Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: Simmental cattle
Politics and religion aren’t always for casual conversation, but should be addressed before entering into marriage. If you’re a ranching couple, that’s only the tip of the iceburg of “major” things you need to know about where the other stands. Preference on cattle breed(s), pickup brands, dog bloodlines, desirable equine traits, table versus rope and drag, steel or aluminum trailers, to name a select few, are among the topics that can cause the honeymoon phase of a relationship to end with a crash.
In my case, I was fine driving Dodge pickups, had no issue with English Shepherd cow dogs and got along well with my husband’s good horse. But, when it came to cattle, I gave a great deal of thought to the breed his family had raised “forever.” Simmentals.
My hesitation stemmed from personal experience. Around 2010, my dad bought some weaned steer and heifer calves to winter. They were out of Simmental cows and a low birthweight Angus bull. Nice calves. Nice enough that we decided to keep four of the heifers as replacements and breed them.
One came up open the following fall, resulting in three of them showing up the calving pen the next spring. That particular spring my dad and brother were gone the vast majority of the time hauling hay. I was heading up the daily ranch chores with help from my mom when she wasn’t gone with her paper shredding job.
The first Simmental heifer calved, and lost her calf because I was gone feeding and she didn’t lick him off and he chilled down. Okay, some individuals are just not meant to be mothers.
Then, I was short a cow in the calving lot one morning. There wasn’t a wire out of place or a clue of any sort as to where she went. I had everything written down, and hadn’t had children yet, so my mind was still sharp enough to keep track of an exact head count.
Where I grew up, you cannot just find a cow if she decides she wants to disappear. It’s rough country with lots of deep draws and areas to hide. But, I still did a circle, with no leads.
I had to get on with the day’s feeding and water checking, but kept a close eye out for who I had determined was one of the Simmental heifers.
Then, while heading to check water at a well about a mile from the house, I saw a black bovine in a draw. I buzzed down, and here was my missing heifer, with a dead calf hanging out of her.
The calf had also apparently pinched a nerve or something, as she was struggling with her back end. Maybe he was hip-locked. I sat there for a few minutes, pondering the situation. Obviously, she was not going to make it the three-quarters of a mile back to the house, across two pretty good draws. I was home alone that day, with no one expected until evening.
Eventually I formulated a plan. Home I went to gather up calf pullers, Rompin, a syringe, everything needed to sew up a prolapse (assuming that was likely next in her life story), and a couple ropes.
Back up I went. While far from impressed with her in general at that exact moment, I was grateful she possessed the docility of an aging Collie dog. I finagled her closer to a nearby fence, and was able to give her a shot of Rompin thanks to her wobbly back legs.
Then I backed off and waited, listening to the Jeopardy game show song play in my head repeatedly.
Finally, she started to drool, then laid down. A few more minutes passed as I waited for the Rompin to take full effect; one didn’t just do this sort of thing with the cows, or heifers, I was raised around. At least, not without a horse under you. Then, I took the rope, looped it over both back feet, and tied it off to a gnarly cedar fence post. The post’s cousin, located down line a quarter mile, broke a chain when we tried to pull it the summer before. Consequently, I was confident it would hold her.
I was able to get the calf pullers in place, and said a silent prayer this would not be the day I pulled a calf out of a cow in pieces. I had never experienced that, and really wanted to keep it that way. Logic said that wouldn’t happen in a single night, but, it nonetheless seemed prayer worthy at the time.
Fortunately, the calf was still fresh, not that large, and the pull was pretty easy. I was taught to be extremely careful whenever pulling a calf, and I didn’t have to rotate him or do anything special. My conclusion was her docility gene was directly tied to her push gene.
She was kind enough not to prolapse, so I untied her and left her alone to allow the Rompin to wear off. She was in the pasture we kicked our heifer pairs into, so odds were she would get hooked up with them when she was back up and about.
Shortly thereafter, the third Simmental heifer calved, got up, walked away and never looked back. My dad and I took that as a life lesson on the breed, deciding we never wanted anything else to do with them. Myself especially.
Then, in a fun twist of irony, God led me to where I am now, five years into a marriage that includes calving Simmental and Simmental/Angus cross heifers every spring.
I now work to find the good in a breed I swore to never own again. It’s actually been a really good life lesson. We, myself included, tend to have very strong opinions in agriculture, and that is alright. They’re usually based on experience. But, it’s also alright to learn to find the value in opinions and experiences different than our own.
I still occasionally shake my head at them during calving season, but I truly appreciate the job those Simmental cows do raising great big, top end steer calves each fall.
Regardless of breed, may everyone have a blessed and uneventful calving season this year!