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Irons in the fire: I’ll take care of the burdock tomorrow

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 February 2017

Well, I’ve got another mess on my hands. It’s not life-threatening, but it’s going to be a real joy to clean up. On top of the responsibility to clean up this mess, I have the extra burden of guilt that so often accompanies the scourge of procrastination.

I’ve been searching, but I can’t seem to find anyone to blame but the dude in the mirror. Handsome though he may be, he’s the only guilty one I can find in this crime of omission.

You see, in previous years, I’d blame this on one or more of the kids because it involves a chore with which I most certainly would have tasked them. But with all of them spread out to various locales like Buckhannon, West Virginia, Logan, Utah, and Buffalo, Wyoming, they aren’t around to do the chores, much less shoulder the blame for my screw-ups.

Here’s the deal. Every fall, after all of the gathering and weaning and most of the major horse work is finished, we turn most of the horses out into the 160 just down the road from the house. Even though the ground has already been marked out and prepared for the coming year’s potato crop, there’s usually plenty of feed for horses around the pond, along the fences and in the corners of the field.

I can usually get away without having to feed much hay to the horses until mid- to late January. Before the horses are turned out, though, there is one chore that absolutely must be taken care of: The burdock that grows along the fences, in the trees and around the pond must be cut down and burned.

burdock

If you’re unfamiliar with burdock, count your blessings. Burdock is a nasty, vicious, ugly weed that brings only pain and sorrow to the world. If it’s not sprayed earlier in the summer, it can grow to be 3 to 5 feet tall. Its leaves are as big as a legal pad, and its stalk is as tough as a shovel handle.

But the nastiest part of its anatomy is the marble-sized burs that serve as this evil weed’s method of propagation.

I swear, they’ll stick to anything that comes within 6 feet of the plant, and once they grab a hold of a chunk of hair, they’re serious about hanging on. If you’re feeling a little too wealthy and would like to offer a good discount when you sell your calves, turn them into a field with a good stand of burdock before the order buyer comes by or you ship them to the sale yard.

The sight of a load of calves, all fuzzied up with burdock, will give any potential buyer good reason to low-ball you on an otherwise perfect set of premium calves.

Horses are particularly adept at harvesting burs from the lovely burdock plant. A hungry gelding has no qualms about sticking his head in the middle of a plant to grab the last piece of grass hiding under the leaves. Then, for good measure, he’ll swing his other end around, to get any burs that he may have missed tangled up in his tail.

Now, since I didn’t spend a couple of hours last summer spraying burdock, or chopping it down this fall before I turned the horses in, I’ve got eight steeds that look like a ratty bunch of feral mustangs, posing as models for the bad hair day from a weeklong re-enactment of Woodstock in Seattle. It’s going to take hours to clean each horse up.

There’s a good chance that I’ll go retro and just roach the manes of the whole lot of them. (I haven’t roached the mane of a horse since I was a kid in the ’70s.) Even at that, I can’t just dock their tails, so it’s a monstrous, painful chore at best. And since my aforementioned offspring have departed the nest, I’ll have to do it by myself, with no sympathy from them whatsoever.

The obvious lesson here is: Procrastination is a trinket for which you’ll eventually pay a hundredfold the value of the idle minute or hour you may have saved by avoiding any inconvenient or unpleasant chore.

So let my pain be a reminder to you. If you’ve got burdock of any form lurking in your life, you’d better get your shovel and get it whacked now. It won’t get any easier if it’s stuck in your hair.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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