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COL There is no easy money

After exploring many options to make the farm more profitable, I struck upon running grass calves. Four- to 500-pound calves are put in the pasture, eat grass all summer, and weigh 700 pounds by fall.

If the market stayed the same during the summer, I could make a fair profit. If the market for feeder calves went up during the summer, with the added weight and increased prices, I could make a lot of money.

The calves were purchased in groups of four to five up to one group of 20.

Before long I had 100 calves ready to roam the pasture. When I turned them out, they split into groups and stayed with their friends.

I had to cover each inch of the farm to find all members of the splintered group. Using a truck to check them was out of the question since some would hide in the timber and others would graze on the farthest side of the steepest ditches. I brought my horse to the farm and spent half of each day checking calves.

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I spent hours riding fences, giving an occasional shot to a sick calf, rounding up strays from the neighbor's place, and trying to convince four mavericks to go out to the pasture rather than living in the middle of the timber.

Occasionally a friend or neighbor would stop by and go on one of my daily rides with me. I made plans with Ira to ride with me one hot Saturday.

By this time of the season, the calves were beginning to show signs of pink-eye. I could use help if several needed to be doctored. We spotted one calf near the creek with watery red eyes. At our approach, the calf ran along the creek bank and crossed over near the fence.

I followed in hot pursuit hoping to rope him before he got out into the open pasture.

Ira headed downstream and was going to cross in an attempt to cut off the escape route. I glanced back just in time to see him ride off the bank into the deepest water on the farm.

His horse plunged out of sight as it flipped over in the creek. Ira found himself swimming along the bottom, trying to stay away from the hooves of his horse. I rode up and caught his horse and was becoming concerned when Ira bobbed to the surface. He was soaking wet and had lost his sun glasses, but was otherwise unscathed.

Cool and refreshed, he roped the calf while I put medicine in its eyes. We happened upon another calf that could barely see from his pink eye infection. He was in the bottom of a steep ditch, and could not see well enough to find his way out. I roped the calf from above and Ira went down the rope to treat him.

Rather than running away and tightening the rope, the sickly calf attacked Ira. It knocked him against the side of the ditch and pummeled him. I dropped the rope and slid down the bank.

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Having a new target distracted the calf away from Ira while it chased me. I managed to hide behind a tree until the calf lost interest in killing us. Ira was feeling much the worse for the wear.

Ira was unable to use his right leg to crawl out of the ditch. I climbed out and dropped a rope to him and pulled him out.

It was a long ride back to the truck with a broken leg. Long before fall rolled around, I decided running grass calves was a whole lot of work. Like the rest of farming, there is no easy money.

Scott is a free-lance writer who lives in Bloomfield, Iowa.

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