Questions and Answers: January 2014 Edition

Susan:Just curious – when it is this cold, do you up the amount of feed you throw out so the cattle have more calories to burn as their metabolic rates increase?  and in the same vein… Phyllus: Not sure I want to see a picture of a freezing animal. No shelter in extreme conditions?

This is a complicated and many faceted question!  First of all, we haven’t been extraordinarily cold here.  It is not unusual to have a -20˚ day in the winter in Wyoming.  We also don’t have the high humidity that chills through you like you do back east, down south, and on the coasts!  So, the “Polar Vortex” that the news is hyping up, for us, at least, has been nothing but a normal winter.  That said, we have now brought in our cattle from where they have been grazing in our allotments.  They look to be in good body condition, meaning, they’re not too skinny, nor too fat.  Their Goldilocks weight of Just Right keeps enough fat on them to provide a layer of warmth in itself.  Their winter hair is thick and full (one reason why breeds like Brahmas don’t work up north is their hair coat… they were made for hot, humid climates, which is NOT Wyoming!)  Have you ever heard of “split cow hide” leather?  Yes, it’s that thick that it can be cut in half and still be used… so cow hide and its winter hair with layers and pockets of air between the hairs is another insulating factor.  Cattle too can change their metabolic rate (that’d be handy… I could stand to up mine some and burn some weight!  😉 ) and by doing that… they actually warm themselves.  A cow’s heat doesn’t come from a warm house and coats and blankets like us, but from the breakdown of what it eats!  Food actually turns on the furnace for a cow.  So, yes, since we are now feeding them hay, we are meeting that need of keeping them warm through food.  If it gets cold or colder, we pour the hay to them.  Giving them windbreaks and shelter from the wind and plenty of water as well… the cows have it pretty good.  I think most people would be surprised at how warm a 10˚ day with No Wind and Sunshine can be for a person, but even more so if you’re a black hided hairy Angus cow!  That picture I entitled “Cold Bull”?  Well, he was perfectly content… it was ME that was cold, and I projected that onto him.  My bad.  He had shelter in the corral, but had chosen to stand there backlit, so I could see his breath in the air.  In no way was he suffering.  When you hear “If you’re cold, they’re cold…”  don’t always believe it… I’m always cold… inside and under a blanket, just ask Vernon!  😉

Sara:Maybe you already have all of you Q&A’s but if so here’s one for the future. How far can you walk cattle in one day?? I’m sure there is a distance where they just get tuckered out if you go too far.

Another trick question!  Well, not tricky, but variable.  How hot is it?  Is it uphill or downhill?  Do they have calves at side, or are we trailing yearlings?  How’s the water situation, did they drink this morning and along the trail, or is it all dry?  How’s the food, are they hungry?  Do they know where they’re going?  Do you have cowboys on herd duty or dudes?  Are they in good condition, fat, skinny?  Are they trailing down a road or through rocky outcrops?  It all plays a part!  If it’s hot and you’re going uphill with baby calves at side, you can see you’re not going to make good time!  Healthy, fed, and watered cattle taken at a good pace without overstressing them, I guess could travel 12-20 miles a day… they’d need time to graze and drink… and typically yearlings travel faster and farther than older cows, so they’d be at the top end of the spectrum.  I always thought the reason most towns in Wyoming were 30 miles apart because in traveling with wagon and horses, that you’d spend one night on the trail, and reach town the next night… now where my brain picked up that idea, I don’t know…  so my Final Answer… FIFTEEN!  Great question!

Kris: When you are gathering the cattle — how do you know if you have found everyone? Is it as simple as just doing a count, though that is probably not simple at all with that many animals?

Kris, we do try to do a count.  We count all the time!  But if you’re one short, you don’t know if she’s still out there (though we go look), or if she died, or if she’s in someone else’s pasture.  If she’s misplaced, the neighbors will bring her home eventually… so you just write down the number in your little book and keep on counting!

Elizabeth: Do you have any breeding plans? Or are you thinking of buying a dog?

I’m still indecisive.  I want one more litter out of Dally.  There may be another “Sex and the Country” outing for her!

Kay: You mentioned that you and other ranchers have cattle grazing together. Is that open range (no fences) that you share with others ? With all that land out there and the rough terrain, I would think it would be difficult to have much fencing. I have a second question about snakes – do you have a problem in the warmer weather with rattle snakes ? Thanks.

Oh, we definitely have fences… no open range around here anymore.  Johnny remembers a much more open range when he was young, but every pasture is fenced now.  The pastures are big by some standards, but not so much around here.  Your question about snakes… no, we don’t really have a problem with rattlesnakes.  I do draw the line around the house and outbuildings though.  We had a neighbor bit by one this summer in his shop… it wasn’t nice.  So while I leave ’em alone on the prairie, they better keep on slithering through my little chunk of land…

Susan: Again a question about sharing range with other ranchers. How do you separate them? – How do you know which ones are yours, etc., and how do you get them to separate and go a different way than the others that are “going on down the line”? Your description and pictures made it look easy, but herd animals being herd animals, I can’t imagine that it was as easy as it looked!

Susan, that is the major reason we brand our cattle and earmark and eartag them, we HAVE to know which are ours even if they end up over the mountain in Kaycee, which has happened before!  Our cows are very used to being cut out of a herd… we do it repeatedly when we gather and when we pair them out with their calves.  Cattle that aren’t handled that way… yes, they’d be much harder to work!  When you gather cattle with many ranches, the owner/s ride into the herd, spot a cow, and work her out to the edge and beyond.  She knows basically which direction home is, so you kick her out a bit until there’s your herd all grazing and waiting for you to finish heading them home.  The other riders, non-owners, kids, volunteers, etc., have held the herd while you’re busy sorting, and kept things in line.  Does it always go well?  NO.  Sometimes people aren’t doing their jobs, or they ride “noisily” causing the herd to mill about more than necessary, or there’s a young cow that’s stupid, or an old one that’s cranky.  I have to admit, I plowed into the bunch the other day… so many times I fall back on, “oh, the herd needs held over here”, and give way to others that want to cut out our cows. Lately, I’m just getting old and cranky and shove in and cut ours out!  I will tell you, hand on heart, there was never anything prettier than John Greet and Ped Mills cutting out their cows nice and quiet Back In The Day… For a video on Cutting Pairs out of the Herd, go here.  You might find it interesting!

Kay: Do you worry about the children getting kicked by a cow ? Or are they old enough to know not to get too close ?

That photo was an optical illusion… NO WAY would we really let those kids close to cows on foot, not yet!

Thanks, everyone!  Great questions as usual!


Questions and Answers: January 2014 Edition — 4 Comments

  1. Thanks for your in-depth answers, they are fascinating! Now for your next Q&A (if I don’t write it down now, I will forget it, but I will wait for the answer): What is the difference between cowboys and dudes?
    Kris recently posted…starting off rightMy Profile

  2. Carol, I loved your answers to the questions and also the video. Took me back so many years. Just wondering, do many people run sheep out there anymore? Cows are so big the scare me which is why I liked helping with the sheep, more my size. Thanks again for the link to the video. Wonderful.

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