A Disappointing Photo Session
I take a lot of photos of my critters. Sometimes I get some really nice shots. Other times... not so much. Part of the problem is my equipment. I just don't have that great of a zoom lens, which - especially with the skittish elk - can make things challenging.
Today, they were pushing my zoom to the limit, but I suspect even with a good zoom lens, I may still have been a bit disappointed in the outcome. If you've followed me for any length of time, you may have heard me mention that I am always surprised at how often I get photos of the elk with their tongues sticking out. The only thing I can guess is that elk really just spend more time with their tongues hanging out - I can come up with no other explanation.
Then there was this lovely toothy grin shot with a big butt in front. At least I managed to not get a photo of Mr. Butt actually pooping, which was a valid concern. As an aside, elk are like cows and most ruminants in that they do not have front teeth on the top, so this is about as toothy as this guy can get!
And then there was a whole series of these shots, which looked pretty all right at the thumbnail level but made me laugh out loud when I enlarged them a bit. Elk have two interesting patches of light hair on their chins that make them look like they have big fangs. But if you look closely in this picture, right above those two patches, Mister Broad Tine has two little icy patches that make him look like he has the cutest little buck teeth I've ever seen. Kind of ruins what might otherwise have been a majestic shot.
Now every time I look at this photo, all I can think of is Bugs Bunny. Oh well. There is always tomorrow. I suppose you can't expect to get a great shot every time!
An Ode to Big Guy
I knew it was inevitable, but it still took me a bit by surprise. Last night was quite balmy, and I think that the comfortableness of the weather finally let Big Guy feel like he could relax enough to let go.
The road that goes by that pasture leads to an aggregate materials pit and the drivers often stop to chat and tell me how much they enjoy watching the critters in the morning while waiting for the pit to officially open. They have watched his slow decline as much as I have, and they were the ones to initially find him this morning. Apparently, they all got out and "made peace with Big Guy together" this morning after finding him. For some reason, that gives me comfort, to know that others knew he was something special.
Big Guy was a gentle giant. I'm not going to say he couldn't be aggressive when the rut was on and instinct demanded action. I remember well the trouble I had the first fall I was on the farm. We still had another mature bull then, and the sparring matches they would get into when they managed to get along a fence line were epic. He was no slouch when it came to elk bull instinct. But he was also kind and seemed to know when folks were trying to help him. When the little ones would come up to him, he always shared his grain and was never unduly rough with them. When he managed to get wire wound all around his face and antlers during the rut, he let us bring him into the barn and he stood patiently as it was removed.
He was one of the more majestic creatures I've ever known. I have thousands of photos of him. Photos of him being a bull, in all his powerful glory, and being a sage, old man. When that guy looked me in the eye, it was like he knew things.
It's been painful to watch his decline. He's been a shadow of his former self for quite some time now. I noticed about two weeks before the cold snap that he was not as sure of his footing and did not go with the other bulls when they went up into the woods. I knew his time was coming.
But it still never quite prepares you for that moment. Farewell, Big Guy. It was an honor to be your steward. I hope I did right by you. I look forward to seeing you in the eyes of your offspring. That is, after all, what it's all about, right?
Hard to Find
It was still really cold when I got up this morning. Not quite as cold as this image of my weather station shows, as that is the low from overnight, but it was still close. It was still showing a -22F wind chill, so I decided I would really bundle up this morning.
Honestly, I overdid it a bit. I was sweating like crazy, but every time I tried to pull down the balaclava to cool off, my face hurt from the cold!
I really wanted to make sure everyone was all right, especially Big Guy. I looked and looked and looked for him to no avail. After an hour of looking, I was getting a bit concerned (and frustrated!).
I figured I'd do one last drive by of the far side of the pasture, and then I saw him.
You see him, right? It was that antler tip that caught my eye.
How about now?
His muzzle was a bit frosty, but he had clearly found the perfect place to spend the night, and he looked pretty bright-eyed despite being unwilling to get up for some breakfast. I left it there for him and figure he'll help himself when he's ready to give up him warm spot.
I had a bit of restless sleep last night fretting about this guy, and I'm so happy to see him looking so well this morning! Yay!
Old and New
This guy. What a great animal he is. He was pretty old when we moved on the place, but there were only two full-grown bulls available, they were the same age, and so we just picked one and went with it. He was over ten when he became our herd bull, which is older than most farms retire their bulls, so, as might be expected, his track record with the ladies hasn't been great. Out of five years, one year we had three calves (out of five cows) but most years we've only gotten one or two.
He is now approaching sixteen, and he looks it. He reminds me of a senior horse who just can't keep the weight on anymore. I've done what I can to be sure to address any factors within my control, but it's clear he's on the downhill slide. He is certainly a mere shadow of his former self.
I've been prepping my boy for the potential loss of Big Guy since the beginning of winter. Winter is hard and Big Guy does not have any reserves left on him. I make sure and give him supplemental feed every day to give him the extra calories he needs but at some point, it will simply not be enough.
So far, our winter has been mercifully mild. Big Guy is hanging in there and seems content, so I have been happy to let him live out his best life in retirement, but I'm not sure how he'll fare in a true cold snap.
Fortunately, he is still "the man" in the herd, so I don't have to worry about him getting run off from the food. I guess having the biggest antlers does that for you. Reach is everything, I suppose. The bull herd now has six critters in it. Big Guy and five of his progenies. We finally have two new young bulls old enough to take his mantle and - hopefully - give us a full calf crop next year.
I suppose this is the circle of life. New and old. Old and new. We come, make our mark, and then take our exit. I have been preparing myself and my son for the inevitable, but since we are expecting our first sub-zero temperatures of the winter this weekend and I don't know how Big Guy will fare, I thought maybe I should prepare you for the possibility as well.
As my mom always tells me, getting old ain't for the faint of heart. Big Guy has gently taught me a lot about elk farming, and I sure hope he gets to have a nice, long retirement.