Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hauling to the Mountain

This is the time of year when ranchers head to the Wyoming mountains with their livestock. Lots of highways were clogged with cattle, sheep and trucks heading up in elevation over the last week, and after a brief reprieve on the 4th, the move was back in full swing on the 5th. My family doesn't live anywhere near a mountain, but my boyfriend Adam does. While at his place over the 4th of July holiday, I got in on a day of hauling yearling heifers to the mountain.
Some producers trail all the way up to their mountain pastures, while others haul as far up as they can, then trail on in to their pasture(s). Adam's family used to trail, but haul as far as they can these days to save time. Both ways require some planning - when trailing you have to work with everyone else trailing, and keep your cattle moving to the next holding pasture each night so you aren't holding up the show for those behind you. When hauling you have to get trucks, and often work around when they're available.
One difference in going to the mountain versus going to a summer pasture where I'm from is when you go. Our cattle have all been at summer pasture for a month or more, but the cooler temperatures at mountain elevations results in the grass getting a later start in the growing season. Rancher's typically wait until their is enough grass for their livestock before heading anywhere with them. So, while eastern Wyoming, with it's warmer temperatures, has had abundant summer grass for a while, it's just getting tall enough to graze in the cooler Bighorn Mountains.

Here's what we did - first we loaded the heifers, and bulls, onto a couple cattle pots at a feedlot where they have been living for several months.

We stopped and added a little more caffeine to our dwindling iced tea supply in Ten Sleep, then headed for the corrals where we would unload, leading the trucks.

We started on the highway, but soon turned onto the Spring Creek Road, and from there onto a two-track road that lead up the base of the mountain.

And up we went.

The road to the right is the old road, and previously the only route up. Adam told me about a semi load of sheep that tipped over right where the two roads join several years ago. He used to hate that road, and is very happy to have the new one on the left.

Here come the trucks, up the last rise and through the gate to the corrals. Adam and I got the gates set and were ready and waiting when they arrived.

Then, right between the above and below photos, a tragic event occurred. My camera, which I had in it's "work day" bag, fell off the corral fence and made an alarming THUD sound as it hit the ground 8 feet below. I thought I had looped the bag's strap over a corral post, but obviously that wasn't the case. The damage was a busted LCD screen, but fortunately it still took pictures, which I found out for sure when I looked at them on a computer.

My camera is currently on it's way to Canon to be fixed : (

Frustrating camera events or not, the trucks arrived and backed up to the decrepit unloading chute, which is on the repair list for later this summer I'm told.

I was put in charge of counting the heifers off the trucks, and guarding a hole in the corral fence (the whole corral is on the 2011 summer repair list). I gingerly snapped a few photos as we went along, hopeful they would turn out.

1, 2, 3, .....58, 59, .....102, 103, .... you get it....

Then the bulls did what men will do - duked it out as to who was the head honcho and who was not.

I should note these heifers were AI'd earlier in the breeding season, and only had one cleanup bull with them in the feedlot. A second bull was added on this day since they were being turned out in a large pasture, where just one bull would have a hard time covering all of them. The bull that had been with them in the feedlot was not happy with this arrangement, and much preferred the idea of him being left alone with his bunch of heifers.

The trucks left, Adam and I did a little sorting on the heifers since a few were going to a separate pasture, then opened the gate you can see above and turned them out.

That evening Adam, his dad and brother went back and trailed them a few miles up the mountain to their summer home. I was in Casper at the Canon store by then, drooling over new camera's and feeling the pain over sending mine away to be fixed.

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