This morning dawned with a temperature of 20 degrees, and with 5 inches of new snow. The thing that made it a little different was a smooth, even blanket of white - there had been no wind!
A quick check of the heavies revealed no new calves during the night. The more recent calves were weathering the brief storm without a problem.
I had been joined yesterday by my older son Ben, who frequently leaves the confines of the city of Bozeman to refresh his psyche in the clear and quiet air of the ranch. Together we set off to feed the cattle.
The hay had all been pitched off to the waiting cows and we were headed over the ridge to check the water when we bogged down in a snowbank that had been camoflaged by the new covering of snow.
I had considered putting on a pair of chains before we left the shop, but there had been no wind to cause drifting, and 5" of snow wouldn't be a problem for the four-wheel-drive pickup.
The pickup was now empty, and this old snowbank had supported the weight of the pickup until we were out in the middle, when we broke through the crust and found ourselves high-centered.
After several rounds of the pickup to dig the snow from behind the tires, and several attempts to rock the pickup free from the snowbank, I finally decided it was time to resort to chains.
It takes less than 5 minutes to put on a pair of chains - if you do it before you are stuck. But now there was a foot of dense, heavy snow all around the pickup. We had to dig all the way around the rear tires - including under the pickup box on the back side of the wheels. That took well over 15 minutes! Then we had to wallow flat-out in the snow to reach clear under and around behind the tires to catch the tail to connect the back siderail before we could connect the front.
Fortunately it was a relatively warm morning. Despite a temperature that was still in the twenties, the radiance of the sun and the lack of wind made for a pleasant day.
Even with one pair of chains it still took a little bit of rocking back and forth to free the pickup from the snow bank. After we were clear we elected to leave the chains on, merely tightening them up now that we were on solid ground.
Driving back along the line of hay, we looked over the cows and discovered another new calf that had been born out in that snow and cold, and who was doing fine. These cows had started calving a week before my projected dated, and the color of this newest calf confirmed a suspicion that had been growing in my mind.
Our herd is nearly all Red Angus. We had used nothing but Red Angus Bulls for the last two decades. Yet one or two per cent of the calves were always black. The Red Angus breed was started from red cattle that were a genetic mutation in the Black Angus breed, so it is expected to have a few throw-backs. But already three of these new calves had been black - 50% - too high for mere statistical probability. Now this newest calf - born to one of the few black cows in the herd - was grey!
That indicated a white Charolais bull. Our neighbor runs about half Charolais bulls and half Black Angus bulls. It was now obvious that there had been a little "tipi creeping" going on before we had turned out our own red bulls the previous summer.
The rest of the day was relaxed. The cows were fed, the weather was moderate, and the heavy two-year-olds were all in plain sight in the small calving field outside the kitchen window: an occasional glance with the binoculars was enough to assure that all was quiet on the western front.