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Ranch musings

Column: time to reflect on what really is important

The gift of having land and animals in your care

The Christmas and New Year’s holiday has passed quickly for us, but not so fast and busy that we didn’t have time to reflect on what is important in life.

Just before Christmas we started feeding the pregnant cows. A few weeks earlier we started to feed the growing animal- calves and future butcher animals.

Putting out feed for the cows always feels good, as we know they won’t be struggling to get enough nutrition for the long winters. It is a good idea to closely observe which ones have retained body fat and which are thin.

We should gradually eliminate those that are not thrifty and keep those that are easy fleshing as they are the ones that will raise animals that are inexpensive to finish for good flavour and adequate fat to taste good.

We remember that the cost of winter feed is what can put us into an unprofitable position.

Economics aside for the moment, it does feel good to gradually introduce cows to hay each year at this time. Cows are gentler this time of year and enjoyable to move around as we cut the bale strings which wrap the round bales.

I know some ranchers really feel they want to die owning cattle. This means they can’t let go of the need to do what they have done all their lives. Other are happy to retire while there is time and good health to enjoy other experiences.

All of us need to have the balance in our lives that allows us to “retire” and be open to and skilled at other activities. Travel or hobbies to pursue when more time is available is a must in my view. Cold turkey stopping of what we have devoted our lives to may be a shock to many.

I was reminded the other day by a retired rancher, that we often don’t miss having to sleep out under a tree unprepared just because we got lost or it got too late in the late day tracking cattle, just wanting to get them home.

Or as another retired rancher put it to me, when a cold snap hit, friends had told him that they had a feeding tractor at a meadow where the cattle were grazing. However, the tractor couldn’t be started as they had forgotten to take the tiger torch (propane) to warm the oil and the generator to charge the tired battery.

The cows would be “complaining” of course. They just knew it was time to be fed.

I choose this topic to reflect on the feeling we have for animals under our care. Our feelings stretch to caring for the health and happiness of the animals but also the feelings we have the gift of land we have in our care.

Careful grazing is better for the land than removing its bounty (hay) and taking the nutrients away. But when you have to, it’s good to allow the cows to place those nutrients they don’t use (excrement and urine), where they will do the most good, on land that needs fertilizing.

A healthy way of life balances the social and financial needs of the people on the land with the needs of the land itself to sustained.

That is the reflection that dominated my holiday wishes for my family, community and living creatures under our care. The happiest New Year to our readers.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher in the Cariboo and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus.

READ MORE: Hopes for the new year, beyond dirt

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