Saturday, May 28, 2011

Packing Salt

We’re still feeding cows.  The weather hasn’t yet warmed up enough to make the grass grow sufficiently to turn the cows out.  With water still running in ruts six feet deep in the road, with mud ankle-deep in the shop, and with flood water still pouring out into the hayfields, it is hard to accomplish any meaningful projects on the ranch.
But while the pasture grass isn’t growing well, the lawn sure is!  It’s tempting to turn the cows into the yard for a day and let them eat it down.  But then we’d have to harrow all the cow-pies, and we’d have to mow it anyway to get it all even.  Who was it that set that precedent of a neatly-manicured lawn?
So one project I finished up today – after feeding hay to the cows - was getting the lawn mowed.  Then I made a foray on the 4-wheeler out into the Clayton field to check on the progress of the grass there: still too early to turn the cows out.
The Desert pasture is on a south slope, and I was eager to see what is  going on there.  The trail up into the desert is a poor one, it requires crossing a hayfield to get to it, and the field itself is mostly too steep for wheeled vehicles. The best way to see that field is ahorseback, and we will be turning cows in there soon, so I saddled a horse and threw a pack-saddle on the mule so I could drop off a load of salt as I reconnoitered.
Salt is a bit of a misnomer.   While salt is an important component, more critical is the mineral package.  In fact, I mix one 50-pound bag of salt into two bags of mineral in each tub.  That 300# of mix – which costs about $130 - will last our cow-herd about a week.  At this time of year magnesium is an essential nutrient that is deficient in new grass.
We use our horses regularly - and more frequently than most ranches - but still not often enough to keep them worked down.  The horse, the mule, and the dog all had an excess of energy, and were all fidgety.  It took constant effort on my part to keep them all lined out as we headed up the mountain to look over the pasture and fill the salt barrels in the middle of the field.

I was disappointed that the grass was not yet ready to turn the cows in, but gratified that the poison larkspur was still well-controlled.  We haven’t lost any cows to larkspur for several years now, after spending weeks spraying the previously-heavy infestations.
The panniers weren’t big enough for six sacks of mineral, so I made two trips up the hill.  It’s less than a mile up into the field, but a rapid gain of some 500 feet in altitude.  On the second trip the animals had settled down a bit. 
One of the barrels had been rolled down off the hill, and I had to search a bit.  It was lying nearly a half a mile away – too far for a cowboy to carry it afoot.  I had only panniers on the packsaddle, and no manty-rope, so I used my lariat to lash the barrel on top of the packsaddle for the trip back up to the top of the ridge.  I would have been embarrassed for a real packer to have seen my contrivance, but we made it most of the way.
We haven’t accomplished much in the past couple of weeks.  The farming, fencing, and have been on “divert” due to weather.  And now we have a lot of unscheduled work to do in repairing the flood damage.  A fellow can never seem to get ahead....

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