Monday, January 24, 2011

The pot of gold?

I usually write out my posts on a Microsoft Word program, read and edit and then post it here. I was not really planning on posting tonight but I am here at the computer still so I decided I would post a little bit of something for today. Since I am posting this directly and am really in no mood to edit please forgive any failures of standard that you expect from this blog.

I have talked about the amazing life I am able to live here many times as well as the frustrations with this way of life at times. Today seemed to be a exercise in the far contrasts of both the good and bad. The day ended well enough and I am hoping tomorrow is going to be one of my "top ten" days of 2011 but that is a statement made with much caution. Tonight it is hard to talk about all aspects of today without giving away what I hope is a joyous day and surprise tomorrow but I will try. What the hell, at least I have a "hook" and a reason to come back to my blog late tomorrow night when I will hopefully be telling you about a great day.

Last year at this time the cattle market was in a very different place. It was not particularly bad by any means but it was a very average year in the income vs. expense arena. If you have been in this business long enough you learn that getting to the end of the year without actually LOSING any money has to sometimes be considered a success. Many years you pay the bills, you feed your family, you don't particularly live in poverty but at the same time you do not really do anything extra either. The nice thing about this business is even in those years where you slip backward financially or just maintain life is still pretty complete and full because you get to spend your days being your own boss, working outside and seeing some of the most glorious things that only Mother Nature can manifest.

This year has the makings of something very special in this business. Many classes of cattle are at record highs. Expenses are high as well and give some concern but all things considered it looks like a year that could be very satisfying from a financial standpoint. The last few years have been a bit more on the average to below average from a financial standpoint. I have been mostly lucky though because my live calf percentage, weaning weights and the ultimate standard of pounds of calf sold vs. cost of cow maintenance plus other expenses has been slightly positive. I have been very lucky over the last few years and have seemed to be able to save calves from certain death in an almost miraculous fashion. Although the cattle market is much better I struggle mightily this year from a mental perspective because I can't seem to catch a break with any calf that comes up with any health issues. A couple instances have been nothing but pure "shit luck" such as the very first calf heifer being able to birth a calf on her own but for whatever reason the calf was dead on arrival and I lost one calf that somehow fell in the canal and was not able to escape not as a newborn but at a week of age. These things can happen but my past excellent luck is making this year seem like hell.

In the calendar year of 2009 between spring and fall calvers I only lost 3 calves at birth compared to 234 live calves. In 2010 I lost 6 calves but over 248 births so percentage wise those years were really spectacular. Now granted it is early in 2011 but at the current time I plan to calve out about 264 head between both calving seasons. I have already lost six calves to date and am only about 50% through the spring calvers. From a percentage basis I am still above average for survivability but it still stings every time you lose one for any reason.

The calf I lost last night really is weighing on me from a sadness and frustration standpoint. 1440w was born to a first calf heifer 2 weeks ago on a snowy night but his mother seemed to get him up and nursing in a reasonable amount of time. That first nursing is critical for young calf health. Over the next few days I watched him as he seemed to always be on the edge of being a bit sick. Early last week on a rainy and cold night I brought him home to the house out of concern. He had a bit of fever and was breathing a bit "wet" but I gave him an injection of antibiotic as well as an oral sulfa based pill. The next morning he was much more spry and pissed all over the laundry room floor and his energy had Festus and Sadie worked up as to why a calf was in their home. I took him back to his momma and things went well. Energetic, nursing his mother, frolicking with the other calves was the norm for the next few days. I was sure I had him out of the woods and that keeping him inside that one night was the key.

I noticed he had a bit of a snotty nose last Thursday before I went on the tour so I gave him another shot and since it was not cold or too wet I thought he would be just fine. Even Saturday night when I checked on him he was still a bit slow but he seemed to be fighting off whatever issue he had. Sunday morning was a different story as his breathing had become very wet and he was quite lethargic. I brought him home and gave him some electrolytes to help his dehydration and a few other drug therapies and felt pretty good about his chances. I hoped he would be ready to go back with his mother this morning, unfortunately he did not make it through the night. To see his young mother follow the pickup bawling knowing that was the last place she saw her young calf really bothered me this morning. If we get a twin in the next few days I will try to make her a surrogate but I wont hold my breath.

As wonderful and inspiring watching life begin on a ranch there is always the other side of the ledger and although I know that is just life it still never easy to lose one. My Dad once offered me the best advice related to these joys and disappointments. He would say, "There is no way to enjoy the part of Mother Nature that is breathing and living without accepting dying and rotting as part of the circle." Good advice indeed. I guess I should focus on the 2 calves that were born today without incidence and what else I was able to complete today that I feel very blessed for. More on that tomorrow barring any disasters.

Today's real environmentalist species found on the ranch is Dalmation toadflax aka Linaria dalmatica.

Today's picture is a rainbow from today that oddly seemed to suggest there was a pot of gold in the bathroom of our home.