So first, a little bit about my “knowledge” of farming. I lived in town until I was 8 years old then we moved out to a nice 10 acre acreage. My mom’s side of the family were cattle farmers, Grandpa raised hereford cattle and did everything with horses, so of course mom had us riding from the time we were very young and horses were one of the first animals we had on the acreage. We also had a flock of chickens and some pygmy and fainting goats. My brother and I had pet dwarf bunnies that we loved and cared for and we even made a little of our own money selling the babies to a local pet store.
We never did have cattle of our own, as there was not enough room with the horses and other animals, but we would always go to our grandparents farm to help them out with theirs, whether it be moving them home from the pasture, “up north” in the fall to winter at the farm or weaning and branding calves. Some of my fondest memories from when I was young, are of checking cows with my grandfather and little brother. We would drive through the pasture eating peppermints that he kept in the door of his old ’86 GMC diesel truck checking on everyone to make sure they were all doing ok and if we were lucky we would even get to see and feed peanut butter to the squirrel that lived in the grain feed shed, that I’m sure grandpa wanted to get rid of but didn’t for our sake.
Grandpa would also let us help milk the cow and when we were done he would let us try and ride the calf from the box stall to its mother so it could eat. Most of the time, I would only make it a few feet and then fall off into the straw. It was a lot of fun, but is probably the reason why I never pursued a career as a bull rider. I was quite young so the castrating and branding was done by the grown ups, mainly my uncle Harvey. He would let us kids wrestle and hold down some of the smaller calves to be branded though, so we thought we were pretty tough little cowboys and loved being able to help out. We never were around for the calving though, so its something that is all new to me.
When Cassandra, Wyatt and I moved to our acreage, one of the cows from the group of three that we first bought was bred. She was bred by mistake and we were told she would calve in November. The house and yard at our old acreage were very beautiful and up kept but the farmyard was another story. The barn roof was rotten and poorly patched with pieces of tin and the corrals were all wood; rotting and falling apart. This made it extremely hard to keep the cattle where you wanted them to stay. We borrowed a few cattle panels from a neighbor and were able to fashion a pen out in front of the barn. We kept watch over the cow as she got close to calving and I would call my mom daily with updated reports of how she looked and how she was behaving.
Finally it happened; she gave birth to a little baby bull calf! Thankfully, the calf was born without any troubles or need for assistance, but of course it was early in the morning and really cold – typical November weather in Alberta. I called mom and woke her up, “ok now what do i do? got a baby and he’s wet and cold”. She told me to get him into the barn and get him dried off, so I ran to the house and woke up Cassandra. “We need towels and a blow drier” I said. This was not the only time I woke her up needing help with an animal, but that is a story for another time. I ran back down to the barn and did my best at getting the little guy dry and warm. Despite my efforts he ended up freezing the tips of his ears and tail, but he lived and was healthy so I’ll count it as a win.
The following year we took that same cow and one of the others from the group of three to be bred. The third one was very squirrely and turned out to not be a cow that would produce offspring worthy of building a quality herd so we made the decision to cull her. It was a tough choice, one that a homesteader has to make often, but she went in the freezer and fed our family for a year.
We also purchased a bred lowline cow and another lowline heifer that year so we were keeping our fingers crossed for three healthy babies. Sadly the first cow didn’t give us a another calf that year. We are not sure if she slipped and fell and lost the baby or if she just never got bred. However, in April the second cow did. Again, as time got nearer we watched and waited. I knew she was getting close from the way she was acting and looking so I was checking on her every hour or so. I looked out the window with my binoculars and thought it looked like she was licking something on the ground so I ran down to see what was going on. Unfortunately, I was too late, the baby bull calf was dead. We are not sure if he was still born or if the bag was over his head and he died from suffocation, but it was very upsetting either way.
The lowline cow was due to calve in April as well, so this time I was determined to have a healthy calf. Thankfully, as she was getting close, I was on my days off, the same as with the other cow. I watched her from the house checking her with my binoculars, this time about every 5 minutes and once I saw that baby slide out I bolted down to the barn yard to make sure everything was ok. I breathed a sigh of relief as I got to them and saw that both mama and baby were alright. I watched as the little heifer calf stood up on her tiny shaking legs and tried to take her first steps. She stumbled and fell underneath of the fence and was stuck on the opposite side from her mom. I picked her up, put her on her feet on the right side of the fence and helped her find her mom so she could start eating. Wyatt named her Bianca, from the movie the rescuers and she will be 1 year old next month.
As I said earlier the fences at the old place were terrible so trying to keep a coming of age yak bull separate from cows and heifers in heat was like trying to, well, keep a coming of age yak bull from cows and heifers in heat. He bred our yak heifer, three of our cows and our lowline heifer.
We sold our acreage that summer, so we had to move the cows and yaks to small pasture of Cassandra’s dad’s because we had no fencing or anything at our new place (it was just an empty field). The first cow gave birth to our first 1/2 yak 1/2 cow (dzo) heifer calf that August in that pasture. We got 20 acres of our own fenced off, purchased some cattle panels and some larger free standing panels to build corrals with. We also bought two cattle shelters that we turned into each other, bolted together and made a barn out of so, when the second cow looked like she was getting close I was able to move her into a barn with a solid leak free roof! I filled it full of straw, as it was a couple of months ago, in January. Thankfully without any issues she gave us our second cross calf, a baby bull this time. Despite being January, he stayed warm in the straw filled barn and his ears and tail are just fine.
We didn’t think that our yak heifer was close to calving because from what we understood yaks would only go into heat once a year and calve in the spring. We were wrong and she had and lost the baby bull calf in January as well. It broke our hearts as we have been waiting for three years, since we got the yaks as babies, for our own first full yak calf. We know now that in different countries at different elevations and with access to a constant supply of healthy feed and fresh water, yaks will go into heat a few times a year.
Now, as I sit here writing this, I am waiting for the lowline cow to have her yak cross baby. She started having clear mucus coming out of her a couple weeks ago, so I moved her into the brand new steel, yak proof, cow keeping in, pen behind the barn so I could keep a closer eye on her as she gets closer to calving. Of course the weather had been super nice with temperatures above 0 but this week it decided to snow and get windy and cold. It’s -15*C but with the almost 70 km/hr wind, it feels closer to -30. Her bag is full and tight and her back end is loose and sunk in so I’d better go back out and check on her.
Check back soon to see how things go and wish us luck!
PS. Now with my new super duper awesome corrals and fencing we will be planning to calve in the spring next year and from now on when the weather is warmer and more predictable.
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.