Friday, August 27, 2010

Tag on the Farm

I've always loved playing tag.  It gives you a reason to sprint, which is an exhilarating feeling.  I mean, how many opportunities do you really get to just full-on run as fast as you can? 

Except this game of tag is a little different.  This time, we're tagging calves.  As in ear-tags.  And these calves can not only run super fast, but they can jump, bellow, kick, flip-flop, wiggle, scream, pant, and foam at the mouth like nobody's business.  Which in and of itself isn't so bad until you add in an angry, over-protective mother who weights 1200 pounds who also knows how to sprint. 

We try to tag the calves when they're little.  5 hours old?  Perfect.  2 days old?  Not bad.  3 weeks old, like last night's bullcalf?  Not a great idea. At 3 weeks, these suckers are big, strong, fast and super stubborn.  They also can make a noise like you've never heard before. 

Last night presented the perfect opportunity, though, as the mother had walked down to the pasture and left her calf resting peacefully in the barnyard.  Ha!  The fools!  We shut the gate to keep the calf in and the mother out, and the fun started.

Marcel was on lasso, I was armed with the ear tagger.  The calf was running wild around the barnyard, but made the mistake of heading into the barn.  Ah-ha, gotcha!  Marcel caught him around the neck and the fun began.  This bullcalf was strong, and started whipping Marcel around the entire barnyard.  Marcel was hanging on, trying to get ahold of him to trip him up, but there were hooves flying every which way--and let me tell you, these little calves kick HARD.  Finally the calf jumped close to the round bale cage.  Marcel took advantage and pushed his body against the cage, wedging him in.  I ran up and tagged him as quick as possible:  #39.  The little bugger. 

In the meantime, the kids had entered the barnyard to see if they could help.  They could not.  But they left the gate open and Honeysuckle escaped into the yard.  First off, she was scared to death from all the bellowing and bawling coming from her buddy.  And second, she'd never been anywhere outside of the barnyard before, so was immediately disoriented. 

Rodeo #2 formed, trying to catch Honeysuckle and get her back in.  I yelled at Ana to grab a bottle, the one comfort she knows, while Marcel and Rob were trying to keep her out of the road.  We live on a blind hill, the calf was about 6 feet from the road, and we could hear a car speeding in our direction.  (A good reason to SLOW DOWN on rural roads, people!)  Honey kept running erratically towards the road, then back again.  Luckily she froze when the car got close--it was a full-sized van. 

How traumatic would that have been?  Shudder. 

Marcel finally lassoed her, so was able to keep her from the road, and by then I had the bottle in hand and led her back to the barnyard.  Whew!  What an evening!

One more to go, though.  We had to drive down to the pasture to find this one--a heifer calf, about 10 days old.  She's still pretty sleepy, though, so tagging her wasn't the issue.  Keeping the mother away was.  After Marcel lassoed her around the neck, we slowly chased the mother and babe around until they were close to the fence.  I drove the PUG inbetween the mom and babe, at which point Marcel grabbed her and tried to tag her.

Only problem?  The tag didn't clasp correctly.  So now he's trying to get it to clamp down and secure itself while the mother is chasing him around the PUG.  I'm warding her off with a stick, but don't want to use it forcefully unless she's really going to attack him because we rely on trust to move these cows from paddock to paddock.  Thankfully she's calm enough to not attack, and only wants to know that her babe is OK.  Job done, Marcel tired, excitement had. 

We really need a sophisticated corral for these jobs.  Any anonymous donors out there? 

Anyone?  Yoohoo!  Hello!?  Tap-tap-tap.  Anyone?


Friday, August 13, 2010

Hot Mamas

We are in the middle of a typical August heat-wave.  You know the kind.  The kind that turns the winter-haters into winter-aficionados.  The kind that creates a perpetual background humming noise, which is the din of a gazillion air-conditioners straining to keep things cool.  The kind that gives you that lovely summer glow, a.k.a. sweat-shine.  The kind that has you sleeping in your skivies because it's so bleepin' hot in here!

I'm weathering the heat just fine.  You see, I've got that typical Irish Catholic point of view that a little suffering is good for the soul.  Marcel's holding his own--his Panamanian alter-ego might tell you to suck it up, because this ain't nothing compared to back home in Panama.  The real Marcel, of course, would never say that.  And the kids are a little more lethargic than usual, but surprisingly uncomplaining.  (We don't have air-conditioning.  Air-conditioning is for wimps.)

But the cows?  The cows aren't happy.  And who, really, would blame them?  They're stuck in the middle of a field with lots of good food and fresh water, but also lots of flies and the blazing sun beating down on them all day.  

They've responded to the heat with a little revolt.  Perhaps you would call it a small protest.  It's just a small one, but it's there all the same.  They've started purposely tipping over the moveable water tank.  That's right, they tip it over and slosh around in the ensuing mud like a bunch of pigs.  Pigs, I tell you!  Since when did a cow aspire to pig-like status?

It's actually quite a problem, though.  Because while the huge wave and ensuing splash of cool water and mucking up of my lovely pasture assuredly feels great at the moment, about 15 minutes later they get a little  thirsty.  Sure, there's a trickle of water continuously flowing out, putting a lovely strain on the water pump, have you.  But when you've got 40+ hot and thirsty cows, a trickle ain't gonna cut it.

No lecturing by me is gonna make them any happier, nor will it stop the water-tippin'. So, I'm wondering if this isn't just a bad idea.  You know, keeping them on our grazing plan, out in the sun in this terribly-hot weather.

The strict (successful) graziers might say something like, "grazing-cattle must be tough and able to withstand the extremes.  You gotta push them to the limit and select for hardiness.  How are you going to know which cows are suited to grazing if you provide them with pillows and soft blankets at the first weather-test?"

The traditional cattlemen, the grain feeders, might say something like, "This proves that rotational grazing doesn't work, that it's bad for the cows, and that the confinement and/or grain-based feeding system is ubiquitous because it's the only one that works."

(True graziers and grain-feeders might say this, or they might not.  They are a varied lot.)

The mother in me would bring them in to the tree-lined pasture for a few days, to give them a little relief from the hot sun.  Which means they would really just stand in the round barn all day, pee and poop constantly until the barn floor is covered in a green soupy mess perfect for breeding more flies, skin infections, and diarrhea in the calves.

The farmer in me, though, is inclined to leave them in the pasture and just check on the water more often.  Why?  Not because I'm a big meanie, although you can accuse me of it if you'd like.  But because for one, I don't want skin infections, flies and diarrhea.  And two, if we brought the cows in for every weather-event, be it large storms, heavy rainfall, extreme heat, stiff winds, extreme cold, etc....they'd never be in the pasture!   

I'm open to suggestions, though.  Let's hear what ya got.