Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cattle Drive

Well, today was the annual Wild West Cattle Drive. Yup, we were taking the cattle out to the desert for the summer. We take the mama cows and their calves. In a little bit we will truck a few bulls out to roam around.

The week before the drive, the men gathered up the calves and branded, ear tagged, "fixed" and vaccinated them. I think they got about 80 head done and another 6 or 7 more done today. The brand and ear mark identify the cattle as being ours. Our brand is a bar JG. The vaccinations keep away some cow diseases and gives them a vitamin boost. We don't give hormones or anything extra. The "fixing" part only pertains to the male calves and doesn't really fix anything, but later on, it helps because we don't have a lot of bulls running around breaking things that we have to fix. Hence the term "fix." Or not.

Our cattle drive is actually a cattle "drive". We don't even own horses. Our mounts are cars, trucks, four-wheelers and the ever-popular: human legs. One, two or three lucky "cowboys" run behind the cattle keeping them headed in the right direction, no easy feat. The cattle are bigger and faster than any of us and much more agile than you might guess. They could just outrun, run over, run away, run amok, etc. and we couldn't do much about it. Luckily, they usually respond to wild hand waving and yelling. I say "we" but it is the "queenly we" meaning someone else does the actual work.

We don't actually take the cattle very far, but it can still be tricky.
We run them down a highway for about a half mile. Then the cattle turn and cross an active Union Pacific train line. The trick is to get the cars stopped that pass our house at 90 miles an hour plus hit a time when the train won't be coming.

On the day of the cattle drive, the men round up the cattle and put them in a pen down in the pasture. Then they drive along the route and close gates and park vehicles in any holes that don't have a gate.

When all of that is ready, someone calls Union Pacific railroad dispatch in Omaha Nebraska to find out when the next train is scheduled to come by and work out a plan with UPRR to that we don't all meet up on the tracks at the same time. We tell them it will take us about 40 minutes to get the cattle down the road and across the tracks and they tell us that there is a train coming in 30 minutes but after that the tracks will be clear. We used to just guess and hope, but that was pretty scary. This method works much better for all of us.

Moo and I have the very important, but lowly physical, jobs of stopping the speeding cars before they hit the cattle herd. She parks her car at the south end of the staging area and I park mine at the north end, flashers flashing. We stand out in the highway waving old red table clothes, scarves and orange homemade signs that say, "Stop." I even had a commercial (I didn't make it myself) sign with a picture of a cow that I taped to the back of the car.

This is where I start praying in earnest. Before our house, there is a stretch of of road 35 miles long with no houses and much of that road is straight. It is not exaggerating to say that some cars pass our house at 90 mph. It is also not an exaggeration to say that a small minority of those passing are idiots. They don't think that
stop means them. Most slow down, but driving through a herd of cattle creates chaos.

Past years, the traffic has been light, but this year, I think we hit the finish of a dun buggy, motorcycle rally from the Little Sahara Sand Dunes. Mega traffic (in local language, that means that there were several cars in a row.)
Most of them stopped, but of course, there was the one who figured that he was smart enough to get through the herd. Idiot. It split the herd in two parts instead of one and made it harder for the running cowboys. However, the praying paid off and the cows decided to be well behaved anyway.

After running down the highway for a while, the cattle do an amazing thing. I should really say, "the COWS do an amazing thing" because there are no adult male animals in the bunch. These really savvy, smart female animals AUTOMATICALLY turn where they are supposed to turn. We don't usually have to even show them where to go. They just remember from an earlier trip and head the right direction. That's a female for you.

Once again, the prayers paid off. None of the calves turned and ran down the train tracks. None of the animals made more than a cursory run at the neighbors front yards or hay fields or any of that stuff they sometimes do. Peter, Earl and Russell each only carried one straggling calf into the cattle trailer to ride the distance. Those were all Majorly good things. Trust me.

Us cowboys and girls formed an entourage with our cars, truck, four-wheeler and feet and followed the moo-ing crowd in the direction of the sunset. (except it was only 5 p.m. and very light still) Another successful cattle drive done for the year. Sigh.

Side note:
Moo advertised they cattle drive to her Greathouse relatives and tried to make them a part of the experience. She billed the event as the "Second Occasional Greathouse Cattle Drive/1 K walk, giving everyone the chance to "participate" by doing a 1 K walk on the day of the drive. This year's local participants were Pa, Ma, Farmerboy, SQ, and Moo. We had a special guest, Alice, with us and a new hired man, Russell. For the event, Moo designed and distributed dish towels with a special logo and ironed special graphics on shorts for Annika and a onesie for Jacob. Lucky kids.


Moo said...

Thanks for the new post. Yours is a much better commentary than mine.

Beee said...

Whew! What a day. . . for you all. Sorry you missed the Preakness Stakes, but glad Y'all got the cattle out to the desert. Thanks for the clarification of who Russell was at the end. Very useful to my easily confused state. p.s.I am sorry I missed in the actual event. --One of the few that actually didn't mind helping out down there.

Cindy Beck said...

Okay, now I know I'm a country girl at heart, because this actually sounds like something I'd be more than happy to participate in ... as long as some ol' cow didn't step on me. :)

Fun post, thanks for sharing the experience.

Cynthia said...

Annika wore her shorts today. For a few minutes. She currently wears any given item of clothing for moments before she claims that it is "owie" or "hurteee." (The extra eeeee connotes the whine that goes with it.)Thanks Moo, for the loot!

Rachelle said...

I'm a farm girl and I just love some of the old-time work that never changes. I posted a review about the Scrapbox on my blog, if you’d like to see a pic, come visit!

Marissa said...

Thanks for posting. Maybe I'll actually publish one of mine soon. . . ha ha

Cathy Witbeck said...

That brought back a few memories. Luckily, our farm was five miles from the highway, so we never had to deal with that much traffic.
I think the cattle drive I remember the most was the day I wore flip flops. What the heck was I thinking. Grasshoppers kept jumping between the flipflops and my feet. It was crunchy, squishy and disqusting. I'll never forget it.
I'm glad your ordeal is over for the year.