Cowboy Teamwork


Here is my column for the Fence Post magazine this month. Hope you like it!

Teamwork is an essential part in mostly every kind of job. Ranching is no different. There are just some things you can’t do by yourself. For example, it is possible to feed cows by yourself: put the truck in low gear, try to be sure the truck isn’t going to drive off a cliff or into the pond, then hop out and close the door behind you, cut the strings off the hay bale, and set to work with the pitchfork. But of course, if you have someone with you, they can steer the truck away from potential danger (not to mention not run over any stray cows or calves that might happen across the path). Teamwork is especially beneficial when you’re working with any number of cows, even one single cow can be a handful for someone working alone. In point of fact, you can’t have too many people when you’re working cows.

One duty a rancher has is tagging newborn calves so he knows who they belong to: for example if the mother cow’s ear tag is number 6, some people will tag the calf with a 6 as well. Other people tag the first calf of the year born with a number 1, the second calf with a number 2, and so on and so forth; regardless of the mother’s tag…you get the idea.

Well, there are these two guys I know who’ve decided to team up against angry mother cows. One man is the “rodeo clown” and the other is in charge of actually tagging the calf. Recently I was told a humorous story that I thought I’d share:  upon discovering that one of the more cantankerous cows had calved, Dare and Devil (their true names will remain unspoken for confidentiality) devised a plan: Devil would coax Mama Cow away while Dare tagged the newborn calf.

Our cowboys stepped out of the truck and approached the cow. All went as planned. Mama Cow charged Devil and he took off running. Dare stepped up to the calf and leaned down to insert the tag, but before he did, Dare glanced up just in time to see Devil trip and tumbled down a rather steep hill. Concerned, Dare prepared himself to rush to Devil’s aid and he forgot all about the task at hand. But as luck would have it, as Devil rolled head-over-heels down the hill, Mama Cow lost interest and returned to her baby’s side while Dare backed away to a safe distance and awaited Devil’s return.

“Hmm. Next time you get to distract her and I’ll tag the calf.” Devil exclaimed, tossing the unused tagging pliers onto the dash. Dare agreed. The next morning they headed out again. Dare approached with care, caught Mama Cow’s attention, and took off with her hot on his heels. Devil raced to the calf and just as he was about to stick the tag in its little black ear, he glanced over his shoulder and witnessed Dare trip and fall. Unharmed, Dare bounced back to his feet, but Mama Cow had already spotted Devil and charged him.

Back in the safety of the truck, our brave duo contemplated their next move.  “Guess we’ll just have to try again tomorrow.” Well, the next morning, Mama was preoccupied while eating and had left her calf some distance away. And since her back was to them, Dare and Devil took the opportunity to tag the calf and get back into the truck with Mama Cow being none the wiser. They high-fived and heartily congratulated themselves as if they’d just done something as dangerous as square-dancing with a black rhinoceros.

A week or so later, another cow calved and seemed less than cordial when Devil approached. So he retreated to the truck and called Dare, “When you get out here, give me a call and I’ll see if I can give you a hand tagging the calf.”

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