September 24th, 2007

woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

A morning with cows

Our cattle run with those of a friend with more acreage.  In fact, I bought my first two cows from their herd.   We contribute some work (not probably as much as we should)  and they get half the calf crop for pasture usage. 

Yesterday, John called to say that a friend of his was available to help and we'd be working cattle this morning.  This is the fall "drive" to cut out the marketable young'uns and take them partway across the county to market.   It's a small herd, on a relatively small place (only 220 acres) so the "drive" isn't a cowboy thing with horses--the cattle have been lured into the working pens several days in a row before the work, to get some cubes.  Day of, it's a matter of hitching the big cattle trailer to the truck (always a big more of a job than it's meant to it involved the truck dropping wheels into a new hole that appeared due to this year's rains, and having to be pulled out by a tractor.  I got to drive John's tractor, a Kubota.  Nice handling tractor (I still like my own John Deere, but will admit the Kubota's quieter as it has a cab with *doors*.)   

Then we put a sack of cubes in the car and headed out across the pasture with that, to indicate to the cows that a treat was about to be available.   Cows, calves, and the herd bull showed up at the barn and working pens, and from then on it was my job to open and shut gates as needed.   When working cattle on foot, the idea is to move slowly and calmly, and keep the cattle as calm as possible.  These cattle are used to be worked on foot, and are culled for "rankness" (if they're chargey, mean, spooky, etc.)    Calm is a relative term with cattle, but we got everything into pens, and then everything sorted.   I worked one gate and James worked another, while John actually did the moving.  Six to ten foot PVC pipe poles make great tools for this kind of thing. 

Finally we had seventeen calves in the old barn, and John had the truck and trailer in the lane between the old barn and the working pens on the other side, and  by some additional careful gate work (and quite a bit of forceful shoving with a gate as a squeeze) we got eight of them into the front section of the truck, and eight into the middle section, and number seventeen (who was too little to go to the sale barn but had been running with bigger half-sibs) was shut in the barn until we could let a mama cow in to calm him down. 

Three of my cows had calves for sure this year, and the oldest, One-horn, we're not sure of.   I was especially happy to see that Streaker, the heifer I traded for two years ago,  had a calf at side and acted like the perfect first-time mama cow.  Hers was too small to go to market.   Blondie was somewhat lame (need to keep an eye on her) but Dark Rose looked fine, as did Streaker and One-horn.    Dark Rose's and Blondie's calves both went off to market, and both were really good looking growthy calves with good flesh on them.  The rains this summer have caused some hoof problems, but all the cattle were in good flesh, even those who'd had their first calf, like Streaker.  Two years ago, Dark Rose had her first, but it was a dry year and by July she looked gaunt.  It was great to see the bones covered that should be covered.  Rose has matured into a pretty nice-looking cow.   Streaker's not as pretty a cow as her mom Blondie (Blondie has a very pretty head, reminds me of some Italian breed whose name I can't  remember, not that heads matter) but her conformation as an adult cow lives up to her promise as a calf.  

Streaker as a calf, with Blondie, in July 2005:

Streaker as a mama cow nursing her first calf, Sept 2007

My main interest in cows is culinary.  I like knowing that my cows are living in plenty of space, eating natural food,   resting in the shade of the trees, enjoying the company of their familiar herdmates, many of them daughters of the older cows, and even the ones we take off the place have a happy life until that day.  I like knowing they don't get drugs or hormones and don't get crowded into pens to be fed too much of the wrong foods for their health  or mine.   And I love the flavor of grass-fed beef--it makes such wonderful soups and stews and chili and gravy from the roasts, etc.   The bull-calf we keep back for personal use has only a culinary name (alternating Mr. T(bone) and Sir Loin) but is honored nonetheless for his contribution to our (and our friends')  diet.   This time it's Sir Loin, and he looks the part.  (His papa, the herd bull, is beginning to think that Sir Loin is too big for his britches.)  

At any rate, it was a busy and energetic morning with cows. 

There aren't pictures of us working, because when you're working gates while sorting cattle, it's not a photo-op kind of affair.  I didn't want to risk the good camera, or be distracted looking through the viewfinder when I was supposed to be quickly opening/shutting a gate or something.   I took the Streaker-with-calf shot through the windshield of the car before I got out. 

woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

Lame? Who, me?

Mac has been improving, but improvement has been accompanied by more energetic resistance to his bad-tasting medicine.  For those without horses, it comes as a pasty white stuff in a fat plastic syringe with a plunger that has a sort of serrated handle and a little collar that you can set for the dose.   Each one will provide several days' worth of doses.  This is an advantage over the days when you had to try to pill the horse by hiding the pill in something, or pounding it to bits that you tried to hide in something.  The paste in the syringe is a lot easier to get into the horse, for the most part.   But the stuff still tastes awful, and it's no wonder horses don't like it.   (In my imagination, I design the perfect medicine vector for horses: it tastes good, it's absorbed through the oral membranes, and it melts on the horse's tongue but not on the owner's, or vet's, fingers.)

This evening, Richard went out to give Mac his medicine; in the morning, Mac had evaded the first attempt to catch him and veered away at a pretty good walk.  But now--Mac trotted away, head up, around the little pen he's been in.   Trotted!    

We anticipate more problems, though, with subsequent doses.  Would it have killed them to put in some molasses?