The work of agriculture never sleeps

An early morning of cattle sorting was a good reminder that agriculture truly doesn't sleep.

The work of agriculture continues day and night. (Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC)
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The heat has been unusually oppressive lately. It's not common to have multiple days in triple digits before the middle of June and a bunch more in the 90s.

That causes a lot of complications. One example: Every summer, my dad sends us a truckload or two of pairs to pasture. It's a long trip, from south central Montana to central North Dakota, but pasture is scarce in his area, and it has worked out for us to put his cows on some of our grass.

Over the years, we've had to deal with a lot of different weather conditions when the cows come in late May or early June. Some years, it's been so wet that we have had to wait until the roads firm up to bring in trucks. Other years, it's been chilly as the cows come off the loading chute.

This year, both my husband and dad were concerned about the impact the heat could have on the animals. A nearly 500-mile drive in the heat would be hard on any critter on two legs or four. Plus, most of the cows and yearling heifers hopefully are pregnant from artificial insemination.

Thankfully, even with our hot days, the nights have cooled off for the most part. So they decided it would be best to haul through the night. The trucks loaded up before sunset in Billings, and they hit the road.


Around 3 a.m., we got the call that the trucks were about an hour away, and my husband and I headed out to help the mama cows reunite with their babies. The sorting went well, even with a sudden bout of thunderstorms that soaked us and pelted us with hail. I survived the early morning (with the help of a late morning nap).

It's worth noting that I am not a morning person. I'm more likely to ignore multiple go-rounds of my alarm clock than I am to see a sunrise. I can stay up late with the best of them, but being up at 3 a.m. — or 6 a.m., for that matter — is a rare occasion for me.

It was a good reminder that agriculture truly doesn't sleep. I'm thankful for truckers who hit the road at odd times to accommodate cattle health; perhaps no one deals with schedules as variable as over-the-road truckers with cattle pots who have to wait in line to load after a long sale or hit the road early or late to get from point A to point B.

But there are plenty of others who also stay up late and get up early: ranchers checking cows in the frigid winter temperatures to try to save as many ears and tails as they can, veterinarians who get the call for an emergency c-section or a colicky horse, the crop sprayers who have to take advantage of the calm whenever it comes. That's to say nothing of the normal routines of producers who get up regularly before the dawn to get a jump on the day and stay at it long after the sun goes down or the ranchers who get that middle of the night "cows are out" call.

Agriculture is a business and a way of life that never truly sleeps. My 3 a.m. appearances out of bed will remain rare, but I'm thankful for the folks who get up and get the job done at all hours of the day and night.

To read more of Jenny Schlecht's The Sorting Pen columns, click here.

Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, N.D., with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at or 701-595-0425.

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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