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Irons in the fire: Patience and trust?

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattleman Published on 21 July 2017

A life spent caring for God’s creatures can be a life full of aggravation. I’m not talking about the slight inconveniences of emptying the litter box or taking Fido and Duke for a jog around the park.

I’m talking about the full-blown, profanity-inducing episodes and wrecks that befall pretty much anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in the field of animal husbandry. I mean the kind of events that have threatened the continuity of many a “wife and husbandry” union.

From the horses in the flower beds to the yearlings in the neighbor’s grain field, there are few things in this life that can test one’s patience and sanity like the responsibilities accompanying the good life, aka the cowboy life.

Somewhere between a horse you can’t catch, a dog that won’t get behind, and a pen full of calves that circle endlessly before they find the gate – is the maddening task of getting a herd of hungry cows to mother up with their calves after a 5-mile drive through the brush to the higher country and green grass.

This year, turn-out day turned out a lot like most other turn-out days over the past several decades. It could have been worse, but it certainly could have been better, too.

Of course, the day started with a too-late start in the morning. We got lucky though, and whoever was in charge of the weather provided us with a day that didn’t turn into the scorcher I had feared.

We had about 330 cows, in two groups, to move to two different units on the Forest Service allotment. One bunch had to go about 5 miles; the other group only had to be gathered and moved about a mile-and-a-half. By shortly after noon, we had pretty much finished the task.

We stayed with the cows for nearly an hour, hoping the critters would settle and the babies would pair up with their mothers. Knowing we’d probably done all we could do, and expecting there would be at least a couple calves that would head back anyway, we headed back down the hill.

It was no real surprise when, a few hours later, a neighbor who’d been hauling hay texted me to let me know two calves were back down at the gate to the field where we had gathered the first bunch of cows that morning. I took my son and his wife of two weeks (whom we had not yet completely soured on the whole process), and we roped the calves, loaded them with the horses in the trailer and headed back up the hill.

On our way, we found a couple more calves on their way back down. We roped them and added them to our collection in the trailer. Before we got to our destination, we discovered some cows hoofing it back down the hill. As luck would have it, the calves in the trailer belonged to the wandering mothers. The cow gods were smiling on me.

My trust in the bovine deity was premature, however. When we turned the calves out, they headed west, crossed paths with the eastbound cows and never slowed down. Three worn-out horses and an hour-and-a-half later, we’d done our best cowboy social work, and the broken bovine families were back together, for the most part.

There was still a cow, the mother to a lame calf, without her baby. Since it was now after sundown, I just let her go, figuring I could find the calf in the morning. I was particularly frustrated with this cow. I’d seen the calf earlier that day at our destination and had searched in vain for the cow. I’d hoped they’d find each other before the stupid gene kicked in.

The next morning, which happened to be a Sunday, I didn’t even plan on going to church. I knew the proverbial ox would be in the mire. I didn’t find the ox. In his stead, I found a bull with a 6-inch piece of sagebrush rammed up in his front leg, just above his knee, no doubt the result of a fight. Thankfully, the old boy was humble and sore enough he jumped right in the trailer.

As we headed back down toward home, we spied the red cow with the lame calf at the gate to the field where she had started her odyssey the day before. I was disgusted and relieved. She could have saved herself a lot of trouble if she’d paid attention the day before.

At the same time, I had to question whether I had any intellectual superiority over the stupid cow. It’s quite possible, if I’d just left everything alone, most of the mamas and babies would have found each other anyway.

I could have waited until morning, gathered them up and avoided the headaches of the afternoon before. I know it won’t always work that way. The lesson here, however, may be that a little patience and trust just might serve me well another day.  end mark

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