There is a lot of community spirit here, presumably necessary in what is not an easy environment. Marilyn and Kelly help each other out regularly and both households, helpers included, met up at George and Marlene’s on Friday and Saturday to lend a hand. They have 300+ head of cattle and no horses to manage them. George uses his truck to take the feed out and check on them but when they need to be brought back in, help on horse back makes the task considerably less arduous.
We gathered in his yard on Friday morning. Under George’s broad instructions, Marilyn and Kelly organised us into teams to cover all the areas in the particular pastures for the morning. We fanned out and trawled through the undergrowth and trees; Hannah and I having to divert round a very marshy area. We arrived at the rendezvous point having not seen any cattle but Marilyn and Rika had seen a coyote and Roger and Kelly brought a mother and calf.
We kept sweeping onwards and started to collect considerably more as we neared the yard. We were galloping around a wide open field trying to maintain some order as we headed towards the corner. We must have had around 100 at this point but unfortunately the gate wasn’t open! We left it to the professionals to argue about whose responsibility that had been but that discussion was for later. We regrouped and managed to drive them forward even though some of the calves managed to evade us temporarily. The route into the yard took us past a trotting male bison. We thought Buffy was big but this guy was huge and strangely ungainly as it skipped around, showing off to the cows.
I was riding Rocky who was good to start with but once the drive had lost momentum she realised she couldn’t see any of her herd (only Marilyn’s) and started to notice the wind rustling the trees. At this point she began to get what Kelly calls ‘a bit Arabby’. This involved being really unsettled and not willing to go where I wanted her to, resulting in us going round in circles for some time, not particularly helpful. I didn’t get much opportunity to take photos in the morning as my hands were required on the reins and when I could we were in motion hence some of the jaunty angles of the horizon!
After a super lunch provided by Marlene, we put the horses in the trailer and headed to the north side of the ranch where we unloaded and mounted. Roger and I swapped horses as he was on a slightly grumpy but very steady mare, Shadow. Kelly advised me to get a willow branch as I may need to encourage her to move as she is prone to be lazy. This was much more acceptable to me and in the event, I didn’t need it anyway. We drove another 100+ cattle across 2-3 miles of open and closed pasture, meeting up with Marilyn’s team half way and converging on the yard from the other side.
The next task was sorting where we left the ‘professionals’ to do the cutting whilst we managed the gates. Our charges were the cows and calves which, during the sorting process, became separated much to the voluble disgust and distress of the parted animals. We weren’t quite deafened but it was a relief as they gradually became reunited even though some seemed to take a while to recognise each other. Finally we were back into the house for supper.
We returned the following afternoon to help with the scanning for pregnancies. Roger’s job was to ram a fence post behind them when they were in place to prevent a return whilst I was on gate control determined by their result and dictating their destination. Most of them are due next spring but there were 4 or 5 who had managed to be between 5 and 7 of 9 months pregnant. Calving in winter in the sub-zero temperatures is not good when it can reach as low as -40. They may be going to Marilyn’s where Jeanette will relish the prospect of indoor calving.
We were very lucky to have beautiful weather both days. Autumn here is very yellow, not many trees are orange, terracotta or brown. Kelly correctly asserts that September is the best time to ride; not too hot or cold, few bitey things and reasonably firm under foot. On the way back there was a storm passing over and we could watch the sunset appear underneath it out of one car window and the super-moon rise in the other side. It should also be an eclipse tonight so we will be on the lookout.