April 2016 – During our stay with our friends in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, not only did I get a chance to ride a horse across glorious pastures and fields, but we both got to experience a different way of life that is a very special.
For starters, we got to see how horses put on their shoes.
Snipper needed new shoes after he’d spent a winter running around barefoot in the snow, and his trusty shoe man, Jake, came around one morning to fit him with a new pair.
He worked quickly and easily, cracking jokes the whole time. There are a lot of very funny things you can say when you’re working at the back end of a horse.
In the bed of his pickup, he had an array of different size shoes and all kinds of tools for the job.
Watching him file down each hoof and hammer on a new shoe, we felt like we had been transported back in time to another era.
Suddenly, he suggested that Mark give it a try. He took off his chaps and gave them to Mark to put on. Then Mark lifted Snipper’s foot and tried to steady it between his knees. It’s not as easy as it looks!!And what did Snipper think of all this?
Of course, he’d rather roll around in the dirt and shake the dust off!
Riding a horse was a special event for me, but it is all in a day’s work at Carl’s cattle ranch down the road. He and his hired man Jack and sometimes our friend Bob routinely round up the cows on horseback to move them from one field to another or to gather them all together for inspection or treatment.
Every cow on Carl’s cattle ranch has a single job to do: deliver and raise a baby calf each year. In the summertime, a (very lucky) bull is brought to the ranch, and his job is to get all the cows pregnant.
The cows are already raising last year’s calves when this happens, and they keep them until October when the calves are sold and shipped off. This is a very sad day for everyone on the ranch, as the cows all mourn their loss and moo loud and long for a few days.
But they are happily pregnant, and in March, the cows all give birth to their new calves, and the cycle starts again.
When you have a ranch, you’ve gotta have ranch dogs, and two of them liked to catch a ride on the four wheeler whenever it got driven around.
But the alpha dog on this ranch is Taiga. She is a beautiful Australian shepherd that we met as a young puppy seven years earlier when she had been on the ranch for just a week. She has grown into an incredibly loyal and obedient and responsible dog.
I was floored when Carl yelled out to her, “Go get that calf!” and she did exactly that!
This ranch is loaded with momma cows and their baby calves, and Taiga has a strong mothering instinct too. She sometimes mothers the calves a little bit.
Usually cows have just one calf each year, but this year two of Carl’s cows gave birth to twins. When cows live in small fields, they can keep track of their twins and raise them both. But on large grazing pastures like Carl’s ranch, the moms can lose track of two separate babies if they start wandering off in different directions and one disappears behind a hill or something.
So Carl and Jack hand-reared two calves this spring, one twin from each mother cow, and they bottle fed each of them a special calf formula twice a day.
For Carl, bottle feeding a calf is a piece of cake, and he can do it one handed.
He explained that sometimes an orphan calf can be given to a surrogate mom who just lost her calf for some reason. The easiest way to make the mom accept the baby is to tie the skin of her dead calf across the back of the new adoptee. The mother cow will recognize her calf’s smell and will readily accept the new baby and raise it as her own.
But none of Carl’s cows lost their calves this year, so these little guys were orphans. One had a brown face and one had white patches on its face, and both were very hungry and eager to gulp down their milk.
Carl asked if we’d like to try bottle feeding the baby calves, and we jumped at the chance. Just like the horse shoeing, though, it was a little more challenging than it looked. The calves were very cute, but towards the end they had milk all over their faces and we had to clean up a bit too!!
These two little orphans needed special care and couldn’t go through the summer on the ranch without a mom to watch over them, so they needed new homes and went off to an auction while we were there.
We hooked up with them at the Livestock Auction in Missoula. We saw a few hogs get sold, and then a blind calf and his mother cow were sold, and then our two little bottle fed calves came up for sale.
The auctioneer began his wildly fast patter and sang out the virtues of each calf and their weights and starting bids. He continued in a blast of unintelligible chatter until suddenly one was sold and ushered out of the pen. He resumed, and moments later the other was sold and scampered out of the pen too.
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Blog posts from our RV travels with similar themes:
- An Amish Produce Auction in the New York Finger Lakes
- A Peek Inside the Amish Farms (Poultry and Cattle) of the New York Finger Lakes
- A Fun Fall Festival and Auction in Welch Oklahoma
More stories from our RV travels in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana:
- A Glimpse of Cowboy Life and Cattle Ranching in Montana 05/16/16
- Montana’s Bitterroot Valley – Elk, Horses, Ranches & More! 05/14/16
- Darby, MT – Fun Surprises in the Bitterroot Valley 08/25/12
- A Craftsman’s Dream Fulfilled: BitterSweet Guitars in the Bitterroot, MT 08/23/12
- Bitterroot Valley, MT – Traditional Roots in the Modern Age 08/21/12
- Stevensville, MT – Real Ranching and Grass Fed Beef! 09/05/09
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