Feeding is best with a driver
January 9, 2018
Feeding cows has begun out here even though as this is written there is no snow in the valley. The grass has just gotten short enough to warrant feeding. Some days I feed by myself, some days the guy with a drivers license address same as mine does it. Sometimes we feed together.
Feeding is usually a solitary sport, but sometimes I drive while he feeds. It allows me to drink my hot morning tea without guilt. I sit in a warm spot with a spacious view while the guy with the driver's license address mimicking mine pushes hay chunks off the wagon in the cold. Win. Win. Cows are happy. I'm happy. And the guy feeding does not have to rush. No worries the feed train will veer off into a ditch because there is no driver behind the wheel.
Out here hungry cows or a disrespectful bull rushing the feed wagon grabbing snippets of hay from a bale with their large blunt teeth never worries the feeder. You know the weather as you looked out the window before dressing so you are prepared for it.
It's the vehicle one worries about. You hope it will not stall, get stuck or the wind catch the door blowing it shut, accidently locking you out. The locked door is a big fear of mine. Always double-check the lock button before jumping from a moving vehicle to grab the passing back end to climb into the truck bed or wagon. Loosing control of the vehicle is my biggest worry.
The fields our cows spend their winters in have significant irrigation ditches along their edges or cutting down the middle. Excellent deep muddy traps for feed trucks, or hay wagons to get stuck in. Then the cows, with no self-control, will pull bales from the truck or wagon and feast all day until someone figures out how to start the backhoe and pull the stuck feeder from the ditch.
So when there is an extra person willing to drive feeding can become a meditative kind of pleasure. Everyone excited to get the hay strung out in the field, the cows especially. Then the calm quiet as each animal claims a section of hay, stands over it, eating their share.
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A driver allows one not to worry about how long it takes to drop hay or in which direction the vehicle is heading. You relax and enjoy the whole experience.
No sweat inducing panic when the truck hits a bump in the field forcing a sharp turn to the closest irrigation ditch. No anxious worry as a strong wind slams a door shut forcing you to reach the steering wheel with an outstretched arm, while your body is jammed through the back slider window, your booted feet flailing in the air. No dodging hungry animals with heads bigger than your torso as you jump off the feed train running to reach in through the cab's open window to correct a vehicles course.
Yes, feeding is enjoyable with a driver. Just wish it would snow to earn my keep.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.