It’s been awhile since I’ve worked cattle on horseback (well, almost a year to be exact!), but I used to do it every day when I was a teenager. I learned so much about cattle when I was working alongside my dad. His approach to working cattle was very practical and methodical; my dad is a very patient individual. But he never really explained things—he expected us to know what he was thinking, to understand what the cattle were going to do before they did it, and to be exactly in the right place to control them at all times. This article is an attempt to do just that: guidelines for handling cattle for the beginner.
Our third child was born in January. Being pregnant all last summer really put a stop to my riding. I have ridden horses while pregnant, but of the ones we have now, only one is deemed safe enough by my husband for me to ride while carrying a child, and it has just been so busy we have done nothing with the horses except feed them and try to maintain their health through the winter.
This season has come along so suddenly, I am struck with the startling realization that fall is almost over and those harvest-colored sunshine days that I used to love to go riding on are almost past. Winter is coming. The pessimistic side of me is dreading the frozen water tanks, fierce winds, sub-zero temperatures, and the aching fingers I get from handling a cold pitchfork. I don’t like the effects of daylight savings time, with it’s short days and cold nights. But winter brings more than that. There will be sledding excursions for the kids, bright sparkling mornings where the snow has given everything a fresh coat of white glitter, the desire for a cup of hot chocolate and a longer cuddle than you’d want in the summertime…..there are some really great things about winter.
This is Dorothy, our favorite pet cow. Disregarding the fact that I grew up on a ranch where we really didn’t name cattle, as all of the calves were destined for the sale pen and most of the cows were a uniform black color with no distinguishing characteristics…we now have a small enough herd with enough color variations and personalities to be able to tell them apart and call them by name. So we have Dorothy, a glossy red and white Hereford cow. She has a very sweet temperament, is the most laid-back and gentle cow I’ve ever seen, and our affection for her over-rules all common sense, because a smart cattleman would have sold her long ago.
Okay, so it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything here at CowgirlDiary, and I apologize…it’s been summer and a lot has happened, and—sad to say—none of it was horse-related. But it’s been fun, and busy, and crazy, and I’m just now getting to sit down and sort through photos and reminisce a little bit about the great summer we had. And I’m also feeling sad that it’s already gone!
I’ve been mulling a bit lately, over the horse ownership thing again. I’ve mentioned before that I feel guilty about owning horses and not spending much time with them, aside from feeding time. I confess that it’s been about three months since I’ve ridden….in fact, I can’t even remember the ride at all, or when it was. I have a pretty good excuse for not riding any broncs, though….I’m pregnant with our third child.
Last weekend we took our cows out west where I grew up. From here, it’s a four hour ride in a car…a six hour ride for a cattle pot and truck and trailer with seven people packed into the crew cab. Saturday was one long hectic day. But it was one of the best weekends I’ve had in a long time, because to me it meant going home.
I was at the cattle auction last Friday watching our feeder heifers sell when I got a text message from my brother-in-law that said, “You haven’t been checking on your adopted calf lately, have you?” I panicked, thinking maybe it was dead. “No, why? Is it sick?” I typed back. “Emaciated, lethargic, and has a runny nose and scours,” he replied. Great….I had quit checking on the mama cow, several days earlier, thinking she had adopted it and was caring for it. Evidently not.
I’ve been really busy the last three days. Four days ago we lost a calf. One of our herefords’ calves was stillborn, and it’s a real shame because the calf really would have been something—a purebred hereford bull calf. But for some reason or other, he didn’t make it through the birth process. So we went to the cattle auction to try to find a replacement calf to graft onto the cow since her milk was still good. I had seen my dad do this many times, and figured our chances were pretty decent, since this particular cow is Dorothy’s mother, and is very gentle and easy to handle.
It’s calving season! Granted, we aren’t all done with winter yet, but we’ve had such a warm one it’s made us think spring a little early. The cows have been out on cornstalks the last couple of months, and now a few of them have calved, and it’s fun to drive by and watch the little babies trying to get their legs under them and navigate through the corn stubble. It’s just one of the first signs of promise that winter is going away and there are brighter days ahead.
I am a writer, and one of my favorite things to do is to tell a good story. I have often said that getting a horse is like getting a brand new notebook. You open it up, and it’s blank….just waiting to be filled in with adventures, experiences, knowledge, sentiment, good memories, colorful adjectives, and whatever else comes your way. So it is when you get a horse….I went for a ride with Cowboy Dad yesterday. We had talked about trailering out to some trails or something, since we had a whole afternoon and warm sunny weather.
I never pay attention to the forecast. I’m not a fan of watching the evening news, and I don’t listen to the radio on a regular basis, so I’m pretty much out in the cold when it comes to knowing what’s going on with the weather….literally. It snowed in the night and I didn’t even [...]
My sister-in-law introduced me to Pinterest a few weeks ago. If you’re not sure what it is, it’s a website where you can “pin” or bookmark websites or photos that inspire you in a neat collection of “boards” for you to come back to and read or use later. For instance, I have a board of horse photos, a board for scrapbooking ideas, a board of photos of things in my favorite color of green, and boards that give do-it-yourself tutorials for making some really neat things. Last night I was creating a board for the style I’d like to have. As I was pinning a beautifully ruffled dress that you could only wear to a wedding party or soiree, the thought hit me, “Who am I kidding? I deal in cow manure!”
Today was amazing. Well, if you don’t count the fact that it’s the beginning of January and still a little cold for my taste. And if you don’t mention that today was my husband’s first time to get bucked off a horse. It was sunny with no wind, a Sunday afternoon, and he said we’re crazy if we don’t go for a horse ride today. So we did. Here’s how it went:
I absolutely love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday, and all of the excitement and anticipation that comes with the shopping, giving, and receiving is what makes it fun. Growing up kind of makes that excitement fade, until you have kids of your own, and then you get it all back watching them exclaim over their gifts. If you’re like me, you just can’t quit thinking about what might be in that package under the tree with your name on it. I’m everlastingly curious but too principled to peek. So this time of year always gets me giddy with excitement!
Snow is coming! The kids are excited with the prospects of sipping hot cocoa, listening to Christmas music, and watching the heavens swirl their magical crystals into sparkling drifts over our front steps. I’m not looking forward to doing chores in subzero temperatures, no matter how pretty the snow is. When the water tanks freeze over and I can’t peel the layers of frost-covered hay off of my big round bales to feed my horses, winter isn’t fun anymore. If only we could enjoy the snow without it being so cold…..
It’s that time of year when people like to ponder the good things that have come their way. I see the trend of daily status updates on Facebook, where everyone is counting a blessing along with each day of November, and while it is inspiring to read their grateful comments, I haven’t joined in the fad yet. I have looked at the blank where I’m supposed to type my comment, and ten minutes later I’m still sitting there, overwhelmed with my thoughts….the blank just isn’t big enough. I have so much to be thankful for.
A horse buddy of mine asked the question on Facebook the other day, “What do you do about barn hands?” She wasn’t referring to people you hire to help out around a stable, but rather the calloused and dried out things on the ends of your arms. All of the horse people chimed in with their remedies for this problem, and it was easy to see that if you have horses in your life, your hands will tell the story. Mine are cracked, calloused, dry, and sometimes even dirty….it just comes with the territory of being around horses.
You might be surprised at how often I question my own common sense when it comes to owning horses. We have five now, and that puts both me and Cowboy Dad in a sort of panic to justify the expense and trouble that we go to in order to keep them. I think many of my readers believe that I live on a massive expanse of Western range, complete with howling coyotes and grazing cattle, where I train horses all day, bake my family a luscious dinner in my country kitchen, and ride off into the sunset with the love of my life. Well, I hate to ruin that impression, but to tell it a little more accurately….
Our weanling stud colt is just a handful. I had forgotten what it’s like having a horse this young, but he is certainly a lot of trouble. The main problem is that he has got too much energy and not enough experience. Watching him careen around the farm full-tilt is entertaining until you see him run into something. Owning this colt is like having a teenager who just got his own drivers license and is anxious to demonstrate his skills. It’s exciting, it’s entertaining, it’s often hilarious…..but it’s also scary.