Agriculture is vital to our very existence and we must have food to sustain our existence. Certainly we can have fake meatless varieties, vegan delights, and gluten free breads.
But each of our food chain products goes through a major amount of development to reach the grocery store shelves and our dining room tables.
I was once a part of this food chain raising Hereford cattle in N.W. Colorado. My fond memories of ranch life related to healthy hard work seven days a week.
The cattle business begins with a ranch where the animals can be raised. It takes both bulls and cows and nine months of pregnancy to produce a bouncing baby calf. Yearling heifers have the most trouble beginning calf birth. They are kept close to the house to monitor any troubles and sometimes need assistance in birthing. This is accomplished by pulling the calf with your hands, rope, or with a rachet device with leverage placed against the cow’s rump.
The calves come in the spring; breeding occurs in June. The new crop of calves were greeted with castration of the male calves along with branding and ear marking. Sometimes this was done on the ranch in metal chutes or later in summer pastures.
On the range cowboy ropers on horseback would heel the calves and drag them to the fire where the hot branding iron was waiting along with a sharp knife. One cowboy would hold the top hind leg braced against the bottom leg to prevent kicking the brander and castrator. Heifers got a much better deal, but still felt the hot branding iron. The calves were vaccinated for various diseases and turned back into the herd where anxious mothers would smell and lick their calves.
Summertime was spent irrigating the hay meadows, fighting mosquitoes, and then harvesting the hay. It was long hot days. I really enjoyed the hay hands from nearby ranches and from the Craig employment office. We enjoyed wonderful home cooked meals morning, noon, and night. Many of the ranch hands were World War II veterans who told stories about the war.
In late fall the yearlings were loaded on trucks early in the morning and taken to the Craig stockyard, loaded on railroad cattle cars and shipped to the Denver Stockyards. I remember the John Clay Company signs at the Denver stockyards. My dad would ride in the train caboose with his cattle and my mother would drive the car with my brother and I to Denver. In later years trucks hauled the cattle to the Denver market much faster. We always stayed at the Standish hotel and rode cable cars.
Cattle buyers watched for western slope cattle that were tainted with black smoke from the smoke belching cattle trains going through the Moffat tunnel. The long train trip caused major dehydration of the animals that were sold by the pound…unfortunately.
In N.W. Colorado winter started in November with deep snows and below zero temperatures. When the ranch pastures were covered with snow hay was fed seven days a week by a horse team pulling a sled or a tractor and hay wagon. One tractor driver and one ranch hand was needed to pitch off the hay as the hungry cattle followed the wagon.
Bulls were separated from the cows in the winter and only put back with the cows in late spring for the nine-month cycle that began once again.
Winter months were spent repairing equipment, shoveling snow, cutting ice in the river for the cattle to drink and doing chores. I went to school and did ranch work on weekend. Life was peaceful and quiet, and my ranching evenings were spent without television or phones. I read countless books including the Napoleonic Wars.
I went off to Colorado A&M to become a veterinarian, but that’s another story.