The Calf and the Well Pit

Imagine, if you will, a spring weekend in Nebraska. The birds are singing, calves are playing, and this Mom had 30 hours home alone.

Such was a recent weekend here on the ranch. Hubby and sons went to visit family in Minnesota. I was determined to plant the garden and someone needed to keep an eye on the cattle, so I stayed behind.

One small heifer calf, eartag #711, had a doting mom, but was sick after the late (May 1) blizzard that wreaked havoc with several new calves. An injection of antibiotics and some supplemental milk replacer helped baby back on her way to health. Unfortunately, the cow’s udder was muddy, enlarged, and difficult for the calf to nurse.

We had been going out twice a day to take a bottle to baby, much to momma cow’s discomfort. The cow never tried to hurt anyone feeding her calf, but she was very concerned and kept moving closer to the human, mooing her disapproval over the situation. She was concerned enough that we generally did not let the boys feed the calf, and either hubby or I took the bottle out.

In a way, I felt like the cow considered me a rival for her calf’s affections as the baby would moo and run up to any human that she saw. The cow became agitated when the calf ran away from her and toward a human.

So, on this fine weekend when I was home alone, I made a quick trip out to check on the small group of sick or cross-fostered* calves.

*Cross-fostering is the process of grafting a calf onto a cow that is not their biological mother. This is done when cows or calves die, twins are born (a cow will usually only claim one of the two), or an older cow cannot take care of a calf. It is done because calves thrive more when nursing from a cow than when fed milk replacer from a bottle. 

As I walked through the pasture, 711’s momma saw me and immediately became agitated. She mooed and ran past me toward the corral area. I sighed as I saw her, assuming she was upset because she thought I was coming out to give her calf a bottle.

Backstory alert.

Before hubby and sons left for Minnesota, they showed me a problem with the water fountain for the cows. A broken part meant the fountain overflowed as long as the water was turned on to that line.

The temporary solution was to uncover the well pit and climb in and out to turn the water off/on to fill a supplemental water tank nearby to make sure the cows had enough water. It needed to be turned off when the tank was full so water was not wasted. The well pit was a cylinder, about 5 feet wide and 6+ feet deep. At the bottom was the input line from the well, and all the branching out-lines. These branches led to the old hunting cabin (on the farm before we bought the land), the cattle water (the one that needed to be manually turned off/on on this particular weekend), and to the house. A thick wooden cover generally protected this pit, and a fence around it was a second line of defense (but had fallen into disrepair over the years).

We rarely uncovered the pit and had never left the cover off for more than a few minutes in the 15-ish years we had owned the farm. Because of the current need to crawl in and out of the pit several times per day, hubby chose to leave the cover off.

I now return you to your regularly-scheduled blog post and example of Murphy’s Law in action.

The upset mama cow ran past the wire that was supposed to be her electric fence. I was annoyed with her because 1) she appeared to be upset with me and 2) that she had knocked down her electric fence.

I quickly noticed that her behavior was different. She was not as upset toward me as much as she wanted me to follow.

As soon as I saw her run up to the uncovered well pit and stare down the hole, I immediately knew why, and started swearing.

It took a bit of maneuvering, but I got her away from the pit and was able to look down. I was afraid I would see a calf tangled in the ladder with broken limbs or neck, but instead was relieved to see a calf napping at the bottom.

The well pit a few days later (I did not have a chance to get a picture during the incident)

The calf heard the commotion above, got up and demanded her bottle.

Afraid she would run around and tear apart water lines, I quickly retreated and hoped she would settle down again to sleep. There was no way I could get down there and pull the 70-80 lb calf out by myself, even if I dared challenge momma cow without any backup.

A phone call to hubby and sons affirmed that they were within two hours of reaching home, and would be there before dark.

At homecoming, everyone swung into action. Chore clothes were donned, bottles were made, and a plan concocted to rescue the calf while not upsetting momma cow further.

Hubby drove the ATV right up next to the well pit and climbed down to the calf. Son 1 jumped out of the nearby pickup when signaled and grabbed the calf’s legs and pulled her a few yards away from the pit and backed away when momma cow came to investigate.

It was nearly sunset, but no one got to go inside for supper or showers until all critters were tended and the well pit was covered again.

Since that time, momma cow and 711 have been moved into a more secure facility (corral) and she has mellowed considerably when humans come to feed her calf.

The fence around the well pit has been partially restored and the cover is not left off for any significant length of time.

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Bird Meets Window

Some days you are the window.

Some days you are the bird.

window meets bird

For the record, I always feel bad when a bird flies into one of our windows. We have adjusted our annual window-cleaning time (we do it in fall or very early spring when migrating birds have departed or have not yet returned). We have also experimented with different curtains that could discourage birds from flying into the window (we have no idea if anything works).

Unfortunately, everyone has days like this. I was not at home when this bird imprint was made on the window, but I didn’t find a pile of feathers below the window. I hope that means the outcome for the bird was better than expected.

Sometimes, that is all the victory you can wish for.


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Sure Signs of Spring…Or Not

Dear Jill,



Mother Nature

late snow

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Sure Signs of Spring?

Mother Nature hasn’t made up her mind here at the ranch. Winter, spring, winter, spring? Just when it seems like winter is finally loosening its grip, another icy blast moves into the area.

The past two days have brought encouraging signs. The first was a large flock of geese migrating over our house.

The second? A calf in a hurry. This little guy surprised us by showing up three weeks early. He wasted no time exploring the entire premises with a concerned Mom following his every move.

I am now anxiously awaiting for the emergence of the daffodil buds and getting anxious to plant something…well hello spinach seed packet, how did you get into my hand?

So far, no snow in the ten-day forecast. Fingers crossed.

What are your springtime signs?

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Winter Storm Preparations – Ranch Style

In the past couple weeks we have had two winter storms come through. One was an ice storm and the other a “normal” winter storm predicting several inches of snow. In both cases, the storm prep protocol was enacted. You may notice some differences from the way most people prepare.

Stocking Up Before the Storm

Most people’s checklist: Milk, bread, toilet paper, beer, sidewalk deicer, and gas.

Ranch checklist: Milk, ingredients for the bread machine, toilet paper, beer, diesel, chicken feed, heat tape for cattle fountain water lines, splice links to fix the tractor tire chains.


“To-Do” List Before the Storm

Most people’s to-do list: go to grocery store and gas station, make sure there is enough pet food, prepare to work from home

Ranch to-do list: go to grocery store, call the station to fill the fuel barrel, service the generator, feed and bed all the animals (sometimes hundreds or thousands of them), check predicted wind direction of the storm to know which side of the driveway to park the tractor to avoid it being encased in drifts


During the Storm

Most people’s activities: Stay inside as much as possible, watch the news/check social media for alerts, go outside and scoop the sidewalk as needed

Ranch activities: Go outside to feed or check on the animals morning and night, watch the news/social media for the latest snowfall totals, scoop the sidewalk and driveway and sometimes road to get out for chores

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What Were They Thinking? A Mom Guesses What’s In the Minds of Her Sons

I have previously written about some of the knowledge gained while raising my three sons. Here, here, and here.

As a mother of boys, I frequently come across situations where I wonder, “What were they thinking?!?” Here are some scenes I recently came across at home and my best guess as to what was in the minds of my sons at the time they did each of these things.

“What a great place to keep the vacuum! Next time Mom tells me the carpet is dirty, I can just vacuum my way back up the steps. The time after that…”

“Behold!! I have created the world’s first sock Mobius strip.”

“I am just going to have to get this out again tomorrow morning anyway.”

“We will make sure littlest brother is the last one to warm up his leftover spaghetti and Mom will blame him for not covering it.”

So, do you have any different interpretations that might come from the brains of boys for any of these?

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Oh Christmas Tree: The Prologue

In my last post, I talked about the search for the perfect Christmas tree gone horribly awry.

We had to remove the giant tree from the house, but it did not go to waste. The ranch sons set it up just outside the house and decorated it.


Makes the house look small, doesn’t it?

To re-write a quote from the famous “Christmas Vacation” movie… “It’s not going in the living room Russ. It’s going in the front yard.”


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