Sunday, September 12, 2010

Heifer Havoc

I guess this kind of behavior should be expected from a two-year old. But Mike is always telling me to have a positive outlook. In other words, don't assume the yearlings and two-year olds are going to wreak havoc.

So I didn't think about it as we unloaded at the neighbor's corrals. Our day's job: to gather the herd on the Zumwalt and sort off bulls and steers to haul to the valley. We rode through the 400 Acres and down past the pond. The sky arched over us like a robin's eggshell, and the golden grass, cured on the stem, rustled against our horses' feet. It was a beautiful Indian Summer morning.

The cattle were across the draw and on top of the ridge and they gathered easy and trailed easy all the way to the corral. Getting them in was a different story.

We bunched them by the corral gate, where a short fence made a wing to help guide them into the first corral. The cattle balked and milled, and a couple mother cows fought the dog. Then a bull went through the gate and a bunch of cows went with him. We thought we had them. That's when some heifers quit the bunch and high-tailed it north with the dog and Mike in pursuit. Then a little red cow let out a beller and started running and the whole mob broke for the hills.

Repeat this scenario about five times. Every time the three of us got the herd gathered back up, one of the blasted two-year olds would bust loose, leaping rocks and humps of grass, evading me. The cows would bulge through the opening I left behind, while the other riders worked to hold the sides. We really needed at least another dog, but Ruby was left at home to babysit Punch, the new pup. And good horse flesh was lacking. Mestizo still thinks he's a packhorse and gets confused by my agitated intentions. Spurs might have helped. And then there was Zeb, the cowy, but ancient mustang. And Zip, the big guy, all charging here and there and working up an enormous sweat. The lone dog was wore down to a frazzle with a bad leg. It was not a real positive part of the day.

Finally Mike decided we should try a different gate, one flat-on mid corral, at the alley, where they could see the other cattle in the corral. We bunched them, they balked, we bunched them again and drove, and then the lead cow walked through the gate. A miracle!

During the year, I like having the mixed age herd, the generations of cattle working the range together. But when it comes time to gather, those yearlings can be a real pain in the pitoot.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef