Hauling Hay with Toddler

Every summer we spend countless hours swathing, raking, baling, and hauling the hay we will feed our cows during the winter months.  This process repeats itself three or four times throughout the summer depending on how much water we have and weather conditions.  I love riding in the swather or tractor with Mr. Rancher since I get to sit there and chatter away while he does all the hard work.  Lately though, Mr. Rancher has given me a new job…driving our semi through the field while he darts around with the tractor, stacking and loading the hay bales onto the trailer.  I would like to say that I was surprised the first time Ty suggested I come help him by driving the huge truck, but after three years of marriage to a rancher I know it’s not a question of “if” but rather “when” I will have to operate any piece of machinery we own.

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I even got the semi into gear and moving all on my own!  Shifting into reverse was more difficult and Ty had to get out of the tractor and shift through the window for me.  How was I supposed to know I had the clutch pushed in too far?  Any other manual transmission I’ve driven has to have the clutch absolutely floored to shift without damaging the clutch and I just assumed flooring the clutch pedal in the semi would work as well.  So there.

Shifting aside, driving the semi really was a cinch, except for my passenger.  Miss Henley did not want to sit in her own seat and climbed all over me and the controls for the duration of hay hauling.  For our last load, I thankfully found a partially eaten package of Ritz crackers that kept her seated and occupied until we were all loaded and driving back to the stack yard.  Crackers save the day!

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I just love random, weird pictures like this.  It really captures a lot of the hauling experience.IMG_0746

This load of hay is from a different hay-hauling-day in a different field.  We were so close to being finished and Mr. Rancher didn’t want to make another trip out to the field so he stacked the bales four-high rather than three-high.  He had the good sense to drive the heavily loaded semi up to the hay barn himself and I drove the tractor.

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We made it back to the barn and Henley amused herself with her favorite playmate Bo while Mr. Rancher unloaded and stacked the bales under the barn’s protective, red roof.  I, of course, took pictures and kept an eye out for snakes.  You never know when or where one of those scaly nasties might slither by.

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Bo is the nicest dog.  I’m so grateful he is patient with the Little Miss’s antics and overwhelming attention.

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I think she would’ve sat there all night if we (and Bo) had let her!

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That, in a nutshell, is what it’s like to haul hay with a toddler.  Oh, and it’s hot.  Very very hot.  And dusty…And I think the Little Miss is finally awake so I’ll stop there.

Have a great weekend, folks!

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Camping, Gathering, and Branding

Seems like all we do anymore is brand calves!  Two weekends ago we spent the night at the Middle Fork of the Weiser River so that we could get up at 5:00 AM to gather our friend Darren’s cows.  That’s right 5:00 AM.  We had a blast hanging out around the fire and playing in the river before passing out in our tiny tent.  Mr. Rancher swears we put our tent on a slope and he didn’t sleep very well.  He was up by 3:30 and I was up by 4:00, because 5:00 just isn’t early enough!  Henley woke up a couple hours later and was not a happy camper.  She was cold and tired and did not want to get on a horse and go gather cows so early  in the morning.  She was a trooper though and we were in the saddle by 6:00.  I’m giving you so many times to try and convey how much I hate early mornings!

Before Mr. Rancher and I decided to take the Little Miss on a camping trip we talked a lot about how riding would be with a toddler.  I was a little worried about how comfortable Henley would be, how we could pack enough water and snacks for her, and how squirmy she would be.  We briefly talked about the Middle Fork and how steep/rocky the terrain would be.  Having never ridden there myself I completely trusted Ty’s judgment on how safe the ride would be.  He assured me that the Middle Fork is not too steep and that we would be just fine and perfectly safe.  So we went!

Once we were riding, I was not so sure about Ty’s judgment anymore.  The Middle Fork is not nearly as steep as the mountains around the Snake River where our cows used to be, but it is much rockier.  My stomach was in a permanent tangle of knots as our horses picked their way over rocks all the way to the top of the hill.  Every single time my horse’s hoof scratched a rock or stumbled I swear I had to swallow my heart back to its proper place.  Henley rode with Ty most of the way up then came with me to push cows off the hill and down towards the road.  We followed a four-wheeler road until we met a group of cowboys (who totally upset the cows we had moving quite nicely down the hill) and let them herd the cows while we continued to pick our way back to the road.

Not five minutes after we were alone again I heard the quiet, distinct rattle of a rattlesnake.  I looked down and just in front of us, halfway under a sage brush was a huge rattlesnake!  My first thought was  “what do I do?!?!?!?!!!” and my second was “don’t be stupid, just keep riding!”  There was no way I would have been able to dismount and kill the snake with Henley in tow, even without her I probably couldn’t have killed it.  So against all of Ty’s insistence that when one sees a rattlesnake one must kill it immediately, I jerked Max’s head to the right, and away we rode from any crazy thoughts of trying to kill poisonous serpents. IMG_0750

One subtle smile once we made it back to the corrals and were off the horse.  Henley loved chasing cows and shooing them along, but she really didn’t enjoy the bumpy ride on the saddle horn.  We spent the rest of the very hot day sorting and loading cows, playing in the river, and waiting for the trucks to shuttle cows from the Middle Fork to New Meadows.  It was late evening by the time the cows were all moved and ready to be branded and Henley was absolutely pooped.  She and I headed home to bed while the other cowboys took care of branding.

A week later we all went up to New Meadows to finish up a fifty or so calves.  It is so absolutely beautiful up there.  The grass is green and tall and there are just enough pine trees to add diversity to the landscape but not enough to add an element of claustrophobia.  Apparently the pretty grass made roping hard though, I didn’t mind it though and I especially enjoyed a branding free of dirt and dust.

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Henley acted the part of “management” while the big people worked.IMG_0774

I love pictures of everyone involved in working calves.  Especially when my cowboy is one of the ropers.

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The Little Miss also inspected Darren’s trailer.
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Not sure what she found so interesting, it was empty except for a layer of manure.IMG_0803

This is one of the only roping pictures I’ve been able to get of Ty, and it’s focused on the cows in the foreground.  Go figure.IMG_0788
It’s been a very few weeks of branding cows for many of our neighbors and friends.  Maybe now that all the calves have been worked–hopefully–and first cutting of hay is over we’ll be able to relax a bit.IMG_0795

First Time Roping

Mr. Rancher, the Little Miss, and I went to help our landlord, Bruce, brand fifty or so calves this past weekend.  As always, Henley loved the branding and so did Mr. Rancher.  I had the pleasure and extreme-anxiety-inducing experience of roping calves for the very first time ever….can you tell I was nervous?

After knocking my hat off my head twice, tangling my rope maybe twelve or thirteen times, and simply holding two calves I didn’t rope but practiced the art of “dallying up,” I managed to catch a calf.  “Oh sh**” were the exact words from my mouth the moment I realized my loop was in fact all the way around the calf’s head and tightening ever so slowly around his neck.  See, I’d practiced throwing a loop many times around our water spigot at home and knew how to swing and throw the rope, even how to tighten it up, but I had no idea what in tarnation I should do once I had caught I real live calf.   And the words just slipped out, like a reflex to my predicament. Thankfully, my brother-in-law Tanner wasn’t roping–due to a run-in with a post driver–and noticed my predicament.  He told me to just hang out with the calf around all the other calves so he wouldn’t start jumping around or fighting to get the rope off his neck.  I waited until another roper was free to come catch the heels so we could take the calf to the branding fire.  Not long afterwards we (me and the other roper…I can’t seem to remember who caught the feet…I was stressed!) had the calf all tied down and ready to be worked and were soon letting it loose again.

I headed back and wouldn’t you know caught another calf not much later?  Again I had no idea what I was doing and this time my rope landed on a much bigger calf–not the one I was aiming at–and he put up much more of a fight.  At one point he had almost completely circled my horse and wrapped us up in the rope before I managed to get my horse moving the right direction.  Mr. Rancher yelled at me to ” slide my dallies!” or something like that, which made zero sense to me at the time.  I ended up losing my rope, Tanner was nice enough to pick it up and hold it while I dallied up and coiled it back up.  Back we went to the branding fire.

I went out a third time and caught the first calf I threw at, this time a much smaller baby.  I brought this one to the fire and decided I’d better quit while my luck was still holding.  Plus, Henley was tired of being dragged around (and by that I mean carried very carefully from one calf to the next to help with the work) by Uncle Tanner and wanted some snacks.  She and I spent the rest of the branding passing out drinks and walking through the mama cows.

In case some of you are totally lost on the concept of “roping calves” I’ll give you a quick-non-expert-run-down of the process and why we do it.  Ranchers brand their cattle as a means of identification.  The brand is the end-all mark of who owns various cattle.  Neighboring cattle get mixed all the time and a brand is one way ranchers can figure out which cows are theirs.  Ranchers also use eartags and earmarks–patterns cut into the cow’s ears–to identify their animals.  At a branding calves are “worked” which includes: branding, vaccinating, treating pinkeye or other mild illness, castrating if necessary, and earmarking the calves.  The idea is to get all the mess over with as quickly as possible and get the babies back to their mamas.

In order to get the calf to hold still and to avoid injury to the calf or the cowboys ranchers invite their neighbors to come rope their calves while the rancher and his family or employees do the ground work.  One cowboy (or cowgirl or farm-girl-who-is-more-like-a-city-girl-turned-rancher’s-wife) will rope the calf’s head and another will rope the two hind feet.  In a perfect world this would always be the set up, but sometimes only one hind foot is caught or the rope catches around the calf’s belly or goes around the calf’s shoulder and neck…you get the idea.  This may sound simple, but it really is a very complicated task.  First of all, the cowboy is not only roping but also riding a horse.  The cowboy has to direct the horse towards the calf he wants to catch, swing the rope overhead without catching his hat in the process, aim, catch the calf, quickly catch the slack rope that just left his hand, remember to keep his thumb out of the way and wrap the remaining rope three or four times around his saddle horn (this is called “dallying up”) so that the horse is now holding the calf rather than the cowboy’s arm.  Was that a long, run-on sentence?  Most ropers probably don’t think through all of these steps since a lot of the work has become second nature for them.  There’s nothing second-nature about riding a horse let alone roping from a horse for me, and I was exhausted (and okay, just a teensy bit proud of myself) after roping only three calves!

Mr. Rancher just called to tell me we have another neighbor to help brand tonight and asked if I wanted a horse.  I told him thanks but no thanks.  I’ve still got rope burns to heal, man.

Hope you all have a great week, and, hey, maybe try something new!