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Round-up time

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POSTED March 11, 2012 7:46 p.m.

To paraphrase Robert Frost; “Something there is that doesn’t love a calf” specifically wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, and bears, just to name a few. Actually if you stop and think about it, the above predators actually do love calves: for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Unfortunately that fondness for beef causes many a headache for cattlemen. Predators are but one of the many obstacles that are faced daily by cattlemen

This year, for example cattlemen are faced with a drought that has left traditional grazing lands almost totally without the life giving water and subsequent grass that the cattle need to survive. Cattle producers all over the West are having to buy feed to keep their herds alive. In addition, the availability of feed grain has diminished because the government, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to subsidize the production of alcohol for so called “green fuel”. Guess what? When grain is used to make alcohol, there is less available to feed cows, hogs and chickens. Presto Chango! The price of food rises astronomically. The poor cattlemen as well as we consumers are caught between a rock and a hard place.

It takes a very special type of person to be a livestock producer. They have to battle predators, rising feed costs, disease and market price fluctuations. They expose themselves on a regular basis to driving rain, freezing cold, and blistering heat.

A few weeks ago, one of my cattleman buddies invited me to come and observe his semi-annual round up and branding operation.

As we drove up to the cattle pens, my initial impression was one of total chaos. There was a frenzy of calves, cows, horses, and people milling around amidst a cloud of dust and emitting a clamor of unintelligible noise. It seemed like a madhouse with the inmates yelling, calves bawling and no rhyme of any sort to the madness. When we arrived our host, Bob, handed me a box of veterinary vaccine doses, and told me to stand out of the way. Periodically, he’d come by and grab more medicine.

I began to discern some patterns emerging out of the chaos. Every person had a specific job. There were ropers who roped the calves by the head and feet, there was someone who turned the calf on his side and sat on him. There was someone who branded the calf, and others who did the vaccinations, ear notching and castrating. There were people who opened gates at the right time and moved the untreated calves in and others who moved the treated critters out again.

I was also struck by the democracy of it all. There were old people who looked like they might be 80 and youngsters who weren’t much over 8 or 10 years old. There were teen-age girls roping and middle aged dads instructing them. There were folks who spoke English and Spanish and Basque. It didn’t seem to matter what your background was, as long as you did your job. Grandparents and parents were teaching the next generation skills that they had learned a generation or two before. The torch was being passed; another generation of cowpokes was being initiated in a trade as old as America.

Until Next Week,

Tight lines

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