What Really Counts

People who spend any amount of time around a rancher should expect to be asked to count something sooner or later. My rancher counts things like money, days, years, bales, elk and cattle.
After selling culled cows at a sale barn, he counts each day that the expectant check hasn’t come in the mail. Once it arrives he reminds me how many days have passed that I still haven’t deposited it. He frequently recounts to me how many times he’s already explained his plan for the day. The latest number he shared with me was how many years we’ve had the same argument that we were having on the way to town the other day.
If I mention seeing elk grazing in our hay fields he’ll ask how many, if they were at home or up at the barn by Pringle, and if there were any bulls. He usually confirms my numbers against the neighbors’ within a couple of days.
He also keeps a running tally for every load of water I’ve hauled in order to track how much we owe the town of Pringle for. When preplanning our winter feed regimen my husband counts out roughly how many days our hay pile is expected to last. A page in his record book is dedicated to how many bales we put up this summer, broken down into the number of bales we got off every hayfield and how many are round, square, alfalfa and grass. He also keeps stats on all the hay that’s been carried over from the previous year and a list of that hay in grass, alfalfa, round, and squares. Another page has all the number of bales put up for each year since 2003 (when he started using a record book to keep track) for comparison purposes.
Other important numbers have to do with selling our calves in the fall. Besides ours, a few are the kids’ and some calves we expect to get docked on for various flaws. A headcount and an estimate on what the calves weigh determines how many cattle pots we need for shipping our calves to the sale barn. After the sale my husband has a new set numbers for figuring out what the average amount per head came out to be.
Habitual counting stems from the all-important head-counting of cattle. Bulls, cows, pairs, heifers, drys (not lactating) and opens (not bred) are counted year-round. Getting a head count is generally done on the inside of a fence but occasionally takes place outside of a fence if the neighbor’s cattle end up with ours by mistake or vice versa. Counting as cows go through a gate is most popular but they also get tallied before, during, and after sorting, while moving to a new location, or once they all arrive at a water source.
I don’t like counting because I always come up with different numbers every time I count cattle. They don’t stand still or go through gates one at a time very good and are hard to differentiate when they’re close together but I’ve learned that getting a number is what really counts. If my husband asks me what I got for a headcount, saying, “I didn’t count,” is the wrong answer.
column originally published September 27-October 3, 2009

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *