Cutting the Metaphorical Umbilical Cord

I’ve had my calves for 7 months. They were born in March or April. By the time calves are 6 or 7 months old they are getting about 80% of their nutrition from grass; mom’s milk is basically unnecessary. These animals nurse for emotional reasons only; it was time to break them of that. When the mama cows are able to stop producing milk after their calves are weaned, they gain weight and prep for cold winters better. At least this is what I’ve heard, so it was time to wean the calves: simple in theory, a bit more difficult in practice.imag0809

The way I chose to do the weaning is supposed to be low stress. I built a three-wire electric fence across the middle of a pasture, no calf can get under, and my cows aren’t athletic enough to jump over; there are over 9000V pumping through the hot wires so it gives a pretty good spank to whatever touches it. I know… The plan was to put the cows on one side and the calves on the other, so they can see each other, just no more nursing. Nobody is out of sight of their mother; low stress, right?img_20161027_090308_815

Maybe for the cattle, but not for me. It took me over a week to actually get the cows and calves to stay apart. I had to separate them 3 times, twice horseback, once on foot; drive them to their respective sides 3 times, twice horseback, once in a trailer; fix fence twice, once when they’d broken through the barb wire and found another hole elsewhere, and once because I’m still figuring out how to do electric fence.imag0813 It doesn’t sound like it, but I was very, very discouraged. This was one of the first times I really came to face the fact that I have started working in an industry that I don’t have much experience in; I’d gotten a glimpse of the magnitude of my inexperience and I was floored.

I did take away something positive from this experience: there are almost no set deadlines in agriculture. Yes, planting needs to take place around a certain time, but it is ok if it’s off by a few days, or even a week; it’d be good to wean my calves in the middle of October (yes, this blog is a bit after the fact…), but it really doesn’t matter that I was a week later than I’d planned; brandings are nice to do when the calves aren’t old enough to weigh 400 pounds, but it’s ok to brand later when they are heavier. The point is there aren’t many specific due dates, just general guidelines. And this is a hard concept to grasp coming from the city, working in construction; both of which run on very specific timelines. Beginning to wrap my mind around that had to take twenty calves continually trying to reunite with their mothers, giving me the slip every chance they got, and generally irritating me to the point of screaming at them from the back of a horse.imag0806 I apologized to the horse.

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Good Neighbor

I got here and knew nobody. I started my job and had basically zero background doing anything “cowboy”. The biggest event of the year in raising cattle is, hands-down, the branding, and that takes multiple people, most of whom need to know how to rope, and at least one who knows how to use a branding iron.

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I have a great neighbor named Brooks who grew up cowboying.  His brothers, dad, and friend also did, and they were willing to help me in my time of need.

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We spent a long morning roping calves,

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throwing, and branding them.  Brooks’s nieces all gave us a hand.

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Some of my cows were pretty interested what we were doing.

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We moved onto the cows, who much were easier to work with in the squeeze chute.

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Then we trailed them to their next pasture, and ate.

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And all I needed to do was provide them food and beer afterwards.

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Why I chainsaw

There are many things to do on a ranch. Most of them are fun. This includes spending days on end using a chainsaw – heck yeah! As awesome as it is to wield a power tool that big and dangerous for hours on end, there are actually good reasons to do so on a ranch.

One of the reasons, and there are many, is to clear brush. Here in New Mexico, at least where I live, there is a huge invasion of a particular tree called a juniper. For hundreds of years they have been kept at bay by fires, both ones set by lightning strikes and by the Natives. These trees are meant to be on rocky slopes of mesas and canyons, but now they are starting to cover the grasslands. They use about 80 gallons of water per day, taken straight from the water table and stolen from the surrounding plant life, including the native grasses. So as the junipers are eradicated from grasslands and rolling hills, more grass may grow, more wildlife may live, and I can grow more beef.

Another reason to use my chainsaw is to keep my fence lines clear. These junipers grow super fast; they will be only a few feet tall for the first 3 years, then after that they just shoot up – they can be over 6 feet tall before 10 years old. If they are allowed to stay in a fence for that long, they will grow right through the wire, push over the posts, and make big holes in the fence. That is a bad thing if I’m trying to keep livestock where I want them…so I take my chainsaw to whatever tree may be in the fence. It might take a while, but if I need to mend the fence that will take even more time. And I may lose livestock, or they might get injured getting through to the off-limits area.

Then the last reason I willingly take up the saw is to stop erosion. This may sound like an odd reason to cut trees, but I assure you it is not. All of the trees that I cut I strategically place in places that have been eroded by rain run-off. If I place these trees where the water runs and is cutting through the dirt, the foliage will slow the water enough to drop the silt that it is carrying, and will actually start healing the cuts. This also will allow more grass to grow in the new soil, more wildlife and livestock will be able to be on the ground, and as the water quits rushing off the ground it will soak in and actually replenish the water table…little by little.

That last reason is the best. I get to heal the land by running a chainsaw!

Let them eat cake.

It has been a bit since my last writing where we got the cattle…but then what? Well, I had to put them in the pasture that I wanted them to be in. I have decided to use a truck for the majority of my cattle work. This isn’t very true to cowboy culture, but I am ok with that; after all, being a cowboy isn’t my goal for managing these cattle. So when I move them, I put some feed in a truck, honk the horn, and away we go. Of course, there are necessarily some people on horseback to keep all the cattle together…

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We keep the pace pretty slow. Actually, we keep it at a cow-speed walk; that is around 2 miles per hour. There is no whooping and hollering, no getting the cattle all worked up, just a leisurely ride through the pasture keeping the cattle from getting too distracted with whatever they may see along the way.IMG_20160522_105446_515

 

(The feed that I put in the truck is known as cake…)