Thursday, January 5, 2012

Avoiding Train Wrecks

I was supposed to be here tonight telling you about the great day of hauling cattle to cornstalks I enjoyed. Alas, that did not happen today but not completely because it could not have happened. It did not happen because as I have grown older I have more ability to see potential "train wrecks" than I did as a younger man. Not a literal train wreck, but a train wreck in cowman speak is basically when everything goes to Hades in a hand basket and for a brief time you wish to never own a bovine again in your lifetime.

Some train wrecks just happen like the time we had 600 yearlings to ship back in the spring of 1997. As I have explained before yearlings are like teenagers on meth without parental supervision at an amusement park, they just tend to cause trouble. We had a successful gather that morning into portable corrals and I was thinking all danger had passed for the day. As we put the first group into the crowd pen to go up the loading chute everything went fine. As the first few calves lumbered across the top deck of the aluminum Merritt semi trailer the sudden noise caused those still in the crowd pen to bolt and they knocked over the Powder River Panels. This was not the end of the world because they were still in the main corral but one heifer had gotten her neck between the panel openings and was somehow upside down on the panels that now lay on the ground. I quickly grabbed a flailing back leg to spin her around so she could free herself. She made about 3 swift kicks and I deftly dodged each one. On the fourth kick she slammed a hoof into my forehead and split a gash about four inches long and pretty deep. There were about 47 seconds there that are still not real clear to me today. As with any head wound I was spewing an inordinate amount of type A positive blood into the sand of the Columbia Basin. The heifer got free and was fine by the way, I however needed a bit of stitching.

My uncle took me to the local hospital in record time and they got me in right away. The female doctor got me cleaned up and stitched up fairly quickly. Then she said it was time for a scan of my head and a talk with a plastic surgeon about how they could fix the resulting scar once I had healed. I explained to the nice lady that my head was fine, we had yearlings to load and I, and only I knew exactly which ones needed to be shipped. I also explained to her that my days as a model for Gentleman's Quarterly (GQ) were long over and all I really needed was a Codeine prescription and a ride back to the corrals. I think she only let me leave because she knew I was going to anyway. We eventually got everything done that morning.

This morning I finished the fence fairly quickly and was going to haul some cows but then I remembered about some of my rules about moving cattle to new pastures especially those that only have a single electrical wire to keep them contained. Here are a few of those rules which sometimes are broken but are a good guide and what took up most of my day.
Before turning out cattle against a hot wire fence

1. Have the fence HOT, even cattle that know a hot wire can sense if a wire is electrified, and have much more respect if it is carrying a charge.

2. Have the water source running and ready to go, especially if the animals have experienced much of a trip to get there, some will want a drink.

3. I almost always set up some type of portable small corral to unload into. This allows cows a stopping point as they come down the unloading ramp or out of a trailer to STOP and settle down for a few minutes. If the field or pasture already has cattle in it this is not as important. Being a herd animal they will usually join the group already in place.

4. Have another mode of transportation on hand if at all possible. A horse, an ATV, another pickup or something. This way if the cows happen to escape the fenced area you have something other than a pickup with a stock trailer connected to it or a semi truck and trailer as your only means of travel besides walking. It is not easy to round up cattle with an old Kenworth pulling a 48 foot trailer.

5. Stay and WATCH the first group as they explore their new area for awhile before leaving for another load. The cattle will usually fairly quickly find the borders of the field and will go to eating.

6. Try and have the cattle not be overly hungry, some hunger is good as they will want to eat and not travel but especially on cornstalks or lush feed a cow with somewhat of a full gut will not gorge herself on the first errant pile of corn she happens to come across and sicken herself.

7. If possible get the cattle to the new digs with an hour or more of daylight left. Roundups by headlight, spotlight and moonlight rarely work very well or are very fun.

8. NEVER turn out cows against a single hot wire that have not been weaned from their calf for a few days minimum, a week or more is better. Especially if they can hear those calves, I promise you, somebody will attempt to head back home to her calf that first night and she will likely take many of her friends with her.

I did not have all these things ready today and by the time I did and finished an afternoon conference call it was too close to dark and I knew the cows would be very hungry. I am ready to go for tomorrow though and look forward to an enjoyable day hopefully devoid of any train wrecks.

Today's picture is of some happy cows on cornstalks that did not result in a train wreck.

Today's real environmentalist species found on the ranch is Little bluestem aka Schizachyrium scoparium.

Today's You Tube Cowman music selection is Justin Haigh singing "Waylon" I am a huge fan of Waylon Jennings and this song is an awesome tribute. Justin uses many of Waylon's songs to make this happen, "being crazy kept him sane" at 1:10 mark, you just cant find great lyrics like that anywhere. This is why I continually search for new music. That twang at the 30 second mark and the great guitar, drums and fiddle from 1:50 to 2:15 is real country at its best in my opinion!