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Irons in the fire: Don’t forget your rope

Progressive Cattleman Staff Paul Marchant Published on 24 February 2012

When it comes to cattle restraint and capture, I suppose my family is not all that different from a lot of ranching families.

My brother and I always figured the best way to doctor any critter, no matter the ailment, was to rope it. If a yearling had a burr in its tail – rope it. Bad eye, snotty nose, black hide, red hide – rope it.

My dad, on the other hand, tends to always (so it seemed to us) prefer the gentleman farmer approach – run it in the corral and into the chute. So, on average, we always use best management practices, I suppose.

A couple weeks ago, when I stopped to have a middle-of-the-road chat with my neighbor as we were both on our respective feeding runs, he mentioned that I had a couple of calves in with a herd of his fall-calving cows.

They’d been there quite a while. Since weaning time, to be precise, when, as fresh weaned calves will do, they discovered a hole in the fence and made a great escape.

We had spent most of a Sunday afternoon gathering calves up and patching the fence, but obviously didn’t apprehend all of the escapees.

The neighbor told me they were fine and said I could get them whenever was convenient. I figured I’d do it the following weekend when we didn’t have any school or high school basketball games and the married kids were going to be home for a visit.

We had to gather and move a little bunch of heifers, so we’d have the horses caught anyway.

On the appointed day, I should have known something was amiss, when, by noon, we had finished moving the heifers and had even managed to run 50 calves through the chute for vaccination with minimal consternation and profanity.

That sort of smooth-running program rarely visits our outfit. Working with cows will jade a person. I don’t trust happiness and I don’t trust a day involving cows when everything falls into place. I enjoy both, but I know they’re fickle and fleeting.

The calf-fetching project didn’t involve much. All we had to do was sort the calves away from the cows (which wasn’t a problem because the cows all had baby calves and didn’t have much interest in traveling, anyway), kick them out the gate, run them down the road 200 yards and turn them into our field.

After the requisite lap around the field, when they first spotted us, I figured we’d have the offending beasts out the gate and home in no time. Such was not the case.

First of all, as you might suspect, the calves that had managed to crawl through two fences weren’t the most gentle-natured in the herd.

The one heifer calf was of the high-headed variety that took paranoia to a new level. One lap around the field and out the gate was not on her agenda.

After the third trip past the gate, I remembered that my rope was in the back of the pickup. My son’s new rope, a Christmas gift from his new bride, all 55 feet of it, was coiled neatly in the back seat of his car.

My dad’s rope was back at the tack shed because the baling twine that attached it to his saddle had finally worn out.

No worries. Surely we were good enough hands to outwit this dumb animal without having to rope it. Such was not the case.

We did manage to get her out of the field, albeit through the fence and half a mile from the gate. When we finally got around her, she ran up the road and back into the field with the cows.

After some more chasing and a nifty turn-back or two, she crossed the creek and crashed through the fence again.

A mile and two fences later, we caught up with her again in another neighbor’s field with his horses and leppies.

In the midst of the last leg of the chase, I had to ride past the pickup and was able to retrieve my rope. With a tired calf, a decent horse and a straight shot with no sagebrush or pivot tracks, I can occasionally make a pretty nice head shot.

I got the little darling captured and Grandpa caught up to us with the trailer, into which we gently persuaded the never-to-be replacement heifer.

This little episode got me to pondering. I’ve heard that you can’t be too rich or too good-looking, neither of which have ever been challenged by me. I don’t think you can be too prepared, either.

The landscape that most beef producers are now traversing has never been more favorable. I actually saw some five-weight calves sell on the video for over $2.

Every month we’re seeing some new record for prices received for one class of cattle or the other. I have no doubt that $2 calves and $1.30 fat cattle can, for a little while, be a fine replacement for poor management.

But relying on such heretofore unimaginable circumstances would be like my relying on my “superior” roping and horsemanship skills to trump a good fence and good feed.

Let’s enjoy these good times. But don’t trust them and don’t forget your rope.  end_mark

Paul Marchant ranches with his family in Oakley, Idaho.

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