I have mentioned before that one on the best things about being a rural veterinarian is getting to visit ranches and work with ranchers and cowboys all over Eastern Oregon and Southern Idaho. I recently made a trip to a ranch in Oregon where I was scheduled to check 350 cows for pregnancy. It was about a 2 hour drive from the clinic and we were scheduled to start at 7 am to avoid the desert heat. Needless to say, it was an early morning start for me and John. the willing young man I convinced to help me identify and mark cattle. After a nice ride through a very rural portion of Eastern Oregon, we arrived at the ranch where a ready crew was waiting. We got started right away, working with 3 generations of ranch family, neighbors, and crew. Few things are as satisfying as working around these families and their livestock.
It was a perfect morning. The cattle were cooperating and the weather was cool and pleasant. We were about half way done, each cow was preg checked, vaccinated, identified and let out of the chute. Pregnant cows went to the right, open, or non pregnant cows to the left. Everything was running smoothly.
I noticed one of the buckaroos and his horse, working in the pen next to the chute. He would ease his horse forward one step and then rein him in. A second or two later, he would do the same. In between checking cows, I continued to watch him and his horse as they kept on. I admired the way he could coax his horse forward one step at a time and stop him so precisely with each step. I thought they were doing a fine job of cutting a cow out of the herd. It was obvious to me that both the buckaroo and his horse knew what they were doing. Problem was, I couldn’t see the cow they were trying to move. Then I realized there was no cow, what was he doing? A little horse training maybe? Then I saw it and realized what this tough Eastern Oregon cowboy was doing all along. Just ahead of him and his horse I saw a mama Killdeer scoot under the fence, behind her were 3 tiny puffballs being pushed along by the buckaroo and his horse. It was 3 baby killdeer and their killdeer mama being herded toward safety away from the cows. I just witnessed a first for me, and as far as I know, the first ever killdeer roundup. If only I had a video camera. Of course, when all of his buddies realized what he was doing, they harassed the buckaroo without remorse. He laughed along sheepishly, but I am sure he would have done it again in a second.
Like I said before, working with ranch folks is one of my favorite things to do. I never know what the next adventure will bring. I am sure we will laugh about the killdeer roundup for years to come. The next time you hear about how ranchers don’t care about the environment, picture a buckaroo in a wide brimmed hat with his horse, and the killdeer roundup.