Tag Archives: death

Wordless Wednesday: Another Casualty from the Fire

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Death on the Range

This is the time of the year where we load up our cattle onto cattle trucks and ship them to our summer ranch. We do this for many reasons, you can go here, to get more information about why.

The trucks loading our cattle.

The trucks loading our cattle.

Needless to say, shipping the cattle and moving all of our tools to the other ranch is a stressful time, even though we do it twice a year. Due to the major drought we are facing in California, this year feels especially scary. It feels like we are being forced by mother nature to do everything sooner. It has not helped with the stress levels that we were experiencing.

However Saturday we finished shipping most of the cows. That means the hardest part was over. Everything had gone well. No animals or people got hurt. No one got yelled at too badly. We got cattle trucks when we wanted them. Only two were cows missing, a good shipping season by anyone’s standards.

Sunday was a day to enjoy some calmness and relax. I had a pretty nice little day planned in order to celebrate being done. I had brunch with my girlfriend. Worked in my garden. Did some writing and I was hoping to catch 60 Minutes, and call it a day.

The hardest place to get to on the ranch. There is a creek with one, very treacherous crossing.

The hardest place to get to on the ranch. There is a creek with one, very treacherous crossing.

I almost had my calm day, I made it to the writing part. Then as it so often does in production agriculture, my personal plans had to change. Since we were missing two cows, I took off on my trusty Polaris to look for them. I successfully found one! But I unfortunately came across a cow that had an accident. She couldn’t get her legs under her, she couldn’t walk – somehow she broke her back (maybe she tripped on a rock, maybe she got in a cow fight, we’ll never know). She happened to do it at the worst possible place on the ranch, there was no way we could reach her to help or to slaughter, it was hard enough reaching her on my ATV. I had no other option but to euthanize her and walk away.

I'm sorry cow.

I’m sorry cow.

It was a hard thing to do. Even if we have a worst case scenario like this, we can usually salvage something so the cow’s death is not a waste. As long as an animal is healthy and we observe any withdrawal times for vaccinations, an animal that had an accident can be slaughtered for our personal consumption. Old cows make great hamburger, hot dogs, snack sticks and jerky and I am always glad to have that stuff in my freezer.

If the animal had recently been given a vaccination, we can donate the carcass to our local animal sanctuary to be used as feed so at least there is some use. To just leave a cow in a field for scavengers is a difficult, difficult thing, just a total waste. In a few months, after the bones are clean, and the coyotes, scavenger birds have had their fill, I’ll go back and pick up the bones so there will be no mess.

This is the bad part about my life. Death happens here and not always in a meaningful way. As a cattlewoman the best thing I can do is be compassionate, ease pain and suffering as quickly and as best as I can and take solace in that. But it never, ever get easier.

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Wordless Wednesday: Home on the Range


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The Art and Science of Calf Grafting

Ranching is not always nice. It’s not always pretty or kind. Bad things do happen, but as cattlepeople our job is to attempt to mitigate those bad things to the best of our ability. I covered bottle calves a few posts ago, in this post we are going to talk about what happens when you need one of those bottle calves as a replacement calf.

My Dad starts by skinning the dead calf.

Calves die. Sometimes they will get sick, sometimes they will get hurt, sometimes they will fall into a ditch and drown. It never gets easier seeing a dead calf. But thankfully it doesn’t happen that often and when it does, we have methods that soothe the grieving momma cow, and gives a bottle calf a new lease of life – grafting.

This calf died because a cow stepped on his back and broke it. He was paralyzed and was in a great deal of pain. The decision was made to euthanize him.

Once the calf is skinned, you place his hide on the bottle calf that will be taking his place. This is done because the dead calf’s hide smells like the cow. The cow will think it’s her baby because it smells like him, making the graft much easier.

A leg hole for the new baby. This is a trade secret many producers don’t think about doing. If you cut 4 holes in the hide, it acts like a “jacket” so you don’t have to use string (that a cow could eat, and then die from).

The new calf getting his “jacket”

The calf is placed with its new mom. We put the pair in a dark room in the barn, we like the cow to really be able to smell the calf and not see it as much for the first few hours. We think it helps with the graft.

The cow thinking her baby came back and a very hungry bottle calf in a “jacket”.

The “jacket” will be removed from the calf in about two days. In the meantime the calf will be licked and loved by his new Mom, and he will be drinking her milk. This will make the baby really smell like her’s even when the “jacket” is removed.

Mom and calf, happy and eating! Success!

Calf grafting is one of my first memories of working on the Ranch. I remember being a very little kid and my Dad teaching me how to graft one of the bottle calves I was taking care of, to one of our old Hereford cows. My Dad claimed to learn his particular method of grafting from an old cowboy, but I can’t remember who. It’s always felt like a pretty big deal to me, giving a calf a new mom and mom and new baby to love.


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