Winter is supposed to be the slow time of the year for a cattle rancher. Images of being cozied up next to a cheerfully burning fire, sipping hot chocolate with peppermint, and watching the snow accumulate out the living room window kind of slow. While I do actually get to do that sometimes, the reality is often very different.
Picture this: It’s three degrees outside when I wake up in the morning. I drink some homemade beef bone broth to get me warmed up (more on that in another blog) and start the process of layering up. First, I bundle up in my ski pants and heavy winter coat. Then, I use the little elastic band in the hood of the coat that normally everyone ignores, to cinch the hood down snuggly over my head and ears. Next, I don two pairs of gloves, even though I know I will have to keep taking both of them off when I get to the barn. Finally, I pull my boots over two pairs of socks, because if I only wear one pair, they will ball up under my toes which makes me feel like I'm walking on coiled ropes-I absolutely hate that sensation!
I head outside to the barn. Sure enough, just as I expected, the electric fence monitor is not happy. It’s reading a higher than normal amperage to maintain the fence voltage. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you think of it) I know what that means! I quickly feed the chickens, let them out to their pastured area, and make sure the barn fuse keeping their water from freezing didn’t blow - again! Then I coax my ATV to warm up enough to head out to the cattle pasture. I have a saying everyone in my family knows, “The cows will always let you know when you make a mistake.” This winter we had the perfect combination of two different things come together to create a new problem/mistake to deal with.
First, with all the best intentions, we purchased some lighter hay rings. These rings are to protect the hay bales while the cows eat them. They prevent the cows from wasting hay by doing things like laying in it for bedding or urinating or defecating in it. Lighter rings also mean they are easier for us to move from hay bale to hay bale. We also purchased smaller, round hay bales this year. Again, thinking that was a positive as it is easier to move the smaller bales with our tractor. Well it didn’t take the cows long to realize that they also could move these hay rings pretty easily, and the hay bales as well. If they decided they wanted a better position around the hay bale, they just pushed the ring and bale around until they got it where they wanted it. Sometimes, this resulted in pushing it into an electric fence line thereby causing my amperage problem with the monitor in the barn! Sometimes, it meant pushing down the electric line protecting the hay bales that were reserved for later, thereby allowing the cows easy access to all of them!
The latter was what I found on this particular day. I herd the reluctant cows away from all their new found feast, and somehow string the electric fence back up before they overtake the area again. Of course none of this goes smoothly with two layers of gloves on. One and a half hours later, the cows are contained to their appropriate area, and I am back in my house, thawing out my cold fingers and finally getting to my breakfast. You may wonder if all this is worth it? For me it always is, despite being an outdoor person at heart. I know it could always be worse - I vividly remember breaking ice on waterers before we got electricity to them to keep them from freezing. But perhaps even more importantly, I know how incredibly delicious that home-raised, 100% grass-finished steak soup is going to taste for supper tonight!