Jaclyn Wilson 2018 mug

Jaclyn Wilson

Well, the good news is that we are getting some very much-needed rain. The bad news is that it is supposed to turn into snow with freezing temperatures, and we have new babies on the ground that just survived a 100-degree weekend. Every time you think this year has given you more than enough to handle, it somehow keeps surprising you with another interesting scenario.

Fortunately, for as dry and dusty as it has been, we have been able to avoid sick calves. I feel that it’s a waiting game right now as every time one of us runs through pastures to check, the rest of us just hold our breath for the report.

I’m hoping to move weaning back a couple weeks at the Home Place this year, which is completely dependent on the health of the calves.

One of the things that we have not completely managed to avoid is pinkeye. A group of older cows and their calves have managed to have a couple of cases. From analyzing the situation, I think it’s a couple plant irritants in the particular pasture that they are in that have been causing it and not so much the flies. Either way, it meant an afternoon when the new pony and I headed over with the Right Hand to do some doctoring.

I have not roped off a horse in a while. OK, it’s been more than a while, like around 15 years. It wasn’t for lack of want. Riding horseback used to kill my body, and I turned the horses out to pasture and learned how to rope off of an ATV.

If you have ever tried to rope off an ATV, it can get a little challenging, especially because the throttle is on the right side and I’m right-handed. Somehow I made it work, but there is still a cap on how big of a bovine I was comfortable roping. I should say there was a cap, until last year when I got a little frustrated with a 2-year-old bull that was being obnoxious and a long way from a set of corrals.

After succession this last year, the one thing that majorly changed is that there aren’t any horseback ropers on our side in the split. After spending last fall on the ATV roping and doctoring calves after weaning, that needed to change.

So the Right Hand and I headed to the far north side of the ranch last week. The Boss Man was gone for the afternoon, so as I told the Right Hand it was probably going to be interesting. I hadn’t doctored anything off a horse in a very long time, but we had to start somewhere getting back in practice. We were just going to take the afternoon to “entertain ourselves and try not to die.”

The saving grace was the pasture was not by a road for community gawkers. And we had cell service and GPS coordinates in case it got a little too “entertaining.”

We got over to the group, and of course the handful of calves that were starting to get a little cloudy in their eyes just happened to all be pretty dang big and stout. Typical.

I found a steer calf that needed to be caught, rode up to him, threw a decent loop and low and behold I caught him with no issues. After driving with the left arm across the body running the throttle, it’s surprising how much easier it is to throw a loop when everything is where it needs to be.

The steer had some go, and took off like it had come across a nest full of killer wasps. I realized very quickly that even though I thought my cinch was tight, it probably needed to be a little tighter. After a little bit of effort, the pony and I got the calf slowed down enough. The next plan needed to be how the heck we would doctor him.

Now back on the ATV, what I would do is drive around the animal, let them step over the rope with the front legs and then pull. The rope would be around both back legs in a way that I could bring them to the ground, but someone had to be ready to grab a front leg to keep the critter down. I also realized pretty quickly that most of the bovines that I would be doctoring off the ATV usually didn’t have just an eye that was bothering them but were a little more under the weather.

Back to the pony. With my trust in my saddle fading quickly, I went ahead and got on the ground and told the Right Hand to keep the rope tight and the pony square with the calf. She gave me two syringes with antibiotics and a box of eye patches and adhesive, and I went up the rope. First shot, no biggie. Second shot, the calf’s vocal ability drew the attention of the herd and things were getting a touch more challenging.

The calf decided since he had the backing of the herd maybe he should give another valiant effort. After the second injection, he started to plan his attack. Meanwhile, I was now at the end of the rope trying to put adhesive on an eye patch while keeping in place a calf that outweighs me around three times. There was adhesive everywhere. It’s surprising at that point that I could still move and hadn’t completely glued myself to myself.

I made the cardinal mistake of letting go of the rope to place the patch on the calf’s eye, and all heck broke lose. The calf couldn’t see out of one eye, but pushed me enough off balance that I stepped in a hole. When I regained my footing, the calf was on the opposite side of me, meaning the rope had also made its way over there.

Not knowing for sure how I was going to get out of this mess in the two-tenths of a second I had to think about it, the calf made it pretty easy. He saw an out and took it right over the top of my body, knocking me flat on my back. He then proceeded to run right behind my pony and a frantic Right Hand that was trying to get the slack back out of the rope, and up and over the side of the parked ATV.

Fortunately, we were able to get control of the situation pretty quickly, and I soon had the rope off of the maddened bovine.

With the adrenaline rush, I had failed to notice until after the calf was trotting back to his irritated momma, that in the process of being knocked to the ground, I had landed perfectly on a cactus. The entire plant was embedded between my shoulder blades.

So there we were: me, down to my sports bra in the middle of the pasture as the Right Hand tried to perform cactus extraction surgery. I turned to her and said, “Well, at least we didn’t die. Ready for another?”

The good news is that we figured out pretty quickly that my way of getting calves to the ground with the ATV works even better on horseback. Surprisingly the whole roping thing, while not quite like riding a bike, started to come back. The pony and I got each other figured out and I realized I should have trusted him a lot more from the beginning. Everything got doctored and patched that needed it, and unfortunately I may have for a bit of the roping bug back.

A couple of days later, I rode with a friend to look through some of their cattle. They were just starting to get a couple of sick ones with the drought conditions and had been doctoring them with a dart gun. I’ve been around a couple people that use darts and was not sold on them. With a different type of gun than I had seen and a person that was very comfortable shooting, I was surprised by the development. When I got home, I asked the Boss Man if he had seen the dart gun video I had sent him. He said “yep, but you got your horse now.”

True that, true that. And if nothing else, it will be a lot more entertaining.

Jaclyn Wilson is more than a rancher, raising Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. She’s an artist with a welder’s torch. She holds leadership positions with several agriculture organizations. She can be reached at jaclyn@flyingdiamondgenetics.com.   

Jaclyn Wilson raises Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. Send comments to her at jaclyn@flyingdiamondgenetics.com.