Ranch Musings columnist David Zirnhelt. (File Photo)

RANCH MUSINGS: Boys, bears and a brave girl

There is not much choice with the closure of schools and reduction of social contact

We are so fortunate to have adventures with our grandchildren. COVID has, in some ways given us back our “children” or, put a different way, we (I am speaking for parents) are having to hold on to our children.

A prominent physician and writer titled his parenting book, Hold On To Your Kids, and suggested strongly that we spend as much time as we can with our children and don’t send them off to sports or other caregiver facilities.

Well, there is not much choice with the closure of schools and reduction of social contact.

But, fortunately on a ranch, life hasn’t changed that much.

As we age in place, my wife and I are blessed with seven grandchildren who are eager to engage in the outdoor activities on the ranch. They can often be found grooming and saddling horses and willing to accompany us on our range riding and related activities.

On a recent occasion, I had five with me – what was I thinking – as we looked for a calf that had been attacked by a bear. It is out on pasture and, we think, healing. But fly season is upon us so we would like to cover the wound to keep flies from laying eggs in it.

Ages of the kids, three to 13. Two are around 10, one is 13 and one three. The three-year-old is not to be left behind on an adventure. This is late in the afternoon and should only take “a couple” of hours.

I must say that the ten-year-olds have been practicing their roping and are keen to catch a calf in spite of my warnings that these calves are athletic. Grandpa (me) had the shepherd’s hook which, if you get close enough, you can use to grab the hind leg.

It is not a bad idea to put a rope on in case the calf makes a getaway.

This is a teachable moment (two hours long). We wander through the herd in the bushy pasture and find the mother. The calf is either dead or hidden by the mother.

The boys with ropes and me with my hook. The loops on their ropes are bigger than necessary and sometimes drag in the manure and catch on brush.

This calf has been caught before and treated with antibiotic for the infection. The cows are wary of these animal-like creatures with whom they are not familiar with who are chasing them.

An aside here. When I first caught and treated this calf it bellowed for mom alerting the herd which surrounded me and “warned” me not to hurt this calf. It occurred to me that this is what happened when the calf was first attacked.

The cows drove off the bear which does not appear to have been back to the herd.

The ropers and others are warned to be calm in approaching the calf if we find it and if we catch it, we have to be wary of the cows. We like to have our cows defensive by not to the point of attacking humans attending to the calves.

We find the calf because when we had moved the herd to a new pasture the mother came back to where she had stashed her calf.

In hot pursuit for over some time we only got close enough to once grab the calf, but one great leap and I was on the ground in a pile of rock and the calf was gone. After that the boys with the ropes were running through the brush trying to get a loop on the calf and hoping someone else is there to help hold it.

You would not want to lose your best (only) rope! At one point I thought we should quit. We were all late for dinner and tomorrow was a final school day.

Then the oldest boy said we shouldn’t quit having looked for two hours and now this calf was a “bird in the hand.” Well, it was a “bird in the bush.”

Pursue the calf we did, and put in a valiant try, having been chided by the oldest boy for wanting to quit.

This is thrilling, this hunt for the illusive quarry.

Meanwhile a half mile away the eldest had been looking after the youngest, patiently waiting for the hunting troupe to return.

Having given up the hunt, we were on our way back only to be met by grandmother in the pickup on a mission to get the children returned to their homes.

That calf is so spry I think it will heal. Or our ropers in training just might deign to try again. At the drop of a hat they will!

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.

READ MORE: Ranch Musings: The rush that is spring in the north


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