We finished calving February 26, after waiting a week for Witsi. She was bred the day we took the bulls out last spring, and also went a week overdue. We were impatient for her to calve, so we could sleep again. Weather was too cold to calve outside, and since she's a heifer we didn't want her calving unobserved. But everything went well, and she had a nice bull calf.
We lost two calves out of 128 born. Mimsy's twins, Brillig and Momerath, helped make up that loss.
We've had fewer diarrhea cases than last year, thanks to less extremes in weather and less mud. The 211/42 ft. of snow has settled, but is still covering the ground except where the cows have tromped it.
We've had some acute gut infections and have treated more than 20 of these colicky calves with castor oil and neomycin to save them. Since the symptoms come on quickly (a calf can be fine at evening feeding and nearly dead before morning), Jim and I started doing a middle-of-the-night check as of mid-February, walking through the various groups to make sure we didn't miss any sick ones.
Victims of this illness are easy to spot - the calf is in pain, staggering around like a colicky horse, kicking the belly, getting up and down or throwing itself on the ground. Sometimes a calf will merely bloat severely. But if we bring them in and treat them immediately, before they go into shock, we can always save them.
Early Morning Check For Scours The 2 a.m. hikes are also a good time to catch any with the beginning of scours. The cows and calves are used to us walking through them and most don't bother to get up as we pick our way among them. Any calf with mess on its hind end we grab and give a few squirts of neomycin sulfate solution into its mouth. I carry a pumper bottle of this oral antibiotic solution in my coat pocket.
Treating bacterial scours at first hint of diarrhea usually halts it before there's much gut damage and before the calf is dehydrated. These calves rarely need any follow-up treatment with fluids or electrolytes.
Last night on our walk through the first calvers we found Gummy Bear dull and still not nursing (he was off feed when we checked calves while feeding evening hay), so we brought him and his mama (Cinnebear) to the sick barn and we tubed him with milk replacer. We also gave him Pepto Bismol to soothe the gut lining and gave injectable antibiotics to ward off pneumonia (he had a snotty nose).
Gummy Bear was one of our earlier cases of acute gut infection colic and spent a week in the sick barn. Typical of these cases, he'd responded to the castor oil/neomycin treatment (along with a small shot of Banamine to ease the gut pain) and his acute pain eased - only to quit nursing his mother two days later.
Many of these calves quit nursing and some grind their teeth (sign of discomfort), probably due to painful raw ulcerations from shedding some gut lining after it has been damaged by bacterial toxins during the acute infection. Some of these calves would actually starve to death, but we feed them by stomach tube on days they don't nurse (milking out the cow if they go very many days), until the gut heals and they start nursing again. We thought Gummy Bear was recovered so we put him out of the sick barn two days ago. But, he's still having problems. We will give him continued supportive treatment until he is completely well.
Branding And Vaccinating We branded and vaccinated calves yesterday and put the cows through the chute to vaccinate and delouse. We deloused them in December but they are starting to itch again. It's time to repeat the treatment. We also gave them their semi-annual lepto and 8-way clostridial vaccinations. In our region we must vaccinate against redwater at least twice a year, and the only vaccine available is the combination 8-way. They also received a modified-live virus IBR/BVD injection, since it must be given while they are not pregnant.
Andrea left little Emily (now six weeks old) with friends so she could help us work cattle. Andrea really enjoys the cattle work and is very helpful - sorting, filling the chute, pushing the calves into the calf table, etc. It always goes more smoothly and quickly with her help.
We hope the snow melts or settles during the next two weeks so we can sort cows into their breeding groups and get them into larger fields and away from these small, contaminated pastures. It would also be nice if some grass started showing up. Our fall pasture got buried in early December and we'll be about three weeks short on hay. Some areas had a mild winter and there's lots of hay for sale, but not here. With our early, deep snow, many folks are in the same predicament and hay is scarce and expensive. An early spring would really help.
Heather Smith Thomas and her husband, Lynn, operate the Sky Range Ranch near Salmon, ID.