Sunday, July 30, 2017

On Deck

            In baseball you have one batter “up”, one “on deck”, and one batter “in the hole”.  This year, Blaze is my horse “on deck”.

            As I wrote in my post Horse Poor – 99% of the time a man has too many horses, and 1% he doesn’t have enough.  In that same post I wrote about a new horse in the string – the “Copper” buckskin.

            And I have written about the advice many years ago from Harry Yeager:  “You can’t camp on one horse; You never know when you’ll need another horse; You always need to keep another horse hard”. 

            That post was written five years ago.  The Copper is now a solid, broke, cowhorse that nearly anyone can ride and get the job done.  My top horse, Thunder – AKA “The Kentucky Colt” – is now 17 years old.  And I have a new horse on deck: Blaze – AKA “The Medicare Colt” – because I intend to be riding him in my Medicare days.


            Very few people appreciate the “handle” of which a finely-tuned cowhorse is capable: the ability to negotiate any sort of terrain, the ability to blast out after a bunch-quitter and then shut down to turn her, to rope a calf and hold him, to stretch out a cow to be doctored, to sort cattle in the pasture or in the corral, to open and shut corral gates or wire gates, to heel calves to the fire…. 

Even fewer people realize what it takes to make that horse – and what it takes to maintain that handle.  And too few people recognize that you must always have a horse in the pipeline to replace one that is injured or who is just too old.

            Even at seventeen, Thunder is still my “go-to” horse when the going is tough.  If I go out after it, the “Kentucky Colt” will bring it home – one way or another.  I ride the Copper to tune him up in between the various riders who need a quality horse when they visit the ranch - but my focus now is getting the Blaze trained up to take over.

            I am now riding the Blaze whenever the job allows a not-so-broke horse - and Thunder when I have a tough job and need the handle of a well-broke horse.  With each succeeding ride, the Blaze becomes more responsive – he moves out nicely through the sage, turns easily to handle cattle in the pasture, and I was opening gates on him yesterday.  By fall I hope to use him to do some corral sorting.

            This “on deck” horse is a beautiful horse, and a willing horse, and he has lots of personality and lots of potential – but he is still green.  He doesn’t yet understand the job, and he must be continually guided.

            Perhaps in another year he will have sufficient experience to work cows like the Kentucky Colt - with no conscious effort on the part of the rider, whirling and spinning to the music of the West, each of us enjoying the cowboy dance.




Tuesday, July 25, 2017


            I was in my good clothes and headed for town when I saw a plume of smoke just up the West Boulder from the ranch.  Rather than continue on down Swingley Road, I turned left on the West Boulder Road and then under the arch of a neighbor’s entry lane.  The fire was obvious as I approached the shop.

            Half a dozen people were scurrying across the yard, filling buckets of water and loading them into a pickup.  I asked for a phone.

            My first call was back to the ranch, three miles downstream – Eric had already seen the smoke and was heading for the truck we had set up - only two days earlier - with a water tank, pump, and hose.

            My next call was to the neighbor 5 miles to the west, who likewise had a fire truck.  Then a call to the neighbor 7 miles east, who was the captain of the local fire department.  Finally a call to 911 to send a crew from Livingston, 45 minutes away.  The fire was still only an acre or two, but it is always better to have more resources on the way.

            The fire had started with a simple spark from a tractor loader-bucket against a rock in the field - but it was instantly beyond control.  The operator of the tractor quickly alerted his wife, who made the first phone call.  Neighbors Dick and Cathy saw the smoke, and arrived soon after.  I was the next one on the scene.  Eric pulled in with our truck, and I climbed in with him.

            There was a gravel road between the fire and the nearest buildings, with several people working on that side, so Eric and I headed for the west flank.

            After firing up the pump, Eric took the small hose and sprayed the edge of the fire as I drove the truck alongside.  We were able to snuff out the line of burning grass until we were turned back by a steep rocky ridge.

            Circling back, we spotted a stock tank, and pulled in to replenish our supply.  Close behind us for a refill was Lonn with his truck and 3-man crew.

            The fire was headed north, so Eric took the truck in search of a route in that direction, while I grabbed a hand-tool off our truck to beat out the flames across the top of that rocky ridge.

            I hadn’t gotten far before I was met by a Rural Fire truck, and I spotted another truck close behind.  In fact, there now seemed to be men and fire trucks  in every direction!

            With this fire now contained, I was able to lean on the handle of my fire-tool and contemplate the situation.  Most of the time, from where I was standing, one could look for miles in every direction and see no sign of human activity.  Yet today – within one hour of the first smoke – there were men and equipment all around!

            A few acres of grass had been burned, and some fence had been scorched, but all of the nearby buildings and haystacks had been spared by the quick response of neighbors and fire crews.

            My role in the fire was now finished, and I had a doin’s to attend in town, so I returned to my rig and headed out.  As I drove I again noticed the temperature of 90+ degrees.

            For several days now, Eric and I had been choosing and timing our tasks to avoid, as much as possible, the midday heat and direct sunshine.  Yet as I drove down the road in my air-conditioned rig, I realized that I had been working in that direct sunshine, in the heat of the day, in the face of the searing flames – and had never noticed the temperature!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Sight Unseen

            I took delivery today of a bull I bought sight unseen a  month ago. 
            The genetics of this bull will affect 20% of my calves for the next five years, and I never saw him before he was delivered this afternoon.  This prior post will give you a little background -  Bull Sale

            I bought this bull rather by accident.  It was the first bull sale of the season, broadcast live on the internet.  I only signed up and logged in to get an idea of what I might have to pay for a bull this year.  (Last year I paid $7,000.)  But the flyer did say that they would feed the bull until April first, and deliver him free.
            There were three bulls in this sale whose EPDs – Expected Progeny Difference – met my breeding goals.  (Again, I refer you back to Bull Sale for an explanation of EPDs.)  The first one was scratched from the sale for some reason; the second one brought $4200, and I wasn’t impressed with the volume of his hindquarters, which hold a majority of the meat.
            The third bull I had picked met all of my criteria:  He was moderately sized, would sire fertile daughters that calved easily and would stay in the herd, and his calves would deliver easily from the heifers to which I would be breeding him.  The sale description read:
For the cattleman out there that is looking for a sire group that has a great disposition loads of length, and that stand on great feet and legs, these Runaway calves are a must see.  We believe that Runaway mixed with our cowherd will have the ability to fix a lot of foot problems.”

            Our country is rugged, and we lose more bulls from the herd to lameness than any other reason.  I clicked my mouse on the Bid button,
            I could hear the auctioneer on my computer’s speakers as I watched a video of this bull walking around in his pen: “I have an internet bid at $2500 to start.”  My screen showed my bid of $2500, and “You’re In”.   
            Who’ll give me three, three, three, I need-a three, three, three; now give me three, three, three…
            How about twenty-seven fifty?  Seven and a half, seven and a half, seven and a half...”
                        Then the auctioneer stopped his chant to tell the crowd that this was a genuine “sleep all night heifer bull”, and bragged on his high numbers in Calving Ease and the Herd Builder EPD.
            (The ‘sleep all night’ refers to the practice of most ranchers in this country to make regular around-the-clock checks on their cattle – especially the first calf heifers who would be bred by this bull.  Instead, you could sleep, knowing this bull would throw light birthweight calves. )  (You can read more about calving here - Calving.)
            But no one else raised their hand or clicked their mouse.  With no further bids, I had bought the bull.  That led me to second guess myself: why did no one else want this bull?  I was eager to have a look at him to see if there was something about him in person that wasn’t revealed in the videos.

            But now I have the bull.  He looks fine!  I was simply the only one at that sale who was looking for that kind of bull, and I got a good deal.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Making Wages

            Calving is a time of vigilance in the northern country.  In addition to the normal perils involved with birthing, one must add the weather factor.  So during this time of the year the focus of the life of a ranch cowboy is on his cows.   

  • Read here for more background: Calving.

            Most cows calve unassisted, and lead their calves away to join the herd.  Days, and even weeks can go by without any trouble.  A guy can get careless after he has seen dozens of calves born without help.  But a cowboy must always be on the watch.  This week we made wages.

     I’d noticed a cow calving as I rode out to cut heavies. 

       In fact, she had a foot out.  It was snowing, so I diverted from my primary mission to put her in the shed before I rode ‘up west’ to cut heavies.  But when I returned an hour and a half later she hadn’t yet calved.
            The cow was now in the shed, so I no longer needed a horse to run her in.  After turning out my horse I filled a jug with warm soapy water and took the Gator down to check on her.

            Two feet were presenting, but pointing to the side.  In a correct presentation the two front feet have their soles pointing downward as if they were diving out of the womb.  I ran her into the headcatch, put on gloves and reached inside.

            By that time the soles of her feet were pointing upward – the calf was coming backwards!

            I quickly slipped the calving chains onto the feet and attached the calf-puller.  I must get the calf out quickly before it suffocated.

 how to use a calf puller

            But with the help of the puller, it was no time before the calf was out on the ground.  As soon as his mother was released from the headcatch she turned and began licking him off.

            Had I not seen this cow, she would have continued straining to expel the calf until she was exhausted.  The placenta would have detached from her uterus, the calf would have died, and eventually the cow herself would have succumbed to sepsis.

            My intervention had saved the calf, which will be worth $1000 this fall.  We made wages!

            Today we saved another calf: 

            We’d missed the cow when we cut heavies from the "outside" bunch a couple of days ago and she calved this morning in a hayfield up west.  We had fresh snow on top of mud, and the calf hadn’t gotten up to nurse.

            The calf was a mile and a half from the house, so Eric ran out with the Gator and a sled to bring him in.  Rather than following her calf in the sled, the cow took off in another direction.

            As I have mentioned several times, horses are becoming a thing of the past.  Many ranches – including most of my neighbors - use ATVs to handle their cattle.  But I still don’t know how they do it.  We went back down with horses.

            It didn’t take long to spot the errant cow.  We picked up a few more with her, and brought the little bunch into the shed.

            When we returned to the calf who was now in the shed, I thought he was dead.  But it was warmer in the shed, with soft straw to lie on. 

            We ran the cow into the headcatch and milked her out into a nipple bottle.  It took only seconds before the calf responded to the warm fluid in his mouth, and he sucked the bottle dry.  It won’t be long now until he is up and sucking on his own.

            Had we left him out in the field he’d have been dead by morning; but we saved another one.  That paid a cowboys wages for another two weeks!