I should have written this column last night, but the honest truth was that I was too tired and beaten up to think. One would assume that I had a bad day. Quite the contrary, I sat in my easy chair admiring all my new bruises and feeling tired, but it was a good tired. Dad and I had successfully vaccinated and delivered the last of the cows and calves to their summer pastures.
The last week of April is one of the most hectic and stressful weeks of the year. There is just no way around it. The grass is greening up; the cows realize it and they are no longer happy to occupy their formerly comfortable winter pastures with a plentiful supply of hay. They are lured by the tantalizing green, lush grass across the fence. The rancher, on the other hand, is tired of delivering the now unappetizing hay to the ungrateful bovine who long for the lush, green grass across the meager fences. It becomes a battle of wills.
We started working the cows last week, beginning with the replacement heifers. There are few things in this world as goofy as yearling heifers. They are eager to go somewhere, but they have no idea where that somewhere is. It takes forever to work them; they each get a new ear tag and freeze brand, as well as, the obligatory vaccinations. Then it’s off to their own little corner of the ranch, until fall and their assimilation into the rest of the cowherd.
After that we start in on the older cows. They are also, sorted by age. The younger cows were the first bunch we worked. I have to admit that they were not too hard to get in and run through the chutes. I guess it was ignorant bliss about what was to come. They got to stay where we worked them, so getting them to pasture was no more than opening a gate. Few things in life are as satisfying as watching the cows and calves walk through that gate into the green grass.
The old cows were next. While most of them did not put up any kind of a fight, several were hard to catch. They were wary and cautious but eventually the lure of the alfalfa we used to bait them into the pen was too much and they gave in. I like to think they knew what was coming (the green grass, not the shots). That changed when we unloaded them and tried to get them to go into the squeeze chute. They were just jaded enough to know they didn’t want to stick their heads into the head catch but just tame enough to not move. Eventually they were persuaded to give in (after much tail twisting and name calling). Loading them on the trailer to go to pasture was much easier, I am convinced they knew where they were going then.
Finally we came to the herd of our 5 to 8 year old cows, cows in their prime. They were full of sass and vinegar and their calves were too. While they didn’t give us too much trouble, they couldn’t make things too easy either. Their calves were full of energy too; the bruises on my legs match most of their hoof prints. As the day wore on we reached a mutual agreement and they made their way onto the trailer and through the chute. Then back onto the trailer and out to pasture.
All of the sudden we were done. As Dad and I picked up the debris from the week’s work I noticed how quiet it was. All week the working facility was enveloped in a deafening din of cows checking on their calves and calves letting their mammas know where they were. Now you could hear the birds chirp and the wind rustle across the trees. The winter pasture was suddenly empty and quiet, bale feeders sat hollow and the pen once bustling with cows eager to escape seemed to be asleep.
Two times each year bring a big sense of relief and this was one of them. There are few things in this life more satisfying to me than to see my cows on pasture. Nothing is better than to open the trailer door and let them out on the new spring pasture. Some of the cows immediately duck their heads down and munch on the new grass while others hurriedly find their calves then turn to eating.
The only other feeling that is just as satisfying is in the fall when we bring them back home. That week is just as hectic and just as demanding but it is every bit as satisfying. However, I think I will just sit back and enjoy the silence and let my bruises heal for a couple of days. On second thought maybe I ought to go check them and start baling the alfalfa for next fall. Always something to do, but then again, I guess that is job security.