Stanstamper’s Blog

January 8, 2010

Cold Weather Ranching…

Filed under: 1 — stanstamper @ 4:59 pm
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People who have never raised or cared for livestock probably don’t understand some of the implications that cold weather might have on the animals’ care.

Even before I was a teen, part of my daily chores included getting up before sunrise and feeding cattle and horses.

I remember being a bit surprised at how thirsty the stock would get during frigid weather. I couldn’t believe they could drink so much icy water when it was below zero.

Dad made it clear to my brother Steve and me that we needed to take a chopping axe with us on our morning and evening feeding rounds so we could chop through the ice on the ponds and allow the cattle to drink.

I discovered that thirsty animals could be just as aggressive wanting to get a drink of water as they could be if you walked through the herd carrying a sack of breeder cubes.

Chopping ice, especially when the weather was in the low teens, could get to be hard work.

Now I’ll have to admit that faced with the prospect of work, that was both hard and cold, I put my thinking cap on and tried to figure out a way to “work smart, and not so hard.”

That’s when I got a really great idea.

I could drive the front two wheels of our John Deere tractor out on the ice, and voila! They would break the ice, and with the big rear wheels of the tractor on solid frozen ground, as soon as I backed away, the cattle would rush in and get their drink.

This worked extremely well, and I was delighted at how well my intelligence had worked for me.

Dad was surprised on one such morning, when I made it back to the breakfast table about a half hour earlier than before, and was able to assure him that the cattle were indeed getting all the water they needed.

Well, my wits continued to save my back for a number of days, until the wintertime temperatures plummeted and stayed cold for a week.

I noticed that the ice on the ponds got thicker by the day until at last, the weight of the tractor’s front wheels was no longer enough to break it.

Being on the eighth grade basketball team, our practices began at 6 a.m. sharp each morning. I  had to bribe my brother Steve into taking me to practice by cooking his breakfast every day after I fed the stock.

But, dadgumit, I was going to be late because the tractor couldn’t break the ice, and I would have to go back to the barn and get the choppin’ axe after all.

I put the John Deere in reverse and backed up just a couple of feet, selected fourth or fifth gear, and angrily popped the clutch.

The green machine  spun the tires and slid sideways well out onto the frozen pond to the point that it was at least 10 feet from the bank.

And then I got a lesson in physics and anger management.


I just thought the morning air was cold.

I made the quarter-mile walk back to the house wondering what I would tell dad. I was relieved to find that he had already left for work in Idabel where he had just purchased the Gazette.

I’m sure Coach Landreth didn’t know why I wasn’t very attentive during that particular practice. I was worried about what kind of trouble I had gotten myself into.

Doug Rawls wasn’t able to get out to the farm with his big semi-wrecker that day, but assured dad he would the next.

I met him after school and remember his amusement at seeing only the muffler and the top of the steering wheel of the tractor sticking out of the frozen ice.

I had my work cut out for me to get the winch cable to the drawbar at the back of the tractor, but I got it done.

When Rawls pulled the winch cable, not only the tractor, but the entire frozen pond came with it.

I was so excited I called some of my friends to come out and we would try our own version of cow-pasture hockey.

Other than paying the wrecker bill and a maintenance bill out at L.B. Anderson’s John Deere, I thought my embarrassment would quickly go away.

At least until about a year later when I was working during the summer at the McCurtain Gazette newspaper in Idabel.

Dad sent me over to the bank to make a deposit and the president of the bank eyed me curiously.

I thought I’d show some good manners and introduce myself.

After I walked over and shook his hand and introduced myself, with a broad grin he said, “I’ve heard all about you. You’re the young cattleman that breaks pond ice with a tractor.”

After my face turned bright red, he cut me some slack. “Don’t feel bad, I did the very same thing when I was a kid.”

I left, glad that dad was satisfied that I had learned a lesson, and didn’t feel the need to apply the belt on top of my embarrassment.

After that, I checked all the Army surplus stores I would pass, but I never was able to find any surplus hand grenades or dynamite


1 Comment »

  1. Stan: this was one of my FAVs of your writings; kinda ‘takes me home’. 😉

    Comment by Gloria McAfee Carver — January 25, 2010 @ 8:14 pm | Reply

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