When I first got to Montana I had two goals: I wanted to visit a real ranch and go to a Pow Wow. Now, thanks to Courtney, I have accomplished both. Courtney was kind enough to invite me to her families ranch for the weekend and I had a blast!!
Friday evening, after meeting her parents for dinner, Courtney and I went down to the little bar in Wilsall called the Bank Bar. Courtney knew most of the people in there, of course. I was loving it because it was the classic little small town bar just like hundreds that I have passed on the road, but never went into because I was alone and a stranger to the place.
We started out on Saturday morning feeding the "bum calves." These calves had lost their mothers and have to be bottle fed. I thought it was so cute when we went out there calling their names, and they just came-a-runnin' out of the tall grass. They knew exactly what was coming.
Then, it was off to move cattle. Courtney, her brothers, and I went out to move one of the herds of cattle from one pasture to the next. This is necessary so they don't eat all the grass in one area and kill it. Allowing the cattle to stay too long in one area would mean they could not graze there in the future. Ranchers know the tricks to preserving the land and not exploiting it.
Most people think of herding in the cattle on horses, but this is the 21st century guys. We did it with 4 wheelers. :) I was a newbie to 4-wheeling, and was totally freaked out most of the time on the hilly terrain, but eventually, I got more comfortable.
At one point during the move the cows got all caught up in the trees. There were downed trees and brush all over. We had to go on foot to herd them through and they were having to jump tree branches while keeping an eye on us to make sure we didn't get too close. It was quite a sight. I don't think I have ever been that close to any cow before, much less a whole herd of about 250. Finally, we got them all through the gate. I was amazed that it was even possible and that we had done it in, what I thought was, pretty good time.
The next step was to place the SmartLic out. This is a protein source for the cows. They have to have a balanced diet too. :) I learned that you have to place it away from the water source in order to attract them away from the water so they will graze the whole pasture instead of being lazy and only staying in one place. Now, I was told by Courtney's brother that in order to be a real rancher I had to try some of the SmartLic... hmmm... I was not so sure about this. I agreed, but only after he tried it first. Look at this stuff. It looks disgusting.
However, it is actually very sweet and gets that brown color because it is mostly molasses. It tastes like a granola bar.
The whole weekend I was full of questions. I am sure they all got sick of it, but I wanted to learn as much as I could.
I learned why all those little shacks that are falling down on peoples land never get taken down: because they are the homesteads of the first people who got here. They are little tributes to the people who first came here. I also learned that, sometimes, all those stacks and stacks of hay are used to feed the cattle during the long winter and are not necessarly going to be sold.
On Sunday, I got to meet Courtney's grandma who was super sweet. Even though she called me weird for not drinking my coffee black. :) Also, I saw more of their land while getting a little tour from Courtney's dad. It is some of the most beautiful country I have seen. Unfortunately, there was still a lot of smoke in the air due to the fires so I could not see the total expanse of beauty.
Later that evening I got to hear Courtney's dad sing in his band made up of other ranchers. Its called the Ringling 5. They are really good and funny too! I got such a kick out of their songs, and before I left I was gifted with a Ringling 5 DVD, baseball cap and 2 CDs. I have been listening to the CDs ever since.