Last Saturday was the best day of the year. We unloaded the last load of cows on their summer pasture.
Seeing that last cow step off the trailer is a gratifying sight most years, but this year it was an emotional experience. It meant we had survived what was one of the hardest winters I had ever experienced.
I know there have been worse winters and I know many of you experienced worse losses than I did, so please don’t take this as whining. I think we can all agree that if you had livestock this winter, it really took a toll on man and beast, and we can all celebrate getting them out to grass for the summer. In fact, I am certain that my cows were even happier than I was to step foot into the green grass of their summer pasture.
We started working cows and putting them on grass as soon as we could this spring. I have some brome pasture and my heifers were on it by the middle of April. It was earlier than I wanted, but with my hay supply dwindling, I decided that desperate times required desperate measures. Again, I am almost certain that the heifers did not mind.
Honestly, I think the cows cooperated this year. I really did not have any problems with them, even though we had some tough days to work with. The last day we vaccinated cows, the wind was blowing at gale force and by the end of the day, we were all wearing more dirt than was on the ground. Through all that, the cows remained calm and cycled through the chute in relative peace. I truly think they knew where they were going.
I guess my favorite day of the year is the morning after we get the cows to pasture. We still have seven cows to calve, the butcher steers and three old cows that will go on a pasture in the lots but those chores paled in comparison to the daily grind of checking and feeding the whole herd each morning. I drove the roads and checked the cows finding them either grazing or bedded down in the green grass. There was something soothing and satisfying in that sight.
This winter was one that I hope we don’t repeat anytime soon. I hope it is one of those years that I tell my grandkids (many years from now) about the winter of ‘19. For now, this winter is a not-so-distant and very painful memory. Like the ruts around the pastures, the green grass is covering the wounds up, but they have not filled in and healed yet.
The pain in my back, hips and knees is gradually getting better and my feet are becoming more accustomed to my leather boots rather than the mud boots they spent most of the day in from December to April. I must admit, the cows came through the whole ordeal in rough shape, too — I can only hope that the abundant moisture of the winter leads to some pretty good grass, Lord knows they deserve it.
We knew spring would eventually come and winter would pass on, although there were stretches when it seemed as though winter might stick around into the spring and maybe summer. Now, as we watch the green grass shoot up and the leaves cover the trees, our focus can turn to getting the spring crops planted and eventually to baling hay.
Hopefully, there is a lot of hay to bale, too; I know I was in a similar situation, but I ended the year up with exactly one big round bale of prairie hay. That is too close for comfort. I know I am not alone in praying for a good year with enough hay for next winter and a little to replenish the reserve. Maybe that will be one of the positives of last winter, enough moisture to grow a good hay crop.
Safe to say, it is a relief to know that we survived this winter, although it was nip-and-tuck there for a while. I asked Jennifer to put me out of my misery more than once and her reply was something along the line of suck it up and get back out there. Tough love and Advil PM were all that got me through this calving season.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you tougher, and if you are reading this, winter didn’t kill you. I hope you will take time to celebrate surviving this winter, I know I will. I am planning to celebrate with a bonfire on which I will offer up a burnt sacrifice of my winter chore clothes and Muck Boots — you are all welcome to join in, just watch for the big orange glow on the horizon.
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.