No More Totalitarian Cowboy

OK, I admit. This is really about our destruction of Iraq.. Well, you can think what you will. Most things are like the old Ad-Lib books we played with if it rained on vacation.
You can fill in the blanks any way you like and the result is the same. It is wrong to intrude on someone else’s space. It creates unpleasantness and waste. We can all find some instance of this in our own lives. Some time we would like to do over. Time doesn’t work that way so we act like Cubs fans and try to do better necks (sic) time.

No More Totalitarian Cowboy

We started in the cattle business with six bred heifers. I can’t remember who was a guiding force at the time; probably vets and neighbors who did things as a matter of tradition. We ear tagged and vaccinated newborn calves because… well, I don’t know. We all need a little excitement in our lives and here was a handy way to get that.

I talk a lot about unintended consequences and intervention in this column. This time it has to do with cattle, but there are lessons in every business that we all can use.

In our first year of calving we found a new calf and went to tag and vaccinate it. Karl was a little kid and always willing to help. He grabbed its tail, the calf bawled and when I bent down to get the tagger, I found myself flying through the air. I landed in the drainage ditch about twenty feet away. I wasn’t concerned about the cracked ribs but my knee was telling me my volleyball career was over. We sold the cow.

Once we had a regular herd of cows we calved in cold weather before fieldwork to avoid the bottleneck of tending cows and planting at the same time. Things changed a whole lot when we switched from late winter/early spring calving to calving on green grass. Frozen ears and tails, scours, and time spent bedding have a way of sending a message.

We haven’t been totally devoid of problems but calving in sync with nature is like an early retirement while still reaping the rewards of the work. So much time is saved by the more suitable environment that the conflict with fieldwork is hardly a factor. And it is more humane to dump a calf on lush green grass than mud and snow. Calving in what’s called a dry lot is seldom dry.

Once we eliminated the problems caused by calving in cold wet weather the next problem is catching a calf that can run almost as soon as it hits the ground. Don’t intervene. Problem solved.

Last year we sold half our cows because of my knee and my back and the prospect of wrestling all those calves. This year I tagged and vaccinated the first ten calves and then I came to my senses. I go to the pasture to look for problems instead of to cause them. After reading a Kit Pharo newsletter I discovered what I had been thinking all along.

Cows take care of calves if allowed to do so. If we sell a cow that has the instinct to take care of its calf, we are culling one of our best employees.

Sometimes when I tagged a calf, it got up and ran away. Then the early bonding process was disrupted. This spring I couldn’t find a calf I had tagged as #72. I found it dead later on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence. I can’t help but think #72 would still be with her mom if I had left them alone.

I asked Kit about the effect of not vaccinating newborns. He said vets are trained to suggest it. I pondered the good health of the baby calves who missed a vaccination over the years. The funding for the universities that train vets comes from drug companies. Vaccinated cows that are exposed to pink-eye and other bugs in a natural time-frame pass that immunity on to the calves. Cows that calve before flies are present haven’t had time to develop that ability.

Now I’m a spectator. I record a cow’s number if she has a new calf and then leave her alone. This is a way to see if anyone needs help. And it makes the animals tame as they get used to me being there and not harassing them.

If you are like me, the main problem in your life is finding time to accomplish your dreams. I can’t claim to be caught up on that, but the garden sure looks nice and the band concerts have been a pleasure. Those are two things that might have been ignored if I was tagging calves or in the hospital.

Look at our experiences calving and relate them to politics, economics and our personal lives. Intervention needs to be very carefully considered or we suffer the unintended consequences.

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