Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Calving in the Snow

If you live anywhere within about 150 miles of Rock Springs, Montana, these images are probably pretty familiar to you. We have had quite the winter here in the middle of Eastern Montana. We've had days upon days of overcast skies and thick fog that makes the tree limbs look like sparkling arms and the branches look like fingers encrusted with diamonds.

I couldn't resist taking this picture of the wheel barrows, right near the garden. Looks like it will be a while before it's time to plant huh? At least there should be lots of good moisture to help the plants get sprouted when we actually get them in the ground. .

Here are some mule deer that are grazing near the stubble on a field across the creek. I was driving to Miles City the other day and I could see trails where the bucks had grouped together, and were plowing with their hooves and muzzles to get some sort of grass to eat under the cover of the 8-10 inches of snow. If I had to work like that to get something to eat, I'm guessing I wouldn't still have this spare 15 lbs

And so here we are. The middle of February and it's time to start calving. Our heifers are synchronized and AI-ed every Mother's Day weekend in May. That makes the due date somewhere around the 10th of February, and sometimes we have early arrivals around the 1st. This year was no exception. We had one calf arrive on January 30th. We get funny looks from people when we tell them we're busy calving, but when late March and early April hit, it's about time for us to get into the fields to start the spring planting. It usually works out pretty well. Many years we are running around in sweatshirts and jackets, slogging through mud to get to the corral in February. This year is a little different

I took these two pictures during the first week of calving, when it was in the teens and snowing. I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I'd enjoy getting ready to calve with a below zero wind chill and snow hitting me in the face.

After spending the first hour in the warmer, and the next 23-48 hours in the barn, the mommies and their newborns are shuffled outside to the small pen, where there's a shed for shelter, and lots of warm straw. We only put 5-6 at a time in this pen so the new moms can practice their matching skills. It's a little easier to keep track of their new calf when there are only 4-5 others to sort through. Then they get turned into what we call the "Triangle" pen. This pen is a little bigger with a calf-shelter and water tank and is next to the big pasture where they get turned out when they finally have the whole "mothering" thing figured out.

A calf checking out a salt block. It's a whole new world!

This mama wasn't really liking me wandering around snapping pictures of the fresh calves. She looks a little like one of the Hollywood moms coming after the paparazzi! Snorting, blowing snot, and pawing up the straw. Good thing there was a fence between us!

And here they are, out in the big, cold world.
On this particular day the sun was shining at it was about 17 degrees.

Today it's closer to 25, but it's overcast with snow that comes down for a while and then changes its mind. We are nearly done with the 1st cycle heifers, and then we will have about a week's break before the 2nd cyclers are due. We sold the heifers that were 3rd cyclers... getting up in the middle of the night for 2 solid months gets pretty old, and I only have to do it when Scott gets completely worn out. We have an extra hand this spring, so he takes the checks until midnight, and then Scott has the early morning shift. I'm the "on-call" checker, when everyone else is busy or elsewhere. We've been really fortunate and have only had a couple of tough pulls. Birth weights have been just about right, but it remains to be seen how they'll grow up by weaning time. We used a couple of new sires this year.

We were talking this morning about how we're going to handle the cows (3 year olds and up). Lots of times we bring the younger ones (3s and 4s) in and calve them through the corral when the weather gets bad. But we are not really set up to do the whole herd when we are getting 25 in a day. With the weather cold and snowy like this, the calves are in danger for respiratory damage due to the cold. And if it's really wet and miserable, even calves that are a couple of weeks old can get frozen down and die. I just checked the 8-14 day outlook and it says "Below normal temperatures and below normal precipitation". That means it' won't be 30-40 degrees, like we usually have this time of the year. Good thing our Iowan hired hand brought his snowmobile out... we might be using that to tag calves instead of the Ranger!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book Club--February Installment

Ahh, yes. The long awaited evening of bookclub was tonight. Problem is, everyone is BUSY! We are in the middle of calving and colds, Scott with both and the kids and I with the latter. Rumor has it a couple of ladies were heading off to ski for the weekend, another was calving, and still another, home with a sick kiddo (which mostly came from my sick kiddo--sorry for that by the way!!).

So, it was a rather small-ish group tonight, gathered at Celestia's cozy home for a lovely chicken divan and book discussion.  Clara and Marisa journeyed South together with Everett, crackers and veggie dip, along with some tasty bread and the strawberry limeade which were the missing skiiers' contributions. I journeyed North, with a green salad, complete with green apples, bleu cheese, purple onion, craisins, sunflower seeds and spring greens with dressing of choice, and 3 bottles of wine: a chardonnay, white merlot, and moscato--because the calver hadn't been to town and didn't think she'd be going. Thelma went North and then came back South before going home, West, and brought a lovely raspberry-cream cheese pie for dessert. MMMMmmmm good! We actually discussed the book first, before diving into any food besides the appetizer.

Only two of the six gathered had actually had a chance to read the book, The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West, in its completion; the rest of us were between a quarter to half of the way done. I told you we were busy! But we all agreed that the characters were a lot of fun, and we all identified in one way or another with one of the children--most of us with Cordelia who really had no talent at anything, but at least she looked cute! We decided the mother was brave and resourceful, the dad kind of a putz, and the younger two sisters, kind of brats. No one knew quite what to make of the poltergeist, but the two who finished said it kind of worked itself out by the end of the story. Celestia described it as a "dense" book, meaning tough to get through because it was so full of rich description. It certainly wasn't a fast read! There was definitely a different pulse to our gathering this time. The crowd tonight was made up more of the quiet and wise ones, rather than the loud and animated ones (and we're smart too!). It was relaxing and enjoyable to be around a group of ladies who make a girl feel comfortable enough she can show up in sweats and no make-up, because it was one of those kind of days....

I had to leave a little early so I could get home and tend to the kiddos so the husband could get some rest, so it was kind of a short meeting for me. Next month is my pick for book club, and so I've been wrestling over my choice since September. Finding a book for book club is one of the most challenging processes I go through in a year. It has to be a good book. And by good, I mean not too deep, but not too light, not too sad, but not too happy, not too classic, but not too contemporary, not too secular, but not too spiritual.... you get my drift. It's a tough thing to do! On top of that, it goes without saying you have to find one that not everyone has already read... especially Mary!

 I did get a chance to unveil the new read for next month:

Last year, Mary lent me another book by this same author called The Passion of Mary Margaret. It was one of those books that left you thinking, "Hmmmmmm". But like I said, a person has to pick something that not everyone has read, and so I picked one this time, that not even I have read. I bought this up some months back with the intention to read it, in case it might be a good choice for book club. But not having time, and not having read anything else that really struck me that other people hadn't read, I decided to roll the dice. Hopefully, it will be worth our time and effort!

Now I'm excited to plan the menu! See you at my house next month, 2nd Thursday!