Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pairing Them Out

I’ve been throwing the pairs  from the calving field through the gate into the next field as they accumulate, and that field was beginning to get congested.  It was time to move those older pairs out across the bridge into the big wide world of the Coyote Gulch field.

Moving a bunch of young pairs is always an exercise.  They haven’t yet learned to hunt up their mothers when things start to stir, and there were also a bunch of first-calf-heifers that didn’t yet understand the game.

The first challenge is to get the whole group moving.  The calves are bedded together in several different parts of the field and the cows are scattered.  The calves don’t understand that we are on the move, and they’re waiting for Mom to come and get them.  It takes a lot of hollering and threatening to get them to stand up, stretch, and actually begin to leave the place that has been home for most of their (very short) life.  They’re more curious about the dog and the horse than they are fearful.

At last most of them begin to get the idea that this is no longer a quiet and safe place to be, but there are enough rocks and ridges in this field that it takes a lot of running back and forth with the horse before they finally they begin to form up and move toward the far gate.  Some of the calves aren’t moving out well, and it’s better to leave them behind.  We reach the bridge-trap with a motley assortment of bawling cattle.

It is now essential to pair the cattle up to go out across the bridge into a much larger field.  If the cow and calf aren’t together when they leave, each of them will be back looking for the other.  So we stand guard near the gate out across the bridge and cut out each pair as they find each other.

Some calves think that was their mother leaving and try to follow, and likewise some cows haven’t yet found their calves in this group of 85 head.  (Note I said 85 head – an uneven number.  And they have to go out into the next field by pairs an even number.)  So the rider must be vigilant in turning back the singles and only allowing solid pairs to leave the trap together.

Pair by pair they walk across the bridge - just as the animals walked pair by pair off the Ark after the flood – until nearly all have gone.  The few animals left must be returned to the field from whence they were gathered to mother up and form a more solid pair-bond.

With this first 40 pairs now spread out over several hundred acres, we now can make a fresh sweep of the calving field to cut out the new pairs and clean up the clutter- and thus goes the cycle for the two months of calving: cut in heavies from the outside cows, cut out pairs to the near field, turn pairs into an outside field, and bring in more heavies.

It does take more time to keep the cattle rotating in this manner, but it minimizes the psychological clutter of having an overwhelming number of cattle confined, as well as minimizing the accumulation of mud and manure.  The older pairs are now spread out where disease transmission is minimal, and they are learning to keep track of mother – all resulting in a net reduction in work and stress overall.

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