Thursday, March 02, 2006

A few farmer moments....

City folk... pay attention. I'm gonna talk about cows now. I grew up on what would be referred to as a "wheat and cattle operation" in North Central Montana. Just telling you I'm from the Hi-Line and in my early-30's pretty much destroys my "anonomous" standings to anyone from Montana.... process of elimination will just about tell you who I am.... there just aren't that many people.

Growing up wheat was the major crop but cows are my dad's hobby. I can't tell you for sure how many he had in his prime but he's down to about 40 pairs this calving season. That's not very many. They are more pets than anything else. Although I'm certainly not above enjoying one of them hot off the barbeque. (Do you hear that Gunnar? People EAT their PETS. Be a good dog. Get off the couch. Now.) Dad raises mostly black Angus or Angus-crossed critters. I'll just wait for my brother to post anonymously as to WHY that is.... it sure as shit isn't because Hardee's started marketing "We use only Angus beef" or anything like that..... I think it is because they are hardy and easy-calvers... or maybe so you don't lose them in the snow.....

Calving season can start anywhere from January on..... Dad calves early because he's a vet so he will be "on call" to help other people later in the season. When he had lots of cows there was a whole complicated system involving my great-uncle's calving shed, a pickup camper and a hot plate for Dad's comfort on those cold, lonely calving nights.

When we were kids it was sometimes our job to "run a cow and calf into the barn" so the calf could be warmed up or worked on or whatever. I can only tell these stories now that I'm too old for family services to take me away. We would go out with the 4-wheeler and cart. One of us would stand with a bat while the other one tried to load the calf in the cart. (Imagine someone is taking your child away in a little red cart.... now you know who the bat was for....) Calf & kid in cart, kid with bat driving 4-wheeler, pissed off snot-nosed mama bawling and chasing cart, race for the barn and run the decoy in reverse. Kid with bat distracts cow while kid in cart wrestles calf into the barn. Whew. Once the cow was in the barn our job was done. Dad would put the calf in the "hot box" to dry off and get warm. (A hot box is a small wooden box with heat lamps in it designed to dry off a calf as quickly as possible.... ours is an ultra-fancy one... it has a neon pink hairdryer (think 1980's) attached to it for really speedy drying.) More than one rancher I know has crawled in a hot box for a quick warm nap.

If you are lucky the cow gets put in the barn BEFORE she has the calf... reducing the stress to your running skills and the cow's nerves. Then it is just a matter of waiting, watching and leaving her alone. If the cow is a heifer (this is her first calf) then you have to watch a little closer... she might have trouble delivering and she might not quite get what to do after the baby is born. (Do you hear that you boob-nazi? Even in NATURE sometimes guidance is required.)

I will forever associate Palmolive dishsoap not with Madge, the nail lady, but with my dad and the smell of cow shit and afterbirth. It was his brand. Do you really want me to go into more detail on this? I thought not. Let me leave it at this.....I know why veterinarians carry pocket watches. And, yes, calves do know how to suckle before they are actually born... there is nothing so redneck-sweet as getting to be a big girl and "check" the calf and make sure it is ok before it is born.

If things aren't progressing normally there are various assisting measures. Chains. Ratchet pulleys. C-sections. Hey... just like human babies!?!?

Then, if all goes well, you have a baby in the straw. Dad always let us tickle the newborn's nose with a piece of straw to get them to sneeze the gook out but after that you pretty much get out of the way and let the mama do her thing.

There you have it. Baby Calf 101


Tutu said...

Wonder why no one posted a comment?
Guess there just isn't much to say on Calfing 101.
We had steer for food growing up and we named them. Filet and Chuck (roast). Then there was Lambie Pie, Chop and Stew. I know, kind of sick huh?

Anonymous said...

I'm commenting because I am in agreement. This is how it's done. However, you failed to mention that this is often done at 2 a.m. Or 4 a.m. Or whenever that baby is ready to come out. Just like human babies!!
My word verification is FUHUF, which is kinda how a calf sounds as it sneezes out amniotic fluid.

Mary P. said...

I was paying attention! Yes, I was. No comment yesterday cuz I was sick. Still am, but at least reading no longer makes me dizzy...

I love the description of the kids and the calves and the mama cow.

Why vets use pockey-watches. Makes sense, but a non-vet would never think of it.

Have you read the books by James Herriot? (All Creatures Great and Small, etc?)

Mary P. said...

pocket watches. Pocket.

Anonymous said...

Calving ease, early vigor, smaller-frame heavier-muscling carcass traits, growth rate, and the buyers like those nice uniform black hides, not necessarily in that order.