A few days ago in the midst of an afternoon walk, I stopped. The hillsides were covered in snow, the road I had walked on was ice. But a different sound was literally underlying the countryside. It took a minute to distinguish it. An unseen river was melting underneath my feet. The snow was melting and running hidden downhill. The ice I stood on was softening on the bottom and pooling, the pool then leaking into rivulets and the rivulets joining to create a mini brook racing down each draw. Today, I walked again. This time the snow and ice had begun to disappear and the open areas of dirt proudly chanted the musical notes of running water. It was everywhere. My boots had leaked. My jeans were absorbing moisture at a rapid rate. Each footfall either slipped in mud, splashed in water, or sank in softened snow. Though mornings greet me with frozen ground and frosty air, afternoons celebrate themselves with warm air, sunshine, and galloping water. The ice has begun its losing battle for control of the creek. Ice chunks have started to sink from the few open spots. The creek seems happy to have sunlight in its depths again. This rocky mountain springwater is rushing off with grains of red dirt embedded in its midst; transporting soil and redepositing it some other lucky place. Dare I say it?? The first signs of Spring are here!
People have told me that the reason ranchers get married is to have someone along in the pickup to open gates. I’ve always laughed at that true statement… and since I wasn’t raised on a ranch, I really never had a true idea what living on a ranch would be like. A small tip sheet might have been an eye-opener. For example, my questionnaire for women who want to be ranchwives would begin:
1. Can you open barb wire gates?
2. Can you handle disgusting?
And I quickly have to digress here on that point. One disgusting activity is what we did today. Now our heifers are about to have their first calves…and we vaccinate them so they can carry on the antibodies to their babies. They were down in our school section about a mile away from the corrals, so we trailed them SLOWLY home on the icy road. Lucas did fairly well as cowdog of the day. We put them in the corral and broke for lunch. By the time we returned the day had become false spring. The ice and snow were melting. In the corral that meant a soup of manure and snowmelt, nice…and “green”. Now I am designated “Vaccinator of Cattle” and I took my position at the squeeze chute. I have no problems with that title, it isn’t disgusting. What is disgusting is the soup we have to walk in, which would have been less of a problem had my brand new boots not been LEAKING! *&^%^! But if anyone has ever worked cattle you know what happens on soupy days. You get splattered. You get it on your jeans and on your coat and on your hands and, yes, dear friends, frequently on your face. It is disgusting. No one told me when I got married that to help my husband, to be his partner and workmate, I would have to take shots of manure in the face, on my sunglasses, on my hat, in my hair. Multiple times throughout the year actually. And that isn’t the only disgusting thing I have had to do. Perhaps there should be sub headings under #2. Like:
A. Are you willing to take shots of manure to the face?
B. Does cleaning pens with straw and afterbirth bother you?
C. Can you stand the stench of infected lump jaw when it is lanced? AKA, can you eat cheese pizza after seeing the inside, now outside, of a lump jaw?
D. Does popping a cow’s eye out to treat cancer eye make you squint?
E. If the cow has mastitis or a huge zit on her back (caused by flies/grubs), are you smart enough to have someone else doctor them?
F. Does prolapse mean anything at all to you? AKA, do you really want to know what the inside of a cow looks like? It ain’t black!
Or my all time favorite:
G. Can you imagine the ripping feeling of pulling off big fist sized warts out of some poor cow’s ear.
Yeccch. Yeccch. Yeccch. I REALLY hate that, and I don’t know why. We had a big infestation of them the past few years and it totally grosses me out. I finally started hucking the pieces at my husband who stood at the back of the alley and laughed at me. I repeatedly told him that ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE in the fine print of our marriage license did it ever say I would have to peel warts out of cows’ ears. NOWHERE!
The only thing I haven’t figured out about all this after being married for 26 years is WHY, OH WHY, WHEN I DO ALL THESE DISGUSTING ACTIVITIES do I, of all things, LAUGH. I don’t get it. I really don’t.
The past few days have been filled with preparations. We begin our calving season soon. Our first due date will be on the 23rd, so we are trying to get ready. The days have been extraordinarily nice with the temperature reaching well into the 40’s. While that sounds, and is, a luxurious warmth, it has made the snow melt and run off. Unfortunately it doesn’t all run off, and the water is freezing every night into massive ice skating rinks at various low points. I do not drive the tractor except in the field. The steep road behind our bunkhouse has been slick for a long time, but the mile from it on down to what we call the school section is also doing its imitation of a frozen river. If you have never felt a tractor slide sideways, let me tell you, it is much more unnerving than a car sliding sideways!! I do have this recurring nightmare of losing brakes on a vehicle, so I’m pretty chicken when it comes to uncontrollable situations! Vernon has slid in the tractor as well, just for those of you questioning my ability! Vernon and I have put up the electric fence around the heifer lot. The far fence was frozen down and although he tried many ways to raise it, Vernon ended up having to string new wire for the electric fence. Johnny has been cleaning corrals and feedgrounds of snow and ice. The dogs have been with me and it has been fun watching Dally handle situations. Elsa and Lucas go out of sight and she gives a small whine, sees me, and comes running for protection! She follows Lucas through the brush as well as her little legs will carry her, intent of keeping an eye on her daddy. I call the dogs, and who gets to me first? Yup. She splats through the mud, slips on the ice, and gets stuck in the snow. All the mud and ice and snow is new to her, and I relish seeing it again through a puppy’s eyes. But the big change is still on its way; tomorrow we vaccinate heifers, and our calving season begins!!
Elsa pushes up some cows through deep snow. I’m not giving her direction beyond her first “Get ’em up!” partly because I’m breathing so hard from walking through the deep snow! She does gather them, even recovering the one I thought she had left. She follows them around the corner of the road, and then comes back to check on where I am. Typical English Shepherd behavior! Lucas is shown just following our cows down the road while Elsa and I ride in the pickup! There’s no technique there but make sure they continue to walk down the road. Easy duty!