Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch — Queenie, Part Two

To read "Queenie, Part One" please click here.

This lovely wildflower, lupine, is what Queenie's mother ate during
early pregnancy, causing crooked legs in the developing fetus.

Queenie was born with crooked legs due to lupine poisoning; her mother ate lupine during early pregnancy, adversely affecting the fetus. Queenie was one of the most severely deformed calves we ever had that was still functional enough to survive. She stayed in the barn with her mama for the first several weeks of her life, so she wouldn’t have to try to walk very far to find her mama to nurse. Our daughter Andrea made sure she nursed her mama, Zimbobbie, several times each day.

Queenie's crooked legs were getting stronger every day, and she'd often try to buck and play a little when Andrea was in the barn with her. We were nearly done calving by then and had plenty of barn space, so we gave that pair three stalls (one whole alley, the entire length of the barn) so the area would stay cleaner, and this also gave them a little more room for exercise. When Queenie was finally strong enough to nurse her mama without assistance, we put the pair in an outside pen.

When Queenie's legs were strong enough for her to walk around
and nurse her mother without assistance, we put the pair
in an outside pen next to the barn.

They lived that spring in a large pen next to the field below the barn, and during April (while the bulls were out with the cows in their various breeding groups), we put Zimbobbie in that field to be with a bull. We let her back into the small pen (where Queenie stayed) every morning and night to suckle her calf. After we knew she was bred, we locked her back in the small pen with her calf. Queenie was still too handicapped to live with a group of cows in the field; she had a hard time getting around, and we were afraid the other cattle might pick on her.

Zimbobbie tolerated our handling her calf; she's grazing unconcerned
here in the pen as Lynn gives Queenie a pleasant petting and
scratching, which she always loved.

Zimbobbie was a good mother. She hated confinement, but she also felt a dedicated duty to her crippled baby and resigned herself to her circumstance. She did not tolerate strangers, but she tolerated Lynn and me and didn’t mind when we handled her calf. She liked and respected Andrea, who usually did the daily chore of taking care of Queenie. Whenever Andrea showed her calf to friends, however, Zimbobbie became very protective.

After the cows went to the range, we let Zimbobbie and Queenie out into the larger field, and Zimbobbie was much happier. One day a friend named Brad came to visit, and Andrea was showing him the calf. Zimbobbie was down in the lower end of the field, and when she saw the stranger with Andrea and the calf, she came charging up the field, bellowing. Brad looked up and saw the angry black cow rushing toward them with fire in her eyes, bellowing like a lion (with her tongue curled and sticking out of her mouth), and he took off running to the fence as fast as he could go. Andrea nearly split her sides laughing, for she knew that Zimbobbie would stop as soon as she got to her calf, but Brad was just sure that cow was going to eat him alive!

As Queenie grew bigger it became harder for her to walk around.

Queenie grew big, but the heavier she got, the more difficult it was for her to get around. In late summer she often crawled around on her knees instead of up on her feet, for it became harder to hold herself up on those bent front legs. Her hip joints were also affected, since her hind legs were always at an unusual angle when she was so low in front, on her knees. She spent most of her time lying down except when she got up to nurse her mother.

She spent most of her time lying down
except when she got up to nurse her mother.

We knew we would have to butcher her that fall, but Andrea wanted her to have as long a life as possible. Zimbobbie weaned Queenie in October. When we saw she was drying up her milk, we let the cow go to fall pasture with the rest of the herd. We continued to feed Queenie good alfalfa hay, and she'd generally eat lying down. She loved Andrea and delighted in being scratched and petted at feeding time.

In late December we knew it was time to butcher her. It was harder and harder for her to get around, and Andrea suspected she was starting to have some pain in her joints; they just could not handle her weight. So Andrea, who is an avid hunter and a meticulous butcher, chose to do the task herself.

Andrea saying goodbye to Queenie. . .

. . . on the December morning that we butchered the calf.

She had her husband do the actual killing, however, since she couldn't bring herself to shoot her pet. She wanted to do the butchering herself, though, because she was curious about Queenie’s crippled joints. Indeed, they were very unusual, and the leg bones were quite twisted. The hind leg joints were abnormal also, with no proper hip sockets. The hip bones had worn through the cartilage.

Queenie was very handicapped, and most stockmen would not have taken the extra effort to keep her alive. But she had a good life, albeit short, and she was special to Andrea, who had the hide tanned afterward to keep as a remembrance.

When a person raises cattle, there are always the occasional heartbreakers. We're in this type of life not just as a business but also because we love it and have a large sense of caring and responsibility for the animals we raise.

Perhaps it wasn't economically feasible to raise Queenie (though she did provide meat for our freezer), but the time spent in caring for her was not wasted. It could be defined as part of the reason we're involved with livestock, part of our responsibility as ranchers. It's not just a job; it's a way of life — a total embracing of God's creation and our part in it. Our lives are intricately tied to those of our animals, and we cannot really separate our path from theirs.

Even though it was sad to have a calf as crippled as Queenie and sad to realize she had no future as a cow or even a normal beef animal — and time consuming to raise her — there was also some satisfaction in the personal relationship we had with her and her trust and appreciation for us. There was a very special communication there and a feeling of coming a little closer to our whole purpose in being a steward of this land and the animals that have been put into our care. We are the richer for these experiences, the tasks that didn't come easy.

Zimbobbie had 11 more calves after Queenie,
and is shown here with one of her steers.

Zimbobbie went on to have 11 more calves after Queenie, mostly steers. They were all normal and very outstanding calves, including two heifers that we kept as cows (Zimba and Zimmeric). Zimbobbie also had granddaughters in our herd, named Zim Zam and Shimmer Zimmer. Zimbobbie had many good calves, but Queenie — the one with a serious impairment — is the one we all remember best.

Heather Smith Thomas
raises horses and cattle on her family ranch in Salmon, Idaho. She writes for numerous horse magazines and is the author of several books on horses and cattle farming, including Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses, Storey's Guide to Training Horses, Stable Smarts, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Your Calf, Getting Started with Beef and Dairy Cattle, Storey's Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. You can read all her Notes from Sky Range Ranch posts

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