The first circle in the morning is the most important trip of the day during calving. By March there is light enough to see at 6:00, so we head out into the frosty air to what has transpired during the night. If there are any new calves that might be chilled I want to find them and get them to warming in the shed as soon as possible.
There is evidence that cattle tend to calve in the hours preceding mealtime, so I feed the heavies late in the afternoon. All day long I can monitor calving behavior anywhere in the field, but checking cows by flashlight is not very productive.
These days I do these pasture checks on a 4-wheeler. ATVs have become essential equipment on the ranch, and more ranches now have them than have horses.
While town people buy them for recreation, a rancher uses them continually for all manner of work: checking cows, irrigating, fixing fence, and running in horses. They are one fourth the price of a pickup and have one fourth the environmental impact. They are quick and easy for many small jobs.
But as my friend Pol Haldeman said, they are the beginning of the end for horses.
"First you get one to do the irrigating," said Pol, "and you find out how useful they are to run in the horses."
"Then one day you figure that you could be there and back on the 4-wheeler in less time than it would take to saddle a horse."
"And when you finally do need a horse, he's so fat and out of tune that you can't get the job done anyhow."
We use that 4-wheeler anytime it's appropriate, and are grateful to have one. But It can never take the place of a horse on this ranch. The folks that named it an All Terrain Vehicle hadn't tried to negotiate the topography of the West Boulder. It is just too steep and to rocky in most places for the 4-wheeler to go.
The horses are safe here for another generation.