A Spoonful Of Sugar

☆ January 14, 2014

If you’ve never used a soup spoon to feed blackstrap molasses to a six-foot-tall, horned steer in the dead of winter, I highly recommend adding this to your bucket list. It is tricky: to fill a cold spoon with cold molasses; to navigate the spoon around the steer’s foot-long tongue and into his mouth; to dodge his sticky lips as he searches your face and torso for another spoonful. Both parties end up happy messes by the end of it.

It’s been unbelievably icy around here this winter. I wished I had crampons this morning just to cross the driveway to the chicken house. The snow drifts melt and puddle during the warm days, then it all re-freezes overnight. Ice upon ice upon ice. Some of the ice is smooth and slick, and some of it looks and feels like rough crumbles of glass. From this ice, Frisco got tiny cuts in the bottom of his feet, in the soft area around the actual hoof, and bacteria entered and caused an infection called foot rot. Foot rot is serious and painful, though not nearly as gross as the name implies. It’s fairly common in cattle, but this was my first first-hand experience with it. The infection caused swelling in both his hind ankles and made him lame – lameness, from the pain of the infection, is the most obvious early sign of foot rot. It can be knocked out with antibiotics, and cows have been known to fight the infection on their own, without medication, over the course of a couple of weeks, but a bad case can be fatal. This all started the last week of December, and it has been a battle.

The worst thing about doctoring large animals is the sheer volume of medicine one needs to administer in each dose. Giving a cat or a rooster a shot requires the tiniest syringe, a fine, delicate needle, and the act of giving the shot is over in a fraction of a second. Quick and painless, at least for the one administering the shot (ME!). With animals that weigh in well over 1000 pounds, it’s a very different story. Pills the size of a roll of quarters, syringes just as large. Giving a steer that is too tall to fit in the squeeze chute six giant pills and three giant shots multiple times a week is decidedly less fun than feeding him molasses with a spoon.

This bolus pusher helped me out with the pills. You put one pill in the tube at the end, then stick the apparatus into the beloved bovine’s mouth, guiding it in as far as you can and over the bump that cattle have at the back of their tongue, and then, with your third hand, push the plunger which gently deposits the pill so far back that they can’t spit it out and have to swallow it. Repeat six times. The pills annoyed Frisco, but at least they didn’t hurt. There’s just no gentle way to give a shot. Halfway through Frisco’s treatment, after I’d been dutifully cleaning the needles after each use, I came across a series of photos of a needle after reuse. I used fresh needles from then on, but I think it’s time I learned how to sharpen a needle.

While sick, Frisco lost his appetite and lost about 250 pounds with it. Just when I felt he had turned the corner and knocked out the infection, we got hit with serious cold and a few negative-20-degree nights. I stressed about his weakness and weight loss in such cold, but he and Daisy and Fiona slept together in the barn, and their body heat (which is substantial, and the original reason I started napping on cattle so many years ago) kept Frisco warm.

Yet Frisco needed to gain back some weight – and quickly. I was trying to think up some sort of high calorie mash I could give him, and landed on organic blackstrap molasses. I pretty much force-fed him by the spoonful the first day, but it did immediately stimulate his appetite for hay, and on the second day, he was like, “that stuff is delicious, do give me more.” The third day, I mixed the molasses with organic barley in a big pan. I don’t usually give my bovines grain, but Frisco desperately needed the calories, and this confection really helped him gain back his strength and his appetite. I gave him this treat once a day for a week or so, and now he’s getting it every other day. He’ll be bummed when this tapers off and his only treat is dried alfalfa pellets.

Friday morning, things were looking good. Frisco had a hearty appetite and dove into the breakfast hay alongside Daisy and Fiona.  Around noon, I took Frisco his molasses treat and finally felt he was out of the woods. His personality was back in full force, and instead of losing weight daily, I could see he had started to gain some back. Hallelujah! I took my first full breath in two weeks, turned to Fiona, and my breath caught halfway down. Something was very, very wrong. She wasn’t showing signs of foot rot; she was showing signs of labor. I spent the afternoon and evening at the corral, and at dusk, Fiona miscarried. I think the only thing worse than midwifing a miscarriage would be having one. I really don’t have anything else to say on it. If you’ve been through it, you know; if you haven’t, words can’t possibly approach it.

This story actually ends on a high note, beyond Frisco and Fiona remaining alive and on the mend. My vet came by on Saturday because Fiona had not birthed the placenta (apparently, it can take up to a week with cows with preterm calves; he made sure she wasn’t carrying twins and gave her some shots to help the process). After he attended to Fiona, I asked him to preg test Daisy. Daisy’s last calf was born in July 2012. It was a treacherous birth, extremely hard on Daisy and the calf did not survive. We got Maia, an orphan calf, for Daisy to adopt (and Maia is now all grown up and pregnant herself!) but Daisy has not bred back since. I’ve had her preg checked a few times during the last 18 months but can’t even remember the last time – late spring or early summer – and on Saturday, I had zero expectations, even though I’d not seen Daisy and Sir Baby “courting” since October. But since the vet was here, and Daisy was underfoot, why not?

When the vet said, “90 days,” I thought he meant no dice, and that he’d check her again in 90 days. I think he had to repeat himself three times for it to finally register, and when it did, I wept. She’s 90 days bred! If all continues to go well, she’ll calve mid-July. After nearly two years, and wondering if Daisy would ever be able to get pregnant again, this news was the sweetest sugar that helped soothe the sadness.


51 Responses to “A Spoonful Of Sugar”

  1. melissa
    January 14th, 2014 @ 11:50 am

    Wonderful stories and news. So happy for you and your farmly. Take care.

  2. Kristan
    January 14th, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

    I don’t know why I’m in tears about all this, but I am! At least near the end, the tears changed from sadness to joy. :)

  3. Gabriela
    January 14th, 2014 @ 12:18 pm

    So glad to read your news. So glad for their continuing good health and angel dust on Daisy so her pregnancy is uneventful and she is happily delivered of a healthy calf. Thank you for the update!

  4. Beverly
    January 14th, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

    so very sad about Fiona-hope she is healing and feeling better
    what a blessing for daisy!! how very exciting..and good to hear frisco is better
    the weather similar here in southwest wyoming..cold then warm enough to melt then freeze again and everything ice covered…now fairly warm-35-but wind up to 50mph…
    stay warm and thanks for sharing

  5. Janet
    January 14th, 2014 @ 12:21 pm

    Good news for Daisy, I hope that her pregnancy and delivery are easy.

  6. mj
    January 14th, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

    Thoughts and prayers are with you on all counts. Hope all continues to go in a positive direction for you and the Farmily in 2014!

  7. Deb
    January 14th, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

    Reading about a bolus, medicating beloved animals, and the importance of new needles brings me back to working with horses, cattle and pigs in my late teens early twenties. A friend of mine then was just as adept at animal care. It was a sight to behold – her passion and ability.
    Her love of her animals was heartwarming too.
    Something about how you treat them as the “persons” they are reminds me of the importance of connections with anyone.
    I’m grateful for people like you in the world that value beings like Daisy, Frisco, and Fiona. It deeply touches my heart.
    Thanks for sharing the special connection you have with these individuals, and how you care for them.
    Living the in midst of a big city can leave a person out of touch. Connecting with the squirrels and birds, does help, though.
    Also, reading about Esther the Wonder Pig http://www.estherthewonderpig.com/#!media/cwzt, or the Soul of a Horse http://www.youtube.com/user/thesoulofahorse
    helps too!
    Can’t get the picture of a big bovine tongue around a spoon of molasses out of my head – loving the image.

  8. wright1
    January 14th, 2014 @ 12:55 pm

    Thanks for the update on the Farmily and some insights into day-to-day care for big animals. Glad all have come through their recent trials. Here’s to this July!

  9. Marva
    January 14th, 2014 @ 12:55 pm

    Oh, thanks for the update. Take care, you and the farmily!

  10. Theresa Szpila
    January 14th, 2014 @ 1:08 pm

    Oh, Shreve, what a roller coaster ride you’ve been on.

    I am sooo sorry to hear Fiona has lost her calf, but also sooo relieved that Fiona herself is safe. I’ve seen cows try to deliver dead calves before and know all too well that, without prompt help to pull the calf, both mom and calf can be lost. I fully understand your heartbreak at losing Fiona’s calf and your gratitude that Fiona lived, and how hard it can be to deal with both emotions at the same time.

    I’m also sorry that Frisco had such a hard time with the foot rot and overjoyed that he is now so much better. Hurray for molasses!

    And I’m thrilled that Daisy is again with calf. This time I pray all goes well with her delivery and that both Daisy and her new calf will thrive and live long, happy, healthy lives.

    Sending hugs to all, especially to you, for being able to deal with it all and still hang on to your sanity!


  11. hello haha harf
    January 14th, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

    heartbreaking and joyful…you sure know how to share stories. wow. this may sound silly, but please hug fiona from me (and probably from a good portion of the internet, too).
    i now have the strong desire to share a spoonful or two of black strap molasses steer. surprisingly disappointed that i won’t have that opportunity for quite sometime.

  12. Patr
    January 14th, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

    Oh dear. I knew something was amiss with your last tweet a week ago and nothing here.

    I’m glad Frisco is on the mend and so sorry about Fiona.

    Yes! Cows love Molasses! The drought here in Texas has caused a shortage of hay – and the hay from Alabama got a big thumbs down from Dad’s pet bovine! So he started adding molasses to it – and boy did they enjoy that.

    I think his latest bales came from Tennessee, and they have now taken to eating it plain. Thank goodness! It was rather expensive to buy HAY and MOLASSES and Cow Kibble!

    Thank you for the update too. I know you are probably quite exhausted from stress, so rest up. Spring is coming -> the days are already getting longer.

  13. Jenny C
    January 14th, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

    Thanks so much for the update. Held my breath until I knew Frisco and Fiona were/are ok. Whew. Glad to know Daisy will calve this summer. Your sweet girl will have another calf – awesome! All the best to you and farmily – hoping and praying all goes well through this gnarly winter and with Daisy’s delivery in July. Cold and windy as all-get-out here in CO too. Stay warm.

  14. Heidi
    January 14th, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

    Reading about the challenge of administering aid to Frisco, I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to treat a steer that wasn’t a trusting farmily member! Wow. Hoping the insanely cold temps are done for the season, and wishing the best of health for all your critters.

  15. shreve
    January 14th, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

    HHH ~ not silly at all! I’ve been giving Fiona lots of hugs and will give her a big one from you.

    thanks to all.

  16. Maggie
    January 14th, 2014 @ 7:04 pm

    Oh wow. What a load of stuff in a short period of time! So glad Frisco recovered and so happy Daisy is in calf! Can I say that, like a horse being “in foal”? Sad for Fiona’s loss but glad she’s ok too. Mid-July due date… My birthday is July 23…Would love to share the date with a Daisy baby!

  17. ClaireB
    January 14th, 2014 @ 7:39 pm

    Thanks for sharing life on the ranch. I understand what you went through with Frisco. And in the bitter cold of winter. brrrrrr. The rescue equines I volunteer to help feed are not big on taking pills (when needed). At first they dont like molasses either – must be the texture. I feel bad for Fiona (& you). Hope she’s doing well. Sweet Daisy going to be a mom again. Congrats.

  18. Steph in Oregon
    January 14th, 2014 @ 9:08 pm

    Thank you for the update. What a roller coaster of events! I, like so many of us out here, share in your grief and joy. Take good care.


  19. Melanie
    January 14th, 2014 @ 11:12 pm

    Way cool! Hope all works out well with Daisey.

  20. Beth K
    January 14th, 2014 @ 11:43 pm

    So sorry for Fiona’s loss, but so happy for Daisy, and Frisco! Best of luck in the new year! :)

  21. Jaznme
    January 15th, 2014 @ 4:57 am

    Wow! What an ending and beginning. Sending much love and healing to you and all the farmily! Hugs, Peace and Love…Melissa

  22. Katbalu
    January 15th, 2014 @ 5:02 am

    Shreve, I love your farmily stories! I am glad to hear all is well with you & yours!!! Keep these stories coming!!! Happy New Year!

  23. LeFiffre
    January 15th, 2014 @ 5:17 am

    Perhaps — and you didn’t hear it from me and we know you’d never consider “borrowing” from some nearby dude’s gunsmith bench — a fine gunsmith file might do the trick with your needles. Get the angle right, debur with a backstroke. Alternately, and maybe better, a diamond whetstone.

    Loved the narrative, BTW. Nice to have you back.

  24. krisper
    January 15th, 2014 @ 7:56 am

    Your stories makes me smile and tear, all in on fell swoop. Life. . .

  25. Brandi
    January 15th, 2014 @ 8:39 am

    I have assisted in many bovine births, some joyous, some not. I’m sorry for the heartache. I hope Daisy’s upcoming birth will be easier on her.

  26. Marg
    January 15th, 2014 @ 9:26 am

    Well you had quite a start to the new year didn’t you !! So glad it all worked out for you, F, F and D. Well I guess Fiona didn’t fare as well as the other two but next time will be better. I’m wringing my hands for Daisy that it all works out this time. Have you ever watched The amazing Dr. Pol? He is a Norweigan vet that is absolutely amazing (thus the title) in his knowledge of animals. On the other hand between him and you I’m well aware that I could never be a farmer, I would be full of ulcers the first year.

  27. Theresa Szpila
    January 15th, 2014 @ 10:39 am

    An FYI for Marg – Dr. Pol isn’t Norwegian; he’s from the Netherlands. And yes, he is amazing!

  28. Jewels
    January 15th, 2014 @ 11:38 am

    Shreve, I work at as counsellor at a needle exchange in northern Ontario. Which, because of the location, can become treacherous to get to. So, some clients can’t always make it in to get fresh works, so we encourage them to sharpen their needles by rubbing them across the grit on a match box, it really does help and prevents the needle from becoming to dull, which can cause vein & muscle damage, abscesses as well as the possibility of the sharp actually breaking off into the person(super ouch!!). We only recommend this when they can’t get to us and only to do this a maximum of 2 times on the same sharp. Hope this helps!

  29. Jewels
    January 15th, 2014 @ 11:41 am

    Also, so sorry to hear about your farmily’s loss but congrats to Daisy!! Please don’t mind my spelling/grammar, it’s been a long morning

  30. Diana
    January 15th, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

    Tears, and Cheers…..the life of one who loves animals…contains both, without fail. Good wishes to all the bovines and you too

  31. Eileen Fritz
    January 15th, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

    Soooo emotional! You take such good care of all your babies……so sad for Fiona, so glad for Daisy and Frisco.
    Thank you for this update.

  32. Siobhan
    January 15th, 2014 @ 2:16 pm

    How many years can cows continue to give birth to calves? My experience is with dogs and cats, mainly, and I know that even if they still can, there’s a point at which they shouldn’t still be allowed to get pregnant. Is that also true with cows?

  33. LJ
    January 15th, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

    WOW!!!! What a roller coaster of emotions. I was interested, amazed, heartbroken, and elated all in a matter of 40 seconds while reading this post. Pretty sure I was holding my breath – Yay Daisy!

  34. shreve
    January 15th, 2014 @ 4:14 pm

    J ~ Thanks for that info!

  35. shreve
    January 15th, 2014 @ 4:16 pm

    S ~ I don’t know that that’s true of cows – Mike’s had great calving success with his older cows. Daisy is still really young though, she’s six now, if I’m remembering correctly.

  36. sybil
    January 15th, 2014 @ 8:55 pm

    Crying too – it’s so easy to love your beasts as much as you do when your writing is so visual.

  37. Torre
    January 15th, 2014 @ 10:01 pm

    Goodness – some highs and lows on the farm…. I’m glad Frisco is doing better and the image of him slurping molasses is just sweet :). I am so sorry for Fiona’s loss and yours. Exciting news about Daisy!

    You have been I e busy gal and I hope you get to take a break soon!

    I hope you tell all your animals how much we care about the too!

  38. Deborah
    January 15th, 2014 @ 10:20 pm

    Sounds like stress-city in this new year thus far, but thank God, it’s all turning around for you and the farmily! You are such a good momma to your charges. I’m ready for Spring and I take heart in knowing that January is half over as of today!

  39. Kim
    January 16th, 2014 @ 9:19 am

    Bless you for the update though parts must have been hard to recall and share.

    I’m glad that through your love and hard work, Frisco, Fiona, and Daisy are safe and healthy.

  40. Judy
    January 16th, 2014 @ 9:20 am

    This update took my breath away—I laughed, cried, held my breath—-just mezmerizing. Best wishes to you and all your loved ones for peace, health, happiness and an abundance of success in 2014.

  41. Laura
    January 16th, 2014 @ 10:24 am

    I am constantly thrilled at your love for your bovines and your care for them. You are truly a special woman!

    I do have a recommendation for those icy days — Yaktrax. They’re like mini-crampons that you can just strap on over your footwear and they’ll give you the sharp points you need to keep from slipping on the ice. They’re available from a million sources online, not at all expensive (in the $20-$25 range) and come in various sizes to fit your feet, and everyone I know who uses them swears by them. The last thing all your Farmily needs is for you to get hurt!

  42. Holly
    January 16th, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

    I am so happy and relieved that all worked out well. I can only imagine the stress you go through when one of your farmily get’s ill. Strength to you Shreve, and love to the farmily.

  43. Dogmom
    January 16th, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

    Dear Shreve
    This is one of my favorite posts ever. Your strength and resourcefulness always amaze me. I am imagining the young (10-20 years old) Shreve thinking about her future; I wonder if any of these things that you wrote about here were in your radar universe at that time!? My love for animals loves your love for your critters, and your writing honors your Farmily so much. All the best to you and them.

  44. Scotty
    January 16th, 2014 @ 6:37 pm

    omgosh s~ you have been busy !

  45. Bumblebee
    January 16th, 2014 @ 9:49 pm

    It’s SO great to hear from you and have the farmily update!! My heart broke hearing about precious Frisco and his poor, sore feet. :( Awwww… how cute though that he loved his molasses! Good stuff and organic to boot! You are THE BESTEST mom ever!!!! LOVE the visual of F, F and D all snuggled together keeping warm. Awwww… too cute! Such precious babies! Sorry about little Fiona’s loss, but a great surprise about Daisy!!! A happy ending. Please give them all LOVING HUGS from me too! Glad you are ALL safe. HUGS to you too Shreve!!! <3

  46. mlaiuppa
    January 16th, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

    Oh, poor Fiona.

    And Frisco. Glad to hear he’s on the mend.

    Maybe Fiona could have a little spoon treat too.

    And congrats to Daisy! Guess she didn’t need any help this year. Can’t wait for the new baby. Hope it’s another girl.

  47. Sandie McKnight
    January 16th, 2014 @ 10:41 pm

    Wow, love to read about you and the farmily! (and that hot cowboy)

  48. Kelley Rico
    January 17th, 2014 @ 11:42 am

    Ah, the famous but seldom seen third hand. Now I don’t feel like such a mutant! You managed to make the intensity of…er..daily rural living? come alive and sing. Perfect timing too, we were feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all out here- however, sounds like so far so good all around. Wonderful!

  49. kellig
    January 20th, 2014 @ 6:48 pm

    the news of daisy’s pregnancy actually teared me up, and that is not my normal habit. Winter is hard, and out there you feel it just as they did in the old days. Daisy is the January photo in the farmily calendar, isn’t she? (someone has probably already mentioned this, but it would be great to know who is pictured each month. maybe for next year?
    anyway, hope you continue to weather the winter on a positive note.

  50. NancyD
    January 21st, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

    I absolutely love your stories, they are so real (I know they are real, by that I mean your WRITING is so real – feels like I am right there living the experience). Thanks for sharing your experiences, glad Frisco is better, and so happy for you and Daisy!!!

  51. Susan
    January 23rd, 2014 @ 9:59 am

    When you need a high calorie feed that is not a grain product, consider Allegra Senior (for debilitated or aged horses) or another brand of senior horse feed. It’s a complete feed but is not a grain based product. I use it for my elderly goats. Easy to chew but you can also add hot water to make a mash that most critters like, especially on a cold day. Great for putting

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