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Baxter Black

Baxter Black is a cowboy poet, author, vaquero philosophizer, left-handed roper and former large animal veterinarian.


Robin lives in a valley that is dotted with grazing pasture and selected irrigated vegetables. She has neighbors who graze yearling heifers to sell in the fall and another neighbor who grows pickling cucumbers.

Her heifer neighbors, Barry and Claire, had their yearlings comin’ on strong. The grass held up, and they supplemented them. Their heifer market was good, but one of the requirements of their buyers were that they were guaranteed “open” as opposed to bred.

To their dismay, one of the cattlemen in the valley had his bulls – good bulls, no doubt, but still bulls – within “wafting distance” of the 600 yearin’ heifers.

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“The data is clear – Calves that arrive healthy and stay healthy at the feedlot make more money.” This was printed in bold letters at the beginning of an article in one of our industry publications.

What? I read the headline again. I turned it over and read it upside-down. It must be a trick question. A play on words? There must be a deeper meaning to this bold statement.

Should it have said … “Calves who stay healthy, etc., have better eyesight, higher IQs, are tastier, are better at hopscotch, have a better chance of being featured in a vaccine ad?”

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Some horses are as good as gold. They take care of kids just learning, old cowgirls with osteoporosis, cowboys of any age who should have a designated driver and homeward-bound riders lost in a blizzard.

I classify these gold horses in the same category as those equidae who performed routinely heroic duties in the Pony Express, pulling cannons in the Civil War, Seabiscuit and Trigger, who could always save Roy in times of distress.

There’s a heroic picture of Cannonball hanging on the wall at Cheryl and Howard’s ranch house on the Wasatch front.

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Stew and I were talking about the world we grew up in. A time when family had a much greater influence on children than they do today. We grew up before cable television, texting, iTunes, unavoidable soft porn, misogynistic vulgar rap, instantaneous news, a sense of entitlement and electronic isolation. Both of our folks were Bible Belt believers and played music.

I’ll let you decide whether it was better or worse; we all have our own story. But I think we’d agree it was a simpler upbringing. In both our growing-ups, cussing was not allowed. Stew was raised in the bootheel of Missouri, and his family were farmers.

Grandpa was the patriarch, stern but compassionate. Grandma’s pride was her bountiful garden. She would not allow a tractor or roto-tiller in her garden for fear of oil or gas contamination of the soil.

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The cattle business today has evolved into several distinct segments. Each draws certain people whose personality, skill and savvy make them best suited to that segment.

We’ll start with the purebred breeders, the architects who design prototypes for the industry. They are academic-minded.

They steep themselves in statistics, fiddle with and refine genetics in an effort to define subjective traits objectively. Not unlike ancient mariners drawing and redrawing the constellations in the night sky.

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I can always count on my friends to add a new page to my scrapbook entitled “How to Mess up a Simple Calving.” This chapter would be entitled “Halter Safety.”

Rob was deep into calving his heifers. His calving lot was football-field size, including a small shed and a couple jugs.

It was decorated with swells and depressions common to the coulee ranchland in eastern Washington.

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