Seasons on the Ranch
The hands down best part of ranching, there are seasons. You may be thinking, “Huh?”
I know, I know, we live in the United States where we all experience four seasons for the most part. What I mean by that is not every stage of production in the beef life cycle has seasons. If you work on a feedlot, your job looks quite the same 365. If you work in backgrounding cattle, you typically do the same drill of buying calves and selling them around the same time frames. Thankfully, there are hardworking men and women out there that love what they do in each of the stages, and they are happy to get up to do the same thing each and every day. If it is up to me, I am choosing life on the ranch.
On the ranch, you start the year off with calving season, hello sweet babies that I just want to cuddle up with. Fortunately, they have helicopter mothers that keep the stranger-danger at a bare minimum. From calving, we move into branding season, which means we will get to catch up with friends and neighbors when they come to help us get the big workload accomplished. It’s been a while since we’ve seen them because they have also been burning the midnight oil feeding and calving.
Next up, the bulls get turned out with the cows, which is basically the cattle version of The Bachelor. Ranchers are just secretly hoping and anxiously waiting to find out that everyone got a rose.
Around May or June, we get to start turning cattle out onto public lands, or for some ranches maybe just into a different field.
Once cattle are turned out, we tuck our hay hooks under the seat of the ranch pick-up, and we all take a big sigh of relief. Ahhhh…..
While cattle are out on the range we have to keep a close eye on how much feed and water is available for them, that everyone is where they are supposed to be, and all are alive and well. We may move them from “field” to “field,” but some permits are so large they may get to stay put in paradise for the entire summer.
As the days begin getting shorter, mornings start to get a little more crisp, it is time to play a massive game of Marco Polo. Keep in mind, these ranges may be an hour give or take from the ranch headquarters, so we’ve got to use the lights in the barn come gathering season. We grab a quick breakfast, saddle and load up in the stock trailer before 5:00a.m. I absolutely LOVE this time of year. Driving out of the ranch before the sun is up, riding out on these picturesque landscapes in hopes of finding all of the momma cows and their not -so-little calves. On some permits, cattle get to walk back into the ranch, but on others we have to load them back up in a semi cattle trailer and haul them back to the ranch.
Now is the time when emotions run deep, at least for a few days, similar to those first days of kindergarten. Calves and their mothers must part ways. The calves are fed some hay and “backgrounded” before making the trek to the feedlot. Mothers are let out into the field to recharge from the demands of feeding their calves. They hopefully have a bun in the oven and are due to calve in three to five months. Once the calves and mothers are no longer together, we give both of them different vaccinations to protect them from common viruses, give them a dose of vitamins, and treat any internal parasites. After cattle are all worked, they get put back into a large field where they can graze and as soon as the weather turns, they are fed long hay.
Each of these seasons do look slightly different on ranches all over the country based on the climate, when there is grass available for their cows to eat, and whether they keep their cattle on strictly private lands or have some public lands permits. As for my family’s ranch and my husband and I’s cattle, they spend their lives on both private and public lands.
The beautiful part about seasons, just like spring, summer, fall, and winter, is when you are about sick of one season, there is always the anticipation and excitement of a new season approaching. When you just can’t imagine feeding another bale of hay, you start to see the grass shoot up, the sweet baby calves start getting a feel for their long legs, and they get rowdy at feeding time. You cannot help but smile every time they start bucking, kicking, and their tail shoots straight up in the air. Before your daily tasks get too mundane, you are off to the next season that has its own set of new tasks!
Right now, we are in March, hello spring, I see you! A normal winter for us looks like us loading up the bulk of our momma cows into a semi cattle trailer around Christmas time, and we ship them about six hours south to our family friends who look after them. They let the cows out into large fields to graze and have their babies wherever they please. We continue working our full-time jobs on Monday through Friday, and as often as we can, we go down to see our friends, both two and four-legged.
The lovely thing about normally going to California is that the climate allows the grass to grow even during the winter. You know what they say, “Happy cows come from California.” Although that was advertising sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board, I think that dairy and beef cows share the same sentiment. I believe the combination of delectable grasses and the warmth of the sunshine on their hides each day leads them to feel this way. Think vacation to someplace warm and the best all-you-can-eat buffet. One time I came across a cow sitting under a large oak tree, hooves crossed, and an umbrella drink in hand. Living. The. Life.
Then there is this winter, the exception to the rule (insert grimacing face emoji)… We are coming off one of the most challenging winters we (and many other ranchers) have faced. There was never enough rain in California to allow us to ship our cows south. Some ranchers faced terrible wildfire last summer that led to a shortage of feed or none at all. Some places just didn’t receive enough rain causing ranchers to follow their cattle truck with a hay truck. Yikes! You can bet some cows were giving some side-eye when they were standing on the feedground that first day.
With all of our cattle up here, we meet up to begin feeding cows after we both get done with our full-time jobs in town and before dinnertime. As we drive out into the field, our two babies in tow, the calves bring a smile to our face no matter how tired we are. My son has a blast playing with all of the buttons in the dash of the feed truck. My baby girl bops along gnawing on whatever she has on hand that night as she cuts her first tooth.
Each night we have a little more daylight, we do our best to savor the season we are in and continue to be grateful for the many seasons of ranch life.