CUSTER, Mont. – They say there are two seasons in Montana: winter and road construction. For ranchers in the Big Sky State, dealing with the elements is just part of the deal. It could be 40 below zero with the wind blowing or it could be 100 above with the sun bearing down and it wouldn’t matter. The cattle need to be cared for either way.
The first week of the new year brought another round of weather at Casey and Rebecca Mott’s operation, which lies outside of Custer on the very eastern edge of Big Horn County. During a phone update on Jan.4, Casey reported there was an additional four inches of snow and it was quite bitterly cold outside.
“Yesterday was kind of nice, it got up to 40 degrees, but then this cold front moved in. I think we got up to maybe five degrees today and tomorrow the high is supposed to be minus six,” Casey said during the phone call.
Intense cold like that means the cattle will need a little extra feed. A bovine’s greatest heat source is their rumen. If it is working and percolating, it is releasing energy that keeps the body temperature up. Casey has some wind breaks in his corrals, which the cattle can access, and his yearling heifers are running in a field with ample trees. If a cow’s gut is working and they can get a reprieve from the wind, it is almost astonishing how well they can do in cold temperatures.
Feeding the cows a few extra pounds of hay of course equates to a bit more labor for Casey. With the added chore of feeding more hay, Casey is eternally grateful for the fact his main water tank is staying open.
“I think we got down to 36 below about a week ago and the new tank I just put in was open. It didn’t even have a skim of ice, so I must have done something right,” he said with a chuckle.
One water tank in Casey’s corrals that the horses and a few calves utilize did freeze during the bitter cold snap, but Casey was able to get it thawed out and back to flowing with relatively little hassle.
While the unfrozen water tanks sure are a blessing for Casey, the law of ranching averages dictates something must go wrong to counteract the good fortune. Casey’s counterbalancing misfortune came in the form of his main loader tractor breaking down.
Casey noticed the loader on his tractor was swaying more then he would like, so he took the tractor into the shop, removed the bucket, and tightened up the mount. Well, that didn’t remedy the swaying, so it was back to the shop for further investigation, and while taking the mount off of one side, the entire side wall frame on the tractor fell off with sheared off bolts being the culprit.
After a parts run to Billings, Casey is set to make the necessary repairs, just in time for the weather to once again turn bitter.
“I joke with Rebecca that the only time I seem to turn a wrench is when the temps dip below zero,” Casey laughed.
Weather aside, Casey does not fancy himself a mechanic and would rather avoid it if he could, but as a rancher he certainly isn’t afforded that luxury.
Aside from mechanic work and feeding cows, Casey is also starting to dive into some leatherwork, which is a favorite wintertime hobby of his. Nothing beats working on leather in a cozy workshop on those cold winter nights, that’s for sure.