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Baxter Black

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

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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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Over the years I have heard story after story of accidents related to calving season. I have researched the subject with a couple of guys at the sale barn, a purebred breeder and a retired cow vet. I came up with this list of safe calving habits:

1. Far and away the most common tale I hear has to do with looping the OB chain around your wrist then looping the other end around the calf’s foot.

This is called Loop-A-Dope. The scenario is: The mama cow rises or escapes before the baby is delivered and drags you, the midwife, across two sections of cactus, mud, cattails, bone yards, net wire fence and/or mine fields.

A tip to the wise; let the loose end of the chain hang loose. Regardless of what you think, the uterus will not swallow it.

2. Another frequent calving catastrophe involves protective mothers who interfere with your post-natal efforts to tag, vaccinate, treat or otherwise molest the newborn.

Alas, this practice has been labeled Trick-a-Dope. Factors in play seem to be the innocent belief that humans are faster, quicker, stronger or smarter than the cow.

It is a symptom of the cowboy mentality: The cowboy honestly believes he is faster, quicker, stronger or smarter than the cow – and is a slow learner.

My advice: Let your wife do it.

3. This calving disaster is the result of extremist cattlemen who attempt to grab the newborn calf and drag him into the pickup cab before the protective mama cow can intervene. It is known as Whack-a-Dope.

It is amazing how fast, quick, strong and smart new mamas really are. In her wake she leaves abrasions, contusions, fractures, broken hydraulic lines, concussions, amputations, explosions, ejections, side door indentations, warranty violations, totaled vehicles and unconscious operators.

Solution: Reserve the emergency room ahead of time and have 911 already dialed before you lean out the door.

4. Add ropes, spurs, ice and four-on-the-floor gear shifts to the story, and the possibilities of bodily harm are endless. Obviously, Rope-a-Dope.

Conclusion: In spite of the risks we take, our efforts to help the newborn and handle their new mothers with care remain heroic. We are on the front lines where beef begins.

So gird your loins, you knights of the calving barn, stand tall, keep your wrist out of the loop, take a deep breath and dive right in. What could possibly go wrong?  end mark

It usually happens when you’re by yourself. You’re trying to load a bunch of cows in the one-ton. It should hold 12 head but with four to go, they plug up.

You’re slappin’ them with the BQA-approved paddle, you chunk a piece of wood at the one in the gate.

You’ve actually turned around and leaned up against the last cow in the loading chute and you’re pushing like you were trying to jumpstart your car.

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