The first calves started coming the end of last week – calving has begun. The weather has been very nice, so the newborn calves don’t really need shelter, but you never know when a cow will need help, or when a storm will blow in. A son and a nephew were at the ranch for the weekend so I took advantage of their help to sort off the first round of heavies.
Most Montana ranchers bring their cattle up closer to headquarters to calve, and most have a calving shed. But it’s hard to spot the cows that are calving among a big herd, a large bunch of cattle soon make a lot of mud and manure in a small calving lot, and the stress of confinement multiplies the normal troubles of calving. So I cut in only the ones that are showing signs of calving in the next week, and turn the rest back out into bigger fields.
With the help of the boys I trailed the cows in a mile and a half from where they had wintered up west, then spread a line of hay near a gate, and went to cutting. As the cows ate, I rode up and down the line analyzing their udders and pushing out the gate the ones close to calving.
It’s the first time I’ve been on my “Kentucky Colt” in a couple of months. He was a little slow to get started, but he soon figured out the game. As soon as I showed him which cow, he took over to take her to the gate. As long as the cow was moving in the right direction we gave her plenty of room. But if she tried to break away, he showed no mercy - to her, or to me. The sod was soft and muddy, and several of the cows slipped and slid trying to get past the horse.
The Colt was soon cutting hard, and it worried me a little. I’ve had horses go down with me enough times already, and my bones are getting older and a little more brittle. But the “Colt” – who is now eleven years old – was born and raised on the West Boulder, and he is incredibly sure-footed.
When the cows got tired of me and the horse stirring around among them we moved on to the heifer bunch. These we didn’t even try to work just on the magnetism of the hay. Instead we cornered them against the river and held them up with the three riders while we worked through them and cut out the heavies. This bunch is a lot smaller than the cow bunch, and half the heifers are yearlings, so it didn’t take as long to look them all over.
Sitting on a horse really isn’t sitting. We began the day at a long trot making the outside circle to gather all the cows, and it takes a lot of leg-work to ride that choppy gait. Then my horse was starting, stopping, jumping, and spinning to keep the cut headed in the right direction. By the end of the day we were all pretty tired, and that glass of Wild Turkey tasted pretty good.