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.


Roberta MacDonald said...

And in our family mistaken identities happen regularly, right Bryce?

Geoffrey said...

I want you to know Ruth, I truly appreciate what you are doing too. I don't live nearby anymore and can't just help on a whim, but just knowing someone(s) are taking care of Grandpa's Cows give me a good feeling inside. So really, Thank You!

Ruth Sagers said...

Thanks for your comment, Geoff, that means a lot to us!