Welcome to our ranch near Canada's west coast in Beautiful British Columbia's West Chilcotin mountain region. Where calling the vet means hollering back at the house to bring your kit, new friendships are formed from the back of a horse and true fun for a five year old is getting a machete for Christmas. Where 'cutting the dinks off' has a totally different meaning than what first comes to mind, Muck Boots are a household name, a hand shake still means something and the coffee is always on.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Oh it's wet.  It's muddy.   It's milkshake thick and uphill treadmill at a run workout type muddy.  It's 'pull your boot off as you go" muddy and it's nothing to laugh about.  Ha.
And yes, someone (Dad) did walk out of his boot when attempting a quick move to block a cow the other morning.  Funny how when your socked foot hits the mud, getting the cow out of the pen suddenly become a low priority.  First priority becomes looking frantically around and to see who noticed!  Unfortunately, this time, none of us got to see it, but the mental image is always great.  

Snoozing in the sun.  

Eve had a good one the other day too.  We were slogging through the mud, grumbling and snarling at the slop, on our way to check the milk cows.  All of a sudden I hear a quiet and resigned 'oh no' and look back to see Eve sitting down right down in the mud.  She had slipped, crossed her legs up in front of herself and then actually ended up sitting on the rock she slipped on.  Because I'm such a nice person, it didn't even occur to me to take a photo before I helped her up.  Dang it, missed opportunity.
Speaking of the milk cows, we have a new arrangement.  My friend and fellow rancher lady picked us up our new addition in Williams Lake and of course we have named her Evie.  She is almost as patient with the calves as Black Velvet but really just seems confused with life in general.  I'm not sure if she has never seen sun or what, but she sure sunburned quickly.  Everywhere.  Really.  Ouch.  Eve was thinking we could make some sort of bra and undies for her, but nothing we could come up with brought less than laughter, so we are hoping for some cloud and working on making a pen with more shade.  There are 5 calves currently having a grand time with full time access to two Holsteins.... life is GOOD!  The cows are pretty happy too (I think...who can really tell?) with their own delicious bale, water tubs, nice shavings to lay on, lots of grain and wee babies to love/put up with.  

No more twins.  Yay!  I think we still need another milk cow.  

AND, I finally get to talk about something besides calving!!  Our good friend Ken has come up to make me a trade......he wants my Haflinger pony Percy Sunshine for his wagon team and we've done a swap for a gelding of his.  Eve and I went to catch Percy from the herd today and separated the brood mares out as well.  I didn't get many pictures as we were quite busy enough, but here are a few.  The horses are all look patchy as they start to loose their winter hair, but they are in great shape and feeling foxy!  Was so wonderful to get on the back of a horse for even a short time.

Ripper, Roan Guts, Jelly Bean and Porn Star.  On hindsight, I think I took a photo of all the worse names in the outfit.  

Ripper, Rocket, Tiny (Roan Guts, Kramer and Ducky behind)  

Take care all,

Saturday 21 March 2015

The Crew

Well, I'm still waiting for my ride so I thought I'd write a little bit more about the crew that we are lucky to have help out this calving season.  

Laura is a great all around hand, has an amazing sense of humor, is game for anything and not afraid to dish out the teasing, or shirk from receiving it.  Apparently she left before I got a good calving season photo of her, but here she is helping choose a Christmas tree.  Unfortunately, she has abandoned us for three weeks now but will be back at the end of the month.   (Something about a brother getting married.....who gets married in calving season?  Well, I guess it is not calving season in Australia....)    

We've been lucky to have Eve from New Zealand join our team as well.  She is very capable, hard working and most certainly keeps everyone on their toes with her quick wit and one liners.   She does well checking 'pins' (pens) and watching 'heefers' (heifers).  We never tire of teasing her about her accent and odd ball words and terms, but she takes it well and flings it right back.  I can see another life long friendship forming here.  :)  

Those familiar with the ranch will remember Justin.  He is a very capable young fellow that has been an important part of the haying crew for several years now.  He has come up to work over his school Spring Break and we are happy to have him.  His greatest joy this calving season has been the winning streak over dad with the card games!  

Many other people come and go, lending a hand where and when needed and we certainly appreciate them all!  Having a great team certainly makes the work easier and with these three, there is never a dull moment and always a laugh to be had.  

Cheers everyone,

The Calving Routine

 Greetings everyone!  Sorry I have not be writing as often, but with no internet at Six Mile, it's a bit tough to keep caught up.  It is what it is.  :)  
This time I thought I'd back up just a hair and explain a bit more about our calving routine.  Each ranch certainly has their own ideas, methods and environment to work with, but so far, this has been working for us.  It is certainly labor intensive and I'm exceeding jealous of our neighbors sandy south facing slopes, but we have to work with what we have.  Soon enough we'll be able to climb back aboard our horses......  
Ideally when a cow starts show signs of calving, she is put in to her own pen.  Here she is monitored to be sure the calf is born as it should be, and then is strong and healthy.  We actually help a very small percentage of them, and our main reason for putting them in to pens is to provide a clean environment for the birth.  We can also be very sure that the baby is being mothered properly.  Once we are positive that the calf is strong and vigorous, the calf is tagged and the pair is put into another pen with the other pairs.  From here, we pull out the strongest pairs to go to Three Circle and they go into a big pasture there.  Eli takes a trailer load down every morning as he goes down to feed and there will eventually be more than 300 pairs there.  During our busiest periods, he will often have to take several loads in a day.  
If there is any sort of problem suspected with any pair, they are kept at Six Mile.  This could be anything from a weaker calf to a mother with too much milk for her baby to take yet.  (The milk can spoil in the udder and ruin it.)  
During calving season, and actually most of the year, the cows having either their first calf or their second calf are kept separate from the main herd.  The reason for this is that they are still young and growing themselves and need extra feed and monitoring to be sure they are keeping up to being new mommas.  The first calvers are often the ones that might need assistance with the birthing process as well. 

Breakfast of champions.

So our morning routine...
The first lot of cows cows go into the feed pen at first light (currently around 7).  We use a 'time feeding' system, where each group gets a specific amount of time 'free choicing on round bales in feeders' during the day.  
Big ranchers breakfast (eggs, homemade sausage, hash browns.....) around 8.  
Shortly after, everyone wanders out and first priority is to go through all of the pairs, get everyone up and make sure they are having, or have had a good breakfast.  We are very conscious of anything not able to take on all of their mothers milk, as being off their feed is often the first sign of sickness.  Or perhaps momma just has too much milk and that is noted as well.
The milk cows are let in with their orphan babies (all those extra twins!).

Good old Black Velvet, with Roy and Itsy Bitsy Betsy.  

Any cow or cows that have too much milk or a 'bad bag' is put in the chute for Sizzle the Hired Hand to have breakfast on.  Sizzle is an older orphaned calf that we got from our neighbor at the beginning of the season.  
All the calves born the day before and during the night are written down (carefully noting their location) and the mommas let out to feed.
We then usually sort off a load of pairs for Eli to take to Three Circle and he heads off for the day.  It can take him easily all day to feed and do chores, especially if any calves are getting sick.
By now it is probably around 10, so the cows in the feed pen are swapped for the second group.     
As soon as possible, all the tags are made up and organized and calves identified with their mommas number and their personal RFID button.   

A real selfie!  I'm heading out with my carpenters belt and hand full of bagged tags.  

Of course in the middle of this all, there are many other bits and pieces to be taken in.  Other cows calving, perhaps a calf needing help for his first nurse, checking waterers, rolling out bales for the meadow group, cleaning pens, sorting for those animals nearest calving, filling hay feeders, perhaps doctoring a sick calf, sorting for another load to go to Three Circle, filling water tubs and occasionally assisting with a birth.  
Sometimes we are done our first round by 11, and sometimes it is more like 2 before we get in for lunch.  Ideally there is time now for a nap, especially if someone had an extra long night shift.  
After lunch, any pens not cleaned in the morning get done, and new shavings put out as necessary.  We then start the process of putting all the mommas back with their newly tagged babies and making sure they are once again vigorous and nursing well.  Those that pass the test get moved into the bigger pens with the other pairs.  Anything needing help or more monitoring is left in again.  

Bree has an odd habit of doing complete inspections of every calf, from ears to tail.  Ting is overseeing the process.  

By 5:30 or so, the milk cows have started to voice their displeasure at their full milk bags and the orphans are frantically agreeing to help with that.  So the evening barn chores begin.   Sometimes that is fairly quick and sometimes it can take a couple of hours, just depending on what we have to deal with.   Last thing is always to walk through all of the pairs again, making sure everyone is feeling up to snuff.  
Generally we are back in the house around 7 or so, have supper, perhaps have a game of cards and then go to bed.  Dad stays up until about 11 for his check, Eve does 1 am, Eli and I do 3 and 5 and then the process begins again.  

Yesterday, my fancy watch registered 13 miles of walking and I was never more than 300 yards from the house.  And it just that I'm wearing the watch, certainly everyone else is putting on just as many miles!  Ah, but we are over half way now and with our twins, are still way over 100% so really can't complain.  I do have to wimper just a little at the weather lately.....we were drying out so nicely....but not so much any more.   

Yuck.  Just yuck.      
All the best,

Saturday 14 March 2015

Day to Day

I've snuck out to deal with emails and bills.  Things have slowed down a bit in the last day or two, which has been a nice break.  We are at over 200 calves now, and we have had SEVEN sets of twins!  Three sets over two days is a bit much!  
 Seriously, anyone looking to sell a milk cow?!  Black Velvet the Holstein and Jessica the Jersey are feeding two babies each already!

 This is 'Itsy Bitsy Betsy' nursing from directly under Black Velvet....she can't weigh much over 20 pounds.  But she is strong and determined and growing well.  

Tails get wagging when that yummy milk starts flowing!  The unwilling foster mom, Jessica, with one of her babies.  
It is not nearly so vital this year (so far) as the weather has been amazingly cooperative, but someone still stumbles through the pens every 2 hours.   To keep things straight, we all write in a book to let the next one know what to look for.  It can get fairly entertaining sometimes, but is really quite important.  


I've mentioned about having the same number/name tag in the calves as what the cows has.  That keeps things very simple.  We are also required to have a RFID (radio frequency identification) button in the calves (or any animal leaving the ranch.)  They cannot be sold without this button as it identifies where the animal originated.  While it is a good idea to identify the cattle this way, the button system is far from fool proof.  They get ripped out as easily as the name tags and are really quite expensive.  Each button costs about $3.35, depending on the number you purchase at a time.  The name/number tags are about $1.40 each.  
Every morning we enter the newest numbers into the calving book (from the day previous and the night) and make up tags.  In the calving book you can see the last 3 digits of the RFID buttons, the date, the sex, the mommas number and the location.  (We use two barns and a series of pens so it is super important to record exactly who is where until they get those tags!)  Any problems are also recorded, such as if we had to pull the calf or if the mom is cranky!  Twins are identified with a line under their number on the tag.      

When we are positive that the calf is vigorous and healthy and an aggressive nurser, they get their tags and their vitamin shot while momma is out having breakfast.  Data is then eventually organized into a computer program.  

Here is a picture of the calf sleigh I mentioned last time.  Works awesome and you can see momma is following along very well.  

If calves are born in the pens, we sometimes bring them in by hand with a big plastic kids sleigh (when there is ice and snow to pull it on) .  If I know the cow is nice enough (most of ours are), it is my usual method in the middle of the night.  It is quicker and easier to flip them in to the plastic sleigh rather than get completely slimed  as I lift and fling us both up in to the quad sleigh, and they  pretty much ALWAYS follow it.   I have to admit though, that even with the gentlest of cows, it can get pretty exciting.  Often they  get right fired up at the sliding black beast making off with their baby and you really have to run to keep ahead of them.  If you have never heard a cow roaring her confusion and concern and anger, I really can't describe it except to say its an exceptionally loud experience and certainly puts wings on your feet (maybe that is why it is quicker!)  The excitement is usually compounded by the calf trying and sometimes succeeding in flopping out and occasionally the mother actually stepping on the sleigh, which brings the whole operation to sudden and jarring halt for just a split second before you shoot off again.  It may make you quick, but all that adrenaline does sometimes make it hard to get back to sleep!  
Really, it's probably best to just get the quad and deal with the messy coveralls, jacket and gloves.    
Even better lately, with our warm weather, we just leave them for the night and deal with them in the morning and they usually walk out of the pen themselves.      
On that note, I'd better head back up to help deal with all the darn twins....

As Always,

Monday 9 March 2015

Night Checks

Checking cows by the light of the moon.  

Yeah, it was a bit dark, so I added some flash.  The cows don't mind, they are used to us shining flashlights at all hours.  

We are fully busy now.  Yesterday I tagged 22 new calves.  Yay....bring it on!  The more the merrier, especially when the weather is so amazingly warm.  

The other night I stumbled out to do my usual 2 am check.  As soon as I got to the corrals I could hear that it was going to be a long night.  When a cow first calves, she bawls very softly to her baby as she licks it off, encouraging it to get up and have it's first drink.  I walked first in to the heifer pen and there was a wee little fella, just born and wondering what the heck hit him.  I decided to give his momma some time to clean him off and get used to the idea of being a mother.  In the cow pen, the same lowing noise told me that I had another slimy calf to deal with.  Turns out there was one momma and two babies again......the fourth set of twins.  
Dad has invented an amazing sleigh for getting calves in.  It pulls behind the quad and has large frame with a piece of felting across it.  The felting has four hole for four legs, which keeps the calf secure and off the ground.  The height is perfect for momma to sniff her baby and hopefully follow it right out of the pen.  
So as many of you know, I've never been blessed with height.  Picking up wet calves out of the mud (why not the dry shavings pile I ask....really!?) means I have to get completely involved.  I don't have the strength or the height to pick them up by the front legs and swing them on to the sleigh as the guys do.  I have to get right down and dirty with them, scooping and squeezing their slimy little bodies against my own as best I can and flinging both of us on to the sleigh.  Generally it works, but it is never pretty.  So I piled both the wee fellas on the sleigh and, with some convincing, momma cow followed along behind to a dry barn stall.
So back out I go and find that my heifer momma was frantically chasing her very busy little guy as he staggered from cow to cow in the pen, desperately trying to find himself some breakfast.  Calves will often follow your pressure, so I let him bump against my legs for a moment and then slowly walked back to the barn, with him frantically bumping me with his head and his confused mother following.  Yay, that was easy.  
Another check of the pens revealed two more mothers ready to have their babies and by the time I had them out and situated, Eli had come out to do his 4am round.  Which was perfect as he helped me with the twins....getting the more rambunctious one started nursing on his momma and an unwilling milk donor in to fill up the other one who needed some time in the hot box.  We staggered back to bed at 5am.  
And were woke at 5:30 by an extremely excited Ben, who had discovered that the TOOTH FAIRY had arrived during the night!  :)  True excitement to have that first tooth out.   

Well, back to the barns for me.....

Cheers all,

This is one of the other twins getting a bit of extra.    


Friday 6 March 2015

The Fitbit

So, I bought myself a Fitbit.  Which is an expensive toy disguised as a watch.  It's kinda cool though, as it tracks your steps, the mileage you do in a day, your sleep etc.  Plus tells you the time of course.  (Amazing how many miles we travel, and how little we sleep in general.)  A total indulgence that I'm a bit embarrassed about spending money on, but still fun.  And if I feel like I'm not getting enough 'steps", I just need to jump on the snowmobile to grain horses......it tracks every bump and I can assure you there are thousands and thousands of them along the trail and through the previously rustled ground.  The Fitbit is very impressed at how hard I work (when snowmobiling) and gives me Gold Stars and everything.  Totally worth the money right there.  :)  

        Cows in the 'feed pen', Itcha Mountains in the background.  

So I go to check out a cow the other day that was taking too long to calve. I take my hoodie off and push my right sleeve back.   My hand and arm goes in and the decision is made to help with cow out with a pull (the calf was trying to be born upside down).  
I needed my left hand for support as I helped right the calf and begin to set the pulling chains.  
As my left arm slides inside the momma cow, I suddenly realize what I'm doing and that perhaps the "water resistant" Fitbit wouldn't be warrantied if it quit due to submersion in amniotic fluid or misplaced in a uterus.  

I frantically jerked my arm and fancy watch back to the surface with "Oh $#&@ Laura, take it off, TAKE IT OFF!"    

I'm happy to say the calf arrived safe and sound.  And the Fitbit survived the birth as well, in much the same shape as the calf.  Warm, wet and slimy.

Do you think Fit Bit would appreciate and publish my review on the toughness of their product?  

It's Nikky's fault I'm writing this.  When I told her the story she said "you should totally put this in your blog.  Pure Chilcotin humor right there."  Hope we didn't make you lose your breakfast.  :) 

 'Sun dog' over the corral system as Eli walks a heifer to the barn.  

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Black Velvet and friends

Well, we have officially begun calving.  You can tell because it is -20 at night.  We are doing our every two hour night checks and making good use of the hot box (also known as the slow cooker).  Pretty much everything that is born at night (and most certainly if it was born 'outside') gets a turn in it.  This photo shows it in action with the latest set of twins (obviously there is a door to close).

 So we've had over 50 calves now (3 sets of twins), and in general, everything has gone well.  There has been some of the usual complications, but nothing really major.  One kind of funny one was a set of twins out of another first calver.  She had her first little baby perfectly but just didn't seem quite right yet so we brought her in to check her out.  As always, you never quite know what you are going to find when you insert your hand in to that particular area of bovine real estate, but I have to admit I was quite confused to find one big lump.  For a split second I thought there was a displaced hip bone or something....obviously impossible.  Turns out that the teeny tiny twin was trying to be born ears first.  Literally.  Not only were both feet back, but his nose was pointed backwards as well.  The lump I felt was the back of his head.  He got pushed back inside, re-arranged, and then quite literally landed in my arms.  Normally we slowly help them out, allowing their lungs to clear and to get their first breath.  This wee fella needed no more encouragement than to be pointed in the right direction and straight out he came.  We left this smaller twin on his momma and the bigger one is currently being raised by Black Velvet the Holstein milk cow with a very small brain.  Oh, that was a bit mean wasn't it?  Ha.  You haven't met her.  Or if you have, you know of what I speak.  She is appreciated in many ways....but she still has the smallest brain of any animal we have ever owned.  Including the chickens.  (Sorry Olivia.....don't be mad.  I know you love her, and yes, you can one day take her to your grandparents back yard in Victoria.)  Before you judge my judgement, remind me to tell you a few stories about her....such as spending hours up to my waist in broken ice and creek water after she decided to walk past her water hole and sniff the snow on the other side of the creek.... and fall through of course.  But, this is the time of year that Black Velvet shines....she will take on any calf (or calves) looking for a feed and only asks for gallons of grain, free choice of the best hay, dry shavings to lay on, plenty of leisure time to daintily slurp at the water trough and patience as she endless bawls her displeasure at being separated from her calf.  Or her grain.  Or her water trough.  Or her hay bale.  Or...      

Black Velvet and her tiny adopted twin George.  

In other news, we have all the horses in a pile and they are quite pleased to be free choicing on round bales.

Mum has rolled a bale out here while we get the strings off of the other ones.  That is an old 'slide stacker' that you see to the left of the horses.  I'll write about them another time.....it was how the ranchers used to pile their hay for the winter.  There are two on this meadow and quite possibly some of the only ones left in the country. 

Moving horses.  This is probably the closest you will ever see to me posting a 'selfie'.  :)  

First drink, oh so good!  

View from the barn.  Mommas and their babies.  

These cows are waiting to be put back with their babies after being out to feed for the morning. 

Bet not everyone sees this sight when they head to their local store to buy bananas.

Alright, well I probably better get back to the calving barn.  Please be a bit patient with me as my posts could be a bit random and far between for a while.  I just discovered that I can set it up to have posts published on a scheduled date.  Hmm, not sure I'm organized enough for that, but I'll see what I can do.

All the best,