Thursday, July 14, 2011

Migration and the Wayward Bull

After we branded, we gave the cows a couple days to loaf before starting the three day trip to the summer pasture. I had been sick and welcomed the extra rest before the tough climb out of the canyon.

They cows probably did rest a day, but when Mike went back down to brush out the trail, he saw fresh sign. The cows had found a way onto the road and had trailed five miles along the bench to the trail-head, climbed up the trail and were now munching bunchgrass in a steep little basin below the rims.

Morning drink

By the next day, they topped out on their own, climbing out of basin and threading the rimrock to find a hole in the fence. We found them early in the morning, resting in the timber, not far from a stock pond. It was hot and I was glad to be reminded of the pond's location as I had not been there in years.


Getting close to Thomason

We trailed on foot to Thomason and over-nighted the cows in the road pasture. Come morning, a stray Hereford bull the size of a Mac Truck had taken up with the herd. He made our 2 year old Longhorn bull look tiny and even dwarfed the biggest cows. Mike had to push half the herd through a funky wire gate in a flimsy stretch of fence and then try to cut the big bull out as the cows came back through the gate onto the road.

Hereford near the front, our bull by the brindle
The bull was not aggressive. But when he decided to make his move, he was like a mountain in motion. And he wasn't slow. All Mike had was an old horse, our other geldings were still in the canyon. All I had was a stock whip. I held it straight up, zinging the air with a few hard flicks of the wrist. The bull looked me in the eye, his neck and shoulders towering about the cows' backs. I stared back trying to look tough.

As a bunch of cows ran through the gate, the bull made his move. Mike was trapped behind a tangle of cows and calves. I stepped between the cows and the bull and snapped my whip in the bull's face. His thick flesh rolled forward over his powerful neck as he slid to a stop and hesitated, poised to plow past, or over me, I snapped the whip back and forth. "Don't you dare," I said staring him in the eye. "Don't you even think about running over me."

The bull swung his head and took several steps side to side.  "Hit him!" Mike hollered  from his horse. "Hit him on the nose."  "I can't," I yelled back, feinting slightly and snapping the stock whip, afraid to go closer, knowing I'd have no chance to get out of the way. The bull turned and ran and Mike went after him with the horse and dogs.

Luckily the bull didn't test the worthless fence, but high tailed it west over the ridge. In a cloud of dust, the bawling cows and calves milled off into the timber and we were on the move again.

At last, on the summer pasture

The rest of the day was uneventful, hot and slow. When Mike finally brought the herd through the last gate into the summer pasture, I was relieved. Thank you cows, for mostly trailing yourselves to the summer range this year.

Loaded up

"Smile. We're done."

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of  Bunchgrass Beef

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cow Untipping

Cow untipping field
Last week on a morning run I saw my neighbor up ahead messing with the pump in his grain field. Another neighbor had pulled over in his diesel flatbed truck and the two farmers stood yakking over the fence. We called good-morning to each other as I trotted by with our border collies in tow.

A short ways down the road I caught sight of four stiff black legs sticking up out of a dry irrigation ditch. "Dang," I thought. "Heifer got stuck in the ditch and died, that's too bad." Then I saw a leg move.
Start of dry ditch

I trotted back up the hill to the two farmers and told them about the calf, thinking we ought to do something.. They seemed unimpressed. When they realized I meant the calf was still alive, they said, "Well, better go down there and see if we can get her out."

 They got in the truck and drove down the road and parked outside the fence near the calf. I told the dogs to lie down and stay in the neighbor's driveway while I took a short cut through the pasture.

The heifer was a big black baldy. After managing to up-end herself in the ditch, she had wallowed forward upside down wedging herself in good between the narrow uneven banks.

The younger farmer grabbed a hind leg and pulled this way and that. The old farmer pulled her tail and I grabbed her head pushing it uphill. I felt slightly ridiculous, down in the ditch in my running clothes. The heifer thrashed, we jumped back, she stayed stuck.

We tried variations of this maneuver several times to no avail.  I kept saying, "If only we had a rope for some leverage."  Finally the old farmer said to the young farmer, "You got a chain or anything in your truck."  "Oh yeah, I got everything in my truck," the young farmer said.

It was a long ways around by the road to the nearest gate. I looked down at the heifer, wondering how long she'd been like that, how much time she had left. Then I spotted the nylon pea-chord that I keep tied around my waist when I run with the dogs. It's only about two feet long, but in a pinch I can loop it through the dogs' collars and corral them if we're on the road and something tempting drives by, like a flatbed of barking dogs pulling a stock trailer.

"I do have this little piece of string," I said, untying it from my waist and holding it out in front of me. The farmers looked at the tiny piece of chord and then at me. It was not a favorable expression.

Before they could say anything, I made a loop in the chord and lassoed the heifers off-side front foot and pulled. They grabbed a leg and tail and pulled. The heifer moved. We pulled harder, letting go as she violently jerked against us and shifted slightly inside the ditch bank. She felt the change in position and struggled harder, getting a leg against the bank and finally pushing herself over.

As the heifer struggled to her feet and stumbled off, the three of us looked at each other. "Good thing you had your little piece of string,"  the old farmer said with a smile.
Black cows

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef