(Graphic: DALL-E)

Cattlemans corner Austin SneddenBy Austin Snedden, Ranching Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

When it comes to raising livestock in the United States, almost every region has its environmental challenges, whether it be cold, heat, or forage scarcity. There are only a handful of places where cattle are run that are so benign and temperate year-round that the cattle yearn for a hammock. These mild places exist but they are usually overrun with humans or vegetables because of the climate. The cattle that are raised in these mild environments often have a reputation with feeder and stocker buyers of being soft and not resilient because of the lack of environmental challenges. Probably rightly so — the reputation of cattle that come from challenging environments is one of hardiness and durability. It is not that the individual animal raised in the soft environment hasn’t experienced hardship, but rather that the genetic makeup of that animal more than likely comes from a long line of cattle that haven’t been selected for adaptability. I have always cautioned about sourcing your seed stock from ultra-cushy environments for this exact reason, but I think I have beaten that to death in other articles.

The battle for the rest of the regions comes in the form of challenging cold, challenging heat, or forage scarcity. Envision the ranchers and cattle as the civilians of the land and the extreme elements as an invading force seeking to conquer. For us in the Central Valley during summer, heat is the invading force. The General of the invading force is the sun that sends its legion of troops in the form of UV rays to attack all in its path. Every morning the sun surges over the eastern mountains like Hannibal coming over the Alps on elephants to attack the Romans. The civilians resembling cows, who have been out grazing overnight while the sun’s forces were gathering, now seek water and shade as the invading force blasts them with radiation that causes the thick-hided bovine civilians to retreat from the unebbing siege. For those fortunate enough to have trees, the bovine civilians will occupy these mini fortresses from the sun’s army.  For those who don’t have the luxury of shade, a hilltop with a breeze must suffice. Another strategy employed by these four-legged refugees is to play dead (nap), hoping that the invading force from the sun will pass over them.

The ally of the bovine refugee is the noble rancher — although the invading UV force can even challenge the nobility of the most noble rancher. The bovine-assisting rancher has the critical responsibility to ensure that the refugees are supplied with water because this attack from the burning gas ball in the sky makes these four-legged asylum seekers require two to three times as much water as they would need on a moderate day. The assisting rancher must move with purpose because the water and water conveyances are a life and death situation for the cattle, but the rancher must be cautious because he, too, is not immune from the diabolical forces of the sun’s army. In fact, he is often much more susceptible to it than the cattle. In these times, many ranchers take to caring for the asylum seekers at different times of the day when the sun’s invading force is not at its peak. Almost all ranchers carry the scars of these attacks in the form of rednecks and sun-damaged skin. Like the cattle, the rancher must also seek refuge from this deadly force and retreat to a fortress that often resembles the cab of a pickup. On days of the most vigilant attacks, the wise rancher will help the allies early, then retreat to the fortress to play dead in front of the cooler.

In this region, our biggest environmental battle is nearly ceaseless for four months until fall when our other ally, the earth, shifts on its axis and sends the sun to attack some other latitude. 

I have over-dramatized this to try to keep from making readers play dead. Most cattle handle heat exceptionally well as long as we supply them with water, they can find air movement, and most importantly, we don’t push them too hard in our management system. We all need to take heat seriously in our work because it can be deadly, and don’t underestimate playing dead in front of the cooler until the invading force passes by.

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