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"Mad Cow Dis-Ease" by Troy H. Cheek on Mar 20, 2006
To hear most of my friends talk, the closest I've ever come to a cow is on a plate. They forget that I am, as one young lady put it, a redneck turned geek. They also forget that the reason why I work so hard to avoid hard work is because I am so well acquainted with it due to growing up on a farm.
Technically, I still live on a farm, but with no more crops, only a handful of cattle, and with the advent of modern machinery, it no longer requires me to put in day after day of hard work. Just the occasional day of extremely hard work, made all the harder because I'm not used to it anymore.
Raising cattle, or "cows" as we always called them, has gotten more scientific since I was a child. No longer do we breed cows willy nilly at any old time of the year, causing calfs to be born at all times of the year at all hours of the day and night in the worst possible circumstances. Instead, we follow carefully organized schedules, breeding cows only during certain months, causing calfs to be born only at certain times of the year at all hours of the day and night in the worst possible circumstances.
I have decided that cows are physically incapable of giving birth on a calm, sunny day. They have to pick the first September blizzard since the Ice Age, the biggest May flood since Noah, or the hottest time of the hottest day of the year. They will always give birth in the most inaccessable part of the property. If none of your property is far enough away, they'll break down a fence and have the calf in your neighbor's back yard. Regardless, they will always arrange it so that you can't just leave cow and calf where they are.
A calf is a wonderful creature. So weak that it can barely hold its head up, it can nonetheless outrun a full-grown man less than an hour after birth. It has no fear of water, even though it can't swim. It has no fear of humans, dogs, wolves, coyotes, or cougars, but will crash through a fence and run seven miles at the sight of a cat.
In other words, the calf is born in the worst possible place, and it will resist all efforts to move it to a safer place.
The only way to avoid this is to figure out when the cow is going to give birth and lock her up in a barn stall a couple of days earlier. The problem with this is that locking up a cow can delay birth for weeks, and the whole time, you've got to bring her food and water on a daily basis. This will work right up until the day of the birth, when you will find that she has kicked open the door, ran off to the far corner of the property, and given birth to the calf.
Most cows are wonderful mothers who know exactly how to feed and care for their offspring. Some day, we're going to have to buy us one of them. In the mean time, we've got ours, who look at their first calf as if they can't figure out where it came from. Usually, once they accept their first calf, they're okay after that. It's just a matter of getting them to accept the first ones.
This involves getting the cow and calf back into the barn stall and keeping them locked up there until the two figure out how to interact with each other. Again, you've got to bring her food and water on a daily basis. This somehow ends up being my job.
It didn't used to be a hard job, but then the cows figured out that if they picked up the water bucket in their teeth and dragged it back and forth across the boards of the stall, Dad would figure out that I wasn't doing my job and get onto me about it.
Charlotte, or "that big red cow," had little Billy Bob Bull, or "that cute little chocolate-colored feller," a few weeks back. Red, of course, had no idea what to do with Chocolate, so we locked them up together. The plan was to leave them together a few days and then release them. Yeah, right.
Red didn't like being locked up, and liked Chocolate rooting around under her hindquarters even less. She quickly figured out that she could hit the main loading door a good lick and it would fly open. We used some wire to keep the door shut. Red, however, had it in her little cow brain that the door would open if she just butted it hard enough, and kept that up until she'd knocked a board off the door.
I discovered this early one morning when I went to feed and water. No problem, however, as I am nothing if not handy, even when I don't have hammer and nails with me. In just a few hours, I had used a couple of spare boards, a couple of old pallets, and several miles of bailing twine to repair the door. I used the pallets to give me a place to stand, because naturally the door opened in front of a huge mud pit. I left the pallets in place afterwards and used them to anchor another board which I was using to brace the door closed.
I went in through the side door to feed and water. I eased past Red and shoved against the door, just to make sure it would hold. The door didn't even creak. I then decided that it was time for Chocolate to get his drink. Using kind words and the threat of an aluminum baseball bat (I'd broken the 2x4 the previous day), I got Red backed into a corner and prodded Chocolate into position. Things went well for a while, until Chocolate finished with nozzle #1 and went rooting around for nozzle #2.
Red decided she'd had enough and butted Chocolate halfway across the barn stall. Unfortunately, I was standing only a quarterway across the barn stall, so Chocolate hit me full force, knocking us both down. Chocolate then did a dance on my midsection trying to get up. For a calf that wasn't getting much to eat, he was sure putting on weight. We both got to our feet just in time to see Red butt the door.
I had no fear of Red getting out, because I couldn't get that door to budge in the slightest. Neither could Red. She could, however, knock loose a couple more boards, which must have knocked loose my brace, as the door started to open. I tried to grab Red's head and drag it back inside, beating on the back of her neck with the baseball bat the entire time, screaming at the top of my lungs, with little Chocolate stepping on my heels trying to see what all the fuss is about. Red finally broke loose from me, lowered her head, and simply walked out though the door, taking door, pallets, and several miles of bailing twine with her. Well, at least she can only get into that one lot.
Then I heard the gate swing open. Well, that can't be right, because the gate is chained shut against the side of the barn. I looked out through the loading door and saw that Red had brought down half that side of the barn, including the board that the gate was chained to. Red was now shaking herself free of wood and wire and eyeing the gate.
I almost rushed out through where the loading door used to be, but I remembered the huge mud pit. I instead ran out the side door, yelling and screaming at Red until she retreated to the far corner of the lot.
Then I remembered that I had left the side door open. I turned around and saw that Chocolate had stuck his head out and was looking at me. I ran back, pushed him in, and secured the side door. Then I heard hoofbeats. I turned, expecting to see that Red is charging me, and instead saw the pony, Charlie Horse, streaking by. A short but futile chase later, I returned to the gate just in time to keep Red from leaving through it. I propped the gate shut with a convenient board.
I tracked Charlie Horse down to the fence, where he was running back and forth with the neighbor's horses. Charlie thinks he's a real horse. The horses, and the other hand, think he's some kind of mutation that needs removed from the gene pool. I finally managed to beat off the horses and drag Charlie away from the fence. When Charlie Horse isn't thinking that he's a horse, he thinks that he's a dog. I managed to lead him pretty well back to the gate. As soon as I started opening the get, though, he broke loose and ran around the barn. He then peeked back around the corner and laughed at me. Well, I'm sure he was laughing on the inside.
It was now noon and I'd spent literally all morning arguing with animals which are theoretically much less intelligent than I am. And I'd been losing. The next step, I figured, was to get a gun.
As pleasing as that thought was, I just couldn't do it. Charlie Horse belonged to my nephew Austin, and he'd never forgive me if I did anything to him. We needed Red to take care of Chocolate, who was going to be our main bull for the next ten years or so. Sigh.
Armed with some sweet feed, I returned to Charlie Horse. This let me lead him to another lot, where I was able to confine him. That at least got him out of the way. I also located hammer and nails so I could do a more professional job on the barn than I had done before. It took nearly an hour to untangle all the wood and wire and generally clear out a large enough space to begin working on the door.
The door was a door in name only. The only door board remaining was the one that the hinges were bolted to. The hinges still worked, however, and the board was big enough for me to nail some crosspieces to. Pausing only to slap at Red with the hammer when she'd get too close, I built the rough outline of a door.
By the point, I'd realized that Red was making laps of the lot, pausing each time she came near the door to the barn stall. I hoped that she was looking for her calf, but thought it more likely that she was looking for me to feed her. I placed the remaining sweet feed inside and took a few steps back. Red fell for it. I nailed a spare pallet across the doorway.
A few short hours later, pausing only to stagger over to the nearest shade and collapse on occasion, I had a door which both opened and closed smoothly and was completely solid. I then firmly nailed it closed to the side of the barn. I'd bring a wrecking bar when we finally decided to let Red out.
I crawled back to the house and drank a cold one. Then I checked the time. A few quick calculations showed that if I jumped into the shower right away, didn't shave, and drove like hell, I'd only be an hour or so late for work.
I called in and told them I was taking a cow day. Nobody argued.
Copyright 2006 by Troy H. Cheek. Reprint with prior written permission only. Comments and questions to
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|This page last updated on Mar 20, 2006 by Troy H. Cheek|