Bringing Our Cattle Home
When the first frost hits, the mountains begin to call. We need to begin gathering the cattle off of the permit and bring them home. In the summer, our cattle spend their days grazing on Public Lands in the Rogue River Siskiyou Forest. We are able to turn them out on the mountain June 15th and they are supposed to be off of the permit by October 15th.
Gathering used to be one of my favorite seasons on the ranch. I loved the crisp morning air, the clear skies and big scenic views that I would see. I would be blown away at the thought that I along with maybe a handful or less people in the entire world actually got to see that specific place each year. That was life in the high desert. You could see the cattle you are looking for for miles around, or you could get up on a ridge and look down at a lot of country.
Gathering In the Forest
It wasn’t until I began helping my husband gather our permit here in the Rogue River Siskiyou Forest that I fully understood what my gramp meant by, “That brushy country.” Where you are constantly jumping over down trees, you can’t see anything unless you are on the logging road that winds through the permit, and you frequently had to get off your horse just to get through the brush. Yikes!
The first time I rode with my husband it was a day full of getting slapped in the face with wet and bushy Evergreen branches and long trotting. In the high desert, you rarely got out of a walk while gathering, here though, you rarely get to be in a walk. If you see a cow, she may just take off in the opposite direction that you want her to. If you don’t have a good cow dog to get ahead and stop her, you will be lucky if you will get around her horseback.
Wolves on Public Lands
Public Land permits are a win-win for both agencies, the forest, and ranchers. Although, as a rancher there are many things that come up with animal populations or the management of the forest that can negatively impact your cattle. Currently, the biggest thing impacting our forest are the wolves. The wolf pack that covers the Rogue River Siskiyou Forest hasn’t affected us YET like they have our family who have cattle nearby. The cattle have been found in really odd places though and we have seen wolves while gathering. Fortunately, we haven’t had any confirmed wolf kills in our cattle, whereas our family lost three steers just in the last month to the wolves right in the meadow near their house. They ended up having to gather six loads of weaner calves and ship them down to California early just so they wouldn’t lose anymore.
Leave It How You Found It
There are many people who frequent Public Lands. People who are hiding out, people who are recreating, and people who are hunting to name a few. People who are hiding out generally start looking for food to scavenge and my father-in-law has had a calf poached by a squatter where he received no compensation for it.
Now hunters, I am all for hunting, I want to be clear about that right out the gate. Oh gates, let’s talk about gates. What I am not for is people who leave gates open. Leaving trash or cutting a fence and not repairing it are also equally as disgraceful.
One of the first things you learn as a kid on a ranch or out in the country is, leave it how you found it. If you find a gate open, leave it that way. A gate may be open for a very good reason. It also could be shut for a reason. If you had to cut a fence for a particular situation, you better have some fencing pliers to repair it back to its original condition. Yes, this land is available for us to enjoy, recreate on, and graze. Let’s take good care of it rather than have the “Can’t see it from my house” attitude.
The other piece we have ran into with hunters is shooting an animal that they don’t have a tag to shoot, our calf. Our calves have been misidentified as a bear and shot. Thankfully, we heard from the man who shot it who owned up to his mistake and did send compensation.
Lastly, let’s jump back to things that people like to do while recreating and hunting. They ride ATV’s. We ride ATV’s a lot as well to put out salt, look for cattle, or just spend a weekend in the mountains. For some reason I have a slight inclination that when people see cattle on their ATV they have an urge to chase the cattle. I truly think this specific thing is what negatively impacts our cattle the most. If you see cattle out on a permit grazing, minding their own business, please do not chase them. I can’t tell you enough how much trouble this causes us, stresses out the cattle, and keeps them running around.
If you see an Open Range sign, please proceed with caution. Last year, we had four animals killed on two different highways on the mountain. One night a man in his pick-up killed three animals in one hit, which included my favorite replacement heifer. The other accident was a woman in a small car hit one black cow right at dark. I am thankful that both insurance companies provided compensation, but what they couldn’t replace are those animals. We are trying to grow our herd. The market value for that animal isn’t going to allow me to go purchase an animal of the same quality. It will help, sure, but we would rather just have our animal back.
Gathering Around Work
My husband works four, 10 hour days in town, and the other three days he spends riding around the mountain. When I say “riding” that means he could be horseback, on a four-wheeler, or in the pick-up trying to locate where the cattle are. He does this every weekend until ALL of the cattle have been found. Once they find some cattle they will either take them to the corral or they will create a trap with the panels that are secured to the stock trailer. Once they make it to the corral or get the cattle into the makeshift corral, they load them into a stock trailer to haul them down the hill.
A Good Day of Gathering
A good day of gathering in this forest could be five pair, FIVE. There are days when he will ride all day and get one pair, or worse, get skunked, and find nothing. Slowly but surely we get all of the cattle in. We wean the calves when they get down the hill, and we turn out the cows to graze in the field where they receive long hay once a day as well.
Do we lose some? Yes, there have been years where a cow just never turns up. It could mean that she passed from an unknown reason, that someone killed her on accident or on purpose, or that she got shipped with someone else’s cattle and nobody caught the mistake.
Gathering with Babies
When in the high desert I would be absolutely comfortable packing my kids with me on my horse. Here though, there is just another layer of variables with rarely being able to see what’s coming. Trees sticking out, branches that are down, you really couldn’t be much help at all while trying to protect a babe horseback. Also, we don’t have a horse that I would trust packing my kids in the forest. I sure don’t know how much fun it would be to be in a long trot all day going downhill. Therefor, at this stage, having a four year old and one year old, we mostly “truckaroo.” A lot of times though, we hold the fort down on the home place.
Do I feel bad? I try not to, but it is very important to me that the cattle work is a team effort. All stages of life are so temporary and before I know it the babes will want to be out there, or they will be at a sports practice, or they will be old enough to stay home alone. I do my best to savor this season and show grace to my husband and myself. After being cooped up at home with two littles all day you have to fight feeling upset when your husband says he only got one cow after riding for eight hours.
When he tells me the head count it takes conscious effort to not just shake my head and walk off. I take myself back to the days when I was riding with him. I remember how it felt getting slapped in the face by wet branches all day. Long trotting all day, downhill doesn’t make you want to smile. It makes your shoulders tight and your body hurt. After taking a trip down memory lane, I come away with a new perspective of, he probably would just love a warm welcome and a hot meal. If I have Shepherd’s Pie ready, it is a real slam dunk.
A Warm Welcome
During this season, we take the divide and conquer approach. We are still a team, my husband and I. He is physically handling the cattle though on the mountain. Meanwhile, I am putting in a vaccine order for when we work our cows, I am updating Quickbooks and strategizing for the year to come, and doing my darnedest to make weekends fun and memorable for the littles! I think something sweet might be in the books today. It will be a great aspect of the welcoming committee today when Daddio gets home from the mountain.