The Circle of Life

Cow-Calf Commentary

KIMBALL, Neb. – Tuesday and it’s snowing again. It began, surprisingly, as a light drizzle. The temperature began to fall and before you could say solid phase dihydrogen mono-oxide, it was snowing. Cool and overcast with light but steady snow falling vertically from a windless sky and gently covering the ground with a soft, white blanket.
In quantity, the moisture isn’t very much at all, but even a skiff is a good thing because we’ve fallen behind average since last autumn, and around here average isn’t that much (about 16.8 inches per year) to begin with.
As grass farmers we depend on the rain. Without rain, the grass doesn’t grow. The prairie can take several years without rain; all the grasses and forbs simply go dormant, safely sleeping through times of drought. We grass farmers, on the other hand, cannot go dormant. Oh, we have plans and strategies to tide us over for a year or two or maybe three. And if a severe drought develops, we have thinking brains. We’ll figure something out.
Best of all, though, is when we avoid drought and receive adequate and timely precipitation. Which is what we’re having today. Which is nice.
We’re about seven-to-eight weeks into winter now. Last week the groundhog saw his shadow. As most of us know, whether the Pennsylvania rodent calls for it or not, at this time of the year there’s almost always more winter in store.
The days are getting longer and for many producers it’s already calving time. In one sense this means it’s the beginning of spring, for spring is the time of rebirth and renewal.
If you’re at all interested, here’s a link to a video playlist of a calf being born on our ranch and struggling to clamber to its feet for the first time:
Just type that into your web browser search box and enjoy.
With spring knocking on the door, it’s the time of renewal in the annual cycle of life. In spring new seeds germinate, trees and grasses and forbs and shrubs break dormancy and begin to leaf out, birds mate and nest, mammals have babies, some mammals and most reptiles and amphibians emerge from hibernation. Spring is a new beginning. Winter is left behind and the world is bright and new and full of promise and possibility.
But, as I’ve written before, not every seed germinates, not every egg hatches, not every calf makes it. And in the fullness of time, even those seeds and eggs and babies that do make it come to the end of their mortal road.
This morning I had a dead cow. She was about 2-3 weeks from calving. She appears to have died of bloat. It’s one of the potential problems of having a four-chambered stomach where cellulose is fermented by bacteria. Sometimes, for various reasons, fermentation gasses can build up in such a way the pressure cannot be relieved, or relieved quickly enough. It can
be fatal.
We seldom have bloat problems, but this cow sure did. She was fine at sunset, but dead at sunrise. Judging by the evidence she died only a short time before sunrise.
These things happen. It’s a blow; you don’t want to lose animals for any reason, but they’re living beings and their continued existence is predicated on more things than those you can control.
Some of the sting of loss was eased by the birth of two new healthy calves, a bull and a heifer.
The heifer was quiet and easy to tag and vaccinate. Her mama was quiet too – until I whipped out my phone to take the pictures that go with herd records. Once she saw the phone she started shaking her head and pawing the ground. I’m anthropomorphizing there of course. More likely she was willing to allow my close proximity for a limited time, and when I crossed that time threshold I began to look like a threat to her baby. No harm, no foul.
The little bull calf was quiet, too, and so was his mama. He took the tagging and vaccination like a trooper and mama was interested but not agitated. When I went to band him, though, the problems began. First of all, he became very squirmy. Then he sucked his gonads up into his belly and wouldn’t let ‘em down. And finally, when I got him under control with his testiculos in the right place at the right time, the emasculating band broke. As did the second band. And the third.
So, I left him be, returned to the shop for a new bag of bands, then went and caught him again. This time it went smoothly, and he was quiet about it. I could just imagine him thinking, “Get it over with, please!”
I drove back by the first cow and calf and noticed a coyote slinking in the tree line. I’d seen him earlier and he’d run away. This time though he was acting like he was stalking the calf. He ran off toward the tree line, but turned around and began slinking beck toward the cow and her baby. Might have had something to do with her agitation.
I didn’t have a rifle with me, but I did, as always, have my Sig P229C on my belt.
The coyote paused and looked right at me as I carefully aimed. He was facing me square on and slightly crouched. I guessed it was a 50-yard shot and put the tritium dot of the front sight right on his nose. He began to turn just as I fired and I heard the solid thump of a body hit. He spun and took a couple of bounds, then flopped over on his side just on the other side of the trees.
I had to look pretty hard to find the wound, and there was almost no blood.
I don’t particularly like to shoot coyotes. But when they trip my threat-o-meter, I don’t mind at all.
It’s all part of the big round circle of life.