By David Jessup
There’s no such thing as a routine cattle drive. Just ask the group of Sylvan Dale Ranch “adventure riders” who helped move sixty yearlings from their winter pasture back to the main ranch on Saturday, April 14, 2012.
Seven of us saddled up at 9 am, the spring sun warming our faces, the deep blue Colorado sky and crisp air thrilling our senses. We figured we’d be back by noon. We figured wrong.
As we rode toward the winter pasture, we took note of the problem areas we’d encounter on the way back: several driveways, a home with an inviting lawn, a stretch of county road with occasional cars, a highway crossing, and a steep, red-rock ridge to cross. The yearlings had made this trek in the opposite direction six months ago with their mamas. Now they would be on their own.
It was easy at first. With a fence line on one side and riders on the other, the youngsters moved right along through their familiar Big Valley, fueled with early-morning energy. But when they moved past the fence through the gate onto the county road, their teenage bravado turned to caution. It was as if the ones in the lead, bold at first, started feeling a little anxious with no adults to show them the way. They kept bunching and milling, and taking off in bizarre directions. Oh, and did I mention eating every green blade of grass in sight.
We managed to get them across the highway with only a 12-car backup, but when we passed by a neighbor’s fence with some older cows inside, the fun began, a great commotion of nose touching, bellowing, and pushing. Our team of adventure riders, old hands by now, got our herd moving again and headed it up the road toward the high ridge crossing. Then one of the riders looked back. One of the neighbor’s cows, a big red mama with a wildly swinging udder, had broken through the fence and was racing to join us, hell-bent on who-knows-what, maybe thinking her calf was with us. No role model, she stirred the now sullen teens into rebellion, with head butts and bawling rants and three refusals to pass through the gate leading to the high ridge.
“Patience,” we told ourselves, and it finally paid off. We got the wild bunch heading up the rocky draw and over the ridge. About half way up the runaway mama finally peeled off and headed back to our neighbor’s pasture. Good riddance.
The rest of the drive went more smoothly, save for an unscheduled dismount by one of our drovers, whose horse lost its footing in a pile of composting horse manure next to the road above the stables. She made a graceful fall into the manure pile, the softness of which we all began to appreciate. She “cowboyed up” and finished the drive.
On the last stretch up the pasture road past the canal gate onto the Mt. Alexander pasture, the yearlings were as well behaved as a group of Catholic school children, lined up and marching together with no side shows. Maybe they were just exhausted. I know we were. It was 2 PM. The weather had turned cold, sleet laced our hands and necks as we rode back to the horse barn. Waiting for us was a hot lunch and coffee, courtesy of the ranch kitchen. Thick sandwiches of grass-fed, bar-b-cued beef. Sweet revenge, some may have been thinking.
PS. The next day, guests helped move our main cow herd from our calving pens onto spring pasture. One little one, only two days old, was too young to make the trip, so he got his own special “drive” from Ed Decker, Sylvan Dale’s cattle manager.
April 15, 2012
To see the video on Youtube, click here.