May 1 is approaching. The first-calf heifers all have calved out, and only three older cows are left to have their calves. Many ranchers already have started branding. For our family, the branding season will start in about two weeks, and if it’s like most years, there’s the chance that the branding days will have to be rescheduled at least once because of storms.
The grass bordering Pipi’s Pasture is green, so the cows — calves, too — are spending their afternoons and evenings trying to stick their necks through the fence or reach over the top — any way to reach a blade of grass. So it keeps us hopping to check the fence for broken wires.
The cows are ready for summer pasture, but the mountain pasture isn’t ready for them. That will come toward the end of May. In the meantime, I’ve been remembering all of the “turn-out” times throughout the years.
Usually the chokecherry and serviceberry bushes are in full bloom by the time we turn the cows out, but there are the years when a freeze nips the blossoms and even the leaves. I can remember one year when it had frosted earlier in the month, just in time to get the oak leaves. Although there were leaves later on in the spring, all of the oak trees were bare at turn-out.
Another year, it snowed just a few days after we put the cows up on pasture. I remember wondering what the cows thought. And still another May, our daughter-in-law Cindy and I got soaked during a sudden downpour when we were helping put the cows through the pasture gate.
Loading the cows is pretty much the same, year after year. We feed them hay first and let them water. Then they’re sorted so that the cows are loaded with their calves. Some cows pretty much load themselves; others are another story. (You would think they’d all know what is going on — maybe they just try to be difficult.) The animals left for the second load look pretty forlorn as the first loads are driven off.
As soon as they’re unloaded, the bulls find dirt banks on which to rub their heads. The calves jump over rocks, probably because it’s the first time they’ve seen any. Then cows, calves and bulls walk around the pasture boundary — or part of it — before they settle down to graze.
Turn-out time is family time. For years we’ve always eaten a picnic lunch next to the county road that runs past the pasture. Our grandchildren still enjoy the picnic even though they are now grown, but in the earlier days they played in the thicket of bushes and trees that grow along the road, pretending there were playhouses under the branches.
One year, my sister Darlene, husband, Miner, (Blackford) and family, our dad and brother Duane joined us for the picnic. We put out some blankets and enjoyed a lunch that we all put together. Still another year I packed the fixings for a lunch but forgot the bread. I had to drive down the road to Dad’s house, take a loaf of bread out of the freezer, and thaw each slice by putting it in the toaster.
One other year, I didn’t pack a lunch, which was highly unusual, but I grabbed a loaf of bread, a knife and jars of peanut butter and jelly. We sat along the road and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
There’s about a month to go until turn-out. I wonder what memories this year will bring.