Wer’e Gonna Have Babies

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.

Marcel with his gear on. There are fancy ultra sound viewing goggles under that protective bit of plastic.
An October picture taken of Laurie and Russ. Laurie excels at teamwork.
A July picture of Dawson and Russ. The focus on Dawson’s face is typical of him. He rarely makes mistakes when working with us at the chute. I have to confess there were times this work day when we were slow to get a cow up the alley. We got visiting and got distracted.
Russ with a syringe full of Vitamin A & D. He is ready to roll.
Jill at the controls.
Jill getting a selfie with the cow that is named after her.
With my “drench gun” in hand, standing at my station, ready to put a dose of “Boss” down the cow’s backs. And for the record, wearing Russell’s hoodie. Just the perfect weight for this warm winter day.

Come for Coffee

Yesterday contained no big story to ponder, just a bunch of little things, like a lot of days are.  I have found myself thinking, if you, the reader, were to come to our house for coffee (the time will come again I am sure!), what might I tell you about the day here at the ranch?

First I would offer you a drink, which would mean consulting what you want and then standing at my cupboard and carefully picking a mug for you that I think you would like.  

My friend Suelynn asked for an update on Pray and Little Prayer, the bovine subjects of yesterday morning’s post.  Before I offer that, Suelynn here is the cup I would select for you.  Its “Chip” from Beauty and the Beast, I picked it because I thought you would appreciate how fun it is and it reminds me of your support of the kids when they acted in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Things are very well for Pray and her calf “Little Prayer”, it seems that they just needed a little settling down time to get their thoughts and emotions straight.  When Russ checked the pasture early yesterday they were together and “Little Prayer” looked well, like she had been getting the milk she needed.  By mid morning Russ was bringing several pairs up out of the heifer pasture into the corral so that he could truck them a little further away to our heifer pair pasture.  From the kitchen I happened to see this process start and I was able to go out on the deck and get this picture.

I caught sight of Pray as she went by but didn’t get her in this picture, it was quite the transformation from the last time I had seen her.

If Lindsay were to come for coffee we might talk about this blog.  She has been super supportive of it.  Here is the mug for you Lindsay, with your sense of humor I think you would enjoy this!  It was a gift from Jill to Russell.

Its been exciting to be a blogger, the stats page tells me that people are reading it and in the last few days even someone from Ecuador has been checking it out.   Lindsay told me in a message that I could describe paint drying and make it captivating.  I wonder if she was here with a mug in her hand whether I would tell her about my Sudoku habit and the fact that I finished a super difficult puzzle yesterday.  Sudoku is not fun to talk about really, it’s a solitary game with lots of work to it but it is a regular part of my life, and if you drink 8 cups of water in 8 hours you get to visit your book pretty often if you know what I mean!  How might I make Sudoku interesting?  Maybe by talking about what makes it meaningful to me.  Surely that is a big part of making any boring reality less boring.  Find the meaning and find the humor.    The thing about Sudoku is that there are rules that are always in place, numbers 1-9 in a 9 block square, and in a 9 block row both vertically and horizontally.  Always.  Nothing will change that.  I grew up kind’ve like that, with always kind of rules. Always tell the truth.  Never call people names.  Be caring.  When the world got kinda crazy, when these rules didn’t seem to matter anymore, I needed Sudoku, the rules always are in play and when you follow them everything falls into place eventually. And that ladies and gentlemen is what Sudoku means to me, very tangible order in a disorderly world and therefore stress relief.

If Keith came for coffee I for sure would have to tell him about an episode with Coffee that happened yesterday.   I only know this should be visited about because he made an observant comment about that dog of ours sometime in the last week and it stuck in my head.  I’m gonna assume he is interested.  These moments with Coffee are what got this whole particular post rolling.  I had the words “come for coffee” roll through my brain while in a state of amused disgust at what I had just dealt with.  What I meant was, someone come and get this dog…….anyone…..anyone?!?!?    Its not that bad really…..I made buns yesterday, I had 40 of them cooling on the counter after lunch.  I was resting in our room when I heard a funny clatter.  It was kindv’e an isolated noise, I thought something must have fallen off a shelf or something.  Nope.  I rounded the corner and found a cooling rack and 20 buns upside down on the floor.  Coffee was backing into the living room and looking truly alarmed.  I removed her to the dog room (I was brusk and I had a few words for her) and then assessed the situation.  She had eaten a pretty good amount out of two buns.  I think she must have hopped on a stool and started while they were still on the counter then accidentally pulled them onto the floor.  You probably don’t want to know what I did with the rest of the buns.  I can tell you I learned a lesson.   Part of that lesson…..its not only humans that like my buns. (Insert sheepish grin at using the corniest and oldest dumb joke that exists in our family.)

Here is the cup I would choose for Keith.

Russ would like to point out Keith that the cow we have named after you is looking ready to calve but has a lingering aura of anger about her after the fight she had with Russ last calving season.  He is staying on his toes!  Stay tuned.

I need my friend Deb to come for coffee.  The friend who has known me since I was 9 has walked with me through everything life has thrown at me.  Last night, while just about to get supper on the table, a call from the school informed me that Jillian has been in close contact with a confirmed case of Covid 19.   She is now self isolating in her room in the basement.  My thoughts are all over the place.   It sure makes me appreciate better what people much closer to the action for the whole course of this have been reckoning with.  I am second guessing myself and my practices and doing lots of mental gymnastics …. why might she have it, why might she be okay?  Based on what she knows she is concerned about where she was sitting in class on Wednesday.  I am thankful she is good about wearing her mask.  She is such a beauty of a girl, so wise.   We found the news hard, it turns your life upside down. We finished supper late, had beer and chips for dessert and went straight to bed.

Liz Griffin took this picture on Oct 31.  We had returned from Saskatoon the evening before after my Mom’s funeral on the 29th.  We had planned our biggest cow chase of the year for this day. We carried on and with help and strategy we got our crew fed.  Having been in many different city locales in the days prior Jill felt certain a mask during food prep was wise. 
Out in the fierce wind I took my mask off but Jill was insistent she use hers. This committment of hers is helping me now, giving hope that she will be fine.

My friend Deb has been part of a leadership team guiding a long term care home in Saskatoon through this pandemic.  She has maintained a calm and reasonable presence through all that has happened. Deb and I used to drink wickedly strong coffee together but I think herbal tea seems to be more our beverage of choice as we do middle age.  Here is a mug for Deb. She loves animals.

I am not sure who wants to hear about the cows. As I write this last bit it’s now May 1st, yesterday we had a humdinger of a day, 25 cows calved. Only two had really special names, Bea and Linda. Bea after my supervisor when I was a student minister and Linda after my sister and 3 other friends. With summer like weather it’s a good time for record setting calving days. We have a big 4 day stretch ahead of us. We are working with our yearlings today, giving them Vit A&D. Tomorrow we start putting cows and calves through to install tags, give vitamin and vaccine needles, castrate bull calves, and brand the calves. This is hard and time consuming work and we will be sorely missing Gina and Jill. Monday we will continue. Tuesday we are starting to truck pairs to their permanent summer pastures. Russ is using his incredible skills with strategy to manage alot of variables. Its dry, it’s been cold, grass is not growing yet, hay supply is getting low, dugouts are extremely low and new cow calf pairs are coming quickly and need a place to go when done in the calving pasture (like a maternity unit). We are hoping to have 120 pairs moved by bedtime Tuesday. I am not sure what will happen with the blog over these days.

Now regarding coming for coffee at our house.  Russell would like you to know that if he is in charge in the kitchen when you come you can expect to be served instant coffee. That is his hot beverage passion.  I serve pressed coffee from ground beans.  We have at least 12 kinds of tea and hot chocolate.   We do aim to please so don’t be scared to come if you hate instant coffee.

You have stories too. What are you seeing? How are you feeling? What are you grateful for? What is hard? What made you laugh lately? The best coffee dates go back and forth, I see you, you see me. Blogging means you basically hear my stories. Your stories matter alot and I promise that on that great day when we easily travel and gather again I will listen (once our mugs are full and in our hands).