The shorter, cooler days and longer periods of darkness let us know that fall is definitely here. The leaves on the trees are changing the colors of their wardrobes from green to golds, yellows and reds. When we are outside in the early mornings or evenings, the warmth of a jacket or sweatshirt is welcome. We’re igniting the pilot lights on our gas fireplaces now.

It is also the time when the calves are ready to wean. With very little rain this summer the feed dried up, making grazing hard on them. Yes, we’ve had rain lately and things are looking much better, but the cattle are getting ready to be moved to winter pastures here in the valley and off the summer pastures at the ranch. Around the first of October we usually bring the calves down to the valley pasture to wean them. A few days are spent rounding cows and calves up, separating animals according to whom they belong to, and then separating cows from calves. Both horses and four-wheelers are used to move them down. We have more four-wheelers than horseback riders now, but horses can get into areas the four-wheelers can’t access.

Jean Schwieder

Schwieder

After getting them to the valley, we have bawling calves right next to our valley home for about a week, but we would have that plus bawling moms too if we brought them out together.

It’s interesting to watch the calves learn about their winter home in the valley. The first few days to a week they are kept in close quarters and watched for dust pneumonia or any other problem. Then they are let out into the fenced pasture area. The calves walk the fences, probably looking for a way out. If there is a weak link in the fence, they will take advantage of it to explore more of their new area. They forget their moms quickly and the bawling ceases. There is usually still green grass to eat with some hay supplementing their diets at this time, plus often the water in the canals has not been drained.

Around Thanksgiving the cows will be trailed out to winter pasture. Often, there is snow on the ground by then. Some of the cows will be found standing close to one of the cattle-guards or by the corrals, as if waiting for the trip to the valley. This trip is a two-day experience. If an older cow can be in the lead, they will move right along, as those older cows seem to know where they are going and which route to take.

The arrival of the cows at the valley pasture and winter home heralds the beginning of the feeding of hay and making sure there is always water available for the animals.

A pregnant cow can drink about 10 to 15 gallons of water per day and eats 25 to 30 pounds of hay per day. Unlike horses, cows will not eat snow when they are thirsty so the rancher has to have a constant supply of water. It is a dangerous time for the cows if the electricity goes off and the pump is incapacitated. Because of this, my husband, Boyd, had a propane-powered generator installed. This generator kicks right in when there is an electrical failure in the area.

Shelter is especially important for cattle during the winter. We have some shelters, some board fences, plus our hay stacks are placed statically to provide shelter for them from wind and storms. Even with those safeguards, the animals need to be checked during the day and night for problems and possible early births.

Around the first of January, the birthing shed is fixed up. The guys check the canvas south wall of the shed for tears or holes that need to be fixed. They make sure there is straw put in the shed and the gates are secure. They have the incubator fixed up with clean straw and ready to be plugged in for warmth for new born calves that need extra care. The supplies to treat newborn calves with problems are purchased and stored in the house where they will be readily available.

Yes, preparation is as important for the winter care of our animals as it is for those of us who live in the ranch house. The farmer/rancher who prepares ahead of time can sleep better at night! And so can his wife!

Jean Schwieder is a writer who has spent her life involved in eastern Idaho agriculture. Her books, including past columns, are available by calling 208-522-8098 or by email at straddlinthefence@gmail.com.