|A maple tree in spring bud at the west corner of the holding pen.|
Cowboy V explained he was trying something different this year. Mother cows are vigilant and maybe they would intimidate the coyotes and mountain lions so that the whole herd would be protected. I had only seen a calf on the ranch one other time (When is a Heifer Not a Heifer?). That calf was born here by accident, but it survived and maybe these would too.
|The 2015 herd consisted of cows with calves of all sizes, older barren cows, steers and heifers, but no bulls.|
They were mostly an Angus mix with the cow-calf pairs sticking together in their own clique.
"Hey," I called after it, "didn't your mama warn you about mountain lions? You better get back in that pen with the rest of the herd. Once I saw two mountain lions on the other side of the water tank right over there." The calf ignored me. Would it survive the night?
|Nearly dark, the smallest black calf returns to its mother and the rest of the herd|
on their first night in the holding pen.
|Day 2 - the black mama cow gives me a stare-down when I walk anywhere near her calf.|
|The small black calf wedged between two fences and unable to move. I couldn't tell how long it had been there. The holding pen is in the foreground. the old pigpen is in the background.|
|The new fences on the ranch are wildlife friendly with the bottom wire strand unbarbed which allows the flexible deer to easily get under, but the upper barbed strands keep the cattle in the right pastures and off the road.|
Approaching slowly, I tried to coax the calf in a low calming voice to back up or scramble under the bottom unbarbed strand of the wire fence like I had seen it do so many times before. But pinned against the upper strand barbs, the miserable calf didn't want to move. The old wooden fence had an 18-inch gap under its bottom stringer, but the calf didn't seem to recognize it as an escape route. I reached through my side of the wooden fence for the calf's forehead and shoulders to pull it away from the barbwire and back or down towards the fence gaps. But the mama cow was having none of that. She thrust her head threateningly at me between the barbwire on her side.
What does a biologist do when faced with a cowgirl challenge? I called the Roper on my cell phone. "Don't go in that pen," he warned. "That mama cow will go after you if you get too close to her calf. See if you can cut open the fence from the outside. And call me back."
I rummaged the garage for tools to cut either the wire or wooden fences. By the time I got back, all the cows had joined the worried mama cow at the fence edge and were watching my every move. When I reached over the calf with a fencing tool to cut the barbwire, the black cow lowered her head towards my hands. I was afraid that if I cut the tensioned barbwire, it might pop her in the eyes. And I was afraid she was going to bite me. She looked that mad.
I could cut the redwood stringers, but they were old-time 2 x 4's from back when boards were actually milled two inches thick. It would take me forever to cut the dense heartwood with a handsaw and I wasn't about to run a noisy chainsaw so close to the panicked calf. What would a real cowgirl do? I sat down in the pigpen to think things over.
Looking closer, I realized some of the nails attaching the redwood stringers to the wooden posts were sticking out. I returned to the garage and dragged out the biggest crow bar. In a few seconds, I had one end of the middle redwood stringer leaning on the ground with a big gap that the calf could step over. But the calf kept pushing up against the other side of the fence towards its mom, unfortunately, the barbwire side. Finally, I climbed on top of the wooden fence and shoved the calf with my boots through the new gap. Then I had to open and close two sets of gates and chase the dazed calf into the holding pen without letting the concerned cows stampede out. As soon as the calf was reunited with its mom, she started licking its cuts and the rest of the herd went back to grazing.
|Balancing on the wobbly wooden post, I pushed the calf over the loose stringer while trying to keep my hands and rump away from the agitated cow.|
|Canine tracks near the holding pen - probably coyote.|
Later in the summer, we pull downed the rest of the redwood stringers around the old pigpen with a crew of volunteers. That way, no other animal will get stuck and it is easier for me to control thistles. The old redwood boards are sturdy and 16-feet long, something we don't see anymore so we've saved them for some future project. The volunteers found an artifact while pulling the old fence down - it was a hand-carved bung - a wooden plug that sealed one of the five bathtubs that used to line the pigpen.
I took the photo at the top of this post in a late February rain storm. The brief shower took me by surprise while I was searching a hillside for an old waterhole. When I felt raindrops, I looked up and for a moment as the clouds bent the sunlight, the spring buds of the maple tree were glowing in the holding pen beneath me. If you look closely in the photo, you can see a stringer of the wooden fence is still leaning on the ground where I freed the calf a few weeks earlier.
|A male bluebird on the holding pen fence in the same February rain storm.|
Somewhere in my head is an unspoken name for this corner of the holding pen that includes all these rich experiences. The longer I live at the Dipper Ranch, the more adventures pile up but it's impossible to say Stuck-Calf-Halloween-Coyote-Attack-Rattlers-Living-Under-Plastic-Tarp-Corner-of-the-Holding-Pen. When I'm talking to Cowboy V or the Roper, I just say "over there". Being real cowboys, I can't imagine what long vernacular place names they have rolling around in their heads.
|With so little rain this year, the bluebird and I enjoyed getting wet for once.|