Ranching Blog: Winter Adventures

It's cold, but there is still work that needs to get done.

It's cold, but there is still work that needs to get done.

Many of us know that ranching is always an adventure. It’s an adventure because cows have a mind of their own, horses have a mind of their own, and Mother Nature certainly doesn’t seem to mind throwing her two-cents into the mix, either.

Combine the above, throw in Old Man Winter, and sometimes you have a recipe for disaster. 

Sometimes that disaster comes in the form of an early fall blizzard, like in the case of the heartbreaking 2013 storm Atlas. Or we lose power for 2-3 days at a time like the start of 2017, when we had blizzards on and off all winter, beginning Christmas Day ‘16. Ground blizzards lasted 2-3 days at a time, and we trudged through three feet of snow to put our horses up after a day of riding – despite the fact that a path was plowed nearly daily, by the end of the day, the blowing snow had filled in the empty spots!

Once in a while Old Man Winter finds himself in a really great mood. He allows the snow to fall, softly, quietly, beautifully down from the sky. He doesn’t get all somehow and huff and puff. As far as South Dakota winters go, this one has been splendid so far, short of a little stint of super cold days in January, it’s been mild. You won’t find us complaining about that!

Winter always makes things more interesting because, well, freezing temperatures and snow of course! Last weekend we moved the cows closer to home so that when the weather straightens up we can sort off our replacement and first-calf heifers. This meant we needed to fix a broken water tank. Here, we have an artesian water well. It is gravity pumped, and comes out of the ground at nearly 90 degrees. The warm water certainly helps the livestock drink more in the winter, so that’s a win! And of course, because the water is so warm, and the tanks are all free-flowing with a drain, we don’t have to go out all winter and chop ice on the dams or the river.

A “quick” plumbing job was needed since a few parts on the tank needed to be replaced. We drove 35 miles, one-way, to the closest town for parts. Twenty minutes of repair time later, still there was no water. Multiple trips down a soggy, soft, snow-melting, pasture “road” to turn the lines on and off resulted in nothing. Finally, a call to our cousin, who did all the trenching for us, revealed that the line was likely plugged. That fix required an external water tank full of scalding, hot water. Who’d have guessed that the external water tank I take with me on the rodeo trail would come in handy for more than just watering horses on the road? Six hours later, water flowed! Happy cows mean happy ranchers.

We finally did get those cows trailed home a week later. It wasn’t exactly a warm start to our day, but the sun came out and it sure enough got beautiful. Several hours later, the replacements, the first calf heifers, and a few older cows, were sorted, and the older cows were trailed back to pasture. Basically, we’re ready to begin calving mid-April.

Until next time, 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.