The romance of ranching
Every day, we are up before the sun with the day’s tasks playing like a movie in our heads. This time of year, we watch the last few cows that have yet to calve, check calves for any sickness that needs to be treated and start moving cattle out to their grazing pastures.
Horses are gathered at daylight, saddled and grained and ready to ride for every task. We head to the barn in boots, chinks and cowboy hats; put medicine in saddle bags and check our ropes. When we swing aboard the horses step out in anticipation of the day’s activities. We head out of the yard at a trot to be sure to cover all of the country we need to before the day catches up with us. Steam pours out of our horse’s nostrils and our muscles warm with the movement of staying in rhythm with our horse.
Just kidding. I really had you going there for a minute though, didn’t I? Couldn’t you just see it? I could. I looked pretty awesome in that image I was painting.
The truth is some days really are like that for us. But most of them involve a picture that’s a heck of a lot less romantic than the rest of the world wants to believe. There are still places in the Great American West and Southwest that have big cowboy/cowgirl crews who operate that way. And I have to admit, that I am glad they exist. They keep the romance of the western way of life alive.
Then, there’s us. Husbeast and I joke about the way we handle things sometimes. It comes down to what the quickest and most efficient way of doing things happens to be, in that moment. Would I love to catch a horse and ride for every single task that involves a cow? Truthfully? Only when the weather is nice. I actually don’t enjoy having to dress in all of my layers and then try to get aboard my tall horse. I don’t like cold toes, cold fingers or a cold face. I think it’s hideous to ride in the snow. But, that’s just me. I am a self-diagnosed fair weather wimp and my hat is off to the gals who get to/have to/ love to ride in all types of weather. Oh, and that hat I’m tipping is most likely a ball cap. I know…lame.
It’s a heck of a lot quicker to saddle up the quad and drive through the heifers to check on any that are having trouble or to find any that may be sick. What if something has to be roped and doctored? Well, you may not know it, but if you’ve got a driver, you can rope a calf from the back of the quad. You can even get that done from the back of a pickup. Just be careful what you dally to… Anyway, it’s also oddly more satisfying to snag one from a motorized “horse” with a driver who doesn’t think just exactly how you may be thinking. There’s a certain elevated challenge to it that is often unnoticed and unappreciated.
Some of the times that I have laughed the hardest are when we’ve pulled off a stunt like that. We always chuckle about how that was some real cowboy $***. Do you know how hard it is to rope from the ground while you are running? Try it sometime. It’ll humble you a bit. But, if you can’t come out of it laughing, we maybe can’t be friends.
And yeah, sometimes, well…a lot of times, we’ve used a feed truck to bait cattle from one pasture to another. One of my favorite moments happened about 3 years ago in the fall. Husbeast headed out to check cows in the old feed truck. We had been discussing taking the cows up the switchback to the mountain. They needed to climb about a mile uphill from the valley floor to the top of the rim rock. It’s a steep trail that leaves the best travelers winded long before the half way mark. I was teaching at the time, so we were trying to come up with a day when it would work. Husbeast had been gone for quite a while and I stepped out on the porch to see if I could see him headed back to the house. Something about a mile away and high up the switchback caught my eye. I turned my head in that direction and squinted to see. There was Husbeast in the old Ford. And he was half way up the switchback…with a couple hundred dry cows following him. I ran for my camera, knowing that it would be too far away to see, but wanting to capture it anyhow. I watched for about 15 minutes as he putted along and those cows just kept lumbering along behind him. He made the final turn near the top where the pasture gate is and I eventually lost sight of the pickup. I watched until the last of the cows rounded the corner. I giggled a little and went back to work. When Husbeast showed up a while later, he couldn’t hide the grin on his face when he said “Did you see that?”
We’d love to spend more of our time horseback. That’s half of why we are in this business. Sometimes it’s just quicker and more efficient to get it done however we happen to be “mounted” at the time. It may not be the vision of romance that people have when they think about ranching and we may never make the pages of a glossy magazine, but it’s romantic enough for the two of us. Really, all we’re missing is a bottle of wine and a candle. Yeah, nope…how about a 30 pack of Keystone Light and a bonfire.