Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Next Morning

The morning after my rancher neighbor called, I ate a hearty ranch breakfast and got into my rancher duds. It was hot, and I can't do hot, so I donned some capris.  Not kicky capris, just denim "have them in your wardrobe in case you ever get invited to wrangle cows in hot weather" capris.  I also wore a long-sleeved linen shirt.  Not because I thought resort wear was in order, but because I hate sunscreen and sweat does indeed dry on linen really quickly.  And lastly, my three-decades-old Aussie "bush hat".  It is/was guaranteed to be uncrushable for 36 years; I should have taken it back to Queensland this spring to show them that it crushes remarkably well.  Nevertheless, it has stayed in useful employment on hot sunny days on both sides of the equator for 31 years.  And finally, I wore my Aussie Blundstone "Blunnies" boots, which, too, have served me a decade or two.

All-in-all, I was a 55-year-old fashion masterpiece to behold.

I drove down to The Bunkhouse, where I was to meet our rancher neighbor and his ranch herd manager. Both cowboys.  Hats, boots, they drive pickups and ride horses.  I poured coffee into my china cup and walked into the barn, where I thought I might be stationed at a table or desk or something.  That's when Joe said, "We have 60 cow/calf pairs that we will sort, and then this afternoon we will vaccinate both cows and calves, and sort them into which of two pastures we want them to go."

Well, that sounded like an organized plan.  I wasn't aware that it included me until Joe said, "Trish, if you come out here (as he motioned to a big pen full of black cows and calves, all mooing and moving...) we'll get the cows moving along the back side...blah blah blah..." and I found myself following him into the sea of large black animals.  I am not a tall woman.  These gals were as tall as me. And a heck of a lot heavier than me.

I have spent years amongst horses.  The equine population is not predictable, but in that knowledge, one can anticipate the unpredictable.  This cow biz?  I had no idea what to anticipate.  And there I was, in the mix.

Our first task of the morning was to maneuver through the 120 bovine(s) {is that a plural? a singular?} to ascertain which little baby calves were without ear tags.  Those little calves were so darn cute.  Some were only three wobbly days old, some were two weeks old.  Joe or Brock, the herdsman, would grab a tagless calf by a hind leg.  Something like three or four or five mama cows would line up to see what was going to transpire.  The trick was to see which cow - Cow#1, or Cow# 2, or #3, or #4, was the Mama Cow to this calf.  Because they were all curious.  Joe and Brock had a good eye as to which cow went with which calf, but occasionally one of the men would bawl out like a calf in distress, so that the REAL SLIM SHADY cow would please stand up.

After tagging a cute little baby calf, one of the men would spend just a minute before releasing it, scratching the calf, rubbing it down, making the calf calm and helping it see that humans are gentle.

OK! This is where my anticipated job began.  My first job of the day was to record the newly-tagged calves with their mama's ear tag numbers, whether they were heifers or bull calves, or headed to steer world.  This seemed simple.

After tagging calves came the sorting.  This was not as pleasant as the cute calf bit.  This entailed moving cows and calves alongside the perimeter of the pen, with help of two seriously intelligent cattle dogs who did a large part of the work.  As perhaps ten or fifteen cows and calves headed to the NEXT pen...the gate would shut and the sorting of those cows & calves happened.  The cows were herded to one pen, and the calves to another.  This went on all morning, until all the mama cows were in one pen, and just adjacent, their baby calves.

The heat, the dust (hey : it's Kansas), and the wind (hey: it's Kansas) was uncomfortable.  The lowing and mooing had suddenly changed: the cows and calves were not happy and they were BAWLING. BAWLING, I tell you.  It was absolutely deafening.

Well.  How could it possibly be that at the very moment we (they and the dogs?  I was more of a scarecrow in the pen than an active participant) got the cow/calf pairs sorted, but Joe held his fireman's radio up in the air: An emergency call had come through.  Joe and Brock are both first  responders in our part of rural Kansas.  So I was merely lamely lip-reading through the cow cacophony that those two had to be somewhere.  Fast.  So fast, in fact, that I did not get a feel for what would transpire next.  They were off before I even had my manure-covered boots off my feet.

So I took my coffee cup and my boots, and headed home.  I called that Spouse o' Mine and gave him my take on the morning, and asked if he thought I should get cleaned up or should I stay in the cattle attire?  He had no idea.

So...the post script on the house fire was that it lasted well into the late afternoon.  The fire won.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there were calves that needed cows, and cows that certainly wanted calves.  I got a call that evening:  Cow/calf pairs had to be reunited for obvious reasons, (Baby calves need to nurse! Mama cows need that milk expressed!)  Could I possibly help out the following morning, again?

Yes!  Certainly!

(Thinking, I've got this.  I so have got this!)

Stay tuned...

1 comment:

Melissa G said...

You are awesome, T! :D

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