It's been a cold spring - freezing hard at nights until mid-day. Usually we have grass by late April and can put cows on hill pastures to get them off the hayfields. This year we fed hay until turnout on the range (May 16). This set back the hay a few weeks, but it wouldn't have made much difference; the weather was too cold for the fields to grow.
We usually start irrigating in April, but this year snowpack in the mountains didn't start melting until late May. We're just now getting high water and finally got all the ditches turned on a couple weeks ago. The hay is growing, but won't be ready to cut until late July.
We had one breeding group in a pasture along the creek for a couple of weeks before they went to summer range, and most of the cows became covered with dry burrs. One of the cows in that pasture developed a sore eye, from a tiny burdock sliver.
This is a common problem when cattle come in contact with burdock. When the dry burrs shatter, the tiny particles drift in the air and can get into an eye - often sticking to the underside of the eyelid, creating an ulcer on the eyeball where the embedded sliver rubs against it.
This type of eye irritation became such a problem for us in the late fall and winter when pasturing these fields that we began trying to control burdock about 10 years ago. The dry burrs hang on the dead plants in the spring if they were not chopped earlier, and can cause eye problems. We brought her home and treated the eye.
We had a few warm days after putting the cattle on the range, then it started raining. We've had more than two weeks of rain, which really helped the grass. In spite of a late start, the bunchgrasses look good now, and it may be a very good year on the range.
Andrea, Carolyn and I moved the cattle in small bunches over several days. We like to move them in small groups, making sure we have pairs. That way no calves get inadvertently weaned.
On one day's gather we noticed a calf of Michael and Carolyn's that had a large swelling under its belly. We cut back that pair before we moved the groupinto the middle pasture and brought them home. Upon checking the swelling, Michael found it to be an abscess, which he lanced and drained, then flushed with iodine.
The abscess was in the navel area. Even though she had no obvious swelling earlier, it might have been a small, sealed off infection (picked up at birth) that suddenly got larger. It will clear up now, however, getting it open and drained.
Andrea and Carolyn are trying to ride every day to check on the cattle (and the range gates - which often get left open). We are worried about the wolves that have been seen in our area. One of our neighbors saw six wolves being turned loose on the range next to ours early this year, and four wolves have been frequently seen on our high range in upper Withington Creek.
Andrea saw one of them in our field last month while harrowing. We hope they don't stay in this area. The ranchers north of town lost so many calves last year that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Forest Service, Lemhi Cattle and Horse Growers Association, Defenders of Wildlife and several other parties have joined together in an expensive predator study, putting radio tracking transmitters - implanted at the base of the calf's ear - on 280 of the 700 calves that were turned out this year.
The people involved in the study hope to have a better chance of finding the remains of a killed calf before the evidence is carried off by scavengers and the tracks at the kill site are obliterated. The fatality has to be confirmed as a wolf kill by a FWS official before a rancher can be compensated.
This expensive project has already met with some degree of failure, however, since many of the calves' transmitters are not working properly. The wolf problem is just one more discouragement for ranchers trying to survive financially.