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It's the Pitts: Ranking cow personalities off the scale

Lee Pitts Published on 01 April 2011

I read in a recent article that the No. 1 trait that ranchers consider first in culling their herds, even more important than fertility, is disposition.

In other words, ranchers don’t care if a cow is open, just as long as she’s a gentle barren cow.

That’s why the Beef Improvement Federation has developed a scorecard so you can rank your cattle’s dispositions.

It’s a tool you can use to get rid of the bad actors in your herd, but I’m against that because if we all prevented the wrecks that occur around a cow outfit, then Baxter Black and I wouldn’t have much left to write about.

The BIF’s scoring system starts off with No. 1 – an animal who is docile, calm in the squeeze chute and, when released, he or she exits calmly.

Personally, I have never owned such an animal but I respect the BIF so I’ll take their word that such a beast does exist. A No. 2 animal struggles, shakes, quivers and froths at the mouth when cattle are worked, which describes me to a T.

So I must be a No. 2. The system goes on up to a No. 6, an animal that has pronounced attack behavior. The problem, as I see it, is that BIF’s system does not go high enough for my cattle.

Take for example, the first beef animal I ever owned: a No. 7 if there ever was one. My teacher selected a show steer for me that flew out of the cloth-topped trailer on its ride to my place.

My teacher then explained to me that I was supposed to actually get in the pen with the monster and halter break it. “You gotta be kidding?” I replied.

He was not. I almost quit the FFA and joined the glee club right then and there.

I named my steer Abe, not because he showed signs of greatness but because, like our great president, his hair wouldn’t comb either.

In preparation for the county fair, we had a field day, and boy was it ever. It was held on the little league ball field and my steer drug me around every base before I slid into home.

My ag instructor then grabbed the halter and Abe took him for a turn around the bases and nearly knocked him out of the ballpark.

I figure it served my teacher right.

An example of a No. 8 would be a cow we owned that never did see the inside of a squeeze chute, or my corral for that matter.

The only time I ever saw her after she was born was at a neighbor’s branding. I said he could keep her, but he insisted that I come and get her.

When she was older than the Rolling Stones she died a natural death without ever feeling a rope, a brand or the feeling of motherhood.

A No. 9 should measure up to the bologna bull I sold years ago that put one ring man in the hospital and charged the bull board in front of the auction block with such ferocity that it put a permanent crease in the beer belly of the other ring man.

The auctioneer was attempting to chant and look for bids, which were not rapidly forthcoming, and in revenge for selling him to a packer buyer, the bull then jumped onto the auction block, where he became permanently wedged.

The auctioneer then invited the packer to “Come and get YOUR bull.”

If you value domesticity above all else, I hope you never own an animal like a cow we called Mark Spitz. (For any youngsters who might read this, he was a famous swimmer.)

She was an example of a No. 10 if there ever was one. First we couldn’t get her in the chute and then we couldn’t get her out. That’s because she flipped over backwards and landed upside down in the chute.

We used a cutting torch and a winch to get her out and when we did get her upright, she thanked us by chasing my wife, who thought she’d be safe if she dove into a stock pond. Silly girl.

The cow followed her right in. And you know how much cows hate to swim! My wife was dog-paddling as fast as she could and despite what she says, I really did try to come to her rescue by throwing her a lifeline lariat.

From a safe distance away, of course.

With cows like Mark Spitz, it’s no wonder the BIF denied my membership, thus advancing the cause of beef cattle improvement by at least 50 years.  end_mark

Lee Pitts is a syndicated columnist. His e-mail is