Ours is termed a cow/calf operation: We run the cows year-round, and they bear a new crop every spring. These calves are run on the cow all summer, and are sold in the fall – usually going to feedlots in the Midwest.
After running all summer under the Big Montana Sky in grass up to their bellies and a momma close at hand to provide a snort of milk whenever the calf is thirsty, he is rudely cut away from his mother and loaded into a truck with 100 other calves and hauled a thousand miles to a new home with thousands of other calves. And he is ripe for disease.
To minimize sickness, most ranchers now routinely immunize their calves 3 weeks before shipping. We did that over the weekend.
The day started with a 3-mile ride to the north end of the ranch, then a gather of 700 acres and a 2-mile trail back to the corrals on top of the mountain.
It’s a scenic ride, and a person can see six mountain ranges from the top of the ridge. We hit a long trot going out, then spread out to cover the whole pasture bringing the cattle back. We had lunch at the corral, then began cutting out the cows.
The sorting became a competition: first my son, Ted, and I; next my son-in-law Phil and his daughter; last came Phil’s brother and his daughter. With a man afoot at the gate, two of us ahorseback would sort off a blast of either cows or calves – whatever was bunched on the outside of the herd – and push them up the alley. The man afoot could swing the gate to turn the calves into the working alley, or turn the cows back out into the pasture.
With the cows all out we set up the scale, filled the syringes, and began pushing calves up the chute. The scale is electronic and takes only a couple of seconds to lock in on a weight, then the calves each got two vaccinations and they were out.
For Ted and it was another day of work. But for Phil and Darrin – who each have cattle operations of their own – it was recreation. Working our cattle was a chance to get up out of the Gallatin Valley and up on top of the world. Of course they worked hard and did their best, but they were free from personal responsibility for the day, and eager to consume of the beer and whiskey which I so thoughtfully provided.