Tag Archives: spring calves

Life At The Ranch During Covid-19

What a strange year, this year of Cobid-19, has become. This novel coronavirus has altered everyone’s lives to a degree that I cannot recall ever happening before. While self-isolating for months on end doesn’t compare to the sacrifices made by parents and grandparents during World War II or several other disruptions during the history of the U.S.A., somehow it has still taken a heavy toll on many people.

Recently I spoke to my good friend, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Tom Norris, about this psychological toll on our collective equilibrium. Tom has quite a story to tell. He was shot down over Hanoi during the Vietnam war and spent five and a half years in various POW camps in North Vietnam. Tom like other American POWs suffered from isolation, poor food, beatings, and various illnesses. Tom is surprisingly open and speaks about his travails but admits that until recently most folks couldn’t understand the impact that a loss of personal freedom has on the psyche of a person. Tom is willing to again speak publicly about his experiences because he believes people will now better understand the impact that the loss of personal freedom has, having experienced it from the self-isolation caused by Covid-19.

Certainly the limited deprivations for most of us during Covid-19 are nothing like those of our Vietnam POWs, but recent experience during the Covid-19 pandemic of not being able to socialize, travel, hug, and attend public events has diminished spirits and caused widespread depression and anxiety. There has been a collective angst during the pandemic for many. Hang tough, this too will end.

Toasting the new Ranch Sign

Fortunately life goes on at the ranch in spite of the pandemic. Spring calving season has come and gone. Cattle prices have fallen due to meat processing plan closings due to Covid-19 and resulting in  too many animals in the feed lots. I’ve held onto my yearlings longer than usual, waiting and hoping for a rebound in cattle prices. As such the herd has grown but with plenty of good grass due to Spring rains, all is good so far. Our calf crop has been particularly good this year. The calves are called “smokies” as they are Black Baldy/Charolois crosses.

2020 Spring Calf Crop

 

My time during the pandemic has been variously spent doing re-writes for my book on Hitler’s health and its impact on World War II, ranch duties, planting a garden, and attending a slew of Zoom meetings. The feeling of restriction did bring about a Covid-19 beard. Am not sure I can explain how this personal protest benefits anything, but somehow it felt like an appropriate expression of my personal angst.

Tom with Covid beard atop Dandy

The bright spot for Trudy and me has been the birth of a grandson, Teddy O’Neal. Yes Katie and Kevin had a child that tempted us out of our seclusion and prompted us to take a trip to Dallas. The proud grandparents were not allowed into the hospital where Katie delivered, but were waiting at home when the expanded family returned. What a treat! New life during the pandemic when tragically so many others have lost their lives. Teddy beams a beacon of hope.

Teddy O’Neal, new life

Teddy and Oma Trudy

I stayed for five days but Trudy stayed on for almost three weeks. She mainly cooked and cleaned but also helped with the 4 am feedings. Needless to say, we are thrilled with little Teddy. The parents while sleep deprived are holding up well. New life, what a treat. Welcome to the family, little guy.

Teddy and a visit from our son and his family have gone a long way to relieving our symptoms of lack of energy, loss of motivation, and general sense of feeling blah. I suppose we are all social animals in need of love, interaction, and outside stimulation. At least that is the formula for happiness at Medicine Spirit Ranch.

So life goes on at the ranch even during the pandemic. Over Memorial Day weekend, we enjoyed our son Andy and his family, and nephew Will, his lovely wife Clare, their one year old, Sherman, and their two Golden retrievers.. Yes, we loosened up on our self-isolation. Part of the fun was watching our grandson, Graham, frolic in the pool with the two energetic Golden Retrievers. This proved an effective antidote for the side effects of self-isolation.

Graham and Henny

 

A Sad Day On The Ranch

We are well into Spring calving season but today unfortunately we lost a calf. One of our mama cows was found agitated and having great difficulty delivering a calf. The calf was large and although the cow had previously calved without difficulty, she couldn’t deliver this calf.   We were to learn the calf was hung up at the shoulder (referred to as shoulder dystocia) and was clearly dead when we found the distressed mama.

The vet and her assistant came in an emergency call. We pulled the calf, using what is a essentially a “come along”. Following this the mama was able to get to her feet although clearly exhausted from a night of labor. Currently she’s in the pen where I will be giving her, if needed, shots of oxytocin to assist her in pushing out the placenta.

I’m sad over the loss of the little bull calf. I suppose for me this is therapy via my keyboard. I know occasionally we’ll lose a calf and, rarely, even a mama cow, but it still bothers me greatly. The sensation recalls how i felt during my practice when I would lose a patient to death. While inevitable, it still hurts. I never got used to it while practicing and suspect I will never get used to it ranching.

Ironically I was about to pick up a spreader full of fertilizer (8000 pounds) and begin treating our hay fields. Instead of fertilizer bringing forth new life, we instead lost life in a birthing process. Such is ranch life, I suppose, and tomorrow I’ll return to fertilizing. Meanwhile I will ponder the life that wasn’t. Such is life on the ranch. Happier days will follow.

The Birds, The Birds… They’re Back

I recently viewed a dozen or so cattle egrets within and perched upon our cow herd. These white, long necked, and long legged birds have been absent from our ranch for about a year. Our cattle tolerate them well. I couldn’t get close enough to take a picture of them but have some images taken from the internet.

The relationship between the egrets and cattle is a symbiotic one, as the egrets eat flies and ticks off the cattle. Both egret and cow have mutual benefit from their relationship.

What I discovered yesterday was that the egrets also provide entertainment for our friskier Spring calves. The calves playfully run at them, scattering the birds for a short fly around. The egrets soon after land in the herd and the chase is on again. The calves appeared to be enjoying themselves, but I can’t speak for the egrets.

Several times recently I’ve spotted a Great Blue Heron hanging out in the pool below the waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch (our ranch across the county road). I can’t say for sure that it’s the same one about which I wrote the blog series last winter, but it looks the same. It’s dramatic to view it taking off from the pool, gaining altitude, and flying by me at eye level and not more than 20 feet away. According to Native American legend Great Blue Herons bring good luck. Bring it on!

Bulletin: Just viewed a Great Blue Heron in our stock tank below the house. It’s back! What wonderful news. Life is good in the Texas Hill Country.

I’m back

Bonus Calves

Woo hoo!!! Three bonus calves were born this week. That is, mama cows purchased in September with calves already by their side, and now have given birth to yet another unanticipated calf. The average price for the pair, now the trio, just went down. What a bargain!

Surprise, bet you weren’t expecting me!

The bonus calves have white faces with the remainder black or brown. Our Charolais bull does not throw this color calf with our Black Baldies, but instead throws smoky colored calves, light brown or gray. Also the cow gestation period of nine and a half months just doesn’t work for our Charolais bull. Sorry Curly you can’t claim parentage!

Curly, the bonus calves stepdaddy

These are small calves compared to our usual smoky calves. With an Angus daddy, the calves start  smaller than with a Charolais daddy.  All three of the bonus calves are heifers. Perhaps I will let them grow and given their different genetics, make them into new producers for the ranch. Now that is an additional bonus.

The first bonus heifer at one week of age. Note smoky calf on right and a longhorn/charlolais cross in foreground

Baby calves are so cute no matter their lineage. Must admit though when I saw the first I took a double take. You can imagine my surprise after the third. Life is sweet. Spring calves are one of the highlights of springtime on our cattle ranch. Hoping you too find bonuses in your lives during this lovely season.

Smart And Protective Mama Cows

We are well into spring calving season with four new, adorable calves. Part of their welcome to the ranch is receiving a vaccination to ward off “black leg”, a particularly serious bacterial infection that kills calves. While our intentions are good, they are usually misunderstood by our always protective mama cows.

Such was the case recently when we roped, held, and tried to vaccinate a new calf. Mama cow took serious exception to our treatment her calf this way. While I attempted to give the subcutaneous injection, mama cow suddenly appeared and forcibly head butted me in the face. The syringe went one way, my glasses flew off in another, and I was pitched backwards unceremoniously. With a sore and bruised face and without glasses, I was virtually worthless. I also was quite vulnerable should she have chosen to take out her animus still further. Fortunately for me, she did not.

Somehow Trudy and Juan found both glasses and syringe, and we finished giving the vaccination to the calf without further incident.

I’ve been asked if I get upset with mama cows when such this happens, as this is not the first time something like this has transpired. My answer is no, as the mama cows are only protecting their offspring.

"You think you are going to do what to my calf?"

“You think you are going to do what to my calf?”

Whenever possible we sequester a calf needing a vaccination, an ear tag, or needing castration from the mother cow. We usually use the pens for these tasks and to great benefit .

On occasion we are not able to move a mama cow and her calf,  for example from the new ranch (Hidden Falls) across and down the county road  “a piece” into our other property (Medicine Spirit Ranch) where are located our only pens .  In such instances we are sorely tempted to try the quick and dirty method of lassoing, holding, and giving a vaccination in the pasture. Sometimes this works and in others I end up on my caboose or more commonly seeing the south end of a calf heading rapidly north.

Such was our ill-fated mission this morning accompanied by Trudy, Juan, and visiting “ranch hands”, LaNelle Etheridge and Madeline Douglas from Lubbock.

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom's Ranch Hands

Madeline and La Nelle wearing T-shirts that read Tom’s Ranch Hands

As soon as the mama cow spotted Juan creeping up on her calf with his lasso, she took off with her calf  behind her. To vaccinate this calf, we will need to drive the herd down the county road to Medicine Spirit Ranch and to the protection of our pens. This will have to wait until next week.

Such are the joys of ranching. And to think when I was a doctor never once was I injured. Since becoming a rancher, I’ve broken an arm, blew a disc in my low back, sustained bruises, cuts,
and contusions, and received numerous injuries to my male ego. Oh, but my wonderful outdoor existence along with Mother Nature showing off her wonders more than makes up for any challenges faced.