Winter feeding Rancher finds horse-drawn sleigh useful for winter months
Mountain View – Many stockmen in Wyoming traditionally fed their cattle in the winter with a team of horses, and some still do. It’s often easier to “start” the team than to start a tractor on a cold morning, and if snow is deep, the horses can still get through without chains on while pulling a sleigh for feeding the hay.
Wes Lupher has been feeding cattle with a team of horses since he was a child. He and his family raise cattle on a ranch that has been in his family since the 1870s in the southwest corner of Wyoming near Mountain View.
Part of their summer pasture is next to the Utah state line in the Uinta Mountains. The elevation provides a challenge, says Lupher, noting their house is at 7,000 feet and the ranch pastures go up to 9,000 feet. High elevations mean the area gets a lot of wind and cold winter weather.
“My dad always worked horses, and I grew up driving a team to feed cows,” Lupher says.
Today, he still feeds all the hay with teams in the wintertime.
“Last winter, we had a stretch of 40 below zero temperatures. At one of our places, down at Poverty Flats, I was feeding 125 cows, and my team of mules was the only thing moving. Everyone with tractors was froze up,” he says. “I don’t have to plug in a team overnight. They start every morning.”
Lupher continues, “The horses may not want to start, but they do.”
“Part of the fun is trying to figure out how to feed big round bales with the horses. I do it several different ways,” he says.
Lupher has a friend in Driggs, Idaho who invented a bale un-roller.
“We modified a three-point squeeze that goes on the back of a tractor, and mounted it on a little three-wheeled wagon. I back into a bale with that squeeze after I pull it out of the stack with the horses, squeeze the bale to pick it up and then unroll it,” he says.
Lupher also put a bale un-roller on runners.
“I also use a little four-by-six-foot sled my son built for me and pull it with a team of mules. I pull bales out of the stack, roll them onto that little sled, pull them out to the field and pitch them off. This works really well,” he says. “With the two methods, I have a way to feed on the home place and another way to feed down at Poverty Flats.”
For pulling big bales out of the stack, Lupher found some hardened steel and made big hooks. The steel that works best is from an old potato digger link.
“I bent those links, and now, I can hook the bales, run it to the double-tree, pop bales out of the stack with the horses and get them situated on the little sled. This actually works very well, and it helps get the teams really well broke.”
Horses on the ranch
Lupher’s teams have work to do year-round.
Lupher has several small wagons he uses to take materials out to build fence or haul sod.
“We need to dredge our irrigation ditches now and then, and then, we haul the material off to build dikes and dams. We hook up the horses to do things like that,” says Lupher.
He grows some alfalfa, oats and barley and plows and disks with the teams.
“We also use the horses to drag meadows in the spring. We drag all our meadows, so the horses don’t get much time off. They have some kind of job in every season,” he says.
“Ranchers can use horses for just about anything,” Lupher says. “There are a few ranchers around me who feed with teams of horses, but not very many do anymore.”
“One rancher who has about 350 head of cattle told me he didn’t have time to feed with horses, but feeding hay is a job tailor-made for a team. I’ve fed as many as 500 head every day with a couple teams,” he explains. “They can sure do it and get over a lot of ground.”
Lupher says feeding with horses saves diesel fuel and electricity, not having to plug in the tractor every night in cold weather.
Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.