FEBRUARY 1, 2011
This is turning out to be a very hard winter for people feeding cattle. Lloyd has been feeding some cattle since November 15. In November he was weaning calves. He finished weaning the calves by December 15.
As the snow keeps coming down this winter, some of us elderly people are comparing the snow fall and cold weather to 1947, when many cattle were lost from lack of feed and so much snow. The railroads then did not operate all of the time, either. That year, we ordered and paid for hay in October and it didn’t arrive until March. We had a terrible time getting our 800 head of sheep and 15 cattle through the winter.
In the winter of ’47, I borrowed hay from neighbours who had their hay arrive earlier that mine and I bought oats from the elevator companies. I also found some wheat sheaves that had been threshed and I even got oat hulls from Robin Hood flour mills in Moose Jaw. In the end, we took a 10 per cent loss.
The snow blocked in everyone. We had no open roads within less than 40 miles and at that time we were 10 miles from a telephone. To help the animals, I would pull two sections of diamond harrows behind my bobsleigh with my team. The harrows broke the crust on the snow and the sheep could then paw through the loose snow and fill up on prairie wool grass.
However, there were heavy losses all over. One neighbour lost more than 300 head of cattle. This man had eight carloads of hay that came in late. One rancher tried to ship 200 calves in November but due to delayed train service, snow and blocked roads, he finally trailed them to Fir Mountain. About 50 per cent died. One train was stuck in the snow east of Weyburn and it stayed stuck until spring. This year is bad, but conditions are different. There are lots of bales stacked and there are thousands of bushels of grain available. The roads are kept open and we have telephone service.
A few days ago, I spent all day at the ranch with Lloyd and Nyla feeding the cattle. Due to heavy, continuous snow, he had moved the herd from his usual cattle headquarters east one mile from the yard. When snow is heavy like now, he feeds down there with a John Deere front-wheel assist. It is two miles down to their cattle and he takes two grain bales. These cattle are well sheltered and have running water. This was Hudson Bay land I bought while stationed with the army at Camp Shilo, near Brandon. I went into the head office in Winnipeg and made the deal to pay $3.65 per acre, bought on time.
The day I visited, Lloyd and Nyla had already fed over 400 calves. The calves were fed threshed oats and had all the hay they could eat. Our next stop was one and a half miles west to where there are over 300 cows. I went with Lloyd while he gave the herd six to seven bales of hay. He mixes his feed sometimes and feeds some oat bales instead of hay. He keeps the bulls in a separate pasture where they have open water, and trees for shelter. All cattle are outside, well sheltered and the calves are bedded down with straw. The cows make their own bed. His oat bales form a round fence.
The only animal in the barn is Jack, my saddle horse. Jack stays with the calves and at night Lloyd or Nyla let him into the barn. Lloyd’s cattle are all in good condition; the cows could go as butcher cattle right now. It is a great feeling to have lots of feed on a bad winter like this. If Lloyd is feeding away from home he uses a Dodge truck that is self-loading and carries two bales.
There has been quite a change in how our feed is handled since I first bought land in 1937. On my Dad’s ranch, we cut the crop with a horse-drawn binder. If the crop was too short we used a horse-drawn “Frost and Wood” mower, which is what I started with. The feed was cut with a binder or windrowed with a horse-drawn or tractor-drawn rake.
Next, we got balers. These balers were of all makes. I always had the New Holland. Some people baled and dropped the bales on the ground and then there were various types of bale stackers. When I was baling, I pulled a rubber-tired wagon behind and when the rack was loaded, I stopped and unloaded at the stack yard. I found this method worked well. One problem was that a second person was needed to stack the bales on the wagon.
Then, along came the 160-square bale wagon. This is a great machine and we are still using one. We now make both square and round bales. They work very well for us. Some ranchers have gone to silage. Certainly, there have been good results with the silage system.
But, things have certainly changed since I was a boy. Of all the machines, my favourite is the diesel-powered, 160-bale wagon. The engineering is fabulous. While on the subject of the bale wagon, I will finish by telling you a story that happened many years ago, now. I had just finished baling on a 110- acre oat field, which was 14 miles from home. The sun was going down and just as I finished my load, my bale wagon dug into a sand hill. I was stuck. I had no truck there because I had planned on taking a load of bales home. There was no cell phone in those days. But, I had an idea. The tractor was still nearby hooked to the baler, but there was no chain. I got the tractor, which was a little Ford with a front end scoop on it and I drove it right behind the stuck bale wagon. With the bale wagon out of gear, my plan was to push with the little tractor in its lowest gear to dislodge the stuck wagon.
I put my plan into action. The tractor started to push and as soon as it began to have some motion, I jumped off it and ran for the bale wagon. I did not catch it. It was on a side hill and the bale wagon seemed to take off in a hurry. I missed the wagon and it rolled a quarter of a mile across the field. The tractor, in its lowest gear, did not go fast and I caught it and drove it down to where the bale wagon had finally stopped. I jumped on and drove the wagon home. The lesson, after the fact is, all is well that ends well.
BoydAndersonisamostlyretiredrancher fromGlentworth,Sask.andhasbeena columnistforGrainewsformanyyears