It’s turnout time. By now, the hay supply is depleted or non-existent on most ranches, and there’s just enough green to make a meal for the bovines that have spent the past month reaching through fences to get what grows in the borrow ditches. Once branding is done, the cattle are eager to head out of dry lots to forage for the new growth, and there’s nothing more satisfying for a cattleman or woman than watching pairs trail out for their summer range.
Some people may think that turnout time is mostly a matter of opening a gate and saying goodbye, but it’s not that simple. In the first place, a calf usually won’t keep up with a mama who has a fresh buffet on her mind, so when youngsters lag back and get discombobulated, they’ll break back for the place where they had their last meal. It takes a goodly number of well mounted cowboys to keep those dogies moving. Even when things proceed according to plan, the herd has to be driven to water when entering a new place, and held for a while, until the mamas find their errant offspring.
Pastures are still short. We always struggle this time of year with whether the grass is ready, but when it’s time to go, you go. According to the forecast, we are headed for a warming trend, and the grass should really take off.
Ranchers speak of being in the cattle business but it’s really about converting sunshine and grass into something edible and nourishing for humans. It’s an uphill journey, because Ma Nature and Uncle Sam throw us a curve every little while. But on a warm spring day, with cattle on the way to new ranges, we feel a surge of hope and joy, despite the fact that the market is in the tank, and expenses are climbing every day. We do this for love, not for the money. I realize that’s hard to believe if you’re paying eight bucks for a pound of hamburger, but there’s a big hole between the pasture and the supermarket that swallows up most of your food dollar.
This spring has been a little different because of no school for the last few months. Instead of playing catch up, the spring work is ahead of schedule. Teenagers have been available to help at home, as well as hiring out to neighbors.
A couple of generations back, the school year was shortened to accommodate farm and ranch work, because children were needed to help with harvest, planting, or calving. For rural kids, it almost feels like we’re back in the old days. No doubt people in town struggle to keep kids busy and productive, but our ranch youth are quietly proud of the work they accomplish, of earning money to help out the family or save for college, and learning skills that their parents and grandparents did out of necessity. Sure, they miss their school activities, and seeing friends, but they carry a certain air of confidence that indicates a deeper understanding of life. No matter what career choices they make, the growth they gained in the spring of 2020 will impact their adult lives. It’s coming up on turnout time for them, and they’ll soon be moving on to new pastures themselves. I can’t imagine many will run back to live in their parents’ basements.