After a brief hiatus traveling around the country for the past few weeks, I decided to come back with a bang… or rather a “moo”. A
few weeks ago I received a text from a friend asking if I would like to come with her to her aunt’s farm for a day. They would be branding calves and there would be REAL cowboys! My obvious response, OF COURSE I would come!
So today, off I drove to their farm near Binford, ND to experience the life of a cattle rancher. Just moments into my arrival I was asked if I wanted to ride a horse. As a talented 8 year old rode up on her horse and explained how to get up in the saddle, my pride began to waver a bit. Luckily, I managed to get up on it without looking too ridiculous and didn’t seem too scared as the mini-cowgirl led me around in a circle like a pony ride. Clearly this girl was practically born on a horse and I was not.
Next, I was ushered up to where the action had already been going for a few hours. It seemed like something straight out of a western movie. Cowboys on horses were lassoing calves, moving them out to a separate pen where a crew of individuals jumped into action like a well oiled machine. As one person
held down the calf, the next branded, another gave shots, and if needed, another individual castrated. In a blink of an eye the calf was up and off to the pasture where their waiting mother was looking on. It was about three minutes into my first glimpse of the scene that I realized my mouth was hanging open and I should stop looking so out of place and try my best to blend in.
Though I was prepared to help, the sheer number of individuals there made it not seem very necessary. When I asked who everyone was, I was told that they are simply neighbors from nearby farms that rotate weekends helping with the cattle process. While this may not seem like that strange of event to anyone else, it actually really struck me. Neighbors helping neighbors to get the job done… and this was no easy job, especially not in 90 degree weather with blowing dust.
After a break for lunch, it was time to bring in the final herd from a second pasture. Cowboys and cowgirls jumped on at least 20 horses and rode off over the hill to round up the cattle. Again, I felt like I was watching something closer to a western movie than a real world scene. The breathtaking landscape didn’t hurt either.
As I waited for the next round of cattle to arrive, I decided to explore a little further and climb a few hay bales to get a better view. After about twenty minutes the sounds of mooing echoed across the prairie and a cloud of dust filled the air. Off in the distance came the herd of about 300 cattle followed by the cowboys and cowgirls steering them in the direction of the pens. What seemed to me like a virtually impossible task only took a few minutes and some snazzy maneuvering on horseback.
This round I decided I could help out a bit. I created a job for myself of getting
the confused calves back through the hole in the fence and to their mothers instead of running around aimlessly. Clearly, I was a valuable asset to the success of the day. As the day came to a close, I was approached by a cowboy and asked if I wanted to try my hand a wrestling a calf and holding it steady as it got branded. “Sure,” I replied rather hesitantly, “But make sure it’s a small one!”
Soon it was my time to shine. Out came a tiny little calf and though I had to be talked through the process (and get a little assistance), I managed to get it pinned on the ground by holding the front legs and head steady. A quick brand and a few shots (no castration needed) and I had successfully wrestled my first (and only) calf. I was a regular cowgirl (minus the whole horseback riding thing).
As the day wound to a close, it was time for “supper”. Not surprisingly, we had a delicious beef brisket. But the real highlight of the meal was a particularly fresh little item that was fried up before my eyes. I even helped prepare a few. Yes… I tried rocky mountain oysters. If you don’t know what those are, I’m not going to explain so just go ahead and Google it. My thoughts? Well, if I didn’t think about what it actually was, I can’t say that they were horrible. Wait… they? I meant the one tiny one I tried followed by a quick drink to wash the taste out of my mouth.
As I’m sitting here writing this post, I can honestly say I am completely exhausted. What is pathetic is I did next to no work compared to everyone else that was involved in the process. But while I get to sleep in tomorrow and recover, they will be up doing it all over again. Just another day for a hardworking North Dakotan.