Taking Care of the Herd
By Connor McCauley
Here at Harrell ranch, it has been a mild winter for the most part. We have seen plenty of warm days in the '50s and '60s. It wasn't until the month's end that we started to see some cooler days. At the end of the month, we finally saw our first snowfall. That meant it was time to put out some round bales for the herd.
Faith, Aaron, and Sam had to take several trips to transport hay into further pastures. This repetitive task meant plenty of driving on the mud and snow. fortunately we didn't deal with any stuck vehicles throughout the process. The herd was mighty thankful for that hay.
Other tasks have to be accomplished during these times as well. However, the most important and demanding task is to break the ice so the cattle can have a drink. Ice breaking is a never-ending chore for Aaron and Faith and requires some backbreaking labor. The darn water never seems to stop freezing in the bitter cold.
Aaron and Faith were given an opportunity to go snowboarding this month. They headed out with my wife Helen to Angel Fire, New Mexico. Helen, having been a snowboard instructor for several years in Colorado, was able to teach the two. They had a blast and enjoyed the time away from the ranch.
As for me, I stayed home and took on the job of feeding the cattle. It was an excellent experience for me as I had only been a helper before. I did miss out on the trip, but I also lived for a few years in Colorado, enjoying skiing. In fact, that is where I met my wonderful wife. I'm fine letting them all enjoy the trip, as this summer, my time will come when I get to jump on my mountain bike.
Another event that has been happening this season is the mother cows having their calves. It is obviously a time of heart-melting, "awe look at that little guy," and "It's so cute I could eat it!", okay maybe that last one is a little too close to home for the cows. The point is that a lot of action is going on with this new life
all over the place.
When I was feeding on the last day before Aaron and Faith came home, I noticed one of these little guys was far from the moms. It concerned me as we want to take care of every calf. I informed Sam, and the next day it was decided that this little guy's mom was not close. With that being decided, we made a move to put him in a warm barn and feed him from a bottle. Without a doubt, this little guy will grow up to be strong and healthy.
In 2021 we managed to plant hay quite early in the year. Due to this, we were able to bale and pull hay from the fields in August. 2022 was a very different experience. The rains came unusually late in the summer, and we did not plant any hay until quite a bit later. This late planting, combined with a bit of moisture, prevented us from baling. In fact, we are still not done bailing. This delay is perfectly okay for the hay, but it has been somewhat frustrating.
Despite these frustrations, I have learned a new skill to add to my farming repertoire. This new skill is bailing hay. It is a whole lot of fun to hop into the tractor and pull the bailer behind, scooping up hay, and kicking out a round bail out the back. It has added much more insight into the whole farming experience for me.
The amount of work that goes into making food is immense. You can read the newsletters over the past year and have a good sense of the amount of work involved with raising cattle, but it's not the same as doing it. For these animals, it is a constant workload to make them happy. Most people need to understand how important it is to make that animal happy. If you experienced bad beef in your life, and I'm not talking about poor seasoning or cooking, but poor quality beef, chances are that cattle had a stressful life.
Preventing stress and having a happy herd has many different factors but one of the most crucial is the food they eat. Quality food will keep cattle happy and healthy. For there to be quality food, there must be quality farming. In order to have quality farming, one must take care of the land. This means farmers and ranchers must be stewards of the land. One thing stems from another, and if there are any mistakes, one could destroy the land or stress the herd.
I've learned that ranchers and farmers are some of the best stewards and caretakers out there. They have a massive amount of knowledge and compassion for both the land and the cattle. Yes, the end goal is food, which involves slaughtering animals, but these animals would never live quality lives if they didn't have an American rancher working day in and day out for them. I would say that ranchers and farmers are some of the "greenest" people, period. It is a misconception (from some news sources and activist groups) that cattle live terrible lives or that farming somehow destroys the land. We have been farming and grazing the land on Harrell ranch for over a hundred years, and the grass is still some of the most nutritious in the country. There is a healthy ecosystem of wildlife, from deer, elk, and wild sheep, to hawks and eagles. We actually give them conditions to thrive. The cattle live some of the best lives a cattle could ever have, with ample food, water, and space to roam. Not to mention protection from wild animals and care when they are sick. All of these things above take hard work and generations of knowledge.
I've learned a lot in the past year, and I can safely say the proof is in the pudding; Ranchers and farmers are the best people for feeding a large population. Not activists, not news reporters, not a scientist with some master's degree from wherever, but people who pour their sweat and blood into the land and these animals. Men and women who learn from birth how to do this occupation. Families who have been doing this for generations. Now I'm just learning, and often in our operation, I can be the guy behind the computer, so don't thank me, but next time you see a farmer or rancher, give them some appreciation.