Morning Slush Hour!

By Susan Nardinger This hardy calf is one of the last spring births at the Nardinger ranch, in Joliet.

 It must be the cowboy way, since this season is causing Carbon County ranchers and residents alike to be tough, endure and carry on with yet another large snowstorm blanketing the area on Monday, March 31. Whether shoveling or birthing livestock, the work is twice as hard late in season with the wet heavy snows of March and more in April to come. According to Red Lodge Mountain on Wednesday, March 31, 16 inches of snow were received within the past 24 hours, 21 inches within the last 48 hours and almost a yard of snow within the last seven days. Locals down below in Red Lodge complained of constant shoveling and cars were getting stuck Monday morning in the heavy snow. West of town, Hwy 78 was mostly clear. However, many residents in the foothill subdivisions were dealing with a deceptively thick and sluggish slush to plow through. If they slipped out in front of the plow on private roads they found themselves experiencing the Montana version of the morning “slush” hour. Ranchers just over the cusp of birthing season were working to cope with the surprises of spring.

Dan Nardinger gave an update on his son Phil’s ongoing efforts at their ranch in Joliet. The bulk of his pregnant cows have birthed he said, with 4 to go. His herd totals 30. “It’s a challenge!” said Nardinger. “At least it is not cool. As long as the sun comes out,” he said Monday, March 31, “that helps.” While not all the cattle can be herded inside in bad weather, Phil Nardinger does have 2 calving sheds. “They have bars across so the cows can get out of the weather if they need to and not other cattle,” said Dan Nardinger. He noted they had the luxury of the sheds.

One rancher with a larger herd had already lost five calves after moving them down here from the Pryors. “Still not as bad as Miles City,” he added. There, one farmer had lost five cows in one day. “He hasn’t even begun to count his calf losses.” Nardinger said his son had also set plenty of hay bales out and scattered straw outside to provide shelter as well. Their cows started birthing in February. “The first one showed up the end of February. It was pretty cold, about -23 degrees then. He had sniffles and we knew something was wrong,” reported Dan. He said the visits started all night to check on the calf. “I went out at 2 a.m. and he looked just like he was sleeping, the last night.”

Although they had him treated and watched him closely, they lost him. “We go out all different hours of the night now to see if there’s a birth.” They had some bum calves (without nursing mothers) so they did the usual procedure in such circumstances and took the calf’s hide and tied it to a bum calf. “The mother (of the dead calf) was really confused. She was smelling the hide and then going to the end where it didn’t cover and back again. She knew something wasn’t right.” But fortune shined, and she committed to the calf. “Now, she’s guarding it with her life,” added Nardinger. He said the bulk of the births came in March. “We had a break of about three weeks after that first one. They were slow in coming.” When asked if he were concerned about wet heavy snow followed by a temperature drop he said, “Once they get a few days old, those little buggers are so tough, it’s unbelievable! Minus 23 degrees is different. We did have one calf freeze a portion of his ear. That was the only damage done.”

He noted he just recalled recently seeing the store Shipton’s carrying “ear mittens” for just such a purpose. Nardinger said they also care for a neighbor’s sheep on the property. When asked if they were also lambing, he said, “They’re so wooly it’s hard to tell!” Nardinger said he hadn’t thought about it but would now keep an eye out for an unexpected birth. “You never know!” he laughed. Nardinger said the four remaining cattle births will come in April, but realized the unpredictability of Mother Nature and added, “Unless there’s one tonight!”