Thursday, April 5, 2012


As the grass greens up across the EJE ranch (despite a lack of March precipitation) and the calves begin to hit the ground in increasing daily numbers, so begin the annual set of adventures associated with calving.

As short-sighted as I tend to be, living mostly in the moment and only rarely opening my thoughts and perspective to the future (and very occasionally to the past), I often find myself thinking, at least while it’s going on, that calving season is the best time of the year.

In many ways it is. Springtime rebirth across the shortgrass prairie. Grasses and forbs are greening after their long winter nap, shooting up luxurious new growth and racing to flower and pollinate. New calves are being born, but so are new deer and antelope and coyotes, and 13-lined ground squirrels and all manner of mammalian, avian, reptile and insect life. The air is filled with the scent of warm earth, manure, growing plants and pollen; filled also with the song of the Meadowlark, the rustling (or howling) of the breeze (gale), scurrying footsteps from tiny to large, and the booming and whirring as flocks of tiny prairie birds take to the air. Lord, it’s a wonderful time.

I took my Border Collie puppy (though at eight-and-a-half months, she’s nearly full-grown) Nona out to check cows the other day. She was her usual curious self as we began, looking closely at the cattle and clearly intent on herding them if she got the chance.

But checking cows during calving time is different than at other times of the year. Each cow needs a close inspection, so there’s a lot more driving, turning, and jouncing over rough terrain than usual. Soon Nona had quieted considerably and retired to the back seat of the pickup. Intent on my task, I paid her little attention.

Until she vomited, that is. Poor Nona had become miserably car-sick. I stopped and let her out and kept an eye on her while I cleaned up the mess. She seemed to be pretty dizzy and wobbly for a few minutes, but was soon back to her normal form, both ready to play and ready to herd some cows.

I’d finished with the cow-checking and was ready to head home, but Nona was reluctant to get back into the pickup. She’s formed a negative association with the vehicle which we’re both struggling with. But we’ll get it figured out.

The next day one of the mature cows had a nice, healthy heifer calf. Cow and calf were doing well and the calf had been up and nursed when I found them. But for some reason, there was another cow in attendance, trying desperately to mother the new calf. She was irritating the new mama and confusing the calf a bit, but as she has yet to have her own calf and has no milk yet, the calf soon knew for sure who her real mama was.

This is a somewhat unusual situation but far from unheard of, and speaks to the flood of hormones coursing through a cows system as she nears parturition. The hormones were probably telling the interloper that she should have a baby on the ground and care for it. She’ll bear close watching but the problem will almost certainly be solved once she finally has her own calf – soon, hopefully.

As I got out to tag and vaccinate the new calf both cows acted quite concerned, as do nearly all new mamas. The calf bawled when I gave her the vaccination, and the non-mama stuck her face against my chest, sniffed mightily, and then casually flipped me away from the calf.

I tend to forget, or at least disregard, how very strong a 1,200 lb. cow can be. Her simple toss of the head flipped me completely over and landed me in an undignified heap about 10 feet away. I was irritated at being interrupted more than anything, and not injured in the slightest. I walked back to check the calf for horn buds and both cows backed off, still eyeing me closely. Just another calving-time adventure.

The calving pasture for the mature cows is a very nice place for cows to give birth. It’s two miles long and features plenty of hills and dales for shelter. Cows, who like to isolate themselves from the herd when their calving time is near, have little trouble locating a nice, quiet, private spot.
EJE cows like to calve in this secluded spot, making calving-time an adventure for the Segundo.

A downside to the pasture is that it is cut in numerous places by north-south gullies, cuts, and draws. As I found to my chagrin last year, after only a moment’s inattention you can find your pickup seriously stuck. Last spring as I was driving along what I was pretty sure was a safe route, eyeballing a group of cows on a distant ridge, my pickup suddenly slammed over the edge of a four foot-wide, four foot-deep cut. Needless to say, it took a lot of walking, a lot of explaining, and an assist from the tractor to pull the pickup out.
Trust me, this is the wrong place to take your pickup while checking cows on the EJE Ranch.

Another downside, at least for me, is that several cows always pick the bottoms of gullies for their calving spot, usually in areas filled with boulders and choked with yucca. And where a close pickup approach is 50 yards – mostly down a steep slope.

So I’ve done a lot pf climbing and scrabbling and chasing this spring, and come to prickly grief in yucca patches more than once.

But all in all, such excursions add spice to the job, making it an adventure. And that’s okay by me.

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