to lighten enough to do their job. The job of rounding up the herd out of the pasture just north of the barn and getting them into the corral was really successful, the guys were done by shortly after 8 and able to come in and have a cup of coffee. I was working through a list I had made in order to be ready for the day. By 9:30am we were rolling, Dr. Marcel geared up in an outfit that protected his clean clothes underneath, with a set of high tech goggles over his eyes that were connected to an ultrasound wand. We were “preg checking,” thats ranch talk for having a veteranarian assess each cow to see if they are bred. Its an internal exam, aided by the ultrasound wand, the outcome of these assessments helps us to make some decisions. We had over 400 cows to check yesterday, so we knew it was going to be a long day.
If you had to guess how long this procedure would take what would you guess? It is amazing how fast it can go really. Dr. Marcel’s part can literally be done in as little as five seconds per cow, when he isn’t clear on what he is seeing an internal exam using a gloved arm is neccesary. That makes it a bit more time consuming. Still our rate yesterday was about 80 cows per hour. Thats slow by rancher standards. There are some ranches that can accomplish twice as much in an hour. That is hard to imagine. We have a pretty good system. Ron, Morgan and Laurie kept bringing cows up from the corral system and getting them into what we call “the tub”, that leads directly to the alley and that leads directly to “the chute”. Dawson and I ran the alley. Dawson keeping the animals moving up and me applying a product called “Boss”. It prevents lice. We used to apply the now famous “Ivormec” but for the last couple years have found it to be losing effectiveness. Once a cow advances out of the alley and into the chute it is secured there using hydraulic controls that Jillian runs. She is calm as a cucumber doing that job. I am not. I make mistakes and swear and its not pretty. Not Jill. Once the cow is into the chute, Marcel can do his job, meanwhile Russ administers a dose of Vitamin A&D using a needle and Jill scans the Radio Frequency ID tag it has in its ear and gets the cow’s weight registered to the computer. (There is a scale imbedded in the floor of the squeeze chute). When all that is done she tucks her scanning wand under her armpit and uses the hydraulics to let the cow out. If the cow is bred its straightforward, an open cow goes to a different pen and that takes more effort and time.
There are two moments of conversation that happened yesterday that for me illumine some of the inside drama of this day. Before we started yesterday we had a few minutes of standing about while Marcel was getting suited up. Laurie was near me and I guess there was something I just needed to get out in the open, so I started a conversation by asking him a question. “Laurie, what’s your stress level like right now?” He shared that it was very low. He was kind enough to return the question. I shared that I was pretty stressed, that I always worry about injuries and that of course I am worried about the results of this day of work. What I mean by that is, “What will Marcel find?” Its a case by case accumulation of information that tells an extremely important story. Five years ago we checked a herd of 101 heifers, female calves we had kept back for breeding stock and we expected to be bred for the first time. A few of them might have been expected to be open, but 51 were open. Something had gone wrong. The memory of that experience, of Dr. Trevor doing his exam and his voice calling out “open” over and over again has definitely imprinted on Russell and I. The stress of that time was compounded by the fact that I found my mother in law the next morning, not breathing, despite CPR she passed away. So………..”preg checking” is a loaded event at the ranch. It was clear that as I named my worry Laurie acknowledged he held that worry too, but from a much different perspective than Russell and I did. It was good to get that out in the open. Maybe I opened this conversation with Laurie instead of Russell because I could sense Russ was already carrying much stress. He later told me that his worry was at an elevated level this year. The drought conditions mean that the feed situation for the cows is different, they are eating baled crops along with their usual hay, they are not as fat as usual and Russ worried that feed changes would have an impact.
It was with a heaviness of heart that we received the results of the very first cow Marcel checked. She was open. The mind goes a bit nuts. But the second was good, I calculated to myself, “okay we have a 50% rate of conception”, the third was good, “okay Kathy, 1 in 3 this is getting better”, the fourth was good, “this is a positive trend”, and so it went. I think Marcel got to at least 20 cows before he had another open one. There was a trend to be seen, it was our older cows that were mostly coming up open, that is to be expected. It appeared that so far everything in our breeding year is normal. The level of relief this created in Russell and I, and I think everybody was palpable. Like a wave coming over us. Exuberance was able to rise up, and despite a somewhat serious feeling at the chute I really enjoyed being a goofball when the times called for it. I didn’t get to see every tag as the cows passed by my station but when I did and it was a cow I am connected to I knew to be watching for the result. So when Kathy went in, I was listening carefully for Marcel’s words. It was what we hoped for, after those five seconds he so quickly could determine she had a calf and called out “good”, I sang out “Kathy’s having a baby, Kathy’s having a baby!”, and I did that when Linda went through and Liz and Tanya and a few others that I was especially excited about. I took note of Mary, she had twins for us this year, the ones you might remember me chatting about on the blog. We named them Jesus and Bob. Bob was bottle fed for a long time and then adopted on to a cow named Freckles. Jesus stayed with Mary and did very well. Jesus has not yet been marketed so is in the corral with our other heifer calves. Russell has enjoyed telling me of the walks he has through the heifers when he sets his eyes clearly on Mary’s child, he comes back and tells me, “I saw Jesus today.” We believe that God has a sense of humor and this use of names is within the bounds of respect. Anyways, good news, Mary the cow is with calf. There are a few other cows that I was wondering more closely about, hope, mercy and love are all with child, I am especially glad about hope this year. Justice, unfortunately, is open.
The second bit of conversation I referred to at the start was once again with Laurie. At one point early on, when he had come forward to the area of my station, I had the chance to follow up our earlier conversation. I turned my back on the chute and said, “Laurie, its looks like wer’e gonna have some babies!” He didn’t hear me at first. I got to say it again. “It looks like wer’e going to have some babies!” A warm smile came over him, that smile he has that tells you he cares. It was nice to see and he said, “yep looks that way.” That seemed perfect. The chance to vent some of my stress and then check in about it again when we had a good news story to consider was helpful to me. I suspect its a matter of getting the message and living the truth that we are not alone.
So in this crazy year that is full of heart stopping developments and news that causes alarms and so much hard stuff generally, we are thankful for the things that go right. For us, this year, at this point, its our preg checking story. We are starting to feel bold, starting to hope, hope is always a good thing.
I don’t have very good pictures of this day, I took a few, Jill took a few and I have given more glimpses of the crew through a couple of Liz Griffin photographs from earlier in the year.