Friday, March 27, 2015

Heather Smith Thomas — Notes from Sky Range Ranch: Recollections of Rishira

Though some would call her a hard luck cow, Rishira was one of the good ones.

Rishira in her prime.
Rishira was originally our daughter Andrea’s cow. Andrea had chosen her as a heifer when she traded one of her steers to us. Andrea always picked the best heifers, and Rishira was a good one. Rishira’s mother was Rhiney (Rhonestone Rhonda), our good three-way mix (mostly Hereford/Angus, but harking back a few generations to Baby Doll, our Holstein milk cow who lived to be twenty-one), and one of our favorite “babysitter cows” that led first-calf heifers into the barn for calving until she was seventeen years old. Her sire was an Angus-Limousin bull. Rishira was a smooth, beautiful cow.

Rishira produced a good calf every year until she was fifteen years old, but not without her share of adventures. When she was pregnant with her fourth calf she almost died. She was with the rest of the herd on our upper place in early December, after we brought them down from our 320-acre pasture when the grass snowed under. We were feeding hay because the grass in the fields was also snow-covered, and one day we noticed she was off by herself and didn’t want to come to the hay.  The sides of her face were swollen.

She was dull and miserable so we eased her down through the field to the little corral where we had a loading chute. We got our truck and hauled her home. There, we put her in our chute and took her temperature. It was 107 degrees! So we gave her Banamine to help reduce fever and inflammation, and called one of our vets, Jeff Hoffman, who came to examine her. Symptoms and circumstances pointed toward a clostridial infection, possibly entering her mouth and causing the swelling of her face. The cows had been eating protein supplements and had pushed a couple of the nearly empty tubs down into the bushes and rosebriars, where there were some broken, sharp sticks in and around the tubs. Rishira may have jammed a stick into her mouth while trying to eat the last of the supplement, opening the way for infection.

The vet gave her a high dose of penicillin (which we repeated on subsequent days for awhile) that would be effective against any clostridial infection, but we were concerned for her unborn baby. A fever that high generally kills the fetus. We hoped we’d reduced Rishira’s fever in time and that she wouldn’t abort her calf. We treated her for several weeks, and kept her in the barn during bad weather.  The sides of her face eventually peeled, then healed.
Rishira’s swollen face
Rishira eventually gave birth to a normal and healthy, but tiny, calf. It was so small it could almost walk under her belly. But the little heifer, which we named Rabbit, was lively and vigorous and was able to nurse her mama. After the calf was a little older and stronger she and her recuperating mama were able to live with the other cows and calves.

A few years later, Rishira’s curiosity took her too close to a sluggish porcupine wandering through the pasture. She probably mistook it for a dog, which she hated, and likely biffed it with her head. As a result, she had a face full of porcupine quills. We had to bring her in from the field, restrain her in the headcatch by the barn, and pull all the quills out with pliers.
Lynn pulls quills from Rishira’s face
In 2005, Rishira had a nice red heifer, giving birth in the calving pen in front of the house.  As she licked the new calf, she got distracted by the cow with a new baby in the pen next door and stepped on her own calf before it could get up, breaking its hind leg. We had to hold the calf up to nurse her. Though we tried to create a splint for the leg, our splint wasn’t solid enough, so we called our vet Jeff again and he came out and put a fiberglass cast on the leg. We named the calf Peggy Sue. The cast wasn’t supposed to get wet, so once again Rishira and baby lived in the barn awhile. We watered the cow twice a day and took her tub back out of the stall after each drinking to make sure little Peggy Sue didn’t go wading in the water tub, as baby calves love to do.
Peggy Sue with her cast on
A few weeks later we had to adjust the cast because the calf was growing so fast. We slit it down one side so it could enlarge and not be too tight on her leg, then wrapped the enlarged cast with tape. That held until it was time to come off. Peggy Sue grew up to be a cow that we kept in our herd, and had her first calf two years later. We called him A Boy Named Sue.

In 2009, at age thirteen, Rishira experienced uterine torsion while calving (an adventure I wrote about on my blog).
Rishira being stitched back up after her torsion of the uterus
When Jeff came out to attend to her and help deliver her calf, we asked if he recognized her.  He was the one who came out to diagnose her high fever and swollen face in 2000, and to put the cast on Peggy Sue in 2005. He shook his head in disbelief, wondering why on earth we had continued to keep such a bad-luck cow! Rishira had a long and interesting life.

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, Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle, Essential Guide to Calving, and The Cattle Health Handbook. She blogs at Her newest book, Horse Tales: True Stories from an Idaho Ranch, published by The Frontier Project, Inc., is now available.

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