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Farm Fresh Blog
Monday, 14 May 2018
Just in case it comes up again, a Crime Scene Investigator can always tell the difference between the smell of decomposition and the overwhelming aroma of spring flowers. After all these years I'm not sure why he even bothers to question me, but nevertheless, he did. Seriously dude? Flowers?
Days like this really should come with a soundtrack so you get some warning. I opened up the wooden feed bin to feed the chickens. A mouse ran one direction. I ran the other. Screaming. There was much screaming. I don't do rodents. One would think my training as a Crime Scene Investigator would harden me for anything. Rotting bodies? Check. Rodents running near my fingers? Negative.
The mouse was trapped in the bin. A Rodent Removal Specialist was needed, because I wasn't getting it out. Senior Special Agent Lily heard my call for assistance. The Border Collie leaped into the feed bin and assaulted the mouse. When she peeked over the wall at me to confirm the assassination job was complete, I crept up and peeked over the side. Mangled rodent. My turn. Okay. Okay. Okay. I can do this. I took the feed scoop and slowly scooped the body up. The mouse regained consciousness and started a quick wobble up the scoop toward my wrist. The metal scoop clattered to the concrete along with the rodent. There was more screaming.
The Border Collie did a better job the second time. I sort of felt sorry for the little fellow. (Yes, I note my bipolar behavior too. "Eeek! Kill it!" "Awww... poor thing.") The Labrador raced up to inform everyone the mouse was his. Because Lily has high self-esteem, she was unconcerned by the Dillon's attempts to steal her work. He had his chance. Everyone saw it. He could have leaped into that feed bin too but he didn't. Like the guy at the office who takes credit for your work, he stole her mouse. She didn't give it a second thought. Nor did I. Problem solved. I thought.
Apparently my screams had sent out a 911 call across the sheep pasture too and the Big White Dawgs responded. The Livestock Guardian Dogs arrived in the barnyard to find me calmly filling chicken feeders. Judge noted Dillon had something interesting so he ambled up to the Labrador and said, "Hey Dude, whatcha got?"
The Labrador bit him on the ear.
Judge screamed and the reaction was much like an Avengers movie Hulk snatching up Loki. The giant Anatolian grabbed the Labrador by the head and flipped him over like a rag dog. There was no dog fight. It was like being bitch slapped by a gorilla. Over and done. I think I peed in my pants. The Hulk glared at me as I took his collar and hauled him off Dillon. I beat him with an empty chicken feed sack. (Okay, I shouted and slapped him a couple of times with the sack to make my point. Thou shalt not eat the House Dogs.) Judge informed me that he was the victim here. The brown dog bit him first. His ear was bleeding. Well, okay. There's that. I locked Judge in a kennel and Dillon, hackles still up from ears to tail, bounced away like Tigger as if nothing happened. God protects drunks and fools.
Coffee. Coffee. Where did I set my coffee?
I located my coffee mug, took a moment to breathe, and reflected on my plans for the day. We were missing a bull. We'd been missing the fence-jumping bastard for months. Last week we located him two ranches away but he opted against coming home and we didn't have enough Border Collies with us to force the issue, so we chose to return when we were better prepared. Not a task I was eager to start. Any more coffee? There was not.
While I was nursing the last drop of caffeine, Jury, the other Anatolian, shot out from underneath the cattle trailer to chase buzzards in the sky above the barnyard. As he ran, more buzzards exploded from a tree on the other side of the fence. A clue. I grabbed a gun and walked that direction. Jury slid under the fence and flushed up another set of buzzards by the pond. Definitely a clue. As I creeped through the mesquite and thorny black locust brush, I regretted my lack of preparation for this adventure. Blue jeans and snake boots would have been a plus. As it was, shorts and my oversized Justin boots with the cracks at the seams were the uniform of the day. The thorns scratched my legs. Penalty for my poor choice of fashion.
As I made my way to the pond, the whiff of decomposition floated past like a feather in the wind. Where? What? Who? Thus began the questions? Did I count lambs last night? Had we lost a calf? Impossible. Nothing would be bold enough to take a calf this close to the barnyard and the guard dogs. The decomp smell in the air laughed at me.
I couldn't find it. The area near that pond was a thorny jungle. The rising sun, the wind, and the berms around the pond were doing crazy things with the scent. I found an area thick with blowflies and heavy with decomp scent but still couldn't locate the source. A large red cow pushed her way through the brush. Delta the Flying Cow studied and then dismissed me to continue her journey. She bellowed for her calf.
I walked to a place I could get cell reception and phoned the Other Half. "I smell decomp and Delta is calling for her calf." That's not the wake-up call he wanted. He loaded up the ATV with cattle cubes and I met him in the pasture. Good news. Delta had found her calf. Bad news. We were still missing a cow. Snickers was due to have a calf. She'd gone walkabout. Perhaps the decomp smell was afterbirth. Fingers crossed. Since Snickers is an experienced mother, an extensive search of the property was not launched. She normally comes up a few days after her calf is born. Another cow bawled in the forest.
Wait! Black cow. Pushing through the brush!
The black thing that stepped out of the forest into the open pasture was not Snickers with a calf. It was a bull. Our bull. Our fence-jumping bastard had leaped four good barbed wire fences to get into this pasture. The cows were delighted to see him. Most of them had calves on the ground and romance on their mind. "Set up your dates now, Ladies, cuz he's going to the sale barn next week." Cattle that jump fences get sold.
That problem solved itself. Now, the smell.
We drove back to the pond. The Other Half couldn't smell it. "All I smell is flowers. Are you sure you smell something dead?"
Seriously? Did he just ask a CSI and 20 buzzards that question?
I walked into the scent cone and made him stand in it. Okay. Maybe it wasn't flowers he smelled.
With a bit more poking around we located the source. Dead raccoon. A poor raccoon had come to drink and was discovered by a Livestock Guardian Dog. I regret that. I really do. I don't like the dogs to kill things. On the other hand, in the years BB (Before Briar) I experienced the results of raccoons in a chicken coop. Night after night. They put me out of business. Poor raccoon, my ass. Nope. Not going through that again. That's why I have these big white dogs.
And thus was a typical Saturday morning. I did the mental tally as I loaded up and drove back to the house. Still missing a cow. Lost a raccoon. Lost a mouse. Almost lost a Labrador. Found a bull. The ebb and flow of mystery and drama on a ranch. And all before noon.
Update: Snickers returned to the herd with a bull calf on Sunday.
Friday, 11 May 2018
When they first met Russell Crowe, the two year old hens were beside themselves with delight. Russell basked in the glow of their attentions. Six hens postured and fought over him. A real man! A boy toy! That lasted about two weeks. Russell sensed the change in their affections. Rather than turning on the charm, Russell resorted to other tactics. Running them down until he outruns them or they give up burns a lot a calories, and Russell's really not into that much work. His solution was pure genius. They are not amused.
Russell now pretends he has found the most scrumptious "something" on the ground and calls the hens to show them the delicacy which is surely better than anything they've ever tasted. He calls out "Look! Look! Look what I've found!"
The hens come running. "What?!! What is it?"
Once they are in range, like a flasher in a trench coat, he gives a lecherous shout, "ME!" and leaps atop the closest hen.
If she is a willing participant, then it's no harm, no foul (fowl). If not however, the hen squawks in alarm and her sisters rush in to peck the would-be rapist in the head. Their message is clear. "Learn some charm or we'll peck your eyes out. And while you're at it, cut down on the Ax body spray." You've gotta love a tribe of sisters.
The Marek's infected hens are still doing well.
In an effort to save their genes and get more blue chickens, once they were all three laying eggs, I put Russell Crowe in the large pen with them. They were delighted. Wow! Their own man! He spent the day in rooster bliss. At dusk however, the bigamist flew the coop to return to his other family, the Golden Girls. He rose every morning and when released with the Golden Girls, he got pecked in the head repeatedly because he's a slow learner. After the Golden Girls wandered off to begin their day, the young rooster lingered around the Blue Girl pen waiting to be let inside. They were usually happy to see him because the bigamist was quite attentive with affections and promises. True to form however, each night, he flew over the six foot fence to return to his other wives. The Blue girls got tired of him within a week. Fortunately by that time I had collected enough fertilized eggs.
Between Russell Crowe paired with the Marek's infected hens, and his brother, Egger Allan Poe,
who stays in a pen with the two blue Marek's vaccinated hens,
we collected 21 eggs and placed them in an incubator. Each egg was labeled as to which pen it was collected and which day. Until we see how many hatch, we no longer need fertilized eggs, so Russell has been tossed back in the yard with the Golden Girls who will continue to school him on the dos and don'ts of barnyard romance.
Friday, 04 May 2018
Ranchers pray about a lot of things. Rain. Too little. Too much. The mountain of rising bills. And the animals in our care. Yes, despite what PETA tells you, ranchers do care a great deal about the welfare of their animals. It's why we stay up late, why we get up early, and why we traipse through snake-infested, tick-infested forests to find them.
We have rules around here now. Do not. Do not. Do not wake up a sleeping calf. Awww . . . It's so cute. Is it breathing? Yes. Yes, it's breathing. Is it a heifer or a bull calf? And this is where you make that fatal mistake. You take one more step toward the sleeping calf - and that rascal jumps from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. And it's gone. Bye. Into the forest like a fart in the wind.
This doesn't happen when the mom is standing there. No. The mother will be grazing at some distance and not see that the toddler she left sleeping has bolted to parts unknown. In my case, the calf ran through one fence and into the forest. The dog and I were able to find it quickly and get it pointed back toward its mother. It climbed back through the fence and all was well.
Other Half gave me quite the lecture on why you don't get too close to sleeping calves. I endured the lecture with minimal grace. A few days later, Dear Friend Clyde did the same thing. Unfortunately his calf ran through four fences and crossed a highway. It was days before they were able to recover the calf. This resulted in much worry and heartache for the rancher, the cow and the calf. Other Half maintained his air of superiority. After all, everyone knows you shouldn't sneak up on a sleeping calf.
Until he did it. Just one more step. That last step was his undoing. The calf bolted like a rocket. Not a rocket launched by NASA which lifts slowly but with lots of power. No. This calf bolted like a cheap Fourth of July rocket that you buy from a roadside fireworks stand. A little sizzle. And we have lift-off. No dizzy array of spectacular fireworks. A buzz. And gone. Just like that.
The calf was on the opposite side of the creek from the mother. The cow left her calf tucked into a thicket and she came when called up for vittles. We realized she'd given birth and so the Other Half followed her to find her calf in the forest. The cow had approximately 150 acres to give birth. Most of it was flat, somewhat open, with wooded pockets. Rather than choosing to give birth in one of the wooded pockets, the cow chose to have her calf on the other side of the creek, in thick forest, in an area where three ranches meet. Nothing about this area would normally interest a cow - unless you were trying to hide a calf.
When the calf bolted she ran along a fence and finally came to rest in a gap where a dry branch of the creek had cut a groove. Stressed from her rude awakening, she chose to lie down in the gap. Wiser now, the Other Half had to climb a cliff by hand (with rattlesnakes) to come up around the calf in such a way that she didn't bolt through the fence and onto another ranch. He was successful. The calf spooked and ran back from whence she came. After a brief marital spat in the forest because the Almighty Cattle Rancher violated the Prime Directive we drove to the house unaware of the ominous music playing in the background.
The next morning our mistake was bawling. Loud mournful bawls that echoed over the trees. The cow couldn't find her calf. The marital fight the day before was a mild disagreement compared to the battle that ensued when the Almighty, All-knowing Great & Powerful Oz of Cattle Ranching proclaimed the cow was stupid because she couldn't find her calf. The explosion was very much like a rocket launching, except this time it was a NASA rocket - slow and with much power. Think atomic bomb.
We found the cow on the opposite side of the creek from where we left her calf the night before. Other Half continued to proclaim the cow stupid because she wouldn't cross the creek. I had more faith in the cow. Most dramas on a ranch begin with these words, "Oh shit."
There was a hole in the fence big enough to drive a school bus through. Or a feral hog. Or a calf. The reason the cow couldn't find her calf was because the calf was on another ranch. And thus began our search. Hundreds of acres. Heavily wooded. Poorly fenced. Good luck. The area was too thickly wooded for a horse and neither of us wanted to put a Border Collie in there either. Besides, using dogs to find and herd a single calf is a dicey situation at best.
And this brings us back to prayer. Ranchers pray for miracles. We set off wearing guns and snakeboots. He went one way. I went the other. I forgot to take the walkie-talkie but then nothing I had to say was fit for public airwaves anyway. The grass was ankle to knee deep. It hid all manner of limbs, downed trees, and I'm sure countless polite snakes. From time to time I stopped to check my bearings and flick ticks off me. And say a quiet prayer.
Moments later my phone chimed a text message. I glanced at it. Not God. I was hoping for a text from God reading. STOP WALKING. CALF IS TO YOUR LEFT. UNDER THE CEDAR TREE. Instead, it was a girlfriend. She's also a cattle rancher and so I sent her a quick text. She sent back a note of sympathy and encouragement. She's been there too. At some point we all violate the Prime Directive. I sent a frowny face and walked out of cell phone range again. And there she was. To my left. Under a cedar tree. Fast asleep. Just like the text God didn't send.
Had I not stopped for the text I would have walked right past her. And thus began the game. The "Don't Wake The Baby" game. I needed reinforcements. No horse. No dog. Nothing but a cell phone and a gun. I creeped back into cell phone range and phoned the Other Half. It rolled to his voice mail. He had no cell service. And so we began the forest game of Marco Polo.
This is how people violate the Prime Directive. Two people can shout back and forth in the forest and a calf won't wake up. When we were both within 30 feet of the calf, we resorted to stage whispers, as if shouting wouldn't wake her up but normal voices would. It was so tempting to just walk up and toss a rope around her neck. But the Great and Powerful Oz could see the heifer was nestled in brush that would neatly foil any tossed lasso loop. What to do. What to do. We stared at each other and shrugged. So close and so far.
On the other side of the creek the mother continued to call her calf. The wind was blowing the calf's scent right to her but she couldn't cross the creek at that bank and we were fenced on another ranch. All she could do was call and alert every coyote in the county that she was missing a calf. I flicked another tick off my shoulder and considered our options. There were no choices. We had to rope the calf. If the loop tangled in the brush she'd be gone again. Our only hope was to get closer. The Don't Wake The Baby game got even more exciting when the calf raised her head and fixed us with groggy eyes. This time the "Oh shit" was whispered. We stared at each other. We stared at the baby. She stared at us. No one moved. A tick crawled up my leg.
"What's the plan?" Oz whispered.
"Wait her out. Let her go back to sleep."
It was absurd. It was our only hope. So we stood in the forest and waited for her to go back to sleep. And waited. And waited. And instead of going to sleep, she became more alert. She'd just had a nap. And it was hard to sleep because some cow was bellowing in the forest.
Other Half looked at me and shrugged. Change of plan. If she focused on me, perhaps he would be able to walk close enough to loop her. I started a slow march in the place. Feet up and down. No forward motion. I'm here. I'm making noise. I'm no threat. She watched me calmly. Other Half took another step. She watched me. I marched to hide any noise he might make. She watched me. Perplexed. Bi-peds are so odd. Other Half took another step. She stood up. She stretched. She watched me. Stetched some more. Pushed her back legs out and arched her back. (Getting her running shoes on.)
And then she stepped toward me. Still no clear shot. Other Half watched in helpless frustration. And just like that - she bounded off.
We were back to Square 1.
There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth but we were no longer ready to kill each other. We'd worked together. We tried our best. The calf was in God's hands. The last we saw her she was headed south at a good clip. We headed north. The only thing we could do was get the mother, cut the fence, let the cow find her calf, and hope to pick her up later. The calf would die alone.
And here is where PETA can just kiss my lily white butt. We made the decision to save the calf by taking the chance on losing the mother. She'd probably survive on that ranch by herself but we would have a very difficult time getting her back. If she didn't want to come, our chances were nil. But the baby wouldn't survive without her. I gave another silent prayer and we hiked back to the hole in the fence.
Those words again. Somehow. Some way. The calf had looped around us and crawled back through the hole in the fence! She stood on the other side staring at us. Holyshitholyshitholyshit! Don't scare the baby! We stood there as she walked back through the forest and threaded her way to the exact spot where her mother left her the day before. And she plopped down. New plan. Call all the cattle to this side of the creek. The mother would follow and find her baby.
So I stood on Baby Watch while he drove the ATV across the creek and called the herd. The mother came with them. She was within 40 feet of her calf but couldn't smell it because the calf was downwind in a thicket. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Other Half picked up a feed sack and walked the mother and a few greedy cows toward the thicket.
I'm not sure which of the four of us was more relieved when that mother cow found her calf. While the calf nursed like she hadn't had a meal in twelve hours, I flicked another tick off my pants and pondered the accusations of animal rights activists. They claim we don't care for our animals, that we are cruel because we eat meat. These are often the same folks who proclaim there is no God. I stood in the forest and watched the calf nurse with a happy tear in my eye. We made the right call to do what was best for the animals and God picked up the rest. Screw their claims. I'll take my steak and my God, thank you very much.