Saturday, March 30, 2013

From the baby pen to the toddler pasture

Greetings from Elkhorn Creek Ranch near the epicenter of the Bakken oil formation!

Kyle attends 'Wigs N Gigs' (Formally, Wiggles and Giggles - the most wonderfully managed and staffed day care center I have ever seen... and when I worked for the local public health unit in Mandan I inspected child care facilities giving a lot to compare it to).  At Wigs N Gigs there are three different groups of kids in the organization.  The Baby Room babies, the toddlers in the Toddler Room, and the Pre-school Room kids.  It is a big deal at Wigs to get moved to the next room as a child ages and progresses.

Yesterday on the ranch ALL the 2013 babies to date moved from the baby pen to the 'toddler pasture'.  In a normal year, we move 'pairs' (each pair being a mom and her baby) out every weekend and in a typical March we are getting around 50 babies a week.  Therefore we normally move about 50 pairs out to the 'toddler pasture' one day a week.  Well, yesterday Pete and Oops and Hoss and I moved 120 pairs out in response to finally having agreeable weather and needing to get the second cycle cows moved into the calving / baby pasture.

The thing about moving pairs, it is a process that requires patience (which I have very little of) and lots and lots of time.  Each mom and baby have to be paired up (brought together physically with a moment to bond, so they recognize that each is 'theirs').  If this isn't done, the calf doesn't follow the cow and the cow runs off looking for her calf (even if it is next to her because she hasn't smelled it yet recognizing it as hers) and is hard to handle.  Did I mention I don't have a lot of patience?

Yesterday was a beautiful day and we had the horses 'chained' up... they have sharp shoes on to sure up their footing in the mud and on the ice (both are every where right now).  We moved out just over 120 pairs in six hours.  Right at sun down I opened up the living room door (which faces the pair pasture) and listened for a few minutes.  Things were quite and no one was bellarring for their calf or bawling for their mother.  That would define the day as a successful one and the transition from the Baby Room to the Toddler Room a smooth one for the first half of the class of 2013.

Hoss following out two of the 120 pairs that we moved out yesterday.

Pete and Oops following out a 'lazy' calf that kept thinking Oops was it's mother.  In that case, a periodic push to encourage it to pair up and follow its mother is necessary.

The pairs after settling in late yesterday afternoon.

The morning after.  All was still calm with no bellaring or bawling.

Peace, quite and happiness in the Toddler pasture!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The old man's reprieve

Greetings from that place.

We finally convinced old man winter to give us a little bit of break, but not before he sprinkled 4 inches of snow on us last weekend (probably to spite my complaining to y'all in my last post).  Although we are still getting around to below zero temperatures at night we are getting sun and real feel temperatures that exceed the actual temperatures during the day time.  Little black fur coats absorb that stuff right up.  Needless to say, the last two days there have been lots of happy campers - from the cows and calves, to the horses, the cat herd, the dogs, the kid and the adult folk!


If at first you don't succeed, try oh try again!  The sun trying to shine through the day time clouds that have haunted us most of February and March.

Kyle' s cat herd enjoying the sun shining through the ridge cap of the barn yesterday!   Three brothers, all brain surgery recipients.  From the good feline stock of Dale and Barb Jorgenson:  l to r - Huckle, Peaches and Shy Guy.

A shot from the high point of the calving pasture where we fed hay yesterday to get them as close to that wonderful March sun as possible.  This is looking down to the flax straw wind break and wheat straw bedding that has been liberally used the past two and a half weeks to keep the babies warm.

# 306 - Two weeks old and already enjoying the alfalfa hay with the cows.  Monkey see, monkey do!

#3003 posing for me.

The herd on the hill.

A second bedded location added yesterday which is on the south face of the hill to give them more space and more sun shine.
That's all I know for now!  I am headed out to enjoy the sun too!  Until next time...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Elkhorn Creek Ranch Echoes: No room at the Inn

Elkhorn Creek Ranch Echoes: No room at the Inn: Greetings from Elkhorn Creek Ranch near the epicenter of the Bakken oil formation! It's official. We are at war with the weather.  Dec...

No room at the Inn

Greetings from Elkhorn Creek Ranch near the epicenter of the Bakken oil formation!

It's official. We are at war with the weather.  December and January were beautiful and then came February and March.  The ONLY positive to 'winter 2012-13' is that there isn't much snow on the ground.  It has been COLD and WINDY and I am getting crabbier by the day.

So here we are... Two weeks into calving and it has been a struggle.  Thankfully we have a great support staff.  Pete's mom has a hot meal ready frequently and both G-ma's help shuttle Kyle around and take care of him.  Pete's dad is always there to help and my dad loves to feed hay for us, but honestly with the miserable weather calving has been more than a full time job for the two of us.

NOTE - as I write, my 'normal 3:00 a.m. shift' (in theory, each of us has been trying to get 6 hours of sleep a day) started a couple hours early with Pete coming in and waking me with news that he had to take '515' to the Watford City Veterinary Clinic.  Her abnormal presentation after exploratory palpation was upside down, twisted and backwards.  He probably should have counted heads, ears and feet!

So he loaded her up and headed down the road to see Dr. Pedersen at 1:58 A.M... Another topic for another day... the dedication of mixed animal (large and small) practice vets.


It is now 4:55 P.M.  Pete made it home from the vet clinic twelve hours ago with a healthy cow, but twins that did not survive.  Every year in October we have all of our cows ultra sounded by High Plains Vet Clinic out of Sidney, Montana.  They tell us the cow's due dates and if they are having a bull calf or a heifer calf.  Dr. Hovde has never missed twins before, but this one surprised us.

In the mean time, we have had nine calves (which have been weighed and tagged with most of them spending the first couple hours of their lives in the 'warming box') since midnight.  We have cleaned and re-bedded the calving barn and the close up cows, fed and watered all the close up and recently delivered cows, milked the colostrum from '515', done a couple loads of laundry, made some phone calls and started supper.

Pete in that same time has showed the sale bulls and heifers to three private treaty customers and made some additional phone calls concerning the business it takes to run a ranch...

SO, combined, we are working on 7 hours of sleep.  Hopefully, if the wind dies down tonight we can go from hourly calving checks to every two hour checks for one night before the wickedly cold temperatures set in again tomorrow.  If the wind doesn't settle, it will be another sleepless night (and they are really starting to string together)!  Old Man Winter holds all the cards... TGIA (thank goodness for adrenaline).

The 3:00 AM survival gear!
Note - the average highs for March are in the 40's with lows in the double digits.  NOT this year!

The alarm set for hourly check reminders.

I heard someone say eat the ground hog and lynch the weathermen this year.  I don't think those things would help, but I am thinking spring for sanity's sake (thus the Ground Hog and the Weathermen's sake).

The real feel was -24 out side, but ONLY zero in the calving barn this fine night.

A heated calving barn is on my wish list.  In the mean time, these 'warming boxes' warm and dry new born babies.  Once they are dry they spend a day in the calving barn before heading out with the other pairs.  Once out with the other pairs they have wind break and lots of straw for bedding.
The calving barn this morning after regrouping and catching up from the very cold night, very hectic night.  Everyone was especially glad to see the sun this morning.

More happy pairs... As you can see, the INN is FULL!

Until next time, here's to another sleepless night!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Flipping the PSYCHO switch

Greetings from Elkhorn Creek Ranch near the epicenter of the Bakken oil formation!

Calving season is easing into a rhythmic schedule keeping all hands on deck very busy.

Some background information - last June (2012) we spent the entire month AI-ing (artificially inseminating) and ET-ing (embryo transferring) our heifers and cows.  These technologies are available to the beef cattle industry to affordably bring the best possible genetics into our cow herd and offer them to our bull and female customers on an annual basis.  To get those babies which are products of our June 2012 labors to our customers in 2014, we have to get the March born calves into the world alive and healthy.  Some days its pretty easy.  Some days it is more difficult and frustrating.  The two things that can make the day of the 'hands on deck' easy or difficult are: 1) mother nature (the weather in March can go either way) and 2) if the cows are agreeable to becoming a mother the day they deliver (which nearly 100% of the time they are, but once in a while... the PSYCHO switch flips).

This year, we are calving out 60 heifers (first time mothers).  Special consideration goes into breeding them to 'calving ease' bulls.  Those bulls typically sire calves that are light weight, and built long and slender when born to ease the parturition (calving) process for the first time mother.  The remainder of the 250 head in the herd have 'been there, done that' at least once (many, more times than my Grandma Hovet - she had 10 kids) before, making the weather the less predictable variable to calving cows (as opposed to heifers).

So on Monday, Pete was in town at a McKenzie County Grazing Association meeting and I was with a Field Specialist with MVTL (Missouri Valley Testing Laboratory) who was testing and certifying both of the water wells on the ranch prior to the start of oil drilling near them.  I was also on 'heifer duty' at the time.  As I drove back into the yard after meeting with MVTL, I saw that there was a heifer that had just calved in the calving pen.  I also saw that she wasn't doing much to get her calf licked off (a nurturing response that cleans the calf up after birth and also encourages them to stand and nurse for the first time).  She was instead smashing it into the ground with her head and basically trying to kill it by mauling.

This very frustrating 'condition' which I have coined 'flipping the psycho switch' is hormone related and usually after it happens to a heifer (if she doesn't kill her calf first), she becomes an incredibly protective mother that takes very good care of her calf.  The psycho switch flips less than 2% of the time in heifers according to our observations.  We maybe have one of these heifers per year that flips their psycho switch.  They typically don't get to stay in the herd and after their calf is weaned, they are sold (in the event they do it again the next year, or pass it on to their daughters).

So, I mentioned that Pete was in town at a meeting and '1228' was trying to kill her calf.  I grabbed the calf sled, ran out doing the 'monkey dance' with it, scared her off the calf and sledded the little heifer back into the barn.  I then, with the assistance of Pete's dad, Lyle, got the heifer in the calving barn (there was absolutely no way she was going to 'the place' the black sled had disappeared to).  The psycho switch was stilled flipped 'on' and 1228 was NOT gaining points with me.

Once in the calving barn with the pair, I got to use my beloved Mother's Day present from several years back (and I am not being sarcastic).  It is a Vern's Manufacturing Maternity pen and slick as sliced bread.  I LOVE THAT THING!  So, we got the heifer in, got her in the head catch with some hay in front of her and administered 1 cc of oxytocin.  Oxytocin is a hormone which responds 'milk let down' and also in short (not on the label, but observed to be true), 'makes a mom love her kid'.  It is magic and although we seldom have to use it, we keep it on hand because when you need it, you need it NOW.

We got the calf it's first colostrum (which is very important for them to have from their mother and in a timely fashion), which provides them with many natural immunities that will protect their health for the rest of their lives.  Once the calf was full, she went and laid down in the corner of the pen.  I then let the heifer out of the head catch and found that... the PSYCHO switch was still ON.  Leaving the calf in the maternity pen, I let the heifer out into the main part of the calving barn.  She proceeded to go from pen to pen (including the maternity pen where her calf was) in the calving barn trying to get to any calf she could with premeditated intentions of mauling any little black fur ball that she could get to.  Of course she couldn't get any of them though the panels of their pens, but she was still very confused, very angry, and very psycho.

Having a happy and protected calf, I went to the house to record the updates of the day into our 2013 calving records and hope that this crazy heifer straightened out after she 'cleaned' - the process of expelling the placenta after parturition (calving).  This too is hormone related and is typically what flips the PSYCHO switch to the OFF position.

Two hours later, I went out to find that she had cleaned.  I opened the gate to the maternity pen where '1228's' calf was.  She walked into the pen and started loving it immediately.  1228 will not remain in our herd next year for this unforgivable behavior, but it brings to life the ongoing debate of Nature vs. Nurture...  What do you think?

1228 and her heifer calf (under the influence of oxytocin)
Proof that this little heifer calf didn't get the nurturing love to start her life that most calves get from their mothers (she is not licked off and is full of dirt from getting mauled into the ground).  Remember, this seldom happens.  It is a good reminder of how tough and resourceful these babies are... She is less than an hour old in this picture.

Oxytocin, the hormone used for both obstetrics and in milk let-down.  It is always on hand, but seldom used.
1228 prior to 'cleaning' (expelling her placenta) - still 'psychotic', trying to  get to 127's calf.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Back at the Ranch...


I will point out before the text gets going, this is testimony of the ever changing seasons of North Dakota.

From this:

to this:

2013 is already into the last month of the first quarter.  Amazing how time flies!  Officially, I have packed away my passport for the year and will focus the next 60 days on bringing babies into the world (fluffy, black, 4 legged, ruminant kinds - hopefully about 250 of them).  Those 60 days will be followed by lots of other busi-ness (and business) until October when those March and April babies are weaned and on a good growing / development ration at Pesek Farms in the western part of McKenzie County near the productive Yellowstone Valley (Montana / North Dakota boarder).

How I missed the first two months of 2013 at the ranch?  Three days in Bismarck at the legislative session (with RLND), ten days in Brazil in January also with my RLND (Rural Leadership North Dakota) class and eight days in California visiting Pete's sister, Carmen and her crew.  For the math, of the first 53 days of 2013, I was on the road or in the air 22 of them.

For me personally, two amazing things happen when I travel and they aren't in any particular order.  First, I learn A LOT about life - specifically, how little I know about it.  You can read about things and be lectured on them.  You can watch them on TV or google them on the Internet, but until touching and feeling and pondering FIRST hand there really isn't that 'moment' of true understanding and appreciation that only experiencing something can provide.  Secondly, venturing out really makes me appreciate HOME so very, very much.  It truly is affirmation to those internal struggles of finding 'the key to happiness' or defining 'the meaning of life'.  It was great to go and it is great to be back home...

Some of the traveling highlights if you are interested:


RLND class V at the 2013 session of the 63rd assembly of the North Dakota Legislature with Senator Rich Wardner of District 37 which includes the city of Dickinson.

A sand sculpture on Copacabana Beach, Rio De Janeiro - with the Brazilian flag flying.
Me at the Hata Ranch, Pantanal Notre region, Moto Grosso state
Me with a group of Mr. Hata's 5,000 Nellore beef cows which he runs on 37,000 acres with year round grazing.
Boots in Brazil - Cassidy Kersten, Stacy Artz, Breanne Ilse, Vawnita Best
Our last morning in Rio

Kyle's first time flying.  Busy reading the Delta safety brochure.  Important stuff when you are 4 1/2.  
Patiently awaiting his Trolley Car ride in San Francisco.

Trolley car ride.

Kyle and Pete at the Trolley Car Museum.

Kyle at the Trolley Car Museum.

G & G Best and Kyle riding the Trolley car in San Francisco.
Our Agri-tour of the Salinas Valley north of Monterey, the world's salad bowl -  

A demonstration on how to prepare an artichoke.
A field of artichokes, cousins to thistle.  I know.  A thistle field.

Field workers harvesting a field of broccoli.

Our tour guide to the right, Evan (a professor and researcher at the local agricultural universities in California) who focused on wine production with his food science research provided great insight into the area's agriculture and production practices used to grow many varieties of lettuce, numerous vegetables, strawberries, raspberries, and grapes (for wine making) and artichokes, all in both conventional and organic production systems.

Commercial raspberry production.
At the ocean, Pacific Grove CA.  Kyle tide pooling.

Grandpa Lyle and Kyle rock climbing at the beach, Pacific Grove CA.

Must move aggregate while at the beach.

Toes in the sand near Pacific Grove CA.

Up close with the creatures at the Monterey Aquarium CA - 

Amazing aquatic wonders to watch for this High Plains native.

Cousin Sara and Kyle enjoying their time together and experiencing the Monterey Aquarium.

To close, it was a great start to 2013.  My travels have been absolutely wonderful and although I love the rock I live under, I still try not to let it hinder my view...

AND, it is sooo good to be home, even if the chore for the day is sorting and moving cows in a snow storm.