Monday, October 31, 2011

Working Heifers

In the old “open range” days, the term “working cattle” usually referred to going out with the “round-up wagon” and gathering  each section of the range onto a holding ground to brand the new calves and to cut out any cattle that were ready to ship.  These days “working cattle” generally has to do with corrals, chutes, and vaccinations.
We “worked” our calves in early October to weigh and vaccinate them before shipping.  Several weeks later we gathered the herd from summer range, cut out the yearling heifers, and then cut out the replacement heifer calves before shipping the rest of the calves.
We’d been mostly been working on fence this week, but on Friday we “worked” the yearling heifers:  We ran each of them into the head-catch, weighed them, vaccinated them for respiratory and reproductive diseases, poured on an insecticide/wormer, and palpated them for pregnancy.  Those that aren’t bred will be sold for beef.
On Saturday I helped a neighbor work his cows.  In the corrals we first sorted the cows off from their calves, then ran the cows through the chute for vaccinations, “pour” (pour-on insecticide), and preg testing.  My cow-dog Max was at my side for the whole performance, keeping the cattle moving and saving me lots of steps.  Afterwards, however, he had to submit to a bath before he was allowed to ride inside the pickup with me for a trip to town.
While we were working these cows I was reminded of a fall many years ago when I helped work cattle on one of the larger ranches, where the cows were all “dipped” in a vat every fall – primarily for lice.
The vat was a long narrow concrete tank in the ground, and the cows were run single file up the chute leading down into the vat.  Men were stationed along the vat with poles that had hooks on the end, to be sure that every part of the cow got wet, and to pull them out if necessary.  At the other end of the vat were two pens with concrete floors that drained back into the vat.  A man sat on the fence between them, swinging a gate to fill up first one pen, and then the other, with cows fresh out of the vat.  When the first pen was full he would swing the gate to direct the next cows into the second pen.  In the meantime, men would open a gate out the back of the first pen to move the cows along and make room for a fresh load of cattle still dripping insecticide.
We have yet to work our cows this fall, and the heifer calves.  I’ll keep you posted.

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