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On the Edge of Common Sense: That time again

Contributed by Baxter Black Published on 24 September 2018

It’s fall on the cow outfit.

Time to get out the WD-40 and grease up the handles on the squeeze chute. Maybe find the three or four syringes that work, buy some new gaskets and barrels along with a box of needles.

Time to look for the eartagger, nose tongs and dehorning saw. You could stock up on hot-shot batteries and plastic whips and shovel out the chute floor before it freezes.

That’ll be the easy part of workin’ your cows this fall, the mechanical tasks associated with good management. Yet, lying in wait like the hangover after the night before, is that ominous responsibility all good cowmen dread … that’s right, boys … the open cow.

You know they are in the bunch. And you can bet your hired help, your neighbors and your family will all be lookin’ over your shoulder, anxious to see your decision. They will be full of advice. But, in the end, whether you keep that open cow or not will be strictly between you and her.

Say she bangs into the chute. Her teeth are good, she’s fat, 5 years old and just weaned a 550-pound calf. The vet shouts “Open!” The vaccinators are poised, waiting for your decision. You rapidly calculate that open cow will bring $880 at the sale Wednesday.

You dither, remembering her first calf. You had to pull it. It was a cold night in February. The two of you spent four hours in the shed gettin’ that calf to suck. Once he was goin’, she took ’im and never looked back. Dang, you hate to see her go. You bite the bullet … “Cull her!” you say, but you can’t look her in the eye.

In comes a first-calf heifer. Sorta thin, not full-grown. She’s showin’ some potential but, when the preg checker calls out “Open,” you realize she won’t have a calf next spring. If she settles, she’ll wean her second calf 24 months from today. That’s a long time to hold your inventory. “Cull ’er,” you say. Wow! Yer feelin’ like a businessman.

In the last chute load, an old redneck mama comes through. You recognize her. When the boy punches her with the hot shot, you wince. Popcorn teeth, hollow flanks and a scruffy tailhead. Her bag hangs like a four-dollar drape. She raised a big strappin’ calf this year, but it took all she had.

She was in the first bunch of heifers you bought when you took over the ranch 12 years ago. She put you over the fence a time or two, but now she doesn’t seem to care. Too old, too wore out. “Open,” comes the intrusion. 

The silence is heavy. Your eyes travel down her spine and back to her lifeless eyes. “Run ’er one more year. She’ll die on this place.” Nobody says a word.  end mark

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