The little calves always make calving fun and seem worthwhile no matter how tired you are or how disastrous the situation seems. When four heifers aborted in a week almost two months before calving time, it appeared to be a disaster. When the second calf was aborted, Vern came out and did an autopsy.  Vern laughed and said, “You did well. You got air in its lungs because the lung floated in the formaldehyde, but the calf had probably been dead in the cow for a couple of days the way the hair pulled off.”  The lab said the heifers were aborting from a mycotic infection which was caused by breathing in a fungus spore from the hay and the poison went through the heifer’s blood to the fetus.

The highlight of the disaster was Gertie.

RealRancher Jonita Sommers tells the story of bum calf Gertie. An example of ranchers treating their livestock humanely...because they care.

She was only about 30 pounds when she was born, but full of life. The heifer didn’t like Gertie, so our employee, Brian, rubbed her off, gave her some milk and put her in the utility room wrapped in a blanket with the heater on. The house was her home for the next week or so. Gertie was so cute with her little ears and big brown circles around her eyes peering out from the blanket at you.

Bum calf Gertie stands in the utility room wearing a diaper to control the mess.

Gertie in the utility room wearing a diaper

Gertie was so weak she couldn’t stand the first day, but she would suck the bottle. Every two hours, she was hungry and she would let you know with a bawl it was feeding time. The next day, she was strong enough to stand while sucking the bottle, but she was shaking from exhaustion when she finished. Within three or four days, she wasn’t so exhausted and she would want to buck and play. The utility room’s linoleum floor was so slick she would fall down and do the splits. We put a bath mat that would not slip down for her to stand on while eating. She soon learned if she stayed on the blue rug she would not fall, so she jumped up and down in place for exercise.

Sommers Ranch employee Brian Esterholt gives bum calf Gertie a drink before going out to play.

Sommers Ranch employee Brian Esterholt gives bum calf Gertie a drink before going out to play.

It finally became warm enough during the day Gertie was taken to the insulted calving shed. She could then run and play for short bursts of time before she became exhausted. As she got stronger, she started going on little adventures.

RealRancher Jonita Sommers tells the story of bum calf Gertie. Here she's sticking her head through the pole fence.

She could go through the poles on the fence and under the gates. She could get anywhere she wanted without any difficulty since she was so small. When you found her, all you had to do was call her name and she would follow you like a puppy dog.

RealRancher Jonita Sommers tells the story of taking care of bum calf Gertie. She stayed in the house until she was strong enough to be outdoors.

Brian would carry her back to the house at night, and she would stay in the utility room. Finally, she was able to stay in the insulted calving shed at night, but then our Purebred Herefords started calving, and Gert had to come back in the house at night. She followed you to the house, walked up the steps and into the utility room.  She was glad to be back in her old home.  She ran around sniffing everything and then laid down on her blue rug. Within several days, she was running up and down the steps of the house with ease.

RealRancher Jonita Sommers tells the story of caring for bum calf Gertie.

In three or four weeks, Henrietta the milk cow calved, so Gert had a mom. Henrietta had her own calf, Gert and another preemie on her. They all ran, played and had a good time together. When cleaning out the stall, you could let Gert go outside into the field because she would follow you back into the barn when you were ready.

The first morning we had snow after Gert had been out in the shed on her own, she made a big run and buck to go outside.  When she hit the snow, she stopped dead in her tracks, sucked back and sniffed the snow.  That was enough of that.  She went into the stall where a heifer’s calf was laying and tired to get him to play with her to no avail.  She then fought the post and bale of straw.

RealRancher Jonita Sommers tells the story of bum calf Gertie. When she was big enough she went outside.

All the calves are happy, but Gert still loves to have you visit and scratch her. She is a people cow.

RealRancher Jonita Sommers tells the story of caring for bum calf Gertie. Here she is all grown up.

Gert grown up

From RealRancher Jonita Sommers – Pinedale, WY

This week we’re directing you over to RealRancher Ondi Shepperson’s blog to read her two latest posts. Ondi has a unique style and captures some great ranching moments and we’re honored she let’s us share her posts!

Good Mama Blues

Ondi Shepperson's blog post "The Good Mama Blues" at http://olshepp.wordpress.com/

Cowboy Entertainment

Ondi Shepperson's blog post "Cowboy Entertainment" at http://olshepp.wordpress.com/

On an unrelated note, if you’re ever in Ondi’s neck of the woods you have to stop at the Meeteetse Chocolatier. It’s the law.

From RealRancher Ondi Shepperson – Meeteetse, Wyo.

When calving heifers (female cattle that haven’t had a calf yet), you inevitably have to help one now and then. This year we are pulling a few more calves than usual, which is a bull-related issue. The bull’s genetics in large part determine calf size and the bigger the calf, the harder to calve. We aren’t the sort to wait around several hours for a heifer to have a calf, which some people do. If she isn’t progressing in a timely fashion, we like to get her in and get the calf pulled before the heifer is worn out from trying to have her baby, and the calf is exhausted from being squeezed. It’s a system that works well for us.

RealRancher Heather Hamilton talks about pulling calves during calving season in Wyoming

This heifer is having trouble giving birth so RealRancher Heather Hamilton explains why and how cattle producers step in to aide the heifer and her calf.

Read more at RealRancher Heather Hamilton’s blog Double H Photography

Although the cows have been at their winter home for some time now, I want to discuss why my cows change residence during the winter months. My cows have been temporarily relocated since early December 2010.

Ranchers move cattle to different locations throughout the year to utilize all possible grazing opportunities

Photo by Stephanie Russell - http://www.cowgirlgraphics.net

Wintertime conditions around Lusk, Niobrara County, Wyoming can be quite adverse at times. We have the ability to receive a lot of snow, and the wind can really crank up periodically. Throw in some below favorable temperatures, and the conditions become pretty tough on the cows. Even if you have some winter grass left, the cows are going to need a substantial amount of supplemental feed (i.e. hay, concentrated cake) to keep them in proper body condition (i.e. packing some flesh). Supplemental feeds can be quite expensive. Plus, the actual feeding of these feedstuffs have associated costs (i.e. fuel, parts, wear-and-tear). With these conditions and expenses in mind, we in Niobrara County have options.

Feedling cake to cattle. Cake is a concentrated feed supplement ranchers use to feed their livestock when grazing is not available.

Feeding supplemental feed to cattle during winter months. Photo by Stephanie Russell - http://www.cowgirlgraphics.net

One option I believe in is relocating the cows to a milder climate. Located 60 miles south of us is a “Banana Belt” known as the Platte Valley. The North Platte River passes through this vicinity, and runs past the town of Torrington, Goshen County, Wyoming. This area is a large farming area with lots of hay, corn, beans, and sugar beet fields which have been harvested and are available for winter grazing. The area also sports milder temperatures, and generally less snow accumulation. These attributes allow cows to graze most of the winter without supplemental feeds. Occasionally, feeding may be necessary if the weather conditions dictate, but for the most part this is minimal. These lands are leased from valley property owners, and they are responsible for the care of the cows. The lessor makes sure the cattle have adequate water and available feed.

When pasture grass runs low for their cattle, ranchers must find supplemental feed or move to different grazing locations

Photo by Stephanie Russell - http://www.cowgirlgraphics.net

Obviously, there are costs associated with taking the cows to a winter oasis. The cows have to be trucked to winter pasture and back home to Lusk, leased pasture is generally charged at a dollar figure/per head/per month, and the possibility of supplemental feeding. However, these costs are less than if you had to buy hay and feed it all winter. I do not put up any hay on my ranch, and have to buy all supplemental feeds. Economically, the best situation for me is to relocate the cows for a few months. Even if you put up your own hay, it could be economically feasible to take your cows to a winter home. Just some food for thought.

Calves from the TRH Ranch, north of Lance Creek, Wyo. They are being hauled a short distance to the ranch headquarters after being weaned on the opposite side of the place.

Calves being trucked from one ranch to another. Photo by Heather Hamilton - doublehphoto.blogspot.com

My cows start calving the 1st of May, so I try to have them to Lusk by the middle of April in preparation for their springtime ritual. I have been doing this routine for more than 10 years now, and feel this home relocation works well. The cows are always in good body condition and seem glad to be back to their spring, summer and fall home. And I’m happy to have them home! I just really enjoy having my cows, and being involved in production agriculture. Ranching is truly a great occupation!

Cowboys on horseback trail their cattle in Wyoming.

Photo by Stephanie Russell - http://www.cowgirlgraphics.net

From RealRancher Dustin Cushman – Lusk, Wyo.

Have your heifers started?  Did you have to pull very many?  When do the cows start?  All these questions are beginning to circulate between ranching neighbors at this time of year.  Have you heard any of this lingo and wonder, what in the world are they talking about?  This is a very important at this time for Sublette County because much of the rural population is ranchers.  Let’s take a minute and find out what all this means.

Hereford calves rest in the sunshine during calving season in Sublette County Wyoming.

During these spring months ranchers begin calving season.  If you have never lived in a ranching community, some of the conversations can be confusing and jaw dropping if you do not understand the way of life or even the language. 

Have your heifers started? Many ask this question to see if you started calving yet.

Did you have to pull very many? Is a question neighbors use to judge if you are having a difficult or fairly easy calving season. 

When do the cows start? This is just another way of asking if you are close to being finished or are you just starting the season.

What is a heifer you may ask?  They are cows that are having their first calf.  Many heifers, just like humans, have trouble their first time so the ranchers have to watch them fairly close.  All ranches are different, but many get up during the night to check on their heifers.  Some operations have enough people to take shifts through the night and others are not so lucky.  They all have to manage to function and perform the everyday ranch chores even if they are dead tired from being up all night with a heifer calving.

Sublette County Rancher Albert Sommers prepares to pull a calf during calving season in Wyoming.

Sublette County Rancher Albert Sommers getting ready to pull a calf by putting a chain on the calf’s feet and hooking to pullers. When the mother is struggling to give birth, this is the safest way for both the mother and calf to get through the complication.

During the heifer checks, ranchers are looking for a heifer that is having trouble giving birth.   If it is needed the rancher assists her by using a puller, or in certain situations they may have to call a veterinarian to perform a caesarian (c-section).  The puller is a tool that is used to help pull the calf out quickly and safely.  Every situation is different just like human births.

Calf just pulled from the mother cow by a rancher with pullers.

This calf had to be pulled from it's mother by Albert to ensure both the calf and mother survived.

You will hear people talk about their cows.  In general, the word cows and cattle are interchangeable but not in this context. The cows are female cattle that have had more than one calf.  They can range from three years old to 10 years or older depending on the operation.  Each operation is its own business, so they all have their own system of keeping and culling cows.  When a cow is culled it means, the cow is too old or no longer needed and is removed from the herd by selling it.

Cows are more experienced at giving birth, but there are still times they need help. A couple of times a day the rancher will check on the cows, tag the new calves and make sure the cows have cleaned.  This means the after birth or placenta has been completely removed from the body of the cow.  If she has not cleaned or has prolapsed the rancher has to bring her in to the corral.  Once she is corralled she will be given antibiotics to help fight infection or fix the prolapsed cow. When a cow is prolapsed it means that the uterus slips or falls out of place.  It is not a pretty sight and it is not a fun job to fix.  Just like all jobs, ranching has its fun duties and not so fun duties.

Sublette County rancher Albert Sommers bottle feeds a calf during calving season in Wyoming.

Albert bottle feeds this calf with milk before reuniting the baby with the mother cow.

Nothing is more exciting than spring, even though calving can be mentally and physically demanding work. Many wonder why ranchers do it.  Well if you have ever had a new puppy and it became the prized family pet, you will get a small sense of the strong love ranchers have for their cattle.

Wyoming Hereford calf nurses from its mother during calving season.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you overhear someone talking about calving or other ranching topics. We learn from each other every day. Understanding the language of our neighbors is the first step to understanding our neighbor’s actions.

From RealRancher Kari Bousman – Boulder, Wyo.

Photos by RealRancher Jonita Sommers – Pinedale, Wyo.

Winter was easy.

Spring’s been a little tougher…

 But these little guys all made it!

From RealRancher Randy Bolgiano – Boulder, Wyo.

Springtime is upon us here on the grassy plains of eastern Wyoming.  Temperatures are on the rise, and beneficial moisture has been received in the form of rain and snow.  These are the ingredients that make this such a special time of year for those of us working in production agriculture.

Green grass to feed our cattle

We need grass and water to sustain our livelihood, and spring affords us this opportunity.  Our livestock graze the nutritious grass, and the rain and snow fills our reservoirs and maintains our groundwater.  When you combine livestock, forage, and water, a large portion of the United States’ food supply is created.  What a wonderful time to be living in this great country!

Mmmmm...chomp,chop...num,num...mmmmm

Spring is halfway complete in this part of the world, and our calving season is underway.  We chose this time of year to calve our cows because the weather is mild; for the most part, the severe cold and bad blizzards are behind us.  The grass is green and growing.  Simply stated, this mid-to-late calving season is just much easier on mankind and animals.

"Where's mom? I need some lunch..."

To see the newly born calves running around in the warm sun on the lush grass is just a remarkable feeling.  They are cute little babies for one thing, and they seem so happy and innocent.  Keeping tabs on their mothers’ are their only worries.  We have taken care of these cows all winter, and this is one of our rewarding experiences being a part of these new lives.  The wildlife on our ranch, mainly Pronghorn Antelope, are co-mingling with our cows and are enjoying these springtime attributes.

"You sure are a funny looking calf!"

Those of us involved in production agriculture are truly lucky to be doing what we do.  We get to experience a “rebirth” every year right now, and that makes our job worthwhile and necessary.  Whenever you can tackle your job with enthusiasm, the feeling doesn’t get any better than that.  Life is great in ranching!

Yippee!

From RealRancher Dustin Cushman, Wavy Seven Livestock – Lusk, Wyo

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