Last weekend we gave the calves their pre-weaning shots in hopes of being able to wean calves around the first of November and take the mommas to corn stalks. I know the whole plan has a lot of moving parts, and getting the cows out around the first of November is ambitious for us but none of that happens if we first don’t get the pre-weaning shots done.
This operation would not be possible if we hadn’t bought a set of portable corrals. We had four pastures to do that day and that meant we would catch, sort the calves, give them shots and turn them back out with momma. I had decided I would be happy getting three pastures done and satisfied with two.
Isaac had secured a crew to help. He has a good group of friends who seem to like to help with working cattle but more importantly are good help. It can be difficult to find someone willing to help with cattle, it is even harder to find someone willing who is a good hand. In any case, he has a group of friends that have been coming out and helping for the past couple of years, the only downside is that most of them will graduate this year. I have been pitching graduate school to them, but I fear I am not getting anywhere.
As good as our crew is, the lynch pin in the whole cattle catching operation is Jennifer. My wife is the best at catching cows that I have ever seen. I don’t know if it is more skill or stubbornness, but I can’t ever remember a cow that she set out to catch that did not end up on the trailer. Many times, in our 24- plus years my instincts have said to give up, let them settle down and come back tomorrow only to watch her ride out and in a few minutes come back with the missing cows.
So back to last Saturday, the first two pastures went smoothly. I had caught the first pasture the night before so that was an easy one and the second pasture had come in like we had planned. It was shortly after lunch and we were ready to catch pasture No. 3. That made getting all four done a real possibility.
Isaac’s friends and I set up the corral while Jennifer went out to lead the cows in with our UTV. The cows were coming in just fine when through a series of miscommunications, we lost three cows and five calves. Some of it was miscommunication, some of it was because cow No. 8 was a piece of work and smelled the trap.
No matter what the cause, they bolted off to the far end of the pasture. I mentioned that we should probably turn the others out, cut our losses and move on to pasture No. 4. That was when Jennifer told us to get out of sight and she would be back with them in a few minutes.
Normally we have the cattle caught when Isaac’s friends come to help, so they had never witnessed Jennifer’s work before. One of them made a comment, doubting if they could be caught. I told him to sit back and watch the show. In a few minutes Jennifer showed up on the horizon sort of leading the cows and driving them all at the same time. It’s hard to explain, but trust me.
They inched closer and closer, old No. 8 growing more wary and the calves becoming more nervous. Finally, she had them close enough the cows that were penned up started calling to their calves and that helped move things along.
Soon with patience Jennifer had all the cows and calves penned except for good old No. 8. Isaac’s friends were both surprised and amazed at what they had just witnessed. I knew what the outcome was going to be before she started. I had seen that look in her eyes many times.
As I said, everything but old No. 8 was caught and we really didn’t need her, but Jennifer was determined not to let her get away. After a series of maneuvers that cannot be explained by anything more than the most stubborn personality prevailed, the offending cow was also in the pen.
Isaac’s friends, not exactly sure what they had just witnessed, said something along the lines of “this was not how we were taught to handle cattle in school,” and it should not have worked. I agreed with them. Then I asked them what they had learned. One said that instinct and determination is better than theory. I told him I didn’t disagree. But that was not the real lesson. That was when I told them that the most important lesson for them to learn that day was above all else, marry right. Oh, and we got all four pastures done that day.
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at email@example.com.