Farmering Down on The Ol’ ULC

I’’ve had a lot of people ask me why I have moved around so much. Well I have to admit that when I was younger, I did want to see a lot of country before settling down. Then as I got older, I started looking for a place to put the brakes on and settle down. With that in mind, starting work on the ULC seemed like the thing to do.

The owner was a businessman with plenty of money who had previously owned a ranch, and I assumed he knew at least a little bit about running a ranch. Because The ULC was run down, Orville was going to rebuild everything from the ground up. Lloyd was hired to operate the ranch with Orville “managing, and I was under the assumption I was the cowboss. What Lloyd and I were yet to learn
was that being rich is not synonymous with having common sense.

As summers were nearly non-existent in this part of the world, we had to get as much done as we could in that first season. The old
calving barn had an end wall burned out and was too small for the numbers of cattle we were going to be running. (The previous owners had raised wheat and run yearlings rather than a large cow herd.) The location of the barn was a good one, offering some protection from the wind. Rather than simply add on to this barn, Orville brilliantly decided to convert it to a shop and to build a new calving barn and pens in a wind-swept saddle near the top of the hill. This meant we had to tear out all of the pens plus several miles of wire alleyways leading to various pastures.

Then Orville decided that the side hill next to the old calving barn would be a good place for the stack yard. Now having a protected area for a stack yard that will drain is a good thing. The problem with Orville’s location was that the hill was too steep, which meant that round bales would be lined up in a crosswind. When the snow started blowing, rather than blowing between the rows of bales it would just drift over the top of them. Lloyd and I tried explaining this to Orville, to the point there were some rather heated discussions about it. Of course, as Orville was the owner, he won out, finishing the discussion with “It’’ll work. You’ll see.”

The next difference in opinion was the location of the new calving barn and pens. Lloyd and I could see problems with flooding and suggested that we move the barn another hundred feet east. Once again Orville won out, finishing with his patented “”You’’ll see.”” Of
course when the contractor building the barn as well as the man doing the land leveling told Wilbur the barn would flood he also told them it would’n’t . . . “You’’ll see.”

Adding to the complications of working around Orville’s lack of knowledge was the fact his “assistant manager” was his son Wilbur.
Wilbur knew less than his father. Unfortunately, both father and son were acutely aware of the knowledge difference. This meant that at the times Wilbur accidentally had a clue as to the end result of his father’s ideas, there was no way he could be any help in circumventing the eventual disaster.

Because all of the equipment left behind by the previous owners was held together with baling twine and chewing gum, it all had to be replaced, and Wilbur was put in charge. The first purchase Wilbur made was a new Italian-built tractor (should be easy to get
parts for]. His next purchase was a combination round bale feeder/ picker. There are several different brands of these machines on
the market that have been used for years. Some are better than others, but they all have been proven to actually work. Rather than
purchase one of these, Wilbur bought a new model that was the first one of its kind. While Lloyd and I thought the design looked a little flimsy and were wondering how it would work, Orville and Wilbur argued that it was the best one available . . . (You’’ll see).

The next, and possibly biggest difference of opinion was about having enough hay to make it through the winter. Because we did’n’t
have the equipment to put up the hay, a neighbor was putting it up for us on shares. Lloyd and I both knew that seven hundred and
thirty-two round bales were not going to feed twelve hundred cows and a couple hundred first-calf heifers through the winter, especially if the winter was going to be a bad one. If Orville followed through with plans to keep over seven hundred calves to market in the spring, we would be out of hay by Christmas. Lloyd found some good hay that he arranged to be hauled in at seventy-five dollars a ton. Of course Orville overruled that decision saying, “”You’’ll see.””

To cut down on contamination to the calving area, we built another set of pens at the old headquarters, converting a shop into a
barn, complete with hydraulic chute and scales. Lloyd wanted to make the pens big enough so that we could fit all the cows in at
once, or half the cows with their calves and still have enough room to sort. Of course that meant that the pens would not fit within
Orville’s aesthetic parameters. It was while building this set of pens that I managed a little screw-up of my own.

I came in from checking cattle and somehow wound up running the post pounder. We had been using a stick cut to the proper length
to check the posts for the proper depth to prevent anyone’s hand being smashed if the pounder came down accidentally. Orville came
over to help and decided to check the height of the post with a tape measure. With the pounder at its full height, Orville handed me the dumb end of the tape and told me to hold it at the bottom of the post. Once he read the tape, I stood up. As I stood, my hip tapped the control lever, the pounder came crashing down, and I heard a loud curse from Orville!

Because his back was to me, the first thing I noticed was his glove caught between the pounder and post! As Orville turned around I
realized that my first impression of smashing his hand off was wrong. He had been holding the tape between his thumb and pinkie
finger so “all” I had done was to slice his thumb and smash his pinkie like a grape.

Adding insult to injury, since I was the only one in the immediate vicinity with a valid driver’s license to go into Canada, I was volunteered to haul Orville the twenty-five miles to the hospital. The drive up was fairly quiet because he was in shock (besides the fact that I was feeling guilty for smashing his hand and wondering how long it would be before I was fired for having done so). While the drive back was not exactly filled with a plethora of conversation, Orville admitted how dumb it was of him to measure using the tape rather than the stick he had the rest of us use. Because it’s nearly genetically impossible for me to let an opening go by, I replied, “”Well, you were just leading by example and showing us what happens when we don’t do things the way you want.” For some reason, he agreed with me and didn’’t fire me.

The day came to ship bull calves, and that was when we saw . . . the pens were too small. With only half the herd (or a little less),
the pens were bursting at the seams. We did manage to get everything weaned in them and have most of the gates still hanging.
Time came to preg check the cows, and we discovered that we really could have used a few “extra” pens. Cramming half the herd into
the pens at a time, we managed to complete the job in two days, but a few of the cows which didn’’t like to be crowded adjusted
themselves several times into less crowded pens. Of course Orville and Wilbur saw nothing wrong with this because it just gave us a
chance to practice sorting cattle.

Once the bull calves were shipped, Orville and Wilbur decided to cut the crew back to only me, Lloyd, and the carpenters, who
were still working on the new housing and calving barn. The only problem was that we still needed to finish the pens at the calving barn, and winter was approaching early. In fact, we had three feet of snow by the fifteenth of October, and our corner of the
world was frozen solid.

Orville decided that we could feed the seven hundred calves he had decided to keep and the first calf heifers, but the main cowherds could fend for themselves on wheat stubble. We were being hit by blizzard after blizzard. Temperatures would be in the minus thirties and forties, with high winds making the wind chill similar to a hat of dry ice. In between blizzards, we would get a warm
Chinook wind from the southwest, and the snow would begin to melt. Before the snow was completely melted, the temperature would
drop again, freezing the running snowmelt.

This is when we saw about the stack yard and feeder. The morning ritual was to unhook the feeder and dig the drifts out so we
could get to the hay. The steepness of the ice covered stack yard meant that the feeder was helpless as far as loading itself, so I had to load one bale at a time then hook up the feeder. Because the hydraulic fluid and grease in the PTO shaft would be stiff from
sitting in the sub-zero weather, the simple task of hooking it back up might take as long as half an hour. What Lloyd and I thought to
be a poor and flimsy design also proved to be true. Bales would not load into the processing part of the feeder because the hydraulics
were not quite heavy enough to push the bales in. Once in the processor, it took anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour to
feed a bale out. All in all, it was taking us ten to fourteen hours to feed seven hundred head of calves and a couple hundred first-calf
heifers by this method.

Adding to the feeding adventures was the fact that the new “top-notch,” Italian-made tractor was falling apart faster than the parts
were coming in. Fuel pump, wheels, front-end loader, and heater were literally falling off, going out or needed to be tightened on a daily basis.

While I was in the “you’’ll see” phase of feeding less than half the cattle, Lloyd was busy trying to make sure the cattle had water to drink. Of course, this was another of Orville’s famous “You’’ll sees.” We had tried talking to Orville about putting in a water system, not
just so we would not have to chop ice, but so that we wouldn’’t have any cattle fall through the ice trying to get a drink and so we would know for sure there was enough water to last through the winter.

The first thing to go wrong was that several heifer calves met their untimely demise trying to ice skate, as did a couple of cows. Of
course as the cows drank each day, and more water converted to ice, water was becoming more difficult for Lloyd to find. Chopping
through a foot of ice at thirty below zero and finding only mud and then moving farther out onto the ice to chop another hole was not
particularly entertaining for Lloyd.

Between fighting the weather, equipment and lack of water, we didn’’t have much time for minor things like plowing the road or
starting work on the pens at the calving barn. Orville had also decided to build the new road on top of the old road. Now the only problem with this was that the original road was never meant to be used as a year-round road. We had tried to tell Orville that it needed to be moved about a hundred yards to the north, or it would drift. Of course Orville insisted it wouldn’’t and once again told us, “”You’’ll see!””

When the storms hit, we would take the route of least resistance, until Orville returned from a trip to the tropics. He insisted we keep the road open no matter what it took and left on another trip. By this time Lloyd and I were both at the ends of our ropes and wondering about the sanity of continuing with this job. I think that it was only our concern for what would happen to the cows if we quit that kept us there. At least Orville had finally consented to let us feed the cows and start buying hay, but was still only allowing about half rations.

The first morning we were to feed the main herd, I got halfway out to the highway when the tractor bogged down in the middle of
the road in spite of the fact that Lloyd had just plowed the night before. I went ahead and drove on the forbidden route and met Lloyd at the cows and fed them a few bales. While driving down to feed the heifer calves, I noticed rig strikingly similar to Orville’’s stuck in the drive. After feeding the heifers I discovered it was Orville, himself, so I pulled up in back of him to pull him out.

Needless to say, he was a little upset that we didn’’t have the road cleared and didn’’t believe that it had actually been passable the night before. He also believed that once he got through the place he was stuck at that he could drive the rest of the way in. We
only had to dig him out two more times before he let me clear the road with the tractor and discovered that some of the drifts were taller than the tractor.

After being there a few days, Orville begun to have a clue (albeit a small one) about the situation we were in. He bought a new
tractor and round bale feeder that were proven and started buying hay (although we were still only allowed to feed a half ration). He also hired old Joe to feed, a couple of guys to help with building the pens and hired Slick to help with the cattle. Things were starting to look as if they were going to get done, but there were still a few slight problems.

Before Orville had laid off the fencing crews, they had driven the posts for pens at the calving barn and managed to have part of
the metal panels setting next to the fence lines. These panels were now under four to six inches of clear, hard ice and needed to be
chipped out. Of course the weather wasn’’t cooperating either. The high temperatures seldom climbed above zero. Even if it didn’’t
snow, drifts would pile up from the wind, making it necessary to dig out before starting to work.

On top of everything, the water situation was getting worse; Orville still had the cows on a half ration of feed; and they were losing weight. We moved the cows in closer to the calving barn and a fresh pond, hoping there be enough water to hold them until we
started calving. There wasn’’t, but we did get a break in the form of a warm Chinook wind that started the snow to melting again. We discovered that if we went into the brush and dug down that there was water running under the snow. When the temperature dropped back below zero, there was enough insulation from the snow and brush that the water more or less kept running. Walking through the brush and digging holes in the snow was a lot easier than chopping holes through ten inches or so of ice.

Just before Christmas, Orville held a ranch meeting. Part of the meeting was planning just how we were going to set things up
for calving because the heifers were due to start calving in the middle of January. Orville also assigned everyone a title to fit their job
descriptions. Lloyd was still the overall foreman. Slick was still designated as ranch hand, but my “official” title caught everyone a
little off guard. Although my duties were still the same, I was no longer the cowboss but had the unique (and possibly only) title of
“”Cowherd Attendant.” ” About the only thing we managed to really accomplish was to get the feed increased to about three quarters

Then on Christmas Eve I blew a fuse and had a serious “talk” with Orville about actually feeding enough hay. Of course he accused me
of not being profit minded and tried his patented, “It’ll be OK. You’’ll see.””

With that I really blew up at him and informed him that as far as I was concerned, I worked not for him, but for the cows, and they
just paid me through him. Then I went on to tell him our version of ““You’’ll see”,” which included calves being born dead or born sick,
and cows too weak to calve. Wilbur, who more or less agreed with Lloyd and me about the weakening condition of the cows, was in the other room, and true to form, never said a word. I don’t know if it finally sunk in for Orville after I blew up at him or if Lloyd finally
got through to him, but the following week we finally started feeding the cows what they should have been getting for the last two
months. Once the calves started dropping, we wired panels in to fill the holes in the incomplete pens and diverted all our efforts to

That winter wasn’’t just a hard winter, it was the hardest winter that area (which is known for hard winters) had experienced in
over fifty years. When the heaviest part of calving season hit, we were having over forty calves a day in blizzard conditions.

Another one of Orville’s “You’’ll sees” was that we didn’’t need any windbreaks. Now nearly every calf had to come to the barn to get warmed up because people freeze frozen food in a more hospitable atmosphere than these calves were being born in. High temperatures of thirty-five degrees below zero, with thirty and forty mile an hour winds . . . Yup, Orville. do you
see now???

We had calves born sick, dead, and nearly dead. We had a few cows too weak to calve and a couple too weak to live after they
calved. We also had one other small problem I’’d only encountered maybe two or three times before. It dawned on us one evening just before the night calver came on.

Lloyd’s wife Lynette and their two daughters were helping bottle feed twenty or so calves we were trying to get started as I was working trying to get an upside- down calf topside-up so I could pull it when Lloyd and Slick came in with two more cows. ““Two more backwards ones for you!”” announced Lloyd.

I asked Lynette how much she wanted to bet me that they were both upside down. She refused to take the bet, stating, “”You’’ve pulled eight of them in the last day that I know of.”” When we checked the records later that night I had already pulled thirty-five of them, and we weren’’t halfway through calving.

There were the days when the blizzards would stop and things would warm up, but that brought on a whole new set of problems.
The temperature would rise from forty degrees below zero to forty degrees above zero overnight, and the snow would be rapidly melted by the warm Chinook winds. The barn would flood, and despite our previous warnings that this would happen, Orville was confused as to why it happened.

Now one would think that the calves would be fine with this warmer weather because they wouldn’’t freeze. The problem now
was they couldn’’t stand up for the first time to nurse because the fifty- to sixty-mile-an-hourmwinds kept blowing them down. So with pumps running in the barn, and hoses running out of it, we were sledding calves into the barn (hopefully with their mothers following) and wading them back out through “pen creek” to the pasture after they were up and going.

Of course the lack of nutrition prior to calving coupled with the extreme weather meant we were having a higher than normal
sickness rate and death loss in the calves. There were days when Slick and I would doctor over a hundred calves a day. Orville, having more money than sense, was “baffled” as to why operational costs were so high. It seems he couldn’’t figure out that
buying hay at $140 a ton rather than the $75 hay Lloyd had available the previous summer or that fact he was spending $1,000
week in medicine because he wouldn’’t feed the cows in the fall were causing the high expenses. For some reason, he thought that
it was in labor costs so he laid off the night calver and wanted us to start filling out time cards so that he could keep better track of
labor expenses.

We had already been going twelve and fourteen hours a day (with a couple of twenty-four to thirty-six-hour shifts with no sleep
thrown in) seven days a week for the last two months. Par usual for a cowboy’s life, we were not getting paid overtime or building up extra vacation time for keeping this schedule; it was just part of the job. If you don’t like it, move to town and start working construction or drive a truck. Needless to say, we didn’’t want to know how many hours we were working. After a minor rebellion, we started filling out the time cards because we were basically too tired to quit and find another job. However, after only a
couple of weeks and seeing that we were averaging a hundred-fifteen to a hundred-twenty hours a week, the time-card phase passed. Slick put in his notice that he was quitting after calving was over with. Floyd and I really liked the area and neighbors. We also figured the worst of it was over so we decided to stick it out.

At the tail end of calving, Orville and Wilbur decided to go to a bull sale and took me to help them pick out bulls. It was a last
minute decision to let Lloyd or me make any decisions on the bull purchases so we only had part of an afternoon to collaborate on the
kinds of bulls we needed. On the way to the sale, Orville started discussing the state of things at the ranch and how disappointed calving season had gone. He was also placing the burden of his disappointment on Lloyd. Now I have never been known for keeping my mouth shut or not backing my friends, and this was no exception. True, we had a disastrous calving season, losing just over twenty percent of the calves. The points Orville was oblivious to were that, due to his own decisions to ignore Lloyd’s recommendations, we were basically lucky to have made it through as well as we did. In fact, there were ranches that winter which were much better prepared facility-wise and that had fed their cows right but lost over forty percent of their calves. By the time we made it to the sale, I thought I had Orville convinced that all he needed to do was to start paying attention to what Lloyd had to say.

Breeding season was’nt going much better than calving. Because we were breeding the heifers artificially, I was doing the heat
detection. Orville had decided to stop feeding about three weeks early, which combined with the hard winter, and lack of nutrition before calving made for a breeding disaster. The cows just were’nt cycling. Of course Orville was totally baffled and could’n’t be convinced that another of his “You’’ll sees” had backfired.

Also, in the middle of branding, Orville had a “”friend”” visit. Our suspicions about Ralph were founded. It turned out that Ralph had
never met Orville before and had shown up to interview for managing the old ULC. A couple of weeks later, right after Lloyd had hired Earl to replace Slick, Orville announced that Ralph was going to start as manager. He said that we would all be keeping our jobs and that we would enjoy working with Ralph, as he “really is a top-notch manager,” adding, “”you’’ll see.””

Things started out fairly smoothly, but then the spring work was over by the time Ralph showed up, and all of the cattle were on
their summer pasture. But as soon as things started getting busy, we discovered how “top notch” a manager Ralph really was.
Ralph was one of these guys who thinks he is both a good farmer and also a good cowman. So far, I have yet to meet the man who
actually excels in both.

As fast as he was getting the hay put up, I was beginning to think he was at least a good farmer. Then came the day I went to town for groceries. This ranch just happened to be on the Canadian border, which meant a trip to town for groceries meant stopping in at customs on the way home. When I stopped, the customs officer asked . . . well, more or less stated, “”You guys are putting your
hay up a little green this year aren’’t you?””

I told him I didn’’t know as I had been doing other things, so he told me to sniff. When I did, there was the pungent aroma of overheated hay from the field across the road. I had no choice but to agree that the hay was being put up before it was dry.

Then there was Ralph’s habit of driving around in the tractor with the bucket up in the air. Now every front-end loader has warnings
plastered all over the inside of the cab about the dangers of rolling over or taking out power lines by doing this. Sure enough, one day
while pulling out, Ralph not only took out the power line to the lower shop, but pulled over the power pole as well.

When it came time to precondition the bull calves, we really began to see how good of a cattleman he was. What had taken us a day
the year before took us three and a half days, with each full day taking longer than our one day the previous year. Part of the reason was that Ralph would’n’t hire any extra help to get the job done in a day. Another part was that Ralph was seemingly trying to dismember the crew . . . literally, and starting with himself.

He was castrating the calves to be culled and needed a sharp knife, so I loaned him mine. The first thing he did was to slip and
slice the palm of his hand wide open. The next day, while dehorning a calf, he borrowed my knife again. Earl was holding the calf’s head, and when Ralph slipped with the knife this time, Earl headed for the emergency room to get stitched up.

Before long, it was time to wean, which was just a warm up for preg checking the cows. Rather than spend a short day driving the bull pairs to headquarters and then a short morning
weaning the calves, Ralph had a better idea. We spent two long days hauling the calves back to headquarters and putting them in the pens. Then we did the same thing with the heifers. If all had gone as planned, it would have only doubled our work. But Ralph decided to put the heifers in a hay meadow next to the road and the next morning we were a couple of hundred head short and spent yet another day finding them.

Preg testing was the next battle of the nerves. The previous year the job had been completed in a day and a half, the “long” day
being over by four in the evening. Ralph figured he could do it better and cheaper than a vet so the two-day job turned into a three-day job . . . for cows that had bull calves. The days were’n’t done by four either, and we finished up each night with the chute being illuminated by the pickup’s headlights. Now working long hours did’n’t bother Lloyd and me, but taking so long for a one-day job and having the cattle go that long without water upset us. We figured that Orville had to be seeing what was going on, and that Ralph would soon be nothing more than a bad dream.

Then we started having problems with the heifer calves. Right off the bat Ralph had it figured out . . . that dastardly parasite coccidiosis. Lloyd and I had our doubts but had already learned that whatever we said would automatically be wrong in Ralph’s eyes and that Earl would be no help for he was the perennial yes man. I had seen calves with coccidiosis and also calves suffering from too hot a feed. While Ralph was not feeding too much, he was short on space at the feed bunk for thirty or forty head. We would pull Ralph’s “cocci” calves to the sick pen where they would get better. Once they were back out with the other calves, they would get sick again. Lloyd and I were keeping an eye on things, and it appeared that these same “cocci” calves were hogs at the feed bunk
and sure enough after a few days their stomachs were bothering them again and Ralph would have us pull and treat them again.

After a few weeks of this, and after losing around eight calves, I could’n’t take it any longer. While pulling another calf for the third
time, I asked, as politely as I could, why Ralph was thinking it was coccidiosis. He immediately went ballistic at having his diagnosis challenged and began telling me all about coccidiosis, amazed that I had never seen it. The vet was coming the next day to bangs vaccinate the heifers so I made Ralph a little bet. I bet him ten dollars (and gave him ten-to-one odds) that if he had the vet run a test for cocci on the calves, it would come out negative.

The next day I was in the back bringing cattle up so I did’n’t have a chance to see if he was following up on his end of the bet. At
lunch I asked the vet about it. According to him, Ralph had just told him they had cocci and told him what an idiot that I was because I could’n’t see it. While he could’n’t be totally positive without testing for cocci, he did think that the situation of not having enough bunk space was probably causing a problem with acidosis. The “coccidiosis” cleared up immediately when we sold a hundred heifers and had enough space at the feed bunk. Of course Ralph moved the heifers at the same time and attributed the health improvement to the fact they had been moved to clean ground. The whole episode spelled the beginning of the end for me.

From then to the beginning of calving season, I was taken out of the cattle operation and put to finishing the pens and building tie
stalls in the barn. Of course most of it was welded, and Ralph was waiting for me to mess things up, but I fooled him and surprised
myself by doing a pretty fair job of it. When calving started I became the night calver.

Normally I like night calving, but true to form Ralph did everything in his power to make things as hard as possible. For starters, I
was’n’t allowed to use the night lot as we had done the year before. As the lot was fairly well lit, and attached to the barn, it was a simple task to get anything in that needed help. Ralph decided it would be better to calve them out in the hay meadow. Now I was’n’t against the girls having a little more room, but this was an “L” shaped piece of ground a quarter mile wide and nearly two miles long. Luckily the weather was good most of the time because when storms blew in, I had to push the cow against the wind in blinding snow. There were a few times that a squall would hit when I was trying to bring something in, and the barn would disappear.
These times would entail more than just a little profanity because neither my horse nor the cow would want to drive on into the snow.

If we had a major storm, I’’d get to work and all of the calving cows would be in a five acre field connecting to the pens on the other
end of the barn. At least they were easier to find and I did’n’t have to take them as far, but I still had to drive them uphill. When calving in these kinds of situations, the normal thing to do is to pair out the new calves each morning. This keeps cows from claiming the wrong calf or getting stepped on and also makes it easier to check on things in during the day, not to mention at night. Of
course Ralph had apparently never heard of this and was only pairing out once a week. In turn, anytime a calf was injured or killed from being stepped on by another cow at night, I was accused of running over it with either the pickup or my horse.

I was also blamed for spreading a story around the community that I only heard about when I decided to go to the local restaurant for breakfast. A storm had come in the day before, and when I got to work, the cows had been moved into the small lot, and the day crew was in an exhausted and irritable mood. When I got to the restaurant, I was told about the three-ring circus they had by the meter reader who had driven through to check meters and had come back out the same way, a couple of hours later.

On his first trip through, he saw Ralph leading the cows into the small area with a load of hay. This would have worked if it were’n’t for the hundred or so baby calves in the bunch. Their mothers had left them for dinner so Lloyd and Earl were riding their horses half to death trying to get the cows to go back to their calves. When the meter reader came back through, Ralph and Earl were trying to get the cows that had already calved to the barn. Lloyd was running around like the proverbial headless chicken roping calves and tying them up and putting them in the back of the pickup for Lynette to drop off at the barn so they could be reunited with their mothers. Even the meter reader knew they should have been pairing out the new calves everyday. He also knew that it would have worked easier to move the cows without the hay so that the ones with calves would have stayed behind, or at least with their

When Ralph went to church the next Sunday everyone knew about his circus, and a few even asked him about it. Since he had
no grasp of the obvious fact that I was’n’t there when it happened, he added one more thing to his list of accusations.

When it came time to brand, we had suspicions that we would be using a table. Lloyd and I were used to branding anywhere from three hundred fifty to four hundred fifty calves a day and having everything paired up by three or four in the afternoon. Ralph was
claiming we would only be able to get “maybe” two hundred fifty branded in a day. As it turned out we did drag them to the fire, but
used only half a crew because Ralph had to be in charge of every little detail. His way of doing things meant that it was nearly (if not after) nine each night before we were done. Ignoring the spring fencing (We did fence, but that only amounted to replacing broken posts with rotted posts), the next, and last project was heat detection for artificial breeding. The herd was split into two groups.

Ralph and his sidekick Earl were taking care of one group while Lloyd and I were working with the other. Now cattle being bred artificially need to wait around twelve hours after they are in heat before being bred to hit the highest conception rate. The easiest way to accomplish this is to just pen the hot cows as you find them. Because they are in groups and want to stay together, they are easy to find and move.

Of course Ralph was wanting to “Farmer Down” by having Lloyd heat detect with a four wheeler in the morning while I fenced, then pen the hots at night along with the cattle that were ready to breed from the morning. Luckily Lloyd only had to use a medium-sized ball peen hammer to get it through to Ralph that we were’n’t going to have much luck finding the fifteen or so cows from the morning check in the fifteen-hundred-acre pasture when they were’n’t going to be doing anything to draw our attention other than being just another cow. He also (barely) managed to convince him that we could handle them easier while they were hot because they wanted to stay together. Of course Ralph and Earl were doing just that with the other group of cows. Ralph was penning them once a day and wondering why the ones from the morning heat were so hard to find and handle.

Once we were done with breeding season, Ralph informed me he had to replace me with someone who could farm (and hired his
son to replace me.) Lloyd told me that after I left, someone from their church asked Ralph why he had fired me. He was tongue tied, but his normally shy wife piped up with, “”Because he wants to be in Bob’s next book.””
Guess he got his wish.
This story is from the book A Million to One Odds (times five)


About bobkinford

Author, working ranch cowboy, reduced stress cattle handling expert, horseman, humorist, and gourmet cook.
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