Agriculture & Livestock: Turning the calendar to May

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Diane Prather

In March, a story by this author on the Agriculture & Livestock page reflected on the signs that spring was not far off. It seems that spring is late this year, possibly because the weather turned wintery-like back in the fall. But we’ve finally turned our calendars to May, a busy month for ranchers since it marks “turn out” time for livestock and field work in hay meadows — both of which require plenty of work.

For ranchers, each May differs slightly where the weather is concerned, but there are certain signs that are typical for the month. Consider what occurs on cattle and sheep ranches during the month of May.

• Stacks of different-size bales are shrinking in size.

• Some ranchers are looking for hay to finish feeding until time to turn the cattle and sheep out on summer pastures and are finding high hay prices.

• Ranchers are hoping for warm weather to dry corrals in time for brandings.

• Local veterinarians are booked solid. partly due to ranch calls where they are fertility and “trich” testing.

• Some corrals are still knee-deep in an indescribable mud-like “gunk.”

• There’s a demand for branding and fencing supplies at ranch supply stores.

• Branding dates are scheduled and re-scheduled several times, depending on the weather conditions.

• Depending on elevation, fence repair has started on summer pastures. (Yes, there is still snow at higher elevations.)

• The elk are heading up country.

• Pickup trucks are covered with mud.

• There are more stock trailers on the highway than usual, hauling horses, cattle and sheep.

• Sheep ranchers are wondering if May holds a “lambing storm,” a frequent snowy weather event for the month.

• Cattle are already standing by feedlot fences, heads high, perhaps dreaming of summer pasture (and perhaps getting a scent of early spring wild onions).

• If a stock trailer is moved, for any reason, cattle take notice and start bawling. They know summer pasture isn’t far off.

• Lambing season may have just started for some ranchers; for others it may be finished.

• A few late-calving cows can be seen “waiting it out” in corrals.

• If summer pasture isn’t “high country,” some cattle and sheep may already be turned out.

• Where it’s dry enough, ranchers are trying to get hay meadows harrowed before the grass/alfalfa grows too tall.

• Ditch work is being completed in anticipation of irrigating hay meadows.

• Snow boots, especially in still-muddy corrals, are getting heavy, and, where possible, are being tossed aside for street boots.

• Sheep ranchers are thinking about setting dates for shearing.

• Cows have their heads through fences, picking at green grass on the other side.

• Because cattle are hungry for spring grasses, ranchers are ever-vigilant about checking feedlot fences.

• When time allows, ranchers check out haying machinery and order fuel for haying season.

And, typical of each May, ranchers watch the weather and wonder if they will be able to find a good branding day(s). Will the grass be ready so the cattle and sheep can be turned out before the hay runs out (or, in the case of cattle, before they turn themselves out)? Will the fencing repair be finished on time? It’s May in the ranching community.

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