Monday, July 16, 2012

Chuck and Mabel

So, here we are, several days in and things have calmed down considerably. Audrey's eye cleared up the day after she calved. Eschol and Effie have quieted down now that they're together again. No more jail breaks. Chuck's leg is looking straighter--as much as one that is so naturally knobbly kneed can possibly look--and he and Mabel are both nursing well. The one unfortunate thing is that we never were able to convince Effie to take an interest in her calf. She fought us hard on this one, complete with bluff charging us when we tried to move her into the pasture near the barn where her calf is residing. In the meantime, her udder is getting very flabby. Maybe it never was that full but it sure isn't in good form for providing milk to anyone now.

Audrey, however, is turning out to be a champ at mothering. She is letting both calves nurse and treats them as if they were both her own. If they aren't where she wants them to be, she can move them with just a look or a gentle grunt and boy do they ever respond.  She has taught them how to stay hidden when she goes out to graze and she has both visual and vocal control over them. Several times now, I've gone out to check on them and thought I'd lost a calf. There's not much grass in their pasture (had just taken the herd off of it recently to let it regrow) so it's pretty easy to scan and see everything. Or so I thought. 

See the buffalo? I didn't. That's Chuck in the weeds down by the culvert that runs under the driveway. It wasn't until Audrey and Mabel came out to see why I was wandering around that I figured it out. They made it easy by pointing to him with their gaze. Silly human. They're so easy to fool.

I realized that I didn't give you many pictures of Mabel from her birthday. The second child always gets shafted. Here are a few to help make up for the initial slight. 

Not to worry. She's not hypoxic. Just a weird function of the early morning light in the barn and my limited camera skills. 

That's more like it. Except now she's doing the dog thing with one ear up.

Breakfast time.

It's been fun having both calves at the same time. When I started keeping bees I was told it's best to have two hives so you can compare their progress. As a first-timer with water buffalo, it sure has been helpful to have two. I don't ever know which one is the representative of what is typical and maybe neither of them are but I find seeing the variations between the two somehow calming.

Mabel definitely takes after her biological mother, Effie. Her hide is a slightly lighter color and her haircoat is much less thick than Chuck's. She is also quite assertive about getting her needs met be that food, attention, or time to explore. She found her feet the very first day and has been climbing, running, and jumping ever since. I really need to rent a video camera so I can capture her in all her exuberant glory.

Chuck, on the other hand, is much more like Audrey. Darker coat, thicker hair, and calm. So calm I was worried about him the first few days. He spent so much time lying down, I wasn't sure he was getting enough to eat. Maybe his leg was bothering him. But then I thought about Audrey and realized that it may just be personality. And calm buffalo is so much nicer than spaz buffalo when they get bigger. I've seen enough evidence both on the gozinta and the gozoutta end of the digestive process to know that he's eating.

Chuck was very slow to find his feet. He's still not a graceful walker but he is moving around more as of yesterday. And today he discovered running. He's much better with momentum on his side. Maybe he's overthinking things when he tries to walk. I notice that he seems unsure of what order the hooves are supposed to hit the ground. He's very tentative. And when he goes to turn left for example, instead of moving the left front foot first, he picks up the right and crosses it over the left. But when he goes pronking across the barn floor or races out into the pasture, he has no such hesitation. The little spurts of energy don't last too long but they sure are a delight to see.

Also new today, sibling playtime. Today's the first I've seen these two really interact with each other beyond jockeying for pole position at the udder. They are starting to sniff each other, bump into each other, nap together, and generally act like they recognize that they're part of a herd, not just individual buffs. 

I am loving early mornings in the barn right now. Everyone's very mellow and there's a lot of love going around. The calves run up to me when I arrive, sometimes to their mother's consternation when she clearly is trying to get some rest and rumination time. It's best if I can sneak in while they're nursing so I can just sit and watch and listen to happy slurpy sounds. Then we can have playtime when they're done. Both calves are already doing the roll over for a belly rub thing. I love that this behavior seems hardwired in them. It's also a hoot to see a calf do it. Mabel's so flexible that she flops over on her back like a dog, letting her legs flop out on each side. That won't last long I'm sure but it sure is cute. I try to soak in as much of this happy as I can before returning to the long to-do list.

Right now, we're running two separate herds in our very limited space. And the flood threw our rotational grazing plan into disarray. It would be tough with one unified herd but with two groupings, it's really nuts. Normally, I love a good logistical challenge but this may eventually outstrip even my considerable talents in this arena. We made some progress clearing out flood debris and taking out the damaged barbed-wire fence this weekend but it will be quite a while before we can get the permanent fence redesigned and installed (still haven't had a day without rain since the flood). I've got more temporary fence supplies on the way and will work on creating something halfway feasible once those arrive. At least the new windows for the house are in and the final trim work on those should be completed tomorrow. Am looking forward to having window screens again. The june bugs are getting quite aggressive. Maybe because it's July.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

27 Hours, Part 2

Chuck and Mabel. That's really what you wanted to know, right? You've been very patient, so I'll let you know that much of the story upfront. Now, back to where we left off.

I'd been told that water buffalo are pretty sneaky about giving birth. Even lots of experienced farmers get surprised by the appearance of a calf. One person told me that it's rare to see the actual event and if you just happen to be nearby when the telltale bit of mucus starts emerging from the backside of the cow, don't blink or you'll miss the event. That's the only sign you're getting. I saw it and took the risk of running back to the house for my camera. When I returned a couple of minutes later, this is what I saw:

Click on the photo above to enlarge it and you'll see a golden-tipped hoof starting to emerge. Then there were two hooves:

This is correct presentation for a calf--hooves first and pointing down. Knowing this, it's clear why those little hoof tips are so soft. The hooves harden really fast after birth but I'm sure all buff mothers are grateful that the hooves are soft when they're making their way through the birth canal. At this stage, Effie laid down so I took the opportunity to cross to the other side to get between her and the feeder creek which is just past the electric fence (I had already turned off the power so no one would get zapped during labor). Effie was so close to the fence I was worried the calf might slip under and end up in the very swollen creek. Here's what Eschol was doing: more pizza for the expectant father.

When Effie stood up again, she started licking something on the ground. Yup, just that fast, Effie's little girl calf was out. The whole process took about 10 minutes, maybe 15 at the most.

Welcome to the world, Mabel.

Eschol came over to give her a sniff and then I gave him my best "you mess with this calf and you will be on my dinner table by next week" look. Don't know if that's what did the trick or he just wanted more pizza but either way he wandered off. The rain (oh, yes--it's still raining even as I write this on Saturday morning) was picking up and it was getting to hard to manage the camera and keep track of two newborns in fairly precarious places. So, I put the camera down and picked up the cell phone. First call to Jim: find your own way home from the airport tonight. Second call to the neighbor: tell the kids to be real quiet when they come up to see the second calf of the day. Third call to my friend, farmsitter, and fellow vet tech: you know how you say I never ask for help? Well, today I'm asking. Not sure what I'm going to need but I definitely needed someone with a functioning brain. An extra pair of eyes and hands and oh maybe a little dinner would be great, too. Big gold star for Beth who came right over and provided all that and more.

Effie gave Mabel a few licks but didn't do the thorough job that Audrey did with Chuck. Mabel sounded a little juicy in the lungs but after a few minutes her breathing seemed to clear up. And then we were off to the races. Mabel is a little spitfire. She was up on her feet in minutes with no assistance from mother or me. She found her legs fast--not just up but walking with remarkable steadiness despite being in a really boggy, soggy area. She hardly stumbled at all. Effie didn't seem too happy to have her up and trying to nurse (Mabel knew right where to go and what to do) so she kept knocking her down. I assumed she didn't want the calf trying to nurse until the placenta passed but maybe it's also an instinct to keep the newborn down and out of sight of predators. Either way, she was very insistent. Really put her horns into it if you know what I mean. At one point she managed to catch Mabel's head in the curve of her horn but Mabel freed herself. Good girl. Then Eschol came over to join in. Tough love, buffalo style.

Poor Mabel. So full of life and enthusiasm but only the humans wanted to see her up and about. Her herd was not amused by her precocious behavior. Because Eschol was trying to roll her down the hill towards the creek, I quickly set up a way to get him out of there and into the field across the driveway, the one where Chuck had been born half a day earlier.

Somewhere in there Beth arrived with food and a level head. The neighbors showed up to see the calves and finish filling in the rutted driveway and it looked like there might be a little calm. The only problem was that Effie kept wandering off toward the flooded end of the fish pond and leaving her calf alone. Mabel was clearly interested in exploring so we kept a close eye on her to make sure she didn't get into trouble. Her ambulatory skills were already so much stronger than Chuck's, it was a delight to watch. Beth captured a bit of her on her smart phone. Sadly, it was about the only time that Mabel tumbled so take my word for it that she really was quite steady on her feet for the most part.

While the neighbors kept an eye on Mabel, Beth and I worked on things like getting water set up by the big barn and solidifying the temporary fence that would keep the calves out of the wallow and keep the bull from getting to the barn where our cow/calf pairs would be hanging out. As the evening wore on, it became clear that Effie was completely uninterested in her calf. Not good. As it was getting close to dark and I had visions of coyotes running through my head, I decided to start leading Mabel towards the barn where Audrey and Chuck were in hopes that Effie would follow. Mabel was a champ. With only a few attempts to detour, she got up the big hill, mostly just following me. Here's a picture that Beth snapped of us on our way:

We got all the way up to the barn before Effie noticed. She eventually made her way up but didn't seem that engaged. Then again, her placenta still hadn't passed. Meanwhile, Eschol was fussing like crazy for being separated from the herd. Effie and he kept talking across the driveway. She seemed more concerned about him than her calf. Not sure what that's all about but none of the buffs have ever liked it when any of the herd is separated. But this was way more vocalization than we'd ever heard. I wanted to get Eschol back across the driveway where he could be just on the wallow side of the electric fence. That way, he and Effie could touch noses across the fence but I wouldn't have to worry about him tearing apart the barn or the calves. But it was getting dark and he refused to move. Crap. Well, not much to be done now.

With things winding down for the night and Jim on his way, I sent Beth home with my eternal gratitude. I went back up to the barn to check on everyone and double down on the straw and hay. Effie still was being standoffish. Fortunately, Audrey is turning out to be not only a great mom, she's also a great surrogate mom (truly a buffalo after my own heart). She let Mabel nurse while we waited for the placenta to pass. Jim got in around 10pm and came up to the barn to meet the two new members of the herd. Much happniess all around. So wonderful to be hanging out with the calves and moms. Not having Eschol around means we can be right in with the girls and Chuck without having to constantly watch our backs. Eschol quieted down after dark (except when we walked by) and that seemed to calm Effie down. She finally passed her placenta or at least part of it. It's not great if she retains any of the placenta so we hoped she'd pass the rest without incident. I scooped up the placenta as I'd done with Audrey's. Don't worry. Not going to do anything freaky with it. I just think it's coyote bait so I wanted to get it as far away from the calves as possible. The next morning we found the rest of the placenta in the barn, so I'm pretty confident that it's all out now. 

Once we had soaked up enough happy, we left the buffs to settle in. I think we got back to the house around  11:30 or 12 but it's all a bit blurry now. We still had a bit of work to do to move furniture, etc. away from all the windows in the house because our contractors would be arriving first thing in the morning. After that, the much-needed shower. Then bed. And blessed slumber. 

Up before dawn to check on the buffs and the start of another crazy day. The short version: Effie is rejecting her calf, Eschol made a jail break overnight, and once we corralled him, he showed Effie how to get past the temporary fence so she could join him in the fish pond. So, yet another go at designing that fence to be more buffalo-proof, fixing the fence that Eschol busted through earlier in the day, then we started the really heavy work of clearing the debris off of the destroyed barbed-wire fencing leading up to the Booth (the large knoll where we originally intended to have the buffalo stay and which under normal circumstances would be a very secure area for bull or calves). Jim manned the chainsaw, cutting up several large tree trunks and branches while I helped haul the debris off to a place where it wouldn't take out the fence again if we have a repeat of the flooding. We kept trying to lure Effie back to her calf but to no avail. Audrey continues to be a champ, doing double nursing duty.

I hope we can convince Effie today. I think if we can just get Mabel to try nursing her, it might stimulate the hormones enough to get Effie to let down her milk. At least I don't have to worry that the calf isn't getting colostrum or milk. But if Audrey has to keep nursing two calves and Effie won't let anyone have her milk, there's not going to be much cheese being made here. But right now I don't care if I never get a drop of milk as long as the calves get what they need.

OK, back to it. Need to go finish pulling the soggy stuff out of the workshop. Keep your fingers crossed that the sun comes out today and helps us to dry out a little. And that Effie's maternal instinct kicks in.

Friday, July 13, 2012

27 Hours, Part 1

You know how something always breaks in the week before you go on vacation? I thought I had staved off the usual appliance meltdown or plumbing malfunction by arranging to have all the windows in the house replaced in the run up to our trip. Silly me. That wouldn't do. In the span of 27 hours, we had a flash flood and our two water buffalo heifers gave birth.

The flood happened Wednesday afternoon. We got water in all sorts of places--buildings and fields--where it shouldn't have been but the biggest problem was losing some crucial permanent fencing around the access point to our largest pasture. To keep the buffalo from taking advantage of the seriously listing gate (pictured above) and getting into trouble, I moved them from the main pasture where they were having fun with the wet-weather creek to higher ground across the driveway. Here's Audrey just before the move--the other two are out of sight, down in the deep part of the creek to the right.

There wasn't much to be done until the water receded, so I stayed up late trying to get some work cleared off my desk in anticipation of a big post-flood cleanup. Thursday morning, I got up around 6:15 and looked outside to see our bull in the yard next to the house. Not a good thing. Clothes hastily applied, I raced out to try to close off as many escape routes as possible while sending out my best don't-mess-with-me vibe. I was wondering where the girls were but needed to get the bull under control first. Fortunately, he took my strong suggestion to make his way back via the fenced area we call the fish pond and I closed the gate behind him. Then I ran down to see whether the girls were still in the field where I'd left them the night before. Yes! And weirdly no sign of damage to the fence. Not sure how the bull escaped. No matter. Just had to get the herd reunited. Eschol was eager to get back to the girls, so a few gate openings, closings, and temporary fence lines later, he was back with the herd.  Effie ran over to greet him. But not Audrey. Hmmmmm....better go check on her. What on earth????? Look what was at her feet:

A little bull calf. All covered in slime, so he clearly had just been born. Maybe that's why Eschol came over to the house. He should have brought cigars. On second thought, maybe he got booted from the field during labor and grazing in the forbidden zone by the house was his version of going out for pizza and beer.

Audrey was showing all the right instincts, licking him from head to toe. I gave them a few moments alone while I ran to the house for the camera. I wasn't sure how protective she'd be of her calf but she let me come right up. The calf was every bit as cartoony as I had imagined he'd be: all ears and legs. And those golden-tipped hooves.....crazy!

The soft little ends of his hooves didn't stay golden for long, so I'm glad I got to see him fresh out of the oven.    He showed a nice, strong suckle reflex right away, trying to nurse on my fingers. The next couple of hours I spent helping him find his legs. He wanted to get up right away but it took a long time and much assistance for him to get the hang of it. He's too heavy for me to lift completely (I'm guessing around 90 pounds give or take), so I mostly tried to spot him, supporting his midsection as his tried to get all four legs in all the right places and get the hooves turned the right way down. Even tho' Audrey licked him a lot, there was still lots of slimy goodness on him which then transferred to me. As well as the manure he kept managing to fall in. 

I probably could have waited longer to let him figure it out before intervening but I both wanted to get him going on the nursing and he was really close to a steep slope, so I was nervous about him launching himself down the hill. Eventually, he made it up onto all fours on his own.

Unfortunately, every time the poor, wobbly little guy would get up and try to nurse, Audrey would push him away. Even worse, Eschol would run over and knock him down. And he didn't stop there. He'd start pushing the little guy with his horns, pretty viciously. One time he knocked him down a small embankment but I got him back up and he didn't seem too much worse for wear.  I spent quite a bit of time wrestling with Eschol that morning and distracting him long enough for him to forget about the calf. Effie was uncharacteristically chill about the whole thing, not intervening to help the calf or Audrey. She really seemed like she just didn't want to get involved. Not typical for our enforcer/head of security. Eventually I managed to get Eschol and Effie crossed back into the fish pond leaving Audrey and her calf to bond in peace. I was worried that so much time had passed without him nursing but then around 11am, Audrey passed her placenta. That explains why she wouldn't let him nurse. I had assumed it had passed right after he was born and I'd missed it. Really wasn't expecting a 5-hour time lag. I'll spare you the photographic evidence but my students will not be so lucky in the fall.

That done, I got back to work on helping the calf find his mother's teats and bribing her with treats so she'd stand still long enough for him to latch on. It worked. The first nursing didn't last long but he got his first colostrum so I felt much calmer. One worry down, a million to go. Thoroughly slimed, I left mom and calf for half an hour so I could recharge my and the camera's batteries. Good thing I didn't try changing clothes just yet.

When I returned, Audrey was waiting to cross over to join the rest of the herd. One problem: her calf was nowhere to be seen. I started looking up and down the embankment and found him trying to launch himself out of a ditch (miraculously, one of the few without standing water from the flood). I helped him up and checked for injuries but again he seemed fine. Reunited him with Audrey then got ready to move them across the driveway to be closer to but not in with the others. The path was all downhill but it is steep, slippery, and uneven. Not a problem for adult buffalo but way challenging for a little wobble monster. Mom led the way and I offered lifting and balancing support. It was pretty ugly. At one stage, Audrey and I sort of Malachi crunched him between us to keep him up on his feet. But eventually, we got him over to the main pasture. Time to rest. 

Well, they got to rest. I had to erect a temporary fence behind mom and calf to encourage her to head up to the big barn and not downhill to the wallow. It would be bad news if the calf stumbled into the wallow. I went up to the barn and put straw down for bedding and filled up the hay bin. Over the next few hours, Audrey coaxed her little guy up the big hill.  I was a little concerned that his left front knee was looking a little hyperextended. I checked to see if anything looked swollen or injured but there was no obvious sign of trauma. And he was putting weight on it. He just wouldn't walk very far without taking a rest. And that would be understandable given the day he'd had regardless of how his leg felt. To add to my worries, Audrey's right eye was swollen for no apparent reason. I made sure I had the vet's number in my phone and decided to wait a bit before calling. Partly, I didn't want to be the panicked first-time farmer and partly, I wanted to see if anything else was going to go wrong. My initial joy was slipping away with the waning adrenaline.

So, to keep myself occupied, I turned my attention to getting the washed out gravel back into the deep ruts in the driveway. Not fun work but at least the worst section was right by the buffalo so I could keep an eye on everyone while I worked. 

Our neighbor who lives at the far end of our driveway came down with her kids to see the calf and offered to go get some shovels and put the kids to work helping with the driveway. I took a moment to sit down by the corn crib having just realized how damn sore I was all over from having been on my feet in rubber boots doing some pretty heavy lifting  for nearly 11 hours already. I glanced over to see Eschol grazing while Effie laid down, got up, turned around, laid down again, then up again, and oh lord is that mucus I see? My very overtired brain knew immediately what was going on but didn't want to believe it. At 4:50pm, nearly 11 hours after Audrey had her calf, Effie was having hers.

To be continued.....

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Audrey's little buff

No time to tell the story in detail now but Audrey had her first calf this morning around 6am. Here's another picture to tide you over until I have time to post more.

It never rains but it pours

Friday, July 6, 2012

We Got Decked

This crazy hot weather has been knocking us out. Mountain temps aren't supposed to get up to, let alone exceed, the century mark. And we are in our second straight week of heat in the mid-90s and going as high as 102 degrees some days. All of us here--buffs, plants, and people--are focused on little other than the essentials of hydration. Since we're in serious water appreciation mode right now, it seems like a good time to talk about something that has really helped us to make the most of our farm's best natural water feature, Sandy Mush Creek (shown below in late autumn).

When we moved into this house four years ago, we couldn't understand why the porches were oriented away from this gorgeous, big creek that makes a beeline for the house then curves away at the last minute. The house (winter view below) seemed to turn its back on the best feature. We've longed for a deck that would set things right.

Fortunately, the fine folks at the aptly named River's Bend Construction, helped us come up with a design that would work with the challenging terrain behind our house. We wanted the feel of being out over the creek but with a fairly narrow strip of level ground before a steep, rocky slope down to the creek, we thought we might have to settle for a standard rectangular deck. Cantilevering to the rescue. Part thrust stage, part ship's deck, the final product features a rounded deck and low benches to keep the deck from obliterating the view from the house.

That was March. Fast forward to now. We stained the deck. The foliage returned. And it got hot. Damn hot.

Built over the area where the sleeping porch was on the original farmhouse, we are using this deck daily as an additional room--one where we can beat the heat by being out in it. Thanks to the copious quantity of black walnut trees along the creek and a steep ridge to the west, we get a fair amount of shade in the late afternoon. And just sitting still above the creek seems to help us attract whatever miniscule breeze may be wafting about.

We had worried a bit that by creating this new structure, we might lose out on some of our wildlife sightings. But once the hammering stopped, the critters came back. In fact, now that we're able to be out there more, we're seeing all sorts of activity. We're not the only ones seeking relief from the heat. Just this morning, I saw a doe and two spotted fawns splashing around in the creek. On the 4th of July, we saw a young beaver (or possibly a muskrat) swimming around the bend in the creek followed by a half hour of watching Harry, our resident great blue heron, slowly walk his way up the creek. Normally, he's so skittish that if he senses any movement or sound on our part, he takes off (an impressive display of wingspan results but I feel bad for chasing him off). Apparently, we were high up enough that he didn't see us, focused as he was on his spear fishing.

Last month, I saw a duck with 6 ducklings which she loaded up on her back to get through the "rapids" at the bend; a seemingly disoriented bat dive into the water and drown (I fear white nose syndrome has made its way here); and a huge raccoon methodically make its way along the edge of the creek digging every 12-18 inches, presumably looking for turtle eggs.

Best of all, has been the bee tree.

One morning when I was enjoying my coffee on the deck, I noticed a lot of honeybee activity near the little dying hemlock tree (not sure if you can see it in the center of the picture above covered in poison ivy). Since the tree lines up with the bee hive down by the garden, I thought they might just be passing by as part of their flight pattern. But the more I watched, the more I could tell that I was seeing the flight angle and approach of bees taking off and landing in this tree. I hiked down as close as I could get to see if I could see a swarm. Nope, just bees flying in and out of a crevice in the side of the tree. A bee tree!

It's not a very large tree, so I wouldn't have expected a colony to set up shop inside but there it was. A feral group of honeybees making their home right in front of me. Too cool. If the tree were remotely accessible, I would consider trying to capture the colony and convert it into one of my managed hives but it is impossible to reach safely, let alone to do the kind of chainsaw work that would be required to cut out the bees. In keeping with the mellow, contemplative mood that inevitably results from sitting on the deck, I'll just let them be.