Thursday, November 19, 2015

Temporary Measures

We spent another day in the mountains moving cattle. It was cold and windy. I dressed warm but not warm enough. Riding a 4-wheeler is even colder than riding a horse, except for the heated handles. Mark and I traded off driving to warm up our fingers.

The cattle moved easily except for one head. Everyone else came to meet us. T44 blue was reluctant to cross a far-off creek. Mark saw her outline from a distance and tried to impress me by correctly identifying her. I’m not easily impressed. Tell me why he knows her from a speck on the horizon and he didn't notice my new jeans?

T44 blue is 8 years old now and Mark remembers her as having her first calf as a 2-yr-old in January. She was one of three that year that were accidently bred early and calved in January instead of March and April. She’s the only one of the three still in the herd. We drove around the long way to fetch her. As soon as Mark knew who she was, he knew that her docile temperament would allow me to walk her on foot to a better creek crossing. How does he know her emotional traits and keep her straight from all the other hundreds of cows? His answer: “I’ve been around her for eight years!”  

She indeed was a nice, calm cow and Kate and I got her back with the others after a pleasant walk-about. We followed her by a spring that rises out of a bowl in the sagebrush and quickly turns into a substantial creek. Were those baby trout I saw darting from bank to bank?

super conditions for winter grazing

how Kate gets a drink

There’s always odds and ends to attend to besides the cattle and today was no exception. The lovely arch we inherited at the mountain ranch is falling over. Thank goodness Mark had delivered a stout post this summer to do the repair work. He never got to the repair, but the post was handy for what we call a “greasy sacker fix” to prop up the arch ‘til spring.

a better fix will have to wait until next year

Then on the way home we spied another gate in disrepair. We’ll need this later on when we walk the cattle home. It’s on the county road adjacent to a cattleguard. We stopped so Mark could reset a post that had been knocked over. The gate needs extended, but for now a macramé of plastic baling twine will work to connect it to the brace post at the end of the cattleguard. Like the arch, Mark called his fix a “temporary measure.” He referenced one of his favorite humorists, Patrick McManus, who says that a temporary measure is in danger of becoming a permanent measure if it lasts long enough!

using the window to hold up the wing of the cattleguard 

"our best is none too good"

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Nuanced Season

November is a quiet month, a subtle month. And as the year gets older, the landscape looks more and more like my wardrobe – neutrals. I own one melon colored t-shirt, a red wool coat and a couple of teal tops. Everything else is brown, gray or black. Hmmm. What does that say about me?

Maybe all it says is that I think neutrals are beautiful. That nuances are beautiful. And November is nuanced for sure. Even its holiday, Thanksgiving, the start of the cluttered Christmas season, is still bathed in neutrals and subtleties. Most Thanksgiving days are mocha colored, the color of bare tree limbs. And what’s not to love about mocha?

The cows are still in the mountains. We moved them to a new pasture where tall bunch grasses reach above the few inches of snow. A little snow is fine if it doesn’t get too cold or too deep. We walk around with our fingers crossed. Every day now is a gift away from the haystack.

The calves are grazing here in the valley. We took the heifers to a pivot of wheat owned by a man who isn’t afraid to let cows on his farm, a rare commodity in our community.  A farmer willing to run the pivot after the wheat is harvested and fall fertilize. He says the calves will reprocess the fertilizer and leave it for next year’s crop. The conditions were perfect this fall for good regrowth and there was plenty of seed since a rogue hail storm put 10% of the crop on the ground before threshing. Still it's an experiment and a bit of a gamble. Deep snow or super wet conditions could derail the grazing days/acre needed to make the whole thing work. 

We’ll share the labor, and when it’s done we’ll share the figures, and hopefully it will work out to the plus side of both our ledgers.   

Mark and Jesse strung an electric wire along the pivot so that we can move the fence by rolling the pivot every couple of days to give them a fresh paddock. We call this “rationing” of stock-piled feed. Statistics say you’ll increase utilization by up to 40% doling out the forage instead of letting them have it all at once. 

So it’s about cows as it always is. And it’s about trust. And about continuing to seek new knowledge. Fitting for November when one feels reflective. When we take stock of the year behind us and think about what the next season has in store.  

calling the cows to change fields
"come on cows!"

rolling the pivot to change fields

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Finding Doc

It was cold yesterday. I wore my coveralls all day. I’m still in my summer skin - still pumping my summer blood - so the extra layer was wonderful. I thanked Mark over and over for suggesting I throw them in the pickup.

We went to the hills to let the herd into another field. They could hear us coming on the 4-wheeler and jogged to meet us. They know the deal.

We were surprised to see an antelope in their midst. Actually, he was out in front getting the heck out of the way! We think of antelope as flatlanders; what was he doing up here in snow country?

The next job after letting the cows through the gate was hauling the bulls home from an adjacent pasture. We had left two horses, Doc and Jane, at the mountain ranch to do this very job, but when we went looking for them, we found Jane by herself. Any horseman knows this as a heartsick affair. Horses are eternally lonesome for their own kind and to go from two horses to one horse usually means disaster. My mind had him dead from a hunter’s bullet or from getting tangled up in fencing wire. We searched nearby and found nothing. Knowing that Mark’s folks were waiting at the corrals, we proceeded moving the bulls with a sick feeling.

When we got the bulls loaded and the trailers headed for home, me driving one outfit, Mark searched for Doc one more time to no avail. He had a thought, though, when he remembered a lone sheepherder’s horse next to a sheep camp due west of there. It’s on the route home. Could Doc have somehow gotten out of our pasture, traveled cross country over a ridge and attached to this horse? Turns out that’s exactly what he did. Mark spied him with the binoculars, rode Jane out in the field, slipped the halter on the visiting buckskin, and left the sheepherder’s bay to himself again.

I was already home and had delivered my load of bulls when Mark called. He was on top of a mountain where he could get cell service. I was in the garden. They were calling for a heavy frost so I was pulling the hold-out onions and beets, and cutting the last two purple cabbages. It was almost dark. What a relief to hear his good news!

I washed my produce in the light from the dining room window and laid down on the lawn. I could hear the bulls bellowing from their fall pasture just a quarter mile away, and in the background the rustle of leaves falling off the cottonwoods. I said my “thank you” to the universe and felt the solidness of the earth beneath me. My only care was that I was a day late to enjoy the hunter full moon.

they do love fresh feed