Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Flat Ranch: The Cows Arrive

Story and photos by Dave Katsuki, additional photos by Sarah Grigg and Nancy Elkins

The Flat Ranch is a working cattle ranch, and working cattle ranches have fences--lots of them! Getting the ranch ready for its summer season means getting all those fences ready for the cattle that arrive in July.

In this part of the country, heavy winter snow dictates that most barbed wire and electric fences are “lay-down fences,” built to allow the wire and sometimes movable posts (called “dancers”) to lay down on the ground in the autumn so that they won’t get broken by the weight of the snow.

As the ranch wakes up in the spring, the cowboys, staff and volunteers check the fence lines, put the fences up and make any needed repairs (and there are always needed repairs).
Luckily the cowboys do most of the fencing, and they have done it for many years, but for the new staff and volunteers, there is often a learning curve: Learning to handle barbed wire and using the fence stretcher. Repairing lay-down gates. Grafting new wire onto tired old wire (have to stretch the dollars as well as the wire). Repairing and lighting up electric fences. Replacing rails in old jack fences.

But the hard work is all worth it if one can look out over the fields covered with wild flowers, surrounded by the mountains.

And then the cattle arrive! On July 6, six trucks from Spring Eagle Ranch arrived and unloaded 240 cattle into the corral.

Cowboys sorted the cattle and branded a dozen calves to get ready to drive the herd out to their first pasture. The cowboys were really talented, and their horses seemed telepathic, as the cowboys cut the cows out and roped the calves for branding and vaccinating. It feels like a private rodeo!

The next day, the cowboys drove the cattle to their first pasture, where they will remain for a week. The cattle look pretty happy after a winter down in the desert!

One of the missions of the Flat Ranch is to show that cattle ranching is compatible with conservation.

The cattle graze in 12 different pastures, with an intensive grazing rotation that moves from pasture to pasture on a 2 to 10 day schedule. This prevents over-grazing and mimics the feeding patterns of bison on the grasslands.
A Big Thanks to All Our Volunteers
Dr. Nick Markin and Dr.-to-be Kara Markin, of Omaha, Nebraska stopped by the Flat Ranch for a visit and were recruited as fencing volunteers (see photos above). With the arrival of cattle, electric fencing is erected around creeks to protect banks and streams. The Markins were essential in stringing the fence in time for the arrival of the cattle.

Our volunteers support the ranch in many ways other than fence repair.

Idaho Fish & Game Master Naturalist volunteers have also been tremendously helpful. Penny Freppon acted as visitor center docent for an afternoon, allowing Flat Ranch staff to conduct work in the field. Nancy Olson, Phyllis King, and Lee King undertook a major trash pick-up along the pastures lining Highway 20, hauling off an entire truck-load of debris. Many thanks to all our volunteers who give their time to keep the ranch running!

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