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I'm not yelling at you, I'm yelling at the cow: How to escape the crosshairs of cattle vocabulary

Marci Whitehurst for Progressive Cattleman Published on 25 July 2017
cow in a field

"Get out of there! Why you little…"

My husband's arms went flailing, and his spurs were moving. "That's not where I want you!" His horse moved fluidly underneath him while my cowboy went to changing the course of a migrant cow. Make that two cows.

I was positioned at the gate, preventing the rest of the herd from following the hooligans, yet tucked to the side so the two travelers could slip back with the herd.

"HOLD STILL!" His voice cracked like a whip, and I'm pretty sure even the crickets stopped chirping.

Sitting in the truck when it was all over, I asked him why he yelled at me to hold still. "I wasn't yelling at you. I was yelling at the cow."

Well played.

You'd think by now I'd have learned when it was me and when it was the cow. Sometimes it's both. Sometimes it's neither. It's hard to tell in the heat of the moment.

"Hold still" is pretty minor compared to past blunders. We've both said things we regret … and the kids regret … and even the dog regrets. The dog knows when things aren't going well, and she can flop down in a ditch or the grass – out of the way. My husband and I can't exactly do that. (Wouldn't it be nice though? Oops, I'll just disappear in the borrow pit until it's over.)

My friend recently sent me a meme on a shirt that read, "I'm sorry for everything I said when we were working cows." Yes!

Working cows adds intensity to our vocabulary. I say words I didn't even know I knew. My hubby combines words. The kids – well, they pick up what we say. Our kids are getting older now, but having little kids say things when they're grumpy that you said in the pasture – well, that makes you really want to change your ways.

A guy my husband used to work with started using made up phrases to use around his kids: "You Mickey Mouse-eared, pencil-necked leather hide!" The cowboys laughed and so did his kids.

Words. They're powerful things. We remember the ones that stung growing up. We savor the sweet ones. Our speech affects our surroundings.

Maybe we should do some "therapy.” What if instead of calling things what they are, we call them into what we hope they'll be? I bet we've all had a cow we named "Precious,” but what if we really meant it?

Think of it: That Mickey Mouse-eared, pencil-necked leather hide could transform into Ms. Obedient Peacemaker. We could have all sorts of blessings running around our pastures: Mr. He-Who-Never-Jumps-A-Fence, Calf-Who-Wants-To-Be-Caught and Momma-Cow-Who-Doesn't-Mind-Her-Baby-Being-Tagged.

I know, I know. The dangers of reverse psychology. Not to mention our cowboy reputation. Plus, it wouldn't fit on an eartag.

It could possibly help our marriages though. Our boys could yell terms of endearment at the cows. "Hey beautiful," instead of "you old sow" might halt a fight, as long as no one else was in earshot. (It might creep out a fellow cowboy.)

As long as we work cattle together, I'm sure there'll be times when I think my man was yelling at me and it was really the cow. Of course, we all know it's always the cow.

Or it may be something other than the cow. My hubby just yelled, "looking good," and I'm not sure if he was talking to me or the pressure-washed skid steer …  end mark

Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can follow her at her blog.

PHOTO: "You sure look pretty standing alone in the field," could be misinterpreted by the wife. Photo by Marci Whitehurst.