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Upended

Posted 2/10/2012 4:26am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Last weekend we spent several days at Pennsylvania Assoc. of Sustainable Agriculture's (PASA)Farming for the Future Conference.  It is always a good time of reuniting with friends and learning more than I can hold in my head long enough to apply. (Another reason an iPhone 4S needs to be in my future. "Siri, take a note and remind me of this in three months when I am planting tomatoes".  Siri? Wasn't Steve Jobs around in the 70s? She should have been call "Radar".  That's who I really need hovering around me.)

Anyway... we returned home Saturday afternoon and were going about the business of unloading the car, greeting the dogs, and putting wood on the stove when I happened to glance at the barn just in time to see a "sheepish" ram's face duck away from barn window in place he was not supposed to be!  Our breeding rams have been hanging out with Bob for the last month but they do not have access to the feed aisle -- something was amiss!  Sure enough further investigation revealed that one of the gates out of their pen was open and Bob and the rams had been indulging in pig feed placed there to make it easier for our neighbor boy to feed the pigs.  When I found Bob, he was in the drylot trying unsuccessfully to look innocent; big and mischievous yes, innocent, no.  Can't imagine four ram lambs working together to upend a 30-gallon tub full of ground grain when big ole Bob could gently nudge it  for the same effect. To Bob, whistling Dixie while intently surveying the condition of the cows next pen over, it was no big deal.  We however were on the phone with the vet immediately.  Horses and excess grain are a potentially disastrous mix and we were worried. Besides the blank look on his face as he counted and recounted the cows and pigs, clearly too intent to be bothered with our frantic goings on, he seemed fine. 

The next morning, he still seemed fine.  His stomach was rumbling and his "road apples" kept coming.  Good news.  However now the worry was not colic, but foundering, a painful infection that settles into horse hooves making it hard to walk.  Bad cases can result in the hoof sloughing off.  It is no joke and we had the vet come out to assess Bob and give us the necessary medicine to case symptoms showed up and by Sunday night, Bob was clearly having pain in his feet.  Giving oral medicine to a horse, especially one that is 18 hands high is no easy task.  Roy hollowed out apples, filled them with the paste we were to give him, and sneaked them to him.  Bob would take it, break it half and spit it out. Imagine trying to hold a huge horse head, forcing his mouth open, and squirting a thick paste deep enough that he is forced to swallow.  It just isn't going to happen. Usually Bob nibbled at the apples and finally ate them and by Monday night his walking had improved significantly. 

In situations like this it is easy to point fingers. "Who left that gate open?"  "Who did not tell the farmsitter to always close the feed aisle gate even if it seems unecessary?"  But mistakes are made and usually they are by us and we knew no ill will was intended and thankfully, all was now well again.

Until Wednesday afternoon when I went out to check on Bob and the rest of the animals.  Just before going back to the house I noticed something odd about the manure pile in the cow pen.  Four legs were sticking up from the side of it. A heifer had gotten wedged upside down between the manure pile and the fence and she could not get up!  Cows can die this way.  They bloat, can't breath, and if left upended, they die. My first thought was to call Roy at work but as soon as I heard his stressed out voice saying, "What the hell can I do about it from here??" I realized I had a much better option.  Call Charles. Before I called him my farmer brain kicked in and I decided to shut Bob and the lambs in their pen so I could get the skid steer into the barnyard.  The quickest way to move Bob is to tempt him with oats, but given our recent past, I thought the empty oats bucket was the best thing.  A trick that is in his best interest and it worked (sort of - more on that later.)

When Charles arrived I had the skid steer in place and with his encouragement (I was afraid of hurting her - dying upside down in a manure pile vs. a scratch from a skid steer?  It takes awhile for the farmer in me to really take over.) I lifted her up and turned her over onto her feet.  She looked awful, covered in manure and shivering from the snow that was falling on her.  We walked her into the dry, warmer barn and left her to recover from her ordeal.  

Charles and I were walking back to his tractor when we heard some ominous bumping from the barn.  There in the feed aisle were the rams and big Bob again! "That bugger can open the gate!  I'm sure Ethan and I had the gate closed last weekend!"  Charles laughed.  And he's right. Once before I took the blame for Bob getting out assuming I must not have slid the bar across far enough, but those big lips are pretty dexterous and Bob is not as innocent as he likes to pretend.  Annoyed that my grain bucket was just a ruse, he took matters into his own lips and we caught him!  He hem-hawed around like he was just rounding up the naughty lambs than circled back into his pen.  This time the inside gate to grain bucket was closed so he was in no danger.  I've got just the fix for this problem.  Baler twine.  Like McGyver, farmers can fine innumerable uses for baler twine and duct tape.  Problem solved.