Thursday, March 29, 2012

My First Love

Think back a little with me......who or what was your first love?  Was it a special doll or toy?  Maybe a very special loved one?  A pet, maybe?  I have no doubt about my first love......HORSES! 

My mom wrote a lot of "firsts" in my baby book for several years after I was born.  One of the "firsts" was the "first time I ran away"!  I was almost a three year old when Mom wrote that I came up missing one afternoon. Everyone in the family was looking around the yard and in the obvious places behind the house.  Finally, someone went to the barn.  There I was, perched on the fence, trying to lure my dad's old grey gelding, "Danny Peanuts" over to the fence.  It appeared I was going to get on him.  My plan was foiled as I was taken back to the house before my mission was accomplished.  So I guess you could say I got a fairly early start being in love with horses.

I think I've mentioned before that Dad didn't think I should have a pony or a horse.  Sometimes I think he actually hoped I wouldn't keep me from getting hurt.  So compared to a lot of country kids, I got kind of a late start riding.  But I remember being pretty little and begging rides from kids at the fair or any other time someone would let me get on with them!

My first real horse's name was Splash.  She was a loud paint mare, half welsh, I think and half quarter horse.  Splash was actually purchased for my oldest brother but it wasn't long before he outgrew her.  She made her way down through my second brother and then my sister, before finally becoming my horse.  We were the same age, I recall.  It was about the time she became my horse, that I needed a babysitter and a friend.  I think I was seven.  I very well remember luring her into the barn with feed and standing on the mangers to saddle her.  She was not the most cooperative horse in the world.  Splash had seen plenty in her years and while she wouldn't hurt you on purpose, (or very badly anyway) being saddled and ridden by a little kid wasn't really on her "to do" list for the day.  I got pretty frustrated but always kept on trying.  Some might say I was just more stubborn than she was.  I'd probably go along with would most anyone who knows me very well.  But despite the fact that Splash really didn't care much about having me ride her, sometimes I just brushed her or sat and petted her.  And talked to her.  And she listened as only a horse can.  She heard my thoughts and felt my emotions.  I needed that at that time.

There have been many, many horses throughout my life.  They have been with me through my teenage years and through college.  When life was "unstable", horses gave me stability.  In college, when I was on the  rodeo team, I think one of the things that gave me the most enjoyment, wasn't so much the fact that I was in rodeo, it was that I had a friend from home, right there waiting for me every day.  Someone stable who listened and helped to keep me grounded.  That has carried on throughout my adult life too.  Horses have always been that defining factor for me.  I have learned more than I can tell you from horses.  Not just about what horses do, but about life.....about sticking with things, about responsibility, about loyalty.

So I have always loved horses. Much of the time, I'm pretty sure I understand horses a lot better than I do people.  And even though a horse might not do exactly what I want when I want, that gives me another opportunity to learn something. To think about a new way to show a horse a particular thing.  And I think that can carry over to us as humans too. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Switched At Birth

Yesterday was a busy day in the heifer lot.  Those little gals were gettin' busy havin' babies.  An interesting thing happened.  There were two heifers, about 40 yards apart in the exact same stages of labor.  Started  at the same time and everything.  One heifer (number 39) was in the corner, the other (number 40) was up on a little knoll.  Thirty nine laid down and pushed her calf out a little quicker than 40 did, but outside of that, it was like watching everything in tandem.

Now when 39 finished pushing out her little bull calf, two other heifers (already mamas themselves) came over to show her how to take care of Junior.  The bad thing about this was when Junior finally got up, he didn't really know which cow was his mama.  He kind of latched on to one and he wasn't right.  This cow was gently but firmly nudging him away from her udder and he would walk all the way around this cow and wind up back where he started.  All the while, 39 is mooing and following him around, but unsure how to get Junior to follow  and nurse her. 

I watched this go on for a while (until 40 had pushed out her calf and he was standing) when I decided I had better help things along.  In general, it is not a good idea to walk right into three mama cows huddled over a newborn.  Someone (usually me) is bound to either get run over or hurt.  I got on the 4 wheeler and proceeded to very gently push the other cows away from 39 so she and her calf could get things straightened out.  The cows moved away just fine, but for some reason 39 followed and so did Junior.  And they all went right into where 40 was just getting things situated with her little bull calf up on the knoll.

The other cows kept going and then it was a jumble between 39 and 40 and their two little newborn bull calves.  They were both mooing and licking their calf and then turning around and mooing and licking the other one's calf, too.  It looked for a minute or two like they were both going to claim the same calf and I was going to have to intervene again.  But then each one kind of latched on to a calf.  But neither had the one they had given birth to.   And gradually, they started  moving apart with the "new" calf.  Now for me, it does not matter one bit WHO takes care of a calf, just as long as he has a mama and she feeds him and looks him up to care for him.  So as long as each cow is content, so am I.

It's just one of those kind of interesting things you don't see everyday.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I Really Should Have Paid More Attention in Home Ec

Women with jobs and clean houses amaze and bewilder on earth do they find the time, the energy and the desire to come home from work and clean house?  Even more amazing to me, and somewhat off the subject, I might add, are women who have children and not only have clean houses but manage to get anywhere on time.  It must be some kind of instinct I was born without. 

 I can control a 1000 pound cow, make a horse do what I ask of it, pull calves and tough out snowstorms and hot days in the sun, but my Eight Pound Orek XL can whip the tar out of me.  When I move some of the bigger furniture items to vacuum under them, other items appear (out of nowhere??) either falling or climbing out from under the furniture.  How does this happen?  Where did this stuff come from?  Maybe one should move these things more often than once a year... if not for actual cleaning purposes, just to make sure the area isn't inhabited by ninja dust bunnies.

I'm thinking I should have paid more attention in Home Ec.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Maternity Pen

I have been calving out heifers for about 22 years now.  When I started, I didn't know diddley about the back end of a cow.  We had a brand new calving shed that first year, and believe me, I used it.  I put every heifer in the barn that lifted her tail to do any kind of business....I wanted to be prepared,  I guess.  But over the years, I've seen a lot of calves born, brought a number of them into the world, with or without help from someone else.  I wouldn't say I'm an expert by any means, but I would say I have seen a lot when it comes to calving.  Dad says he always knows when a cow's going to calve....when she has feet showing.

In that nice calving shed Dad built, are eight stalls.  I have only had it completely full on one occasion back in the late 90's.  We had a terrible snowstorm and had heifers and cows both in there to calve.  I even had cows locked in the alleyway.  Anyplace out of the weather.  We saved a lot of calves during that storm because of that shed.  So I am really thankful we've had it.  It is a great little barn.

My biggest complaint about this little shed is that it does not have any sort of head catch device for restraining a heifer if we need to pull a calf.  So for 20 some years now, we have put the heifer in a stall and roped her around the neck, tied her as short as possible, opened the gate to her stall and set to work getting the calf out of her.  The problems with this method are if you don't get the cow tied short enough, she is going to have a lot of room to thrash around or she can choke herself with the rope if she fights it very long.  Over the years, we've had several choke themselves to the point I had to loosen the rope so they could catch their air.  I've only lost one cow to choke.  I hate it that it's even one, but it happened last year.  She was too scared and too wild. I just couldn't get the rope loosened up in time.  I felt terrible about it.  And that's when I really got to thinking about making some changes.

Now this thrashing around part is not good either.  Maybe I should explain how pulling a calf works and that will help you understand a little more why the thrashing is a bad thing.  As soon as I can get close to the heifer (she WILL fight the rope for a while), I need to get the chains around the feet, presuming feet are showing, which is usually the case.  I loop an end around each foot and secure them over the calf's dewclaws.  When the chains are on securely, the pullers come next.  There is a strap that fits over the cow's back which is hooked to a metal piece shaped kind of like a U.  It rests up against the cow's butt. Then the ratchet hooks into this metal piece.  There is a hook in the ratchet piece that the chains hook into.  This ratchet piece is a long pipe, probably about 6 feet long.  If a cow has too much rope, she starts swinging this 6 foot long pipe around with me at the end of it.  Also, the rope is usually tied off somewhere, so not only am I dodging the swinging 6 foot long pipe, I'm also ducking under the rope to get away from the pipe. Not to mention, making sure I don't get stepped on or kicked.  By the grace of God, I have never been hurt doing this.  But I've come close on several occasions.

So for several years now, I've been thinking there has to be something better than the "tie up the cow method" I've grown so used to.  By some streak of luck, I saw a thing called a maternity pen advertised in a ranch magazine.  I didn't know exactly what it was, but from the looks of it, it had a head catch and formed into a place where I could pull a calf or nurse one if necessary and I would be a lot safer.  I looked at one at a ranch sale and I also looked at one that a neighbor has.  It looked like a pretty good deal.  But then Matt and I were looking on a web site and found a video of what has this year become to me.......(cue angels singing)  THE GREATEST INVENTION EVER!!! 

The maternity pen I purchased is probably the most expensive one on the market.  I don't know.....and I don't care.  This thing has made my life so much better.  I cannot even explain to you how much easier it has made things for me.  I am so glad I bought it.  And the funny thing is, this morning, Dad says, "I didn't even know you could get something like this.  But it sure works slick."  That's about as close to a compliment as you get from my dad.  It's ok with me.  I'll take it.