SHERIDAN — The ground has begun to thaw and warm breezes dance through the air as the newly returned meadowlarks announce the return of spring to the Tongue River Valley as if it were any other year. But as the effects of COVID-19 continue to invade every nook and cranny of the Cowboy State, it’s hard to believe this is like any other year.
Parkman’s one-room schoolhouse doors remain closed in accordance with Gov. Mark Gordon’s extending of public health orders through the end of April.
Despite that, Paul and Rachel Reinholz agree that it’s business as close to usual as possible in their household, as the effects of the quarantine closures came in stride with calving season.
“It’s been a little bit freer and a lot more flexible around here,” said Rachel Reinholz, a part-time veterinary technician at Moxey Schreiber Veterinary Hospital. “I mean we try to stick to a schedule but sometimes you’re out at 3 a.m. dealing with things, it’s nice to not have to get up at six to get the kids to school.”
JP, who is 7 years old, and his siblings Penny, 5, and Oliva, 2, all agree in unison that dinner always tastes better when dad is around.
“We’re already pretty homebound because of calving so it’s brought a real sense of normalcy to our household,” said Paul Reinholz, a rancher at West Pass Ranch. “It’s just put a little more emphasis on not running into town for every little thing and it’s been really nice.”
Paul Reinholz insists that calving has been easygoing this year, except for the bitter storm last weekend. If anything, stores have been more attentive to keeping supplies in stock and if something is unavailable in the store, he can track it down online — except for toilet paper, his wife reminded him.
It’s clear the quarantine has given the Reinholz family time to slow down and embrace springtime. The kids help their mother make fresh ricotta and then tend to the bum in the barn with their father.
“I feel like they’ve got a really good foundation on basic value; they’ve learned pretty early on where life comes from, the importance of it and just how fragile it is,” Paul Reinholz said.
That’s a lesson Reinholz said we all need a reminder on given current events.
It’s hard to ignore the chatter of the cattle market falling and the health of neighbors at constant risk. According to reports from the Casper Star-Tribune via the Wyoming News Exchange, on April 1, livestock markets plunged with live cattle contracts for April, June and August closing at $4.50 per hundredweight (cwt) lower and the same day’s total dress trade was estimated at 116,000 head — 6,000 less than a week prior.
Bridger Feuz, a livestock marketing specialist working at the University of Wyoming’s Extension Office in Evanston, explained that much of those market fluctuations have happened due to the coronavirus.
“Slaughter steer prices had been trending down since the first of February,” Feuz told the Star-Tribune in an email. “Much of this downward trend was due to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak.”
As calving season inches to an end, questions on how precautions will affect brandings have begun to loom.
“You want to say this will be over in mid-May or come June, but that’s what I said about the middle of April,” Paul Reinholz said.
Will people opt for a calf table this spring? Will people limit the attendance at their brandings? Will hot meals shared over the beer cooler be swapped with sack lunches to go?
“Luckily when this all started we sorted what’s what into three groups in case we don’t have the help when the time comes, we can just bear through it ourselves,” Paul Reinholz said.
And that seems to be the silver lining between ranchers during the uncertainty: business as usual. The world will never stop turning. There will always be babies to tend to, fields to plant and fences to fix and a never-ending list of chores.