Seth!’s Rancher Cuisinternship: Days Two and Three
Editor’s Note: Our Rancher Cuisinternship Winner. Seth! Leary, recently completed his week long adventure with Country Natural Beef in Eastern Oregon. Seth has graciously agreed to let us peek behind the scenes of his week. We’ll be posting his recaps over the next several days. Enjoy!
I spent my second day of ranching with Don and Vicki Foster and their daughter, Jessica. The Foster ranch is not huge in terms of cattle but the land is vast–roughly 7,000 acres.
Unlike yesterday, today started out with clear skies. Jessica and Don put me on a horse named Jed. Jed was getting a rookie rider with perhaps an hour of riding experience. Once saddled up, we headed to a pasture to find some cows and calves. The term pasture in this case just means that the cattle were feediing there. Most of us would probably refer to the location as backcountry. Getting there by horseback was the only practical option. The land is not a lush prairie, but instead is rocky, hilly, and populated by sagebrush.
Because of the hills, I could see where we were headed only 20 minutes or so into the future, at which point our trajectory would disappear around a bend. I don’t think I could show you on a map where we went if I tried.
After riding for quite awhile, we finally came upon the cattle. They were spread out over a fairly large area, so I was told to work them from one direction while Don and Jessica set out separately. Our goal was to consolodate the cattle and get them headed the same way. Keep in mind that everything I know about this I learned from watching television. Fortunately, there is a high degree of common sense involved but it’s not as easy as falling off a log.
The other saving graces (besides Don’s and Jessica’s skills) were their amazing border collies. These little dogs can and will instictively round up wayward cows and calves and point them in the right direction. It was really a sight to behold. Jessica would call out directions if one of the dogs needed some coaching, just like she did for me.
To make a long story somewhat shorter, we spent four and a half hours on horseback, moving these 170 cows and calves hither and yon until we finally got them where Don wanted them. It was quite an adventure, navigating over the rocks, through the creeks, under the trees while riding Jed. I have to admit I was pretty sore from the saddle afterward. I also wish I had worn a hat and sunscreen.
Day Three: Four Wheels Keep On Turnin’
My Thursday began with crisp air, ducks on a pond, and overshooting Dean’s house by half a mile. I turned around on the gravely road and, while correcting my error, I saw two coyotes cross a field and what I am sure must have been a mink dashing across my path. Wild!
Dean and Sharon Defrees have a partially wooded ranch with (as I recall) about 300 head of cattle. I am pretty sure that we moved every calf, cow, and yearling from this or that pasture to another. We spent much of the day using four-wheelers (aka ATV) to crisscross the acreage. I was a bit nervous about rolling the untamed beast but I became a bit more confident in my driving as the day wore on.
Twenty cows on the ranch are expecting calves and two of them delivered today. We came upon one li’l fella who was only minutes old. His mama was not particularly glad to see us. On the other side of some trees was another new mother with her two-hour-old bull calf. Every animal has an identifying tag and Dean let me tag this calf’s ear, number 617. Most of the calves I saw shared the same number as their mother. Each ranch has a unique system, but typically one color tag will be for males, another for females, and another color or two for…I can’t remember what. Ranching is pretty complicated and I frankly could not keep up with all of the details.
Here is another example of what is involved in the cattle raising process. The rancher carries around a very small red book in which is recorded pertinent data about each animal: Date of birth, gender, health at birth, tag number, any medications received, etc. These books are critical to the operation and many of the ranchers I met transcribe this information into computer files. Although we often use the phrase “treating them like cattle” to imply masses of anonymous entities, the ranchers I visited know a great deal about each member of their herd. The attention that the animals receive is impressive.
By the time we moved three hundred or more head of cattle, we had used up much of our day. Our late afternoon tasks were to cut planks to mend the corral and then begin disassembling a hay rack, which would also receive new wood. The sun was getting low in the sky, so Dean had us head back out to the cow-calf pastures to look for more newborns. We divided the task, each of us taking a different pasture. It was a fun job to do on the four-wheeler but neither of us made any discoveries.
Our final job before beer time was to bottle feed two orphan calves. Dean and Sharon and I swapped stories over a steak dinner and then I hit the hay. Day three was another good one for this cowpoke.
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