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Irons in the fire: Find calm amid the chaos

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattle Published on 25 November 2020

My house sits not 50 yards from the corrals. Having the chute, the corrals and the cattle in such close proximity to my humble abode is not entirely without its advantages.

It’s certainly nice when I’m at the chute and have forgotten the tagger, the marker, the tags, the duct tape or any other of a large number of items needed to get through a session of working cattle at the asylum known as the Marchant place. When I have some close-up heifers in the pens by the shed at calving time, it’s convenient to step right outside the front door to check on them on those frosty March mornings.

There is, of course, a flip side to this coin. In the summertime, although the pens may not be full, there’s always a couple of leppy calves and a horse or two right outside the door of the house – which door, when neglectfully left ajar, allows a fly and a couple dozen members of his entourage into the living room and kitchen. In the fall, at weaning time, the melodious discord of a couple hundred bawling calves right outside the bedroom window does little to aid in a battle with insomnia. For the most part, though, the convenience outweighs the considerable aggravation.

By its very nature, weaning time carries with it more than its fair share of angst. The weather is either too hot or too cold or both. It’s either too dusty or too wet. The calves are too light, the cows too thin. The fences aren’t fixed, the horses aren’t shod, and the trailer has a flat. If it’s a potential malady, it’ll show up at weaning time. So, with this backdrop, I was feeling pretty good about the state of my world, if not the world, when I jumped off of the porch into the early morning darkness and slipped on over to the pens where the calves were pacing up and down the fenceline and bellaring for mama. Everything seemed to be in order, so I went and loaded up some hay for their first breakfast to be served without milk.

When I returned with the groceries, my premature joy was abruptly interrupted as I noticed 30 or 35 calves on a high trot heading out of Dodge as they ran along the fence in the hayfield adjacent to the corral. In truth, I felt pretty lucky because I found the broken poles in the fence before the rest of the calves did. Nothing an extra panel couldn’t temporarily repair, though an extra panel is a rare commodity at my place. At that moment, my neighbor Terry happened by on his four-wheeler. He zipped on in the field to help me and Grandpa round up the reluctant orphans. Miraculously, it took us only about 20 minutes to tuck the wayward calves back into the pen, with only a couple of escapees having slipped through the wire and into a field with a bunch of weaned calves on the Puckerbrush place.

It certainly could have been worse – and worse it certainly became. Just a short hour later, as I was riding through the cows, Terry called and, with all the serenity he could muster under the circumstances, informed me that every last one of the calves had pushed through the gate (which somehow wasn’t latched after the first mini-circus).

The intense chaos created by a herd of bawling, out-of-control calves on the run is a scene unparalleled by just about anything your cowboy mind can conjure up. Black Friday Walmart is like a lazy summer afternoon on Golden Pond in comparison. Herding cats would be a Sunday afternoon nap.

The predicaments are manifold and complex. All the calves want to do is to find their mothers. They’re in an unfamiliar place, completely void of the natural reassurance that has governed their every move up to that point in their lives. They don’t know the rules, so they don’t follow the rules. Calmness is not a part of the equation they understand. They don’t know how to appreciate the home of a full feedbunk and a dry pen. Their powers of reasoning are unfortunately nonexistent. The product of those factors is nothing short of pandemonium.

Somehow, we miraculously survived the debacle, with my wife’s garden being the only casualty – and it was only a minor casualty at that. It was two weeks post-harvest, and I was already under orders to rebuild the garden fence, anyway.

In the relief and relative calm of the aftermath, I was somehow able to breathe and take stock in my own life experience, which has too often resembled a panic-induced stampede of 300 bawling calves. And I doubt I’m unique in that regard.

Though the storms of life may rage and cruelly rip you away from the guidance and peace of reassuring familiarity, you can resolutely find calm if you stop and listen for the voice of that One Shepherd who will always guide you home. Of that, you can be sure.

Merry Christmas. end mark 

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter, or email Paul Marchant.

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