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!
Elsa bunny hunting.
When we get used to anything, it becomes an instant frustration when it doesn’t work the way it was designed. You turn the faucet, the water should come out. You flip the switch the light should come on. You start the tractor the diesel engine should growl right along. This morning it didn’t. So I sat on the metal tongue of the hay trailer and waited. Vernon comes over, says he thinks it is the fuel filter, and he has to go get another one out of the other shop. So I wait. The chill begins to seep through and I have to move! Elsa is “Dog of the Day” and we head to the haystack to look for mice and bunnies. To deter the fiendish deer from eating all of our hay, Vernon has stacked some old straw bales around the good hay. It has worked well, the deer refusing to jump the 6 feet up to the top of the straw to relish the green hay. As we work our way around, I begin to wonder. Elsa is athletic. Hmmm… Before you know it, we find a shorter bale and she’s up! We circle the stack, Elsa walking above me, seeking the treats I reward her with at each request that she follows. No hesitation. Dang. This girl could be an agility dog! I think I need to delve into this more…Elsa and I could use the time together. We wait. Aha! He’s back. If nothing else, I am extremely mechanically impaired…but I can hand a wrench if that is what is asked of me! So we go to the shop and supervise. We help. We wait. We’re off! Down to the yearling steers and we begin to feed. Fifty yards in and the tractor stops and beeps at me. Huh? I pop it back into F and go a bit more. The infernal blue machine stops 20 yards farther on and beeps at me. OK. I’m outta there! VERNON!!!!! We switch places and I pitch hay while he gets in to play with levers and listen to the engine. We start. It stops. We start. It stops. We head to the house and Vernon calls The Tractor Guys. Hey, don’t laugh. Their business is called The Tractor Guys. I wait. OK. I’m sent for Johnny down at the other place and ask him to bring his tractor here to feed with. I return home and wait. I’m released finally because Lucas and I become a Therapy Dog Team on Tuesdays. We abandon ship. It took Vernon and Johnny until 1 pm to feed today. And Vernon continues to mechanic on one thing or another until 5:30. It is ready. Tomorrow, Vernon will climb in the blue tractor and turn the key and the diesel engine will growl along.