Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Yearling Sorting Story

This story has been floating around this week, and my whole family gets a kick out of it, hope you do to.
When I was around six or seven years old, we would go to the Rocky Point Grazing Association, which you can read about here. Every fall we had to sort our yearlings multiple ways prior to shipping out. You know, get the neighbors out, sort steers from heifers, sort of any gimps or dinks, etc...
By this time I was an exceptional gate runner (or certainly thought I was). Running a gate means you're responsible for opening and closing it in time with the animals that need to be sorted into your pen. Sounds simple, and sometimes is, but it can also be a very fast moving, complex job at times. There are moments it will test your grit too as a little kid, when an alley of 900-plus pound yearlings are bearing down on you, and you're responsible for running out in front of them, holding a gate a little stick for protection, just to sort one into your pen.
Anyway, I was assigned a gate to run. This guy named Frank, who is also a member of the grazing association, apparently thought a little three and a half foot tall, probably 50 lb, girl with wild, almost white, blond hair, might need help. Poor guy.
Frank had one of his hands wrapped, because he had injured it in some way. He also always has a great big cigar in his mouth that he chews on and rolls around while working cattle.
He props his wrapped hand on my gate, which immediately causes a smalle tingle of concern to go through me. My dad must have been another gate across the alley, because he watched all this, and didn't tell Frank I was capable, which also caused a tingle of irritation to go through my little body.
Down the alley come a bunch of yearlings, and my uncle starts calling out names as to where they needed to go. There's one for my pen, and Frank moves too slow and the yearling blows by our gate. Up goes my irritation level, especially as I get a less than patient remark about missing the steer.
A little additional information: My father and Uncle weren't patient when we were little kids, and I was the first born of my generation. We also ran a big operation at the time, and as they each had kids, we were expected to help at young ages. It was great for all of us, and their high expectations of all of us kids, and limited patience with us when we messed up, is why I could do things like run a gate like an adult at six or seven. It also meant that I too had very little patience with anyone who didn't get it right the first time around.
I don't remember this, but suspect my father was laughing at my prediciment right about here (we have quite the sense of humor in my family). My uncle, who couldn't see anything, but knew I was missing yearlings, wasn't laughing at all.
We get that worked out, and down the alley comes another draft, and again Frank is too slow in "helping" me get my gate open. This time I probably got yelled at, which will really set you into motion on our place as a little kid. It also caused my temper to spike, high up into the red.
Third time, here they come down the alley. My uncle yells my name, and I swing that gate out hard and fast, and smash Frank's hand between the gate and pipe it latches too.
My dad will be laughing so hard at this point he can hardly add that upon having his hand smashed by a little girl, Frank almost swallows, and chokes on, his big cigar.
The yearling goes where it's supposed to, and Frank gathers his composure and heads off to another part of the correl. I have no more issues with sorting that day, and don't get yelled at anymore.
Like I said, poor guy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Fall Work is Done!

In reality the work on a ranch is never done. But, we wrapped up the last of our "fall work days" Monday, when we preg-checked the last of our cows.
Every cow and calf has been shipped or trailed home from their summer pastures, the calves have all been weaned, their weights are entered in the computer, and the cows have all been preg-checked. For the last six weeks or so it has been a crazy mix of driving, riding, gathering, sorting, hauling, driving, riding, unloading, weaning, preg-checking, fencing, fixing water, etc... Did I mention driving and riding? And picking up gallons of milk as you blew through a town, learning which little espresso huts will make a coffee the fastest at 6:00 a.m. (I NEED my caffeine, and if we drove by a coffee shop would accomadate a horse trailer or semi, we stopped), wishing for a coffee shop on all the mornings (especially the cold ones) we didn't drive, or drive by one, keeping enough clothes in every pickup to ensure you're covered if it's 95 degrees or 10 below zero, and swapping my camera and computer equipment from outfit to outfit so that I can get as much work done as possible whenever we hit a town, or stay at a house, with Internet.
It's a unique time of year that's hard to explain unless you've lived it. I like to think of it as a whole lot of fun packed into a short period of time. We were blessed with beautiful weather for almost every task this year, and that always makes it so much nicer!
Now we are settling into the routine of feeding and doctoring calves, writing articles again, and getting ready for winter.
I am also going to the doctor tomorrow for an incredibly swollen ankle that has been plaguing me all fall, and which I "finished off" while gathering cows Sunday. I had to run a cow down and turn her back, which she was opposed to, and when it was all over I was one hurting unit. Hoping it's nothing serious, but have a feeling it could be.
Hope everyone else's fall has also been a busy, productive few months of working at tasks you enjoy, with people you love! I am so very blessed to have such a jam-packed schedule of things that I love to do, with my family and friends as the other people I get to do them with!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Last Post

Hopefully this will be my last blog post...on this computer! I ordered a new Dell last week, and it's due to arrive any day.
To put things in perspective, I bought the computer I currently use in 2002 or 2003. The poor thing is ancient in terms of computers, and does some funny things. It won't let me reply to comments, or comment on certain blogs (at least I think it's the computer and not me, I really do read and appreciate all the comments on here, and have tried to comment back). I've just spent the last 30 minutes trying to upload photos for a blog post with no luck. It takes 20 minutes to start up each morning, and about the same amount of time to shut down each evening. You don't want to know what happens if I don't turn it off each night.
This computer has been a part of my life since college, where I used it to get my degree. It was used to type my first column for a newspaper, and edit the first set of wedding pictures I took. It got a bit of a break while I worked at the Roundup, but I still had to use it for certain functions becuase my work Mac had some glitches.
It's also what I used to write the stories and edit the pictures that paid for the new computer.
I chose to stick with Dell because any technology company that makes a laptop that lasts a decade is A-Okay in my book. It's not like they were easy years where I fired it up every few days either. I know lots of people have good and bad luck with any computer brand, but mine with Dell has been exceptional. I also realize that many people prefer Mac's to PC's, but my personal experience with Mac's has been pretty mediocre.
So, Dell XPS 15z, I hope you're as great to me as the Dell Inspiron 1505 was!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Driving over the Big Horns

I get to make the drive over the Big Horn Mountains more often than ever before in my life these days. It's one of two ways to get from my house to Adam's, and it also happens to be one of my favorite drives, so I take it whenever possible.
Here are a few pictures from my latest trip, which happened to be the day after their first big snow of the year.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Loading a Cattlepot

I've shown pictures of loading our cattle onto a cattlepot before. But, I thought it might be interesting to show you the inside, and how it all works as cattle are put on the truck. It's not a matter of just filling it up until the trailer is full. Oh no, it's much more complex than that.
The first picture shows how the standard cattle pot is arranged inside. Trailers come in different lengths, and more modern pots have four axles on the trailer, so the middle is smaller, and the ends are bigger.
I've also heard that no two Wilson (that's a brand name) Cattlepots are made the same. Considering there are thousands of them in use, that's a very interesting tidbit to me.
There are also trailers with spread rear axles (the axles are spread apart, and there are two on a trailer), or closed tandem axles (the axles are all close together, and there are two to four of them). Truckers can haul a certain amount of weight on every axle they have on their truck and trailer. It's 12,000 lbs for the front axle on the truck, 36,000 lbs in Wyoming ( it's 34,000 lbs in most states) on closed tandem axles, which are on the back of the truck, and possibly the trailer. If the trailer isn't a closed tandem axle, it will be a spread axle, and can haul 20,000 lbs. As you add more axles to a trailer, you can haul more weight, but the amount you can haul per axle becomes much more complex to determine.
So, if you have a truck and a spread axle trailer, you can haul 54,000 lbs, which is what my dad can haul.
Truckers load trailers to make sure they are at a proper weight on every individual axle. To help them do this, and to keep the livestock sorted and safe, are two floors and a number of pens/compartment within the cattlepot.

Here's how a cattlepot is generally divided up inside. Some pens you can only put smaller animals in, like calves (the doghouse), and others have removable floors so a trucker can either haul a single deck (decks are like stories in a house) of cows, or two decks of calves (the nose).

Here's the view inside, on the top deck, looking toward the nose. My dad and brother are busy putting the deck in the nose of a cattlepot, so they can haul two decks of calves. Truckers can haul just cows, just calves, or a combination of both. The holes are for ventilation for the livestock, to keep the pot from being blown over in windy conditions, and to keep it light. These trailers are made of aluminum, which also keeps them light.

I turned around, and here's the view toward the back of the trailer. To the left is the door to the doghouse, to the right is the ramp down to the door that leads outside. The floors also have a raised pattern on them to provide traction for the livestock. Sometimes truckers put sawdust on the floor also, to keep livestock cleaner or to improve traction. Cleanliness is a huge issue in trucking. You want the livestock to stay as clean as possible - for sanitation, health and presentation reasons. My dad and brother both wash their pots out regularly. The floors are dirty on this day because it was day two of hauling our own cattle, and we hadn't been near a water hose of any kind.

Here they are putting the deck in the nose of one of their pots. The floor stores within the trailer when you take it out. You take it out when hauling cows so the pen is tall enough for them. When hauling calves you put it back in.

Then they prepare to start filling the pot with cattle, cows and calves, in this case.

Kyle pulled a pin, and a part of the floor drops down, creating a ramp into the lower deck of the nose. You always load the bottom pen of the nose first. If you load the top first, when you open the gate to load the bottom, calves will fall out of the gap you can see in this picture, and that's not good.

At this point the bottom of the nose is filled, and my dad is filling the top of the nose with a specific number of calves, based on their body size and weight. Cattle are like people in that some are tall and thin, others are short and wide, etc... and different groups fill a trailer differently. In addition to working around weight limits per axle, truckers also must fill each compartment based on animal size. You want to have a snug fit, where animal's aren't overly cramped, but are close enough they can brace against each other and won't fall down. If you put too few in a compartment, they are more apt to fall down, or injure themselves moving around.

You also never mix cows and calves in a single compartment, unless they're older calves and there's more room than if all animals are similar in size. Small calves could easily be smashed, and injured or killed, by the much larger cows while in transit.

When they're all in the pen, he quickly lifts the drop down door and secures it in place. Cattle pots have all sorts of handy, space saving design aspects. Some are great, others are hated, but they're all used.

Up it goes. You can see where the other door/ramp to lower compartment is directly under the one he's closing.

Following the nose is the doghouse (the back, on top). This L-shaped pen takes advantage of the space not needed by the ramp that leads to the top deck, and is often used for calves, or sick or injured animals.

You fill each end of the top deck of the cattlepot, then fill up the middle, and largest, compartment last. Then you move to the bottom deck.

The pen extends to the right at the back. It's too short for cows, but calves fit just fine. It's also not adjustable, so unlike the nose, you either haul something short in this pen, or it stays empty.

In they go, then dad closes the gate/ramp just like he did in the nose.

Now that all the shorter compartments are filled with calves, we're ready to fill the taller, larger compartments with their mothers. Here's the view from outside.

Up they go. In the large middle compartment on the top deck is a gate right in the middle. Truckers can either "gate" cattle, which means to separate them into two pens by closing the middle gate, or use it as one larger pen. Weight and cattle size often dictates how this decision is made.

We did not gate the cows on this day, so we filled it up with the carefully counted cows. Truckers also make sure they're always where they need to be to get a cattlepot filled efficiently and correctly. You don't want half the cows to load, then turn around and run off. This wastes time, can cause injury to other cows or humans, teaches the cows a bad habit, and really makes ranchers mad. You can just see my dads feet in the above photo, and his hotshot, which he uses as needed to make sure the cows move into the pen and don't run back out.

As the last cow steps in, he eases the gate shut behind her.

Then he steps down and latches the door shut. If a door were to come open during transit it would be disastrous.

From there, he lifts and pushes the ramp you saw the cows walking up forward into a built-in storage area. Then he unhooks this wing, which was used to create a alleyway up the ramp, and ensure the cows went the proper direction, and swings it out of the way so we can load the bottom.

It has a hinge, and you maneuver it around like so, and say a couple choice words if necessary...

Then secure it to the side of the pot.

Flip up this part of the floor to reveal a ramp to the lower deck,

and swing the gate over, like so. Now they're ready for more cattle.

Now, you'll have to forgive me on this. I had to combine pictures from multiple loads, and these of a load of calves turned out better than those of loading cows on the bottom deck. Typically you would load a truck with either all pairs, in which case there would be cows on this lower deck, or with all calves, in which calves would have been put on the top deck where I showed cows.

Anyway, we gated these calves, so a specific number were loaded into the bottom, then the trucker, and sometimes a helper, go in and close the gate in the middle of the large pen.

Like so.

Then you fill the back half of the pen with more calves in this case (numbers of cows or calves are always changing based on weight, size, number of axles, etc...)

The gate is closed, and latched.

Then the ramp is dropped back into place. Now the only thing left to fill is the compartment at the very back of the cattlepot.

The trucker moves to this position, so he can close the door after the last cow, or calf, has been loaded. He will drop the door, which slides up and down on track, and secure the rope to the side of his trailer.

Then the trucker heads for the unloading location. The cattlepot is unloaded in the exact opposite order it was loaded, so the back is unloaded first (duh, yes, I know), then the belly, and the bottom of the nose is unloaded last.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rocky Point

We are headed north, almost to Montana, first thing in the morning to start the annual fall gather of our pairs that summered on the Rocky Point Grazing Association. This job will take a total of three days - one to gather and ship ours home, one to gather, wean, and ship my uncle's calves home, and a third to go back and gather and ship his cows home.
We have been a part of this grazing association my entire life, and while my cousin tells this stroy best, here's how we remember Rocky Point gather (it was one day then) as little kids.
Your dad wakes you up in the dark, you stumble down the stairs at grandma's, eat breakfast, and head out to catch, saddle and load your horse, in the dark. You cram into a single-cab pickup with various siblings and/or cousins, and the two dads drive two pickups and trailers the two hours to the assocation, all in the dark. You grumpily get out of the pickup, put on whatever clothes you need based on the weather that day, in the dark. You get on your horse, ride out to the pasture, and head to the far side to begin gathering, in the dark. Everyone sits on a high hill, and waits for the first glow of daylight on the horizon. Then you start to gather, and in the early dawn light other riders seemingly miraculously appear as you go - people you've never met in your life. You gather and trail into the correls, then sort and load the cattle (it used to be yearlings, now it's pairs) onto trucks for the ride home. Then, after a very big day, you load your horse back up in whichever horse trailer isn't loaded with extra yearlings, or bulls, and climb back into the single-cab pickup to head home, in the dark.
It made for some long days, some of which included snowstorms, and others with bad sunburns at the days end. We didn't enjoy it much as kids, but with time it's changed to one of those jobs that's "not that bad" and actually enjoyable most years (depending on if there's snow usually).
One thing that hasn't changed is we will still be starting in the dark.
Hope you havea great week!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Opening Weekend

Mule Deer hunting season started with bang, litereally, yesterday in Eastern Wyoming. Here's a glimpse into what our hunters see on a given year...

Rough terrain without many trees, except in the creek bottoms, is the norm around here. To hunt this country you need to walk it, and we always recommend hunters come with some good shoes. Weather is also very unpredictable. It's over 80 degrees here today, but it could just as easily be snowing this time of year.
We manage the number of hunters we take based on the year, and how our deer population is doing on that year. We aren't one of those outfits that takes 20-30 hunters every year. Rather, we take a smaller number of people, and that number changes based on the wildlife populations. Our goal is provide a high-end hunt, while also maintaining our wildlife populations for years on end.
The big deal with hunting is always the game. Here's what the deer around here are like.

Our weekend will be spend getting hunters set up to hopefully shoot a big deer like some of these are. Hope you're enjoying fall, and whatever fall activites you enjoy most!