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Baxter Black

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


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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I’ve had occasion to rub shoulders with influential people in the cattle business at all levels. I see them at state cattlemen’s meetings or serving on the Beef Board, at bull sales, giving speeches, expounding on political, economic or international subjects and people are listening to them!

They may be elected by their peers, sought after for fiscal contributions, knowledge or heritage, or honored for their service to the industry. Their opinion matters.

I have watched these influential men and women operate. They make decisions that ripple through our industry and affect many thousands of us.

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Grandpa Tommy was reminiscing, “It’s a shame everybody couldn’t go through the Great Depression.”

I know what he meant – I think. He didn’t mean it like, “It’s a shame everybody hadn’t been in a concentration camp or had polio.” He was remarking that most of us baby boomers and younger are unable to appreciate how technology has pampered us.

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