Ranching Blog: Spring Snow

Living in interesting times... and spring snows.

Ranch Horse Journal

Time to help a cold and lost little calf. PHOTO: Jenn Zeller

To say that life is interesting would be an understatement. When folks ask, “What is a typical day on the ranch?” my answer is, “There isn’t one.” Sure, there are the same daily tasks – water, feed, ride, check cows – some of which are on my daily to-do list and some of which I rarely do. Tasks, obviously vary by season – currently we are in the season for calving.

In 2017 when we calved, I don’t recall much snow being on the ground – we had it all, roughly 3.5 feet of it, earlier in the year, and by February it was mostly gone. But this year, Old Man Winter has been frenetic. We will have sunny, warm days (warm is relative, I know), with no snow, and then awake to find a blanket of the fresh, wet, white stuff, like we did today in Mid-April.

The frost is out of the ground, so when it gets sunny, windy and warm the ridges dry out quickly. But the rest of the countryside, not so much. This makes for a little bit of mud, and good conditions under which to get a using horse in shape. Though sometimes we do more walking than we might like, only because in our part of the country, when it gets muddy it gets slick, and sometimes slick can injure your steed.

Last weekend, on a calf check after the Saturday blizzard that blew through, we awoke to a sunny, windy, rather chilly Sunday morning. Our cows are just getting started calving, which is nice, since as I mentioned above, Old Man Winter seems to be having a come-apart.  My big yellow horse and I trotted when we were able and cowboy-walked the rest of the time. I’m trying to get him in shape for the summer rodeos, so calving on him only makes sense.

As I rode over the ridge, I could see a dark spot in the bottom, and a little pang went through my heart. The following thoughts ran through my head – “Surely that calf isn’t dead?! But it’s not curled up like it should be, and it’s in the bottom (a draw between two ridges)! I know it’s out of the wind, but it’s lying in snow, where it could be in or near hay, somewhere warmer.”  The closer I got the more worried I became.
Avie and I plowed down the hill, through the knee-deep snow drifts to the little calf to find that he was alive. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to feel inside his mouth or not to see how cold his body temperature was, because I certainly didn’t want to disturb him. I rode back up the hill to find my partner in crime, Burt. He’d counted calves on his side of the pasture, and between us we had them all found. So our next move was to find which mom was minus her calf.

Of course, she was the last cow we found. We started hazing her back over to where she’d left her baby. While the spot was out of the wind, it certainly wasn’t a good spot for a couple-day old calf to be on his own. With no cows around him, he made for easy coyote bait. It was pretty obvious from the size of her bag she’d been away from him for a while. We got them paired back up and let him suck for a bit before starting them back towards the windbreak where he could lay down in the sun, and be with the rest of the herd.

The grass is going to be gorgeous this year thanks to all the spring snows. And...the mud, while not so fun in the thick of things, pun intended, is always worth the stirrup-high grass we get in the summer. 

Life is certainly interesting and never dull, here on the plains of South Dakota. I enjoy all the seasons - calving, branding, summer, shipping, fall, and even winter, despite my, more often than not, cold toes. And with that, I’m off to catch one of our home-raised American Quarter Horses, to ride through the cows for a calf check. That snow from this morning, is mostly melted off.

Happy Trails!

Jenn Zeller is an aspiring horseman, photographer, freelance writer, barrel racer and collector of horses and chickens. She resides in South Dakota on the DX Ranch, a third-generation cattle ranch where the family raises Angus and Brangus cows, as well as Quarter Horses. Contact her at jennifer@thesouthdakotacowgirl.com.