Today we moved cows. It was so far from picture perfect. I mean it. I took my camera but just left it in the truck because there was no time to snap a picture in the midst of our near disaster cattle drive.
There are two things that make a drive go smooth that we didn’t have- a LOT of cowboys and good fences. Here’s the low down of how this day went.
Let’s talk about a little about fence etiquette. In Idaho, the “fencing law” is a fence out law (not to be confused with a fence outlaw that probably steals fences or something). That means that if you are, let’s say a farmer, you’re responsible to fence animals out of your farm ground. Particularily if it borders public ground.
The cattle we were moving were out on a Forest Service pasture with cows from two other ranches. The area has Forest Service ground, but a lot of private farm ground. In fact most of the way to the field we were heading to (6 miles) was bordered by farm ground except the last bit. And, yep, you guessed it… those farmers hadn’t put much stock in the fencing law.
There were places that the fence was up… but the wires were so loose calves just crawled right through them. It kept the in a little better than no fence at all because they could at least see something in the way. But so much of the fence was taken down, left in a mess on the ground. The darn thing didn’t even look scary enough to keep them from trying to get out. And with it being dropped to the ground we had another issue to deal with, getting the horses caught in the fence!
For hours we fought cows trying to cut back into the tempting green wheat fields. And we lost. The cows won. It seemed that they were crawling through the fences everywhere, when there was actually a fence, I mean. Cutting across the fields had its own extra setbacks. There were so many places that was loose dirt that as the herd crossed over it made a cloud of dust so bad you could hardly see the cowboy next to you. The cows don’t like dustiness like that (not that I blame them… actually I do, because if they would have stayed on the road we could have avoided the dust!) A couple of times they got so lost in the dust (or just annoyed by it) they tried to turn back on us. Just what we needed- crazy cows not being able to see where they are going so they turn and go… anywhere else!
The cows in the front were on a mission. They knew they were literally heading to greener pasture, so they walked out. Fast. But then there was the slow babies in the back. Their little tired legs just couldn’t keep up. Before we knew it, we were stretched out for miles moving along a non-existing fence with cows breaking into the first green thing they could see. Every time we would lose a group of cows through the fence a cowboy would follow to get them back out. Before we knew it, there were more cows and cowboys out on the wheat fields than on the road! Actually there was a point I was the lone rider moving down the road.
It might have not all been so bad if we could have had all the cowboys we needed. We needed to have guys at the front with the lead cows, guys doing the gates, guys pushing over the cows that were crawling through, and guys pushing the cows the length of the herd. But we didn’t.
At one point The Rancher switched from his horse to his steel horse which helped him buzz around which saved us. He was able to get ahead of the herd to close gates, get around the lead cows in the wheat field and head them back. It’s just too bad we didn’t have like three more guys helping do all that work…
We made it eventually and really no worse for the wear. We found all of the strays and after a while the bull in the trees decided to come out. But, heaven willing, we will NEVER have to do that again!