July 14th, 2008

woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

Cows and weather and headaches

It's been hot and dry (I have mentioned that, right?) and it's been so hot and dry that my friends who have a ranch (where my mama cows live with their herd) decided the time had come to cut the herd size down before cattle started losing condition.   When cattle need to be worked, I often go over and help out.   That's where I was this morning--got there at 8, left there after noon.   It was hot and muggy at 8 (it was hot and muggy at 7, for that matter.)  Those of you who've worked cattle on foot on day that hits triple digits don't need this description, but it might be of interest to others.

I already knew that I'd have to cull at least one of my cows: Blondie, one I really like, dropped a dead calf this spring, the same day that one of John's cows dropped dead twins.   And when I saw the range conditions, and how severely John was planning to cut his herd, I realized I should cull two.  Three of my cows had calves this year: Streaker (Blondie's daughter, had her second calf), One-horn (my oldest cow) and Dark Rose (had her third calf this year.) 

So we started by driving out to the field where the gooseneck cattle trailer is stored, and hitching it to the old pickup.  I spotted; John drove.   Then we took it back near the house, to the equipment barn where the air compressor is, to check all the tires on both vehicles and air them up if necessary.   Loaded up a cooler with frozen water bottles, sodas, etc. to take down to the old barn where the working pens are.  (Relic of long-gone previous owners, the old barn is down the hill, across a now-dry creek, and up the next hill partway, near the old well.)  The working pens are a maze of pens, squeeze chutes, multiple gates, and a lane just wide enough for the rig to go through and stop in the right spot to load critters into the trailer.   The older cows know the layout and routine; they go in pretty quietly, and know if you open a gate they can go through it.  But because of the drought, John's selling calves younger than usual, and five of the bull calves earned the name "The Wild Bunch" (one jumped a five foot gate from one pen into another, and then fought his way through the "outside" fence in that pen to get loose in a big pasture.   Often, if you're quiet in how you move around them, they don't do this, but the Wild Bunch were in the mood for excitement, despite the heat.   Then there was the "No way in heck am I coming into the pens" bunch.   These weren't being excitable...just stubborn.   The calves were interested in the buckets of range cubes, but the mamas made it clear to their calves that We Do Not Eat Bait.  Those cows need to find a home somewhere else, in my opinion.  John's too, but how to catch  'em and haul ' em away?  Three people on foot aren't going to get it done.  (No, roping is not an option.  I have been dragged at the end of a rope by a horse lighter than some of those cows!  It didn't take but a few feet of dragging to convince me to let go.  And that was in a level, non-rocky field with nothing worse than cornstalks.  This is rough slopes with rocks and holes and plants with thorns.)

This morning we had hot brilliant sun and no wind.  Suffice it to say that for three people over sixty, working forty-plus critters on foot in temps hovering around 100F,  it was hot dusty work, even using buckets of range cubes to toll them into the pens.  Today's chores included cutting the market-bound calves from the adults and the tiny calves, and getting them loaded up on the trailer to haul over to a cattle company across the county.   For hours I was either standing in the sun handling the "out gate" to the whole system, or  in one of the interior gate-working positions.   Or, with the others panting in the shade and sucking down cold water.    We tried to keep an eye on each other and call  a halt now and then, but what we all really wanted was to get out of that dusty, glaring heat...so we wanted to get it done. 
Finally,  we were done.  Last of the Wild Bunch (except the Escapee) loaded in the middle section of the trailer (more docile calves were up in the front section) and away they went. 

Well, we were done for today.  Wednesday is the day the adults and any additional calves we can catch head for the auction.   I'm sending two, half of my tiny "herd"--Blondie and One-horn.  I'll miss both of them.  One-horn is an old red-brindle cow with a freckled-face, a dark patch over each eye and a dark patch just above her muzzle--and one twisted-flat horn, from a dehorning that didn't quite work on her left side.  She's been a solid producer, a good mother cow, easy to work with in the pens.   Blondie's had a number of good calves (including Streaker) though she's not as old as One-horn, and she's a pretty cow--her face is more "dairy" than most Beefmasters with symmetrical curved horns and  a sweet expression.  

Whatever they sell for will go to providing supplemental feeding for the other two.   Range cubes have doubled in price in the past month or so, thanks to the price of corn going up. 

After I got home, we had a half-inch rain.  Not enough to make a difference, though my friend Ellen (John's wife) says selling off cattle because of a drought can bring on a rain.   And I had started the day partway through a three-day migraine, which the heat and dust and noise did nothing to improve....so the afternoon was pretty much lost to the headache.