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.