Last week, I shared the story of fixing my waterline – nothing life threatening, just a sketch of everyday life on the ranch. During the story, I mentioned that it is hard to hire a backhoe at this time of year.
One of my friends who does a lot of backhoe work for me heard my story and called to apologize.
“Don’t be afraid to call me,” Tim said. “I’ll be there to help.”
He would, too. In fact, for the past 10 years, whenever I called, Tim helped improve the ranch with water lines and spring developments.
This spring, he ran another water line up to the bull corral.
I chose to not call Tim and I won’t call him unless I really need help. I save those phone calls so I don’t wear out my welcome.
Most of the time, I try to figure it out myself. That means I talk to a lot of people about whatever issue is at hand.
Two weeks ago, Rick Haines and my brother solved my baler problem. Last week, a childhood friend helped me fix the waterline.
This week, a hydraulic valve on my tractor is not working and I need to expand my beef, lamb and wool marketing efforts. I haven’t solved either of those yet, but I will.
Those types of problems both wake me up at night and give me so much satisfaction.
They are the true joys of ranching.
Sure, romanticized horseback rides through contented cattle in tall grass are great. I love to ride my horse, no doubt.
And ranching improves a person’s mental fitness. Experts say meditation is a powerful tool to stay focused in the moment, but I think working cows is a better strategy. If you let your mind wander, you will spend the next three full days making up for the cow that went to the wrong pasture or the calf that didn’t get branded.
But the best part of ranching is considering a decision and all of the potential consequences that could erupt from that decision.
What happens to the grass, water, business and animals if I move the cows to this pasture? Are the fences tight? Do the cows have water? Is the grass ready to be grazed? Will the calves grow?
Last winter, the biggest question was: Can I get to the livestock to feed them? Will the tractor start? What is my backup plan if it doesn’t?
Right now, I’m balancing the cost of hay with the amount I will need next winter. I don’t raise enough hay on the ranch so I need to buy some. Normally, I only need about 100 extra tons, but last winter was a bugger so I fed about one and half times what I normally feed. By the time the cows quit eating hay, I had enough left for 7 more days. It freaked me out, but I was better off than a lot of ranchers who had to buy sky-high priced straw just to get through to grass.
Forecasters predict El Nino will return, bringing a warm winter. If that happens, I’ll end up with a big haystack left over that represents my bank account, but I won’t be starving the cows if deep snow flies again.
Hay in the stack is the physical evidence of a rancher’s big gamble. I won’t know whether I won or lost that gamble until next spring, or maybe the spring after that.
At the end of the day, solving the challenges of ranching are the best fun. Sometimes I need help and sometimes I go it alone. I wouldn’t have it any other way.