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.
After about a dozen years of breeding our heifers to Wagyu bulls for Snake River Farms, we have noticed a distinct difference in their behavior as compared to our English calves, predominantly Angus with some Hereford heterosis. The Wagyu cross is more active. They find their legs earlier, within a week or less running and playing together, and within two weeks or so, chasing one another in gangs.
Essentially in our front yard, we have the luxury of watching them in the pasture racing ahead of their mothers in the morning to the water trough, and then in bunches, circling at full speed as their mothers drink—and again in the evenings before their mothers move up the hill to graze. Never the same antics twice, it’s good entertainment with coffee or a cocktail.
With a smaller calf, we opted for the Wagyu bulls so that we could breed our yearling heifers on time. Holding our replacement heifers until they were two before we bred them was almost impossible—always an English bull around looking for more work at a time that their larger calves, if they could have them, would come at the wrong time of year for our country—those heifers out-of-sync with our breeding program.
The Wagyu X calves also seem more secure in bunches, forming large nurseries while their mothers are away. After 2 weeks of bonding in a canyon away from the main bunch, the mother of the twins brought them in on Monday, a feed day, pictured in Friday’s post with 22 other calves using alfalfa for soft bedding until the cows returned to clean-up all the hay.
Another trait that makes it difficult at times to pair a calf with its mother is that the Wagyu X calves are persistent when it comes to stealing milk. Sometimes they wait until a heifer is nursing its own calf, then sneak in, often from behind, to help out. Other times they will badger a heifer until she finally gives up. This usually takes place when the calves get older with bigger appetites.
Even so, maturing from heifers to cows, we are continually amazed and proud of the maternal instincts we see in our first-calf heifers—making our job so much easier.
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.
She was not thrilled to have twin Angus calves, but we’ve been watching 3024 since they were born ten days ago, having gone so far as to make arrangements for bottle feeding one of them if necessary. As it turns out, the calf on the left was the one roused by two coyotes in our post of September 17th, when hours old and left in the middle of the pasture. It’s not unusual for a cow with twins to abandon the weakest, but now this cow seems to have acquiesced to her plight, both calves healthy and much stronger than they were. Whether she is keeping better track of them both, or the weaker calf is keeping better track of her is another question. She has plenty of milk and if she can raise them both, she’ll do a better job than we can do.
Thin grass fades
like awakening from a dream
to truckloads of hay
like any other day
of no rain—like nothing
I have ever seen.
819 & twins
We realize the practical importance of documenting our drought, its impact on the ranch and cattle, on us. Even in dry times, our life is rich with details, most all symbolically tied to moments of truth, some of which last for a long time.
Denial can be a dangerous thing with so many lives at stake, so many cattle waiting for rain. But now I doubt a rain could help the south and west slopes of brown native clay.
As we branded the calves this winter, we culled the cows for those that had turned old and thin since we culled them last summer, most without calves, bringing them off the mountain to allow more feed for the remainder that is holding better in our granite upper-country. By the end of branding field-by-field, we had collected a truckload where we fed them hay on the irrigated pasture of only dormant summer grasses.
Clarence and Robbin trailed behind the bunch slowly following the Kubota with its single bale of hay, each cow eagerly filing past me as we got closer to the feed grounds and corrals as I assessed them, judging fullness and fitness—how they’d look in the auction ring. Moving closer, they began to buck, kick and run with excitement, with just the thought of hay.
In the corral, Robbin assured me that she didn’t see anyone she was sorry to see go. We brought the cameras that we forgot about while crowding the cows up the foreign loading chute, reserved primarily for our annual crop of calves. Now old replacement heifers, they’d never seen a truck. “You can tell,” said Van Beek, the driver, after the first two drafts, “they are ranch raised.”
“I’ll take a rain or a calf anytime,” a saying I heard from Amy Hale Auker that I find especially applicable this year, one she heard from an old Texas cowman. And we’ll damn sure take twins as long as the cow can raise them.
While feeding yesterday, we found another set of twins, about a week old, on Top in the Greasy watershed. Looking much the same as 819’s pair HERE and HERE, it appears that 605 will raise them both. A little green showing at 2,400′.
The twins, now over a week old, are doing well as it appears that “819” will raise them both. Currently relegated to babysitting duties (outside the frame) while the other mothers are eating hay, she’s doing quite well keeping track of her own two calves.
I am reminded of my poem “IO” published in Poems from Dry Creek reprinted below:
On the horns of an infant moon,
the creek shrinks and pools
between sycamores and live oaks
as babies come to first-time mothers
bringing the bear tracks downcanyon
on the scent of spent placentas.
Black progeny of the river nymph –
white heifer driven madly by Hera’s
gadfly Oestrus to cross continents
and populate Asia – find maternity
perplexing at first. Yet, lick and nuzzle
the stumbling wet struggle to stand,
suckle and rest that enflames instinct
in all flesh. Worthy timeless worship,
no better mother ever than a cow.