The miracle of ranching: Spring comes early in Wallowa County

April 02, 2014 09:21 am

In a way, spring comes early to Wallowa County in the form of calves and lambs, some born as early as January. The birthing season goes on into May, offering a lot of opportunity to “ooh” and “ahh” over little babies in the fields.

A few weeks ago, I photographed one of my neighbors’ cows giving birth. I was headed home when I saw a calf dangling from the backside of a cow. I had to stop and chronicle this amazing sight.

I haven’t posted the photos online nor have I even shown them to anyone yet. Giving birth is awfully personal and the cow looked at me like, “Really?” as I shot a stream of photos while her baby slid to the ground.

I had to be sure the calf was alive. At first, he was encased in a bag. Not until his mother licked him off did he appear alive. When I drove by later, he was upright on his wobbly legs.

I told a rancher I had witnessed a calf’s birth for the first time. He said his herd gets a lot of attention during calving season. People pull over on the side of the road for a closer look at his delivery room and nursery.

Another rancher, whose herd winters in a highly visible location, said he gets a lot of calls in the winter — people mistaking a cow’s afterbirth for an injury.

Wallowa County hosts plenty of visitors each year, but our day job is agriculture. 

One summer’s day in Minam a car flew down the driveway, the driver frantic. A cow was in the highway. “Well, yes,” I said. “It’s open range.”

In fact, the first thing the chow-heeler did when we arrived in Minam was take a bath in cow manure. Living with cows for five and a half years, there were times when Bridey had more than three baths a week.

Engaging in conversation with visitors, some ask, “What do people do here for a living?” Well, those fields don’t cultivate themselves and those cows and sheep are fed in the winter and turned out in the summer.

Wallowa County, like a lot of Oregon, grows food. Other parts of the region increased their barley and grape harvest by 20 percent last year while Wallowa County beef sales stayed strong. With a steak or a lamb chop goes wine or beer. 

What do people do here for a living? We feed you.