Saturday, November 26, 2011

Chores and a puppy

November 5 was a pretty day, a day filled with chores and delight.

Not that there’s anything particularly delightful about hand-scooping five tons of corn or tinkering with tiny engine parts deep in the bowels of a skid-steer or deploying four miles of electric fence.

But these are some of the things that must be done if one wants to continue to raise cattle and continue a legacy.

The work can be miserable. The physical toil exhausting. Most of the work is done outside, in hammering heat or freezing cold or something in between. Early in the morning and late at night and at all hours in between.

But not every hour of every day. There are compensations.

After scooping corn and bringing life back to the skid-steer, my Border collie puppy Nona and I went off to check the cows.

As we got out of the pickup I felt like I was stepping into a magical place, a secret place, a place only Nona and I could experience. The overnight coolness was flowing away across the prairie with the gentle northerly breeze, and a bright sun slanted down through a nearly cloudless, deeply blue sky. The touch of the sun was just right – warm and embracing and neither too hot nor too cold. As the ground warmed the smell of autumn filled the air, damp grass and sod and junipers melting out of the first snow of the year.

Nona dashed about hither and yon, following her nose and seeing some things for the first time in her life – she was only about 15 weeks old, after all. As we approached the cow herd on foot she seemed to take on an extra dose of excitement. She’s been around cows every day for more than a month – nothing new there. But there’s always an extra spark when she sees them, as if she knows they’re somehow special, but she can’t quite put her paw on what it is.

Border Collie puppy Nona investigates some cows and calves on the EJE Ranch south of Kimball, Neb.
On our previous walks among the cows Nona has been clearly curious but timid, preferring to stick close to me. On Monday she lost some of her timidity and trotted off ahead of me toward the cattle. I flopped down on the grass to watch her.

She moved straight toward the cows until she was fifty or sixty feet away, then paused. She looked back over her shoulder at me a couple of times, then slowly started circling to the right in a classic gathering move. As she moved to the right, several of the cows began to drift away from her to the left, reacting to the pressure of her proximity. Nona paused and watched, then as the cows stopped, she began to loop back to the left, gently pushing the cows back to the right and ahead. Her herding instincts were clearly starting to show up.

As a curious cow approaches, Border collie puppy Nona stands her ground momentarily – before scooting back to the security of her master.
All was well until a curious calf decided to take a closer look at her. Nona stood her ground for a moment, but as the 600 lb. calf drew closer, she turned and dashed away, back to her master and protection. She fairly leapt into my lap, wiggling and wagging with excitement. She’d taken a big step, and seemed to know it.

After she settled down a bit she moved off toward the cows again and went through a nearly identical process, only this time, a calf sneaked up on her from behind and gave her quite a surprise. Some of her timidity returned and she stayed close to me for several minutes.

She finally found a happy medium at about 75 feet from the cows, a place where she was close enough to watch, yet far enough away that she couldn’t be outflanked.

As I lay on the cool, spongy grass and soaked up the warming autumn sun, I thought about how fortunate I am to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures of the real world.

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