We are all exhausted. Wednesday was a big deal in so many ways and we have these colds that seem to get better and then get worse when we are stressed, its like they are playing a game with us. Yesterday was the worst of the storm I have cause to believe and we made it through without losing a cow or a calf or power. That is a statement that comes with much gratitude. You wonder how the cows can stand having their bodies caked with snow like that, but they do. We had six calves born yesterday and they all survived. That was helped in large part by the persistence of our hired man Ron who rose to the challenge of scouring the calving yard when Russ was busy with other calves. The snow had accumulated to the point where a poor fence and the snow together meant cows went where they were not meant to, two of them snuck in and calved in a treed area which was tough for Russell to safely navigate should the Mama’s get mad. In the end, calves were retrieved and brought back to the barn with their Mamas and no one got hurt.
Other news flowing from yesterday was that Russell especially felt super supported by our broader circle. There were many ways this happened, funny memes sent to him, earnest texts of concern and phone calls to check in and offer help. Humor when mistakes were made, like Russell clicking on the wrong pictures when he was sending a message and sending pictures of ear lobes in my family to friends who earnestly tried to figure out what ear lobes had to do with ranching in a blizzard, (it was my Mom’s heavenly 85th birthday and various family members wore her jewellery and submitted pictures to the family chat in her honor.) That heart level support means so much to Russ.
The other big deal is that my cousin’s media connections meant that I was called by CBC radio and asked if I would speak on their lunch hour call in show. I said sure. One thing led to another. They asked for videos and by the end of the day besides being on the noon show Morgan was featured on the CBC Saskatchewan web page, I was on the national radio news and the national TV news by night time. This was distracting, fun, flattering and startling. As Russ and I were snuggled in last night I was decompressing, asking, “how many thousands of people saw my face today? Weird, on a day when you are expecting total isolation!”
I have many captioned pictures and some video to share. Its maybe going to feel like a lot. Sorry. I just couldn’t leave things out, because of course to me, they are my people and the animals I respect so much for so many reasons. (To see the videos click on the arrow in the centre of the preview picture.)
This is the address for the news clip I was featured on last night. I don’t know how to make it into a link. However if you want to view it paste and copy it into a browser and you will see it…..I think.
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.
We had a call this morning that a neighbor’s herd of heifer cows had broken in with one of our herds. We know this could cause trouble because if our big bull breeds his heifers (young and inexperienced cows) he will have calving troubles next spring. So, Russ has been assembling a cowboy crew to head down there and fix the troubles by sorting out Corey’s heifers from our cows and bulls. Without the benefit of a gate/corral system it is extra tricky to sort cows on the open range. Russ wants me to come with them and act like a human gate. I am not very interested. I am in a super homebody mode these days. I am soon going to be changing into my work clothes though and heading out. Its 4:32pm. I have to go clean out my vehicle. I will have passengers because the crew Russ gathered is large and that bodes well for our success, but the truck is in an embarrassing state.
5:58pm We are at the pasture and all the cowboys and girls have saddled up and headed off. Here is what some of that action looked like.
In the end I didn’t have to drive, instead another truck and trailer went to accommodate all the horses and I got to be a passenger with Jackie. That gave us time to talk about how it is that I became a minister and she became a nurse. Now I am waiting for the crew to go round up the herd. We have set up trucks and trailers to act as wings in a corner of the pasture and with those cowboys hope to hold the herd while we sort out those heifers and the bull they are meant to be hanging out with. Russ figures it will take them 45 minutes or more to get the herd and move them back to this corner. The pasture is absolutely beautiful, rolling hills, coulees, trees, wild flowers and just out of sight the Souris river. There is a good breeze and it has started to cool down. I am not hard done by sitting here with my laptop.
I had a little Kathy victory moment before we left the yard. I noticed a low tire, by the time Russ came around to see what was up I had found the air hose, attached it to the outside air spigot, found the airchuk inside the shop, got it attached and was getting the tire aired up. For many that would be no big deal, but that represents a bit of competence that I didn’t used to have and I was glad for Russ to find me taking care of business.
Tuesday, 10:09am Not long after I wrote that last bit I could hear mooing in the distance, the crew was closer than I thought so I shut my laptop and hopped out of the truck. In fact they had yet to get across a coulee before they topped a hill, so I took time for some selfies, had a real portrait session of it actually, burned up alot of power on my low power phone and never did capture a sharp one. Anyways……..the thing about being a ranch wife is that you get to save all your old favorite clothes for work days. You have an excuse to hang on to stuff that normally should have been pitched. This is a bonus for sentimental people like me. For the work of this day I was happily wearing jeans that I remember first wearing on a family vacation in Cody, Wyoming in 2008, my t-shirt is a souvenir of my year in Up With People (1991).
Once the cows got near it didn’t take long for the real action to begin. At first, standing in the gate watching things I wondered if it could be done. The large group of cowboys and cowgirls was very much needed. We had many at the back holding the cow herd into the corner and then several in and around the front of the herd to sort out the heifers. Luckily they were a different breed than most of ours and easy to keep sight of once contact was made. It was a good feeling to see the crew get the first heifer out, I did my job at the gate to get it to leave our pasture and enter Corey’s. Part of my job was to be still as a statue to not frighten the heifer away as it approached. At one point when it seemed I had done that quite well and the critical moment had passed David shouted over “hey is that the Mona Lisa over there?!?” I appreciated the recognition, David got his message across by comparing me to a beautiful painting when my job was to be a statue, as far as I’m concerned its all art and through that first piece of art that came to mind he gave me the message, “I see you over there trying hard!” I appreciated it. Once the heifer advanced past where sight of me was a problem I became a human fence with my shepherds crook held wide and moving up quickly from behind. It was pretty impressive to see the crew and watch their bravery, the sorters had to be up close and personal and give the heifers a sense of space and permission to move towards the gate while keeping our cows back.
We had to find, sort out and move away 17 heifers and one bull from our herd of 120 cow calf pairs and 6 big Simmental bulls. One of those bulls created an exciting and memorable moment. He started to charge the gate, Russ said, “stop that bull!”, whether I was stupid, obedient or brave I don’t know but I just became warrior Kathy, ran straight at him with that powerful crook in both my hands and I roared, “Noooooooooo!!!!!!.” That 2200 pound bull skidded to a stop right at the gate and turned back to the herd. I found out later that I yelled so loud that I frightened most of the cowboys. Morgan said he was watching the whole thing and knew why I was yelling but still got scared. Russ says he was very proud of me.
Russ was crew chief, we certainly count on his incredible cowboy skills and his people skills.
Partway through the process he said, “I think wer’e starting to feel grouchy, lets take a break!” Corey had brought all manner of cold refreshments and lots of them and we did get a benefit from stopping to rest. Russ and a few others stayed at the back and held the herd, others of us were able to visit.
After that we had more challenging moments, I think a few swear words were heard, several times a heifer would get so close to the gate and then change its mind and turn 180 degrees at high speed, a wee bit of rodeo was part of these moments.
It was a great feeling when we were down to one to go and then we were done! Corey pulled out delicious snacks and another round of cold drinks, we had a more relaxed visit now.
We had a few more of the first calf heifers give birth today. This time it was Pray, Cuddle and Value. This post arises from the cow named Pray and how she shaped my day today.
First a bit about the name. Although I am a minister and Russell is a bible school graduate, we don’t prioritize time to pray together. We never have. We have tried at times, but it hasn’t stuck. Still we put the word “pray” in our list of words that reflect strength for our marriage. The bigger story is that prayer is a part of our life. On any given day either we do it silently and individually and/or we struggle with it and we talk about that struggle (more me than Russell) and we do it, out loud, gathered together, regularly and with heart, at the meal table. This seems to work for us. The truth is I am a minister and I have struggled for my whole adult faith life with prayer. Too many unanswered prayers is the crux of the problem for me and too much injustice for some in this world. This could get super serious and some day maybe it will be good to talk about all this, but for today, just know that we have a Heifer named Pray because we know that prayer is about relationship with God and we know we need that to carry out our lives and our marriage with wholehearted strength and purpose.
So what happened today? Pray had her calf at the far corner of the heifer pasture, in short grass with no bedding near. Russ found her licking off her calf. However by the time his heifer check was done it seemed as though Pray had abandoned her calf. What the heck?!?!? Surprisingly despite a cold early morning and neglect it was not too bad off. Russ got some hay from a nearby feeder, loaded it onto the hood of the jeep and took it over and made a bit of wind shelter/bedding with a good clump of it. Then his morning had challenges and he never got back to check the status of the calf and its relationship with its Mom. He called at 11:30, would I go and have a tour of the heifers and see what was up? Yes. I found that calf right where he told me he had first seen it. Pray was nowhere in sight.
As I checked the rest of the herd I kept a special eye out for Pray. I found her mingling in the midst of a whole group who were grazing and hanging out like teenagers at recess. She looked unconcerned. I said to her, with a sense of double entendre “Pray I expected more of you.” Unsurprisingly this rebuke did not phase her one bit.
After my tour I called Russ and reported in. He asked if I would make a bottle and return to the calf he would dub “little prayer”. I was a bit ticked by this, lunch would be late and I would get nothing else done for the morning, but of course I wasn’t going to say no. When I returned with the bottle I was fortunate to be able to get milk into her, with only a little resistance.
I had never fed a calf a bottle on the open range before, so I could chalk that up as a first. Ideally Pray would have caught wind that I was meddling with her baby and come stampeding over with motherly love flooding her, but nothing like that happened. What did happen is that after only about 1/8th of a bottle Little Prayer responded to the nourishment and worked at getting up. I witnessed her first faltering steps.
Once up she got tooling around. Her instincts were amazing. She nuzzled up to our Expedition as if it was her Mama. She nuzzled into me, I was sitting on the ground on my knees and my armpit seemed to her like something she should know about. From that vantage point I got more of that bottle into her. It was fun. Still no Pray in sight. I went home and lunch was served only 15 minutes late.
After lunch I was totally enjoying watching a youtube video about how to start seedling plants when Russ called. He needed my help. He was trying to sort out the issue with Pray. I won’t try and explain all the stages of this because honestly I am not totally clear on everything myself. What I do know best I understand after the fact, the initial hurried phone calls did little for me. When Russ called me he was on foot, playing a game with cow and calf which was a combination of tag and follow the leader. He was trying to get them together. I came along just about the time Pray had a change of heart and decided she owned that calf. She did not have a gentle touch. She bellered and danced around that calf and pushed at it, I feared she would hurt it. Russ sat in the jeep with me as this unfolded. I saw raw power in that Mama and it scared me. Pray definitely seemed to be scaring Little Prayer too. Meanwhile, the calf had maybe bonded with Russell and I. In Russell’s words, “I put her to bed for the first time and you fed her for the first time, she feels best with us.” It seemed to be the case.
In the dance around the pasture that took place over about 45 minutes, the calf went through the fence to the neighboring pasture 4 times working to escape its overwrought Mother. As Russ went through too, working to get it back in the proper pasture he said, “if that cow comes for me you drive through the fence and get me.” “Like…. drive throououough the fence Russell?” Yes, right through it was the prescription for salvation. That was the first of four times this happened at three difference fence lines and by the fourth I was definitely overwrought too. It was only in the post game analysis that I really understood that for the most part the calf was the one that Russ was trying to disappear from, it just wanted Russ. The cow seemed to mean no harm to him. But I didn’t know that so my stress levels were just crazy by the time I got the phone call with these words, “turn around and go hide behind that hill!” As I got in place the last I saw of Russ he was running through this rounded and somewhat deep large indent in the prairie, with dirt hills on the north side. I was hiding in the jeep behind those hills, Russ appeared, jumped in with me and said “back up, just back up”. He knew the game of tag and follow the leader had become hide and seek with the calf, I didn’t. When we stopped the jeep and watched from a distance there was a bit of hope in the air. I wasn’t doing so well though. I let myself acknowledge that I have post traumatic shock after the year of so many things going wrong and quite simply if Russ got hurt I would be wrecked. So after Russ said, “back up, just back up” and we had come to a stop, I said, “Russ, I am not doing so good,” not entirely holding back my tears. Russ offered to take me back to my truck, I could go home. I didn’t want to abandon him though. Mercifully that was when it seemed like we could let these two figure it out. We had drawn them out to the centre of the pasture, away from fence lines, maybe with some time for the brain to make some connections both of them would realize that they need each other.
I found it ironic that all this happened with our cow named Pray, because in the midst of all these shenanigans my best possibility for help was God. The thing is after seeing some of the big problems in my life not fixed by prayer I come to moments like this so confused, so needful but so confused. What I am working from right now is that prayer is about relationship with God, investing myself in my friendship with God, letting God in and drawing the strength that my friend has to share with me, its not about telling God what to do, but sharing myself. So observing the action at the third fence line, watching the dance with baited breath, I just repeated over and over again what I wanted, letting my friend know what my end goal was, what the need of my heart was, but trying not to be bossy about how it would happen. I want my husband to be safe. I want my animals to be safe. After repeating that several times I got a bit practical. If this circus was going to end it would be because that cow settled into her maternal identity and allowed her calf to feel safe. So I told God how I wanted that for her. This point in my prayer/conversation is about the time I got the call to go hide behind the hill. And then it seemed, that at least for then, things were moving in the right direction. I was so thankful. Sitting here now, its 5:45pm and I have no idea what has happened since. Perhaps no news is good news.
I didn’t mean for this to be so long. Thanks for sticking it out with me. Lets hope the rest of the heifers offer a slightly more straight forward experience. You probably don’t want to read this kind of a exposé arising from the names of some of the heifers yet to calve🙄😬😉.