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A How-to (or How-Not-to) Guide to Herdsmanship

(Published June 2012)




A few years back I found myself under-cowed. That fall the grass was plentiful and the barns were full of hay so the thing to do was add some cows. Here and there I picked up a few decent cows under the market so to top them off I purchased a fancy group of 20 bred heifers from a local outfit of excellent reputation, and paid what was then considered a King’s ransom for them. They were crossbreds of two prominent black breeds, well grown and thrifty and the calfraising kind. I liked them pretty well despite the price.


The heifers had been synched and AI’ed to calving ease bulls then cleaned up with calving ease bulls. To my amazement there were no calving problems with the first 19 heifers. They calved unassisted, mammied-up well, and didn’t try to kill you when you were checking the calves. When I looked across the maternity ward at my 19 healthy pairs I was feeling pretty good about my purchase, and maybe just a little smug.


I had one heifer to go and was planning on a 100% weaned calf crop. I might have been counting my money a little bit.


We were building fence that spring, per usual, and after a longish day I told my sidekick he could go on home and I’d finish things up. He asked if I wanted him to check the heifers with me but I explained that a seasoned cowman like myself really didn’t need any help checking heifers and could certainly handle any eventuality that might arise without much ado. After all, I said, it’s just basic Cowboy 101 stuff. My helper seemed skeptical but departed nonetheless.


I spent about an hour cleaning out and cleaning up the truck, which hadn’t been cleaned since the fence season and calving season started. You might say it had a certain rankness about it. So I shined it up inside and out and organized all the tools and equipment, then I opened the gate and rolled into the maternity ward just before dark.


Of course the last heifer was in labor in the far corner of the field. She was a pig-faced heifer, a little sickle-hocked, smallish and crazyeyed. Not the pick of the litter by any means. I watched her for a while, as it was getting darker and starting to thunder, and no progress was being made. Both front feet were in position but the calf appeared stuck like a cork in a wine bottle.


I considered fetching my horse to drive her to the barn but he refuses to work after dark, so I tried to walk her up the fence. Nothing doing, nothing but snort-swirl-bawl and run back to her nest. It was starting to rain.



So I got my rope out of the tool box and started building a nice big loop. The plan was to get the rope on her and then see what happened and hope for the best. My roping skills are adequate if the animal is very, very sick or thoroughly dead. This heifer was neither, but I had no choice; I had to catch her.


As a serious rain began to fall I made a stealthy approach and cast my loop at the heifer just before she reached maximum foot-speed. The loop floated though the gloaming and settled around her neck


soft as a butterfly. It was a thing of beauty. Then my head whiplashed and I was water-skiing. By pure luck Pig-face stopped for a breath of air close enough to a big maple so I could dally-up, and within a minute or so I cinched her up to the tree, slipped a halter loop around her nose and was ready to get to work.


It was raining so hard it hurt as I was walking to get the truck. I drove the truck behind the heifer so I could see, gloved up, lubed the heifer and put the chains on the calf. He was some kinda stuck so I hooked the come-along to the front of the truck, attached the hook to the chains, and started to crank, gently. Pig-face just loved it and cooperated perfectly. The truck was sliding a little bit when I cranked but the shoulders popped out and things were going well considering 1)the lightning and 2) it was raining so hard you couldn’t hold your eyes open.


Soon as the shoulders pop free the calf is hip-hung so I resume cranking the come-along but now the ground’s so wet I’m gaining more truck than I am calf. When I got to the end of the cable on the come-along the calf was just about free but I had nothing more to ratchet. So I climbed on the front bumper of the truck and stepped gently on the OB chains, gradually increasing the pressure, and the calf popped out, whence I fell face-first into the mud. Pig-face rewarded me with a kick to the neck though it was just a glance shot.


Now at this point I made an error in judgment. The calf was in great shape but Pig-face was going nuts, really getting huffy. I decided to let Pig-face loose then jump in the truck and get out of the way and let them bond. Pigface tried valiantly to mash me into the maple tree as I was struggling to get the rope off her, and I finally had to cut it. A brand new lariat, cut. When I cut her loose she exploded into the blackness and never looked back. I should have dragged the calf right in front of her before I let her go, but I didn’t.


I grabbed that slick calf and wrestled him into the back of the truck, planning to locate Pig-face and deposit her calf where she could see it. When I got in the truck I found out I’d left the windows down. There were all sorts of pools in there.


I took off across the field, found the heifer and jumped out to get the calf out of the back, only to find I had no calf. Apparently a bump in the field had caused Mr. Slick to slide out, so I took off into the blackness to find the black calf. It didn’t take too long to locate him, reload, and set out for Pig-face, though I did take the time to shut the tailgate. Found her pretty quick, dropped the calf on the ground, and wheeled around so the headlights illuminated the calf. Pig-face didn’t care about that calf at all, not even a little bit. Until Mr. Slick made the slightest little “bla-at” sound. Then Pig-face ran to her calf and they mammied-up.


Check your heifers before you clean up the truck.


                                                              - Guille Yearwood -

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