weaning/shipping/brrrr

There are five bunches left to wean here at the ol’ PV this fall, and Beau’s hoping to be done by Thanksgiving.  Obviously there are more than five days between now and Thanksgiving, but you have to consider that it takes two to three days to wean one bunch — oftentimes the cattle need to be moved closer to corrals a day or two before the weaning; then there is the actual day of weaning — sorting calves from cows, loading calves on the truck to be hauled into the feedlot, pregnancy-checking the cows; then there is a day of processing (vaccinating) the fresh-weaned calves at the feedlot.

A good share of the work in the fall goes on out in the hills, where the herds of mama cows live.  But back home at the feedlot there’s a lot going on too.  The calves coming in on the trucks not only need to be vaccinated but also sexed, weighed, moved to pens, then fed and checked for health every day.  (Dry cows come in to the feedlot on the trucks, too, and stay in pens until the occasional load heads off to auction in Billings or Miles City.  The bred cows stay out in the hills, and will eventually — probably after weaning — be situated in their winter pastures.  Though, as I detail below, a good many PV cows have secured alternate accommodations for this winter following a very dry summer.)

With December looming, there’s just a lot of shuffling around to get everything where it needs to be this time of year — and the shuffling is extreme this year because, as per our predictions in What happens at the PV this time of year, the fresh-weaned steer calves are leaving the PV feedlot this fall to make room at the bunks for cows.  It’s not typical that PV mama cows would winter in the feedlot — they usually tough it out in winter pastures out at the cow camps — but because of droughty conditions and concerns over spring moisture and short grass in 2018 calving pastures, the decision was made to bring most of the cows in on silage and straw for the winter months.

We’re jam-packed here at the feedlot, so something’s gotta go to make room for those cows.  That means the 2017 steer calves, once they’ve adjusted to their new lives as weanlings/orphans/big kids (however you want to look at it), are being shipped west to the PV’s sister ranch on the Sun River, the Broken O, to winter in the feedlot there.  Most of the PV bulls come from the Broken O these days, so I suppose it’s an interesting homecoming of sorts for the little steers and for the folks who work at the Broken O.

Rumor is that the same steers will come back to the PV along about March; just about the time the cowboys are trailing mama cows out of the feedlot to calving pastures this coming spring, the steers will leave the Sun River, make a pit stop here at the PV for a month or more, and then in May we’ll proceed with the typical practice of shipping steers to summer grass on the Q in Wyoming’s Shirley Basin.

Phew.  Told you a lot of shuffling goes on around here.

(As a side note, the vets around here joke that some day Mr. Kroenke, the landowner of all these ranches, might own every letter in the alphabet!  He’s already got the Q, the PV, the Broken O, and more… ha!)

Gotta say we’ve enjoyed pretty good weather this fall.  Beating the snow and cold is not usually an option that can last all season long, though, and this year is no exception.  It started snowing last week, just as the guys were trying to send the first loads of steer calves to the Broken O:

DSC01809

Beau and Dad cancelled a couple of planned work days last week — partly because we were waiting for the ground to firm up (did have to pull one semi-load up Bone Coulee Hill with the tractor before they relented, though) and partly because, I think, the first wintry weather of the year always sets us back in bewilderment for a day or two.  Like, What?  We can’t work in conditions like this!

And then after a day or two of pacing and examining and re-examing the calendar and calling the vets, Dad and Beau once again came to the annual conclusion that winter might not be going anywhere for a few weeks at this point, and if we’re gonna make Thanksgiving, we’re gonna just have to buckle down and get back to work.  So this week’s schedule, despite frosty predictions, is accordingly jam-packed.  Today, for instance, is double-booked because of time lost last week:  this morning the crew will split; some of them are off to Ridge Camp to wean a bunch up there while a couple cowboys will ride pens here at the feedlot.  This afternoon, they’ll all reconvene and gather the east side of the Fort Pease summer pasture in preparation for weaning on Wednesday.

So here’s what the last 12 hours have looked like at our house:  Beau came to the realization yesterday afternoon that none of his horses are wearing sharp-shoes yet.  We don’t have any sharp shoes on hand currently, so he and his buddy formulated a plan over the phone that involved Beau replacing a few of the nails in Taxi’s slick shoes with frost nails, which will hopefully keep the horse from slipping and sliding too much on the frost, snow, ice, and cobbled mud.

Our whole family went to the barn last night at 7 o’clock and 17 degrees to help Beau look for frost nails.  We rifled through tubs and combed over shelves but could find none, so he zipped over to his buddy’s house to borrow frost nails.  We got to bed at 10, slept for 6 hours, and rose at 4 a.m. so Beau would have time to apply the frost nails before his designated departure time for Ridge Camp of 5:30.  In the barn… in the cold… in the wee hours of the morning… ugh… glad it wasn’t me trying to shoe a horse!  My own morning job:  packing the snack box and filling coffee thermoses (but only after tempering the thermoses.  The men around here are sticklers for tempering thermoses, which involves filling the thermoses with hot water and letting them steep before filling with coffee… you know, so the steel is good and hot and has a better chance of keeping the coffee hot for a long period in cold weather).  Along about the time the first pot of coffee was brewing in my kitchen, I realized that we’re totally out of cookies, again, and I just went shopping last week!  I rummaged around and found a box of muffin mix, whipped that up and stuck the muffins in the oven.  Because cowboys working hard in the cold and burning the candle at both ends need lots of calories to maintain, I stocked the snack cooler with typical fare:  apples and oranges, cheese sticks and jerky, a bag of the kids’ Halloween candy (shhhh — don’t tell the kids; but it really is better for my own health if we get the candy out of the house), water bottles and Styrofoam cups.  I wrapped the muffins, warm from the oven, in a towel.  I filled the (tempered, of course) thermoses with coffee.  Then, suddenly, I realized it was 5:25, and I heard faithful dayworker Joe’s pickup and trailer pulling into the yard, and of course Beau was still in the barn working on the dang frost nails and he hadn’t had time to start the ranch pickup yet.  (Thank goodness we had at least remembered to plug the pickup in last night.)  I pulled my muck boots on over my pink-striped pajama pants and sprinted out of the house, dodging snowflakes, to start the pickup.  As per my dad’s directions (at least some of which have stuck with me from childhood), I waited for the “wait to start” light to go off twice, then, blessedly, the old green Ford diesel roared to life.  I sprinted back to the house to get the broom to clean the windshield off and was very relieved to notice that the barn lights were off and Beau was emerging with a freshly-nailed horse named Taxi and so I handed the broom to him and went back inside to give the snacks a double-check.  Beau and Joe loaded everything… and they pulled out of the yard only 10 minutes late, which is not bad for us Blakes.

Phew.  Cold weather just kinda complicates everything.  But we’ll be back in the swing of it soon… right?

Hope everyone has a warm, safe, and super-productive day!

© Tami Blake

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