Typical Range Ride
Excerpted from Ranch Tales, by Heather Smith Thomas of Salmon, ID
Published by The Frontier Project Inc. – www.ajmangum.com
Our cattle ranch lies at the foot of the mountains where our cows spent their summers for fifty years. During those years I rode almost every day to check the cattle, making sure gates were shut, and all the water troughs working. We live in dry country, and when they are on summer pasture in the mountains, cattle depend on a few small streams for water, along with some small seeps that we piped into water troughs. Sometimes a springbox gets plugged with mud from a summer thundershower and needs to be cleaned out or the pipe into the water trough gets plugged, or broken by cattle traffic if the dirt over it washes away in a cloudburst thunderstorm. Sometimes gates get left open and cows wander onto the wrong range, and then those cows must be located and herded back to their proper pastures.
Sometimes a cow or calf gets sick and needs to be brought home for medical treatment. If we ride out there often, we know what’s going on and can attend to any problems. On summer range you don’t want to risk having a trough non-functional for long, for instance, or cattle in that area might have no water. I always enjoyed my daily rides out there to check on things and monitor the grass and the cattle. Each ride is a special experience.
I head up the steep trail through the rocks and sagebrush behind our house. The smell of dewy sage fills my nostrils as my horse brushes the shrubs along the trail, and a horned lark flits up from her nest on the ground as we go by. A mother grouse bursts into the air and does her broken-wing act (her strategy to lead a predator away from her babies, who are scattering out through the grass).
My horse breathes deeply as she climbs the crest of the hill, then pauses, snorting, as a group of antelope leap to their feet from the swale where they were bedded, and bolt across our path. My mare snorts again as she detects their strong, musky scent. They disappear over the hill in a puff of dust, and we continue along the trail.
We soon head down into the Baker Creek canyon, approaching a brushy draw where a small trough collects spring water. A herd of cow elk with calves have been drinking there, and they mill about for a moment when they see me, the cows and calves talking to one another with their high-pitched “eep-eep.” Then they stick their heads in the air and march up out of the draw, disgusted at having their morning interrupted.