Features & Stories

Story and photo of cattle by Trudy Frisk
Photo of grassy bench by P.W.,

Cows coming home
As the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder, the range cattle become restless.  Slowly they begin to ramble downward from their summer pastures in the high country.
Youíll meet them on the narrow roads, traveling in groups.  There are cows with this yearís calves close by, ever alert for danger.  Steers travel in buddy bunches, jostling and playing chicken with vehicles.  Bulls grumble along on their own, apart but close enough in case of trouble.  The cattle stroll through the wooded hills, grazing as they go, bedding down each night closer to the valley bottoms.  This instinct to migrate downward from frozen, snow-covered forage is as natural as the fall flight of birds and may be triggered by the same signals.  By the time snow and serious cold come to the high places, most of the cattle are collected in lower pastures.  Cowboys generally do a sweep of the pastures above to gather any strays before loading the trucks.  Of course, they canít always get them all.

In 1997 a little bull stayed behind.  Heíd come down from the high plateau to the front range with the rest but, when they went on, he didnít.  Maybe nobody told him they were leaving.  Maybe each group thought he was with the others.  He was young, it might have been his first summer out on the open range.  Possibly he didnít know the procedure.

Did he just linger too long on those fine autumn days, cocking his head to catch the honks and gurgles of the wild geese and sand hill cranes flying southward?  Did he want to spend more time scuffing through the red and yellow leaves, feeling them scrunch under his hooves?  Maybe he couldnít bear to leave the scent of golden rabbit-brush colouring the autumn grasslands.

However it happened, winter came and there he was, alone.

Like most bovines he was resourceful.  He found himself a cozy, well-sheltered draw.  Its steep sides surmounted by juniper trees made a good windbreak. At the head of the draw was a broad, open bench where grass survived all winter long beneath the Ponderosa pines.  All it took to get it was some pawing and the little bull hadnít much else to do.  All in all he felt confident.

The Grassy Ridge in winter
My friend and I came upon him one February day when we were snow-shoeing. There he was in his favourite draw, apparently wondering what the two strange creatures who appeared so suddenly on the bank above him were.  With a snort of surprise, he trotted down the draw to a thick stand of juniper and disappeared.  We named the draw ĎBull Runí in his honour.

On other outings we looked for him and always found signs he was around.  He didnít  wander far.

Was he lonely?  Or did he make friends with the big horn sheep whose true winter range this was?  Did they stand shoulder to shoulder on some high bluff on frosty moonlight nights watching the steam rise off the Thompson River, hearing the calls of tundra and trumpeter swans in the open waters far below?

The little bull made it through the winter.  When the cattle came back in spring he climbed with them up the slopes to summer pastures.  That fall he went out with the rest of the herd.  His genes and his story live on.  

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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