Irrigation season flowing along
April starts irrigation; ditches flowing with cold mountain melt on the ranch. Out here the grass is green thanks to March’s miracle storms. And all my calves are on the ground. Each day the little buggers discover something new like, “Hey, mom, look look, I can run real fast today.” Or, “Mom, mom, watch, if I put these front ones down I can kick my back ones up way high.” Their twilight runs more spirited each day. And as I watch them run I’m reminded I am such a poser.
Yep, I raise beef cattle, but am not a classic vision of a cowpoke or ranch hand. I can’t catch an animal more than two days old if my life depended on it. If their life depended on it I can — when the animal is really sick, or sleepy and very slow to get up. Otherwise I can’t catch anything. I am not the classic cowgirl. I am more a Gilligan’s Island rancher. Gilligan meant well, did good, but in his own fashion.
There have been cowboys out here who could throw a 60-foot rope from the back of a large sweaty horse. Lean out over their horse and swing a loop to drop on a selected hoof or head. Then a bit of wrangling at the end of the rope subdued the caught creature, but I can’t. I have no cow-horsey skills. Had to confess that at my yoga class the other day when asked how I roped my calves. I don’t. I run after them on foot. And if they outrun me then they are healthy enough not to need my care.
Would only trip over a rope more than 3 feet long running in my tennis shoes. Had two short ropes. Bought them at a western clothing store when the boys were preschoolers to entertain them when I drove them around in the pickup checking cattle. Borrowed theirs once or twice to put a drop on a calf from the side of the pickup, but couldn’t do more than that. Didn’t take time to practice; too much going on.
Now the kids are grown, my husband is retired and the few cows we keep are up close by the house in the heifer pasture. Now, it is easier to feed and keep an eye on when calving.
Use to be when a calf popped out, mom cleaned it up and the next day when she went to eat some hay dropped at a distance from her baby I would sweep in with my preloaded syringes of vitamins, Bose and give shots before the sleepy wobbly legged newborn recognized I was not his mother.
When we had animals in the hundreds I would even pierce the calf’s ear with a numbered plastic tag with the same number dangling from its mother. If a calf got sick and had to be taken to the barn for intensive care I would know which mother to bring in with it.
But with fewer cows roaming our pastures, I have slacked up a bit and wait to put ear tags in at branding. We feed mineral mix to moms and babies now so I don’t give newborns mineral shots. If a calf gets sick it is pretty easy to figure out which mother cares for it and walk her to the barn.
Calving done, Gilligan style.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley farmer.