My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Harney Countys Most Numerous Residents

Harney County, with 10, 228 square miles,  is one of the largest counties in the country. However it only has around 7500 people.  The main industry here is dryland ranching.  So cows,  numbering over 113,000 head, are the most numerous residents of Harney County. And since,I've been here, the population has been rapidly increasing with new calves showing up starting in March and continuing through April.

In the summer, the cattle are mostly free-ranging - over 60% of the county belongs to the government and is managed by the BLM or the Forest Service.  Ranchers pay $1.35 per month for each cow/calf unit to run their cows on public lands. What a deal!

As you drive, you often cross cattle guards in the roads. These keep the cows on certain fields. In the summer, they eat grasses and in the winter, they eat hay.  The cows are usually in their home ranches during the winter.

A nurse cow with her charges
The Tuesday before the local Bird Festival began, I was busy finishing up some edits and additions to my Power Point show and showing it to my boss and some of the people who will be in charge of running it when I'm off driving birding tours. Then my boss had me go to Burns to deliver handouts to the elementary school, telling kids about the fun things to come do at the Bird Festival on Saturday.  I had to rush off because I needed to get to Burns before the school personnel left. But rushing was not in the cards when I got to the Narrows, where Highway 205 crosses between Mud and Malheur Lakes.

Cows  on Highway between two lakes with no place to go
Almost all the cows had calves trudging or stumbling behind them, some that looked to be only a week old. Several cows had lost their calves and were standing in the road bawling or turning back to look for them.  One mother stopped in front of me and her baby immediately lay down in the road, almost on the center line. When the mother was pushed on, the baby didn't get up.  The mother realized this and turned back and nuzzled it to get it moving again. 

When I finally got to the back of the line, the ranchers were using one horse and a couple of 4-wheelers to herd the cows along. They also had two large trucks which they used to block the road from the back. One lady on a 4-wheeler had all the lost calves with her.

These cows were going to their summer pasture on BLM or Forest Service Lands.

Cow in the sagebrush - one of their main summer foods

Hay is fed to the cows all winter and is a large feature in the landscape
The best cow picture is the one I missed. I  had gone to Burns and didn't take my camera.  On the way home, I saw a cow standing near the fence holding an empty feedbag in her mouth.  She was nodding her head up and down and waving the bag.  I thought she was saying, "Hey, do you see this is empty?  More food already!"  

I'm sort of hanging out until I do an extra day of work and run some water samples to Bend.  I get to go shopping and get my hair cut so it is going to be another hard day's work. The biggest problem is that I can't leave until 9:00A. M. Hopefully the light rain will stop and I can bird the grounds while I'm waiting to leave. We are getting new species of passerines every day.

Yesterday I got the protocols and most of the equipment to set up 12 bee collecting stations. I'm also supposed to net them and put them in a killing jar before preserving .  We are sending some of them to a regional F&W scientist for identification.  I think there are over 400 species of bees in the region. I'm also going to help get up a pollinator display, and will be collecting some of the plant material that the bees are using to preserve it. Then we are going to make bee dioramas for a pollinator exhibit.  I'm really excited about getting to work on it.