On a moonless night, a few nights ago, I was concerned about the safety of our newborn calf, so I decided to camp out with our cows and horses. In doing so, I learned a few things about both livestock behavior and my night vision.
To begin, this past Friday morning, I went out to feed the animals and saw that my Matriarch cow had not shown up. I called and called and called her. I heard her mooing at a low volume. I went looking for her and found her on the edge of the woods next to the driveway with a newborn calf, just barely standing and very wobbly. I watched a few moments until, it nursed. To see the rest of this part of the story please go back and read, “The Editor’s Prepping Progress” column, for last week.
I made two attempts on Friday to get mama and babe into the corrals for safety from predators and easy access for de-horning in a few days, but was unsuccessful. So I decided to spend the night out with them to add to the protection level.
So about ten o’clock on Friday evening I began to prepare to go outside. I wasn’t sure if I’d spend the whole night out with them or just a few hours. I was a little bit nervous about it. The temperature was about 34 degrees Fahrenheit and was expected to get down to 24 degrees Fahrenheit with about two inches of snow on the ground in the open areas and only a trace under the trees. I wore my LL Bean flannel lined jeans, a pair of socks, Bogger’s garden shoes, cotton-t-shirt, Cashmere sweater, Aran Irish wool sweater, my light puffy down jacket, fleece-lined hat and mittens. I brought my inflatable sleeping pad, my ancient LL Bean qualophill 20 degree sleeping bag (that washes very easily), a big MagLite flashlight, water bottle, and my .45 Glock Model 30.
I walked out of the house. The air felt very warm outside and comfortable. Well, I will say that I am a very warm person these days. It was very dark! I turned on the flashlight and walked across the parking lot over to the hen house where I met C, one of our horses standing guard over the parking lot which commands an excellent view of the driveway, river and meadows from which she a could see anything that would approach the “nursery area” from those directions. I greeted her with a kiss on her nose and a rub on her chest and neck, and asked how her sentinel duties were faring? I then proceeded to walk on one of our access roads through our woods to the actual “Nursery”. The area L., the mama cow, chose is very thick with large cedars, Grand firs, spruce, and pines and their saplings underneath. It is situated along one of our fence lines. Mama cow and baby were located about forty feet west of the nest that I had made earlier in the day with straw.
About half way between the nest area and Mama’s location, I located a tight copse area surrounded with saplings that I could put my inflatable pad into and sleeping bag where I would be safe from being trampled, yet, I could still see and be near all of the animals. I proceeded to set up my camp area. Mama and baby watched me. At that time the other cows were still in the corral areas eating up the last of their dinners. I had brought mama her dinner earlier in the evening. Baby was jumping and prancing around making mama nervous, she was constantly mooing at the calf with that low moo mama cows make for their babies to warn them to stay close. When the pad was inflated, I slipped it into the copse area, (there was almost no snow under the trees) and opened my sleeping bag, spread it out on the pad and jumped on it and folded it over me like a blanket/quilt. I left my Boggers garden shoes on and had them hang out of the bottom of the sleeping bag. I wanted to be ready for anything.
Then, when I was comfortable, I shut off the light. It was black, black, black. I hung on tight to that flashlight. I laid there quietly waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. My heart had picked up it’s pace, just a bit. I began to listen to all of the noises around me. I could hear baby prancing around, mama mooing, then I heard baby nursing, noisily. Then I heard a twig snap near my feet. I turned the flashlight on and there about ten feet away was Sh. the daddy/bull. He was looking right at me. Wow, I had hardly heard him at all. Behind him was A. our older heifer. A moment later, S., our super alert horse, walked by them and went over to check on Mama and baby. She was also walking by super quietly. I turned out the light again and just listened. I could hear them making a few small noises as they all walked around, but I could not judge how far away they were. It was so hard to judge the distances of the noises.
I kept turning the light on and off. At one point I heard a sound near my feet again, I turned on the light and less than three feet away, just on the other side of the saplings, baby was looking at me with Sh, right behind her, butting her gently, with mama just behind him. I laughed and talked to her and the other livestock. Baby was so curious. I turned back off the light and it seemed that everyone had quieted down. Turned the light on again to see where everybody was, Sh was laying down in the direction of my feet about thirty feet away, Mama and baby were back over in the area they had been when I first came out and I had no idea where the Heifer or horses were. So I turned off the light, laid down and rested.
Gaining My Night Vision
All of this time, my eyes had not yet fully adjusted to the dark. And every time I turned out the light it was so black. I prayed and thought and looked around. I could see the branches above me silouhetted against the dark cloudy sky but not anything else. Well, I could see, slightly, the open snowy area of the access road. A while later, I sensed something. I sat up and turned on the light and Sh, was less than a foot away from my head on the other side of the saplings. Again, wow, animals can approach you so quietly in the dark. Heck if it were a predator, you’d never know until it had you, was what I was thinking… I reached out and gave him a scratch on his poll and ears and nose. He has the largest friendliest eyes, full of understanding of who I am to them, at least for for a bull. Then he moved away. I turned the light off again and just sat there listening and sensing the dark. I turned on the light again and A. (the older heifer)’s nose was less than three inches away from my nose!!!!! Wow, again. We touched noses in greeting and then she moved off. They both left the area. I panned the flashlight around and mama and baby also had left the area. Hey, they left me! I was abandoned!! I laid there for a few more minutes. As I laid there the clouds moved away and the stars came out! Suddenly, I could see quite well all around me. I pulled the sleeping bag around me and just looked up at the sky. It was so nice. Now that my eyes had adjusted and there was more light, I felt much more comfortable.
Actually very near to this copse area is the area of the property that serves as my prayer closet during more moderate weather conditions. It is a comfort zone of mine which helped enhance this now more comfortable feeling. I laid there for awhile looking at the sky and branches, contemplating. Suddenly I saw small flashes of light/flickerings in the tree branches above me. I looked around. It wasn’t coming from the very few vehicles on the distant county road. I noticed a very bright light up in the sky to the east. I stared at it and it was flickering. It was fairly large. I thought it was a jet. I stared long and hard at it and it did not move. As I continued staring it flashed and flickered more, reflected off the branches and it was coming from that planet. Wow! That impressed me. The albedo of that planet way out in space would give off enough light to cause little flashes around me.
Then I saw another light near the fence-line. By this point, I had lost my nervousness and worry. I could by then see very well, and I am quite familiar with the layout of our land. I was in my own element, even outside at 11:30 at night. I jumped up and walked over to the fence line and discovered that some of our T-posts had gray silver paint tips and were reflecting that starlight. How cool. I decided to do a quick chore and return the mama cow’s empty water bucket back to the barn. On the way, I saw our horse S. at the juncture of the access road and driveway. I greeted her with a kiss on the nose and a neck rub and asked her how her sentinel duties were faring. Then I saw all of the cows in the little patch of woods near the Main garden, mom and baby included. Since that is a very safe place for everyone to be, I dropped off the bucket at the barn, where C. the horse was picking and eating the last of their dinner’s hay, and went back to the copse area.
At this point the whole sky had opened up. We have no light pollution here, whatsoever, the stars and Milky Way here are absolutely gorgeous on moonless nights. So I pulled my sleeping pad and bag, flashlight, water bottle out of the copse and brought them to the open area fairly close to the prayer closet area and laid them out to watch the stars. I zipped up my sleeping bag, kicked off my Boggers and crawled inside and tried to warm up my damp and now cold feet. I watched the stars for quite awhile. I saw some meteors, and recognized some constellations. I closed my eyes, but didn’t want to sleep. Just because, ya never know… what will creep up while one is sleeping… even if you can see all around you. I felt too exposed to sleep. After about a half hour, my feet were not warming up. My stomach growled. I also needed the use the loo. But I wanted to stay outside all night. Because it was just so beautiful.
I decided to go into the house to get my tent, put on long johns, put on dry socks and double them, add a turtleneck to the other layers, and get a second sleeping bag, my 20 degree Mummy bag, to double it with my 20 degree LL Bean bag, eat, and go back out. So I did that.
As I passed by the area where the animals were now loafing, both horses were now present and had set up stations for watching, the cows were very close to Mama and baby. Baby was prancing around again. At this point, I was not worried about the baby freezing to death or being bothered by predators. The heifer calf was extremely active and was nursing very frequently, which are excellent signs of strength and vigor and are behaviors of keeping oneself warm during a cold night. The animals were situated with the 8 foot garden fence and house on one side of them, the driveway on one side and the parking lot on the other side, An excellent little Redoubt spot to be in.
I set up my two-man tent in the living room and brought it outside to the parking lot, which is a very wide open area for star gazing and is also close to the area where the cows and horses were loafing. The tent has a mosquito screen ceiling so one can star gaze from inside it. I set up the sleeping pad and put the Mummy bag inside of the ancient LL Bean bag, brought out a rolled up blanket throw and a polar tech fleece sweater to use as a pillow, water bottle, flashlight, and holstered Glock. I pulled off my winter barn boots and crawled into the two bags, pulled my hat down over my ears, put on my mittens and snuggled in. In a few minutes I warmed up nicely. It was super soft, comfortable, and warm. “Super coze”, as Jim likes to say.
I looked up at the stars and reveled in their beauty and in the fresh crisp air and was tickled to know that I was was super warm sleeping outside on December 27 in the winter. And it was super beautiful out. It was 1:00 AM when I went back outside. I fell fully asleep about 20 minutes later and I woke up about 7:30 AM.
I didn’t wake up once during those hours, which shows how comfortable and secure I felt and I wasn’t cold at all. As soon as I woke up, I got out of the bag and thought I would be cold, but, I wasn’t. As soon as my puffy jacket that I slept in, puffed out, it trapped all of my heat and I felt fine. I slipped on my winter barn boots. I checked the temperature and it was 22 degrees Fahrenheit. I immediately went to look on the cows and horses. They were right where I had seen them last, before I went to sleep. I carried out the morning hay ration to all of them, under those trees. Baby was in the middle of nursing. After everyone had their hay, I filled a 5 gallon bucket full of water and brought it to mama. She drank it down immediately, so I brought her a refill. And she drank some more.
Then I fed and watered the chickens, refilled the water tanks, and cleaned out the stalls, laid down fresh straw, refilled the water tank in the corral. This was in preparation for the cows to occupy the barn.
All day Saturday, Mama and baby spent time in the woods near the garden. In the afternoon, they went back to the copse area where they had been the previous evening. Then, that evening, when I went out to feed everyone again, mama and baby were in the loafing area, which is just before the gate to the corral. Mama was eating up hay from an earlier meal. This excited me because she was so close to to the corral and stalls where I wanted to put them. So I tossed everyone some hay. I then remembered that I hadn’t closed the back gate to the corrals, I wasn’t sure if I could get them to enter the corrals through that gate and so had thus left it open. But now, I was sure I could get mama to go in the other gate. So I went around the barn to the other side to close the back one. It was stuck in some snow, I tugged it and it made this horrible screeching sound. I closed and chained it and then walked back around the barn.
When I came around the barn, I counted noses. Mama, baby and S. (our Super-alert horse), were gone. I looked for them, but they had bolted. We have a lot of other woods around the ranch that they can go hide in, if they so choose. So I assumed that the screeching noise from the closing the gate scared Mama and when she took off baby followed close behind. S. wasn’t going to let them out of her sight and went with them, even to the point of sacrificing of her own dinner. Thank you S., for keeping that baby heifer safe.
So, knowing that Mama and baby were in safe hands with S, C., Sh., and A. I went to bed in our own bed that night.
The next morning, when I went out to feed them, mama and baby were not in my sight, but I decided to feed everyone else inside the corral. I tossed in all of the hay, one by one the others went in. Then I saw that mama and baby returned. The Mama saw where the hay was and where the other cows had gone and walked right in to the corrals. I quickly and quietly went and closed the gate and had all of the cows where I wanted them. The horses were distracted by hay that I had put down outside of the corrals and so they didn’t go in.
Now I am closing the cows in the stalls at night, so that they have extra warmth and shelter. I let them out every morning to feed them. In a few more days, I’ll be able to de-horn the baby. We still haven’t named her.