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Irons in the fire: The farmer way

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 30 January 2019

It was about the fourth day of the first real cold stretch of the winter – still the first week of January. It was the time of year when, each day, I counted the seconds at sundown to try to verify if the days really were indeed getting longer.

I know the calendar shows it, and science claims it, but it somehow seems to me the number of daylight minutes and seconds don’t really increase until about the first week in June – a couple of weeks before the days definitely become markedly shorter. I don’t know how to explain the phenomenon, but that’s how it is in my world.

Rarely is there enough daylight in a 24-hour period for me to get all the fences fixed, the gates closed, the critters fed, and the hatches battened down. My obvious lack of efficiency is enormously magnified during that season when the long shadows make their appearance at quarter after three.

It was in this particular frame of mind I found myself when, as I was breaking ice in the bull pasture, I discovered one of the bulls had crippled himself with an 8-inch gash up the side of his left front leg. My guess was he’d gotten into some scrape with one of his fellow brawny, brainless buddies. No matter they’d been together since they were sorted from the cows three months earlier. I’m sure there was a good reason. Just like there’s a logical reason for anything a 17-year-old boy does.

The bull pasture is a 320-acre piece, crisscrossed by several draws and covered by acres of fairly impressive sagebrush, some of it 6 or 7 feet tall. I feed the bulls in the bare corner by the stackyard next to the road. The water is in an opposite corner, nearly half-a-mile away. It would be a pretty tall order for the injured feller to trail across the frozen ground, through the snow, brush and rocks between the feed and water every day. I knew I’d have to rescue him if I held any hope, at all, of his recovering in time for breeding season the next spring.

While gathering one lame bull, loading him in a trailer and hauling him 3 miles may seem like a simple task, it added one more chore to an already too-short day. My youngest son, who was home between semesters, would be heading back to school in two days, and I had pretty much scheduled the few remaining daylight hours down to the minute, with chores that required his help. I didn’t have time for this interruption.

By the time we caught and saddled horses, dug the trailer out of the snowdrift created by the relentless southern Idaho wind and gathered and loaded the bull, it would most likely be close to two extra hours, for which I had not planned.

There was a potential, albeit risky, option that could possibly spare us an hour. If we cut the time required to catch, saddle and haul the horses out of the equation, we could possibly gain 45 minutes or so. Did I dare take that chance? The bull was pretty sore and not at his most nimble self. If we could find him in the open, with a four-wheeler and a pickup, we could perhaps maneuver him down to the gate where, with the help of a couple portable panels, we’d slip the old boy right into the trailer.

On the other hand, if Mr. Toro wished to be uncooperative, this potentially time-saving, motorized plan could easily blow up in my face, in which case, we’d still have to use the horses to gather and load him, which would double the time requirement rather than split it in half. There was another risk. What if the neighbors saw us?

Oh, the horror of the thought. My status as a Top Hand was at stake, and my dream of ever becoming a Super-Puncher could be shattered like ice on the water trough if I was seen using farmer methods in the heart of buckaroo country.

The 15-degree temperatures and the thought of feeding an hour after dark convinced me to roll the dice. The ponies could have the day off. The cowboy gods looked the other way as we found the bull out in the open and in 15 minutes had him unloaded at the home place. He never went into stupid mode and was more than willing to hop in the trailer.

Even though it was in the middle of the day, the neighbors were none the wiser. And I’ll be honest. My cowboy reputation, which is probably more Hee-Haw than True Grit anyway, would probably not have taken much of a hit. My neighbors are probably just thankful my cows are on my side of the fence.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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