Sometimes, it just all goes wrong. Last Monday we saddled up before the sun came up. It was our day to get all the cows in smaller pastures for our load out on Tuesday. Probably getting Lefty saddled and in the trailer was the only thing that went well for the next 48 hours. Brandon, Carl, and Connor arrived and we headed to our first pasture. We parked the trucks and were in the saddle at first light.
Since cattle like routine – we pen the same way every time. Brandon and I head East. Carl and Connor head West. We pick up our respective cattle – meet in the middle and drive the cattle into the trap. Since we have not had rain in 60 days and the temperature has been over 100 for several weeks, we wanted to get the cattle penned and settled early without stress or over heating any of the animals. Our intentions were noble.
Brandon and I found about half the herd and started moving them in. I looked up and saw cows going every direction on the other side of the creek. Now the day before shipping the last thing you want to do is run the weight off your calves. But it looked like chaos from where I sat and I was not happy. Brandon asked if I could hold what we had and he rode off. Cows move – they don’t just stand patiently. But they move sort of slowly – like they think you won’t notice that they are slipping away. I was praying for my cowboy angels (that’s what I pray for when things get out of control – I need all those cowboys that have gone on before me to give angels instructions and rescue me – with God’s approval – of course!!). So the cows I was holding started moving toward the trap – right where I wanted them.
Then I went to look for the rest of the herd with everyone else. I met them bringing in what they thought were all the remaining cows and calves. We needed 98 and we had 88. It’s a big pasture and it was heating up. Found 2 – found 2 more – found 4. We had never had this herd splinter like this. We now rode every inch of this pasture looking for the last 2 cows and calves. At the very back of the ranch is a slough where Squirrel Creek and Ioni Creek come together. It is always wet back there – lots of trees – snakes – spiders – definitely coyotes – and even a few bob cat sightings. Well, it is not wet back there right now and a tree had gone down on the fence. We could see cow tracks. The two cows and calves were probably in the neighbor’s pasture. It was now 11:00 AM. We should have been out of this pasture by 9:00 AM. We moved in what we had and moved on.
It was late – hot – and we had one other herd that needed to be put in a trap. Actually that herd moved as planned. It was now very hot and humid. Connor left and went to look for the 2 lost cows and calves. He came to the house around 7:00 PM to tell us that he had found them. We all jumped in the truck – took feed – hoping we might entice them to return. They were having none of what we had to offer so at 10:00 PM we decided that those two calves would not make the trucks. OK – we had a bad day. Tomorrow – shipping day – would certainly be better. Right?!?!?
Let me back up. We sell our calves earlier in the year. We contract a certain number of steers at a certain weight for a specific price per pound. We contract a number of heifers at a specific weight and price. The number and weight needs to equal a truck load – approximately 50,000 pounds. So if I contract a 675 pound steer – I need to have 73 steers for the load – 49,275 pounds. The trucks are weighed empty before they come out to the ranch. The conditions have to be as perfect as possible the day we ship – no stress – no running off the pounds. We pen – sort the calves off the cows – sort the steers from the heifers – load the trucks. The trucks return to the scales – weigh heavy – and we are paid for our year’s work. Well, that is the way it is all supposed to work.
Tuesday morning – shipping day – at the barn at 4:30 AM to feed and saddle my horse. Brandon, Carl, and Connor return before 6:00 AM. Once again we are in the pasture before the sun comes up. We actually have the first herd penned and sorted a little after day light. We ride out to gather the next herd. It’s a repeat of the day before – the herd splits and we have half. Brandon and I hold while Carl and Connor drop back to look for the rest of the herd. Brandon is shaking his head – never have we had our herds scatter like this. Now – my face is in my hands and Brandon is trying to encourage me. (For those of you that know Brandon – things are really bad if Brandon is trying to encourage you!!) I was thinking – we are burning daylight and pounds.
Then I get the call – one of the trucks is not at the scales – he could not get his truck started and is still several hours away. One truck arrives. The driver asks us if we have looked at the radar – a terrible storm is headed our way. One truck – two loads – has not rained in 2 months – and if it does start raining we will not be able to get the loaded truck up the hill and out of the pasture. The sky turns black – we load the truck – and trailers to get the calves to the headquarters.
At the headquarters – we unload – EVERYTHING!! More pounds lost!! Still no second truck. Now we have to gather the cows from this side of the ranch. And it has started to rain – not hard – just a steady drizzle. All the calves are now gathered in one place – resorted (more pounds lost) – and the one truck loaded. There is another truck on the way – we don’t know where he is so the decision is made to take the first truck to the scale – weigh – unload at the sale barn – and return to the ranch to pick up our second load. Now those calves are left standing (more pounds lost) waiting on the truck. The truck returns and is loaded – returns to the scales – weighs – pounds are lost. Many factors contribute to this – the day’s events – 60 days of sweltering temps over 100 – no rain and depleted grass. But the calves look really good.
We are usually loaded – weighed – and paid by noon. We had the last load on the scale at 2:00 and the other truck had arrived to pick up the first load that had been unloaded at the local sale barn. The calves were now safely on the road. But we had to return to try and settle the cows – gather the two lost cows and their huge calves that should have been on the truck – take the calves that were too small to the sale barn. Remember what else happened last Tuesday – the stock market plummeted – so did the livestock market – on the exact day we were shipping. So another big decision – 110 calves were sorted and cut back. They will be put on feed until the market shows some sign of rebound.
Ranchers learn that adversity is just part of life. We can’t run from it – we have to deal with whatever the day brings. Sure I was disappointed. I was exhausted. I knew that I needed to sleep before I recounted the day’s events – that things would look better in the morning light. When my Dad was alive and things went sideways – he would remind us that if no one got hurt – everything else could be fixed or replaced. He would also tell us to gather around the table and share a meal – “eat something good” he would say. Translation: count your blessings and thank God – share your hearts – laugh – enjoy your family and friends – trust God for the next day. Wouldn’t it do us all good to step back on those chaotic days – stop being angry over things that don’t go our way – stop blaming, cussing, and fussing at those around us. I wanted to cry – but instead I knew I just needed to unsaddle my horse – “eat something good” – call those I loved so I could hear their voices – and most of all thank God for taking me through another day. The pens are empty and the trucks are gone – but God knows there is never a dull moment here and we will always have a story to tell.