I was thinking today about how different spring times can be from one year to the next. This winter has brought abundant moisture, and, as we come into the heart of spring, the number of blooming, green plants is astounding. The pastures across all our ranges are green and the soil temperature has just reached the point where the warm season plants are going beyond just green and finally growing. This morning we were making an oryx passageway through one of the fences (a permanent gap in the fence that allows them to cross over, preventing them from trashing the fence) and I was telling Meredith that we need to be careful and not take this green spring for granted because things could be much different.
I recalled how in dry years, there is so much more shuffling of cattle around and, in extreme cases, cattle being shipped off the ranch to sell at auctions. Time is spent reconfiguring contingency plans in case moisture continues to avoid us. What cattle will we ship next? When shall we set the next benchmark for shipping more cattle if moisture does not materialize? I remember also, that when it does finally rain and the pressure lifts, I hadn’t realized how heavy it was until it is gone. And how being free of it is like a wave washing the after-effects away and presenting a gift – a whole new pasture full of feed for starting over fresh.
What continually surprises me every single green spring is how long it takes cattle to show signs of the good nutrition at hand. Plants have been green for a while (beginning of April), and so logically, you would think that cattle would be fat, or beginning to show signs of improved body condition. But no. You can usually bank that by the end of June, the non-lactating cows will be so fat they seem like barren cows, and the lactating cows will begin to cycle by mid June, when the bulls go in. Sure enough, as we moved cattle this week and as we check water daily, the cows still have not shed their winter coats and are looking pretty rough.
An important contributing factor to the slowness with which they recover from wintertime is that we expect our cattle to live within the constraints of nature. In other words, we do not feed a whole lot of supplemental feed, expecting them to find what they need in their natural environment. They live much like the wild animals whose body condition fluctuates with the seasons and weather cycles.
So, as we ride through the green pastures with calving cows on these bright, shiny days, I think of how lucky I am to not be worried about when its going to rain this year, as I have so many springs in the past. Instead I’ve been looking at the different flowers that might not show their faces except every few years, depending on the timing of moisture, marveling at how beautifully they dress up the land.