And so here we are, with the spring round up and branding done, and now heading into the summer. It always amazes me, in spring time and then in the fall, how the fast spinning of the earth is demonstrated by the mornings, which seem to come so early so quickly, and then reverse in autumn. Here we are, light at 5 am and it seems that not long ago, we were stumbling around in the dark at 7! I am always reminded of – I think it was Galileo – who was hauled up before the Inquisition and threatened with being sent to the stake if he didn’t recant his theory of the rotating earth. He was wise – he recanted – but as he was leaving the room, he was heard to mutter: “And yet it spins!” Indeed, it does.
Anyway, with its spinning it brings us inevitably to the spring round up in mid May. As usual we had quite a few guests to help us, and this time it was particularly useful, as we had two large pastures to gather. The Flats, east of the ranch headquarters, is some 7 square miles, and had on it 90 head of young heifers, some with newborn calves. This made it quite a gamble to guess as to what end they might be on, and so where to send the bulk of the crew before the heat of the day hit, and the cattle brushed up. The rest of us had to gather the East Noonan pasture, which is not as large, but it had the bulk of the mother cows in it, with all those baby calves, and it’s always a worry that we gather up some stupid minded bad mother of a cow, who might trundle off with the herd and leave her baby behind to starve.
One of my pet cows, Twiggy – she who ate up my rose – was one such. About three years ago, during this same round up, I flushed her out of some bushes. She was about a day or two old, and so thin and pitiful that she swayed as she walked, trying to grab a drink of milk from the last cow in the herd, who always kicked her off. So on she tottered gamely, and I was sure she wouldn’t make it to the corrals. But she did. We put her in the pen and offered her a bottle. Some calves have to be coaxed to drink the milk replacer, which, I am sure, tastes nothing like their mothers’ milk. Some calves you almost have to force, and some you really have to force, in the shape of using a stomach tube. However, Twiggy glommed onto the nipple and emptied the bottle in double quick time, and has never looked back. She is now a huge three year old, naughty, rose eating cow, about to have her own baby.
I was one of the crew gathering the East Noonan, and so I had the little calves to contend with. On the very south end of the pasture I came across three cows with three very young babies, who were all brushed up under a mesquite tree, and who looked at me as if I were out of my mind. I could almost hear them talk: “What? Are you crazy, human? Can’t you see we have some tiny calves here – and you want us to walk miles and miles in this heat! Out of the question. Now do go away before you wake the babies!”
I went. Over the years we have learnt that cows, being very sociable beings, hate to be left behind in an empty pasture, and so Danny and I waited for these three to “come out”. We left open the big gate at the end of the lane leading to the corrals, and scattered some inviting hay halfway down the lane. To our satisfaction not three, but 6 pairs finally came out of that pasture! The last one was a lone cow, no calf. She came to the corral, drank some water, ate some hay and then meandered out again. But, though she had a big udder, there appeared to be no calf. At the end of the third day, Danny, with one of the ranch rides, followed her at a discreet distance to see where she had hidden it. She moseyed along, nibbled at a century plant flower, sniffed some weeds, admired the greening up bushes, investigated some grass, and in a leisurely, round about manner, reminiscent of Prissy in the movie “Gone with the Wind”, finally meandered over to the east fence – and lo and behold, there was a tiny calf, scrunched up under a bush.. We never would have found it.
Danny got off his horse and checked it over. It appeared to be fine, but very young and weak. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the cow came and went for another two or three days, and then finally, brought the calf to the corrals. It was undersized, very thin, swaying on its little feet, so that we marveled it even made its way so far. Furthermore, it had strange eyes – they seemed almost opaque blue, as if it were blind, but apparently it could see. We deduced that perhaps it was born prematurely, and the cow, with all her gallivanting around sniffing the flowers, didn’t give it too much to eat, as indeed her big udder proved. We kept them up in the corral alongside another cow who had had a uterine prolapse, and who, with her calf, was penned up, recovering from the minor surgery of being stitched up. After a few days we let them out. Danny said it was a kick – both calves headed out the gate doing a hundred, their tails straight up in the air, with one cow keeping up with them, and the other one trotting sedately behind. They had no doubt as to where they were going – they hit the gate at a good clip and didn’t slow down until they piled into the green grass just beginning to grow at the end of the lane. So – a good ending to the spring round up!
And another piece of news. At the beginning of round up, we had the KOLD Tucson News channel come here to Grapevine to do a live weather report from the ranch. It was a lot of fun – the weatherman, Chuck George, a really pleasant man, wanted to ride a horse, so we put him on Monkey, Danny’s horse, who generally lives up to his name. We were with the cows in the big arena, and I rode alongside on Comanche. Monkey did all right for the first segment, rode up into the cattle herd and allowed himself to be filmed, but when the next segment came, he said “That’s enough of this foolishness, you people! I’ve been in one bit, and now it’s time for my hay!!” And he resolutely presented his bum to the camera so that the audience had a nice view of a fat, horsy behind, and little else. We were on at 5 pm, then 6 pm and then at 10 pm, when Danny rounded off the broadcast with a Marty Robbins song.
We gathered the pastures, put the cattle in the big arena and early next morning went to work branding. One of our guests from the UK took this great photo of my dog Tuffy and a calf doing a Mexican stand off, and Butch’s wife, Deb, took the action shot of the year of Smokey on the end of the rope, Adam in the middle of a flanking maneuver with a pretty big calf, and Butch caught almost in mid flight, about to fling himself on the ground and grab the hind leg as the calf hits the ground. The timing in this has to be right on, especially if the calf is as big as this one. Some three hundred pounds of kinetic energy is tough to subdue if your timing is off!
The branding went well, and we finished on time. Then came the big stampede, when we open the gates and the cows, who had been off grass for two days, and who, by then, had all they wanted to see of us, stampeded out the gate, leaving their babies behind. We leave the gates open, and then, over that night and the next morning, one by one the cows come back, find their baby and meander out to pasture, to be happy and peaceful there for another few months.
We look like having a busy summer, which again proves that this year is all topsy turvy. March and April, which normally is our busiest time, weren’t as busy, and were rather lacking in young people, who generally come for spring break. I imagine that with all the economic problems it’s difficult for parents to spring for a group airline booking, not to mention the ranch as well. On the other hand, the summer is filling up…. It’s a strange time, to be sure!
So now, take care, don’t fall off the spinning earth and come see us!