Here’s a thing I never gave much thought to and certainly never imagined participating in: working cattle. What does that even mean? Well, it’s pretty much anything having to do with managing cattle. In this case, it meant rounding up and vaccinating calves.
The closest I’d really been to cattle was to slow down and moo at them and take their picture on the road to my mom’s house. That is, until I moved to Matfield Green and became friends with a woman who I’ll refer to as J, the owner of a cow/calf operation; keeping the momma cows for breeding and selling the calves.
On vaccination day, we head out to the pasture where the working pens are. There are six of us, my two friends and I have zero experience with cattle, beyond what is mentioned above. Of the three of us, I am the only one interested in really getting up close and personal with the bovines, my friends would prefer a more controlled experience. A woman and her husband hop in an ATV, and leave for a smaller herd, some of these calves are hers. The rest of us climb in a big ol’ farm truck, on this ranch, there are no horses and for this I am thankful! J loads a big, round bale of hay onto the back and we are off to find some cows! The cattle are conditioned to follow a truck, especially when there is a bale on the back.
We pull off the road at a pasture fence and as the front seat passenger, I am deemed the gate opener, so I jump out of the truck unlatch the chain and swing the gate open. Once I am back in the truck, we go in search of cows. As we crest a hill, we see what we are looking for, but more importantly, they see us. They play it cool at first, but then one moves our direction for a closer look, then a second and soon they are all headed our way. We turn around to make our way back to the working pens.
Since we are leading a herd, we stay off the roads in favor of crossing a few pastures. There is maybe one problem with this… a creek is between us and our destination. I wouldn’t have guessed a small creek would be a problem, but I’m also not used to driving a truck with 1500 pounds of grass on the back either!
There is some pondering, discussion and creek staring before we decide to take our chances. After all of that, we made it across without any trouble and the cows are following us. Most of them anyway. Three or four are holding tight on the other side of the creek. I mention this to J, she shrugs and says “They’ll cross. They won’t be able to stand it.” Sure enough, a moment later they start across, too.
Back at the working pens, the real work begins! The ATV drivers are waiting for us, their herd already in the pens. We drive right into the first of three pens with all of our cattle in tow. The gate behind us is closed and J is out of the truck, all but disappearing into the mass of giant bodies as she opens another gate.
I’m asked to get out of the truck as well, to keep the cows from getting wedged in between the truck and fence. I exit the vehicle, while the others stay inside, I try to make myself seem imposing to a bunch of cows. It seems to work as they start to go the other direction. Our goal is it to get everyone into a smaller pen and then start cutting out the animals we aren’t vaccinating, while moving the ones we are into yet another pen. This takes a bit of maneuvering, but we get everyone to their separate quarters and begin sending the calves through to the chute.
Here, all six of us have a job to do. The only man with us today is getting the calves into the alley. My job is to open the front of the chute so a calf can enter, the woman who owns some of the calves, closes the head gate in front of the calf’s shoulders and then squeezes the chute on the calf, holding it still and calm. The vaccination is administered by our leader, the number on the ear tag is checked off on a spread sheet by one of my friends, the head gate is opened and the calf sprints towards a gate being opened by my other friend and he’s secured in the last pen. Thirty nine more calves to go!
The day started out a little chilly and the three of us were a little nervous. By the end of the task, the sun was out, the weather was beautiful and a good time was had by all. It was a lot of work, but it sure didn’t seem like work! One of the perks for me, was seeing the products I build at work, being put to use, you can read about that here. I am looking forward to my next stint as a ranch hand!