Rancher Talk

Have your heifers started?  Did you have to pull very many?  When do the cows start?  All these questions are beginning to circulate between ranching neighbors at this time of year.  Have you heard any of this lingo and wonder, what in the world are they talking about?  This is a very important at this time for Sublette County because much of the rural population is ranchers.  Let’s take a minute and find out what all this means.

Hereford calves rest in the sunshine during calving season in Sublette County Wyoming.

During these spring months ranchers begin calving season.  If you have never lived in a ranching community, some of the conversations can be confusing and jaw dropping if you do not understand the way of life or even the language. 

Have your heifers started? Many ask this question to see if you started calving yet.

Did you have to pull very many? Is a question neighbors use to judge if you are having a difficult or fairly easy calving season. 

When do the cows start? This is just another way of asking if you are close to being finished or are you just starting the season.

What is a heifer you may ask?  They are cows that are having their first calf.  Many heifers, just like humans, have trouble their first time so the ranchers have to watch them fairly close.  All ranches are different, but many get up during the night to check on their heifers.  Some operations have enough people to take shifts through the night and others are not so lucky.  They all have to manage to function and perform the everyday ranch chores even if they are dead tired from being up all night with a heifer calving.

Sublette County Rancher Albert Sommers prepares to pull a calf during calving season in Wyoming.
Sublette County Rancher Albert Sommers getting ready to pull a calf by putting a chain on the calf’s feet and hooking to pullers. When the mother is struggling to give birth, this is the safest way for both the mother and calf to get through the complication.

During the heifer checks, ranchers are looking for a heifer that is having trouble giving birth.   If it is needed the rancher assists her by using a puller, or in certain situations they may have to call a veterinarian to perform a caesarian (c-section).  The puller is a tool that is used to help pull the calf out quickly and safely.  Every situation is different just like human births.

Calf just pulled from the mother cow by a rancher with pullers.
This calf had to be pulled from it's mother by Albert to ensure both the calf and mother survived.

You will hear people talk about their cows.  In general, the word cows and cattle are interchangeable but not in this context. The cows are female cattle that have had more than one calf.  They can range from three years old to 10 years or older depending on the operation.  Each operation is its own business, so they all have their own system of keeping and culling cows.  When a cow is culled it means, the cow is too old or no longer needed and is removed from the herd by selling it.

Cows are more experienced at giving birth, but there are still times they need help. A couple of times a day the rancher will check on the cows, tag the new calves and make sure the cows have cleaned.  This means the after birth or placenta has been completely removed from the body of the cow.  If she has not cleaned or has prolapsed the rancher has to bring her in to the corral.  Once she is corralled she will be given antibiotics to help fight infection or fix the prolapsed cow. When a cow is prolapsed it means that the uterus slips or falls out of place.  It is not a pretty sight and it is not a fun job to fix.  Just like all jobs, ranching has its fun duties and not so fun duties.

Sublette County rancher Albert Sommers bottle feeds a calf during calving season in Wyoming.
Albert bottle feeds this calf with milk before reuniting the baby with the mother cow.

Nothing is more exciting than spring, even though calving can be mentally and physically demanding work. Many wonder why ranchers do it.  Well if you have ever had a new puppy and it became the prized family pet, you will get a small sense of the strong love ranchers have for their cattle.

Wyoming Hereford calf nurses from its mother during calving season.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you overhear someone talking about calving or other ranching topics. We learn from each other every day. Understanding the language of our neighbors is the first step to understanding our neighbor’s actions.

From RealRancher Kari Bousman – Boulder, Wyo.

Photos by RealRancher Jonita Sommers – Pinedale, Wyo.

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