Friday, June 3, 2011

Turn 'em In

         Two important dates that a cattleman writes on his calendar are when he turns out to pasture and when in turns in the bulls.  I turned the bulls in today, mostly by accident.
        Turn in date varies from ranch to ranch based on the optimum time for calving in that particular operation. 
Some ranches choose to calve in January.  The weather is often dryer then, and the calves are big enough take maximum advantage of the grass come summer.  But the days are shorter and the nights are colder.  January calving requires more feed, more labor and more shed space, as there are many sub-zero nights when a calf can quickly freeze if any thing goes wrong.  Cows are usually checked at least every four hours around the clock.
Probably half of Montana ranchers begin calving in February.  The weather is a little warmer, the days are a little longer, yet you can get the calving out of the way before it’s time to start farming.
I like to begin calving the middle of March.  Although there is often more snow in March, I only had to use my calving shed a few times this year, and rarely checked the cows at night.  The nutrient requirements of cows escalates as they near calving.  Because I calve later, I delay that higher plane of nutrition and leave the cows out on grass longer into the winter.  I can check the cows at last light and first light, and let them calve outside unless it is storming.
My plan was to keep the bulls in for another week.  Gestation for cows is about 285 days, and I’d have liked to turn the bulls in around June 7. 
But we don’t have enough fences to keep the bulls separate from the cows when they are in the mood for love.  The river is the only division between several of the pastures, and two bulls crossed it, even in high water.  It would have been a major battle to bring those bulls back in out of the cows, and the timing is close enough.  I ran in the rest of the bulls, branded the two new bulls purchased this year, and turned them all in with the cows.
The common ratio during breeding season is one bull to 25 cows – which reminds me of George and Myrtle:
These two had a long and reasonably happy marriage.  The only real source of contention between them being that Myrtle was a good Christian who believed in Heaven and Hell, while George was rather an ecclectic fellow who believed in reincarnation.
When George died, Myrtle was just itching to prove her point.  She waited, however, a respectable time before she consulted a spirit medium.
Myrtle paid her money, the medium lit the candles and incense, and she mumbled a few words.  Soon Myrtle could feel George’s presence right there in the tent with her.
“So how is there where you are?” she asked George.
“Oh, it’s beautiful.  The sky is blue, the grass is green, and there are lots of the beautiful, willing brown-eyed things everywhere I look!”
“I had no idea Heaven would be like that,” said Myrtle in surprise.
“Oh, this is heaven alright.  I’m a bull on a ranch in Montana.”

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