Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cutting Pairs

We got 3” of wet snow yesterday, but by this afternoon it was a balmy 38 above and the water was running off the hillsides.  Cutting out pairs is a fine occupation for a day like this, and it’s excellent training for a budding cowhorse.

As new calves accumulate in the calving pasture, they clutter up the landscape.  A cowboy has to sort through who’s who, who’s new, and who belongs to whom.  The presence of those cows with calves among the heavies is now not only redundant, but counter-productive.  They need to be cleaned out regularly.

Of course the best way to do that job is ahorseback.  And Max the cowdog can’t stand to see a horse among the cattle without him, so he is always nearby.

The trick is to throw open the gate into the next pasture and pair them out, keeping cows and their calves together without losing any of the heavies.  It didn’t take long to cut out 10 pairs, and the rest were not yet traveling well enough to send out.

In the field of pairs was the calf I had grafted a few days before.  A young cow had lost her calf at the same time an old cow calved.  The calf would do better on a younger mother, and the older cow could fatten during the summer without a calf. 

Cattle recognize each other by their smells.  The young cow would only let the new calf suck if he smelled right to her.  So I skinned the hide off her dead calf and slung it on the live one – the cow immediately began talking to “her” new calf, and a match was made.

It had been a few days now, and they were doing well together.  The smell of the hide and the milk of his new mother would have permeated the calf, and it was time to take off his hide jacket.  I shook out a loop in my lariat and gave chase.

A well-broke rope-horse will put you right up on a critter and “rate” him – maintain a perfect distance for a throw.  If your aim is good it shouldn’t take but a few yards to have the little bugger caught.  With the calf on the end of the rope I tied off to the saddle horn, stepped off, and tied my reins to the outstretched rope to keep the horse looking in the right direction while holding tension on the rope as I pulled off the hide “jacket”.

The pair-sorting and calf-roping were a pleasant interlude - and then it was time to go back to the pickup for the afternoon feeding.

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