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.
First Baby of 2022
Four days ago, 603 started our calving season off right. That morning, I was pretty sure she was in labor based on how she was acting, but since all seemed well, I just let her do her thing. And do it, she did! Later that afternoon, I was lucky enough to catch a good look at baby - though it was from quite a distance.
The following day, I was happy to catch a glimpse of the calf nursing late in the afternoon. It appeared healthy, so I wasn't too concerned when I didn't see it for the two days. But this evening, I thought I really wanted some proof of life, so out I went with my camera to see what I could see.
Lo and behold, the girls were all in the upper pasture and I felt the odds were in my favor that baby was in the lower pasture, so I closed the gate and went hunting for him/her. 603 told me clearly that baby was in my pasture with her behavior, and then as I was watching her, I saw baby's head pop up from behind the rock wall. As I first approached baby, s/he was standing but then it decided it was supposed to hide, so it lay down. Mama was right there on the other side of the fence giving me a piece of her mind.
I didn't want to antagonize mama too much, but I figured it was my chance to get a few nice photos of an elk calf without a fence between me and it. I have a bit of zoom on my camera, so I only had to get within about 15-20 feet of baby to get some good pictures. Mama was pacing the whole time, hair standing on end, grinding her teeth at me.
Baby didn't provide me with an opportunity to identify its gender, so we'll have to wait before I can start calling it a him or a her. Regardless, it is certainly cute!!
Well, I didn't want to make mama too crazy, so I took my dozen photos and left them alone. I sure hope this little one has some friends soon!! I think 604 may be next on deck, but I guess time will tell!
It's really my favorite way for it to happen... I like to go out and be surprised, surprised by a healthy calf that just suddenly is there. Nature did what it was supposed to and all went well. After last year's lost calf, I find I've become a bit of a nervous nelly.
Obviously, I knew they were getting close, but when I went out to move the yak today, I was surprised to hear that unmistakable quiet pig squeak yak babies make. Let me show you what I mean:
I just love baby yak! They're like an interesting combination of cow and pig in the first week or two. Their little yak grunt is more like a pig grunt and they even kind of look piglet like, with their big pink noses (they don't all have pink noses, but when the muzzle is white, the nose is pink!).
I love that I can go right in there and say hi to the calf... well, as long as mama is otherwise occupied! ;-) In this case, mama had already left the pasture with the group as I was moving them I had already closed the gate before we all realized what had happened. This is a little girl and though she's a bit knock kneed, I think she'll probably grow out of it. This is 100's new calf - she was the one who had the live calf last year - and she seems quite a bit more robust than last year's wee one was in the first week. This one tried to head butt me three times already!!!
100 is such a good mama, so I know that little one is in good hands. After I left there, I went to feed the elk and noticed that 603 hadn't come to eat with everyone else, so I went hunting for her. Figures I didn't have my good camera with me, so this was my first peek at the new calf. Don't know the gender yet, but the coloration is a bit different than the calves we've had so far. S/he is more taupe colored than ruddy. It's very pretty!
After getting my big camera, I realized they had moved and baby crawled through a hole in the fence to another pasture leaving mama behind. I was a bit worried when I saw two of the other cows come over and paw at her/him. I probably don't need to worry, but in the wild, the cows go off by themselves to have their calves, so this is a bit of an artificial environment for calving. I went to get a bit more grain and everyone left the little one alone and 603 managed to get in the same pasture with baby and all the others. Then the ladies went back to check on the calf, but mama was there to make sure they behaved themselves. I've seen this with every new calf on the place: the other mamas have to come and check them out!
Fortunately, baby was along a fence line that I had access to, so I went to see if I could get a better look and maybe a few good pictures. Success! But as I got closer, it became apparent to me that 603 is bonded with her calf. No worries with this first time mom that she won't be taking care of her calf. She made it very clear that I was close enough with my camera. This is a mama who would be more than willing to stomp the tar out of me if that fence wasn't there!
At this point, I decided it was time to high tail it out of there and let her just get used to being a mom. Love that close up I got of the calf though (top photo on this post). And you know what!?! I think there might be another yak calf making an appearance tonight! We'll see what the morning brings! What a wonderfully surprising afternoon!
I love winter. I love snow. It's one of the reasons I pushed for moving to New Hampshire. But I also love spring, summer, and fall. Every season in its time. The great thing about four distinct seasons is that right about the time you start getting tired of one, it's about time to start moving into another. It's just been the last week or so that I've started catching myself longing for spring. It first happened while spending an hour excavating a gate so I could move Piggy into a different pasture. And then there was today.
It's been much warmer the last two weeks with plenty of days in the forties. And then - suddenly - we're back in the single digits... with a wind. Don't let that bright blue sky fool you. It was miserable out this morning. The moaning of the wind through the cracks of the windows in the house was epic and I was NOT looking forward to going out to feed this morning.
I put it off as long as I could, but we were still registering near zero wind chills mid-morning, so out I went. This is my DANG it's bright and cold scowl-y face. Wowza! The wind was howling!
As usual, the critters didn't seem to even notice, but they were awfully happy to see me. The only good thing about the cold was that after a week of slugging through deep, heavy, slushy snow, it had frozen back solid and I could walk on top of it again. Yay!
The ice in a few areas was getting a bit silly though. This patch almost got me yesterday and I practically pulled a muscle to keep from going down, but today I realized I had yak poop stepping stones and made good use of them coming and going. Thanks, yak. :-)
Speaking of yak... that wee one is now in a pasture with a hay feeder that she can't crawl under, so she's staying a lot cleaner! Look how fluffy she is! I just love to pet her.
Of course, that does come with a slight occupational hazard. They say yak fiber rivals Merino wool. Perhaps a yak wool sweater is in my future!!
Temperatures are headed back up to the forties tomorrow. Come on, Spring. I'm ready!!
Bringing the Elk Home
It's been a while since the elk have been up by the house. I put them in the back forty late last summer as the drought was making feed a bit scarce in our main pastures by the house. I've sure missed seeing them out the window!
We're getting close to Big Guy's antler shedding time, and I certainly don't want to have to search for them in the ten acre heavily wooded pasture that they been in. I had to do that the year before last, and it was really hard to spot that one missing antler among all the deadfall!
The good news is that the elk have learned in the last three years that when I shake the bucket and ask them to follow me, there is usually good stuff waiting for them on the other side. I always feel like the Pied Piper!
As usual, Big Guy tries to keep them from following me, but there's only one of him and as soon as one cow slips by and starts running after me, it's all over!
Everything went splendidly... right up until the elk saw the yak standing next to the gate I wanted them to go through! I finally decided to go up to the house and figured I could go out and close gates after they got up the courage to walk through the gate. I knew it wouldn't take them too long; they were hungry and there was a fresh bale of hay waiting for them!!
After seeing they made it into the target pasture, I closed gates but decided that moving the elk was enough for one day. The yak and Piggy still needed to be rearranged, but we were scheduled to get a bit of snow, so I went back and cozied up at the house. What fun to look out my window and see the yak and elk at the same time again... at least for a little bit.
He Ain't No Rooster
That Big Guy... he sure ain't no rooster. What do I mean by that? Well, when you look at this picture, you are seeing the exact pecking order of this little herd. Big Guy always pushes the girls out of the way so he can get the first bucket and then they sort themselves out down the line. If they don't move fast enough, he "helps" them along with a prod of his antler. He's fairly gentle about it compared to Piggy, but he's still clearly saying, "Get out of my way, girl."
One of the things I miss about having chickens (I'm hoping to add them to the menagerie this year) is the rooster. You don't need a rooster to have laying hens, but there are some benefits to having one. Generally, they are such gentlemen! When they find some choice morsel, they call their ladies over with a chortle and stand by proudly as they eat it. What a man! Here is my last rooster. He was such a nice fellow and always made sure he found the best treats for his ladies.
Isn't he a handsome fellow? Hard to believe it has been almost 14 years since I last had chickens! But I digress...
I have thought, perhaps, that I should cut Big Guy a little slack; I mean, he is getting to be an older gentleman. I have seen him be very generous and polite to the ladies (unlike a certain young whippersnapper I know. Cough. Piggy. Cough.). Here he let the ladies enjoy their grain while he stood watch.
Of course, I suppose it is a lot easier to be magnanimous during the summer when the grass is green and the weather balmy. We've been sitting in the single digits at night lately, so I imagine he's using a lot of resources to keep warm, so, it's OK, Big Guy. I get it. I won't hold it against you that you ain't no rooster. Cockadoodledoo!
We woke up to snow this morning. It wasn't a surprise or anything as they've been forecasting it all week, but it still is a bit odd waking up the day before Halloween to measurable snow.
The first thing I had to do was go out and put some hay out for the yak. I've been wanting to get around to it for a few days, but it was quite cold and rainy the last few, so I figured I'd wait for the precipitation to turn to snow. I have no issues working in the snow!
The yak were pretty excited for the hay! I also turned the newly made two steers in with the herd. There was some tussling. Okay, there was a fair bit of tussling! Interestingly, a lot of it was between the steers and the cows! Multiple times I saw Mr. Bull come and break them up because he apparently thought it was getting too intense. Herd mechanics are fascinating!
In this video, you can see Mr. Bull breaking up the fight between 93 and 418, our golden bull... err, steer. It's interesting to me for two reasons: first, 93 and 418 were very close before I separated the herd upon the arrival of the new group, and second, it was 93 who seemed to be instigating and actively seeking battle. You can clearly see Mr. Bull separating the two and standing between them, keeping them from going at it again.
Again, I find it interesting that 93 was so adamant about picking a fight with 418. They always hung out previously. In fact, I often wondered if 418 was her calf from a few years ago. Here they were the day 93 was in labor this June. It almost seemed like she was laying her head on his shoulder!
Anyway. Hard saying what all the fighting was about today, but Mr. Bull was having none of it!
After I hayed the yak, I went to go check on the elk. They were all grouped up in the upper reaches of the pasture and seemed pretty happy to see me. 603 let me pet her multiple times and that included parts of her face, too! Previously, she only let me touch her nose, but I almost was able to touch all the way up to between her eyes! Of course, she was grinding her teeth at me the whole time, which is an aggressive gesture for elk, so I'll only be trusting her so far. I still never go in the pasture on foot when they are near.
I missed catching a video of it, but while I was there, 604 stood up to nibble on some tips of the hemlock trees and managed to dump a ton of snow on herself! She wears it well, wouldn't you say?
The wee ones are experiencing their first cold weather, but they have thick furry coats and didn't seem bothered at all! Just another day being an elk, I guess!
And, of course, Big Guy was there, watching with his deep, penetrating stare the whole time I was out there. Always watching. Man, I like that critter!