Ronald Lawton loads up some hay early morning Friday at his ranch about 10 miles north of Craig.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Ronald Lawton loads up some hay early morning Friday at his ranch about 10 miles north of Craig.

Ranching goes on in the winter


— Imagine the snow being so deep that a team of horses get bogged down and has to be shoveled out. That's what my father, Kenneth Osborn, occasionally had to do in years past when he fed with a team and sled.

Today, as then, livestock has to be fed, no matter what the weather's like. Although today, it's more often some motorized vehicle that gets bogged down in the snow. Winters such as the current one can be challenging, indeed.

"Shovel" and "plow" are ways ranchers deal with the crusted drifts that block gates and roads leading to haystacks and areas where animals are fed.

At corrals, for example, several gates are apt to be shoveled out before chores can be done, and sometimes, the first morning, they're just opened wide enough for a person to squeeze through.

If the drifts are deep enough, like now, a person ends up stepping down into a gate entrance. Then, in the days after shoveling out, gates begin icing down and have to be chopped open each morning with an axe.

Roads leading to haystacks and feedlots often have to be plowed, and sometimes ranchers resort to feeding cattle on roads, so the cattle can help keep the snow packed down (In really bad weather, the animals might even be fed on the road leading in and out of the ranch road, too).

Then some of the haystack has to be shoveled off and bales of hay loaded onto the feed vehicle. Bale twines are often frozen into the hay, requiring an axe to cut them loose. And there's the challenge of staying out of the deep snow, so the feed truck doesn't get stuck.

Besides that, the cattle's watering hole has to be checked for ice each morning, and if surrounding ice is too slick, it has to be "roughed up" so cattle don't slip on it.

Today, most ranchers use tank heaters to keep the ice off water tanks in corral areas. Of course, there's always the chance that water will freeze at the faucet. That was what plagued this writer during last winter.

A water faucet, conveniently located next to a corral tank, froze up. So from about January through April, I had to run several long hoses from a facet in the front yard at the house. It meant laying out the hoses, connecting them, watering the livestock, and then disconnecting and draining the hoses and putting them in the shop for the night. This went on each day.

From this experience, I learned:

• A 2,000 pound bull can drink an incredible amount of water.

• Don't ever kink a hose in summer (to avoid walking to the faucet when the hose needs to be changed) because the water pools up in the kinked area in the winter and freezes.

• When a hose is yanked from a under a yard gate, the gate can come off its hinges.

• Some hoses freeze faster than others.

• It's a lot cleaner to lay out hoses in the snow instead of over a melting March feedlot.

• To avoid starting over when laying out hoses, keep track of the hose ends so they all match up for connecting.

• Likewise, watch for kinks in the hoses as you lay hoses out.

• Never put undrained hoses in the shop.

• It takes a lot of mopping (with a household mop) to clean up water from undrained hoses off a shop floor.

• It takes a gallon of bleach to clean up a filthy black mop after cleaning up water off a cement shop floor.

• Appreciate seemingly small things, like water when it's running from a faucet.


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