New Arrival

New Arrival

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Miracle of Birth

In these days of sexual harassment claims, I probably should have gotten this heifer's permission about posting her personal "business" all over the internet.

Goodness knows, I didn't want video cameras or even still cameras documenting the birth of my first offspring until the action was over. And even then, I let the Lamaze coach and the guest of honor be the focus of the star's first-ever photo shoot.

However, I guess it's in No. 638's "contract" for room, board and plenty of food that the Chief County Line Correspondent gets to have exclusive coverage of her baby's birth story.
The heifers are in a corral to the east of our house. That makes it easier for Randy to check them more frequently and gives us easy access to the calving shed. Because they are first-time mothers, Randy checks the heifers throughout the day and night, just in case one is having difficulty.

No. 638 had been showing awhile, and after an hour, Randy didn't see any further progression. We ran her into the calving shed to pull the calf, something we do to help both the mama and the baby.
We put the heifer in the head gate, my Christmas gift of 2010. Sometimes cows can be riled up with the birthing process, so having them contained in the head gate is a much safer option for both mama and people.
The guys first splashed disinfectant on the heifer to try to keep the birthing canal as clean as possible. (We've been using the same Tupperware bucket for this job since Randy's folks were in the cow-calf business. It was part of our inheritance.) Just like on Grey's Anatomy or Chicago Med, they gloved up for the procedure.

Then, the guys got the chains ready. Randy took our employee, Shawn, to a calving school in January, since he hadn't been around a cow-calf operation before. Shawn wanted to put his education to use, so Randy had him take the lead.

They tied a chain above the ankle on each of the front hooves of the calf. Then they tie the two chains together.
They attached the chains to a calf puller, which is a long rod with a pulley on the end.
 They put the leather strap of the calf puller on the cow's rear end.
Then they use the pulley to gently pull the calf from the mama's womb.
They sometimes pause to wait for another contraction.
The baby comes out with the front feet and the head first. (Click on the photos to make them bigger).

Welcome to the world, baby! The guys pulled the sack away from the calf's nose and mouth. 
Mama gets the job of cleaning off the baby by licking it. It's part of the bonding process for the pair.
We left them alone to get to know one another.
Later, we found that mama and baby were doing well.
However, another heifer needed some assistance, so Randy carried the calf right outside the calving shed, where mother and baby continued getting to know one another. Otherwise, it probably would have stayed in the shed until it was completely dry.
But soon it was ready for chow time!
Meanwhile, it was No. 659's turn in the birthing suite. The video below is from that birth. That calf is doing well, too. They have been the only heifers of the 24 that needed help with calving, and ironically, it all happened on the same day. 

Welcome to the world from Kim Fritzemeier on Vimeo.

And there you have it: The miracle of birth on the County Line.

Last evening, I decided it was time for a "well-baby" check. Here they are: No. 807, whose mama is No. 638 ...
... and heifer No.  659's calf, No. 808.
Their rough start doesn't seem to have slowed them down. I had to chase them around the lot, trying to get a suitable "class picture."

Speaking of which, I am using an old camera right now. My current camera, which is still under warranty, needed a trip to the repair shop. So I pulled an old camera from the box for a substitute. Every time I try to use it, I remember that there was a reason I replaced it. Thankfully, the birthing photos were before my current camera quit working. And, best of all, I got a phone call yesterday, saying my camera was on the way back home.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Got Milk?

Got Milk?

We have had two little calves with milk mustaches in the calving barn so far this calving season. Both of them were twins - though not the same set.

In each, their mamas chose the other sibling and rejected these sweet little faces. But they were awfully cute in our book!
So these little cuties spent a few days at the Red Roof Inn (aka - the calving shed).
The little red heifer and her brother were the first ones born this year at what we call the "round top."
The mama in the photo above was interested in the little calf, but it wasn't hers. The photo collage below shows the red calf's mama and sibling.
When I was talking about the situation in town, someone said that the cow must not be a very good mama. However, she was very protective of the other calf. When I got a little too close, she started pawing the ground. I backed up and used the zoom on my camera.
Eventually, she led the calf away from the annoying human.
We brought her red calf to the calving shed.
It didn't take long for it to become Randy's shadow. Being fed is sure to forge friendships, don't you think?
As a human mom, you can't imagine loving one baby more than another. But maybe in the animal world, it's a survival thing. While a mama can successfully nurse two babies, they often choose just one. It does offer more milk to the remaining calf.
We called the Extension Office to offer the calf to a 4-Her at a reduced price. But there were no takers. 
So the little red calf went to the sale barn.
Randy ended up carrying it to a pen. It would have been a long walk otherwise. We hope it went to a 4-H family, but we don't know.
The day after we took the red calf to the sale barn, another set of twins was born. This time, we brought one of the two black calves back to the calving shed for its gourmet banquet of milk via a bottle.
Randy had planned to take it to the sale barn in Hutchinson, but a neighbor ended up buying it to bottle-feed. By the time the black heifer left the County Line, she was an expert bottle connoisseur.
Randy had trouble getting out the door because it wanted to follow him everywhere.

I'd like to end the story there. Everyone loves a happy ending, after all. But reality doesn't always have a pretty red bow tying up a beautiful package. Last week, we found the black/white face calf at the round top half eaten by coyotes. Randy isn't sure whether the calf died and the coyotes drug it off or whether it was attacked by a coyote and killed. Even if we'd still had the red calf, the mother likely wouldn't have accepted it back again.

And on February 7, we had an expensive day. Randy noticed a cow in the pasture having trouble with calving. Randy tried to pull the calf himself but wasn't having any luck. He called the veterinarian, who came and pulled the calf, which was dead. Then Dr. Dick discovered it was a twin, which also was dead. Not a good day!

Since I don't want to end on such a sad note, I'll show a happier birth.

Life - and yes, death - are part of our farming story. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Fancy Hair and Good and Green

I'm sure Kermit the Frog would like to be described as having "fancy hair" and being "good and green."

But you might not think about those phrases also describing feeder cattle coming through the sale barn  at Pratt Livestock last week. Other descriptors included:
  • "You'll love the kind, gentlemen."
  • "Broke to the bunk."
  • "These beauties are hot-wire broke."
  • "They had everything in the world done to 'em and are ready to go." 
  • "Look at these, fellas, and their big sisters are coming right behind." 
(For the uninitiated, "green" cattle are those who were brought to the sale barn after grazing on wheat or rye. They aren't Kermit's color. Ours weren't green, but they were broke to the bunk.)
A visitor to the sale barn may need an interpreter, since it seems the auctioneer is sometimes speaking in a foreign language. But, the guys in the cowboy hats and seed company caps know the code. And at the end of the day, some of those guys bought the feeder calves we'd brought from the County Line.

Cattle Sale from Kim Fritzemeier on Vimeo.

We sold yearlings about a month earlier than we normally do. Randy made that decision because we had less silage and hay to feed than we sometimes do. In addition, after a reconnaissance mission to the sale barn the week before, he thought prices seemed good.
We sold a total of 79 head. The average price per pound was $1.51. Even though we sold them 30 days earlier than last year and they weighed 50 pounds less per head, they brought about $160 more per calf.

The sale itself is a one-day event. But it represents a lifetime of work, beginning when Randy joined 4-H. In high school, he bought a cow, and it produced a calf each year. Then, when he was a junior at K-State in 1977, he bought 35 cows and began renting the Ninnescah pasture, where we still take cow-calf pairs each spring. It was the true beginning of his cow-calf herd.

Much the same, the journey with this crop of feeder calves didn't start and end on one day in February. The calves were born on the County Line more than a year ago, and we have been caring for them ever since.
First baby of 2017 - January 2017
In March, we ran the babies through the working chute, making the bull calves into steers and getting them ready to go to pasture.

In April, we moved the Class of 2017 and their mamas to summer pastures, including No. 700 and buddies.
They stayed at their appointed pastures all summer. (Note #773 in the middle below. His face must have caught my eye throughout the year, since I have photos at various stages of  his life, including three more below in this post!)
We brought them back closer to the farm in November.
Like wellness checks for we humans, the calves had a doctor's appointment, too.
Dr. Dick and his assistant, Liz, gave vaccinations.

Number 773 waits for its turn in the working chute. The calves do quite a bit of growing between their birth and the sell date.
That's because we feed them silage, grain and hay once they arrive home from the pasture.
Don't talk with your mouth full, No.  705!
Last week, we rounded up the feeder calves and sorted off 25 heifers to keep. They'll be first-time mothers in 2019. And the rest went through the sale barn on February 1. They were among some 3,000 head of cattle sold at Pratt Livestock that day. (The prior week, Pratt Livestock had 5,000 head sold at their Thursday sale.)
The sale ends one chapter. (And we've since paid off an operating loan with the proceeds, so the bank is happy, too.)

The next chapter has already begun with a new crop of 2018 calves.
First calf of the Class of 2018
And the journey continues.