A Little Bit Western


Independence Day

Oct 14, 2014

Autumn is a bittersweet time of year. It’s wonderful to see the crops being harvested and watch the leaves change colour, but it also wistfully signals that summer is gone once again and we’re on the cusp of my not-so-favorite season.

Autumn is also incredibly busy. There are bales to haul in, cattle to move, pens to set up, cows to pregcheck, and calves to wean and market. Weaning is my favorite ranch activity, followed pretty closely with calving. It’s gratifying to see the calves come in, weigh them up, administer their vaccinations and basically see the fruits of our (and their mamas’) labours. The data we collect is a measuring stick we can use to see if we’re on the right track with our breeding and grazing plans or if we need to make some adjustments. Weaning is also the most stressful period in a calf’s life, so they need extra monitoring following their newfound independence.

Some cows appear relieved to see their babies go, and they’ll wander off over the hills to graze in peace. Other mamas, usually the older herd matriarchs, are a little less eager to be sorted off, always staying at the back of the herd when we’re gathering. I’m not going to argue the intelligence of cows (or some would say, lack of), but when we start gathering a field, I know many of those mamas understand the emancipation that lies ahead.

Usually weaning is a family-friendly event, and this year we had multiple generations of hands on deck. Our three littlest helpers came with and alternated between staying out of the way, getting in the way, eating snacks, napping, and playing with sticks, rocks, ladybugs, and other treasures they came across. Then one day, my Other Half saddled up a couple of extra horses and our four-year-olds got to really ‘help,’ much to their delight.

It was a chilly, windy morning but they were determined to gather pairs out of our roughest pasture. They rode into the coulee and never once looked back. They didn’t go real fast, and I suspect Grandpa rode several extra miles to cover some ground that the boys didn’t, but I don’t think anyone minded. When the cattle came through the gate, I asked if they wanted off, and they replied no. A little ways into the next pasture, once again I asked if they wanted to ride in the warm and cozy truck with me.

“We don’t need you, mama,” my one kid cheerfully hollered over his shoulder at me as he kept riding away through the tall porcupine grass.

Oooph. I’d never been physically punched in the gut, but I think I felt the metaphorical equivalent at that moment. “Okay then, I’ll just keep following with the truck and trailer,” I called back. Had I not been travelling with a co-pilot, I probably would have wept softly into my coffee cup and felt sorry for myself, but there was no time for tears.

My boys’ independence and determination doesn’t surprise me. My Other Half is, ahem, rather strongwilled, and I too am stubborn and have a hard time asking for help. But their response did point to a slow and steady shift I’ve been noticing in the last few months. Our boys are growing up, and with that, they lean on me less and less. Intrinsically, I know that it’s a good thing. They’re making decisions and acting with conviction, but it still smarts a bit.

Eventually, the boys came back to the truck and dismounted, somewhat regretfully. “You got anything to eat, mom?” asked one. “I need a Kleenex,” said the other. “Of course,” I replied, and got them what they needed, relieved that I wasn’t completely irrelevant in their independent pre-school lives. Phew. That was a close one.

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