Friday, May 20, 2011

Calving Time for a Small American Cow-Calf Farmer - Originally Published March 2010

This is Donna, a Popeye daughter, and part of our original herd
Global Warming and Cows -- refuting the notion that "cows are the greatest contributor to climate change" has become the focus of so much of my time and energy for several weeks now. Today, my time was more occupied with my actual real British White cows, one cow in particular. She's a cow I nicknamed Donna long ago, in honor of an elementary school classmate who was quite the dominating child -- enough so that I actually remember her taking charge of the classroom when I was in the 3rd grade. She might have been full of honey do this and that in the first and second grade as well, but I was quite occupied in those years with standing in corners and defending my right to 'talk too much', with which my teachers heartily disagreed. Did you ever have to stand in a corner and keep your nose precisely within a small circle? 

This morning I went out to make my cow check, which always starts with a count of each cow in two herds I have by the house. All was well with the smaller group in the more confined pasture by the house. The larger group of cows are one pasture over from the house on about 20 acres that is edged with a deep thicket of woods and a steep ravine, typical terrain in this area of the Pineywoods of East Texas. Each day I count the girls in this big pasture to make sure they're all there, and then look at their udder and their vulva and make a judgment as to whether it's time for any of them to move over one pasture to the one right beside the house, so they'll calve in this more protected pasture.

Well, this morning I was one cow short. I counted about three times, squinted a lot, cursed my aging eye sight, wished I'd brought the binoculars, and deeply regretted I was in flip-flops and shorts as the stinging weed is in full swing. I had no desire to walk across that entire pasture in search of the missing cow with stinging weed slapping and stinging my bare toes.

The next thing I wonder about is just who is missing, and I think of Donna. A couple of days before I had a nagging thought that she might just be ready, she was packing a lot of milk; but, her vulva showed no signs, and in the days prior I'd not spotted any sign of her losing her mucous plug, so I'd left her with the big herd. Sure enough, I scan the cows and I do not see my Donna anywhere. It's actually pretty amazing how a cow person can look at their herd and identify a lot of times each and every one, we don't need an ear tag, we know our cows! 

From Newborn to Handsome Young Bull Calf - Video Taken March 25th, and this Good-Lookin' Youngster was Ten Days Old (Halliburton Arlene is AKA Donna for Most of her Life) 

Dancing with Donna
So began the day of finding Donna, and then checking on my Donna's progress in having her much awaited baby calf. Donna was precisely where I did not want her, or any other of my cow's to be, when they were getting ready to calve. She had gone deep in to the wood thicket that edged the pasture, where most cows instinctively feel they can safely calve and protect their young. And you know, Donna may have been exactly right, but me being a know-it-all human herdswoman -- I disagreed.

Coyotes are an enormous threat in this neck of the Pineywoods of East Texas. They wake you up from a deep sleep with their shrill screaming, and you jump up and run to the door and flip on all the outside lights, and they instantly silence. You then know they are very close and they are looking for food -- and when your cows are calving you know what food they most prefer.

So, for about three hours, Donna and I had a bit of a dance. I located her and made myself a comfy spot where I could keep an eye on her -- that lasted about an hour. She wasn't quite ready to have the calf, and she certainly didn't like my intrusion -- I would look up from my book and through my binoculars see her looking straight at me, so of course she checked out better spots burrowed in ever deeper vines and briers.

I had a choice to make -- let her calve where she chose, or go into the woods and try to bring her out and hope like heck that it didn't have a detrimental impact on her putting a healthy calf on the ground. After about an hour of stressful watching and re-locating of Donna, I made the choice. I went in to the woods and got in behind her, briers slapping and scratching my bare legs, fortunately not my feet, as by then I'd at least had the sense to change my flip-flops in favor of my favorite LL Bean pasture shoes.

Success! Donna headed back to the open pasture with me trailing behind her and moving from side to side to direct her path as best I could through the nest of old briers and vines and trees in this native thicket. The rest of the herd were on the crest of the hill above the woods by then and noticed Donna coming out of the woods, and they came in closer to see what was up. I headed back to the pasture gate and gave the herd my regular call of "Hey Girls!", and like the good girls they are they followed me, and Donna came along as well, bringing up the rear of course, as she had a baby that was ready to come in to this world.

I easily sent the big herd into another adjacent pasture (these British White girls are very gentle and easy to move, and it is always good to have an adjacent pasture that is not occupied), and cut off Donna as she came with interest along with the herd. I directed Donna into the pasture beside the house, and felt the first relief I'd had all day. But, some consternation as well; after all, I had interrupted her calving regimen, something I try to never do. But, I had been remiss in not already pulling her into the 'calving' pasture, and I have no doubt it is the safest place for my new mama cows -- so yes, I interrupted her.

Donna and her newborn Elvis sired bull calf
Another Photo of Donna and her Bull Calf:

Yes, I Talk Too Much!

This account of my day is getting lengthy! I still tend to 'talk too much', but no longer have a teacher around to chastise me to shush -- apparently I didn't have to hold my nose in a circle in a corner of the school room nearly enough! So I'll leave off the rest of the details and tell you the ending. After 6 and a half hours of finding her, watching her, moving her, and then checking on her repeatedly, Donna had a healthy bull calf. Besides my own interruption of her calving ritual, another calf, a 6 week old precocious heifer, provided constant irritating curiosity about just what Donna was doing. Despite all this, a healthy calf was born.

My day is what cow-calf farms or ranches are all about. Raising cows in rural America is not about Global Warming -- has no impact on Global Warming. They are about new life and a calf's first steps, they are about watching a calf dashing about the pasture when they realize they can run -- when they feel just plain good to be alive -- and someone like me is around to feel the joy and look after them and give them as good a life as I am capable - regardless of their ultimate end.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Quincy 230 Compressor on a Water Well

Quincy 230 Compressor, late 60's/early 70's model, operating a water well with a 3HP Baldor L1408T motor. 

This is a short video of our old Quincy 230-32 Compressor, Serial Number 722418 . The tag on the unit also says it is a size 3 1/2 x 3.

The old compressor has been operating with a new 3 HP Baldor motor (that was the size and model on it originally) to pull water from a 600 foot water well. The motor starts the compressor up fine, but when the float valve shuts the unit down, it is 10-12 hours before the motor can successfully start the compressor again. The motor would either do nothing when I attempted to get the compressor going, or it would try and the compressor would stop and start, the belts moving then pausing. Also, when the compressor was idle in these periods, you could attempt to turn the belts by hand and they would stop with very little play in the pulley, like there was pressure preventing movement?

This burned up the new 3 HP Baldor replacement motor within about 2 weeks.

There is not an unloader on the top of this unit. Various photos I have found online indicate there ought to be. Could this be part of the problem? Or is an 'unloader' only required when this compressor is used as an AIR compressor?

Oil has been checked, it is fine, that's about all I can clearly see how to do on the compressor.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Plucky British White Bull Calf - Lucky Dan Learns to Walk

British White First Calf Heifer, J.West's Vanity Fair,  with 'Lucky Dan'
 This winter brought an unusual experience to our British White cow herd.  Early in the morning on January 27th, we found one of my heifers exhausted with trying to calve, clearly worn out and in distress.  My first concern was for her, she was that tuckered out.  She was laying on her left side just kind of splayed out and her energies clearly spent, eyes just buggy and staring.  A quick exam told me the calf was tilted half again sideways in the birth canal and she had tried all she could try to have that boy.

Her name is J.West's Vanity Fair -- she was just that pretty when she was born. Vy, as we call her, is an El Presidente daughter that had a birth weight of 51 lbs and has matured in to a Frame 2 cow.  (Vy is pictured at a few weeks old below.)  I had been quite anxious about her first calving experience, and fortunately had pulled her in to the main corral where she could be easily helped if needed.  Anyway, a brand new set of soft nylon obstetrical straps received their first use that morning.

J.West's Vanity Fair and her dam, Billie Jean, in November 2008
The calf appeared to be dead, the tongue extruded and swollen and cold, but I've seen that before in calves that do survive.  The right leg was still quite recessed, the left leg was up top with several inches showing and easily grasped.  It was slippery work to get the right leg in the strap working blind, but I managed after several frantic tries. 

With me working at her vulva to help ease the head on through, Mike pulled the calf with these new straps, and perhaps too hard, but I was quite insistent that he pull the calf as quickly as possible as Vy was just not breathing well at all, way too quiet.  We still made sure the angles were right for the pull as best we could considering the odd position of the calf.  In hindsight, it just wasn't a real difficult pull, as it was accomplished within minutes, but again, perhaps too fast and/or hard -- isn't hindsight 20/20!

The newborn bull calf was actually DOA upon birth, quite lifeless in my arms. But, I had read several months before about the oxygen deprivation a calf endures in a hard pull. Even when they are born alive, they can die within minutes if you do not give them oxygen as they are quite stressed by the whole experience. So, this plucky little bull calf, seemingly quite dead in my arms in to which he was born -- received my own immediate oxygen via careful, yet forceful, mouth to mouth and mouth to nostrils breathing on my part.  I didn't actually put my mouth on his mouth or nostrils, just got as close as I dared, which was pretty close.

A "Calf-Saver" purchased from
Mike ran back to the house for a gizmo called a 'Calf Saver', pictured left.  It has a tube you pass down their throat, and is intended to keep the human out of direct contact with the calf while trying to revive them.   Before he made it back I was rewarded within just a couple of minutes of his little body jerking and clear signs of life.  I almost passed out from hyper-ventilation breathing my air in to him, but nothing could have stopped me continuing beyond pure passing out.  By the time the Calf Saver was there, the calf was breathing like a miracle to me and I was dizzy and gasping and laughing and happy like you can't imagine, it was a truly memorable experience.

This Calf Saver appears to have been made for a really big calf, or I was just too hesitant to really push it firmly inside his mouth -- that's most likely the case.  Regardless, I used it as best I could as soon as Mike brought it, and we took turns continuing to give the calf oxygen via the Calf Saver until we were confident he was okay.  And yes, we tickled his nose along the way and I do believe that helped as well once he was initially revived.  We didn't hold him upside down or anything like that, as I'm of the opinion that isn't what a distressed calf needs at all.

Vy actually remained quite still throughout the pull, very minimal efforts at contractions, and still quiet afterwards as we worked on her calf, but she was alive and seemed more comfortable.  Once the calf was actually sitting up on its own and looking around his new world, made his first incredibly wonderful mewling sounds for his momma, Vy perked up and got straight away to her feet to check out her new boy.  As she had calved him in a small shed with a dirt floor, we moved the little bull out on to grassy ground several feet away, then left the pair for an hour or so to clean ourselves up and catch our own breath -- as I was now quite tuckered out!

We discovered when we went back out to check on things that Lucky Dan was just not able to stand up and suck.  His two front feet buckled at the ankle every time he tried, and he was definitely hungry and intent on standing, so it wasn't for lack of trying hard enough.  So I fed him colostrum throughout the day, he only took about a pint at most with each attempt.  The next morning we hoped to find him all better, not so, he still could not stand.  Long story short -- he simply could not stand and we had to figure out just what to do to help him, it was a totally new dilemma for us.  (Oh!  And within a week or so I settled on that name for this little guy, his registered name is J.West's Lucky Dan, his sire is Tom Sawyer, and his birth weight was 64 lbs, and I think he just may make a bull.)

Lucky Dan, Trying to Keep his Balance
In the first photo above, and the one to the right, you see Mike's second try at making braces for Lucky Dan's legs.  He used PVC pipe and duct tape, a particularly good grade of duct tape with lots of staying power.  The first try he put short braces on both legs just below the knee all the way down to the tip of the hoof.  That worked well on the right leg, but he still couldn't use his left leg, so Mike devised one long enough to stabilize the knee as well.  These photos were taken when he finally stood on his own (after being helped up) for the first time.

After about 10 days or so, Mike removed the tall brace and tried a short one again on that left leg, and he was able to not only stand up on both legs, but get his own self up on those legs.  With the tall brace, I had to stand him up regularly and encourage him to move around, I just didn't think it was healthy for him to sit all day.  It was quite a sight, he would try to do that baby calf hop of joy and sometimes hold steady on landing, sometimes fall right down, and in hind sight maybe I should have named him Captain Cook or something as he walked with a peg leg so long, but I kept thinking about Dan in Forrest Gump.

During all this I bottle fed him regularly, sometimes with his dam's milk, sometimes with milk replacer.  Although he could stand, he would easily stumble and fall down if he got in too big a hurry, or Vy irritatingly bumped him, so there was no way he could manage nursing.  It was beginning to get really cold here in February, so we moved them to a pen right by the house.  That made it easier for me to check on him regularly, but no way was I going to be able to daily get her back to the chute to milk.   So I gathered up my courage and attempted to milk her in the pen -- with no halter, no rope, nothing. 

After lots of stops and starts and kicks and charges, I realized I needed a very tasty distraction for her.  Right in the barn I found my secret weapon, Peanut's (one of my horses) sweet feed.  It was like giving a kid ice cream, as of course I don't let my cows have any grain. 

J.West's Lucky Dan at 3 months of Age

I was actually able to milk her as long as she had her head in that bucket.  Towards the end of this experience, I would stand Lucky Dan up on one side of her and encourage him to learn to suck, and I would quickly milk her from the other side.  Those were actually the most calm milking moments, Vy seemed to like it better that way, I know I sure did.  Finally the day came when I went out to give a bottle to Lucky Dan and he just didn't want it anymore, he had learned to suck and already had his belly full.

We periodically removed his braces to see how he was progressing throughout these weeks.  His right leg healed the fastest and we were able to remove it first, then it took about a week for the left leg to finally be strong enough for him to stand fully on his own -- and that was a happy day indeed.  Lucky Dan is now just over 3 months old, and is pictured above in early May.

Note:  We were fairly confident that Lucky Dan's leg problems were strictly from the pull, not a nutritional deficiency as apparently is the case with this type of issue as well.  Given his odd position in the womb, it was the left leg that received the brunt of the pulling, and it was the left leg that was more damaged and took the longest to heal.

Friday, April 22, 2011

East Texas Drought has some Windy Teeth

**Update April 26, 2011 -- Rain!!! This sandy hill had an inch and a half of thundering rain captured in the rain gauge last night, and this morning I did hear frogs croaking.  While they aren't there in our shriveled up pond in great numbers as in bygone days, enough are there you can hear their song.  The grass is miraculously greener today as well, and the cows are cleaner and much much happier, and so am I!!

Good Friday and Easter Sunday.....close your eyes and think of the first things that come to mind, reminisce about Easter's past, and not once will you recall hot, dry and dusty weather and wildfires -- at least not if most of those Easter's past were spent in Southeast Texas. 

J.West's Blossum, Summer 2010
It is so dry, so windy here that it is just plain scary.  We had a couple of days last week where the smell of wood smoke was so strong you just knew there was a fire close by that was headed out of control.  Turned out it was a fire pretty far south in the northern part of Hardin County, a whopping big 7000 acre fire being fanned by crazy winds.  The days the smell of the smoke reached all the way to this far northern tip of Tyler County were windy days indeed, and the direction of those winds sent the odor lingering in those enormous clouds of smoke right to our front doors. 

The pastures are bone dry, and disturbing the soil sends up swirls of white sand carried off by the winds.  The grass is dead and dying and today we started putting out hay again for the biggest part of the herd.  The poor cows desperately need a rain bath to clean up their pretty white fur, and at this rate the little ones will be months old before they even know what rain feels or sounds like.

Okay, I've depressed myself enough putting down in words how very very dry it is, and it could be that negative thinking might just perpetuate this worst nightmare Spring weather.   To counter that negativity, I found a youtube video of great rain sounds-- if you miss the sound of rain, listen up.

Maybe if we all think of rain together -- imagine the sounds from childhood of it falling and tapping on a tin roof, or conjure that sure sweet smell of a big rain coming when the air holds still and the sky is blackened, hear the mighty crashes of thunder, feel the chill down your spine when suddenly a breath of breeze moves across your skin that has a bite of coolness and a feel of newness.  Rain, the life blood of all that is new and fresh again when the season of Spring rolls around.  Okay, I'm opening up my eyes again . . . yeah, I do feel more hopeful that it will surely rain again . . . some day!

I imagine the frogs are hopeful, or have they headed for the nearest river by now?  There have been some spring nights here in the years past when the sound of frogs was like an entity of its own, an organism, a giant UCO (Unidentified Croaking Object).  I'd really like to hear the sound of frogs after a rain, you have to wonder just what happens to the poor frogs without the rain?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Newlyweds from the Netherlands visit a British White cattle herd in Southeast Texas

Mieke and Peter, with Carter hamming it up a little.........

In late March my herd of British White cattle received international visitors from the Netherlands.  All my girls behaved themselves and much enjoyed being admired.  A lovely young Dutch couple honeymooning in Texas made the ranch an afternoon stop on their exploration of our fine state.

A couple of weeks prior I received an email from Mieke, inquiring if she and her soon to be husband Peter, might visit the ranch.  Of course, I was quite delighted to say yes and found it a very nice compliment to my British White herd and my efforts to promote the breed via the internet. 

Mieke and Peter make their home in the far south of the Netherlands in the province of North Brabant which borders the country of Belgium.  The municipality their village lies within is Sint-Michielsgestel, and it was curious to learn that Gestel means high, dry, sandy land -- which is a pretty apt description of the land of this ranch as well.  Fortunately, when the newlyweds visited the grass was green and the scent of clover was in the air -- now, barely two weeks later, that is long gone and we are super dry and hot and the sand is blowing to the next county with strong winds.

Peter and Mieke standing by the "Wedding Tree"
Mieke is an Event Planner, this is a field of university study that I was unfamiliar with, but have since learned is a growing field here in the USA as well. Mieke put her organizational skills to good work in planning their honeymoon, and Peter was more than happy to oblige that schedule behind the wheel as they drove across the state of Texas and even as far north as Oklahoma City. 

Peter is a cattle trader in the Netherlands, and Mieke arranged their travels in Texas around visiting ranches and seeing cattle, and that is a mighty nice thing for such an elegant young lady to do for her new husband.  Mieke and Peter covered a lot of territory -- from a private tour of the King Ranch to the far south of Texas, to all the way north to the Oklahoma Stockyards to attend that renowned cattle auction. 

 Cattle auctions are no longer held in the Netherlands due to foot and mouth disease concerns.
"After the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 strict regularizations for the collection and export of cattle were passed in the Netherlands. Most of these directives are still in force today. This practically makes the organisation of breeding cattle auctions impossible." (source link)
 More recently, the cattle population has been threatened with Blue Tongue disease -- and the tight controls already implemented, as well as a comprehensive vaccination program, is hoped to have the Netherlands officially Blue Tongue free this year, as no cases have been found since 2009.  Blue Tongue is hurtful to any catttle operation, but for a dairy focused on milk production, the significant drop in milk production of an infected cow hits their bottom line, whether they eventually lose the cow to the disease or not.  See this UK Telegraph article for an excellent word picture of the state of Germany in 2007 at the onset of the Blue Tongue outbreak in Europe, and this UK Telegraph article: Blue Tongue disease: A Killer in the Countryside.

Rather than have a mixing of cattle from various herds at auction, cattlemen such as Peter go to each dairy farm to negotiate their purchases, and the calves are transported directly to the facility Peter operates.  This type of approach to cattle buying and handling goes a long way to assist with locating from what particular herd any disease originates, but does hamper the normal fixing of market price from a gathering of buyers and sellers at an auction. 

The dairy business quite famously dominates the cattle industry in the Netherlands, and the calves raised for beef originate with dairy herds.  The quite valuable dairy heifers are retained, but the bull calves at about two weeks old are removed from their dams and sold to cattlemen such as Peter for predominantly veal production.

Elvis coming up to say hello to the Newlyweds . . .

Mieke directed me to the web site of the Dutch-owned VanDrie Group, which is actually the largest producer of veal in the world, and VanDrie's web site demonstrates through many photos the types of calves Peter buys and the feeding process and housing facilities that are commonly used to rear the young bull calves.

When we started our walk among my British White cows, the first group we looked at were the heavy bred cows by the house.  Immediately Peter was struck by how quiet they all were.  It was early afternoon and they were mostly lying around and Peter was able to walk up to them with ease -- and "easy" was the comment Peter made, that they were very "easy" cows.  That very simple and succinct first impression of the breed will always stay with me, as it really does fully express the British White breed -- they are easy in most every way.

As we walked around different pastures I took some video of Mieke and Peter and it is presented below.  I hope you enjoy watching it, and I send my best wishes to this smiling young couple for a long and happy life.

(Note:  If you would like to view the video in 720 HD or on YouTube, make the adjustment in the lower right hand corner of the video clip still......)