New Arrival

New Arrival

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Precipitation Woes

We were driving back toward home after an evening check of the cattle. I watched as the sun snuggled into the horizon from clouds like looked a big, down-filled comforter.

I asked Randy to pull over so I could get a snapshot of another magnificent Kansas sky. Ironically, we ended up parked next to one of our wheat fields. And as I watched the yellow sun get swallowed up by the blanket of blue, I knew that the clouds were just for show again. No moisture was lurking in the folds of the sky's blanket.
Yesterday, we scouted some wheat fields. We got a little freezing rain during a winter thunderstorm Monday night. But it was mostly sound effects - like the artificially-produced noises on a movie set.
Remnants of the sleet remain in the field, but we were hoping Wednesday night's forecast would finally bring us measurable precipitation. Instead, the bulk of the storm again skirted to our east. Some schools in the Wichita area are closed for the third day in a row because of icy roads, and TV reporters lament the slick slide to work.
While we'd prefer our moisture in a long, slow rain, an ice storm last January (2017) gave us our only round of winter moisture and made a difference in our wheat crop last summer. We need good moisture to STOP the drought conditions. (It seems the traffic sign held on to more ice than our fields!)

This winter has been dry. In fact,  November 2017 to January 2018 ranked as the driest (lowest precipitation) on record for Kansas, receiving less than 25 percent of normal precipitation for that time period.

For us, the dry streak extends back to October. We were interrupted with wheat planting because of some intermittent rains, but those also came after a dry summer. We are in the severe drought category on the Kansas drought monitor, and the red of extreme drought is creeping closer.
While parts of northern Kansas have received some snow, it's bypassed our area.
Our wheat crop is in dire need of a good, long drink of water.
The bulls got their drink after Randy broke the ice for them. 

If only we could shatter the drought as easily as Randy smashes through the ice with an ax. (Well, it was easy for me. I was just watching!)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Curiosities of Nature

A farm provides an unending textbook of nature's curiosities. At first glance, this slumbering baby calf looks like others in this Class of 2018.
But a closer look reveals that it has six feet.
It has the normal four limbs and can still move around the pasture. But it also has two other hooves and perhaps an extra shoulder. Randy wonders if it began life as a twin, and the twin didn't develop.
When we were younger, the state fair's midway had a side show with a hawker declaring into a microphone, "Come see the two-headed calf! It will amaze you. It will confound you. Step right up!" The movie, "The Greatest Showman," featured a bearded lady, a “dog boy” who looks like a human Chewbacca, a little person, a mixed-race trapeze artist and conjoined twins - just to name a few.

If we truly look at history and not the colorful musical version, P.T. Barnum likely exploited those who were different than society's norm by putting them in a Museum of Oddities.
But, at a pasture on The County Line, the only crowd that sees this oddity of nature - this 6-footed calf - is a flock of geese that dots the sky like black embroidery thread in a blue and white tapestry.

Their "catcalls" join the gentle moos of two mama cows, who can't seem to decide which one is the true mother to this unusual baby.
They focus on the smell of the calf, not its unusual appearance.

We don't know what will happen. Will it live? Could there be internal abnormalities that will cause its death? It's possible.

I've thought a lot about this calf since I walked away from it in the pasture. As I sat at my computer, trying to figure out a politically-correct way to write about it, I remembered a song from "The Greatest Showman."

In "This Is Me," the overreaching message is that it is our differences that make us special.   The song, which has been nominated for an Academy Award, could serve as an anthem for the marginalized, disenfranchised, the bullied and the outcast.

Just some of the words say:

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.

Sunday evening, I watched the calf run and play with other calves in the pasture. (I should have shot a video. Maybe next time.) Its mother is taking care of it, and it appears to be thriving, in spite of its differences.

This little calf may not make it to adulthood. And, if it does, it won't bring top dollar at a sale barn. But maybe there's still a lesson to be learned in this dusty pasture, with only the geese above as my witnesses. Maybe the world would be a better place if we looked at people with a mother's eye instead of listening to the cacophony of voices that criticize and tear us down. It's worth considering, don't you think?

Another school shooting happened last week. This time, 17 people lost their lives in Florida. In the days after the shooting, I am discouraged by my Facebook feed. The hate doesn't just rain down in bullets in classrooms. It is perpetuated when people disagree with one another. Don't get me wrong: It's OK to disagree. But instead of honoring another's opinion and maybe thinking about something differently, people stand on their soap boxes and pontificate. No matter their "side" in the debate, they put down those who dare to disagree with them. I can almost "hear" the shouting as I scroll past another long thread of "conversation" typed into cyberspace, filled with words that denigrate the "other's" thoughts and seem to imply how "stupid" the other's opinion is.

Maybe I'm grasping for meaning in unlikely places. But it seems to me that we can do better. We can celebrate differences. We can see value in all people - whether their opinions line up exactly like ours or not.

I can dream, can't I?

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.