Pipi’s Pasture: Memories of shipping season

Diane Prather/For Craig Press

We sent a few spring calves out to Fort Collins this morning, and the snow, cold and mud triggered memories of shipping season when I was a girl growing up on the ranch.

I guess the word “shipping” must have have been coined because livestock was shipped off to be sold at the end of each season. When I was a young girl, which is the time I remember most, the calves were hauled by a semi-truck to Craig (I think it was mostly by Beaver Brothers), then put on the train and taken to Denver, where they were unloaded at the stockyards.

It seems as though shipping occurred in November, because I remember the weather as being ugly, but my brother, Duane Osborn, said he was told it took place in October — at least some years — before hunting season. (One thing I have learned about memories is they aren’t the same for everyone. So to my brother and sisters who might read this column, please forgive me if I get it wrong. It’s just the way my brain recorded the information.)

Anyway, the weather can get pretty nasty in October and November at the ranch elevation, though it can also be dry. I remember shipping day as snowy, damp and muddy. There may have been a few inches of snow on the ground, as well.

Dad and his brothers shipped together, so there were probably at least two trucks, and the truckers probably had more than one stop to make. In those days, the county road probably didn’t have as much gravel on it as today. It was muddy and slick. Once a trucker drove into our place, he often had trouble backing up to the loading dock. I can remember Dad waiting for the truck to arrive.

In those days, the ranchers didn’t wean calves — and certainly didn’t do any pre-conditioning — so calves were probably cut off the morning they were loaded out, consequently, there was plenty of bawling and confusion, and once the calves were loaded out, there was a corral full of bawling cows.

Dad and usually one of his brothers went to Denver with the calves; in fact, they also rode the train out to Denver. Dad told about sleeping the entire way. The calves were unloaded at the Denver Stockyards. The men made sure the calves were sorted, fed and sold. Before coming hom,e Dad went to the Stockyards Exchange Building to pick up the yearly check.

Meanwhile, Mom and us kids stayed home, did chores and listened to bawling cows that had been turned back into the pasture. We didn’t have a phone in those early days, so we had to wait until Dad got home to tell us about the trip and how we did with calf sales. (Some years the calves did not sell very well, but hat’s part of the cattle business and another story.)

Some years later, when I was a teenager exhibiting at Stock Show, Dad took me out to the stockyards. We walked on a viaduct, high above all of the cattle pens. (Since I don’t like heights, this made me a little nervous.) I got to see where our cattle had been sorted years before. We also went to the Exchange Building for lunch. I couldn’t have known that, years later, a photo of our grandson, Kenny, with his catch-it steer would hang on the wall there.

Memories of shipping seasons past — even with the bad weather and all— are still wonderful.

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