Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Heather Smith Thomas: Notes from Sky Range Ranch — Fearless Fred, Part Five: Time Out Due to Injury

Fred the cow dog had a good summer last year working cattle (at a year of age), until a freak accident sidelined her. Her “people” — our son Michael and family — were helping Carolyn’s brother Brian and Brian’s friend Dan round up cattle on October 15, 2011, in southern Idaho, near Preston. It was a big range area, with brush and trees, and it was very difficult to find cattle. The riders started on one side and gathered cattle, working their way through thick stands of hawthorn and maple.

Gypsy and Michael — later in the fall after this new mare
kicked Fred and shattered her leg. In these photos
Michael and  
his dogs are heading out to gather
yearlings off our 320-acre pasture, minus Fred,
who was still recuperating from her accident.

“You can’t gather cattle in that terrain without dogs; often you can’t see 20 feet. I had four dogs, Dan had two, and Brian had two — barely enough to cover the country in heavy brush. We rode through at different elevations, fighting our way through that jungle. We’d send the dogs to get the cows, and most of the time you couldn’t see the cows; you could only hear them crashing through the brush,” Michael recalls.

“I made it across one area and put cows through the gate at the bottom — and was waiting for Dan and Brian to arrive with theirs. The horses and dogs were hot, so I stopped on a ridge out in the open where there was a breeze, above the gate where I wasn’t in the way, since I could hear more cattle coming. My horse Gypsy was the only shade at that spot. She was a new mare I’d bought at a sale. I’d shod her that morning — a new set of toe and heel shoes. Gypsy was resting, half dozing,” says Michael.

Fred plopped down behind Gypsy, in the shade of her shadow, and this startled the mare. Gypsy’s reaction was to kick out with both hind feet because she didn’t know what touched her. She hit Fred in the head and right hind leg — shattering it above the hock joint.

Michael had to wait a few minutes before he could help Fred because the other riders were coming into sight with their cows. “As soon as we got the cows through the gate, Carolyn handed Fred up to me, to put her on my horse. Fred hadn’t moved after she got kicked. She was stunned from the blow to the head and quickly went into shock. She didn’t even know what happened. To this day she doesn’t know what hit her and runs around behind our horses without fear,” he says.

Michael followed behind the cows, carrying Fred more than a mile on his horse, over his saddle, until they got down out of the rough country, to where Dan had a four-wheeler. “Dan drove the four-wheeler, with me sitting on the back holding Fred, and Carolyn led my horse another 5 or 6 miles to the home place.”

There were no vets available at Preston; they were all out on calls. So Michael and Dan took Fred to Richmond, Utah, a few miles over the state line. A veterinarian there did surgery on the leg and put it back together. Carolyn stayed with Fred at Brian’s house the next day, and Michael rode again to help find the rest of the cows.

Fred and young Heather leading a couple of
the horses from their pen to the trailer to be saddled

They left for home the next morning, and Fred was doing so well that Michael let her walk on a leash out to the pickup. “But she tried to jump onto a little four-wheeler trailer and got her leg caught in a bar on the back of it and broke the epoxy in the external brace. She had four stainless steel pins in her leg, screwed perpendicular to the bone, and on the outside was a plastic tube filled with epoxy. The epoxy bonds to those pins and acts like a splint to hold everything in place,” he explains.

They were in a hurry to get home, to take care of their own cattle. “We did take Fred back to Utah, however, after our local vet couldn’t fix the brace. The vet in Utah put a bigger splint on. But it was a rush job, between two other patients, and before the new epoxy set up, it came off a couple of pins before we got home. Because it was so far to drive back down there, we had our local vet put a metal plate in the leg,” Michael says.

Fred leading Gus back to the unsaddling area after a ride,
while young Heather takes care of another horse

“When we took the plate out later, Fred rebroke the bone 2 or 3 days after. The X-rays showed a void (the bone hadn’t completely grown back together yet), but the vet took the plate out because one of the screws had gone completely through the bone and was irritating the skin and creating an infection.” A second plate was put in December 23, and they opted to leave it in. It’s still in there, and she’s getting around fine.

After that surgery, they were careful to not let Fred be active, so there’d be no stress on the bone until it healed. Carolyn works at the veterinary clinic and took Fred to work with her every day so she wouldn’t be left alone at home. “She stayed in a kennel at work and was content because I was there,” says Carolyn.

“She was really good about going to work with me. She’d wait for us to lift her into the car or help her up and down off the porch. We leash-walked her for 5 weeks.” Fred accepted her limitations, which was amazing for such a hyperactive dog.

“When she got better and we took her outside without her leash, she knew she could jump down off the porch,” Carolyn says.

By April Fred was back to full activity. “One of the first times we worked cows this spring at Mulkeys’ she worked the back of the lane with me, bringing cows up to be sorted from their calves. She did a good job — and picked up where she’d left off 6 months earlier, and after five surgeries,” says Carolyn.

Fred and young Heather leading horses
back to their pen after unsaddling

Fred is still as fearless as ever. “The first times we worked cows with her again this spring she got rolled several times by aggressive cows, but it didn’t intimidate her, and the leg seems as strong as ever,” Michael says.

She’s happiest working cattle and being with her people. She still leads their horses when they’re getting ready for a ride or putting them away afterward. “Once we catch them, she’ll take them to the trailer to be tied up. If we’re putting them away, she’ll take them back to their pen. When she was a pup, she’d just take them wherever they’d go, but now she knows where they need to go,” explains Michael.

Fred is swiftly becoming the super cow dog that her family hoped she would be.

[to be continued]

Fearless Fred, Part 1: A Very Special Cow Dog
Fearless Fred, Part 2: Puppyhood
Fearless Fred, Part 3: The Pup Grows Up
Fearless Fred, Part 4: Learning to Work Cattle

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 HorsesStorey's Guide to Training HorsesStable SmartsThe Horse Conformation HandbookYour CalfGetting Started with Beef and Dairy CattleStorey's Guide to Raising Beef CattleEssential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook.

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