Here is my column for the Fence Post magazine this month. Enjoy!
Cows are ornery critters. You just cannot trust them! Oh sure, when they’re babies they’re cute and lovable, but when that baby is about three months old, she’ll face her first unpleasant human encounter: branding day. Poor baby, along with Mama, grandmamma, assorted aunts, sisters, and cousins, are rounded up, herded to a holding pen, and sorted. Babies go to one pen and their mothers another. Then there is a bumpy journey in a squeaky trailer down the highway to another pen, where there will be a quick reunion, followed by a second sorting. After being taken from her mama again baby is chased into a contraption she will learn to fear: a squeeze chute. Trapped, baby is pricked with needles, tagged, and branded. When she is finally turned loose from her steel captor, kids will chase after her, yelling and waving their hats. This is about the time our calf is changing from cute to cow.
Here comes our seven month old version, which weighs about six hundred pounds and is wilder than a raccoon after grazing alone on the mountainside all summer, and well, cute just isn’t a good description anymore. Even that calf you had to bottle feed for a week before her mama would accept it has tried to become more elusive than a snake’s eyebrow! Of course, cowboys are canny creatures and can usually sniff out and catch the less-than-brilliant mammal. That’s when the fun really begins. See, now that the critter-in-question has been captured, its going to do its doggone best to keep from being approached too closely by its two-legged owner. We all know that plan is going to backfire, as the dear little heifer needs to be separated from her mother, sorted from her male kin, prodded down a long alleyway, stuffed in a trailer, and packed away in a feedlot with lots of strangers, attended to by another human who insists on coming in close contact nearly every day!
Five months later it’s time for the heifer to be re-tagged, vaccinated, and possibly re-branded, which means she has to make another journey down the alleyway. Oh the injustice of it all! But perhaps this will be the last time. Baby is going to give her humans one last chance.
And after a summer in the wide open pasture without being chased or prodded or pricked, Baby decides her humans must have forgiven her for whatever injustice she must have done them and believes she is safe. She almost doesn’t even mind when the horse-riding men come to herd her down the mountain and drive her to her winter home.
Then, on the eve of Baby’s second birthday, she gives birth to a healthy calf of her own. One cannot describe the new mother’s pride! Her owner comes to check on the baby. Nearly prancing with delight, Baby waits for her human to congratulate her for her great accomplishment, but to Baby’s horror, her calf starts to cry as soon as the human touches it! Baby sees a flash of metal and hears a click. Her child bawls in protest. That’s the last straw! Baby springs into action, memories of her own childhood flooding back! She won’t stand around while her youngster is mistreated! And just like that, the rancher who’d only been trying to tag the calf gets bowled over by Baby! Back on his feet, the rancher attempts to skirt around Baby to get back to his truck. But Baby, thinking he’s after her calf, bellows furiously and charges. She chases her owner behind a tree. Thinking he won’t be foolish enough to try anything else, Baby returns to comfort her calf.
This is why cows are called Flighty, Batty, Dangerous, or just plain Mean: they’re sick and tired of being treated like, well, like animals! They have no intention of letting their babies be harmed in any way. Who would blame them? Would any of you mothers out there allow your children to be tagged and branded? Heavens no! But please ladies, leave your horns and hooves at home!