Calves are Clueless

By Patty Wilber

It wasn’t even astronomical twilight. It was 0 Dark Thirty.

Illustration image

The first hot and bitter swallow of coffee almost drove the sleep grit from my eyes, and I packed the cooler while Jim (because he is the best) loaded my three horses.  Penny came for the cattle drive and LT and Mitch for cow horse arena work.

It was 4:30 am when the diesel chugged to life and I pulled out of our gravel driveway heading north to Watrous.

Driving into the day is way better than driving the day away.  The sun comes up.


I got there in time (whew!) and we penned up LT and Mitch. I saddled Penny, reloaded her and followed Barret, Jason and Wyatt to meet the rest of the crew.

We warmed up the horses and headed out across the ranch at a long trot in the still slanty morning light.  It was no-sweatshirt-warm!

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When we got to the pasture with the moms and calves (pairs), we split into two groups and went hunting for cow. We kept our forward pace and Penny found a nice rhythm.  She watches where she is going, and the area was not super rocky or full of holes, so it was easy terrain to ride!

We slowed when we spied our quarry!


Found some!

 Most of our herd fragment was down by this windmill.


As we approached, I could smell their grassy poop smell.  There is a grand description, eh?  When they saw the horses, they began to moove and moo, too. Penny fell right in behind and we let the herd meander down the two track to our meeting place.


We consolidated the bunches at a tank that was mostly dry.


After a break where all the guys could hop off and pee using their horses as a screen (or pee on their horse’s leg, is what it kind of looks like–and, no I didn’t stare or take pictures of this) and I had to go find a tree, we pushed the group toward the gate.

This seemed pretty straight forward. We went slow and pushed them from behind with holders on the sides.  Then the calves started to group up at the back. Then one or two started to peel off and race away toward the almost dry tank, apparently, forgetting their mom’s were just up ahead!


Calves at the back.

One beat me and I gave chase, but Penny got a little humpy and the calf got a good lead.  We got our act together and went for it, but we were cleanly beat, so Kenny galloped in and roped the little bugger. He kept it roped and herded it back to the group. Kinda fun to do and see!

We made it out of that pasture and got a ways, when a couple of calves developed a new strategy and decided to depart together.  Several riders left to corral them, leaving us with too few to hold the remainder.  There was an avalanche of bolters!  It kind of reminded me of the herding cats Super Bowl commercial.

They returned to the fence and stacked up there.  Some were small enough or pushy enough to squeeze through and go galloping on. Only a few moms joined the deserters, which was too bad because more moms would have helped them relax and the moms had no issues going where we asked!  The rest of the mamas were grazing way back where the little runners had run off.

We let them settle, reassembled and got them going again.  We were getting close to the main bunch of moms and one rider went to look for a rope that had snagged in some trees and was lost.  As soon as he left, the calves thought he should be followed.  Two went.  Four. Ten.  Crap. They stopped following him and literally high-tailed, went all the way back to the fence! There were somewhat fewer this time, but a couple snuck through the fence again!

Regroup, settle, get going, be vigilant.

We got all the way to the most of the moms!

(The video was taken from my moving horse…. explains the quality…)

We got them bunched  and kept easing them along. We could see the next gate!  We could see the trucks and the windmill and the water tank. We could see the group of bovids that had made it that far! We were feeling pretty confident and some of the guys were tossing their ropes and chatting.  The calves however, still clueless about the location of their mothers and bawling for them, were a little hot after all that cavorting.  As we passed a stand of juniper they started sneaking in there for shade, and then they realized they were FREE!

At first, it was just a few….

Penny will bushwhack with the best of them, so we headed into the thick of the trees, but calves can go where a horse can’t and those few drew a mob! Suddenly, they were not tired and they were off again!

As we broke into the open, Penny was covering ground like a seasoned pro!  I know it is better for the cows and calves if everything stays sedate, but YEE HAW, chasing calves at speed in the wide open on a good footed horse with the wind in my face made me feel like I sorta knew what I was doing (and that I was not 54 but maybe 35 instead!) We all were looping by the calves, driving to their necks, trying to turn them, and because the calves had used up at least some energy (they were panting and had flecks of foam speckling their lips) they did turn.  We stopped their progress in a little swale.  They milled around and were bawling. That drew a couple mamas to them, and several calves laid down to rest.  Thank goodness!

Kenny decided enough was enough, and he took a couple folks to bring back a bunch more moms while the rest of us kept the little delinquents from gaining any more ground!  There were only a few that kept pressing it and all it took was a step to them from a horse to push them back.

As we waited, a few more moms drifted to us.  They would either moo and their calf would recognize its mom’s voice and come and nurse, or the moms would go calf to calf and sniff until finding theirs.  One mama only sniffed brown calves. Mom yellow 247 (I might have mis-remembered her ear-tag number) could not find her calf.  She kept mooing and then she would re-smell but hers was not with us.  I started to feel kind of sorry for her!

When the mom bunch got to us, we watched for a while to make sure things looked calm, and finally headed for the trucks, leaving the clueless calves with the moms.


Two suddenly rejuvenated calves came careening along with us (there were more moms and calves at the water).  Good grief!

The horses were happy for a drink as our “morning” gather had gone well into the afternoon!

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After we got back to the ranch, Mitch and LT  and me along with Jason and Barret and their horses got to do cow horse arena work.  That was a great time, too! Thanks Barret!

Surprisingly, I was not a zombie on the 138 mile drive home (I left around 7 pm).

Super fun!

Salt hauling for bighorn sheep this weekend with Back Country Horsemen, two cow clinics the next two weekends and a cow horse show in Texas is the schedule for this month.

Then I might be a zombie!



About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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2 Responses to Calves are Clueless

  1. Doranna says:

    Oh, how wondrous! Thank you for the vicarious day!

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