Cows’ calendar: when it’s time to come home

Our cattle usually know where they are going if at their regular place.

Angie Mindus/Tribune file photo

Angie Mindus/Tribune file photo

David Zirnhelt

Special to the Tribune/Advisor

Cattle usually are creatures of habit. Our cattle usually know where they are going if at their regular place. So this week they knew it was time to go to fall pasture where they will stay for the next three to four weeks and where they pastured in the early spring.

A short cattle drive can work like clockwork if they know the pattern.

In three weeks and after some hard frost, they will be standing at the gate ready to be moved to the next pasture which is often a hayfield. This year they will have to learn something new.

They will go where they have never been, on a pasture belonging to a neighbour which we have rented. We felt that with another bad smoke season and drought we wouldn’t have the fall regrowth on our pastures.

My guess is that they will need to be guided to the new pasture some seven miles away. We will send a person on horseback to lead the way and a couple more riders will come behind to speed up the stragglers and push any that want to leave the herd, back into the group.

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This pasture hasn’t been grazed since last year and then only lightly. Fortunately it has tall grass on it which was “stockpiled” for early winter use.

If the cows can find it under snow, they will do just fine as the older grass will have adequate calories for keeping warm and maintaining body function.

As is their custom, the cattle appear from the open range about the third week of September.

We didn’t have to go looking for any this year, although there might be a stray or two out with other herds. These we expect will come home after this recent snowfall and heavy frost.

Earlier this year, when it came time for the bulls to go out — for us, early July — we were keeping an eye on the bulls in case they decided to break out to get to their cows.

The very day which was close to the day we put the bulls out last year, the oldest bull crawled under a gate and headed down the road, stopping at the neighbour’s herd.

Did he smell them or did he just know it was breeding time again and it was time to go?

We penned him and trucked him out to his cows that same day, making a mental note and a calendar note that this is “the” turn out day for that bull. That is his habit and he will remind us if we forget!

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One range management specialist once said it is easier to train the cows to a new regime than it is to train the cowboys. Still a new routine has to be shown to the cattle and they will then recognize it in following years.

We change our patterns of pasture rotations often to give a rest to different pastures at different times of the year. For instance, every pasture should be allowed to mature and go to seed every few years.

The rule is: “don’t do the same thing every year at the same time” in your pastures if you want them healthy. But you better remember cows might follow old habits.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.

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