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A pasture ride with the animals and little else

Lisa Schmidt allows the sheep and a few calves to stroll to their pasture.
Lisa Schmidt allows the sheep and a few calves to stroll to their pasture.

Yesterday, I needed to bring in the bulls.

I had squandered the warm weather on Thanksgiving with my family, driving my open-cab tractor 10 miles to the mechanic and pounding posts for an electric fence before the ground froze solid. The bulls were still out in the pasture, hunkered down in below-0 temperatures and wind. The sheep needed to leave the corral to graze that same pasture so I decided to multitask.

Normally, I walk the sheep out to pasture every morning and walk them back to the safety of the corral each evening. Both jobs are my favorite time of the day, bookends to my other tasks, and walking is warmer than riding a horse. I didn’t think I could bring the bulls in on foot, though.

The horses stood just outside the corral, out of the wind, hoping for some hay or at least an alfalfa pellet. They all found a pellet in my pocket. I found a halter for one of them. I threw myself on to his bare back. At least my legs would be warm for this ride, if not my feet.

The sheep were in no hurry to find breakfast. It was no wonder they didn’t want to stand. Some of them left bits of wool frozen to the ground where they had thawed the ice as they slept. We all strolled east toward the alfalfa field. By stroll, I mean meander through the grass, nibbling bites and avoiding snow drifts.

I expected to see a coyote as I rode bareback with no rifle, but he must have remained curled up in the creek bed, with his warm tail tucked around his nose. At least, that’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t dare curl my cold fingers inside my gloves, afraid I would need to grab my horse’s mane if he slipped. And this horse has been known to explode with joy in the cold.

Usually, I can ride an explosion, but if I didn’t, I might not be able to get back on. Horses grow taller exponentially as temperatures drop and layers of long johns go on. Eventually, the sheep found the alfalfa and I found the bulls I needed. By then, I found myself finding reasons to abandon this task, turn the horse loose and walk home. A little bit of blood circulation would help my fingers, toes and nose.

Then I recalled some wise words from a rancher: If you wait for a good day to do something, you’ll never get anything done.

The bulls turned toward the corral and hurried along as much as bulls ever hurry. Which meant they strolled, meandering through the grass, nibbling bites and avoiding snow drifts. The wind bit my face and the sun came out, sparkling the snow and teasing the clouds away. The bulls jumped the creek bed. My horse followed. I clenched my legs and laughed.

Not a bird tweeted in the silence of bone-chilling air. No jackrabbits popped out of the brush. No Hungarian partridges took flight. Just as winter stars keep me company as I walk the sheep to safety each evening, the sun sang its silent glory as I followed the bulls, teasing me with fleeting bursts of heat.

Maybe it’s the silence. Maybe it’s ignoring a phone too cold to check. Maybe it’s the security of my day that revolves around taking care of my animals, with little time for anything else.

The bulls turned through the open corral gate and stuck their heads into the manger. I slid off my horse and staggered on unfeeling feet. I leaned against him, struggling to regain my balance, and glad nobody was trying to escape.

“Thank you, Good Horse. That was fun!”

Lisa Schmidt raises grass-fed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad. Lisa can be reached at L.Schmidt@a-land-of-grass-ranch.com.

This article originally appeared on Great Falls Tribune: Prairie Ponderings: Winter experienced when bringing in the bulls