Our early summer roundup was a great success. It is always a festive occasion but it is also a time of anxiety making sure we get all of our cattle and their calves in with a minimum of stress. The day starts early. It is always a big undertaking loading food, supplies, vaccinations and horses in order to start our roundup in the early morning hours when the weather is still cool. The heat of the day makes it more difficult to move cattle out of the shade and into the working pens not to mention the added stress of the late afternoon sun.
The morning of our ride my husband and I saddle up and head out before the others arrive. Steam rises off the cool grass as we move through the property in silence looking for our herd. The only sound on this crisp morning is our cow dog, Wally rustling through the grass next to us and the occasional snort of a horse. This is my favorite part, the silence, the sun just beginning to make its way into the morning sky, nature untouched. With every ride my horse gets more relaxed with the process. Today he is behaving beautifully, no spinning, bolting, nervous twitching or whining. I think he just might make a working partner yet.
Walking along it is easy to get caught up in the serenity of the moment zoning out in the wake of such a beautiful morning, but paying attention is critical because as we begin to find our cows we need to make note of where their calves are or we will start to run the cows off leaving their calves behind. Almost immediately my husband spots a very young calf sleeping in the grass, a tiny, inconspicuous mound snoozing. Expertly he commands Wally to go over and wake the calf up. It is really amazing to watch our dog run over to the sleeping calf, lick him on the nose and send him off to his mother. He carries out his job with the intensity of a serious worker. It is quite a sight to see.
Slowly we begin to move the herd from the far side of our property back towards the working pens. Weaving our way through the dense brush I am constantly pushing branches out of the way so that I am not knocked off my horse. As we move through the open river bed the rest of our crew appears on horseback over the ridge to help us sweep in the herd. It is a beautiful, unspoken dance. We have all done this many times. I am the least experienced but learning quickly how to position myself to help as we move to the critical point where we have to get them into the pens and not squirting down the ridges all over the property. It is the most stressful part of the equation even though we have done it many times because any wrong move can send them in a direction other than where we want them to go. My brother is watching for the first time which is a real treat for him because up until this point he has only dealt with the selling end of the market from a large supplier like Cargill to distributor. This is the real deal, a day on a working ranch.
At the end of another successful roundup I am left with an unwanted remnant of this working day that will linger for weeks to come. Three days later I am covered in poison oak. Pushing those branches out of my face gave me an added, unwanted bonus. The weeping, horrid rash is all over my arms, armpits and chest. This is not fun. It has become my version of hell. The doctor prescribes a steroid cream which I happily slather all over the offending rash hoping for some relief only to discover that I am allergic to the cream and promptly break out all over my body and face in hives. Just when I thought things couldn't get worse they did. Clothes hurt, my body is an uncomfortable mess and my husband doesn't want to come within six miles of me! What a reward for a job well done.
A month of pure misery. The roundup is a distant memory, the poison oak, not so. I now understand why every cowboy insists on wearing long sleeves regardless of the heat. You will never see me in a short sleeve shirt again. It took me a long time to pay attention until nature taught me a lesson of its own. Point well taken!