From Pipi’s Pasture: Autumn on the ranch
October 17, 2014
Each change of season means a change in routine for ranchers and the getting-ready chores that go along with it. Right now, for example, livestock is being moved home from where the animals pastured over the summer. And before they can be moved home, fences along fall pasture have to be checked and hay yards buttoned up.
Depending on the size of the herd, gathering cattle may take a day or two or several days — even weeks. Cattle may be trailed on the highway or across acreage or hauled home by semi-truck or stock trailers. I have written about gathering cattle when I was growing up on the ranch, and I have such fond memories of the cows coming home that I can't help but repeat the story.
At that time the ranchers pastured cattle on the national forest above Morapos, and ranch herds were not kept separate so gathering meant sorting, too. When it was time to gather, the gates were opened up, and ranchers rode horseback, pushing the cattle homeward. The older cattle knew their way home so it wasn't unusual to hear the sound their hooves made as they walked along the gravel road in front of our house. Sometimes the bulls bawled, as if announcing that they were home. Amazingly, our cattle usually stopped at the ranch, where we found them waiting at the pasture gate the next morning, while other ranchers' cattle moved on down the road.
Today there are no cattle on the national forest above Morapos, but area landowners still lease out pasture so gathering goes on each autumn (and, of course, the gathering goes on in Moffat County, too). Some gathering is still done by horseback but some ranchers with small herds, like ours, gather using "four-wheelers." Our cattle are walked down the county road, put in my brother's corral, and loaded up in stock trailers.
Gathering often means hunting up cattle that have strayed away for some reason. So it isn't unusual to receive a phone call from a neighbor that goes something like this: "We have a cow and calf that we gathered up with ours. They're black with yellow year tags. The numbers on the tags have worn off. We know you use yellow tags. Are you missing a cow/calf pair?"
Or, it isn't unusual to make a call similar to this: "We're out a black bull with a white tag, #11. We thought he might have come in with yours."
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The calls go on like this until ranchers have located strays. Sometimes hunters find cattle, too.
This year our family spent a good part of the day hunting for a bull. Finally, at just about dark, my brother found him where he was supposed to be in the first place, calmly licking on a salt block. Where he had been is anybody's guess.
Writing about gathering isn't complete unless I mention the weather, which can be a big factor in the process. Riding on slick hills is dangerous, and trying to gather in rain, snow, or a storm is just plain miserable. No two years are the same.
Last year we had to take hay to the summer pasture to feed our cattle since 15 inches of snow covered up the vegetation, and that weekend we gathered them on a sunny but horribly sloppy day. This year was the opposite — sunny, dry and warm.
So the cattle are getting settled in on home fall pastures, but there's still a lot of fall work to be done before winter. For example, there's weaning and preconditioning of calves, "preg-testing" and shipping. Before long ranchers will be into a winter-feeding routine.