Friday, November 30, 2012

C.S.I. Cow scene Investigation

I prefaced tonight's blog post with a picture on Facebook. I will also prewarn you that tonight's post is a bit long, a whole lot painful but consumers say they want to know more about the beef production chain so here we go. At the time I posted on Facebook I was really D and D (disgusted and discouraged). I have passed that stage as I post this but I am still D and D (drunk and disappointed). This wonderful life I am able to lead is amazing. So many joys and triumphs and being able to work with and experience Mother Nature on a daily basis is truly a blessing. However, Mother Nature just like all of us has her "off" days when things just don't go quite right. When I started this blog I made a promise to myself that I wanted to do 5 things. 
 1. Tell my story of what I do and connect with beef consumers.
2. Dispel some of the myths that sometimes circulate in the media about the beef cattle business.
3. Explain some of the things that go on on a commercial cattle ranch in daily activities.
4. Share the joys that I witness but also be honest about some of the things that are reality but are not always celebratory or easy to face.
5. Have some fun and make others laugh.

So let's try and hit all of those tonight except #5 because I just don't think it is going to happen. Let's start with a picture so as I explain this you have some reference points. Remember all pictures can be viewed in full size by clicking on them. 
So in this picture are two dead twin heifer calves. I am going to call the calf in the foreground with the white belly "Mary" for lack of a better name. I am going to call the calf in the back with the afterbirth (placenta) still draped over her "Maria" again just as reference. Their mother is #7103W a cow I bought in 2010 as a late fall cow/calf pair. She had raised a couple of pretty nice calves here and other than the fact that she is a fence breaching pain in my balls she was mostly nondescript. With travel plans next week I locked 7103 up in the corrals so she would not be wandering Franklin County while I am away. I knew she was close to calving but even though the corral is a bit wet she had access to the working shed and I had put a big flush of straw in the outside pen just in case she wanted it. You can see this in the background between the calves and the water tank. 

  Once heifers have had their first calf and become cows it is VERY rare for them to have dystocia (birthing issues) I had no reason to suspect that 7103 would have any problems. Even with twins, in mature cows unless there is an abnormal presentation in the birth canal they will usually do just fine on their own. As I have mentioned though Mother Nature is not something that is always perfect and as much as she can bring pure joy to your soul, she can kick you straight in the heart from time to time. This afternoon as I checked on 7103 my heart sank. There she stood licking and nudging Mary while looking at me like maybe I could remedy the tragedy. I did quickly scale the fence just in case one of these calves happened to still have some life in them. You would be absolutely amazed at some of the miracles I have witnessed in my lifetime in these cases but today that was not the case.  As was once said by a very wise man "twins are just a big damn headache with 8 legs." A single good, healthy and alive calf is much preferred.

I have had a great fall calving season. I moved my fall cows a bit later this year for a few reasons and was a bit nervous as we started but until today we were at 100% live calves and had just a few cows left to calve. On reflection I probably should have expected SOME type of loss coming as the law of averages rarely cheats on Mother Nature. Once I got over the initial anger and frustration. I started what I always do and probably will do until the day I die. My Dad taught me 3 important lessons about calving season. 1. You rarely will save them all in a given calving season. 2. Be thankful that you get to witness such special moments. 3. You CANNOT have living and breathing WITHOUT some dying and rotting. Harsh? Yes. Real? You better believe it! I used to be depressed for weeks over every death. I am now much better at dealing with it but I cannot get over trying to learn just went wrong and why? why? why? Like a 4 year old kid I just need to know WHY?????

 So after looking at the scene, examining blood spots, calf position etc. here is what I came up with. Only God, Mother Nature and 7103 know for sure and they are all pretty secretive. I believe that Mary (the cleaned off calf) came first but was breech (backwards). I would guess that 7103 had some great difficulty expelling her and by the time she did it was already too late for her. Her position and twisted neck lead me to these conclusions. After birthing Mary 7103 probably stood up and began to lick her calf that was already dead but I can bet she tried and tried hoping that she would wiggle, blink and take a breath. At some point Maria (the afterbirth covered calf) made her way into the birth canal. 7103 probably didn't quite know what was happening but I can bet she laid back down and passed Maria fairly quickly through an already open birth canal just by natures process. Sadly, it is my belief that Maria was alive when she hit the ground. I base this on the fact that I could see what looked to be evidence that she had some respiration for awhile before the afterbirth eventually smothered her. 7103 probably then stood back up and her sense of smell being very strong went back to licking Mary while Maria tried to wiggle free from her former home. Yes it would be easier to just think that both calves were stillborn but from my experience and evidence I doubt that was the case. Even though this does not save the calves somehow I feel better feeling like I think I know what went wrong. We have a few cows left to calve and if I happen to get a set of live twins I will try and graft one of them onto 7103 but the odds are pretty poor. I have to say relating this in print was just as painful as actually experiencing it live today but as I finish this post I had a passing thought that made me feel better. Maybe the guy that taught me so much about this business (Dad) lost two calves recently in that great big pasture in the sky and really needed Mary and Maria to graft onto a couple of his cows. 

Today's Cowman You Tube music selection is once again from Matt Mason. I implore you no matter what your musical tastes to take a listen to this song. In my opinion it is 3 minutes of pure genius. I am just so impressed with his music and powerful lyrics. " I know lonesome like a desert knows the sand, I know heartache like the back of my hand, I know leavin' like a river knows to run, I know goodbye like a bullet knows a gun!" I know tonight's post was not the easiest thing to read but I often hear from people telling me how lucky I am to do what I do. I agree with them, I am VERY lucky, but sometimes to get some lucky, you gotta live through a little pain.   


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Heaven? Look in the middle of Nowhere!

So here I am again tonight trying like hell to get something posted. The last 2 days have been super busy but also very productive and mostly enjoyable. Other than a broken rear sliding window on Griselda and the fact that I am not sleeping right now even though tomorrow needs to be a very early start day everything else has been great. Well, other than the fact that tonight on my way back from the cattle auction I got a call about cows being out. There is nothing worse than getting that call when you are 80 miles away. Well, other than the fact that it was already dark! Luckily some good friends were closer than I was and by the time I had torn up that 80 miles the cows were where they were supposed to be! Thank you Mike, Smiley, Joey, Connor and Colby! That is why tomorrow will be an early day because I plan to be back to those cows at first light just to make sure everything is in order.

I shipped some of my steers yesterday and almost made a huge mistake that Dakota would have kicked my ass for! I accidentally shipped 1 of her fair steers for this years show season. I realized my mistake last night though and today #2231W who will soon be given an actual name came back home from the auction yard in Toppenish. My steer calves sold really well today and I am proud to say there ARE some calf buyers that ARE willing to pay for weaned and vaccinated calves. I probably would have gotten the same money 40 days ago for fresh weaned calves but sometimes the market just works that way. I did get the very high end of what 625 weight calves were worth today and topped the sale. Toppenish Livestock Commission has two great owners and a stellar staff and do a tremendous job of marketing cattle at auction. They are also very accommodating when some idiot takes one of his daughters show steers to market and needs to sort said calf off and bring it back home! 

The broken window on Griselda was just an unfortunate thing that happens when some guy locks his keys in his pickup because his mind is in 50 million other places. So today's pictures are just a few I have had the wonderful opportunity to take over the last year and can all be viewed full size by clicking on them. Sometimes this life is less than perfect and often it is not easy but I am so thankful to lead the life I do. Tomorrow a check will be deposited and then all up and down main street bills will be paid and I will get to spend another day working with Mother Nature.   

 Today's Cowman You Tube music selection is from a great artist named Matt Mason.Although the song is about a musical artist certain lyrics like "It ain't a job, it's an answer to a prayer." Really hits home for me because I have truly found "Heaven in the middle of Nowhere!" 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Packwood Washington aka party town

I am posting tonight as a promise to one of my regular readers. Aaron I hope this makes you and your Dad smile when you share this while checking cattle tomorrow morning. As a warning this little life story will be a bit of a long story short but not that short. (More on this later) A few weeks ago Jack and I headed to Elma to bring home the cattle that had spent the summer eating the lush grass of western Washington. I left home at 5 a.m that morning as it is 251 miles to the pasture and was hoping if all went well I would be home that evening for Dakotas district volleyball game. The roads were good and I arrived in Elma to cloudy skies on a day when they were predicting record rain.Jack had arrived earlier and had most of the cattle corraled. We got the stragglers gathered but were missing one calf of Jacks so we took the horses around for a look as we had about an hour before the semi truck arrived. It started raining gently as we rode that glorious fall morning but our slicker dusters kept us dry and it was in the low 50's as far as temperature. Just as an fyi we didn't find the calf that was later found dead in a pit duck blind we didn't know about.

Just as the gleaming red Freightliner with its 53 foot trailer arrived the sky opened up and as we loaded cattle it flat assed poured. For a boy from the desert watching close to an inch of rain fall in an hour was as amazing as it was maddening. We got everything loaded, got the horses loaded in Jacks trailer, got the panels loaded in my trailer and we were eastbound and down! The rain was coming down hard as we drove and I was really thankful that our timing had worked out for the most part. As we headed east on US12 I was frustrated by a blue haired lady that thought the speed limit was 37 mph no matter what the real speed limit was.When the limit was 60 she drove 37, when the limit was 35, she freakin drove 37. She no sooner turned off the highway and we were back to speeding along that my pickup (Griselda) started to lose a bit of power. I told Jack by phone to just keep going and I would stop at a rest area up ahead to see what was going on. I hoped it was not serious as the rain was really crashing down. It turned out to be a record day of rain for Western Washington.

As I pulled into the rest area Griselda died and I noticed my fuel gauge was quite low despite having filled earlier in the day. I lifted the hood to find diesel everywhere but could not find the precise place it had come from. I rolled around in water and diesel under Griselda looking for the leak to no avail. A nice older gentleman finally stopped at the rest area and offered assistance. I told him I just needed someone to crank the ignition while I found the leak. He barely turned the starter and diesel sprayed everywhere. I thanked him, told him I had a cracked injector line and for him to travel on as this would need more than duct tape, baling twine and cowshit to fix (very uncommon). I called 411, got some info and then talked to a Mr. Jim Beslow in Packwood Washington about a tow to his fine city of 1330 people. He explained that as soon as he finished changing a tire on a stock trailer full of cattle he would come and tow me to town.I told him to take his time as his current customer had cattle on board and I was dead in the water but did not have any living beings besides myself on board. I was fairly calm knowing there was nothing that could be done at this point and at least the cattle and horses were still on their way home. I called Jack, told him of my predicament and called Christine to let her know that I would not be making Dakotas game that night. Then I waited, and BTW I waited without any beer or other mood soothing substances. Well wait I did have some Copenhagen.

Jim arrived, deftly hooked up my Griselda and stock trailer, removed the driveline and we were off 12 miles east to Packwood. Mr. Beslow is quite a character and has many "long story short" stories and all his stories somewhere have the phrase, "it was all f*cked up." in them. He told me that my problem with Griselda was a common one and hoped that the next morning the nearest Dodge dealer (Yakima 73 miles away) would have my part. He recommended a motel and a place to get a beer and some dinner. 

I walked next door to the Blue Spruce Saloon and Diner ordered myself a Spruce Burger and a bottle of Coors original. This was a Tuesday night and I expected very little in the way of nightlife. Boy was I wrong, the Spruce has a massive flat screen television and on Tuesday nights one of the locals brings down a Wii and many people of the town show up to bowl on the big screen. The bar also has many pictures of the past glory days of logging on the walls and was tastefully decorated for Halloween. The service was great, the burger was excellent and the 5 beers and two shots of Jagermeister made a less than perfect day much better. I had a great chat with two elk hunters that decided that since they were camped 10 miles from town that eating dinner at the Spruce made more sense than cooking for themselves in camp and that made me chuckle and also rethink future elk hunting excursions. I was also able to witness some pretty adept bowlers in the small town at the base of White Pass. Although my jeans were covered in cow shit and my jacket was reeking of diesel I never once felt anything more than welcome in this great bar.

I then made my way 4 blocks down the street to the Cowlitz River Inn where a proprietor that was jarred awake by my doorbell ringing not only set me up in a room but also gave me a nice discount because of my circumstances and was cheerful and gracious. Once in the room I reverted to my old truck driving days and remembered a lesson I had forgotten. Even when you think a trip is just a day in length ALWAYS take along at least one change of clothing. Because I had forgotten this lesson I had to wash out my clothing in the bathtub of the motel and then hang my clothes over the heater to dry. I then took a nice long hot shower and as my clothes dried I sat naked (easy female readers, control your selves) and Googled Griseldas condition on my laptop and did in fact find out she was suffering  from a common condition to her make, year and model. I just hoped that there would be parts available the next day. About the time I was thinking I would feel sorry for myself I watched the devastation of hurricane Sandy that night on the east coast and realized I am living a dream!

I am not sure what woke me up the next morning but it could have been an elk fart as there were 30 plus of them within 50 feet of my motel window the next morning. I got dressed in my mostly dry clothes, packed up my stuff and headed down to Mr. Beslows garage. I waited until the Dodge dealer opened, found out the part was on backorder but luckily a man with a flat tire being fixed in Mr. Beslows garage recommended I call Cummins Northwest in Yakima. This was a great call, they had the part, in fact they had two of them which was good because I now have one in my glove box just in case. Jack, who had followed the cows home and unloaded them and the horses the night before picked up the part, drove the 73 miles back to my destination like a good cowboy would do for a stranded friend. Thanks Jack! Mr. Beslow quickly installed the injector line and my drive line, gave me a discount on my towing bill, told Jack and I a long story short that had elements that were "all f*cked up" and like the good American that he is wished me luck in my future.  

As I drove home that Halloween day I was very proud to be an American. Despite MANY problems with this country and our government I still would not rather live in any place else on this planet. People like Mr. Jim Beslow who has ran an auto repair and towing company for over 30 years, people like Sarah who serves at the Blue Spruce Saloon and Diner, people like the nice lady that gave me a discount on my room at the Cowlitz River Inn give me a great confidence about the future of this country. I would HIGHLY recommend ALL of these businesses to anyone needing their services in the Packwood Washington area. You all made special memories for a guy that had faced a day that was "all f*cked up." and I thank you all so very much!

Today's two pictures are more in my series of circle of life. #9497W is shown with her newborn bull calf #2497W on February 7th 2012. Then she is shown again with her well raised steer calf August 27th, 2012. Watching these mother cows raise these kids is very inspiring and a huge part of why I will do what I do for a living until the day I die. Working with mother nature and knowing sometimes life's imperfections are what truly make life worth living. Remember all pictures can be viewed in full size by clicking on them. 

 Today's YouTube music selection is once again by one of my musical heroes Dwight Yoakam. Dwight twangs a guitar as well as anyone and it does not matter if he sings an uplifting twang song or a slow ballad he nails it every time. Lyrics like "Hey I may be slow, but I ain't blind" hillbilly crank bayyybayyy! The next time you are throttling down the road, with plans and thinking everything is working out just right just remember, "Things Change." This does not mean things changing are always a bad thing!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pretty, Precious and Crybaby life circle +o

Ok, so I said once my stint as President of the Washington Cattlemen's Association was over I would get back to this blog on a much more regular basis. Since we had our WCA convention last week and I am now "free" I am going to do my best to deliver on this promise. Three things are going to happen to make this possible.

1. I wont worry so much about content or if what I post is "blog worthy". I will try and get more content here and if my readers like it great, if not they can go f*ck themselves, I mean they can move along to another blog.

2. I will try and be much more regular here even if it means shorter posts on a more regular basis. Some days might be nothing more than a picture or video or a short little life story.

3. I will continue to provide some humor and light heartedness to my posts but will focus more on regularity than perfection of content, even if the post is something from the past instead of current day.

So to start this program out I am going to go back to a specific cow that has been around since early in this blog. I think that focusing on her past and current life will be something that those that know the cow/calf business will enjoy and those that don't know will provide a timeline of how female calves become mother cows in an operation such as mine.

Today's blog post follows the life of "Precious" who is the daughter of "Pretty". Pretty is a fairly large Charolais cross cow that made her entry into my herd as a daughter of a cow I bought. Pretty is a mostly gentle easy going cow but she is the type of cow that you DO NOT mess with her newborns. Her maternal instincts are very strong and protective. In fact, she is so motherly that you do NOT mess with any OTHER cows calf if Pretty is in the vicinity. Pretty got her name because she is a white cow in a virtual sea of black and red cows and in our herd is unique. Her ranch tag is #2302W and she gave birth to "Precious" in January 2010. As you can see Precious was not tagged at birth and there was no obituary for me in 2010.

Precious spent her early tagless days doing just what all calves do here on the ranch, suckling her mother, playing and sleeping. After Precious became a bit older I was able to catch her away from her protective momma and give her an ear tag. In the tradition of her obstinate mother she lost her tag early in life as you can see in this picture of her in April 2010 as she made herself comfortable in some grass straw. Precious continued to grow up and was weaned from her mother in November 2010 and was also chosen as a "replacement" heifer to be added to our herd. 

In the spring of 2011 Precious and her fellow replacements were pastured with some low birth weight Black Angus bulls to be bred. Precious bred rapidly and then later in the summer was lost for a short time as related in the blog post "Finally" in August 2011.

Precious was confirmed pregnant in November of 2011 and Dakota and I anxiously awaited her calving day. I make my first calf heifers learn to eat cornstalks just like they must do as adult cows and this picture is Precious and her mother Pretty in January 2012 as they both approached calving time. 

Precious proved to be cow worthy as she gave birth unassisted to her first calf "Skittles" on February 12th 2012. Don't ask me about the names as that is Dakotas department! Her black brocklefaced bull calf quickly became a favorite of the whole family and Precious did a wonderful job as a first time mother without the anger of her own mother. 

 As you can see Precious never did get a replacement ear tag but we know who she is and as a first time mother did a tremendous job of raising a calf. Skittles is not quite show steer worthy but he is a good calf and is going to be a wedding present for my oldest daughter Amanda and her fiancee Kenneth who are getting married in December. Precious and Skittles are pictured here in September 2012 shortly before weaning time. 

   As you can see the circle of life continues, the +o brand lives on and managing momma cows to produce healthy, wholesome, nutritious beef is what we do as we continue to manage and care for our land, our cattle and our family.

 By the way, Precious' little sister "Crybaby" #1302W is pregnant with her first calf and will be a momma sometime in early 2013. Here she is as a baby in early 2011. Is there any question about why I love what I do? Oh remember all pictures can be viewed in full size by clicking on them!

Today's Cowman music selection comes from one of my musical heroes Dwight Yoakam. Dwight is so talented and today's song comes from his recently released new album "3 Pears" The album is a bit different but brilliant as usual and this is the title track. I am hoping for "3 Pairs of cattle" in 2013 as Pretty, Precious and Crybaby each bring a new bovine life into this world. Thank you to all of you that follow this blog, I hope I can get back to giving you regular posts as we charge towards 2013!