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Irons in the fire: Have it your way

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 26 January 2017

Old Man Winter has really been in the business of making winter this year. Within a two-week period, we had a couple of storms that have dumped around 2 feet of snow in the valley, 30- to 40-mph winds to blow it into 6-foot drifts across the road and a five-day stretch where the high temperature was -10ºF.

To top it off, the bitter cold was immediately followed by two days of 40ºF temperatures and rain, which not only made for a sloppy mess but was also enough for the county to declare an official state of emergency because of the ensuing flooding. Every school in the county was closed for five straight days because of one weather-related crisis or another.

My latest little weather-caused crisis announced itself by way of a neighbor’s phone call as I was heading out the door to do the day’s feeding. A pair of little winter squalls had pushed a herd of cows into a corner of the field, where they ended up pushing through the fence – which was not much of a fence in the first place.

The friendly neighbor was, as he called, clearing my stackyard of 300 freeloading cows who had bellied up to the bar, so to speak, and were taking advantage of an open bar and free meal on the house. Thank goodness it was my stackyard and not one of my neighbors’ haystacks or front porches.

It’s officially open range where the cows are, so I’m not technically obligated to keep them off the road and other people’s property. It would, of course, be ludicrous to take that attitude and not make every effort to keep the cattle where they belong.

The purpose of the open range law is to maintain and protect the common-sense practices of traditional ranching in open areas of the county. For instance, ranchers in open range areas are protected from being sued if their cows walk through a flower bed while they’re being trailed to or from summer range.

Some people don’t like the open range policy. Some people do like it. Like most things in life, it depends on your perspective. I’ve been on both sides of this fence. A few years ago, I had picked up a load of cows that had wandered off the wrong side of the mountain in the fall.

As I was returning home that night, through the City of Rocks and down Birch Creek Road, I could see in my headlights a string of cows and calves trailing down the side of the road. I was only doing about 25 mph, but just as I passed the little bunch of cows, one dung-for-brains calf darted out in front of me.

As is consistent with my usual luck, it killed the calf and smashed my radiator. I knew the deal. This was on me, no matter how much I would have liked to blame the calf. The next day, my insurance agent wanted to lay the blame on the owner of the cattle so as to avoid having to pay for the calf.

I did not want to go down that rabbit hole. It was open range. Paying for the value of the calf was my responsibility.

About a year later, the teenage son of one of my neighbors was barreling down the road one fall day as some of our cattle were trailing down off of the hill. Smack! He hit a nice big calf. Result: calf as dead as the inhabitant of Grant’s tomb. Guess what? The neighbor had no qualms paying me for the worth of the calf.

You can see, the rule of “turnabout is fair play” comes into action everywhere you look. High school basketball parents love the refs to call the ticky-tack fouls when their little darling gets to shoot free throws, but when Junior gets whistled when he lays out the kid from the other team with an illegal screen, the zebras “don’t know from nothing” (or some other polite, four-letter criticism).

At the 4-H leaders meeting, everybody is in favor of teaching the kids real-life lessons. After all, “It’s for the children.” But I may not be so keen on the weight requirements when my 10-year-old daughter can’t sell her steer at the fair because he only gained a pound-and-a-half a day. After all, “It’s for the children.”

Life is loaded with paradox and irony, good and bad, give and take, Republicans and Democrats. So make your stand and stick by your principles, but remember: It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get your way.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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