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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.



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