Saturday, February 27, 2010


My last posting was about a calf whose defects at birth meant that he didn't live long. I've also "met" one who owes her life to a bit of luck and timing. Patty (as in hamburger patty I'm told) is a Holstein whose mom was on her way to a "kill plant," which is exactly what it sounds like. I have no idea of the details, but just before Patty's mom was loaded on the truck, she gave birth. Fortunately, the truck driver passed her along to our friends who are willing to raise her. I'm not sure what her ultimate destiny will be, but it's been fun to watch her in the meantime.

While Patty may have been on her own in the world, she seems to have a fair amount going for her. First of all, she's rather cute, and I love it when John calls her the "magpie," which I'm assuming is a little bit of slang for the black and white look of a Holstein. While our neighbors were doing their part to keep her fed, she's now got an adopted mom. Another calf had been born, but he had particularly debilitating defects, and I'm not even positive if he was born alive. His bad fortune led to an opportunity for Patty. Now, if ranchers need to make a mom accept a new calf, they have a couple of options. They can put a chemical smelling substance on the back of the calf that prevents the mom from determining that it's not her own. However, the preferred alternative is to be able to dress the calf in the dead calf's hide. I've asked John a few questions about the process, as I always do, and he patiently explained it to me. Usually, the dead calf is skinned immediately, and he says that if it is done correctly, it is virtually bloodless. I also asked how they keep the hide on the animal that inherits it -- because I can't imagine that it is a feeling it thoroughly enjoys. But I am fascinated to know that the rancher cuts holes in the hide, as necessary, and puts it on the new calf the way you'd put a sweater on a dog. (It can also be tied on with twine I guess.)

We saw Patty with her new mom this morning, and her mom seems to have no idea that the calf she gave birth to is not the magpie she's now protecting and feeding, so everyone's happy.

The Babies

I love this time of year because while it means that spring is on its way, it also means that the babies have started to arrive. And there's something incredibly rewarding for me when I see very young calves. I have seen one born, but only one. And as often as it happens all around me, it seems to be an elusive experience for me every year.

Last weekend, John and I stopped by our friends' place just down the way, and they've been in the midst of calving for a few weeks. While they have a number of healthy calves, they also had two who were in need of a little assistance. One has since died, and from what I saw and heard of him, he is better off now. They're not sure what was wrong with him, but when he was born he was unable to suck. As a result, our friends would hand milk his mom and tube feed him. He even spent two nights sleeping in their house because of particularly cold nights. For awhile he was doing better; however, he eventually started having seizures, and we learned this morning that he'd died. Like human babies, bovine babies don't always make it.

Dear Friends

Recently, friends of ours had to put down one of their horses. The good news is that Brandy had lived a long, happy life. I'm not sure exactly how old she was, but she was very close to 30 years in age. And it was one of those deals where she was loved so much that she may have lived a bit longer than she should have. But for those of us who know how difficult it is to make that decision, we can completely understand how a bit of selfishness creeps into the equation.

Thirty years allows for a lot of bonding. Brandy was just a bit younger than the two children she grew up with, and they're now in their late 30s. She was fortunate enough to know four generations worth of family, and the youngest is probably just old enough to understand why the horse he's grown up riding was ready to move on to a different existence.

There aren't really many options when it comes to putting down a horse. They're not like dogs and cats -- you can't take them to the vet and the privacy of an exam room. And they're a little more difficult to dispose of, for lack of a better way to put it. Horses weigh an average of 1,000 pounds, and while one could call a vet to euthanize an animal, that incurs expenses that to many would seem relatively unnecessary. The alternative, however, means that someone in the family has to be the one to end the animal's suffering. And this alternative also means that the family is left with the carcass. I have most often heard about families finding a backhoe to dig an appropriately sized hole, but that only works when the ground isn't frozen. If a horse needs to be put down in the winter, the animal is most likely left in the hands of nature. (And as hard as it is for me to think about it, such an ending isn't all that bad when I think about a final resting place in the peace of the hills.) That said, I've also heard about difficult decisions that need to be made if people are traveling with a horse that becomes critically injured in the backcountry, too. You're not allowed to leave a dead animal in a national forest, but as you can imagine, it's not exactly easy to haul it out either . . .

Either way, I can only imagine how agonizing it was to put Brandy down, but I can also say that she lived in a beautiful place all of her life and she was well-loved. And can any of us really ask for much more?

Sheering Sheep

Here it is -- Saturday morning. The neighbor called to see if I wanted to experience the sheering of his in-laws' sheep. While I should stay home correcting student assignments, I can't turn down an opportunity to learn more about the lives of those around me. And calving starts for them tomorrow, so hopefully the next few weekend will also be interrupted by the activities that are always happening around me but that have rarely been something I was conscious of. Do you know where the wool came from to make the sweater you're wearing?

Dead Deer

Thursday morning I headed out into the falling snow for my daily drive to work. The highway wasn't particularly icy, visibility was good, and I was ahead of schedule. I even reflected on how much I like my drive, how much I actually like snow -- for the most part, and how I appreciate when the counselor who works next door to my classroom checks on me whenever the roads are bad. Those exact thoughts, however, were definitely interrupted when I noticed that the vehicle in front of me had started to slow and shift onto the shoulder of the road. For a brief moment I assumed the driver was merely turning off the highway, though before the thought completed itself, the vehicle spun across the other line and ended up facing 180 degrees in the opposite direction as it came to rest in the borough pit. I hit my own brakes and felt the tires slide. I had plenty of room to stop and was able to slow way down without any trouble. As I approached the place where the vehicle had gone off the road, I watched the large ball of creamy-colored fluff blow under the front of my car. Then, I saw the cause of the accident. The driver hadn't been trying to turn; he had been trying to slow down before crashing into the deer. Neither had gotten lucky, and fortunately the deer had gotten the worse of the meeting.
By the time I was able to park, the driver had gotten out of his own car, and another traveler had stopped as well. The vehicle was apparently inoperable (since it was still there when I returned home that night), but the driver was fine -- he had a cell phone and it was warm enough that he could just wait in the car until someone arrived to help him.

I had glanced at the deer as I walked by it after parking. I think of it as a female, though I'm thinking it was a young male. She would have died instantly, and I as I inspected her more closely, I realized my surprise that the small intestine spilling out onto the highway was brown. Apparently I expected it to have been pink or red. The driver easily, and thoughtfully, dragged her off into the grass, which would keep other drivers safer and would also make it less deadly for birds of prey to turn the carcass into something useful.

Dead Coyote

I tease my neighbors that the coyotes who hang out on their property and get way too close to comfort are just figments of their imagination -- because I'd never seen one despite a number of early morning Sunday walks spent looking for them. Though in truth, I hear the coyotes calling to each other at night. I've seen the paw prints. And I definitely trust that coyotes are as conniving and bloodthirsty as I've been told. While not a violent person who definitely has no desire to hunt for her food anytime soon, the mere thought of a coyote threatening my dog or ripping into a helpless, still-wet-from-the-womb calf convinces me that even I could probably shoot to kill. So when John told me to stop by the neighbors' on my way home to peak in the bed of the pick-up, I had a pretty good idea of what I would see. And there she was -- gorgeous fluffy tail, long sharp canine teeth/fangs, and padded feet just like any neighborhood dog's. I noticed the blood and the pattern it made as it dripped onto the fresh snow below. I could clearly see the bullet hole where a nonfatal shot had shattered her ankle. She had a fairly gaping hold in her lower abdomen -- from a gun shot? a quick exploration to determine if she'd been pregnant? Her eyes were still glossy, but they were losing their luster. Her tongue was lolling towards the ground, though it was rigid. She'd been shot from one of the bedroom windows. Such was the price of getting too close for comfort.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

4 New Experiences

Well, this has been a big week. I grew up with guns in the house, but I steered very clear of them. My only contact with guns was when my dad had me hold his shotgun, which was in a stretchy nylon snake-like sheath. I carefully hoisted the heavy weapon in order to carefully keep it from touching the ground while my dad stopped through the barbed wire fence between the parking area and the lake at which the men (and only men) were duck hunting. I was the only girl, but I was enough of a tomboy that I fit in, and for me the trip meant doughnuts and chocolate milk at Doughnut Hole in the wee hours of the morning. It meant spending time around cool, but well-disciplined black labs, the chance to catch a frog or salamander, and the glimmering wings of mallard ducks that shimmered blue and green on the windowsill in my bedroom. The only other time I was really around guns was when my dad took me with him to the trap shooting club, but I was only a young observer. Frankly, guns scared me far more than they intrigued me.

So, back to the present -- I am a fairly liberal democrat who has decorated her Honda Civic's bumper with an Obama sticker. I don't necessarily have a problem with the 2nd Amendment and my fellow citizens' right to bear arms, but I also have no problem with strict gun control laws. If you want a gun for hunting, target shooting, or protecting your family, you should be able to get one, but you should be a stable law-abiding individual, too. And if people start getting all worked up and demanding that their 2nd Amendment rights be respected, I remind them that their right to bear arms was originally granted in order for the colonists to defend themselves against the British. The last time I worried about needing to defend myself against a British invasion was . . .

So, how did I find myself standing at the Cabela's gun counter? Why is it that my husband needed to explain the difference between .22 and .22 mags? Yup, you guessed it -- I bought a gun. I -- bought -- a -- gun. The competitive side of me wants to end up having the greatest natural gift of accuracy ever. The adventurous outdoor side of wants to know that if I'm ever lost at 10,000 feet I'd be able to shoot a rabbit and eat it to survive. The bold, barely-a-risk-taker side wants to wield that weapon simply because I can and because it took a moment of courageous daring to just do it.