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Irons in the fire: Newt kabobs and misfortune

Contributed by Paul Marchant Published on 25 January 2016

Old Man Winter hasn’t been shy about making his presence known in southern Idaho this year. It’s kind of my goal every winter to make it to Christmas before we have to do any serious feeding. We didn’t even make it through the first week of December this year.

In spite of my fear of climate change and global warming, my distaste for the expense and bother of feeding hay to cows for five months outweighs my sincere concern for the welfare of polar bears, penguins and the melting polar ice caps. I know it’s callous and selfish of me, but it’s one of my character flaws.

It wasn’t too bad for much of December, because I had help in the form of my sons, who were home between semesters. In the absence of cheap child labor, though, the task usually falls to the depths of the labor pool: me.

Shortly after the advent of the new year, I was out doing the feeding. My help on this day consisted of the two dogs, Newt and Goose, who are about as much help feeding as they are when we’re working cows. Which is to say: They’re not ever much help, but they’re pretty good company.

We feed mostly big square bales off the back of an old flatbed truck. Generally, with a pitchfork you can flake the hay off in chunks without much trouble, except for the top bales, which are sometimes frozen 12 inches down from the top where the moisture has soaked in.

Alfalfa and grass hay flakes quite easily. Oat hay is a little tougher to feed because it often collapses as soon as the strings are cut. A lot more effort is required to get it off the truck because it doesn’t sit there in a solid bale, waiting to be dispersed in nice even chunks.

On this particularly frosty day, I was feeding oat hay. I had the truck in granny gear and was letting it creep across the frozen ground as I walked along the side of the bed and pulled chunks of hay off with the pitchfork. Yes, I’m aware I was probably in violation of a few safety best management practice.

So, officially, I’d advise you not to try this at home. I am a highly trained professional. Goose had jumped off the truck and snuck through the herd of cows to scavenge for mice under the snow. Newt, on the other hand, liked his soft perch on top of the oat hay and stayed there as I fed. As the bale got smaller, he’d inch his way toward the front of the truck and the remaining part of the bale.

With about half of a bale left, I made a downward stab with the fork to pull some hay off – just as the remainder of the bale gently collapsed. This wasn’t a new thing to the dog, and he rode the collapsing hay down with all the skill of a surfer on the Big Island. The trouble was: He arrived at the bottom just as the tines of the fork did.

I skewered his front paw slicker than ice on a freeway. It only took me a couple seconds to free the unfortunate canine from the predicament, and after a couple of yelps, he went off to join Goose on the gopher hunt. I offered to let him ride in the cab of the truck on the way home, but he still preferred to ride on the back.

For the record, I apologized and treated his foot with some iodine, and he only limped for half-a-day. Dogs seem to be pretty willing to forgive. He knows he’s got a pretty good gig. He’s more Hank the Cow Dog than Lassie, and he got more sympathy at home than I would have if I’d stuck my own foot.

We stopped short of inviting him in the house for dinner, but I did give him the piece of leftover hamburger I forgot to eat for lunch a couple weeks prior and was now molding in the back of the fridge.

Newt’s little mishap stands as a good lesson or two. First of all, when there’s work to be done, it’s best to get out of bed and get it done – or at the very least, get out of the way so someone else can work. Otherwise, though, I think there’s a deeper, more powerful lesson to be learned.

Bad things can happen to good people. Despite our best efforts, bad stuff happens. It’s quite possible to simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t always try to do our best and do what’s right. But, even then, things may not fall in your favor. I don’t believe in fate, and I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that “everything happens for a reason.”

To clarify, I guess I do believe that things happen for reasons. Sometimes the reason is life. Life happens, and life doesn’t always happen to be fair.

Life is a cruel and beautiful conglomeration of the good and the bad, the grotesque and the sublime. The most important thing, I believe, is how we respond to whatever life may curse us or bless us with.

So, whether you win the lottery or step on a nail, learn something from it and make your part of the world a better place.  end mark

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