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Hanks: The proper way to handle sick cattle

Gentle readers, at this writing there are hundreds, if not thousands, of cowboys prowling across wheat pastures in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, New Mexico and any state where wheat is growing this time of the year.

Cattle are usually yearlings, and they are most likely turned out on wheat in late September or October for grazing. They will be pulled off by the middle of March unless the wheat is going to be grazed out and not harvested.

It takes a pretty good "waddie" (cowboy) with some grit and mounted on some good ponies to make it through the winter and come out on the other end with healthy cattle and hopefully a death loss not over two percent of what he or she started with. Of course, all of this depends on how severe the winter is and in what condition the cattle are in when they arrive.

I remember one feller who's daddy had some deep, deep pockets and this ol' kid bought, if I remember correctly, 2,500 head of steers from the deep south. They were really light weight yearlings with some "bramer" blood in them. He kicked them right out on wheat without any antibiotics, right off the truck west of Amarillo in October. They had been hauled all the way from Louisiana.

That very night children, a "blue norther" hit with several inches of snow, cold and severe temperatures. There was a photo in the Amarillo paper two days later showing this young man walking on top of the carcasses of over seven hundred of those little steers that had frozen to death. He learned a hard lesson.

I worked for him on occasion as a contract cowboy as years passed and he was very careful how he wanted his cattle handled. I learned my cowboy skills in those early days by working with these wheat pasture cowboys.

They were hardy, tough, patient individuals that were skilled with a rope and could recognize an animal getting sick before it went too far. They also knew their medications and how to administer them.

In nearly all the cases, the animal would be roped, tied down, doctored and marked with chalk giving the date he was doctored.

The next time that yearling was seen if he or she wasn't greatly improved they would be doctored again. If they didn't respond they would be loaded up, hauled to a corral with a shed somewhere (called the sick pen) and treated until they got well or died.

It can be a real chore to ride into a pasture of five hundred steers on eight hundred acres and try and find all the ones that have a bad eye or a bad foot or some other more serious issue and cut them away from the herd, rope them before they run back into the herd and create chaos, and get them doctored.

You then have to get reorganized, start looking again and hope you haven't missed something.

One thing about really sick cattle is they are usually off by themselves and will not be hard to catch and doctor. Bad eyes and "foot rot" are altogether different. Those bovines will run like the wind and try to get in the middle of the herd.

When we had a lot of "fresh" cattle recently received from sale barns or whatever, sometimes we had to split up the crew and maybe one or two of us were working by ourselves. I have doctored lots of cattle that way and I have had my good days and my bad days while working alone.

When fall rolls around each year my mind wanders back to those days of looking after cattle on wheat. I wasn't on horseback every day like my cowboy crew was as I had other responsibilities, but I did my share of doctoring and knew full well what those boys were going through on a daily basis.

I guarantee you, if you didn't consider yourself to be much of a cowboy, you had your education when spring rolled around, and if you wanted to strut a little taller you were entitled to.

Stay tuned, check yer cinch on occasion, the election is over by now (thank God), and we'll take whatever we get … right? God bless America again! I'll c. y'all, all y'all. ❖