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9/27/2004

The Good Life

A Cowboy’s life is often painted with romantic strokes of the brush. It is easy to do. There is the association with horses, cattle and open country. The sunrise is often spectacular and there are sunsets that cause a man to reflect on just what life is all about. Interacting in the natural world can give a man a perspective that inspires.  
 
But… there CAN be days that take all ya got just to get through. Yesterday wasn’t all that bad, but I was having a little trouble seeing the romance. We had a set of calves that hadn’t been “worked” yet. By “worked” I mean the bull calves haven’t been castrated and dehorned. We’ve done it different ways over the years. A lot of operations work calves a month or two after they have been born. In the Spring that usually means just before going to summer grass. That’s the way we always did it until last year. 
 
My obligations to Drovers Mercantile and various Cowboy goin’s on just seem to fill up all my days, so we went to working calves in the Fall. One big draw back to the timing is that the calves are no longer quite so easy to handle. One hundred pounds has grown over the summer to 500 pounds of powerful muscle.  
 
So, we gather the cows in the old stock pens that my father built back in the 1940’s. There a little dilapidated, but they hold most anything with a little help from some steel panels where needed. The calves are sorted off the cows and since I don’t dehorn my heifers (I raise horned Herefords and I just like my cows with horns) they are looked over and then turned back with the cows.  
 
Then the fun begins. Each animal is driven through an alleyway to a headgate. The headgate is a devise that blocks the end of the alleyway or chute. It opens by sliding two bars that are built to fit the contour of the animal’s neck. So, as the animal puts his head into the opening thinking he is going to continue forward, we can close the bars catching him just behind the head. It doesn’t really close down on the neck. It doesn’t have to. Once the animal realizes he is caught he natural pulls backward and with his head being wider than his neck he can’t get free.  
 
That’s when the Cowboys go to work “cutting” and dehorning. “Cutting” is the Cowboy term for castrating and is necessary to satisfy the beef eating public that prefers steer meat to bull. We dehorn for the feedlot boys that like ta get as many head of cattle to the feed bunk as possible. Horned animals take more space and I suppose in the confined feeding pens can be a source of injury, so we dehorn. 
 
The very first calf through the chute let us know this was not going to be our best day on the range. Michael set about to cut him. While the animal stands in the chute one Cowboy stands holding his tail up. Usually, a little pressure on the tail keeps them from moving, but as Michael stepped up behind this first calf he let out an explosive kick that caught Michael in the ribs! Heck of a way to start!  
 
But, soon that first bull calf was a steer. Then we had to dehorn him. Dehorning is actually harder on them than cutting. We soon had the horns off, but in doing so had severed several blood vessels that were pumping blood like a fire engine. I had blood on my face, blood on my hands and blood all over my shirt. I have worked calves all day before and not looked as bad as I did after this first calf! 
 
Things went along about like that all day! My son, Ian got kicked in the shin which set him to limping and using words he usually is pretty successful at refraining from. Kassi lost her balance while holding one calf’s head and ended up sitting in a cow chip BEFORE it cures to chip form. While dehorning one calf, I was “horned” in the side by the calf with his one good horn. Felt like he gored me as I flew into the air and landed on the ground gasping for breath. Surprisingly as I write this I wasn’t even bruised and there is almost no pain.  
 
Oh yeah, we had my pickup parked near the alleyway for easy access to tools and just in case, we had a chain tied to it to keep our headgate from working loose in the face of all the lunging and jumping. The cows liked to congregate around the pickup which ended in a busted mirror and some new dents in “Old Blue”.  
 
Actually, it wasn’t all that bad a day. We got to spend time together cussin’ an’ yellin’. Great way to vent all those pent up frustrations! The cattle had an interesting day trying to demolish what was left of “Old Blue” and the calves got quite a few good licks in on the Cowboys. And guess what!? As I was drivin’ down the road come sunset there was the most beautiful layer of colors that a feller could imagine. Dang! This is a good life! 
So Long, 
The Cowboy 

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