February 19, 2007

the cows came home

After eighteen years working on this ranch, Matt will be taking another job next week. We knew this was coming, but had hoped he'd be around through the summer at least. It sounds like we'll be able to hire someone on to help us through the calving season, but there will be plenty of work to go around nevertheless. I've asked George to give me the full tutorial on the new tractor and hydraulic hay-fork. I have driven the tractor before, but not very confidently (it's pretty big!), and never with a haysled behind it. The controls for the hay-fork are a bit complicated by the sounds of it, but I'm up to the challenge.

This morning George and Matt trailed the expecting mamas from the East pasture, to back near the homeplace. As calving season approaches, the 'heavys' - cows nearing their due date - will be sorted into the 'heavy lot'. Then we can check the heavy lot several times a day (AND night) to make sure everything is going smoothly. Cows having a calf for the first time can have all sorts of problems as a result of their lack of experience. Sometimes the new mother will reject her calf, refuse it milk, or even try to hurt it. As well, their labor is often more difficult - we'll occasionally need to 'pull' a calf if the mother isn't progressing fast enough on her own.

Normally somebody is assigned to 'night calving', to check on the cows through the night. Since we have very few first-timers this year, we may decide to let them fend for themselves through the night. I've volunteered to check them at least once during the night. I think I could sufficiently identify a problem, but I wouldn't be competent enough to handle it by myself. If need be, my parents might move out to the ranch during calving, so that George would be at hand if anything went wrong.

It feels a bit like the calm before the storm. Soon there will be fewer hands on deck, yet more oars in the water. It is a bit daunting, but I look forward to the bustle of activity and the bawls of the newborn calves.

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