Castle Dale Elementary sixth grade student Alexis Johansen won first place in the county and third place in state, in a state-wide writing contest sponsored by Farm Bureau Insurance. The topic of her story was “Pasture to Plate.” Farm Bureau Insurance presented Alexis with $25 for each award won. Alexis is the the daughter of Brock and Andrea Johansen.
The following is Alexis’ story:
A Day on the Ranch
By Alexis Johansen
As Grandpa and I started down the wash in the desert of the San Rafael Swell, our horses, Etta and the Dun, picked their footing carefully to avoid slipping. The scenery was so beautiful that it made me catch my breath. All the layers in the rock walls that surrounded us, and the crevices and crannies dented in the rocks from the water that runs in the spring, gave me a feeling of wonder. The fresh cold air made me marvel even more.
After we came out of the wash we ran into the tamaracks and plunged straight through. At the river we couldn’t find a crossing because the water ran over the ice. Instead, we started down the river on a brisk trot trying to find a better crossing. After what seemed like forever we found a better place, got off, and tried walking our horses across. Luckily, neither of us fell or cracked the ice. On the other side we remounted and grandpa told me that the cows would be too scared to cross the icy river. Our only choice was to go the long way around.
We rode up a hill and found the gate. We kept loping until we ended up in the right meadow where we saw the cows grazing. We loped until we got close, so close that we could read the cows’ ear tags and see their waddled necks. After rounding them up and pushing them out the next gate onto the road, we headed west out of the desert. From my guess, we had 97 cows.
As we walked, Grandpa told me about some ranch and water meetings he had later that day and stories that happened a long time ago in the desert. Only a few cars came down the road, and when they did, a couple cows would straggle off. Grandpa would send me to go get them. By the time we got to the old corral, the cows were tired.
After resting the cows, we herded them to the farms behind town. This starts the cycle of the ranch, when calving season begins. We split the cows into the two different dry fields and wait for them to calve. We put the February and March “calvy” cows in the field called the Geary Place. The Geary Place is a vast field with a shed, three corrals and lots of willows for the cows to calve in. The other field called the Blue Hill has a hay patch, a large ditch and a hill that looks blue. At the Blue Hill all the April and May “calvy” cows will wait until they are due. As the cows calve, we have to feed the cows each day. They eat a large bail of hay that we pick up with forks on the back of our white flatbed we call the “feeder truck.” Sometimes, Grandpa or Dad will let me drive the truck around the farm.
As I watch the cows move out into the pasture I daydream of June. This is when we take the cows on a two-day cattle drive to Joes Valley. The cool mountain pastures allow the little calves to grow. In Joes Valley we ride horses a lot and have many adventures. We move the cows to several different lush, green meadows on the mountain during the year, and every ride gives me a thrill.
I also think of one of my favorite parts when grandpa and I go up to the mountains a day early. We stay at the cabin and play at the teepee, or in the cool shallow Indian Creek next to the lush field where the horses graze. At night, we snuggle up in bed, read books and drift off to sleep. In the mornings we get up early so that we can get a good start to our day. I like when grandpa sneaks in my room and tells me, “Get up Lexi, we’re burnin’ daylight.” I love to see the beautiful sunrises in the mountains that catch me off guard, as they make the dewy fields glisten.
As I remove my saddle at the end of the ride, I pat Etta’s sweaty neck and feed her some sweet grain as a reward. The winter air reminds me of the third part of the cycle. In October, as the leaves start to change and the temperatures start dropping, we bring the cows back down into the lower valley before the snow starts falling. The calves are weaned. Those that make “the cut” are sold to other ranches to be used as herd bulls. The rest are sold to feed yards. We also pick a couple calves and grain them for the family to eventually eat throughout the year. The mother cows are taken to the high desert of the San Rafael Swell to spend the late fall and winter months before starting the cycle all over again.
As we head home in the truck, I think of all the things we did and also about how the cycle works. I smile when I see the house on the hill that I call home. I take off my boots and walk inside where mom has hot chocolate for me. I smile, feeling excited to go out to the ranch again, to see the cows, to see the horses and to see the landscape. I really love the ranch.