“How many cows do you have,” is a seemingly easy question I get all the time. In order to know how many cows I have, I have to count them. That is the challenge.
When I run into a Utah or Texas rancher they immediately tell me they have 3,000 or 10,000 head or even 30,000 head of cattle. My next question is, “How do you count them?” My herd fluctuates between 50 and 70 head of cattle. I keep a board with the cattle names and locations but, the thing is, the numbers change all the time. Calves are born, cattle are sold, some are shipped for processing, I buy some. The herd numbers are constantly changing.
We have over fifty head of cattle but pasture nineteen pregnant cows together so we can keep an eye on them. Giving birth is the most dangerous time for a cow. Most births are easy and don’t need human assistance but occasionally the mom needs help. With all the expectant moms in one field, we can count them twice a day, check for birthing difficulty and watch for newborn calves. If one day there are nineteen cows in the pasture and the next there are twenty, I know a calf has joined us.
Twice a day we count the pregnant cows. When I count I rarely get nineteen the first try or the second try or the third try. It usually takes me four or five tries to get to nineteen because the cattle move around while I’m counting. They hide behind each other or the hay bale blocks them or they are standing behind a tree. I don’t know why, but counting is difficult even when the cattle are lying down. The rule is, we don’t leave the field until we find all nineteen.
If counting my herd of cattle is hard, I can only imagine what it’s like to count 3,000 head. Ranchers tell me they run the cattle through a chute and count them but they must miss some, I would. Besides, while some people fall asleep counting sheep, I tend to fall asleep counting cattle.
If you want to know how many cattle we have at Miles Smith Farm, I can give you an estimate but I hope you understand how hard that question is. Don’t snicker at me when I say, “All of them,” because on any given day your guess is as good as mine.