by Jason Williams of Brock Livestock Company, one of the valued partner ranchers raising cattle for Tallgrass
Author's note: This is about a real cow on my family's ranch northwest of Kaycee, Wyoming. While the cow's "thoughts" and feelings are obviously conjecture, the day-to-day activities and movements of this cow are real. We will follow her throughout the year to all of the pastures she grazes, and she will give her "opinions" about all of them and the happenings within her herd. My family and I spend a lot of time, energy, and resources to make sure the cattle always have plenty to eat; fresh, clean water to drink; and are, for lack of a better phrase, Happy Cows. Please keep in mind that my intentions are not to "humanize" cows—or any other animal—but merely to provide a look into what a typical cow here at Brock Livestock Company goes through in a given year, and her possible "opinions" about things.
Hello, my name is "Old Number 5"—or at least that is what my ranchers call me. Before I get into what has been going on with me and my herd mates this past month, please permit me to give you a little bit of background about myself. Like the rest of my herd mates, I was born and raised here on this ranch, and have spent my entire life here. In fact, my mother was raised here, as was her mother, and so on—dozens of generations of us have been born and raised right here on the ranch, and all of my herd mates can claim that same heritage. I got my moniker, "Old Number 5" from the ear tag number I had as a youngster. I am not really that old—a robust 7 years—but apparently I somewhat made a name for myself to my ranchers growing up, and they have always held a special affection for me. I will say that the feeling is mutual.
The month of May brought to me my two favorite things in the world—a brand new baby calf and green grass. On the 11th of May I had a baby heifer calf, and I have to say that she is the most beautiful and smartest calf in the whole herd! It was a gorgeous spring day, I found a nice private spot in the hills to give birth, and my baby jumped up and started nursing in nothing flat. She was a little wobbly at first, but in just a couple of weeks she is already outrunning me. On the 15th, my ranchers started moving all of us to fresh pasture. I love it when they move us to fresh pasture! Just like the pasture where I calved, there is a live stream running through this pasture so we always have clean water to drink, and thanks to all of the snow and rain this spring there are plenty of the kinds of grasses that I love to eat. Since a lot of my herd mates had very young calves, it took our ranchers a few days to get all of us moved through the gate to the new pasture. We sure do appreciate their patience with us when we have our young babies; sometimes the little ones get kind of confused...and sometimes we mommas get a little vocal about finding our babies!
We momma cows spend a good portion of our days eating and sleeping—two of my favorite activities. And, of course, feeding our babies and taking turns babysitting for each other. This spring has been a pretty wet one here on the ranch—the wettest of my lifetime—so the grass here is plentiful and it tastes just great. Like everyone else's calf, my baby is literally getting bigger every day. Soon she will be ready to start the journey to our summer home along the southern end of the Big Horn Mountains. It is a long trek from where we are now, and I'm glad that we have plenty of time to get there and that most of our moves are short ones.
Hello once again from the beautiful state of Wyoming! I hope that the month of June was as good for everyone out there as it was for my herd mates and I. The month started off unusually cool for the first couple of weeks; in fact, on the 5th of June we woke up to see snow on the tops of the mountain ridges in the pasture where we would be spending part of our summer. After seeing that, all of us were glad to be down in the "flat country" by the North Fork of the Powder River! The cool weather doesn't bother us a bit—in fact we thrive in the cooler weather. My black hide and fat layer keep me warm and toasty even after the water in the creek starts freezing. Sometimes I hear my ranchers saying that they think they are putting on too much fat, but for a range cow like me, there is no such thing as putting on too much fat!
A couple of days after we saw the snow on the mountain, my ranchers began moving us through some of the irrigated parts of the ranch. In the past they have always used machinery to harvest this grass, but I must say that I sure like their choice of letting us harvest it for them instead! The meadows are adjacent to North Fork so we always have live, fresh water to drink, and I have never seen so much grass to eat in my life! My ranchers check on us every day and move us every 5 or 7 days to fresh pasture so we constantly have tall green grass in front of us. I heard one of my ranchers remark that they were giving us a "fresh salad bar" every time they move us. All I know is that it sure is nice for me and my herd mates to have fresh pasture to go to every few days. We are all glad that the moves are short ones—just through one fence—because some of the momma cows have some pretty young calves yet. It didn't take us all long to figure out the routine, and when it's time to move, we all just gather up our babies by our side and walk through the gate to the fresh pasture.
My little baby girl is just growing like a weed, if you'll pardon the expression. She is eating more and more grass every day now and little by little I am teaching her the little "tricks" of being a good cow: the best kinds of grasses to eat, the times of day to be out grazing and the times to rest, the best places to bed down for the night or to get out of the wind, that kind of thing. She is still relying on me and my milk for most of her nutrition, but it sure is fun watching her try new grasses and discover the world.
Hello to everyone from wonderful Wyoming! The month of July has been a good month for everyone out here at Brock Livestock Company along the North Fork of the Powder River—for all of us cows and our little ones, and for our ranchers as well. It has been a pretty busy month—and an exciting one—for all of us, but it has been a good month. July started off with our ranchers wanting to brand our calves the first weekend of the month. However, they forgot to inform us about it, and when the time came for them to gather us up for the branding, we had already made some plans of our own! My herd mates and I all figured it was getting close to time to head for the mountain, so when we saw our ranchers show up riding their horses, we all gathered up our calves and took off for OUR destination. Well, they wanted us to go one way, we wanted to go the other, so something had to give—and it was them that gave! I'll admit that we hardly ever win one of these "battles," but we must have been feeling extra stubborn that evening when they were wanting to corral us, and quite a few of us just kept on marching toward the mountain. In fact, I was a little bit embarrassed when one of our ranchers recognized me and accused me of being a "ringleader"!
Like I said, we won that night, but by the next morning we were starting to feel a little more willing to cooperate, and when our ranchers showed up before first light, we all marched on into the corral. The ranchers quickly sorted us momma cows off, got right to branding, and were done working with all of our calves by mid-morning. It is usually pretty confusing for awhile as we momma cows all try to figure out whose calf is who's, but we all had things pretty much back to normal by that evening. By that next Monday you wouldn't have even guessed that our bunch had been branded by the way everyone was acting!
I mentioned earlier about the excitement we had here; one afternoon last week a big thunderhead rolled in over us the way they sometimes do in the summertime, and it started to rain. Well, it just kept right on raining, and raining, and raining—more rain than I had ever seen in one sitting! Water started running in from out of the hills, places I didn't think ever ran water had streams coming down them. As you can imagine, little North Fork swelled up awfully big—bigger than I had ever seen it—and took out everything in its path, which out here, was pretty much just fences. We were all far enough away from the creek that we just watched it all happen (and tried to find dry places to stand), so no one got hurt from the flooding, but I am very sorry to report that one of my herd mates' calves was hit by lightning that evening and was killed.
We have been continuing to graze through the irrigated meadows, but each time we move we are moving closer and closer to our mountain. I have to admit that I really like this new rotation they have for us of grazing through these lush irrigated meadows during the early and mid summer, and then heading to the mountain in August. It lets us stay on that nice tall, lush grass a little bit longer, and then it will also allow us to stay on the nice cool mountain later into the fall.
As for my baby calf, she can hardly be called a baby anymore (just ask her, she'll tell you the same thing)! She is gaining more than 2 pounds every day now, and she is growing quite independent of her boring old mother! She and her friends like to wander off and investigate the world, or sometimes they just like to race around with their tails up in the air and buck and play. Did I ever have that much energy when I was her age? She is definitely growing up, but I still keep my eye on her—more than she knows—and I pretty much know where she's at all the time.
The first day of August brought a little bit of excitement for all of us—our ranchers turned the bulls in with us cows! That first day the bulls arrive is always pretty crazy; they spend a lot of their time bellering and blowing, which some of my frisky herd mates think is pretty neat. So, it usually turns into a big, chaotic scene of bellering bulls, cows running all around trying to figure out what is going on and find their babies, and of course the calves thinking it is all great fun as they run to and fro enjoying the melee! But, like all "first days," by afternoon the novelty of the bulls had worn off and things were pretty much back to normal for all of us.
We spent the first half of August finishing up our grazing of the irrigated meadows, and by the middle of the month, we were all eager to head for the mountain. On the 16th, our ranchers moved all of us from the meadow pasture to a pasture near the foot of the mountain—a little over 1 mile. That was the longest single leg of our move, and from there we just pretty much moved ourselves on up the mountain. They opened the gates for us, and some of us " more experienced " cows took our babies and climbed the slope. Some of the younger cows who haven't been up here much had to be moved up by our ranchers later on and shown where the water is, but a good portion of us came up on our own. We just love it up here—there is good grass, nice cool weather (and plenty of shade trees if it does get hot), and our ranchers have installed plenty of drinking tanks for us full of cool, clear mountain spring water. I've often wondered why it is that our ranchers send us up here to spend the summer while they stay down below in the heat and the flies…but I'm certainly glad that they do!
Even though this is the sixth calf that I've raised, I am just constantly amazed by how much they grow and change over the course of the summer. She is nearly 4 months old now and well over 250 pounds. She still relies on me and my milk for a lot of her nutrition, but she is eating more and more grass now and will sometimes spend a good portion of the day on her own. She always comes and finds me around dusk, and truth be told, I always have a pretty good idea of where she is, so if I need to find her right away I can.
First of all, I feel I should apologize for my tardiness in getting this entry out to everyone. I would try to make up an excuse that the mail runs much slower up here on the mountain, but the truth is I guess I have just been enjoying myself so much up here that I let time get away from me! September was a good month for all of us—autumn has always been one of my favorite times of the year here in Wyoming. The days are cooler, the trees are turning brilliant shades of yellow, red, and orange, and the bug population decreases on a daily basis. This fall has been no exception, and we have all been enjoying the cool mountain air, the cold, crisp water, and the abundant grass. The grass has dried out some—it always does by this time of year—but there is plenty of it, and our babies and us mommas do very well on it.
In the middle of the month, our ranchers opened a gate for us and started moving us to the south mountain pasture. I say they started moving us because it usually takes several days to get all of us moved out of one of these mountain pastures. There are enough trees and canyons for us to be in that it would be nearly impossible for them to look in every nook and cranny, get us all gathered up, and move us in one day. So, they just take the cattle they find and put us through the open gate, and if we accidentally leave our baby calves, we can go back and get them, and then turn around and head back to the fresh pasture on our own in the afternoon. It still only takes about 4 or 5 days to get us all moved this way, and it is easier on us, and easier on our ranchers; most things on the ranch usually do work that way.
My baby calf is no longer a baby anymore (at least that is what she tells me). I do worry about her more up here on the mountain because there are more predators up here. We have always had mountain lions and bears, but we have heard rumors and disturbing stories this summer about wolves moving in, and that is making all of us a little bit jumpy. But thankfully, we haven't had any incidents in our herd this summer and fall, and our babies just continue to grow and get bigger every day!
We finally got our first taste of winter this month; I say finally because our first real snow didn't come until the end of October, which is unusually late for us in Wyoming. It was only a few inches, but it did serve as a reminder for all of us that colder weather is just around the corner! But I am getting ahead of myself; because we had wonderful weather through much of October, and I can't think of a better place my herd mates and I could have spent the month than on the mountain here at Brock Livestock Company. Toward the middle of the month, our ranchers opened a gate and moved us again to a different mountain pasture. This pasture is mostly along the foot of the mountain, and it extends about halfway up the slope of the mountain. It is a little closer to the "flatlands"—the pastures where my herd mates and I will spend the winter. Once again, we had lots of grass thanks to the moisture last spring, and our drinking water comes from mountain springs, which are fed into tanks for us.
The weather has slowly been cooling off for us, and as I mentioned earlier, we got a very late first snowstorm towards the end of the month. We don't mind the snow much at all; in fact we cows like this cooler fall weather. When you wear a leather coat all day every day, you quickly learn to appreciate these beautiful fall days!
Our calves are getting more and more independent every day, and mine is no exception. She still gets some milk from me, but her diet mostly consists of native Wyoming grass. I am trying to teach her everything she needs to know about how to be a cow—how to find a good spot to hunker down when the Wyoming wind gets to howling; which kinds of grasses are the most nutritious for us and where to find them; even things like how to know when a predator is in the area and how to treat our ranchers and other cattle in the herd. She is a good student—much better than I was for my momma when I was her age growing up in these very same pastures.
Wow, I can't believe that December is already gone and we have all started a brand new year! Last month sure flew by fast, but I guess it's true what we say: "Time flies when you're on good grass!" In early December our ranchers opened the gates for us to move in from the hills to the meadow pastures. For those of you that read some of my entries earlier, these are the same meadows we had grazed last summer. All of the meadows had been irrigated after we left them, so the re-grown grass is thick, tender, and a lot of it is still green.
Since the grass we are on is high quality and is so abundant, we have been able to keep our calves with us into the winter. Usually, our ranchers wean our calves for us in the late fall, but because of the grass situation this year, our ranchers wanted to try leaving the calves with us mommas and let us wean our calves on our own during the winter. Since at this point in our babies lives they need us more for companionship than nourishment or protection (not an easy thing for a momma cow to admit!), their theory is that our calves will be happier and healthier if they can spend the winter with us before they strike out on their own in the spring. I know that us mommas sure like it!
It has been fairly chilly here in Wyoming this month—not getting above freezing much, but we haven't had any bitterly cold, 35 degrees below zero nights either. So for us in our warm winter coats, the temperature has been pretty comfortable. With no major snowstorms so far, my herd mates and I—and our babies—have been wintering very well! I hope that everyone out there is having as good of a winter as we are and I will write again soon!
Like January, February continued to be a cold month here at Brock Livestock Company in Wyoming. If you read last month's entry, you will remember that in January our ranchers moved all of us to some fresh meadows further down the North Fork of the Powder River. Since there was a lot of forage left over from last summer's irrigation, we have been able to stay on these meadows all month long. These meadows are more in what we cows call the "flatlands", so there aren't as many ravines for us to hunker down in when that famous Wyoming wind gets to blowing. However, this area offers us a form of protection that is just as good—Greasewood. For those of you not familiar, greasewood is a woody plant, which deer and antelope like to browse on, and it can grow higher than my head! The patches of greasewood down here make great windbreaks for my calf and herd mates to find shelter in.
For those of you that have been reading this for a while now, these are the same meadows we were grazing in when North Fork flooded back in July. This is the first time we have been back since then, and it is interesting to see how the flood changed things—namely the river channel. Because the flow of the stream changed in places, it also offered us new—and in many cases, improved—winter watering holes along the creek. Since the ice on the creek will typically get up to 2 feet thick in the winter time, good watering holes—places where the water flows fast, close to the bank, and is not too deep—are quite valuable to us in the winter time, and there are quite a few of those in these meadows now. The flood also left a lot of debris in the meadows of course, but these will all turn to mulch in time and become organic matter in the soil.
I hope that the month of February was as good for everyone else as it was for us here in Kaycee. I will write again soon!