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Irons in the fire: Springtime fences and reputations

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Grower Published on 28 April 2016
Oakley Valley

Late spring, for many reasons, is always one of my favorite times of the year. I know I’m not alone in that regard. The prettiest landscape I can conjure in my mind can’t match the beauty of my home country in springtime.

I can’t imagine anything more aesthetically pleasing than the sight of white, snow-covered mountains with bright green pastures and grain fields in the foreground. It makes for a pretty picture. How can you not be cheered up by the longer, warmer days and the appearance of that precious, all-too-elusive green grass?

Of course, springtime in the Rockies and the high desert doesn’t come without its own unique payment plan. For every beautiful day of sunshine and warm weather, we can pretty much count on two or three days of cold, clouds, a touch of rain or even snow, and that most reliable of Mother Nature’s pranks: the relentless wind.

Besides the inconvenient, irascible weather, this time of year also offers up some other inevitable and unpleasant situations. While I do get weary of springtime’s predictably unpredictable mood swings, the mud, the wind and the necessity to pack an extra coat on my saddle or in the pickup cab, there is another byproduct of spring I fear above all others.

The very thing that ultimately enables us to hopefully make a profit in the cow business is the thing that causes me the most grief when the weather changes. The thing of which I speak is the bovine’s unique ruminant gastrointestinal system and her innate ability and desire to ingest fresh, green forage. Cows like green grass.

Since much of the pasture and hay ground we used to use in the late spring is now leased out as farmground for spuds, we usually have to feed hay well into May because we can’t turn out on the range ground until the grass is established enough to support the cow herd.

Although we may have plenty of hay to feed until turnout, the old girls just can’t help themselves and will chase every blade of green grass that dares to emerge. This lust for green is unmatched by even the greediest of capitalists. To keep it in check requires vigilance and some pretty good fences.

While we are ever-vigilant, there seems to be a dearth of airtight fences on our place. With that being the case, I can pretty much count on having to fix some fence and apologize to some neighbors every year at about this time.

I still have to tread pretty lightly around my wife and her garden-loving green thumb. She cusses me every time she looks out the back window or eats a peach. She blames me for a wayward group of heifers that she claims snapped a year-old peach tree sapling off at the ground.

The truth is: The horses did it when I turned them in the yard for a few minutes while I hooked up the trailer. I choose to take the blame for the heifers on the loose – because the horses-in-the-yard thing is a forbidden practice that I willfully perpetrated.

Even though we live in cow country, and it is by law considered open range, I have some neighbors who are not in the cattle business and are justifiably less than pleased when a cow or two, or 30, trashes their little stack of horse hay and trails across their yard and through the flowerbed. I occasionally experience a gush of guilty relief when I get a call about some cows in a yard only to find out the offending bovines are flashing a different-colored eartag and packing someone else’s brand. I’m eager to help but grateful to not have to bear the blame.

We may go two years without a cow tramping across a manicured lawn, but it is inevitably the single day when a wreck happens people seem to remember. I don’t ever recall getting an “attaboy” for the cows staying where they belong for 10 months and 12 days, but I’ve received more than one Scotch blessing for 10 minutes of plundering by a handful of critters who knew no better.

It’s a lot like a guy’s reputation. A reputation can be a pretty fragile structure. You may spend years building it into a multi-story mansion, but it can come down in a hurry from just one or two poorly-thought-out or rash decisions or acts.

One stupid decision can break hearts and crush families. There’s always the chance of a cow or two getting out, but if you build your fence and your moral foundation the right way to begin with, it’s a lot easier to splice the wire and keep the critters where they belong and your reputation intact.  end mark

PHOTO: Oakley Valley. Photo by Paul Marchant

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