Blowing the cobs out

Cow-Calf Commentary

KIMBALL – Spring is a busy time of year on the ranch. There are cows to be calved out and fences to be mended following the ravages of winter ice, snow and wind. Cows continue to need supplemental feed. Grass has to be scouted and the grazing plan scrutinized and adjusted.

This spring there is an additional major chore, a continuation of a job which began back in the fall. A family member has been suffering from a significant illness and coordinating and assisting with care takes a great deal of time and effort. I’m not complaining, you understand, just stating facts. It’s life and it’s what you do.

Just to make things interesting, I came down with strep throat a couple of weeks ago. What I thought was just a cold and sore throat landed me in the emergency room for a round of antibiotics and IV rehydration. The Doc wanted to keep me in the hospital but that wasn’t really an option, given my other responsibilities. We negotiated, and he gave in but provided stern warnings.

“When you’re taking care of someone else,” he said, “you have to take care of yourself, too.”

And he’s completely correct. Fortunately, I’ve got a background in clinical and emergency medicine and I really am pretty good at taking care of myself.

At my age – which is breathtakingly close to 60 – things are harder than they once were and there’s not as much reserve energy in the tank. But my active lifestyle and dedication to hiking and eating reasonably well keeps me considerably more fit than many of my peers. A very real benefit of being fit and healthy is my ability to endure and bounce back from illness. So there’s that.

On Monday I got in a nice workout while scouting grass and surveying a new shooting range. It was a tough, day-long slog and I was still feeling the lingering effects of recent illness. Feeling noticeably weak and tired can suck the joy right out of physical labor and exertion. But Monday was also a gem of a gorgeous spring day and nature provided abundant joy to make up for it.

My grass scouting efforts turned up a lot of good news. The prairie ecosystem is indeed waking up, and the cool-season grasses are coming right along. On the parcel where I’m building the shooting range, I was very pleased to see how aggressively green needlegrass and western wheatgrass are encroaching into the smooth brome planted under a previous owner’s CRP contract. 

It’s been a joy to watch nature reclaim this grassland which, as far as I’m concerned, should never have been farmed. This is mixed shortgrass country, and warm season grasses are making even more inroads than cool season. This summer, if we don’t dry out too much, buffalo grass and blue and sideoats grama will continue to push brome grass aside. If I’m fortunate, I’ll be around long enough to see the brome disappear entirely.

Please don’t misunderstand my point here – there’s nothing wrong with smooth brome grass. In this instance, in fact, there’s been everything right with brome grass. It grew well, anchoring and stabilizing soil. Over the years it provided (and continues to provide) abundant forage (especially in the spring) for cattle, and this particular parcel is an excellent calving ground. No, this stand of brome has been a near-perfect bandage. Now native prairie is well along in healing itself and the bandage is sloughing off. It’s served its purpose and is no longer needed.

As for the shooting range, I laid out and surveyed a 400-yard known-distance range on Monday. Lots of hiking back and forth, pulling tape measures, setting out markers, selecting shooting locations and backstop berms, etc. Then I hiked around and tentatively identified six or seven other locations for shooting stages. All in all, a very good workout.

At the end of the day my cool fitness watch calculated the sum of my steps and pegged the total distance hiked at just over 10 miles. Not too bad for a creaky fellow of my vintage, particularly one recovering from illness. Guess I’ve got a bit of juice left in the tank.

It was good to blow the cobs out.