We are now getting into those lovely days of fall, when the air is clear and crisp, the skies are wall to wall blue, the lakes and ponds are full and the grass is green.
Of course, our cows don’t want to see it that way. At the moment most of the herd is turned out on some 7 sq. miles of rolling country east of the mountains, which has several roads through it, and thus six cattle guards. For those not in the know, I need to explain that cattle guards are trenches, about 4 ft. in depth, with heavy iron bars across them, so that vehicles can pass, but cattle, who rightly fear a broken leg should they step into the depths of one, are thus confined on their home pasture.
Not so here, not now. Five of these cattle guards are functional, that is, cleaned out, and so presenting to a cow’s eye the vision of a bottomless pit – but one, which is on a sloping road, had so much sand wash into it, that even a cow, with its nearsighted eyes, can see that she can cross it with ease. Many phone calls to the county road crew have failed to provide a clean out job, and, as the grass is much greener on the other side of the fence – or cattle guard – that is where the cows unfailingly go.
Unfortunately, on the other side of this cattle guard are also several houses, and, about three miles further down the road is the local village, with a most alluring golf course. Several of the cows remember that golf course – they remember it from past winters when the grass was not only short, but also dry, and they consider the golf course a sort of bovine heaven, where the grass is always green, always long, and there are nice places out of the wind, where a cow can take a snooze in-between snacks. Of course, the golfers, and, more to the point, the golf course owners, don’t see it that way. Most selfishly, they wish to restrict the cows’ enjoyment of the greens, and therefore the cleaning out of the cattle guard has assumed top priority in my life. As I write, there are happy guests out there on horseback chasing the cows back in, and urgent e-mails from me zipping to the county government, explaining the liability of unhappy voters in this year of change. So – tune in again to the Perils of Pauline here, and if you are on your way to visit us, look out for cows on the road!!
Our October round up is almost upon us, when we gather the herd and separate the calves. Most of these little guys are pretty big now, having been born from February through May. We sort off the steers, who will go to the sale, then likely to another ranch for a year or so to attain more maturity and weight before their final fate, and we pick our own replacement heifers from the girls. We had a great calf crop this year – 94%, which is pretty outstanding, considering that they are born out on the rough country of the mountains, with no obstetrical help at hand – and it’s a difficult job to pick out the best of them. It always takes two of us, Danny and me, with some arguments and checks and rechecks, but I guess that’s a happy fate, when you can’t choose because they’re all so good looking. I just hope that on this year’s round up we have only to ride the four and a half thousand acres of the pasture, and not the rest of the mileage to town to gather the golf course enthusiasts!
All this talk of gathers and round ups reminded me of a time on another ranch, many years ago (about the time I had the mare Chata, who provided such a puzzling scenario in the last edition of this blog) when, on a cattle round up, I had been left to guard a gate. It was a very hot day and the guys were a long time gone. After sitting on my mare Freya for an hour or so, I grew a bit weary, and decided to dismount and sit up against the fence. I sat there for a while, and then fell asleep. After some time I felt an odd kind of movement, and opened my eyes to see my horse comfortably sitting up next to me, saddle and all.
About this time, too, I had my first encounter with a bull. I had gone to check up on the contents of the molasses tub in the pasture. The tub was about 200 ft. or so from the fence, which had a nasty wire gate – called a Texas gate in Arizona, and probably, an Arizona gate in Texas – which was the devil to open and close. There were no cattle near the tub, with the exception of a large Hereford bull, who was standing some distance off, swishing flies. I didn’t know too much about cattle in those days, but decided that the bull looked docile, and in any case, was a long way off. I crawled through the fence and went to the tub. It was half full – so I turned around for the return trip, and saw the bull eyeing me speculatively across a distance which now seemed a great deal shorter. He lowered his head, and pawed the ground with his front hoof. I looked at him, looked at the distance to the fence, and calculated if I could make it before being annihilated. I looked back at the bull ….. he looked back, lowered his head some more, and pawed the ground again. I backed away, checked that far off fence again, and almost began to sprint – but just for luck, took one more peek at the bull. Once more he lowered his head, pawed the ground again….. and then laid down in the nice cool spot he’d made. I was SO glad I hadn’t made a fool of myself in front of him! With dignity, like an old cow hand, I walked to the fence, crawled through ….. and looked around to make sure there wasn’t some malicious, sneering, gossiping human eye that had enjoyed all this. There wasn’t.
And so, till next time!!