Whenever there does not immediately appear to be anything new or old worth writing about I always go to this question: “what am I feeling deeply about these days?” These are not obsessive feelings, you know, the kind that keeps one awake at night.
They are feelings about satisfaction and joy — just plain enjoyment. We need enough of those brain chemicals that make us feel good to in order to put up with the humdrum activities of everyday life and the hard work that challenges us daily.
One of my great feelings came the other day when the cold snap ceased and it felt springlike as I fed cattle. Of course, I knew that with warmer temperatures they wouldn’t need so much feed to keep their body functions optimal. The memories of the cold penetrating the gloves and mittens vanished and all was well again.
It does my heart good when the young horse comes up to me for the attention that I paid her at birth. Imprinting: the beginning of bonding.
Bonds between livestock and their managers are important for ease of management and the absence of stress.
“Trust me, I am bringing feed or turning you out where you can find your own feed, so don’t run out the gate when I come to offer you food. Respect me and don’t crowd me when I get off the tractor to cut the bale strings.” That sort of thing.
Horse people know that if not spoiled, a horse will not tread on one’s heals when you lead them and they turn to face you in a corral or confined space.
I took great joy the other day when my wife and youngest grandchild were tasked with keeping the cows out of the hay barn as I moved some hay in from another storage area. Our valley floods most years separating our ranch, so we need to have hay for early spring calving on the right side of the valley.
I looked over and an un-weaned calf was approaching the four-year old. I tell the kids to pretend they are a coyote and behave like a predator if they want the animal’s attention.
Whatever he did he did it right because as he slowly approached the calf stopped heading towards the barn with open gates. As the boy entered the animal’s social space (“flight zone” in technical terms) it stopped, then turned. I praised him for being brave.
Pride in the learning that children achieve is the kind of feeling I am often seeking these days as I get ready to turn over the operations to the next generations. This sustains me during the stumbling moments in deep snow or when concentrating on warming cold fingers that come out of the mitts to free a frozen bale string.
If our presence of mind and an attitude of gratitude can be our modus operating on a daily basis, then the sky and the earth present endless sources of joy. I like the winter yellows in the sky. I love to stop at the open creek, if only for a moment, to watch the trumpeter swans feed below the bridge.
Ranching is listening to livestock crunch feed unsuited for humans and tear grass off its stem making the disturbance a stimulant for regeneration for the plants. Ranching is being able to see the millions of blooms in the fields and pastures. It is about passing on timeless knowledge and the ethic of persevering under a little or a lot of discomfort (part of work).
David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at TRU.
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