Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March 9, 2008

Today was the kind of day that as a rancher you absolutely dream about. It was frosty and clear and 26 degrees this morning. The day was sunny and warmed nicely to around 50 degrees. The wind did blow about 10 m.p.h this afternoon for a short time but overall it was a gorgeous early March day. Yesterday in the evening I gathered the remaining yearlings and the babysitter cows in the home corrals. I let the babysitter cows and their calves back out but kept the replacement heifers and yearlings left to sell in.

First thing this morning I had Samantha help me before she left for college with the final sort. I then checked the special needs and fall pairs and made sure the graft pair was still viable. Samantha also helped me load a few Powder River panels in the trailer so I could add them to the portable corral at Basin City. I sometimes wonder if my kids pay enough attention to detail but Samantha was very astute and very thankful that the panels were the heavy 14 foot long panels and not the extra heavy 16 foot ones. I then headed to Basin City myself as she prepared to go to school.

When I arrived in Basin City I added the panels to the corral and then used some hay to lure some cows and calves in. I was hoping to at least capture a trailer load of pairs or cows yet to calve. I was very lucky and ended up with three complete trailer loads between pairs and calves yet to calve. As I sorted up the first load I was thinking about Dad because one of the mother cows that was moved today was the one that really was responsible for his earthly departure. Although this cow was responsible for that it was an accident and as we approach the 2 year anniversary of his passing I thought about Sunday March 9, 2008.

That particular day Dad and I were sorting a few cow calf pairs and bred cows from some yearlings we were planning to sell. Anyone who has worked around cattle will tell you that some days they are very cooperative and some days not so much. That day things were going great and it seemed as though the cattle were all but separating themselves. I was in the sorting alley and dad was running the cutting gate. There were two directions and they were specifically “out” and “hold”. As I sorted and called out the directions Dad ran the gate. We had both commented at how easy the cattle were working and how rapidly things were progressing. We were very close to finishing when a fairly new calf number 8119y snuck past dad into the hold pen instead of the out pen.

I asked him if we should rectify the miss then and he said we should just wait and fix the issue at the end of the sorting. I was fine with that because to me it was time spent either now or later. We continued to sort for the next 20 minutes and everything was fine. Then cow number 4119y came down the alley and I called “out”. Dad went to swing the gate back so the cow would go the direction I had chosen. The problem was her calf that had been missed earlier was standing directly behind dad. As the cow was about to go out, she saw her calf behind the gate and hesitated a split second. This cow had always been fairly gentle so dad held his ground behind the gate. The calf then ran to the end of the gate and bawled, his mother then bowled over the gate to get to her calf sending Dad somersaulting in reverse under the gate. I quickly shut the alley gate and ran to see if he was ok. The next few moments are as clear today as they were two years ago.

The ground was mostly soft and muddy and Dad seemed to be fine. He had lost his wind in the incident but rose to his feet fairly quickly. Not knowing the future result of the incident I was kind of chuckling inside. Dad’s cowboy hat was crumpled but he had replaced it on his head, He had a smear of green manure on his cheek and he was frantically digging in the manure. He retrieved a recently lit Kool cigarette that was still burning but was bent and had quite a bit of manure on it. He was wiping it off on his coveralls and staring at it. The humor I saw was that no matter how bent or how dirty it was he was determined not to throw it away. I then asked him as I laughed at his determination, “Are you ok?” Dad answered clearly, “Sure I am fine, but I do not know about this cigarette!” and he took a puff on the mostly green cylindrical stick. I then fell to the ground laughing at that moment.

This was SO how my father was. Pain was just a word, work always continued until it was completed and although you should never waste your money on things such as cigarettes, if you do, make sure they are not wasted. When I regained my composure and stopped laughing I asked him, “Are you sure you are ok?” Dad then said something that made me collapse in laughter once again when he accessed what had happened over the last few minutes. He said, “Yeah, I am fine, but what do you suppose got into that silly c%nt today?”

Anyone who has been around livestock has dealt with these situations. Kicks, butts, smashes and charges. This incident seemed like a normal one and we finished sorting and Dad seemed to be just fine. He seemed to take great pleasure in the fact that he was able to finish the bent Kool. Those days spent with him working and sorting cattle are the days I loved the most and now miss the most. Dad had life totally figured out for him, you loved your wife and family, you worked because you enjoyed working, you were close to nature and loved its bounty and respected its shortfalls and all the rest was just fluff. Being outside, in the sun, working cattle and being able to make a living of that was the only other thing he wanted from life and he had achieved that goal. What neither of us knew at that time was that the gate had hit Dad in a precise spot and had severely damaged his aorta. This man who had worked so hard to achieve his goals in life and had succeeded, the man that my mother, sisters, extended family and I loved so much would not be with us much longer.

As I sorted today by myself everything went well and there were no “train wrecks” but as I did the sorting I was very aware of how finite and precious life is, and how much I miss my father.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is the Gray hairstreak butterfly aka Strymon melinus.

Today’s picture is cow 4119y with this year’s calf 0119y. I know most people would have culled this cow and I debated that for a long time. The cow is not mean. The cow is not wild. The cow is a good producer. I still struggled with my decision until Dad helped me one day, “that cow did not hurt me on purpose son, that cow was trying to be a good mother, it was our mistake, not something she willfully did wrong.”