The Tagging Pliers


Here is my column for the Fence Post Magazine this month. Enjoy! 🙂 Seems like you’re getting the pre-release version…again!

Pliers are one of the most useful tools ever invented. There are pliers for fence building, for plumbing, for electrical work, and most importantly, for tagging livestock. A good pair of tagging pliers is a rancher’s best friend during calving season.
Well, this year, about halfway through calving season, Devil had some fences to build on some other property and he asked me to keep an eye on the herd. Of course, I agreed.
After Devil fed cows in the morning, he’d do a quick drive-through to make sure all was well, and then he’d be gone for the rest of the day. Around one o’clock I’d make my way down the road to where the cows were being pastured and ride through them, checking for sick animals, new calves, and chasing in anything that might have gotten out.
Armed with my faithful four-wheeler and my trusty sidekicks, Tuffy and The Hatter, I made my rounds. If there were any new calves, I’d let Devil know that evening and he’d tag them the following morning. We had ourselves a pretty good system worked out. And then one day I decided to change it. There had been a calf born one morning and Devil asked me to check on her that afternoon. The cow that’d calved was a beautiful red cow with a black nose and white belly, and was the daughter of one of the founding members of Devil’s herd.
Mother and baby were fine. The calf was up and about and doing great. That’s when inspiration struck. I’d tag the calf! Had I done it before? Well, no. But I’d seen Devil do it a thousand times, and it didn’t look very hard, so why not give it a shot? Besides, the cow seemed to be pretty placid. I told The Hatter my plan and he laughed, “I’m going to have to get a picture of this!”
I ignored his lack of faith in my tagging abilities. I returned to the shop and dug through box after box of tags until Tuffy reminded me that Devil had the tagging pliers in his truck. He also had the calf’s tag. Not to worry! I found on old pair of tagging pliers and made up a new tag. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. Wouldn’t Devil be proud that I’d tagged the calf so he didn’t have to? I could already envision his grin when I told him the exciting news.
We went back to the pasture and drove around until we found my target. “Piece of cake!” I thought to myself as I stepped off the four-wheeler and approached the baby. Unfortunately, the calf was a little faster than I’d anticipated. But after chasing it around for a while, I managed to get it on the opposite side of the sideroll than its mother. I pulled the tagging pliers out of my back pocket and tried to hold the rambunctious calf still long enough to tag it. About that time, Mama had had enough. She charged the sideroll and made it half-way to my side. Bellowing at the top of her lungs, Mama’s head was not two feet away from me as I held her poor baby hostage. And as luck would have it, as I attempted to tag her calf and make a quick get-a-way, the tag fell out of the pliers. Not daring to pick up the fallen tag and try again, lest Mama could squeeze under the sideroll, I let the baby go.
Tuffy and The Hatter, ever watchful and clever, jumped on the four-wheelers and managed to corral the calf and keep Mama at bay long enough for me to finish the job.

As it turns out, tagging a calf isn’t as easy as the old-timers make it look.*

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