Craig The hot, dry days — until now — of summer have flown by, and suddenly, it’s time for area ranchers to be thinking about bringing the cattle and sheep home from summer pasture. That goes for our family, too. Before long, we’ll be hauling our little herd home for the winter.
Even though we don’t have many cattle, rounding them up, loading them in stock trailers and driving them home is a big job. Imagine what a job it is for ranchers who have hundreds of cattle and sheep! Depending on the number of animals to be moved, whether they have been divided among several pastures, whether they are to be trailed or hauled by truck, the weather and other factors, the moving job can take anywhere from several days to weeks.
Before the animals can be moved home, there are fences to be checked, minerals and proteins to be put out, stack yards to be closed up and, if necessary, water tanks to be filled.
Then, after the cattle or sheep are home, there most often are strays to be hunted up. Sometimes, especially if there are lots of trees and brush on summer pasture, some of the animals get missed. Then there always is the chance that some strayed off into another rancher’s pasture. Whatever the case, a rancher will figure out what’s missing when he takes a count. Then, there’s more riding to be done. Sometimes, a plane even is used to spot stray animals.
All of these thoughts about fall gathering triggers memories of Octobers past when I was a kid growing up on the ranch at Morapos. At that time, ranchers had permits to run their cattle on the national forest some miles from our home. To get the cattle to and from the forest meant trailing them along the county road that ran right past our house.
When it was time to gather the cattle, which was probably October, the ranchers hauled their horses “to the end of the road,” saddled up, opened up the gate, and rode to the forest. Since the cattle were spread out all across the high country, they worked a small bunch at a time, herding them down toward the opened gate.
Cattle often are described as stupid, and indeed, it sometimes appears that they are, but for the most part, cattle remember where home is and how to get there. That’s especially true if they’re older and are used to a routine. So in those days, when the ranchers started gathering, the cattle headed for the county road. Even if they weren’t in a small herd being gathered up, they’d realize what was going on and start down country.
One of my fondest memories of the ranch came from those fall nights, after we had gone to bed. We could hear the cattle’s footsteps on the gravel road as they came home. These were the cattle that knew gathering was going on. It was time to go home so they headed down country, found a gate open and came right on home. The cattle were mixed in with those belonging at other ranches. Amazingly, our cattle stopped off, and the others went on down the county road in the direction of their ranches. Our cattle bawled as if to announce they were home and waited until morning, when they would be turned into the meadow. I especially remember the bulls bawling.
Bringing the cows home meant days of hard work, but once they were back in the ranch meadow, it was rewarding, indeed, to drive around through the herd, checking out the fat calves, by then nearly as tall as their moms.
So, we’re starting to make plans to bring the cattle home. Since our family is scattered out, the hardest part of planning gathering day is to find a time when everyone can be here. However, there is one factor that plays into gathering time — one that none of us can control. That’s the weather. Next week’s “Pipi’s Pasture” is a memory of a snowy September of years ago.
Copyright Diane Prather, 2013