Now, we PVers love a good branding as much as the next guys. But there’s a lot other than branding that has to be done around here every spring.
We’ve gotten two brandings out of the way so far this season — in the meantime, we’ve been keeping busy with other chores, like shipping yearlings out of the feedlot and caring for the bulls in their pre-breeding season.
As soon as the green grass pokes up, the bulls start getting restless in their winter pasture south of the river. In order to prevent their escape into neighbors’ territory in the rugged Hysham Hills, we trail them home to the feedlot, across the Yellowstone bridge, early in the spring.
Next, we receive shipments of yearling bulls from our sister ranch, the Broken O on the Sun River in Montana. Yearling bulls come into the herd every year to replenish our supply; the PV bulls are sold, their breeding career ended, by age 5. Due to the miles we travel and the tough environment we inhabit, not all of them will make it to age 5 without injury.
Each spring the new bulls are branded with the ol’ PV and all the bulls are run through the chute for their annual shots and dewormer. Then the crew distributes the bulls to tight-fenced pastures close to home here, where we can keep an eye on them ’til it’s officially their time to go to work (we turn them out for breeding at the end of June).
I got a few pictures the other day as Beau, Joe Watson, and Kate Watson trailed a few bulls from the feedlot to pasture. The kids and I were sitting in the pickup and trailer at the top of Grierson Hill flagging traffic (turns out there was none).
Here they come, climbing out of the Yellowstone Valley!
There they go, trailing up the Ingomar Road!
If you know my dad, the long-time cowboss around here, you know he’s not a big fan of cow dogs. He’s just very good at handling cows with horses, and he doesn’t understand why anyone would want to mess up that dynamic by introducing a dog to the mix. He makes his single concession when it comes to trailing bulls. He is, shall we say, medium-comfortable with cow dogs helping to trail bulls.
So Joe ‘n’ Kate used their dogs to help trail bulls.
Whew! That was hard work!
Every fall, the calves weaned off the PV cows come into the feedlot here at headquarters, a.k.a. my backyard. The calves winter here, eating silage and grain and hay and straw out of the bunks. In the spring, the replacement heifers — those that will stay here at the PV, keeping our herd young and literally replacing the aged cows that are sold every fall — are separated from the rest and trailed to summer pasture. Another 400 heifers are separated out and AI’d and marketed as bred heifers to interested buyers.
The remaining yearling heifers and all the steers are shipped to our sister ranch, the Q in Wyoming’s Shirley Mountains, in mid-May. At the Q they graze all summer long, and in the end they’ll go back to a feedlot (not this one here, thankfully) and be finished as beef cattle.
It’s always such a relief to say goodbye to the yearlings. The feedlot is not exactly everybody’s favorite place to be around here, and we sure look forward to enjoying the next few months of empty feedlot pens. No more teenaged bovines to keep alive! They’re in somebody else’s hands now! Also, the bigger those boys and girls get, and the hotter the weather gets, the more water they drink… and the lower the water pressure here in our house. When it was really hot last week, as an example, the calves were drinking so much that I couldn’t run the dishwasher or the washing machine during daylight hours!
So yippy-ti-yi-yo, get along little doggies! For you know Wyoming will be your new home.
This year it’s taken five days to ship everything; we started last Wednesday and today is the last day. We had to skip one day there in the middle because a snowstorm blew into the Q and driving conditions weren’t safe for a few hours. Six or seven cattle pots are filled with yearlings each morning; they drive their loads down to the Q (it’s about 360 miles), unload, then head right back here to the PV to get more. They usually pull into the yard around midnight. The truckers sleep in their cabs and are ready to go again at daylight.
The cowboys are up before daylight, of course. They saddle and ride down and spill the calves-of-the-day out of their pens and into the alleys leading up to the loading chute. All the calves are weighed, I think 50 or so at a time, and their weights averaged to determine how many can fit on any given truck. The heavy end of the steers this year weighed over a thousand pounds each! Yes, we know that’s too heavy to go to grass, but we’re not here to make those kinds of decisions; we’re just here to make somebody else’s plan happen. The heifers, though — most of ’em the firstborn of first-calf heifers and therefore out of smaller bulls — are weighing in at a more suitable 750.
The trucks back up to the loading chute one at a time. The truckers call out how many head they want, compartment by compartment, and Beau and Joe Watson count out that many and drive them up the alley. The gate closes behind the first bunch, and Beau and Joe go back for more.
Joe Fox is working at the bottom of the alley, keeping the supply of calves replenished. (Didn’t get a picture of him this time.)
Today, as I said, is the last day of shipping. After they’re done loading down there, the crew will trail a batch of replacement heifers out of the feedlot toward summer grass, and I’ll feed lunch to 8 or 9 folks, not counting my kids, when they get home — probably 4 o’clock or so. Tomorrow they’ll take the same replacement heifers a little further to summer grass.
Wednesday they’ll trail a different batch of replacement heifers out of the feedlot, and then all the replacement heifers should be set for the summer. And at the end of the week, three days of branding in a row; I’m cooking for all three and hauling at least two of the meals out to the pasture. I’m thinking brisket one day, stew another, and what we call mac ‘n’ mush another. I need to go grocery shopping tomorrow to stock up.
Phew. It’s the busiest time of year. And also, possibly, the best.
© Tami Blake