A Socratic Rancher 7-12-10 | TheFencePost.com

A Socratic Rancher 7-12-10

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

“That’s one smart bull there, don’t you think?” Chuck pointed the question at me like an arrow. “I call ‘im Plato.”

I nodded affirmatively. It was the early ’70s (I still had goats) so I considered cattlemen the wealthy ones, the ones who could afford to wait nine months for a single calf to be born, and sometimes feed an empty cow for a couple years hoping she would breed.

“Yessir,” Chuck persisted, “purebred Polled Her-e-ford. Just take a gander into his eyes.” Chuck came to ranching from corporate management and was very proud of his stock.

“He has very smart looking eyes, for a bull,” I admitted at long last, though I had no credibility as a judge of bulls’ eyes.

Finally, I said, “Well, listen, Chuck, uh, I have chores and such …”

Chuck had asked me to help him move the bull to a pasture about 20 miles up road. For this, he had a trailer, not wanting to stress or injure the bull’s essentials by driving him. As Chuck said, “Even a smart bull can accidentally wag his talleywhacker in an errant chico bush.”

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With little direction from the two of us, Plato loaded into the trailer, and after that act of contrition, I had to admit Plato seemed to know what this was all about.

“You see,” Chuck smiled. “He knows he’s about to be back in bidness with the cows.”

We started down the road, but something didn’t feel quite right, as the trailer wanted to wag, causing the truck to occasionally take it’s half of the road out of the middle.

I looked through the rear window to see Plato had lodged himself firmly against the tail gate of the trailer, and because he weighed close to a ton, the counterweight effect exerted considerable lift on the back end of the truck.

“It’s always like this,” Chuck said, “Plato anchors himself. Not to worry, it’s a custom trailer with 12,000-pound axles.”

It wasn’t the axles I was worried about when we hit a washboard stretch of road at about 25 miles an hour. The truck suddenly wagged to the far left as we felt a thump-thud accompanied by the sound of screeching metal. Looking out the passenger’s side window, I saw Chuck’s custom trailer had levered free of its hitch, bipped toward the bar ditch, stabilized, and was now, somehow, passing us on the right, just as Chuck was about to compensate by steering back in that direction. Luckily, Chuck saw what had happened and stayed straight – all of this happening in a matter of a few seconds.

As the trailer passed us, Plato gave us a look, and I must admit that I did see sparks of intelligence in his eyes. He was definitely saying: “What the heck are you two doing?”

We coasted alongside until the trailer veered gradually to the right and then off the road, rocking and tipping across the bar ditch and crashing in to a tree.

Chuck almost spoke. His mouth opened and quivered, but no words forthcame as he flung open his door and dashed to the trailer. After opening the tailgate, Plato stepped out, one leg at a time, far less perturbed than Chuck. Once out, Plato looked around, and then shot a glance at us suggesting we needed to re-take fifth grade recess where you learn a few things on a teeter tauter.

Lacking any other option, Chuck and I encouraged Plato up the road toward the new pasture, an effort that met no resistance from Plato. He ambled along like the smartest mammal among us.

When we settled into a nice driving pace, Chuck let out a deep breath and shook his hat. “Well, didn’t I tell ya: danged ol’ fella knows what this is all about. He’s one smart bull.”

I nodded, and though a remark occurred to me about relative intelligence, I walked along behind the ever patient Plato, grateful the only wounds were to a custom trailer, and our pride.