Driving (Hint: This has nothing to do with cars)

Upper Green River Cattle Drive

Day 1 – June 17, 2010

Today we began our yearly cattle drive up the Green River Valley onto U.S. Forest land for summer grazing.  Our ranch is part of an association called the Upper Green River Cattlemen’s Association.  Last year approximately 5,700 head (head=number) of cattle from the UGRCA were pushed to U.S. Forest land for summer grazing.

The ranchers with the Upper Green River Cattlemen's Association drive their cattle each year to summer pasture. Here they are working across the Mesa.

Today being the first day of the drive, we gathered cattle from the far corners of the Mesa, a large plateau of BLM land where the cattle have been grazing since the middle of May when we brought them from our fields.  The Mesa is approximately 55,000 acres or 86 square miles.

The ranchers rest their cattle during their drive and guard dog Chance watches the cattle so they don't wander off.

We start gathering the cows almost as soon as we can see (about 5 a.m.) because the cattle move better when it’s cool.  When the heat of the day sets in it is difficult to get cows to move and their calves just want to lie down.  We try to take the tail end of the cattle to an area with water every day before we leave them.  This will give them the chance to replenish themselves for the next day’s ride and it helps keep them from returning back down the trail we just brought them up.

More about the drive soon.

From RealRancher Kent C. Price, Daniel, WY

When Ranchers Go “Nuts”

It’s all about the nuts.

RealRancher Jim Hellyer says, "We castrate for several reasons...It's easier to manage steers than bulls; it's easier on the animal and the rancher to castrate younger animals; and it's related to the overall tenderness and flavoring of the end product."

Young bull* calves in one side, young steer* calves out the other.  My preferred method of castration starts with a very sharp clean knife and ends with two warm little oysters in the nut bucket.  It doesn’t take long; first a small slice across the scrotum, squeeze firmly for grip, a little tug, another slice on the cord, and bingo….another steer just entered the world.

Seriously, if a guy really gets his hands properly wrapped around the problem the whole process is quick….say 20 to 30 seconds…

That is my job at the branding.  I am the cutter.  Castration is the task.  And cleanliness is the rule.  Always wash your knife and hands between animals.

Around our neighborhood there is a hierarchy at the branding.  The elders place their mark, the help (irreplaceable neighbors) push calves and turn tables, and the organized keep score on a rugged PC and administer the health regimen.  The joke around here is that it takes a lifetime to get from the back of the table to the front.

RealRancher Timmery Hellyer uses a handheld computer during branding and castrating. It is used as part of a "Source and Age" program their livestock are enrolled in.

We probably do it slightly different than the next, but not in any manner that is necessarily better.  It is called branding season and it precedes irrigation season.

*Terms to know:

Bull – an uncastrated (in-tact) male bovine.

Steer – a castrated male bovine.

Source and Age Verification – Source and/or age verified programs utilize the RFID tag technology (like what Timmery is holding above) to record and verify the sources and ages of beef cattle.

From RealRancher Jim Hellyer – Lander, Wyo.

Photos taken by Marcia Hellyer.

Branding Time

Branding helps track livestock from pasture to plate. This helps keep the rancher's records accurate and keeps the American food supply safer.

The month of May in the Green River Valley is a whirwind of brandings. While folks in the city are running from one appointment to the next meeting, my schedule has my family and me flying between ranches.

On my calendar I had 8 brandings to go to this month. All but one were neighbor brandings. We all trade help and we also invite other friends and family to come. We’re generous like that.

I love branding because it involves the entire family. Plus it’s very fun! This year our 4-year-old got to ride with us while we gathered cows and our 2-year-old even got to help hold one of the calves while my husband and I wrestled the calf to be branded. Learning about ranching can never start too early.

Look at those kids! They'll be ready to run the operation in no time!

On our branding day this is my schedule for the day:

4:30 a.m. – Start the Day—wake kids up, make breakfast, get ready and feed the chickens and sheep. My husband gets the horses ready and does his chores.

6:30 a.m. – Get the food over to mother-in-law’s for the branding meal after we eat breakfast.

6:45 a.m. – Get on horses and head out to gather calves from the field.

8:30 a.m. – Start branding the calves.

12:30 p.m. – Head for mother-in-law’s to help with the last minute details for the meal.

2:00 p.m. – Clean up the meal.

3:30 p.m. – Go home and rest…if the kids let me. Husband goes and fixes the windmill because we turn the cows out the next day.

7:00 p.m. – My husband finally gets home and we begin to put the kids to bed.

9 p.m. – Collapse in a pile on the bed and prepare for a similar schedule tomorrow!

There is a lot that goes into a branding day especially when you are hosting the branding. Going to someone else’s branding is more fun because you don’t have to worry about the details as much. It’s just like going to Thanksgiving; it’s so much better if it’s at someone else’s house and not yours.

The days are long and the paycheck is a good meal but it is time well spent with friends and family.

Happy family moments! Thank goodness those girls are styling up the corral with those pink shirts!

From RealRancher Kari Bousman – Boulder, Wyo.

Do you love your job? Ranchers do!

Springtime is upon us here on the grassy plains of eastern Wyoming.  Temperatures are on the rise, and beneficial moisture has been received in the form of rain and snow.  These are the ingredients that make this such a special time of year for those of us working in production agriculture.

Green grass to feed our cattle

We need grass and water to sustain our livelihood, and spring affords us this opportunity.  Our livestock graze the nutritious grass, and the rain and snow fills our reservoirs and maintains our groundwater.  When you combine livestock, forage, and water, a large portion of the United States’ food supply is created.  What a wonderful time to be living in this great country!

Mmmmm...chomp,chop...num,num...mmmmm

Spring is halfway complete in this part of the world, and our calving season is underway.  We chose this time of year to calve our cows because the weather is mild; for the most part, the severe cold and bad blizzards are behind us.  The grass is green and growing.  Simply stated, this mid-to-late calving season is just much easier on mankind and animals.

"Where's mom? I need some lunch..."

To see the newly born calves running around in the warm sun on the lush grass is just a remarkable feeling.  They are cute little babies for one thing, and they seem so happy and innocent.  Keeping tabs on their mothers’ are their only worries.  We have taken care of these cows all winter, and this is one of our rewarding experiences being a part of these new lives.  The wildlife on our ranch, mainly Pronghorn Antelope, are co-mingling with our cows and are enjoying these springtime attributes.

"You sure are a funny looking calf!"

Those of us involved in production agriculture are truly lucky to be doing what we do.  We get to experience a “rebirth” every year right now, and that makes our job worthwhile and necessary.  Whenever you can tackle your job with enthusiasm, the feeling doesn’t get any better than that.  Life is great in ranching!

Yippee!

From RealRancher Dustin Cushman, Wavy Seven Livestock – Lusk, Wyo

Cows Adopt Babies Too

When we have a cow that won’t or can’t take care of her calf we often consider adoption.  If we already have a good mother cow that has just lost her calf, we make maternal magic happen! We have to be quick, though, because there is only a 1-3 day window when the cow would most likely take another baby.

In bovine adoption, there isn’t any paperwork to fill out, but there is a pretty, shall we say, interesting adoption process.

First we put the mother cow in the barn with her dead calf. We give her a little time to lick and bond with her lost baby before turning her back out in the corral.

Now this part is a little tough, but it’s the only way to really make sure the orphaned calf can be adopted. We carefully remove the hide of the dead calf, making sure to leave the tail and the bottom area intact because that is where the mother smells to make sure she has the right baby. Four lengthwise slits are made at the edge of the hide for the orphaned calf’s legs.

For the adoption process to move forward, we position the hide over the new calf and pull its legs through the slits. Baling twine is threaded through the leg holes and tied under the calf’s neck and belly to secure its new coat.

Now it’s time for the moment of truth! We put the mama cow in the barn where her dead calf was and show her the adoptee with its new coat. Most of the time the mama cow will give an affectionate little moo and we know she has accepted the calf as hers.

Now the calf may be reluctant at first and we, as the adoption experts, might need to get him up or nudge him in the cow’s direction from time to time. But hunger will always force him to accept his new mom. The adoption coat can be removed in a couple of days once the mama cow and calf are throughouly bonded.

The best part of this whole scenario is watching how carefully the cow looks after her newly revived calf. She’s going to make extra sure nothing happens to it this time.

From RealRancher, DeeAnn B. Price – Boulder, Wyo.

It runs in the family…

If you’ve spent much time around rural friends and relations, you’ve probably heard the overly romanticized term “family-run.”

Personally, the realist in me prefers it this way, “Family,  RUN!”

Between the family that lives there and the family that visits, on our farm there’s plenty of family to go around.  Mom had an interesting observation.  She says when family members express their selfless desire to “help out,” they really mean outside tasks only please.

The sink remains full of dishes, the mudroom boasts enough topsoil to raise a bumper crop, and the bumper crop of kin gives more thought to what they might find on their next trip to the dinner table than to how it got there.

They did manage to “help” this new mother though…

Poor lady, (the cow that is.)

Well, and Mom too.

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