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Carhart cowboy

Mr. Moses remarked the other day he’d received a catalog in the mail from a western clothing outfit. He wasn’t sure who the outfit catered to, but the name “Long Island” seemed to stick in his mind.

The photo on the front had burned an image into his brain. A male model stood in cowboy posture, a Clint Eastwood steely-eyed glare glinting from beneath the brim of his Zorro hat.

It appeared that moths had eaten the collar off his shirt. He wore a duster that was sort of a cross between Jim Bridger’s old trapping coat and Santa Ana’s parade uniform. Mr. Moses guessed it weighed more than a wet hallway carpet. There was an odd collection of gold chains, buttons, military pins, silver boot toe tips, training spurs and epaulettes decorating his wardrobe. He looked like a Korean General just returned from a Rotarian’s convention.

Mr. Moses imagined himself dressed like the cowboy on the cover of the catalogue, jangling out to feed the cows and break ice. Him hangin’ his giant rowel and jingle bob on the twine as he kicked a bale off the back of the flatbed. Being jerked flat into the muddy rut, cows tromping giant footprints on the tail of his coat, the dog running off with his pancake hat. Then rising, sodden and trudging off rattling and clanging like a Moroccan bride with a limp.

“Shoot,” he said, “I couldn’t even walk up to a horse dressed like that.”

Mr. Moses considers himself a Carhart cowboy. For those of you who live in the tropics, Carharts are warm, insulated canvas coveralls with more zippers than a Hell’s Angel’s loin cloth.

Carharts, ear flaps and Lacrosse five buckle overshoes. Real cowboy winter wear. Granted it limits mobility. You’d have to get undressed to mount yer horse. You can’t hear much other than the diesel, but a cowboy can get the job done. Could be the cowboy on the catalog cover measures his time in the winter by the bottles of brandy he goes through lacing his evening café au lait, or possibly the edge of the sun rays on the floor of his glassed-in sun room. Certainly it would not be the amount of mud built up in the wheel wells of his Lexus.

Mr. Moses has his own way of judging the length of winter. He says he keeps track by watchin’ the pile of ice that accumulates next to the stock tank.

Spoken like a true Carhart cowboy. ❖

The feedlot woman

I have known and worked with many women in the feedlot business. Some as cowboys, some as vets, some as lay doctors, as cattle processors, feed truck drivers, foremen (or forepersons) and managers (or should that be womanagers?).

Lest you think I’m going to waste your time with a commentary on cute political correctness witticisms, relax, I’m not. Nor do the feedlot women I know waste their time with political correctness. I think I’d be safe in saying affirmative action doesn’t have much impact in the typical feedlot. The women working there earn their place.

And it is a chauvinist world. But the big equalizer is animals. The crew can tell in a hurry if a new person knows how to handle stock. Should some macho bluffer start pickin’ on a new woman and she turns out to be a good hand, he’ll back off (or the crew will straighten him out). A good hand, regardless of gender is recognized and welcome. It’s been said, and I tend to agree, that women seem to have more empathy with animals, even feedlot animals. It’s noticeable in the sick pens, in the processing area, loading fats and raising orphan calves.

There are exceptions in both genders, of course. There are plenty of men who don’t feel the need to jab a new steer two times with a hot shot before the tailgate opens ahead of them. There are men who exercise patience when pulling a calf from some fat pregnant feedlot heifer. And there are men who have some compassion for a beast in trouble.

On the other hand, there are women who treat cattle like inanimate objects or judge a good day by the number of head processed rather than how much unneeded stress was created. If women are easier on cattle maybe it’s the mother instinct. Workin’ feedlot cattle requires more stamina than strength. We have hydraulic squeeze chutes, front-end loaders, nose tongs, horses, pulleys, push gates and hot shots which allow humans to handle critters considerably bigger and stronger than them. But it takes stamina to process or doctor eight hours a day for three weeks straight. Women are long on stamina.

One of the biggest deterrents for women has always been that ground work in a feedlot is a dirty job, fraught with smashed fingers, stepped-on toes and pucky in your hair. But plenty of women can handle it. And to our industry’s credit they are receiving equal opportunity for advancement. For a bunch of chauvinistic cowboys that has been a big step.

If she’s the best cowboy in the feedyard and everybody knows it, she deserves the pay and the promotion. ‘Cause in the end, as every manager knows, it’s just good business. ❖

Avocado rustlers

Catching avocado rustlers is sort of a cross between the Covid virus, wildfires, exchange students bearing addictive goodies and coon hunting.

“All right, come down outta that tree and drop that avocado. Frisk him, Ken and don’t forget to check for lemons.”

In the southern California county of Ventura you will find the occasionally fractious co-mingling of densely populated residential areas and intensive orchard and truck farming. I’m sure there was a time when farmers gladly supplied their neighbors with enough lemons, strawberries and avocados to keep ‘em in guacomole and shortcake each growing season.

But as urban pressure increased, uninvited pickers began to take advantage. “I’m only takin’ two or three. They’ll never be missed.” Unfortunately it eventually became, “I’m only takin’ twelve hundred pounds. They can grow more.”

Farmers complained. They reported their losses but by the time it got to court the evidence had turned black and the district attorney’s office had bigger fish to fry. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client, the defendant, is accused of stealing 12 avocados. He was having a party, wearin’ masks, of course. Safeway was 10 miles away and it was two o’clock in the morning! C’mon get serious. We’re letting felonious shoplifters out on the street!”

The Farm Bureau organized and by working with the sheriff’s department was finally able to convince the proper politicians that the once minor shoplifting of an avocado had grown into a thriving black market and was causing significant losses.

First they passed laws with teeth. Stealing avocados can be a felony punishable by up to one year in prison or $5,000.

They implemented a chain-of-evidence procedure that established a value on the stolen goods immediately so the avocados did not have to sit in the evidence room until the time of trial.

Farmers signed up with the National Property Registration Service, O. A. N. It enabled them to report a theft at 3 a.m. The sheriff’s office punched in their number which had been expanded to include explicit directions to any of the farmer’s groves. Reflective numbered markers, like street signs were posted at the exact locations. Sheriff’s deputies, including their canine corps and helicopter could then converge on the location in a matter of minutes.

With the thumping helicopter overhead lighting the area and snarling dogs in hot pursuit, the midnight thieves soon found themselves treed, tried and trundled off to San Quentin.

Results have been better than expected. Theft is down substantially and the Farm Bureau and sheriff’s office have established a mutually beneficial relationship.

It strikes me that Ventura’s example might be inspiration for other counties around the country where people think ‘pick yer own’ applies to them. Midnight sweet corn thieves, watermelon felons or protesting pilferers would think twice.

However, I don’t think theft has ever been a problem for growers of zucchini. I know we can’t give ours away. It’s like givin’ away kittens. I’ve never seen anyone try and steal one. ❖

Just words

They were just words.

“Tear down the Berlin Wall!” Reagan to Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate, 1987

“Chance of rain.” Weatherman in Louisiana before Hurricane Katrina, 2005

“Give me liberty or give me death.” Patrick Henry, 1775

“I wish I’d never read this book… so I could read it again for the first time.” Dan Trimble about Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea.” 1992

“The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.” Erma Bombeck, 1976

We often underestimate the value of words. “Good job, son.” “Best cobbler I ever ate.” “Did you paint that yourself?” “I’m really proud of you.” “Thank ya, Love.”

We underestimate their power. “You shouldn’t a let that kid beat ya.” “Maybe you should lose some weight, Hon.” “You should’a tried harder.” “Not again, they’ve heard those stories before.” “You do that everytime!”

There are people whose opinions we truly value. There are people whose praise we’d die for. They are often two different things. Sometimes we genuinely would like to improve ourselves. “Yer lettin’ your rope go too soon.” “Give him his head.” “Always check the hind feet when you set him up.”

Sometimes we just need encouragement. “You did the best you could.” “You looked like you won from where I sat.” “It sure runs better after you worked on it.”

Most everyone is the most important person in someone’s life. It is no small responsibility. It should be a crime if we don’t realize and recognize that importance because what you say can have such long lasting effect.

“I believe you got the makin’s of a world champion.” Kaycee Field’s dad.

“I know you can do it, but be careful.” Gus Grisham’s wife, Apollo 13 crew.

“Believe in yourself.” Martin Luther King’s Sunday School teacher.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country…” JFK

“Write about what you know.” My college English professor after giving me an F on a poem I wrote for a class assignment.

“You’ll never amount to anything.” Too many of us, too many times.

Words… like burrs under a blanket, like nails in a coffin.

Like a single match in a sea of gasoline. ❖

Duck and run olympics

When the crew came toward the cookhouse Hazel shut and locked the door.

“Don’t you even think about it! Looks like y’all been in a war.”

And though Hazel didn’t know it, she was not far off the track

They’d been workin’ pasture cattle and them critters could fight back!

All that grass that they’d been eatin’ lubricated their insides

Plus those cows were full as dog ticks and a little loose besides

So when squeezed in some tight corner they could aim their guns at will

And bombard that crew of cowboys with recycled chlorophyll.

Now it’s only grass and water as you’ll hear the pundits say,

But I’m here to tell ya, pardners, their performance on that day

Was a duck and run Olympics, a projectile Superbowl,

A team of Dutch boys at the dike who couldn’t find the hole.

Willie got hit when his hot shot caught a big one by surprise.

With one long blast she turned him into split pea soup with eyes.

Big Sam looked like seaweed when his beard took several shots

And Pedro’s fancy brand new hat got covered with the trots.

A broadside fired from point blank range went down O’Malley’s shirt.

He emptied out the vaccine gun, she matched him squirt for squirt.

Then Frank got trapped behind a gate and watched with some concern

While the bunch backed up and measured him and each one took a turn.

It was hangin’ off their hat brims, it was drippin’ off their clothes

It was in their eyes, in their ears and prob’ly up their nose.

Not a cowboy was untainted, not a dog escaped the muck,

Not a standin’ stick, a saddle horse, a whip or chute or truck

Was immune to their propellant. They resembled works of art

Like guacamole statuettes or cow pie ala carte.

Hazel backed’em to the spigot and stood beside the trough,

“Though we’ll never change your cowboy ways, we’ll hose the outside off.”

Sam was lookin’ at O’Malley, “Is this what they really mean

When an Irish cowboy celebrates the wearin’ of the green?”

“I don’t think so,” said O’Malley, “But when I see cows eat grass

I’ll always be reminded of that phrase, ‘this too shall pass.’” ❖

Mobile Cow Catcher

There is a common belief among many urban folks that a cowboy rides around all day and sings to cows. John Wayne and Tom Mix added “Drifting Ranch Saver” to their résumé. “Don’t worry, Nell, Black Bart will never get your ranch as long as Silver and I remain compassionate!” Marlboro turned him into a person who chases horses all over the place and relaxes around the chuckwagon in a yellow slicker. We cowboy poets have augmented the picture of the cowboy as a Shakespearian throwback with green stuff wedged between his heel and sole.

And though these portrayals are not all that bad, they miss the point. My favorite description that defines a cowboy is someone who can replace a uterine prolapse in a 1,000 pound cow on the open range armed with nothin’ but a rope and a horse.

The combination of skills required to accomplish that feat speaks volumes about a real all-around cowboy.

Of course, the kind of cowboyin’ required depends on the job. Gatherin’ wild cattle in Arizona is as different from checkin’ feedlot pens in Nebraska as drivin’ a Nascar entry is from operating a backhoe. But if a cowboy can rope and ride and knows cattle, they could soon learn each other’s job.

By the end of the Rancher — Sodbuster Wars, the cowboy often found himself in the employ of farmers. As soon as diesel replaced alfalfa as fuel, farmers eliminated horses from their livestock operations. Squeeze chutes, calf tables, pens, aluminum gates, four-wheelers and semi’s took the place of the cowboy, his rope and his horse.

And the farmer cowman conversion is still occurring. A rancher in Saskatchewan invented “The Mobile Cow Catcher.” It is an amazing piece of winter shop time genius. The Mobile Cow Catcher attaches to the side of a pickup. It looks like a prop from the movie Waterworld. If you didn’t see that, it might be best described as a ‘swing set, orthopedic hospital bed and supermarket automatic door-opener’ combination.

You run the cow down with yer pickup, capture it like pickin’ up a winrow, then leap out and attend to her problem.

The rancher, Mr. Halyung of Robsart, Saskatchewan, figured his invention would save a lot of cow wrecks, especially for those cow people who aren’t too handy with a rope and a horse.

And he may be right. Someday we may see Batman in a movie sayin’, “Don’t worry, Nell, I’ll catch yer cow and replace that prolapse. Robin, fire up the Mobile Cow Catcher… We’ve got to remain compassionate!” ❖

Handicapped golfer

I played in a celebrity golf tournament in Oklahoma City a while back. Now, I’ve been to a few celebrity team ropings, a couple celebrity stock dog trials, a million brandings and one celebrity rock pickin’ — but this was my first celebrity golf tournament. Generous people paid a lot of money to play golf with well-known folks. The money was donated to help the blind.

I got in the golf cart with a feller named Phil. He asked me what my handicap was. I couldn’t think of anything real bad except an addiction to Miracle Whip; however, I was told at one time that my nose would qualify me for handicapped parking. He asked me how well I played. I said not too well. I’m sure he thought I was bein’ modest, because after the first hole he turned to me and said, “You really don’t play golf too well, do ya?”

You play 18 holes to a game. I don’t know why they invented that number. You would have thought they’d play 10 or a dozen or an even 20; but for some reason, they chose 18. Probably the first golfer just played ‘til his arms were sore and decided that was enough.

When you get down to the nitty-gritty, there are two weapons you use in the game; the driver and the putter. First you line yourself up between two swimming-pool floats and “tee off.” This is done with the driver, which is a fly rod with the handle sawed off. Only my gun-bearer and guide know which way to aim. He’d stand up beside me and point off to the horizon. Then tell me to hit the ball off in that general direction. It was always necessary to clear the spectators back 180 degrees from my line of fire. It was impossible to predict which direction my ball would go. By the third hole, we’d traded our golf cart in for an all-terrain vehicle and the rest of our foursome was driving an armored personnel carrier.

Once you make the green it is recommended that one use a putter. The only comparison I can make to putting is that it’s like shooting the eight ball on a table the Navy has been landing planes on for three days! I think I could have dropped the ball from a hovering helicopter and had a better chance of hitting the hole. Finally, they let me putt with a snow shovel. They said it improved my game.

A nice feller lent me his golf bag and a pocket full of balls. I lost six of them. I was ashamed to tell him. I’m sure he thinks I stole ‘em. I lost so many balls that we eventually rented a backhoe for the sand traps and hired two scuba divers to join our caravan.

They haven’t asked me back. But maybe I’ll get invited to a celebrity bowling tournament; at least I won’t lose as many balls. ❖

David and Goliath of television

“The farmer has always been a peasant.” – Richard Blinco, Idaho

When the market crashed in 1975, Richard had a ranch, feedlot, dairy, potatoes, alfalfa and a packing house.

Here we sit 45 years later and not much has changed. Today less than 1.3% of the American population, (and 7% in Canada), is involved in production agriculture. We, who are left with the responsibility of feeding the ever-growing population that now stands at 331 million people. We do it. It is lots of work. We have an enormous amount of scientific, technical, medical, and mechanical research and dedication looking over our shoulder as we break the ground, plant the wheat, brand the calf or drive the truck.

Imagine a ‘Nóngmín’ bent over in a rice field a thousand years before Christ came, not much different than a farmer bent over a furrow, feeling the soil today. What is our motive… inspiration? Do we say, “We’re feeding the world?” “I’ll get famous!” “The big money?”

No. It is as simple as “It’s what I do.”

There are people who have a deep heart, have a conscience, are dedicated to those we work for, are close to God, maybe have guilt, or just kindness and care. They don’t think “money first.” Occasionally, the consumer has a chance to make farmers’ lives easier, nicer, more satisfying.

Let me suggest… their own television channels. Television waves are controlled by a handful of global companies. They have brought wonderful communication worldwide with hundreds of channels. Some 99.9% are dedicated to the majority polled, which are suburban folks.

The ag rural television, which is not “about us” but “for us,” are limited to pillars like U.S. FARM REPORT and Orion Samuelson and some local weeklies that are an hour long.

RFDTV Channel is the only exception; RFDTV contents are exclusively rural and agriculture, 24 hours a day. They are leading the effort to have Congress vote on HR 2682 that would ensure at least 1 percent, 0.1… 1%, is devoted exclusively to the ag rural market.

Like ag publications and ag radio, ag television is part of what holds all of our ag community together. To those of us in ag media, it’s not just a job. I think it has something to do with our souls.

If you want to help, contact your representative or senator about passing HR 2682.

HR 2682:

Agricultural News and Rural Content Act of 2020

This bill requires certain video programming distributors, such as cable providers, to use at least 1% of their channel capacity to transmit channels of programming that serve the needs and interests of rural areas. ❖

LIttered with progress

The other day on the internet, I saw an old commercial of a semi truck that had these words painted on the side: JONNY KAT, KITTY LITTER. For some reason that had a profound affect on me. Imagine a semi full of kitty litter! 40,000 pounds of scented, colored, and packaged cat box contents!

That has to say something about our affluent society, about the shape of our civilization. Some of our past inventions are quite practical and ingenious. The self-sealing, puncture proof tire, mercury lights, insecticide ear tags, microwave ovens, the Salk vaccine, four wheel drive, frozen orange juice and boxed beef. Pistachio tree roots are susceptible to certain kinds of root rot. But peach tree roots are more resistant. So the pistachio growers graft pistachio trunks onto peach tree roots. Clever.

Consider how much artificial insemination has done to improve the quality of our livestock production. Genetic engineering is space age technology.

But sometimes when we strive to achieve we go off the deep end. Take the cell phone. When they first appeared on the scene they were expensive, heavy and required two hands to operate. Now you can get a disposable one with a camera that adds, subtracts, calculates square roots, tells you the time in Singapore, wakes you up, plays you a tune, gives you the weather and news, takes your pulse, calendars all your events and reminds you of them all, and controls all appliances in your house! What I’d like to find is a cell phone that gives me more hours in a day!

And speaking of rotting edges affluence, how about aerosol cheese spread? I thought plastic wrapped, individual cheese slices were pretty decadent but you can also foam it onto your crackers like shaving cream.

Yep, we’ve surrounded ourselves with creations that have gone a step beyond their original purpose; fender skirts, square headlights and veterinarians with PhD’s. Some might even include Pekingese, Chihuahua or Appaloosa in that group but I know how sensitive animal breeders are so I certainly wouldn’t include them. Obviously our adventures into the extreme or entertaining are useful. We learn and perfect by doing.

Well, my digital ballpoint pen is playing “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” so I guess it’s time to brush my teeth and hit the sack. I hope the batteries are still charged in my computerized flosser. ❖

Another White Horse Just Rode By

Another white horse just rode by. I guess I saw him comin’

I felt him breathin’ down my neck, I heard his hoofbeats drummin’.

I’ve seen ‘em pass this way before. They mark the separation

Of mossy horns from yearlin’ bucks. Each one’s a generation.

I saw one pass at seventeen, at thirty-five and fifty

They rode by loud and brave and bold or snuck by sly and shifty.

They had no time to stop and talk or ponder gettin’ older

They pushed their elders for a while then pushed ‘em off the shoulder.

They stamped their feet and scraped their horns and kept the turmoil brewing

With no regard to consequence or history they’re undoing.

Another white horse just rode by. The crowd is gettin’ thinner.

I’ve got no urge to follow ‘em, I’d rather go eat dinner

And spend my time with folks I love who’d care if I was missin’.

Where I can tell the things I know and likewise, sit and listen.

See, time has worn my edges smooth, a temporal erosion,

That keeps me outta useless fights and outta constant motion.

Oh, I still get my dander up and I still tell my stories

But you won’t find me wishin’ I could re-ride long gone glories.

Another white horse just rode by but you won’t see me mopin’.

My grandkid’s home from school at three… I’m takin’ her a’ropin’. ❖