April 06, 2009

15 inches snow + 50 mph gusts

We were bracing ourselves for 8-10 inches with 40 mph gusts. But we ended up with closer to 15 inches accompanied by 50 mph gusts. It was a pretty rough storm. Especially for Adam, who spent most of it horseback, day and night. He rode through the cows hourly, so that he could get one into the barn if she was starting to calve. (It is a lot easier to get the calf in the barn while it is still inside the cow.) But if a calf was born out in the lot, he would load it onto the calf sled (basically a sled with a cage around the edges, so that they won't fall off) and bring it in. The mama will almost always follow her calf right into the barn. 

Just imagine how traumatic it must be for those babies born in a blizzard - to go from the warmth of their mother's womb into a puddle of freezing fluids and chilling winds. If a calf was really chilled, we'd bring it into the tackroom and crank up the heater. We started calling it the 'sauna' because it was so hot in there, at least for us, all bundled up in our warmest gear. A couple of calves we brought in were too cold even to shiver. After an hour or so in front of the heater, they would finally start shivering and then after another hour or two they'd be up and looking for their first meal.

Over the course of that first day, the drifts went from about a foot deep, to knee high by noon, and waist deep by evening. Visibility was so bad that it was impossible to have any sense of the landscape and I'd suddenly find myself practically immobilized in a drift up my waist. I learned pretty quickly to follow Gus, as she'd found the shallowest paths between the house and the barn. By noon on Saturday the four-wheelers and pick-ups were useless and Adam saddled his horse. This storm seems to have proven that Black is an instinctive ranch horse. And a tireless one, at that - he was saddled until last night and Adam said he never really showed signs of wearing down.

By Sunday night, the worst was over, but the temps remained low through last night, so Adam kept the cows close. This morning the sun is blindingly bright and the wind is mild, so they'll trail the cows back out to the calving meadow today, hopefully for the last time. There's a good amount of moisture in all this snow and it'll be a great boost for the spring grass. Though the drifts could take a week to melt completely, the shallow spots are already starting to show patches of green grass, peeking out from the snow.

April 04, 2009

this is what a blizzard sounds like

This was the morning of the first day of the blizzard, so there wasn't much snow accumulation yet. The wind is what really defines a blizzard - without the wind it wouldn't have been that cold (hovering right around 30F). But the windchill factor was MUCH lower, in addition to the visibility being absolute crap.

April 03, 2009

calm before the storm

Dramatic weather phenomena arise from the interactions between air systems of differing temperatures and moisture levels. Yesterday was unbelievably gorgeous - "shirtsleeve weather", folks around here might call it. Even though I know there are still plenty of winter days ahead, the sunshine and birdsong made it hard not to start fantasizing about planting a garden and other Spring-y things. Unfortunately, this tease of Spring weather was just a passing warm front, which has by now collided with a cold blast from the north. The repercussions will begin to fall by this evening - perhaps first as rain, turning to snow flurries as the sun sets, and likely building to a full-on blizzard with 40 mph gusts and up to 10 inches of snow before it's over.

The official 'due date' for the biggest bunch of cows is April 4th (tomorrow), so the timing of this blizzard is fairly inconvenient. There have already been two bad storms over the past month, but there were very few births during either and no babies lost to the weather. Later today all the cows will be lead home, to a lot near the new calving barn. This setup will put our minds at ease, as it will be easier to check and feed the cows. Plus, we'll be able to bring new babies and their mamas into the barn and out of the weather right away.

There was a bottle calf waiting for me when I finally got back to the ranch, Wednesday night. Her mama is too old to walk back to the barn, let alone make enough (or, it seems, any) milk. She's one of Jerry's cows, so dad's been calling her heifer calf Jerrilynn, naturally. Unfortunately, she didn't get colostrum before it was too late, so she's gotta make it though these first few weeks with a crippled immune system. Luckily for her, I've been missing the ranch these last months out in Portland and am happy to focus lots of special attention on her.