Cow sorting gone bad

I was up early, ready to go out and load the steer at 0730. We had kept him in the corral for the last two day so we would not have to sort everyone. Sorting can take 2-3 hours on a good day. We had even kept the dogs in the back yard, otherwise they can get right next to the corral and harass the animals. We had let the sheep back out into our yard for one day and then I pushed them over into our orchard area. The orchard area is getting tall and I did not want them to knock the clover back down. Even though it had already grown about two inches since the last time they had been on it. It grows pretty aggressively when it is grazed on. The yard is a little out of control, the sheep may have to come back in soon so I can be eco friendly and not run the gas powered lawn mower! The trade off is you have to dodge sheep poop on your way to the front door.

The customer came with a horse trailer. It had a solid door on the back that was much wider than the opening of the chute. I figured if we backed up on one corner then got the cow in we could pull forward and quickly shut the gate. I backed him up to the corral and there was about an eight inch gap. Annmarie came out to the yard and the dogs got out, Chance was still pissed about getting rolled two days ago and just started tearing it up, barking and running the length of the corral and trying to get through the fence into the corral. She would not give it up, or listen to us. I had to catch her and Annmarie drug her off by the collar to the back yard. She listens when she is on the lead, but not off when we are around livestock. She will listen off leash now to us but now we have to get her “off” switch wired so she will drop down no matter what is going on around her. This is harder than you think to teach. It means constantly exerting your will over the little things so she learns to just obey on command. It takes time.

Cow top left of picture, me from road on tractor, not where it belongs

I had money in my pocket from the sale and we loaded the cow. It went into the trailer then I shut the chute gate so it would not get out and it spotted the 8” opening. Once it had its head through it was all over! It got stuck twice but just kept bucking and hollering and got through in about 15 seconds. I rearranged the barn lot gates so we could just push it back into the lot and try again. I went and got the tractor to shoo it back toward the now opened gates. It jumped the fence into the fallow wheat field. I had to drive down to the corner then up the road then out into the wheat field. Annmarie had to come out with Chance and open the gate out into the wheat field. I was just going to drive the cow along the fence line to the gate. The crazy cow was not scared of the tractor and I had to keep blocking the fence line with the bucket to keep it from going past me. This worked until it jumped the fence back into the main house area, Chance was involved now and then it eventually jumped the fence again into the small seven acre fallow field, then jumped back into our main pasture area by the school house. I went to go talk to the buyer while she did the chasing into the school house field.

Chance (1 year old puppy) is the white Border Collie, Mouse is the grey/white one

I gave him his money back then we discussed options. I told him that if he called around and could get a carcass cut and wrapped that 243 therapy and assistance in cleaning and skinning would be available but he was going to have to plan on a few hours to do that hard work. Damn cows! He left without a cow and us without any money. He will reach out next week after making some enquiries.

I spent the rest of the day assembling a new bee hive. We purchased it before I knew about someone else wanting to get rid of their two hives. So now we have four full hives and a bunch of extras. I am going to have to clean up an area for all the extra bee supplies. I am thinking about moving the old lamb shed and creating a clean sub room inside it. I can use an old road side billboard sheet. They are fairly inexpensive, line the entire inside of the room, seal the edges and put in an airtight door. I will have to look into this more. I have a lot of extra stuff laying around and if I cobbled it all together I think I could do it fairly cheap.

Moving cows is never easy, no matter what

Mr Rainman came out this week and finished spraying all the major fields. He has been backpack spraying the difficult to reach areas and still has more of this to do but I think he can be done in less than two days and will have gotten most of the farm, even the difficult to reach areas.

I came home early on Wednesday so that we could sort cows for butchering. It turned into sorting off six month old calves, sorting out 5 kill size cows and moving the old bull. This was going fairly smooth. I say that loosely as sorting any live animal does have its challenges. Mr Rainman is not a cow person, even really an animal and every time I got in the corral to walk around and sort out 12 jumpy horned cows he would squeal and get nervous. All was going well, I had placed Chance (1 year old border collie) on a 30’ lead and she was doing well. We are working on “down” command at any time and “left” and “right” commands. We only use “circle around”, “to Me”, “guard”(creates dog gate), “away”. “Stay” and “easy”. Those are the main ones, we do realize there are a lot more commands but over the years these are the ones we use. The only other thing is they have to learn to work in the barn with mommas and babies and to stay and allow the lambs to pass or sniff at them.

Once we had the cows in the barn lot, I tied Chance to the gate so the cows would not try and push on it and then we proceeded to push them into the corral for sorting. Everything was going smoothly (first indicator you are about to be in trouble) when one of the slaughter size cows reached the corner gate chain and lifted it off its anchor slot and pushed the gate open and got back in with the main herd. We finished sorting all the rest of the cows and even moved the weanlings off to the third holding pen so we could still use the main two and chute. We tried to push the herd back into the corral and they did not want to go especially the one we wanted. So I grabbed Chance and we pushed them into the corral. She got rolled twice by the cows, but she just jumped up and got right back at it. We pushed the cows in and I ran our target into the chute after he tried to climb the five foot corral fence. I failed to notice that I had left the sheep ramp in the chute. It is for running the sheep into the back of the pickup. It was leaning on the exit gate with about a 60 degree angle and the steer ran right up that ramp and jumped off it from five feet in the air. So we spent 30 minutes getting him back into the pen and in with the four sale cows. We never could have done this without Chance. We sorted off one steer (not crazy one) for someone to come pickup on Saturday morning (next warning sign). We would keep him in the corral for a couple of days until he could be picked up. The bull went into the corral to spend the night. He is so placid you literally have to go up and nudge him in the direction you want him to go.

I get up bright and early so I can be in Lagrande by 0730. Annmarie comes out to help me, the first four just go right into our livestock trailer. I try and run the bull through the chute but he keeps dragging his horns and having to turn his head. He is 13 or 14 years old and has a very large head and decent horns. So we let him back into the corral and Annmarie suggests just backing the trailer into the pen, opening the entire back and getting him to just walk into it by himself. We do this and he is coaxed in under five minutes. He is so calm.

I am off early around 0530, I adjust the trailer brakes and start the trip. I am going 55 mph and it feels fine. I get on the freeway and keep it at 55 mph, I can feel the animals moving around in the trailer. I creep up Cabbage hill at 45 mph. Honestly, except for my nervousness it is going well until I start coming down the hill on the backside. The whole rig starts shaking every time I hit the brakes over 50 mph. It did not do this on the flats. So more white knuckled driving and I pull in to Hines meat. I was there before the place was open. The guy comes out, compliments the bull on how good looking he is and we try and unload them. We got them unloaded but of course they did not want to comply.

When Hines called back this weekend to give weights on the cows they said there was one “surly” cow that gave them some trouble. Wanna guess who that was? Due to the small stature of a Dexter cow you get a lean meat and much smaller steaks. The carcass weights came in at 327#, 332#, 320#, 313# and the bull at 673#. The bull went to all hamburger. We are charging $3.50/lb hanging weight now. The average for our area is around $4-4.50/lb hanging weight.

On the trailer trip home I just dropped the horse trailer off at the tire place and asked them to balance all tires, check brakes and pack wheel bearings. The lights worked great!

Winter is coming

I finally had to cry uncle and take some time off of work to get stuff done around the farm. I had worked six weekends in a row and winter just keeps getting closer. I have several projects to get done. The first one I am attempting to complete is to get some flood control and water management ditches dug. It seems I always wait until it starts to rain then it is so muddy I cannot get any dirt moved. I have managed to dig ditches out in pasture #3 and #2, they are all ready to go. I have managed to get all of the roadside ditch done in field #1. This way when the flood comes from upstream over the road the ditch will catch it and let it flow back to the creek and not out through our pasture. I still need to finish the secondary ditch alongside the field so that if the creek bank gives (like it has the last two floods) there will be a secondary ditch and another dirt berm to keep the water from flooding out into the field. This has been a lot of tractor work. I have about 40 hours into just tractor work alone moving dirt. I am hoping to have the ditches finished in 1-2 more days then I am going to hook the mower up, mow weeds for a day then start dragging a disc around and then planting more grass and a couple of fields of triticale hay. I even have some fertilizer that I want to toss out this fall.

The ditch digging is really letting me get through the books on tape! I can get a whole book listened to every 1.5 days. At the current rate of diesel consumption I am going to have to get the diesel tank filled for a third time this year!

I also need to rearrange the machine shed and get all of the equipment under cover and out of the weather. I have nine days off so I am going to make the best of it and I may have to take some more time off to get everything done. I did let the sheep into the front yard and get in a good mow down on the yard. I think I will have to do it one more time this year before winter sets in. A few of the ewes are pretty skinny. We did not get all of the old ones culled and boy can you tell who is old and decrepit. The new ram is fitting right in. He did wait until I turned my back on him yesterday before hitting me in the leg with his head. He only did it once and it did not knock me down so when I swatted out at him and he dodged it I did not pursue smacking him. I just let it go.

I found another dead lamb in field #3 yesterday. We have been spotting a coyote up on the back hillside but have been unable to get a shot at it. I may have to actually get a coyote call and start taking some time to thin the coyotes. Time is the most precious commodity I have when it comes to chores on the farm.

We had to tag and band the last two calves that were born late. We ran them up to the corral today and separated off the two babies. The nephews were out working on their grandma’s deck so they took ten minutes and helped us. Calf number 35 yellow tag is really a girl not a boy. I had two boy tags and placed the ear tag before I checked the gender. We separated off the bull and put him in Alcatraz with the other two bulls and then pushed all of the cows into the upper fields as there is a lot of green grass after that last rain. Tomorrow I am going to push the three bulls down by the schoolhouse. There is not as much grass down there but for three cows there will be plenty. We can keep the two fence between rule going so we should not have any winter surprises. I keep seeing at least two large covey of quail when I go up to the far end of the property. We will see how many survived when they all band together this winter.

The back creek finally dried up a week ago. That is the latest it has ran since we have moved back to the farm.

Time to start getting ready for winter

It’s been a long week at work and sometimes the farm is just what you need for a reset. This week was definitely a reset week. On Monday one of the calves got out again. Now I had already tooted my horn about the fence repairs from last weekend and told the wife no one was getting out. It took almost 24 hours for one of the calves to prove me wrong. She got it back into the lower fields by opening the gate and herding it in. It wanted to go see its mama. This left the dang water crossing that the bull beat up all last year. Annmarie told me that what I really needed was a culvert in the spot. I could then secure the fence to the culvert and the water and dirt would hold it down and prevent the bull from getting through or for that matter, any of the cows. I actually like this idea a lot! I have a four foot diameter culvert that could be cut in two to make two ten foot sections and one could be used here. The other one is for another crossing I am having trouble with. Pulling the eight foot trailer across the ten foot culvert when it is loaded and there is an eight foot drop on one side makes some people nervous. I need to add about 3-4 feet to this to prevent any mishaps from sloppy drivers. It was hot, I was just getting off work and not dressed to do any type of complex fencing. There happened to be a rats nest of fencing from the spring work laying around and I “installed” it in the fence to prevent anyone else from leaving. We have not had a single animal escape since my repair.

Friday I cleaned out the old big bales from the machine shop. They are light enough with some maneuvering I can get them about eight inches off the ground and carry them with the pallet forks using my new Kubota tractor. We will need to set up the full horse arena out by the grain bins to keep the alpaca away from the large hay bales we will have to store outside. I get about half in the machine shed and the rest outside. We feed the outside bales first so by the time the weather really gets bad we are feeding nice bales from the shed.

Our plan for the day was to work the cows and sheep. The rams needed to be pulled off of the sheep herd. Our house calendar says we should start lambing at the end of the month. This means the herd needs to be closer to the house. I am not sure that we are but that is what our calendar says. We still had two cows to tag and one to band. The upper five cows needed to be swapped with the lower cows. There is more feed above the house, there is also most likely a cougar. We lost four lambs again during this summer. A cougar has been spotted by several people but we have not seen it. Moving the fewer cows down below the house means they can work on the less available forage easier. The real problem with moving cows into field 2-4 is that we have to bring them in every night so we don’t lose any to a big cat. This choice has really been taken away since there is no rain. I noticed tonight that the running water that was going through all of field 4 is drying up about half way through the pasture. The most cows have to go to the most feed.

Annmarie, the child and Mr Professional all worked on animals. Mr I Need a Belt Bad was weeding the back garden then going out into the berry patch and doing more weeding. I do not believe that he would choose weeding as a primary task if he had a choice, but the weeding does need to get done. The thistles are trying to take over the berry patch. They went to get the cows while I moved the calf table in place and put up part of the horse movable arena around the calf table. We set it up so that we could just leave an open gate back into the corral and the calves would not run all over heck and gone. I used the new Kubota tractor with my pallet fork attachment, so amazing. Something that would have taken me an hour got done in 20 minutes. I am loving the pallet fork attachment, even if I can only lift 1100 pounds.

We put the sheep into the back barn lot Friday night so they were ready for us when we needed them Saturday. We pushed the upper sheep down and sorted off the steer/bull undescended testicle guy, we are not quite sure about his testicle status. Yes, a neutered cow,steer can still push out his penis. My record keeping skills are not the best in this area. We gave everyone pour over fly medicine and sorted the bull off and put him in Alcatraz with the other two bulls. We then moved all 16 cows from below into the corral. We did pour over on everyone and then tagged and banded two calves, one boy (our youngest) and tagged the “squirter” that got away last time. I had her in the chute with a lot of other cows and she was at the end. I just pushed her into more cows until she was pinned then reached over and tagged her. The calve we used the calf table and it went very smoothly. We will be using the portable fencing whenever we do this in the future. I had plans to build a permanent calve chute but honestly it was going to take forever and this is so much easier. After we pushed them up into field 4 (they can just walk into 2-3), we tried to push the four cows from the upper pasture through the yard into the orchard. This did not go well. Not well at all,as there was much yelling and dogs not cooperating or cows complying. Mr I Need a Belt bad left the gate into the garden open. We ended up with a five hundred pound cow jumping onto our elevated beds and watering system. There was a lot of screaming at him to get out of the berry patch and go shut the gate after the cow ran out. He was headed for that gate when more screaming ensued to make sure he had just latched the gate he had used to get into the yard as three cows were headed his way. He had latched it, he hurried with some prompting and got the gate closed. Later at quitting time we discussed the gate rule on a farm. Leave it in the position you found it unless told otherwise. You don’t need to know why just do it, there is a reason. We did get them down below where they belong.

We set up the barn so we could run the sheep down the chute then sort them on their way out. We only needed four sorted off to go into the orchard, two rams and two whethers. The sheep would not go down the chute. They bunched up in front of the opening and refused to go further. As we discussed options Annmarie noted that the boys were right in front of us. We just caught all four and pushed them into a pen. Our old ram is a gentle giant passive resistance is his greatest skill. He had to be pushed into the pen, they are all now in the orchard. We plan on letting the momma sheep work on the front hillside for a few days to clean it up.

There were quite a few disparaging remarks about the ability of the corral gates to open and to latch. We had some we could hardly get open and a couple that would not latch or you had to stand on the end of the gate to latch it. So Mr Professional and I spent a couple of hours and installed chains across the top of the corral chute and we did the same over some gates. We rehung four gates also to lift them out of the dirt. Not surprisingly the gates and corral work a lot better now than they did when we actually used them for animals. It was triple digit hot so we called it quits at 1500.

I had to go up with the tractor after dinner and put the cows in. They were already in field four but I did not want to have to go to the end of field four every morning to open the gate. I just pushed them into the back barn lot and in the morning we just need to open the connecting gate. It can stay open until the cows come back in again at dark. I figure in a few days they should have it down and will put themselves in every night. At least that is my fervent hope.

Back to haying with some interruptions

Well as always things progress on Mother Nature’s schedule. I keep thinking she will cut me some slack, and honestly she did, I was able to work on the front porch for three days straight a week ago! Now it is back to haying. I have one field left, #1, 7 acres of grass, triticale, oat and something else. It’s a pretty big mashup from all the different attempts to plant and the flooding. The field looks great but seven acres is going to take at least 7 hours to cut and as thick as it is it will most likely take even longer. So I went out on Thursday after work to do some cutting, Mr Professional was already out cutting so I swapped him out so he could go home. I only managed a to do about two hours before I broke the sickle bar mower. I thought it was making more noise than normal and I was right, except being right meant the mower was broken again.

We have a bunny living on the place, it keeps running around the corral, barn and car area. We spot it almost every day. When we were working cows it just kept hanging around us, never really ran off. I think it is one of the Pygmy rabbits native to Oregon. We get them occasionally but usually they succumb to the predator birds. Who doesn’t like rabbit in their diets? We would not mind having a few on the farm but they can never seem to get established.

Friday was maintenance day, my least favorite day of the year. I can mechanic, I just really don’t like to do it. We ended up breaking the sickle bar bolt that joins the bar to the rocker arm. The real problem with this is it is a double threaded bolt, it is threaded through the arm and then a nut to lock it in place. The real problem is there is not very much room on the backside of the arm and you have to use two fingers to get the nut on as soon as the bolt comes out of the arm. When the bolt brakes this causes a problem as there is very little room to work and you have to break out a drill and easy out. We were able to have enough of a lip to cut a groove in the end with a sawzall and then use a flat head screwdriver and some WD40. It worked and we were able to get the old one out, since we were working on the mower we swapped out the cutting bar blades also. This would have been easier if we had pressure washed the blades first. It took a ratchet strap and an anchor point to pull the blade out after I had it unbolted.

After a few hours we had it all back together and working. Mr Professional was turning hay while I baled it. I was having trouble with the baler as it kept jamming. Mr Professional thought I was going to fast so we switched jobs, I accidentally ran over a completed bale and caused the rake to slam into the ground breaking the wheels again. I thought we were done, nope he just tore off the wheels and kept going. This does need to be corrected eventually but for now this will work. It looks pretty weird. We finally just gave up on baling. It was too wet so we went back and swapped out the baler for the mower and I went out and finished cutting the last two acres. I can drive around in circles no problem. I brought a couple of bales back to the machine shed and tested them for moisture content 24-30%, too high.

Saturday was scheduled to be our big day, we were going to do cows. Honestly, I think that all couple therapy should have a live animal sorting component. It’s brutal and yes, I am learning but I still keep screwing up. So after the first thirty minutes we had a routine. I had gone in to pick up Mr I Need a Belt Bad, and Annmarie called me to say we needed tick medicine. So we waited for the ranch store to open and picked up some pour over medicine and some fly bags. Annmarie had already moved the mommas and babies into the barn lot and everyone was ready to be sorted. We moved the calf table onto the end of the corral chute. The plan was to crowd the chute, dose the mommas and then sort them off and then deal with the calves. The chute is spreading and has been for several years. I had always intended to put chains up high to prevent that from happening but have never done it. It’s going to have to happen. There are two gates that won’t latch, one is just spread apart and the other is on the down hill side and the gate keeps tipping up away from the predrilled holes. I need to stop the downhill slide. So I added the corral to the to do list for this year.

We got medicine on the mommas, and managed to get all of the calves tagged but one. It was a squirter, it got past the neck lock and then Annmarie and Meathead tried to catch it, they were hollering for me, but I was in the chute and by the time I got out and touched the calf it got away. Luckily, its a little girl. We found another boy with undescended testicles. It’s scrotal sack was empty and shrunken so there was no way for me to use the bander. I may have to learn how to cut instead of using a bander, maybe just cut if there is no other option for me. It’s a stupid problem but one we keep having. So now we have a bull from last year (one nutter) and now we have a fully intact calf. They have to stay off by themselves after they are weaned. Meathead ended up getting bitten by one of the calves when she was holding their head. I did not think they would do that but the obvious bite mark on her palm contradicts my belief!

Mr Professional came out about the time the last calf got away so we opted to push them back to the barn but they had ran down to their old stomping grounds. They were wild, crazy, panting and drooling and would not go where they needed so Annmarie just called it off, we will do it later, they were too stressed. Unfortunately, our plan to just let the calves go did not work, we were missing one. So the five of us searched the area, I used the tractor, and Mr Professional found the calf at the far end of the driveway down by the cattle guard. This is looking more and more like I need to put in the double gates down by the in-laws house so when we work animals we can close the gates and keep them from running and hiding from us. This didn’t make the to do list but it keeps coming up as an option. It took six hours to do all of that, sort the eaters and sort off the bull and put him in with the females. We also pulled off three breeders from the feeders who were hanging out in field#4 and tossed them in with the bull. He should be happy now! He has been locked away for over six months. The one nutter and a steer are now in Alcatraz as there are a couple of young heifers in the feeder herd. We have seven cows for sale this year, a one nutter and a ground beef only 15 year old cow are in that total. We really have handling the sheep down to an art, and working the cows is an act of frustration. I have added a corral remodel to the list. We need to create another pen, a calf chute and a place for the calf table to reside so we can work easily and keep all of the calves contained. This means actually drawing up some plans, taking some actual measurements and then gathering all of the materials. I already know we will need to custom create at least three gates but most likely five to fit the new configuration. I want the chute to be smaller, our current one is 24” wide, so I am thinking 16”-18”. I want it too small for the adult cows to enter, so it should probably only be 16”. I will need to chain the entrance to keep it from spreading and maybe even put a chain lower down so the adults would have to bend down to get lined up on the narrow opening. This can only happen in the spring when the ground is soft enough to really make drilling holes with the auger easy.

Mr I Need a Belt Bad and I ate lunch then we talked about him weeding the garden and porch area. We still need to work on our communication. Annmarie tells me I did not let him give me a stop time, I asked for a job time estimate and he said an hour, I figured two for the job. I paid him for the day and then went out to turn hay, while I was hooking up the rake he left, after an hour. I suspect he had already given a stop time to his ride but that was not communicated to me. So I have a new plan, quitting time is 1630, every day he comes out. This just makes it easier on all parties and we all know the stop time. Sometimes I forget what it is like to be around teenagers, then they remind me. One would think after all these years and countless teenagers I would have this down to a science but they are all different and it takes a while to get things figured out.

I went out and finished turning the hay, I love the smell. Plus, we have a set of baby deer twins that are cat sized! They are very tiny and very cute. The birds love all of the grain and the hawks love the voles that get disturbed. It is very peaceful to just go around in circles, listen to a book on tape (nothing educational, pure pleasure) and drink water/gatorade. In the morning I will start baling and get it all ready for someone else to pickup and put in the barn.