Three days ago, this second-calf heifer (9061) was fighting two coyotes off her newborn Wagyu X twins. I got a call from a neighbor who saw the action from the road, but I was 15 minutes away checking our first-calf heifers. I called Robbin who was getting ready to leave for a dentist appointment. She jumped into the Kubota and sent them packing.
Usually twin calves for a young cow is a curse, wherein most cases she abandons the weaker one. If she tries to raise them both, it typically taxes her so much that her poor shape keeps her from cycling to breed back. By themselves near the house this morning, I took out some alfalfa while the rest of the cows were still on the hill. Here the calves are playing while she has an early breakfast in our fourteenth straight day of smoke from the KNP Complex fire in Sequoia National Park and Forest.
Trying to keep track of the twin calves since my “Good News” post took a little extra time and effort because their mother didn’t come into hay with all the rest of the first-calf heifers. Several times I glassed the area where I found them on the 9th, but with little luck. On Monday the 12that the place where they were born, I found her with two other heifers with newborn calves. I spent some time with them while searching the down oak limbs for the missing twin only to report to Robbin and the crew that she’d probably lost one of the calves.
Two days later at my desk in the middle of the afternoon, I caught some movement on the hillside outside my window and went to the door to see a coyote chased by Buster, our German Shepherd/Great Pyrenees drop-off, disappear over the rise. After a couple of minutes of prolonged barking, I was worried for the dog and reached for my rifle by the door as three coyotes came running down the fence at me. So fat and big, I thought they were mottled wild pigs at first, then entertained a fleeting notion that they might be wolves, running by me so close I couldn’t find them in my scope before disappearing.
But the old, old Border Collie Jack and Boo, a Blue Healer drop-off, had headed them off and brought two back. In retrospect, the twenty-plus first-calf heifers may have helped turn them around. Long-haired and well-fed, these were not native coyotes, but refugees from the pines, either the SQF Complex or Creek Fires. They were lost, and more than likely, the cows north of the house had propelled all three in our direction. With no way of knowing, I wanted to blame them for the missing calf.
With cooler temperatures and older calves, the cows are edging higher up the hill for our remaining old feed between our twice-a-week feed days. Yesterday, after Bob and Allie laid some hay down for the first-calf heifers, Robbin and I took the Kubota up the hill to locate the rest of the heifers. As we came back down, we spotted three cows and four calves in an inaccessible spot as they were deciding which way to come off the ridge where I had photographed the twins on the 9th.
We gathered up some flakes of hay and met them at the bottom, two new pairs, the twins and their mother.
Robbin reminds me that my last photo of the decapitated heron was not appropriate in these grizzly times of increasing Covid deaths and chaotic politics. I thought it fit the poem, but…
Four days ago, I came upon two heifers that had just calved in a canyon well-apart from the bunch, one heifer with twins and a big coyote lurking within 50 feet, watching the process. Any cow with new twins is especially vulnerable, ultimately unable to protect them both. Fortunately, she had the other heifer nearby. I scattered a little hay. Robbin and I checked on them that evening and all was well.
More often than not, a cow will abandon the weaker calf to take care of the other. I returned first thing Tuesday morning to see two cows and two calves from a distance, but as I approached them, I saw that the heifer with twins was gone, replaced by another heifer with an older calf for protection, I assume. I scattered more hay and checked all around to find no other cattle.
Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning I checked all the first-calf heifers in the bunch, but the cow with twins was not among them. We fed on Thursday, and still the heifer with twins was missing. I assumed she left the area with her two Wagyu X calves, less than a day old, during the night, because of the coyote.
This morning I went looking and finally found her and both calves secreted in the rocks on a steep slope, fine and healthy. It occurs to me that she also needed time to bond with the twins that might have been lost and confused in the nursery of over 20 calves, had she returned to the security of the other mothers. After fifty years living with cows, I continue to be amazed and admire the intelligence of cattle, especially cows.
On my way to town afterwards, I heard Elizabeth Cook on Sirius suggest that we look away from the news and focus locally instead. How right she is! We’ll see how long it takes the heifer with twins to come off the hill, hopefully with both.
When I arrived yesterday to change my irrigation water, a coyote was nonchalantly studying these cows and calves from just outside the fence. The cow beneath the Valley Oak was lying close to her calf, hours old. The cows, of course, knew he was there well before I did. Taking an indirect approach, coyotes will gradually work their way among the cattle acting preoccupied and harmless until they become familiar to a bunch, all the while looking for any weakness among the calves—hence the Trickster moniker.
We have completed our first month of calving and pleased with 50% of our calves on the ground, a bright spot in the middle of this drought, though our total cow numbers have been reduced by half these past four years. This is the third calf for this particular bunch of cows bred by Vintage Angus bulls.
As the light turns softer and shadows longer, early mornings can be rewarding with lots of wildlife this time of year, especially where there is water. About twenty Canadian Geese are stripping the ripe seed of the water grass elsewhere in the pasture and our little bunch of wild turkeys, that are becoming used to me and the Kubota, are rummaging for bugs where I’ve completed my irrigation.
The coyotes got off with another Wagyu tail in the pasture around the house. 1006’s calf was born and lost his tail while we were in Tahoe. 1240’s calf is healing. I’ll have my eyes peeled this morning.