With deep snow melting and muddy conditions, we had a few more sick calves. Jim and I walked through the cattle once each night until mid-March when we stopped having cases of colicky bloat (acute gut infection).
Tornado's calf was the last one treated (we found him early one morning the first day we branded). He was fine within an hour of giving him the castor oil, but a few days later he went off feed (probably shed too much gut lining) and we had to give him milk by stomach tube periodically for 12 days until he felt better.
Our Yearlings For Extra Hay We sold our 13 yearlings to buy the extra hay we needed this spring. Four of these were the "crash" victims, injured falling out of the trailer last fall. They recovered and grew well over winter on hay, weighing an average of 810 lbs.
We brought the yearling heifers down from "heifer hill" pasture on March 17 for vaccination (8-way, IBR-BVD) and delousing. The snow was still deep in the fields so we brought them down the road.
The melting snow has left us with deep mud, so we left chains on the loading tractor and feed truck. Some of the gateways are impossible to drive through without bogging down to the axles. We've hauled rock in periodically over the years, but it's time for more.
Water was running down every draw and flooding across a field where we have baby calves, so Lynn tried to clean out the snow-filled ditch above the field to divert the water . The tractor high-centered and stuck in the ditch, so he and Andrea tried to pull it out with the other big tractor and got it stuck, too. We had to call a neighbor to bring his big tractor and pull us out.
Sorting For Breeding We sorted cows into breeding groups on March 26 - three bunches of cows and calves into six groups. This has to be planned out ahead of time - which cows go with which bulls, and where to put them during the sort. Some go back into the same fields, so we put them on hold in various corrals until their field is empty.
It's good to get them sorted and dispersed into six fields, with cleaner conditions for the calves and more room than in the three small fields. Grass is starting to come in the outlying fields, so the cows there don't need so much hay. It snowed hard the next day, however, so they were still on full feed and we put out more straw for bedding.
In the small pastures where we have calf houses for the young ones that need shelter, we have little feeders. These are small, bale-size feeders made of poles where calves can have access to a bale of alfalfa.
The calves don't get any grass until the adult groups are bred, so the calves really like the alfalfa bales. Otherwise, they only get a chance at hay briefly during morning and evening feedings. A group of 20 young calves can go through an alfalfa bale in their little feeder in just two days.
We brought the bulls down from the upper place the first of April, vaccinated them and turned them out in their various breeding groups. We then trailed the yearling heifers two miles up the road to the wild meadow (where the bulls wintered) and put heifer bulls with them. These young bulls were born easily from first-calvers themselves.
Raising Our Own Heifer Bulls We raise our own heifer bulls, choosing candidates that are small and streamlined at birth but fast growers. We've had really good luck over the years with these home-raised bulls siring easy-born calves that grow fast. Since the heifers they're breeding are out of the older cows (bred to different bulls) there is minimal inbreeding with this arrangement.
The day we put the bulls out we also put the twins and their mama in the group below the lane, so she can get bred. We'd been pampering her with extra alfalfa so she'd feed them well, and she's already cycled once.
Our cows are cycling well; by the time the bulls had been out 30 hours, 22 cows were bred (quite a few, for our small herd). It's nice having them in several groups and not all together; we have fewer problems with bulls getting injured or cows being missed.
On April 2 our son Michael and his wife Carolyn came and took three bulls home. They have to run their cows all in one group this spring. They haven't had time to get the cross fences functional yet on the new place they moved onto in December.
We sent them a three- and two-year old and a yearling. These bulls all get along well, with pecking order already established, so there's no fighting. Bulls the same age are more evenly matched and may spend too much time fighting instead of breeding, or keeping each other from breeding.
It's now April 8 and we've had snow and rain the past week. Our mud had just started to dry up and we took the chains off the feed truck the day before it snowed - one day too soon !
Heather Smith Thomas and her husband, Lynn, operate the Sky Range Ranch near Salmon, ID.