I recently visited my parents in NM. There were the usual chores, but on Friday, it was supposed to rain or snow–a much needed event in what has been a terrible drought. Unfortunately as it started to threaten rain, Dad remembered he had left his welder uncovered out on the ranch. The drive out there is about one and a half hours each way.
Well, it’s never good for him to go alone, so in the truck we went. The roads aren’t paved and a lot of the time the term “road” is very questionable. There are 3 gates to get into the property and then two more used to separate the grazing pastures. In NM, grazing even 20 cows on a thousand acres has been a trick. There hasn’t been rain, which means no grass grows. Trees are dying. Many ranchers are getting out of the business entirely. It’s expensive to feed cattle when you can’t graze them at least a little bit. Dad goes up twice a week to check on the cattle and to pump water. We have two main water tanks. We have earth tanks too, but they have been completely dry this year and last. There wasn’t even mud on the bottom.
When we arrived at the corral, Dad said, “This is GREAT! The cows are coming in there. I need to take two calves back. We’ll have to go back and get the trailer!”
Wait a minute. Did we just drive and hour and a half to get here, and now you’re telling me we have to drive back to get the trailer?
Yes, that is exactly what he was telling me. Argh.
“I’ve been trying to get the cows to the corral for over a week without bringing the horse up here.”
We drove over to the welder and covered it. Rain spit on us now and then, and it was cold, about 35 to 40 degrees out.
We went back to the corral to separate the two calves from the other cows. Dad told me to guard the gate. This means I stand with it open, and he herds the cows he doesn’t want out the gate. In theory. Getting just the ones you want out is trickier than you might think. I asked Dad, “What is the plan?”
“You just stand there. I’ll herd them out.”
“Okay.” This seemed sharply lacking in detail to me. I am a planner by nature. I want to know exactly what is happening so that I can form contingencies, plan A through plan F and so on. Maybe this really would be that simple. I didn’t remember it being that simple growing up, but maybe the cows were smarter now.
The first two went out easily. The next was a bull, and he was more than suspicious of me. He headed for the opening, but along came a calf, one we wanted. I ran with the gate to close it. This is not a small gate so when you want to shut it you have to move FAST. Faster than a running bull.
“Let the bull out, but not the calf!”
They were right together and the calf ran faster. I clapped at the calf to get him back and closed the gate. Silly guy ran right into the fence and bounced off.
Rather loud cursing followed. “I told you to let the bull out! Do just what I tell you! Don’t start thinking and getting fancy ideas! And don’t be making loud noises!” The man was yelling at the top of his lungs. This means that people in Utah probably heard him.
Dad chased cows around the pen and eventually separated the two calves. “SHUT THE GATE!” he yelled. “HURRY UP! Both of them! Can’t you do any thinking on your own? DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU EVERY LITTLE THING??”
Wait just a minute…I thought I wasn’t supposed to be Miss Idea over here…and what second gate? I don’t see a second gate…you never mentioned a second gate in the ‘plan.” Oh, THAT gate. Now WHY didn’t you tell me you were chasing them in there? I thought the plan was to LEAVE them in here and get all the others out. I didn’t even KNOW there was a narrow pen over there!!! He had added the entire corral since the last time I was up here.
Dad may be old, but he is used to moving fast. He jumped after the calves and shut the other gate. “I thought you knew what you were doing,” Dad muttered.
I could have pointed out that I didn’t need to know what *I* was doing, I needed to know what *he* was doing. Hmph.
Dad eyeballed the truck, wondering if he could convince the calves to stay in the back. It has high sides added, but no top. Calves that get spooked might try to jump out. In the end, we decided to head back and get the trailer.
It wasn’t terrible; just a long drive home and back. My job was to manage the gates, put the truck in four wheel drive (this is a manual operation involving turning a dial on the front wheels) and guide the truck to the cow ramp. Getting the trailer in place was the lengthiest operation because it had rained some and was getting muddy. Dad jackknifed the trailer once, but we were lucky. No damage.
Eventually we got the little guys on. I put away a side gate we had used to close a gap on one side between the trailer and the ramp (This prevents them from trying to squeeze their way to freedom). “Side gate” means we rigged a spare ladder that was at the water pump station. Because I was carrying this long ladder, I was not watching where I put my feet and managed to step directly in a fresh cow paddy. Just lovely.
The weather was worsening. What had been spitting snow was now a mix of sleet, occasional rain and wind.
On the drive back, I got out at the first gate, and my hat blew off. The truck grill caught it. Good thing. It was really Dad’s cap, and I borrowed it from his other truck for this event. I recall some sort of instruction about, “Make sure you put it back. I need to have it in there for when I need it.”
At the next gate, it started hailing the very second I got out of the truck. It stopped almost as soon as I was back in. The third gate–the wind blew it open as we approached!!! Too bad that it hit the sandy hillside and bounced back before we could actually get through the gate. The fourth gate, a wind gust took that hat and blew it to Utah or maybe Mexico. I was busy with the lock and never even saw it leave.
“What happened to my hat?” Dad said as I climbed in the cab. “You lost it this time, didn’t you?”
“No, the wind took it. I had nothing to say about it.”
True story. I couldn’t have caught that hat. I never saw it leave.
We made it safely home and Dad installed the calves in their new corral. As I cleaned my boots, I realized I had mud all down one pant leg. I washed up and started on dinner. Just another day at the ranch, but I’m really glad I had those boots on. Wear your boots people. Life is often full of shit that is unavoidable even when you know it is there.
Possible related book: Soul of the Desert Soul of the Desert is a novel about survival, hope and overcoming impossible adversity.
(Click on the tag “ranch stories” in the lower right of this post for more stories about Dad and the ranch!)