Monday, October 10, 2016

Weaning Day

The mountains are glorious this fall. The quaking aspens have almost lost their color, but the willows along the creek and poplars at the old homesteads are in full splendor. And to make it perfect, the soil is thoroughly soaked. It's a very full-up feeling to work with the cattle on days like these. The herd does fine on cured-off grasses, but the new green leaves are a bonus.

The moisture is a boon to wildlife as well. Green sprouts mean protein and energy for soon-to-be wintering birds, small mammals and large game. And deep soil moisture, hopefully followed by good snowpack, bodes well for a bountiful growing season next year.

We pulled the calves off the cows between storms. The day didn’t exactly go like clockwork. When we arrived at our mountain weaning corrals, we found that the cattle had escaped their fenced pasture overnight. We had to re-gather the whole herd and stuff them back into the pasture through the muddy path they had made while escaping. The fence had to be repaired before we could begin separating. So as we worked through the herd, cows to the left, calves to the right, the truckers who had come some distance to help us, were waiting in line. I was worried that we were ruining their whole day and “will they come back next year if we made them wait so long this year?”

I needn’t have worried. What a nice bunch of guys they were. They all pitched in and helped us work the calves up the alley and into the trucks. Turns out Mark rodeoed in college with one of them. His son, Dalton, was my helper and told me all about the Texas ranch he is determined to own one day. His grandpa directed traffic and secured the latch as the last gate went down. Their three generations worked with our three generations to finish the job.

Dalton said that cattle were “in his blood.” And so it is with us I suppose.

The calves came down to the home ranch corrals for three days to complete the weaning process and then we turned them out to graze. Despite our good care, we’re getting sickness in the calves, which means riding through them daily and doctoring those that need it. The rain, though welcome, came with temperature extremes that, on top of weaning stress, may have precipitated the sickness.

When I told Great Grandma Bonny about our travails, she sang to me: “Mamas . . . don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys!”  I laughed and assured her that if we weren’t cowboys we’d perhaps be doing something equally as stressful. We know that owning stock means you'll lose a few now and then. We try to take what comes with equanimity and remember the oft-repeated phrase that stockmen live by: “As long as we keep it in the barnyard, we’ll be okay.” 

all photos by Anita 


the end of a long day

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