The cowboy life is a Grand and Glorious life for sure: ahorseback in the foothills of the Absaroka mountains of Montana. Or so it seemed the other day.
The last Friday of March found me at the first branding of the year at the ranch of my old partner, Darin. He raises purebred Angus bulls, and calves in January – so must get them branded before they get too big.
It was the typical old-style branding: a bunch of neighbors, horses, and aspiring cowboys. The cattle were corralled, the cows sorted out the gate, and several ropers began heeling out the calves to the fire. (Read more about branding in my post Branding 2012.)
The day was windy but reasonably warm, and we were pleased to get the job accomplished in the respite between bouts of foul weather. None of us foresaw what the morrow would bring.
By morning there was a good 8” of snow, and the downfall continued for most of the day – to make over 10”.
A calf can stand an incredible amount of cold – IF he has been licked off by his mother, and he gets a full belly of milk. But there were three calves born in the early morning that had been overcome by the cold. Eric threw a couple of them in the back of the side-by-side ATV, and I went out on the four-wheeler to gather horses.
The “Kentucky Colt” was my pick for the morning. Our first task was to dally up to the sled to pluck the last calf out of the snow.
Eric made a run up to the house to load up the generator, which we connected to the calf-warmer in the calving shed. This plastic hut has a 220-volt heater that directs warm air up through the floor-grate to quickly stabilize a hypothermic calf. Then I went back out on my horse to bring the mothers of all three calves into the shed.
A full belly is essential for a newborn calf. He has been getting his nourishment for the last nine months through his umbilical cord. Now he is suddenly thrust out into the cold where he must not only find a new source of sustenance, but also generate his own heat. We elected to give a tube-feeding to two of these calves to sustain them until they were strong enough to nurse.
When the cold calves were taken care of, it was time to feed all of the older cattle. That required two tons of hay for the morning ration. By afternoon the snow was still coming down, and the temperature was dropping as well. It was time for a ton of straw to be scattered to give the cattle some protection from the cold.
Ah, yes. Ain’t This Romantic!?!