A&L: Turning out the cows

In Northwest Colorado, “spring” (or spring as it gets in this part of the state) is finally here.

On ranches, the calving season has been over for awhile and likewise for the branding season that goes with it.

Attention lately has been on turning out the cattle on summer pasture. For some ranches, this is done or nearly done, too.

Spring 2010 will probably be remembered by ranchers as “the spring that we couldn’t turn the cattle out for awhile because the grass hadn’t started to grow.”

Although spring is always unpredictable in Northwest Colorado, this year the snowstorms just kept coming.

Melt in some of the high country areas was slow coming, and so the grasses didn’t come on as with most years.

So, depending on the location of summer pasture, there was a delayed turn out of cattle.

Spring weather may differ from year-to-year, but a person can count on year-after-year signs of the approaching turn out, or that turn out is in process.

This ranching season is marked by the following:

• In early spring, as soon as grass begins to pop up and areas surrounding the winter feeding grounds turn green, cattle start to take notice. Sometimes they hold their noses up in the air as if detecting the scent of spring wild onions and other early vegetation.

• Cattle take note of growing alfalfa in adjoining pastures and walk the fences, causing concern for ranchers. It isn’t uncommon for a cow to crawl through or over a fence.

• Ranchers are careful to make sure gates are securely fastened because cows have been known to get a gate open and turn themselves out to summer pasture.

• As spring progresses, cows are watchful for any sign that might indicate that it’s time to go to summer pasture. Signs might include hooking up the stock trailer, sounds that a truck is being started up, and others that only cows can detect. Such signs result in a lot of bawling and cows starting to gather themselves.

• And then, when it is time to go to pasture, one would think the cows would load almost load themselves into trailers. But sometimes, for reasons cows only know, this is not the case. The cows decide to show their stubborn sides.

• Preparation for turning out means checking fences. By four-wheeler or on foot, fences are checked for loose wires and places where the fence is just plain flat, due perhaps to drifted snow or elk crossing. Creek crossings, taken out by high water, have to be replaced.

• Mineral/salt blocks are put out on the summer pasture area.

• There’s a brisk business at ranch stores where the hot items are wire, posts, and mineral/salt blocks.

• Ranchers check truck and stock trailer lights, brakes, and tires.

• There’s an increased number of pickup trucks and stock trailers and semi-trucks and cattle trailers on the highways.

• Trailers filled with bawling calves follow trailers filled with bawling cows and then a pair-up of cows and calves on summer pasture.

• It isn’t unusual for people traveling highways to come upon flaggers and then cattle being herded on horseback.

• Turn out time is often accompanied by afternoon thundershowers.

• Ranch horses that may have had a rather restful winter are kept close to the house where they can be easily caught as summer pastures are periodically checked after turn out is complete.

• The food cooler is cleaned out and kept well-stocked with lunch, water, and cold drinks to feed turn out and pasture check crews in spring and summer.

• Ranchers keep an eye out for rattlesnakes, common inhabitants of some summer pasture areas.

Note: The follow-up article on “trich,” that was supposed to be featured this week, will be featured next week.

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