If you’re lucky enough to have a job these days, you probably get paid every two weeks, or maybe once a month. A rancher gets paid once a year, at the conclusion of fall works.
Fall works are to a rancher what harvest time is to a farmer. In the fall, the pairs of mother cows and calves are gathered in from the far-flung ranges where they have grazed away the summer. The calves are stripped off the cows, weaned, and sold. Then the rancher gets her yearly paycheck. After paying off whatever loans and bills she’s accumulated over the past year, she gets to find out what her job pays.
Fall works is not just when the rancher’s crop is gathered and sold. It’s also when she makes sure the seeds for next-years crop are sewn. Cows are “preg checked” to ensure they got bred on the range, and will be calving in the spring. Cows that are not pregnant, or “open,” are almost always sold as slaughter cows. A cow costs money to feed through the winter, and raising a calf is the way she earns her living. An open cow is a free rider, like an office worker that gets paid but hangs out at the water cooler all day. In the cattle business, an employee like that gets culled from the herd and is sent “down the road.”
Conclusion of fall works signals a full revolution of the great wheel that marks agricultural time. Winter is for feeding cows and catching-up with lingering projects. This is kitchen table time—time to plan for the coming year, time to spend with family, time to reflect. Through the short, dark days of winter, feeding her cows is a rancher’s prime concern, until the new calves start hitting the ground in February.
After fall works, cowboys of the wandering variety may “roll their beds” and leave to spend Christmas at home, or head for warmer country where they might be able to find some work. Or, as the old cowboy song tells it, they may never make it back to where they came from…
Charlie was buried at sunrise. No tombstone at his head
Nothing but a thin board, and this is what it said
"Poor Charlie died at daybreak. He died from a fall.
He'll not see his Mother when the work's all done this fall.”