Tag Archive | Fence Post magazine

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.”

History of the Cow

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!Image

This Cowboy’s Hat

Here is my column for the Fence Post this month.

This Cowboy’s Hat

For centuries, cowboys have worn hats. The early vaqueros wore sombreros to protect their heads and faces from the burning sun. I’m not sure when or how, but the sombrero evolved into our modern day cowboy hats. The cowboy hat is a symbol of a true cowboy. Think of all those old cowboy movies: where would John Wayne, Gene Autry, or Roy Rogers have been without their cowboy hats?

Made of felt or straw, cowboy hats betray their wearer as being a cowboy; either as a weekend rodeo fan or a lifelong cowpoke. Some men have worn the same hat, or at least the same style of hat, for years, and their friends can easily pick them out of a crowd simply by spotting their uniquely-personal hats. And as with anything you’ve had for a long time, be it a horse, a couch, or a picture, there is usually a story behind it, and a cowboy hat is not different. Just like the Chris LeDoux song ‘This Cowboy’s Hat’, most men can tell you at least one story about their hat.

Take my dad for example; he had a white straw hat that he’d worn for years. And the front of the brim was slightly broken and bent downward. If asked what happened to the hat, Dad would say that he’d been out walking through the trees when a branch fell on his head! Don’t worry, he walked away from the accident unscathed, but it sure made for an interesting story! Even I have a hat story, though it isn’t nearly as exciting: I got a felt hat for my birthday, with a hatband decorated with round silver conchas. The first time I wore that hat was during a rainstorm, branding calves with my best friend. And yes, my hat got soaked through, and to this day, I cannot completely scrub all the rust off the once beautiful silver conchas!

But by far, it is my little brother who has some of the most entertaining stories to tell about his hats. He likes to wear not only baseball caps but felt and straw cowboy hats as well. He’d outgrown the felt hat he’d been given as a toddler, and didn’t care for any of Dad’s hand-me-downs, so Mama took him to the country store so he could pick out a new one. He chose a fine straw hat, simple, with only a black ribbon for decoration, but he was very proud of it. The same day he wore it into the grocery store, and once Mama was done shopping, they headed out the door. A sudden gust of wind stole his hat and blew it out into the road…right in front of an oncoming SUV. The driver swerved, but the tire didn’t miss the hat. Little brother ran to retrieve his now flattened hat with teary eyes.

The next hat he got was something called a ‘crushable’ felt hat. And yes, you could run it over with a car and it would retain its shape. Well, on his first trip to the new permit in the mountains, as he was high-tailing it after a cow and calf through some dense oak brush, and you guessed it: the hat was knocked off his head. Luckily, he remembered where he lost it and returned for and recovered it, and the rest of the day managed to keep it on his head.

And lastly, one day when we were out sledding, my brother’s baseball cap fell off and I found it…with the four-wheeler tire!    

For Christmas last year Little Brother received a beautiful new Stetson, and as of yet, the only thing that has happened to it is that the crown is dusty from sitting on top of the bedpost! But I’m sure it won’t be too long before that hat has a story worth being told. After all, you put a new hat and a teenage boy in a pen of rambunctious calves, and something is going to come of it*