Last Saturday was move the males day.
We needed to take three bulls plus a few steer calves to some rented pasture about five miles away for the winter and bring the rams home from that same pasture.
The rams had been grazing there since July, as much to use the grass as for a distant form of birth control.
Anyone who has raised a teenager knows that keeping males from females requires a lot of distance.
I had tried several variations of distance between rams and ewes – a buffer pasture between them, a tight corral. Rams become more motivated as the days get shorter. Every plan had gone awry – a gate had been left open, a hole developed in woven wire. The result had been an Oops Lambing Season almost every year.
So I waited to bring the rams home until the day breeding season started.
I could get some of the bulls away from the cows at the same time. They aren’t causing consternation in the cow herd right now, but the rams high-graded the rented pasture grass and the bulls can mow it evenly while it is soft this winter.
My plan was to load one bull and a steer calf in each trailer compartment. We would need to make a second trip, but by keeping the bulls separate, I hoped to keep my aluminum trailer intact. The bulls were already in the corral so the hard part was done.
I’m an average-sized person. I look people in the eye, carry whatever I need to carry and work as long as I need to.
Yet standing next to a 2000-pound black-hided, slow-moving bulldozer makes me feel puny. And just a bit protective of my 85-pound, 11-year-old daughter.
“We’ll move slowly and let the bull think it’s his idea to walk into that trailer. You sit up on that fence where it’s bent so they don’t try to jump over,” I said.
Then I crossed my fingers and hoped slow would be fast.
I circled the first bull and steer calf while Abby cut off his getaway route on the other side of the feeder.
He turned to face me and blew. Just a little.
I stood stock still, eyeing him, holding my breath.
Our stare down ended with him glancing toward the calf and taking a couple of steps in that direction.
I let my breath out.
The bull moseyed into the loading chute. I stepped out of the way and he pushed the calf into the trailer.
One down, two to go.
The next bull had been beat up pretty bad by the other bulls in the pasture so he was glad to step into the trailer.
We eased our way to the winter grass, let the bulls out and pulled into the ram pasture.
All but one of the rams were interested in the hay and grain in the trailer. We jigged the trailer around to make a wing with the only escape route leading to the trailer. Rams ready to go to work are not that smart. Or maybe they are. The last one jumped into the trailer on the fly.
As the door swung open in the sheep pasture, the largest ram barreled out of the trailer and stopped, dumbfounded. His nose went into the air, he circled the other rams twice and trotted over to the ewes. I ‘m sure I detected a grin on his face.
The last bull was the biggest, and used to being the boss. He thought I should move as he commanded. I’ve been around males of other species who thought the same thing. It didn’t work with them either.
He was curious about the box that the other bulls had disappeared into so he meandered his way into it. Now I had to convince him to find his way down the chute. It would be a tight fit.
I needed to crowd him with an iron wing gate, but he was so long that I couldn’t reach the gate. I looked at my flimsy plastic poker stick. The bull looked at me.
Slowly, without moving my feet, I slipped the poker stick under the gate, inching it closer to the bull. His eyes shifted to the gate and back at me. A little closer. He glared, but backed a step.
I stuck the end of the plastic stick in a link of chain, eased it across the gate and latched it. Now at least, if he spun around the gates would not fly into me quite as fast.
The bull stared. I forced myself to relax.
Abby was silent, still on the fence. If she moved, we would have to start over.
I saw a muscle ripple. Then a front foot stepped toward the chute. Then another.
The bull decided he would love to walk into that trailer.
Slowly and surely, with only a low bull bellow.
Now, I just have to figure out how to get them back home in June. That job will probably involve horses and a trail ride. I hope it’s a warm, sunny day. I’ll enjoy the ride.