The Cowboy Way continued . . . or Why I No Longer Raise Beef

Dogs don’t generalize which is why it is necessary to train in a myriad of places if one expects the dog to be reliable in a new environment. I don’t know why I didn’t consider that with the calves, but I didn’t. Being led around the pen with a halter and rope was vastly different from being willing to be led out of that pen and through the trees to the pasture. We finally had to tie one calf to a tree and the two of us finally managed to get the first calf to pasture and went back for the second. A task I anticipated taking less than ten minutes took closer to an hour and in the ensuing commotion I totally forgot about vaccinating the calves.

So the next day back to the pasture with the halters I went, this time carrying syringes with the vaccines I needed to give. It goes without saying that these needed to be given sub-q instead of IM so rather than being able to simply jab the calves with the needle, I had to hold the calves with one hand and then administer a sub-q injection, through very thick skin with a very small needle, one handed. I’ve given a lot of shots but never under those circumstances and with luck will never need to do so again. Thankfully no one was around to see it as it wasn’t pretty. (I was thinking fondly of those huge spurs more than once.) I did finally get the job done and without damage to myself or the calves. Chalk one up for fools doing stunts, without being maimed or killed, that anyone with sense would know better than to attempt.

The Cowboy Way

I had heard that coyotes generally steered clear of bigger animals such as cows, and since I had several people interested in buying grass fed beef, I thought that a couple of beef steers in the pasture might provide some protection for my goats. I therefore made arrangements with a local rancher to purchase a couple of beef calves after they were weaned. In August of 2008 I received a call asking if I would be willing to take a heifer calf and a steer calf as the two were bonded to each other. Not knowing any better, I didn’t see any reason why it would matter and we arranged to have the two calves delivered. I planned on putting the calves in the pen I had built to work goats for a couple of weeks before moving them out to pasture so bought a water trough that I could easily move to the pasture and set up the calves’ temporary home. The day arrived and a stock trailer pulled into my drive. The cowboy got out of the truck, spurs jangling, and asked where I wanted the calves off-loaded. I showed him where I planned to put the calves and he looked at me incredulously – there was no way to drive the truck and stock trailer to the working pen. I suggested leading the calves the 50 or so feet from the driveway. He laughed – these were range calves and half wild. But he had been told to deliver calves and deliver them he would. With me handling the gate to the trailer, he climbed in with a rope and lassoed a calf. The calf bolted for the gate and I slammed it shut as soon as the calf and cowboy cleared it, looking around to see the calf in the air and the cowboy, with his spurs dug into the ground being towed behind. I had thought him pretentious when I first saw the spurs, but now I could see the benefit of those huge spurs. Without the spurs holding him upright he would have had been eating dirt. By the time he had moved both calves to the pen I’m sure he was muttering unflattering comments about the idiot (me) who had bought the calves.

Having seen the calves in action I knew there was no way I’d be able to get them out to pasture unless they were broke to a halter and lead so I duly bought a couple of rope halters and set to work. The first step was just getting the calves used to me being within twenty feet of them without them running. Initially when I would provide hay and a little calf feed I would move off and stand quietly until the calves would approach the feed and eat. At first, any movement would send the calves running to the other side of the working pen but eventually the calves would continue to eat while keeping a wary eye on me. Slowly I was able to progress to being able to touch the calves and then the big day came when I put a halter on one for the first time. After a few days of being able to move the calves by holding some feed in front of them I figured we were ready to move out to the pasture. In preparation for the move I had picked up the vaccinations I needed from the local veterinarian so I could vaccinate them before they went on pasture. The teenage son of a friend came over to help. I figured if I led one calf and he led the other, we should be able to get the calves moved fairly easily. When I’m wrong, I am really, really wrong!

To be continued . . .

Eating dinner or being dinner?

When I moved to Quibeyn Farm the view entering the property was beautiful and green (yes, Virginia, there is green in the desert.) Unfortunately, most of the verdant green at the east end of the property was tamarisk, a/k/a salt cedar, and weeds. While Tamarisk is not the complete villain that many believe, it is an invasive species not native to New Mexico and like many unwanted visitors, very difficult to push out once in the door.

DSC00145I had several reasons for purchasing goats rather than sheep my first Spring.  One of the purposes in buying goats was that I knew they would be more efficient in controlling the weeds and underbrush and I knew that they would eat salt cedar.  I also hoped that with horns, the goats would be better able to protect themselves from predators.

So in May 2008 I made arrangements to purchase eight older nannies of various dairy goat breeds and four of their kids from that spring which were boer crosses. The kids would be wethered (castrated) prior to delivery and so I went home to erect a pen to contain the goats when they weren’t out browsing.

It would be a couple of more months before I had sufficient pasture fenced to contain the goats unsupervised so when the goats were delivered, Tuck and I spent a couple of hours in the morning and again in the evening outside supervising the goats when they were out of the pen. Tuck, a young English Shepherd, had never worked stock other than chickens before, and these were tough goats not inclined to pay much attention to a dog that didn’t have cajones.

Tuck - goats

Luckily Tuck has cajones and he grew up fast learning how to control those goats.

Unfortunately, I discovered that horned goats are not less susceptible to predators; I lost almost half the goats that summer to coyotes and mountain lions. Horned goats are also more likely to get tangled in fences (the grass is always greener on the other side syndrome) and I lost a couple more goats when I didn’t find them soon enough to disentangle them and they broke their necks in fences.CIMG1055

Lesson Three: Even goats that will challenge a dog are still no match for serious predators

Missing

DSC00175Friends trailered my horse to my farm in December. Since I wasn’t sure where I wanted a corral, I decided to put up an electric fence for the horse in the short-term. I set it up close to a water hydrant and within sight of the house. (I had intended to convert the barn into a training building and wanted to keep dogs showing up for classes away from the livestock.)

Soon after the horse arrived we had a storm and unbeknownst to me the electric fence shorted out. The next morning I went out to feed and the horse was gone. Okay, not panicking. The property was fenced so the horse was probably just exploring the property. Or not. As it turned out, in one corner along the easement, where the gate is for my neighbors to access the easement, the fence had been cut. On 18 acres of property, the horse found the one section of fence that was down and made her escape.

All the important phone numbers are never in the phone book. I woke up the people I had bought my property from to get phone numbers for my neighbors.  Several phone calls and introductions later, a neighbor half a mile away provided the number for the livestock inspector. After walking the road looking for a horse, hoof prints, or anything else that might lead me to the horse, I went home to wait, and wait, and wait some more.

A week or so after Empress went walk-about, one of my neighbors called. He had been talking with someone who happened to mention a stray horse had shown up on her property. He passed along her number and with fingers crossed I called it. I walked down the road with halter in hand a short while later to bring Empress home.

Empress resided in the exercise area for the kennel until I had a pipe corral put up shortly thereafter.

Lesson Two: check fence lines frequently

In the Beginning . . .

I moved onto the farm November 1, 2007. While I had a vision of where I wanted to be, I also knew that I would have to take small steps to reach those goals. At that time I had been self employed for several years, giving me the option of freeing up time to work on the farm but that came at the cost of not having the money to fund projects. As with all things, each small step has been a juggling act.

My horse wouldn’t be transported for another month so building a corral wasn’t a priority. I was anxious to embark with farm life though so I decided, since the property already had a beautiful chicken coop, I would start with raising chicks.

DSC00158

I knew nothing about mail order hatcheries back then, so I ordered chicks through the local feed store. I had really wanted a heritage breed but the feed store didn’t order through a hatchery that had any breeds other than commercial White Leghorns available in November. So I placed an order for the minimum number of chicks (25) and waited for the call from the feed store telling me the chicks were in. Tiny little yellow balls of fluff soon arrived and I made the drive into town to bring home the new additions. Due to the cold weather (those living in other climes may laugh, but here in central NM temps below freezing at night and 30-40 degrees during the day are considered cold) I decided to raise the chicks in the bathroom instead of the brooder in the chicken coop. The master bathroom was large enough for a giant wire dog crate and small enough to keep at the requisite 90 + degrees using a space heater.

The first week went well. Despite the dire warnings I had received about chicks drowning in their waterer or getting overly chilled and dying, all my chicks thrived. The bathroom resembled a sauna but watching the young chicks more than compensated for that inconvenience. Since keeping the chicks fed, watered and clean was difficult with the dog crate on the floor, I had a “brooder” built that was high enough for me to comfortably care for the chicks. The top opened up and had a hole where a heat lamp could be suspended in the brooder, while a tray in the bottom allowed for easy cleaning.

This design just showed how little I knew about chickens. After setting it up and installing the chicks in their new home, it seemed like a great solution to the difficulties of using a dog crate on the floor. However, the first time I raised the lid to feed and water the chicks, the chicks went crazy trying to escape the dangerous thing from the sky. I had never had the chicks run hysterically when I opened the door to the dog crate so I figured the panicked reaction would soon disappear once the chicks realized that nothing was going to hurt them. Um, not so much. Every single time the lid was opened, the same hysterical panic occurred.*

As time went on, the chicks started to feather up. This meant that every time I opened the brooder and the chicks panicked I had very small, fine feathers floating through the area. Once the chicks got a little older, some were able to flutter their way out of the brooder and into the bathroom at large. By the time the chicks were fully feathered, my bathroom looked like a pillow fight gone wrong every time I cleaned the brooder or fed and watered the chicks (which was often because they ate enormous amounts.)

Lesson One: Never, ever raise chickens in the house.

* Oddly enough, even though the brooder in the chicken coop also has a hinged lid that lifts up, subsequent chicks have never reacted quite so violently to that lid being raised so I am guessing the shadows in the better lit bathroom were, at least in part, a trigger for the panic attacks.

Welcome to Quibeyn Farm

As a graduate student many years ago I obtained a mixed breed pup, probably an Australian Shepherd mix, from the local Animal Shelter and named her Bey. About a year later I agreed to foster a very dark blue merle Australian Shepherd mix. Half of her face was solid black and the other half a dark merle. When I took her for shots, the veterinary tech said her face reminded her of a harlequin, hence her name “Quin.” Quin ended up staying with me and both dogs accompanied me when I took a sabbatical from graduate school for a job on an archaeological site in California. After graduate school we went back to California for a time, returned to New Mexico and then headed east when I took a job CIMG1013   on a horse farm in Conneticut. We eventually wound our way further north, living for a time in Vermont. Tiring of the snow, the dogs and I returned to New Mexico. I lost Quin to cancer in the late 1990s and Bey to old age a few years later. However, to acknowledge the course they set me on so many years ago, when I finally bought my own place in late 2007 it became Quibeyn Farm. In future posts I’ll cover my philosophy regarding raising livestock and share what has worked, and hasn’t worked, for me.