Angus cattle standing in mud, gathered around a hay ring during a a snow storm with negative space above for copy.
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Winter Feeding

Autumn '20

Man, is it cold. 25 degrees and trying to rain … they’ll sure have a hump in their backs this morning.

As I drink my coffee and enjoy this fireplace, I think about the cattle I got to feed that’s been out in it all night. I thank the Lord the yearlings are all straight and coming to feed.

This is perfect weather for pneumonia. It was 75 and sunny two days ago. It’s something how the temperature can change so fast and how that will affect the health of cattle as much as, or more than, anything. No matter how hard you work, how well you prepare or how many hours you put in, there ain’t nothing you can do about the temperature except adjust to it.

We have gotten a little too used to adjusting the temperature to us with central heat and air and controlled climate facilities, cab tractors and such. We are a slightly spoiled generation. Why, today I won’t ever get cold feeding cattle. I have a Trip-Hopper on my truck, so I will drive right along the troughs and put the feed out and never get out. I already got plenty of hay out, but even if I had to, I would use a cab tractor or the spear on the back of my truck. The winch has a control I mounted in the cab so I never get out.

We are a bunch of spoiled suckers. At least, I know I am.

Cows in a snow covered pasture

It ain’t always been this way.

I remember the winter of 1982, just over 30 years ago. It was rough at the “Poor Farm.” That’s what Daddy called the place we lived on and worked. No matter where we moved, the poor farm was always where we was.

I was 10 or 11, and we was tending a small ranch and running a dairy barn. We had no cab tractors and never heard of a cake wagon. We used hands … our own.

Every kid loves snow and I was no different. I hadn’t seen a lot of it in my young life, but that year we had an unusual snow storm that left about 14 inches to play in. School was shut down for a while (I can’t remember the number of days, but I was so happy for each one). I hoped the snow never thawed!

We didn’t have all the right clothing for working and playing in this type of weather, but we made do. We would layer up, two or three from head to toe.

When you’re pushing in milk cows at 3 a.m. on foot, you don’t want anything exposed. I remember the milking parlor was so nice and warm, the steam rolling off those cows and washing their udders with that warm water never felt so good.

As we finished the morning milking about daylight, we headed for the Poor Farm and started feeding the beef cattle. We was feeding cubes and I was a bit small for handling those 50-pound bags, so my job was to stand them up and remove the sown string that kept them closed, Which wasn’t a hard job, but it was mighty cold since you couldn’t wear gloves to get a hold of that string. After a few bags, I couldn’t feel my fingers either, so my simple job wasn’t that easy.

Eventually, my brother got smart and started using his knife to just cut the bag open. Man was I glad to get fired, but I didn’t dare get in the cab. I sure was cold and Daddy and that cup of coffee sure looked nice and warm inside, but that would get me called a sissy for weeks.

We finished feeding and pulled up at the last gate, fixin’ to head home for lunch. Before going in, we piled all the empty feed sacks and set them afire.

A beautiful creek flowed in the back with chunks of ice along the banks. I was playing and breaking the ice, watching it float off. We chunked some snow balls and drank a cup of coffee out of Dad’s thermos.

I was backing up closer to the fire to get warm but wasn’t feeling it, so I just kept getting closer and closer. I remember my dad saying, “Boy, you gonna set yourself on fire if you get any closer,” but I couldn’t feel a thing so I ignored him.

He warned me again and said, “Son, you better step away a little, you gonna set yourself on fire.” I remember thinking “Whatever.”

All of a sudden, I was ablaze! All those layers of clothes had kept me from feeling how close I was until it was too late. I wasn’t close anymore, I was on fire!

I screamed like a wild Indian and took off running. I completely forgot about “Stop, drop, and roll.” I had forgotten all logic and had hit the panic button.

I didn’t run toward the creek. That would have made sense. I ran the opposite way. I remember my brother hollering at me to stop, but I was wide open in every direction. I circled the truck and the blaze was up past my knee and climbing. I thought, if this flame gets any higher it will scorch my fruit of the looms!

I looked and there stood ol’ Dad with a hand on my brother and saying, “Don’t worry. He will be back.”

I rounded the truck one more time and was headed for ‘em, about like a barrel horse headed for home.

As I got to him, he handed my brother his coffee cup and grabbed an empty feed sack. I thought, “The flame is big enough! Don’t add any more fuel to it!” He squatted down, wrapped my whole leg up in that sack, and instantly the fire was out.

He looked me square in the eye and simply said, “Panic will kill you.”

I have never forgotten that lesson and it has been proven true time and again, in my life and many lives around me: Panic will kill you.

Remember to listen to the warnings of our Father. He knows things. Just ‘cause you can’t feel it, don’t mean you ain’t too close.

And when your choices set you on fire, don’t run from Him. Run to Him.