Friday, November 23, 2012

Cattle CPR

As we sat in a turkey-induced stupor last night, visiting with family, I don't even remember how this story came up but it did, and it's one I've never heard before, so I have to get it typed before I forget. Disclaimer: this story is not filled with gentleness and might offend those who are faint-hearted.

Joel and his brother Ken were helping his dad move some cows in the canyon from one corral into the trailer. It was getting late, and both the cows and the cowboys were getting tired and grouchy. One particularly stubborn cow had to have a rope looped around her neck to persuade her into the trailer. The boys were dragging at the rope, and the cow was doing her best to resist them, pulling back on the rope as hard as she could, even though it was cutting off her air supply. All of a sudden, after choking and gasping for air, the cow collapsed, stopped breathing, and appeared to be dead.

Can you imagine trying to explain that one to your dad/boss? "Uh, Dad? Remember that cow that you told us to lasso and pull into the trailer? Well, we did, and now she's, uh, well . . . she's dead." Grandpa Sagers was understandably upset about losing one of his cows, but told the boys to hurry and slit her throat with their pocketknife so that they could at least save the meat.

Slitting the cow's throat loomed as quite an unpleasant task to Joel and Ken, and so they decided to take matters into their own hands. Instead of slitting her throat, they decided that chest compressions would do the trick to bring the cow back to life. The boys took turns climbing up onto the corral fence, then jumping down onto the prostrate cow's ribs. Quite miraculously and unbelievably, after 10 to 15 "chest compressions", the old cow suddenly gasped, coughed, and sat up. And she lived happily ever after. I think the boys were pretty happy that they didn't have to do mouth-to-mouth.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Settlement Canyon Gathers 2012

To help prove our point that the scrub oak is evil, here is a wonderful snippet of a story from Joseph. I'm sooo gladd that he reminded me of this event. Each time I think about it now, it makes me laugh.

"Well, the day after I came home from my mission, Josh and I went up to look for cows on Cassie and Joe (horses). We were trying to get though a thick patch of scrub oak and Josh said, "Just let the horse pick its way through," which I did, and we were going along just fine until the hood of my jacket got caught on a branch. It started to pull tighter and tighter until it was cutting off my air. I got Cassie to stop, but I couldn't get her to back up, nor could I dismount because the jacket was so tight. There was so much pressure I couldn't unzip it either. With no other options, I just gave Cassie a good kick, she ran out from underneath me, and my weight broke the branch I was hanging from."

I'm sorry Joseph, I know this must have been a traumatic near-death experience for you, but I'm laughing so hard right now that I'm crying!

Ahh, good times. Anyway, here is a summary of the gathering cows out of the canyon adventures so far this year, written by my lovely guest writer, Clayton Sagers. Enjoy.

Day 1 Saturday Oct. 6: Cameron, Joseph, Clayton (Joshua joined us later).
We unsuccessfully searched the canyon only to find two cows that weren’t ours. Followed them down the canyon and loaded them into the corral. Wish that someone would do the same with our cows.
Day 2 Friday Oct. 12: Joshua and Clayton.
Rain was forecasted throughout the day. We heard there was a group of our cows just past the second gate where the pavement ends. Just after opening the gate, we noticed them off to our right. Joshua took Goose, a new gelding, to round up the cows and start pushing them through the gate. Goose was slow and did not want to head the cows off, so the cows got away and headed up the canyon instead of down. I had brought Famous Shoes (horse) with us so that she could get exercise, and was ponying her while I was riding Comanche. To “pony” a horse means that you lead the horse on a lead rope behind you or beside you while you are riding another horse. The cows decided they were going to go up the side of the steep mountain to get away. I decided to ride up only to be apprehended by the dreaded scrub oak. I ride back down, tied Comanche to the tree and told Joshua to watch the horses, and that I will go on foot to drive the cows back down to the road. Famous Shoes is loose, because we know that she will not go far without the Comanche, who is her mom. I drive down two pair of cattle but another pair decides to hoof it up the road some more. After I get the pair turned around and heading in the right direction, I hear Joshua yell, “Clayton, your horse broke the reins and they are both heading towards the horse trailer!” Not wanting to lose the bunch I’ve just gathered, I continue to drive the cows down the canyon on foot. Joshua and I are eventually able to make it through the gate with all three pair, only to find that the loose horses had not stopped at the horse trailer but had apparently decided to run all the way down the canyon.
Joshua follows the cows down on horseback while I take the truck and trailer down the road to hopefully find the horses. I drive down, expecting them to be just around the next corner peacefully grazing, but as I got closer to the bottom of the canyon, the stress of finding them injured or not finding them at all intensified. When I got the campground at the bottom, I stopped to ask some campers. “Have you seen two horses?” The camper points and says, “Yes! One horse with a saddle and one without.” Just then, I turned to see both horses running down into the campground being chased by a sheriff in a truck. After much coaxing and running around the campground, we finally managed to chase them in a corner and catch them. After the sheriff determines that I am in fact the owner of these loose horses, he takes down my name and phone number. Kinda suspicious, but oh well. I put Famous Shoes in a nearby stall and started to ride back up the canyon to help Joshua with the cows coming down. I rode over to open the corral gate to let the cows in, when  Joshua asked if I had any wire cutters since Goose had managed to get barbed wire wrapped around his leg. It appears that someone had cut down a length of the fence and there was loose wire all over the ground. We cut the horse’s leg free with a rusty pair of old wire cutters; luckily, there was very minimal damage to his flesh. After fruitless searching on Center Ridge for additional cows, we decided to call it a night. We went home wet and tired.
Day 3 Saturday Oct. 13. Joel, Clayton, Joshua
The morning started out with the horses being shod. No real big problems. We then made our way up the canyon to look for cows. Sure enough, we saw a large group on Center Ridge. We would have to ride about a mile and half up Left Hand Fork, and then cut over and head south up Center Ridge so that we could push them from behind. This part again went smoothly with no real bumps. While on Center Ridge, we saw another group of our cows on one of those steep slopes. After much discussion, we decided that I would go down and try and push those cows down the canyon while Dad and Joshua would try to get the other group and push them down. I rode down the mountain, like the Man from Snowy River, but with less speed and minus the dramatic music. As I rode down, the cows ran up. As I rode up, the cows ran down. We played this game for a while until they decided they were going to go up the canyon at a dead run. I am convinced it is not as much the cows making this decision as it is the calves. To them, being pulled from the canyon is like children being pulled out of Disneyland. By this time my horse is asking me, “Seriously, are these critters really worth it?” They lead me across one hill, down into a gully and up another hill. They then head into an ugly thicket of scrub oak. We of course chase them for about 10 feet until I can no longer clear the branches. I then get off my horse, leading her through the oak jungle by breaking branches and trying to maneuver our way through the maze. Mind you this is all being done on about a 60% grade. Just as I’m pushing a large branch out of the way, I slip and fall, letting go of the reins.
My horse has had about enough of this crazy chase and decides to go straight down the mountain. I turn to panic mode as I remember the previous day’s experience with the law. I could just picture the sheriff saying, “This seems to be a bad habit you and your horse have going on.” I begin making giant leaps down the mountain since this seems to be the quickest way down to catch her.  Imagine, if you will, the game Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo. Mario has a trusty lizard/dinosaur steed named Yoshi who, if he gets hurt by a bad guy, will frantically run in any direction to get away. Mario then jumps like mad to try and catch Yoshi before he runs off a cliff. My leaps were not as graceful as Mario, and I could feel a sharp pain on my backside from when I had fallen. I finally was able to get the reins and stop the horse. When I looked way back up at the top of the mountain, I caught a glimpse of the cow’s tails as they entered another scrub oak patch. I reached behind and felt my pants, which had a nice hole in them from when my backside had made contact with a sharp rock. That group of cows was a lost cause for the day.
When I got to the campground where I was to meet my Dad and Joshua, I saw that they had not gotten the other bunch of cows to the corrals yet. I called them on the phone and found out that their luck was just as bad as mine, and their cows had also escaped through some scrub oak. I made my way towards them in hopes that we would not have a total loss for the day. After some hollering back and forth, I finally located them. They were stuck on the side of Center Ridge, and the cows were about 400 yards in front of them heading my way. I was going to try and flank them on horseback, but was met with yet another scrub oak patch. I went back down a ways into a clearing, this time tying my horse with a halter and lead rope so that she couldn’t break the reins and get away. I then proceeded on foot to flank the cows and drive them down to the clearing. I call this pulling a “Last of the Mohicans” as I ran through the forest trying to head off the cows. You’ll have to watch the 1992 movie with Daniel Day Lewis to understand. There are several scenes where they are constantly running through the forest chasing something or being chased; the only difference being that I have short hair and am wearing a shirt. I’m able to drive the cows down into the clearing, and we end up being right by where my horse is tied. “Maybe it will be my lucky day,” I thought. I slowly get on my horse and proceed to drive the cattle down the mountain. Since it’s only little old me versus the dozen or so of them, the cows all move at different speeds to try to get away. Half go running right into the scrub oak, the other half decides to go down the road and then go into the scrub oak. This is about the time when my Dad and Joshua show up. After a few minutes of discussion, my Dad points out that one of the groups had doubled back and are now heading back up the mountain. I let my horse run to try and head them off.  They all end up running right back into the scrub oak and kept running back up Center Ridge. They are gone for the day.
We decide to go back down the Left Hand Fork trail to see if we can find the first group that got away from me. We spotted three pair grazing not too far down the road. The only problem there was a steep ravine between us and them. We came up with a plan that Dad would ride his horse and pony my horse, while I would get behind the cows on foot and get them started down the canyon. Joshua and my Dad would try and find a good place to cross the ravine with the horses, and then I could get back on my horse and we would all drive them down. The plan, for once, actually worked well. We got the cows moving down the canyon. They, of course, wanted to make a game of it, taking any scenic route they could, which would mean that one of us would have to get off our horse and push them through more scrub oak. We got the three pair into the corrals late in the evening. Trying to be optimistic, I considered three cows and three calves a good trade for one pair of ripped pants, three tired horses, and three men who were full of scrapes and bruises. I like to think we came out ahead that day. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Settlement Canyon

Settlement Canyon is where we sometimes will run our cows for summer pasture. It is also the source of great stories since we’ve been doing it for several years, and it has quite the adventurous atmosphere. We’ve gotten to know the different areas of the Canyon pretty well, and conversations about it include the interesting names of the different locations; such as Left Hand Fork, Right Hand Fork, Kennecott Road, Bear Trapp, Ski Hill, the Kelsies, and Center Ridge, to name a few. Settlement Canyon is both beautiful and haunting. It is full of all types of flora and fauna, but the most devilish is a tree commonly called scrub oak. The actual name of the tree is called Gambel Oak, which is a native species to the Oquirrh Mountains to which Settlement Canyon belongs. Scrub oak is the source of nightmares to anyone who wants to round up cows when it is nearby. It matures in height anywhere from 3-10 feet tall and grows in large clumps so close together that it could almost be called a bush. The branches are twisted and deformed, growing poky twigs in every direction. Riding a horse through it is next to impossible unless armed with a hacksaw or chainsaw. Or a machete. Or a fire torch. Just kidding. Often times, the rider will start down a cow trail, thinking that things will open up only to realize he is now stuck in a labyrinth of haunted trees and has to turn around. For all the reasons cowboys hate scrub oak, cows love it. They can easily get away from anything that is chasing them since they are lower to the ground and are made of 100% rawhide.  Once the cows know they are being told to come off the mountain, they will simply run into their favorite scrub oak patch and hide until everyone has left.
The other adventurous thing about Settlement Canyon is the steepness. Frequently, the cows can be found on top or near the dividing mountain that runs through Settlement Canyon called Center Ridge. Center Ridge is very steep and very rocky, and you guessed it, full of scrub oak. Again, the cows love it because they have become accustomed to running up and down the mountains all summer. They hold an advantage over us because they don’t have extra weight riding on their back like a horse & rider does. There have been times when I know that the cows do things to me just to play jokes. They’ll run up and down the hills, tiring my horse out, and then run into the scrub oak and laugh amongst themselves.
You’d think it wouldn’t be terribly hard to gather cows out of the canyon and herd them down to the corrals at the bottom, but you’d be surprised. Not only is there scrub oak to hide in, but the only fences that are up are the ones to prevent the cows from exiting the bottom of the canyon and heading down into the city of Tooele. Not that these fences have always stopped the cows, but they usually do their job for the most part. With no fences, the cows can go anywhere they please in the large, expansive canyon. So if those are the only fences, then what’s to stop the cows from traveling over the mountains and, say, head north east to Middle Canyon? Or head south west and cross over into Stockton? Absolutely nothing. Just a cowboy’s frail hope that the cows will stay in Settlement Canyon where they belong. Needless to say, by the end of the season, there have been times when we’ll get a phone call from someone who has spotted our cows in random locations. “You saw them where? How in the world did they get there?!” Even if the cows stay in the Canyon, there are lots of ravines, gullies, valleys, hills, and of course, scrub oak for them to hide in.
Gathering the cows in the fall usually takes several Saturdays throughout October and sometimes into November. The other cattlemen who run their cows in the canyon are very helpful; if while bringing down their own cattle they come across somebody else's, they will generally bring them down to the corrals and notify the owners. The best way to gather them is on horseback since you are covering such a large area (ATVs are not allowed in the canyon), but there are times when only someone on foot can scurry into the brush and flush the cows out of their hiding spots. We've had lots of adventures in Settlement Canyon. Stay tuned for some fun canyon cow-gathering stories!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Crazy Cow #2006

This story is a family favorite. It sounds like a tall-tale or maybe exaggerated a bit, but it's all true. Sometimes city folk have a rose-colored view of cows being all calm and lazy, chewing their cud and swishing flies with their tails, friendly as can be. Well, ok, I’m sure there are lots of cows like that in the world. But not our cows. Beef cattle are not as placid and docile as, say, dairy cattle. Dairy cows are handled every day, twice a day, and therefore are usually more calm and easygoing. Ok, ok, I’ve never actually met a dairy cow, so I’m just hypothesizing here. Beef cattle, on the other hand, are handled by humans less frequently, and spend most of their lives out on the range, away from humans and surviving on their own. Hence, they tend to be a bit more, let’s say, jumpy. Or spooky. Or nervous around humans. Older cows can sometimes settle down a bit, once they learn you’re not going to kill them (boy, are they wrong about that!). However, every once in awhile you’ll get a cow that is just downright crazy.
 I was not present when this story took place and neither was Clayton, so I’m writing this story using compiled information given to me by my brothers-in-law, Joseph and Cameron. Thanks guys! Here it goes:
The Crazy Cow #2006, a wild and crazy tale of a tale
 Grandpa and Grandma Sagers were working on a watering trough in a field in Pine Canyon. The field contained approximately a dozen yearling calves. Now, Grandpa Sagers, as you might have read about before, was hardworking yet stubborn and independent. He had been warned by his sons that he needed to take someone besides Grandma with him to help make sure the cows didn’t escape. There was an area of fence that hung over a ditch, and the cows could slip underneath it through the ditch if they were not carefully watched. Grandpa, being the kind of guy that he was, told Larry that he was taking Joel with him, and told Joel that he was taking Larry. Way to go, Grandpa! Show those young whipper-snappers who is boss! However, it turns out that it might have been helpful to have someone else with them, as those cunning cows found the gap in the fence and slipped out past Grandma.
So the boys get called to come help, probably much to Grandpa’s chagrin as he had to admit that he had done what they warned him not to do, and an assortment of cousins and uncles gather to help round up the cows and usher them back into the field. They get this accomplished and do a quick head-count, and realize that one of the yearlings is missing. They quickly located the renegade cow, which wasn’t too far away, and Cameron volunteered to go after her. Cameron was at the time the captain of the cross-country team and was in pretty good shape. He figured to run a broad circle around the cow and get her turned around, but the cow had different ideas. She saw him coming and turned around and ran off.  Cameron chases her for a good amount of time, and sees a barb wire fence coming up and thinks to himself,”I’ve got her now!” When all of a sudden, the cow runs smack dab into the tightly strung wire fence, bounces off, and almost sits down on her rear end from the impact. Cameron laughs.
The chase goes on, but by this time it’s starting to get dark, and it’s kinda hard to see a black cow in the dark. I know, I’ve done it before. So Cameron is picked up by some cousins on a Jeep wielding spotlights, and they leave the cow for the night.
Enter the next day. Various family members drive around looking for the cow, and finally spot her in a field nearly a mile away from where this all started. They decide to go get the family horses, Rojo and Trinket, so that they can try to keep up with this crazy bovine.  Joseph rides Trinket and Joel rides Rojo. Within moments of them mounting the horses, the cow, nearly 300 yards away, stands up and starts sprinting away. Joel, ever wise and usually patient, says “Just let her calm down. She’ll calm down once we get up to her.” They calmly approach the cow at a trot and decide to try to herd her along the fence line. That’s one of the nice things about cows, is that generally speaking, they have a tendency to follow fence lines. So you can use the fence as a third person while you are herding them. It comes in handy. UNLESS your cow decides to stop, look at the fence, lower its head, and proceed to plow right through it. Which this cow did. Unbelievable. She stumbled a bit from the impact, and probably from the barbs tearing through her hide, but regained her balance and took off like a formula one race car.
Well, the horses were not jumpers, and didn’t want to plow through the barb wire, so the boys had to go to the gate at the corner of the field in order to rejoin the cow. This they did, and the cow was still going strong, perhaps half of a mile away and determined to run until kingdom come. This time, when she encountered the next barb wire fence, she didn’t hesitate or even slow down before lowering her head and plowing though.  Two or three more fields of this, and the horses were pretty worn out. Every time the cow went through a field, the boys had to find a gate to let the horses through. They never even got within 100 yards of the darn thing. Once she reached the railroad tracks, she followed them west, heading straight for the main highway.
 By this time it was rush hour. The boys had lost sight of the crazy cow, so they’re not even sure how she crossed the highway within getting hit. I’m sure there was horn honking and much anger from the motorists. But somehow, she crossed the busy highway during rush hour without getting killed. The boys weren’t sure exactly where she was after that; they had to put away the weary horses and get back to vehicles to drive across the highway. They spotted her behind the newly built hospital, still headed west and still trotting. She was a good 3-4 miles away from the original site, and the stupid cow hadn’t even slowed down to a walk. She was bound and determined to put as many miles between them as possible.
 Grandpa Sagers says, “How about I go get my cart?” His “cart” was what he called his new four-wheeler. I’m sure most people would have thought long ago to get the four-wheeler in the first place. Call us old-fashioned, but we were new to the idea of using a four-wheeler for agricultural purposes and the boys had simply forgotten that Grandpa had bought it. So Grandpa drives back to town to get his “cart.” The boys stay behind to get a better idea of where the cow is headed. They drive to the top of the old landfill, and from this vantage point, they pull out the binoculars. They see the cow about a half mile away, still trotting, when to their disbelieving eyes, the cow comes to a sudden stop, looks right at them as if they were standing a few feet away instead of half a mile, then turns and takes off again at a dead run.
This is the point where Joel states that if he had a gun handy, the family would be eating steak for dinner. They knew the cow could not outrun a bullet. But alas, for want of a gun. The boys followed the cow into the field in their SUV. The cow was still running, but appeared to be getting tired. They eventually caught up to her and were driving her between the fence and the SUV. It seems that for once, she was actually following a fence line instead of plowing through it. She tried to jump over the hood of the vehicle to get away several times, which was helpful in wearing her out. Finally, she decided that she had had enough. She comes to a stop, at which time the vehicle stops and multiple cousins and relatives jump out to surround her. Her eyes were glazed and she had a long string of drool coming from her mouth and hanging halfway to the ground. She was tired, but apparently was not ready to give up the fight! She eyed one of the cousins and moved as if to charge him out of her way. Then, out of nowhere, a red “cart” comes flying into the circle and rams into the rear end of the charging cow. Grandpa saves the day! The cow spins 180 degrees and her hind feet are knocked out from under her. The boys all jump to get on her head and neck, and Grandpa decides that he’s not done yet, and drives up to park the four-wheeler on top of the cow. This cow ain’t going nowhere now!
Joel quickly ties up the back legs with some bailing twine, and then they hooked a chain around the cow’s neck and dragged her into the stock trailer. Once they got the chains and twine off her, she was on her feet like a pop-up book. Joseph says, “I have never seen a cow try to jump out of the trailer window before that day or since, but she tried with all her life.” Grandpa was convinced that he could calm her down if he could get into the trailer with her, but luckily, the boys persuaded him not to. She kept ramming the trailer walls as if trying to break them down.
 They hauled the renegade cow out to join the older cows in Stansbury in hopes that they might calm her down some. The instant that the trailer door was opened, she took off again like a thoroughbred race horse. But once she saw the other cows and realized that she wasn’t being chased, she stops running and trots calmly to join the herd.
This is definitely one cow adventure that our family will never forget.
Here is a lovely map of the chase area. I don't know if you can see the writing on it or not. The field where the cows escaped from is shown by the small white square in the upper/middle right side. The green dot above that and to the left is where they started the chase on the second day. And the green dot on the very left side is where the chase ended. Good times.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why we do it

A few weeks ago, we spent the day working calves. It was hot, it was dusty, and it was hard work. At the end of the day, one of the cousins who had come with her family to help out called me to say thanks. I said, “Why are you thanking me? We should be the ones saying thanks to you. We appreciate all of your help.” She responded by saying something like “We really appreciate what you guys are doing to keep the cows in the family. It reminds me of my Grandpa and working with him & the cows while we were all growing up. I want my kids to experience that, too. So thanks for letting us come and help.”

I was kind of floored. It never really occurred to me that someone would thank us for what we were doing. It made me think, “Why are we doing this? It’s so much work and time and money and worry.” And the reason is, plain and simple; we do it because we love it.

Working calves is fun; there are a lot of jobs to do and so more people can participate. After all of your calves are born, there are several tasks that need to be done. Calves need to be branded, vaccinated, ear-tagged if you haven’t already done so, ear-marked (I’ll explain later), and castrated if they are male. Obviously the calves won’t just hold still and let you do these painful procedures to them without a fight, so they need to be immobilized. Out at the corrals in Rush Valley, where our cattle were located at the time, we have a device called a calf table. A calf table is like a squeeze chute that once the calf is inside the chute, you flip the table horizontally so that the calf is completely immobilized. It looks like this:
You remove the bars as needed so that you can access the calf’s body for various procedures, while the calf stays nice and still. They are very handy and usually pretty easy to use. However, on this day we ran into a little snag. The particular calf table that is at the corrals flips so that you can work on and access the calf’s left side. Our brand is supposed to be placed on the calf’s right side, which we could not access. Hmmm. This appears to be a problem.
Here’s me, about to tag a calf in the calf table, before we realized that it wasn’t going to work:

Hey, no problem for our rough and tough cowboys. They improvised and decided to try things the old –fashioned way: roping and sitting on the calf. This is a more adventurous way to do things. Here’s a nice picture of one of the first calves to be subjected to the brand: 

While roping and sitting is a fun way to do things, it takes a lot longer and after working a few calves, we realized that it was going to take us a loooong time to get all 26 calves done. So once again, we improvised. Being totally red-neck innovative, we devised our own squeeze chute of sorts, using the head gate (a device that catches the animal’s head) and a pallet. Once the calf was caught in the head gate, one or two cowboys would press the pallet against the animal, squeezing it against the rails. Here’s a picture if you are totally lost:

See the calf’s head is caught in the head gate, and the boys sitting on the fence are squeezing the calf between the pallet and the rails. Yes, we are ghetto. And proud of it!

Joseph had borrowed one of Clayton’s shirts, and I kept almost mistaking him for Clayton. That would have been pretty awkward, especially when this was my view for most of the day:
Good thing I restrained myself from slapping his bum in a case of mistaken identity.

Ear-marking. Ear-marking is another way of identifying who a calf belongs to. Much like a brand, an ear-mark is registered to the owner and each owner has a different mark. Our calves have the top part of each ear slivered off, and take two clips out of the bottom left ear.  Here’s a calf, newly ear-marked:

And here’s Joshua, using the cut-off portion of a calf’s ear to make himself a mustache: 

Branding. You all know what brands are. Brands are burned into the hide of the animal to identify the owner. Our brand looks like this: 
 It’s a W-lazy S. Pretty cool, huh? I branded my first calf a few years ago, and I didn’t like it. I know it needs to be done, but I just felt so bad. The other parts of working calves doesn’t bother me, even though it gets pretty rough and bloody, but it’s the branding that I don’t like to watch. Ouch!

Vaccinating is pretty simple; you give the calf a shot to prevent disease. The trick while vaccinating is to time the shot just right, preferably not at the same time that the calf is being branded. You don’t want to accidentally stick yourself with the needle if the calf is thrashing around.

And castrating. Castrating is done, of course, to prevent the animal from unauthorized breeding. We use little elastics, fondly nicknamed “cheerios”, which are slipped around the top of the bull calf’s scrotum. The blood supply to the testicles is cut off, and the testicles eventually wither up and fall off. OR you could use a knife to cut the testicles out, and have yourself a nice Rocky Mountain Oyster dinner.

And that’s what you do when working calves. It hard work, and it’s hot and dusty. But we love the camaraderie of family coming together to help out and get the job done. It’s fun, and I look forward to it each year.  The little guys learn early:
and it’s entertaining to watch them gain confidence as they work.  Hopefully, it’s a new generation of cowboys and cowgirls that learn how to work hard, aren’t afraid to get dirty, and take pride in what they’re doing. May they grow up to love the work as much as their parents do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Death. It sucks.

One time, it was February and it was cold. I believe that this was the same year that we had had several cows and calves die. To us, family ranchers with a small herd, we're not in this business for the money. We do it because we love it. So when an animal dies on our watch, it's hard. Not because it's a financial loss, which it is, but it's more of a feeling that we let that cow down. We were not there when it needed our help or protection. I know we can't be there 24/7, but still, they are our responsibility.

We had a new calf born the day before Valentine's Day. Then there was a big huge snowstorm that night. Valentine's Day at the family flower shop was buckets of fun, trying to deliver flowers in 2 or more feet of snow. We were worried about the new calf, but didn't have time to go check on him until later that afternoon. The wind blows pretty hard down there, so the snow was piled high in drifts all around the field. Clayton and I drop off our load of hay, and the cows are grateful to have it. They eat with much gusto. But we notice that the new calf is nowhere to be found. Crap. Sometimes when we don't see a calf with its mama, we're not that concerned because often the mama will leave the calf sleeping & will go off and have lunch with her lady friends. It's not a big deal. But this time, with the snow and very cold temperatures, we were worried.

We drove carefully around the entire field. You'd think that it would be easy to spot a black calf in a field covered with white snow, but it's not. There's lots of brush, bushes, bumps, divots, and clumps for a small calf to hide behind. We looked and looked and looked, and were about to give up, when I spotted a black bump not too far from where we were. I jumped out of the truck, and ran over to the small form. It was frozen and stiff. A raven was perched nearby and was pecking the eyes out of the body. My shoulders slumped, and I walked slowly back to the truck, and told Clayton that the calf was dead. Then I cried.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sorting Cattle

A few weeks ago, Clayton and I prepared to move our cattle from the winter pasture across the valley to a spring pasture. As a small, family-run cattle operation, we don’t have a big semi truck to haul all the cattle in one easy load. Instead, we haul 5 or 6 small loads in our trusty stock trailer pulled by the pick-up truck. It takes most of the day, driving back and forth from the winter pasture in the Stansbury area, to the spring pastures in Rush Valley.

On this particular morning, Clayton and I, and of course our 1 year old daughter, were the only cowhands available to move the cattle. Joshua came to help a few hours after we got started, as well as Joel later that afternoon. So how many cowhands does it take to round up 50-plus head of cattle? Just one. Clayton and his horse did a great job of rounding up the cattle and herding them into the corrals. It was touch and go for a moment at the end, when the cattle were crowding and jostling at the gates to get in the corral and a loose panel fell down. I thought for sure that the entire herd would turn around and bolt, but luckily, they didn’t.

So we got all the cows into the corrals. When I say “cows” here, we’re talking about 26 mature cows with their 26 calves, 6 two-year old heifers, 2 yearling steers, and 1 good-looking bull. The corrals are divided into two sections: the west side, which is where the cattle entered the corral, and the east side, which is connected to the separating chutes. The east and west side are connected by a small gate. Theoretically, you move the cattle into the east corral, then into a small adjoining corral, and from there, they are moved through the chutes and into the trailer.

Here’s some helpful information for you: it’s stressful for the cows & calves to be separated from each other for a long period of time. Mothers, you know how it is when you don’t know where your baby is or what’s happening to her. You worry. So do the cows. We generally try to make the traveling easier on the pairs by keeping the mamas in the same load as their babies. That way, when they get to the corrals in the new pasture, they don’t freak out because they can’t find their baby. And the babies stay calmer, because they’re with their mamas. Makes sense to me. We can comfortably fit about 6 or 7 pairs of cows & calves into the trailer at one time.

 In order to get the pairs together to go for their journey across the valley, first we have to get 6 or 7 pairs into the east corral. Now. You may be thinking to yourself, “How hard can this be? You move 6 or 7 cows into the east corral, and their babies are right by their side, and there you go. Finished.” Well, I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t always work like that. It would be much easier if each calf was glued to its mama’s side and never wandered off to hang out with its calf buddies. And for those calves that we have not yet tagged & identified, it would be much easier for us to identify which cow they belong to if they would stop trying to nurse from every cow in the corral until they find their real mama. My point is, it’s a lot harder than you think.  Cows, in general, like to do things their way. They don’t always cooperate like we’d like them to. It mostly goes back to the cows being a prey animal and humans being predators. Cows have a strong fight-or-flight instinct when they are in a seemingly dangerous situation. Most of our cows will flee rather than fight, but we do get an occasional cow here and there who wants to fight. So when you’re sorting cattle, you have to use just the right amount of pressure to get them to go where you want them to go.

Alrighty. Back to the story. Clayton manages to get 6 or 7 pairs into the small separating corral with my help from the outside. Since I had to watch our little girl, I stayed outside the corrals and identified pairs with the help of my trusty calf book. I’d call out tag numbers to Clayton, and he worked his magic by getting them together in the corral. In the meantime, our baby girl is wandering around, eating dirt and chewing on rocks. I decide that it’s healthy for her to do so, because I’m a good mom like that, and just keep an eye on her so that she doesn’t do anything gross, like eat cow manure. We get the first group of pairs loaded into the trailer. Then we must decide who is going to do what. We have a few options. Option 1: All three of us could go together in the truck to drop off the load. It’s helpful to have more than one person with you while you’re driving the cattle, because the extra person can get out to open & shut gates, direct you when you’re backing up the trailer, and share heartfelt conversations. However, since we were short-handed, I knew it would be more useful if one of us stayed back to sort another load of pairs to be ready to go when the truck got back. Which leads us to Option 2: One of us drive the truck, the other stays back to sort out another group. Now, I’ve driven the truck & trailer several times, but I’m not totally comfortable doing it by myself with a full load of cattle. What if something happened? What if a tire blew, or the truck breaks down, or any number of horrible possibilities that I am not fully equipped to deal with? So I “volunteered” to stay behind and sort out another group of pairs. Clayton and the baby take off in the truck, and I am left behind to get the job done.

Picture me, 5 foot, 4 & ½ inches, standing in a corral full of cattle. They’re big. They can kick. They can charge. They can roll their eyes at you in a threatening manner. I admit, I’m a tiny bit intimidated. But intimidation be hanged, I need to get a group of cattle sorted before Clayton gets back with truck and sees me as a no-good worthless cowhand! My goal is to get all of the mama cows with their babies into the east corral, keeping the heifers, steers, and bull in the west corral. I figured Clayton could help me sort the mamas and babies into pairs when he gets back. So I start out, fearless in my determination to get the job done. I have with me a “sorting stick”, which can be a length of PVC pipe, or a long but sturdy stick, or a stock whip, or whatever you can find. The sorting stick is used as an extension of your arm. When I want a cow to move away from me, I can reach out with the stick and tap it on its rump, and that way, my body is not close enough for the cow to kick me if she chose to do so. Or, in the case when mean Bull #49 was chasing poor Joseph in the corral at Grandma’s house, the stick can be used to whack a charging animal on the nose to encourage them to turn away from you.  My sorting stick that I used on this day just so happened to be an old wooden curtain rod that we had used the previous weekend at my daughter’s birthday party to break open the piƱata. It happened to be in the back of the truck when we arrived at the cattle pasture this morning, so we grabbed it to use as a sorting stick. Hey, it works.
So there I am, little old me, with my curtain rod in hand, trying to sort the cattle, all by myself. It would have been a lot easier if there were three of me. Or even two of me. I’d make one of me be in charge of guarding the gate, and would make sure the cows that were already in the east corral did not escape back into the west corral. That’s one of the hard parts when you’re by yourself, is that you have to leave the connecting gate open so that the cows you want to move can go into the other side, but there’s nothing there to stop the cows from coming back out. I’d manage to get a cow or two into the east side, but they’d always slip back into the west side while my back was turned. So I’d chase them back into the east side, and give them a stern lecture, punctuated with much waving of my curtain rod, threatening them to stay where they were or else. Then it’s back over to the west side. Most of the calves were chillin’ in one of the far corners, so I focused mainly on moving the grown cows. But of course, the cows that I wanted to move over were hiding behind the heifers and the bull. I try ineffectively to move the heifers and bull out of the way, but let’s face it, I’m a teeny-tiny bit scared of the bull and I’m sure he knows it. Same thing goes for this one cow, cow #14. I think she’s mostly bluff, but she’s always pawing at the ground, trying to intimidate me. I don’t think she or the bull would actually charge me, but I’m pretty sure the bull wouldn’t hesitate to move me out of his way if I were in it. I’m keeping one eye on the bull & #14, and one eye on the gate, and one eye . . . oh wait, I only have two eyes. I switch tactics and try to lecture the cows, and tell them in plain English just exactly what I want them to do. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: “Ok, Patch-Eye, you take your little calf with you and go join your friends in the other corral. No, no, no, don’t run into that corner! Turn around and go that way! No? Ok, how about you, #23?  Will you please go into the other corral? Don’t you turn your back on me! 23! Stop ignoring me and get over there! You, heifers, get back away from that gate—don’t make me come after you with this curtain rod!”
Cows: "Moo."
These conversations were largely in vain. I can’t figure out why.

Well, to make a long story just a bit shorter, by the time Clayton returned, I had managed to get 3 pairs into the east corral, along with 2 mama cows without their calves, and 2 heifers that weren’t supposed to be over there, but that’s just too bad. I’m sure all those people driving by on the highway must have gotten a good laugh, watching some girl waving a curtain rod ineffectively at a bunch of cows. And of course, Clayton went in the corrals and in no time, all by himself, had sorted out a nice group of cow & calf pairs. What can I say? He’s amazing.

 Next time, I’ll drive the truck.
What a stud!