Ever wondered what it's like to run a ranch in the winter? Follow Jim Anderson of the Nugget Newspaper as he gets a hands-on look with Gayle Baker at Rimrock Ranch. Rimrock Ranch is one of the Deschutes Land Trust's protected lands. Learn more.
by Jim Anderson
The Nugget Newspaper
February 22, 2011
Calving, that time-honored tradition of the West that takes place every winter, is part of the way of life at Rimrock Ranch, home of Bob and Gayle Baker.
"Yes, I roll out about 5 a.m. in winter," Gayle says, "and head out with the four-wheeler and a trailer-full of hay to feed and check on my girls."
Gayle's "girls" are a small herd of registered red angus purebreds that are the heart and soul of the Bakers' cow operation. There are three generations of Mollies in the family line: Molly the grandmother, Golly Miss Molly, the mom, and this year's mom, Sweet Molly, who is about to give birth to another Molly derivative.
While on most bigger cattle outfits, birthing takes place out on the open range or in pastures close in, at the Rimrock Ranch, Gayle treats her girls with a lot more TLC. While calves usually drop on frozen ground on the bigger outfits, Gayle's little ones arrive in a small, safe corral near the barn where there's safety, a straw bed to land on and shelter.
If something goes wrong, a breech-birth or other problems, Gayle and Bob have the cow--or cows--near a shelter where they can get out of the cold and Gayle can administer any assistance the mother-to-be may require. When she has cows ready to give birth, and to be sure nothing terribly wrong sneaks up on her, Gayle is up about every two hours at night, checking to see how her girl is doing.
Several years ago, Gayle went to a calving school, put on by a couple of veterinarians at OSU, and she can still recall the two most important things she learned at that class: When the water breaks during calving, the calf must be born withing 45 minutes. If you, as a midwife, can't help things to get better, don't be bashful; call for help. Those lessons became reality a few years back in the middle of the night with a hard-to-handle heifer ready to give birth.
Gayle could see she was having difficulty when her water broke, and tried to get her snubbed to a post in the barn by tying a rope around her neck, tying the other end of the rope to the post and leading her around in circles to snub her to the post--but when she got right up the post, the cow was backed against the barn wall, and the operation took almost all of the 45 minutes she had.
Things got worse when the heifer balked about going the other way, and recalling that No. 2 rule about getting help, Gayle called her neighbor, Larry Brewer at 1 a.m. When Larry arrived it had been almost an hour-and-a-half since the cow's water broke.
"That's when I got another lesson," Gayle said. "When we got the cow away from the barn wall we could see two front feet showing--she probably could have done the job by herself if I had left her alone."
But fearing the calf had been far too long inside the young cow after her water broke, she instructed Larry to pull on one leg while she pulled on the other until the head showed, and then, with a mighty heave, they both pulled together and a beautiful, healthy calf slid to the straw-covered barn floor.
While Gayle was looking over two of her girls about to calve, she said, "one of the things we look for in registered cows and bulls is three vital elements in the off-spring. The first is low birth weight (for ease of birth), second is high weaning weight, and the other is high yearly weight gain."
Now, it turns out another factor has been added to the formula: "Carcass weight." This is measured by high tech work involving ultrasound, which measures the size of the rib eye, fat marbling in the muscles and back fat; factors that come into play during the sale of the calves.
To say that Gayle enjoys her "girls" and all the interaction they have all year would be an understatement.
"One of the silliest things I've ever seen them do," she said, pointing to a ridge south of the headquarters, "was two years ago, when we had that fire on the other side of the ridge.
"We came home to find the front gate wide open and I wondered, 'Now, who did that...' and then Bob and I looked at each other and I said, 'Oh, no! Where are the girls?' We went speeding up the road and when we got to the hay stack there were Forest Service pickups parked all over the place, and a helicopter was descending toward one of those huge swimming pool tanks--and there were my girls, all standing in a big circle, drinking from the tank the fire crew set up to fill the helicopter's water tanks. Those silly cows had four or five water tanks of their own, but no, they had to get in the way of the firefighters and drink their water."
The Bakers have their heifers trucking to Billings, Montana where they are sold, and as Gayle puts it, "Some years we almost break even..but, one year," she said with a big grin of self-satisfaction, "we had one heifer who was the best-of-the-best at the sale."