Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: Time of Year
It’s that time of year. Men are on the phone in the morning, scheduling the help, the brand inspector, and the trucks. You can still get Tom Richards most Mondays, and he can haul 110 head of mid-five-weight calves. The calendar is a series of plans rewritten. October 19 is still a week away, and already nearly worn out.
It’s a fine dance at the culmination of the year’s work. Making it all come together, with one eye on the weather and the other on whoever showed up on a colt. The calves sure look good, but will the weight be there. Young and old cows are showing the year; It’s been dry, but there was decent old grass.
It’s a drive, then a ride, to the summer pasture. Up over the hill, through a lone high-pole gate. Count them through if we aren’t running late. Down the other side; it’s quite a sight. They know the way, whether they want to go in or get away.
Pour them into the corral and by the scale house. Bring them on around where they’re sorted – we do it on foot. It’s all family running the gates, with no need to yell where each one goes, everybody already knows. It doesn’t always go that way, but it sure sounds better to tell it like that.
From the time we could walk, we were taught to make darn sure the trucks weren’t waiting on us, and it’s still that way today. When it all clicks the last few go in the pen just as the first echoing rumble is heard of a cattle pot hitting a cattle guard two miles away.
Minutes tick by before he comes into sight. Some years we’re sure thankful for those relatively new loads of gravel in front of the chute. Back him up and out he climbs. There’s a unique sound to the side door on a semi opening as the driver grabs his galoshes and hotshot – like the bolt clicking back on gun destined to start a race.
Greetings are exchanged, as those galoshes are buttoned up and outerwear added to his driving ensembled. Then it gets down to brass tacks.
How many do you have?
Who else is coming?
Which trailer is he pulling?
What do you think they weigh? To which the general reply is probably about the same as they always do.
The trucker then rattles off how he wants them, and since he’s the first truck the pen being used to document numbers on the back of someone’s hand isn’t quite working yet. He confirms the first number as he climbs up the dock, and presently aluminum is slamming around as the pot is prepared.
That’s the gun going off and the start of the race. Though this is a marathon, more accurately a triathlon, and this is neither the first race of the day, or the year.
If the cattle are in the mood, they load like water going downhill. God bless the last old Hereford cow, who took longer to walk on than the 29 other cows combined, testing the patience of all right down to her last ride. Wasn’t a rattle left in the paddle when she finally went the right way.
When the last door slams down, and the driver grabs the bungee cord to tie the rope back, a silent but collective sigh is released.
In the wake of red dust clouds on the old county road, the saddle horses and dirt bikes are loaded, along with the dog and lunch box. Kid’s clothes and sorting sticks are thrown in. The coffee thermos is passed around, then we better hit the road.
The rancher, he’s long known that God is always in control. But, he still makes sure he’s home in time to be there when those cows unload.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News