Incident in San Francisco (Chapter 5, page 2 of 8)


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Chapter 5

One aspect of cattle ranching which had always appealed to Monty was the fact that much of the work did not have to be done on a specific daily schedule. When calves were ready to brand, that could be done anytime within a time frame of a couple of weeks. The one exception was haying. With the days getting longer and much, much hotter in the late spring, a few days too many would allow the hay to become overripe and the seeds would become hard and indigestible, the stalks too dry to be appetizing, the leaves brittle. Once the barley was cut, that same intense dry heat meant that there was a window measured in hours, not days, when the swathed hay was cured enough to be raked up into windrows, and then baled. In the East and Midwest the concern was always to be able to get the hay sufficiently dried in spite of the high humidity and frequent rains: here, the concern was to have a little moisture remain so that the hay didn't shatter under the pounding as the baler compressed it into those tight elongated cubes. Many of the people making hay in this climate started baling around 2 AM, and stopped around 6, just before the heavy dew settled in. Monty had a philosophical objection to doing work which required using the lights on his machinery, and always tried to do his baling in the early morning hours just after the sun rose.

Since the hay would be fed out during the following autumn and winter, keeping it under cover was not a necessity. At several points on the ranch, in the low hills where the big automatic bale wagon could be easily driven, Monty had fenced off long rectangles of hilltop and used these as storage areas where he built his haystacks. Kept safe by a stronger 5-wire fence, the hay remained there all summer, and when the grazing started to run out in September, Monty had only to pull bales out of the stack all along its length and throw the hay over the fence to feed his hungry cattle. The ground sloped away from the stacks, so rain didn't collect around the base. This system also kept the cattle away from the ranch buildings so that the ground didn't get trampled and fouled during the winter months. These haystacks were an important part of Monty's overall management plan, and contributed greatly to his reputation as the rancher who always had the best-fed cattle in the county.

Now, from the back of his homeward-bound horse, Monty spotted a serious problem. When he twitched the reins to the right, Buck swung off the trail and headed immediately up the slight rise toward the stack. Monty didn't need to dismount, or even to stop, to analyze the problem. His eye had been caught by the sight of a bale rooted out of the bottom of the stack, where it lay torn apart, chunks of hay strewn about the ground. Nor did he need to examine the ground for the marks of stubby cloven hooves or elongated droppings to know that his stack had been desecrated by a wild pig, or two. He was only too familiar with the signs.

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