Agriculture & Livestock: Until the cows go

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Diane Prather

All during the late fall and winter, ranchers fed hay to their cows — every single day.

Besides that, there were the other chores that went along with feeding, such as keeping an ice-free, fresh water supply. Then calving time arrived, followed by branding.

This spring has been extra sloppy and late, so in some areas grass has been slow coming on, but finally it’s turning out time.

Cows are ready to be turned out on summer pasture, and ranchers are ready for them to be turned out. (It should be noted, however, that there’s still plenty of cow checking work to be done during the

summer months.)

So, here’s how you might find things on area ranches right now, or at least on our

small place.

• The haystack is shrinking in size.

• Restless cows pace back and forth, from one part of the winter feedlot to another, often standing with their heads pointing in the summer pasture location.

• From the first morning light, cows start making their rounds of the feedlot area, seeking out blades of grass that popped up over night. In the late afternoon, cows make the rounds again.

• The smell of grass as it’s being mowed around the house brings a stampede of bawling cows close to the yard.

• Hay just doesn’t seem to satisfy the cows, no matter how much they’re fed. After all, there’s apt to be green grass just across the fence.

• So, after the cows have had their morning feed, washed down with gallons of water, and taken a nice nap in the sun, it’s late afternoon and time to search out green grass. That’s when fences being torn up begins.

• Some cows are more skilled than others at getting their heads through or over a fence. Sometimes it means turning their heads sideways, but it’s easy to tell where a cow has managed to get her head on the other side of a fence because vegetation is eaten away for two feet in each direction.

• Woven wire pushed down, loose fence stays, staples pulled out of fence posts, fence posts hanging loose — ranchers keep on their toes repairing fences.

• One marvels that, in areas where feedlots are close to highways, cows don’t try to hitch a ride to summer pasture.

But, then the day arrives — turning out day. The stock trailer is backed into the corral loading area.

This is likely the scenario to follow.

• At the sound of the stock trailer being moved, the cows get excited. They begin calling up their calves. Cows bawl. Bulls bawl.

• Confusion follows. Cows are herded into the corral. Some can’t find their calves because they’ve already gone into the corral. Yearlings are sorted off into the bull corral. Cows and calves are paired and sorted as to which are to be loaded first. The yearlings and bulls get excited because they think they’re going to be left at home.

• After the animals are fed some hay (so they won’t be put right out on grass with empty stomachs), it’s time to load. Some of the older cows may load themselves, but for others it’s as if they have completely forgotten about summer pasture. No one knows why. They have to be chased around. When they’re all headed in the right direction, at least one cow decides she has to have a drink.

• Calves aren’t used to stepping up into a trailer, so it takes patience to get them loaded. And on top of everything else, a cow decides to stand sideways about halfway into the trailer and use her head to keep the others out. Again, no one knows why.

• But, finally, miraculously, the cattle are loaded and before long they’re out on summer pasture.

That’s the scenario. So, the cows are ready and the ranchers are ready. The truck is fueled. The lights and tires on both the stock trailer and truck have been checked and everything’s set.

Tomorrow the cows go.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2011.

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