Friday, March 27, 2015

More Rememberings

It has been said that trouble comes in threes.  Last week was no exception.  Just as I had come to grips with an ailing bull and the loss of twin heifer calves, I received notice of an even more devastating loss.  I learned that a friend of almost 70 years, Randy Jean Hays Rader, had passed away on March 12 in San Antonio after her fifth battle with cancer.  Her passing comes all too soon after the loss of another good friend, Bobby Glenn Guest, and other members of our class who have gone on before.  Saying goodbye to each has been hard, and with each passing we lose a little more of ourselves.

Randy and I, along with many other members of the Hamilton High School Class of 1961, spent an idyllic childhood in one of the most nurturing and supportive small towns anywhere.  The motto of Hamilton, Texas, is “What a Hometown Should Be.”  And it was, especially in those days after many of our parents came home from WWII and until we graduated from high school.  

Randy was a gentle, fun-loving person who was a friend to all.  I have many fond memories of good times we shared with our friends and classmates.   They go back to amazing birthday parties her mother arranged, “sock hops” at one or another of our homes, pep rallies and bridge dances.  (And if you don’t know what those are, you missed out on a truly great part of growing up!)

Our antics included a secret club in junior high school (No Boys Allowed!) that met upstairs in an unused room over Jordan Pharmacy.  In seventh or eighth grade, Randy and I even conspired to trade boy friends (without their ever knowing it!).  Later, in our high school years we also sneaked out of many a slumber party to paint “Seniors ’61” alongside similar messages from classes preceding ours.  We played basketball and tennis, belonged to the pep squad, and cheered on the Bulldogs whenever and wherever they played. 

It was a magical time in all our lives, and the magic didn’t end there.  Members of our class as well as our smaller group of girlfriends have kept in touch over the years and have gotten together from time to time.  Here are a couple of photos of Randy from a get-together several years ago.

I will continue to keep in touch with this amazing group of friends.  We will gather to remember old times and to stay current on what has happened since, but Randy will be sorely missed when we do.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Downs and Ups

The second half of our week at the farm had some rough spots, and that's an understatement.  I mentioned that we had to send our bull to the vet; well, it wasn’t quite that easy.  We first noticed him favoring his right front foot on Friday, March 13, shortly after we arrived.  By Sunday, he was having trouble walking without stumbling and we decided to put him in the squeeze chute to have a look at his foot.  

Please understand that Spearhead Ribeye Dude X9 is what they call a “big ol’ boy.”  Here is a picture taken of him, Red Cow and her sisters a couple of years ago.  

He probably weighed close to 1500 pounds then, and he has only gotten bigger.  By now, he is 1800-2000 pounds of (thank goodness) sweet, gentle Hereford bull.  He seemed, however, a little dubious when we asked him to walk into the squeeze chute. 

He has been there before, though, so he is pretty laid back about it.  Usually he just walks through and we squirt some fly prevention on his back and he’s back in the pasture.  This time, though, John and I had other plans.  We decided to fasten the head gate to hold him, then try to lift his foot to see what might be bothering him.  We hoped he just had mud and rocks packed in his hoof from all the wet weather.

Our plan worked just fine…up to a point.  I asked Colt to drive Dude up to the working pens, and he did a masterful job.  Since Dude was limping badly, Colt walked ever so slowly behind him until we reached the pen.  Dude then went calmly into the pens, and in a short time we had him walking into the squeeze chute.  As he reached the head gate, John pulled the lever and the gate closed on his massive neck.  Well, it almost closed.  His neck was so thick that the head gate wouldn’t latch, so John had no choice but to let him walk out the other end.  

We then had to call someone to come with a trailer and take him into town to the vet, where three days later he had been diagnosed and treated for “foot rot,” a condition that can be caused by standing and walking in mud for an extended period of time.  He is now back at the farm, and we hope he’ll move around enough to keep his hooves clear of mud.  

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of our cow troubles.  Red Cow (aka B6), shown above with Dude and her sisters, was due to calve.  We had been watching her closely.  On Tuesday afternoon, she appeared to be in the early stages of labor, but in no distress so we were not concerned.  She had calved the previous two years with no difficulty, and we assumed she would likely deliver her calf that night or the following morning.  When we went to check on her on Wednesday morning, and were heartbroken to find that she had delivered twin heifer calves not long before, but that neither of them had survived.  

Since the birth of twins in cattle is fairly rare (about 1/2 of 1% in beef cattle), and since none of our cows had ever had twins, we had not considered that possibility.  However, the birth of twins is more likely to cause problems than birth of a single calf.  In most instances where there is dystocia (difficulty in calving) and twins are involved, it occurs because the body of one calf prevents the other from entering the birth canal.  Since our two calves were small, we assume that is what caused the problem.  I’m not sure we could have made a difference if we had been present for the birth, but at least we could have called the vet if we had suspected a problem.  There is a possibility that quick action could have saved them.

We consider ourselves fortunate that the cow appears to have come through the ordeal without harm.  However, it will be a long time before I forget the sight of that mother cow licking the still bodies of her babies and calling to them to get up and nurse.  We expect three more calves this year, and will do our best to be present for those births and hopefully avoid other complications.

On a more positive note, we did receive two inches of much-needed rain during the time we were at the farm, and had a great visit with Brian, Debi, Myles and Granddog Louie.  Myles, Debi and I looked on while John and Brian made some adjustments on the skid steer.  (That's Louie peeping in from the lower right corner of the photo.)

Brian took to that piece of equipment like a duck to water, and put in some 6 hours cutting cedar on top of the mountain, where we hope to create space for more grass and a habitat for the endangered black-capped vireo.

Known to his students at Paragon Prep as “Mr. Wann,” Brian will have another career waiting if he ever decides to give up teaching!  

Back in Austin, we were glad to have warm weather and sunshine to welcome us.  The live oak trees have begun to shed their leaves, though, and the yard, pool and patio were covered.  We'll pay close attention for the next several weeks, and hope to keep the falling leaves and the oak blooms that follow them from overwhelming the place.

When we added the outdoor kitchen to the east side of the patio last year, we had to move the screech owl house because it was too close to the chimney.  We were concerned that the eastern screech owls, Owlivia and Owliver, her mate, might not return to the relocated nest.  They have raised their family there for the last several years, and we were anxious to see them come back.  We were rewarded yesterday evening when Owlivia appeared at the door of the owl house and was apparently unconcerned that her home now sits in a different tree.

Owliver called to her from a nearby tree to invite her to go hunting, so all appears well with our feathered friends.

Notable Events

At the farm, signs of the coming spring are everywhere.  The plum trees are blooming, the post oaks and cedar elms are budding, and the little rosettes of young bluebonnets are popping up in the pastures.  

Birds, including these eastern bluebirds, are choosing nest sites.

Last week’s first notable event came on Saturday…and we didn’t even know it was about to happen.  At 9:26 Saturday morning (thank goodness we had the TV on) we joined the world in celebrating the first Pi Day in over a century.  At precisely that minute, the date and time matched the first 8 numbers of Pi, 3.1415926!  It will be a hundred years before the next one, so we’re glad we were on hand for this one.

The next notable event came Sunday, March 15, 2015.  At approximately 7:30 in the evening, John and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary.  Hopeless romantics that we are, we spent the day doing things we love on the farm…like sending the bull to the vet for treatment of a sore foot, cutting cedar with the skid steer (John) 

and working in the yard (me).  There was also time for a great walk through the pasture with the dogs, visiting with my brother and his wife who were also cutting cedar.  (We spend a lot time doing that!) 

We also watched flocks of sandhill cranes as they worked their way north.  

Of course, the dogs had a great time, as always.  It was even more special since their cousins, Molly and Clover, were there to add energy to the mix.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Special Treats

Last week we had a special treat.  Our friend Eugenia was in town for a few days and stayed with us.  It was a short visit, but enjoyable, including this walk down muddy Turkey Creek Nature Trail with the dogs.

This week is the beginning of Spring Break for students in Austin, as well as the start of the music portion of the several-week-long legendary Austin event known as SXSW, or South by Southwest.  The town is bursting at the seams with kids out of school and music celebrities and enthusiasts of all ages and genres.  Freeways are bumper-to-bumper and restaurants are packed.  It’s the one week every year that Austinites either can’t wait for, or can’t wait to be over.

We fall into the latter category.  It’s not that we don’t like music.  However, with John’s hearing problems, live music venues, especially loud ones, aren’t the most enjoyable for him.  And then, there is the traffic!  So, we usually head for the farm as we did on Friday.  

On the way, we experienced a special treat of a different kind.  We sighted this unusual turkey vulture a few miles north of Lampasas.  It had the characteristic red head, but instead of dull black feathers, this one was black and white.  I don’t know how common it is for “buzzards” to be anything but black, but this is the first one I have ever seen.  Even at a considerable distance its coloration was striking.

In doing research, I discovered that this vulture is leucitic.  Leucism is “a condition in which there is a partial loss of pigmentation in an animal, resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes.”  Leucism is a genetic anomaly caused by a recessive gene.  Supposedly, the more animals in a population, the more likely that an individual will carry this recessive trait.  Turkey vultures are abundant, at least in this part of the country, so there is a greater likelihood that this condition will occur.  I’m glad we were there to see this one, and that we had a camera!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sheep Herding 101

The rest of February flew by.  Except for a few days, most of it seemed colder and wetter than usual.  Last weekend was no exception.  On February 28-March 1, I had entered Rue in an AKC herding competition at Destiny Farm, a great facility a few miles outside Bertram, TX.  At first the weather-guessers gave us some hope, but as the trial drew nearer it was clear that the weather wouldn’t be…clear that is.  

We practiced with sheep on Thursday, set up for the trial on Friday, then competed on Saturday and Sunday.  The weather was miserable.  On Saturday morning, the pavement retained just enough heat to offset the freezing drizzle that was falling, coating the roadside grasses in sheaths of ice.  But the gravel parking lot at the trial site was another matter.  It was covered with a slippery glaze that had all of us using our herding sticks for support as we piled out of our cars and made for the barn.  Luckily Sheryl and Tom had a big fire going in the wood-burning stove, so we pulled up our chairs, grabbed a cup or coffee or cocoa and waited for the ice to melt.

You will notice there are no pictures of excited dogs herding ducks or sheep.  That’s because I didn’t want to take a camera out into the mizzle (combination of mist and drizzle) to photograph anything!  Gray skies, dead grass, soggy sheep and mud-encrusted dogs…not very photogenic! There will be other herding trials and opportunities to record the ever-unfolding drama of dogs and their handlers working stock, hopefully on green grass under blue skies.  

But this weekend the sheep were grumpy and even the ducks wanted to be inside.  The stock-setters’ feet, hands and ears were frozen, and the dog handlers had so much mud on their boots that they looked like they were wearing clown feet.  In fact, we humans were so bundled up that you could hardly recognize your best friend....Only eyes were visible.  

But the dogs were having a wonderful time!  They were focused on their jobs, tongues lolling and bright eyes snapping as they did what for generations they have been bred to do.  And so were we!  Being with friends, doing what we love, and giving and receiving support from our peers and a very helpful judge, was intoxicating.  We, too, had a great time.  

Rue and I competed in the entry-level events…Started A Sheep and Started B Sheep.  From last year’s AKC trial, she had two “legs,” that is, two qualifying runs in Started A.  This weekend, she had four qualifying runs, achieving her Started A title and getting two legs toward her Started B title.  We have a long way to go before we get to the advanced classes, but we’ll be working on that.

Colt had fun, too.  He is retired, and no longer competes, but he can help with the trial.  His job was to "exhaust" sheep that had just been worked and put them back in their pens.  He then helped to move new sets of sheep into the arena for the dogs that were preparing to work.  By the end of each day, he was covered in mud and happy he had gotten to participate.

When we got home, Rue was patient enough to pose with her ribbons.

She was much more impressed with her toys, however.  (Dogs get not only a ribbon, but also a toy when they have a qualifying run!)  She shared her toys with Kota and Colt, with predictable results.  

After enthusiastically unstuffing a toy (with a lot of help from Kota), she relaxed and drifted off into sheep dreams.  The perfect end to a perfect day!