Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 5-21-12
There were 30 High school students on the Spring Farm and Ranch bus tour. Most were youngsters from a local City in Montana. Those who have been raised in a western state are likely to at least be aware of how food happens. Western kids are used to seeing cattle and sheep grazing on the landscape. But among the 30 youngsters was one “exchange” student.
An exchange student from overseas? No. This was a girl (we’ll call her Beatrice) from an eastern seaboard metropolis (which shall remain nameless but it rhymes with pork). Beatrice was a high school senior. Her parents wanted her to “experience” the west. Beatrice wanted to impress the west with her sophistication. She exuded cool.
At the first ranch where the bus stopped, Clyde the rancher, and Wade, a cowboy, waited to discuss and show the methods used to identify cattle. They had choused a pair of unbranded calves and their mamas into a small pen. The plan was to demonstrate branding, ear-tagging and castrating.
As part of the interaction and participation in ranch work, some of the kids had been handed assorted tools and aides. One was charged with the tally book (even if there were only two calves to count). Another stood by with vaccination syringes. Another held ear tag pliers. Beatrice clutched a bag of tags.
To begin the demonstration, cowboy Wade spooked a heifer calf into the chute leading to the calf table. Once the heifer had been laid out, rancher Clyde showed the kid holding the syringe how to vaccinate. After which, he applied a hot iron to the calf’s flank. The baby bovine bawled.
Beatrice squealed, “Oh, the poor little thing! You’re hurting it!” Beatrice happened to be wearing a tank top which bared her arms to the sun. A rose tattoo graced her right shoulder. Two earrings dangled from each pierced lobe. When she turned her head quickly, she jingle-jangled.
Clyde, a rancher of mature years and crusty nature drawled (with a deliberately assumed hokey twang), “Well, now ma’am, it don’t hurt that much. Reckon no more ‘n it did you when ya got that li’l flower stitched on yer hide or when ya got them holes poked in yer ears fer those jingle bobs hangin’ off of ’em. Would ya mind handin’ me one of them tags yer holdin’? This here calf needs its earring.”
At that moment, a mama cow lingering somewhere behind Beatrice bellowed. Beatrice’s eyes bugged; she dropped the bag of tags. Clyde promptly retrieved them, selected one, clipped it to the calf’s ear, and turned the critter turned loose – all before Beatrice got her mouth closed and her eyes unbugged.
In the chute, Wade pushed the second calf to the table. This one released a quantity of rather loose pent-up material, some of which slopped onto Wade’s Wrangler’s.
“Eeeewww,” said Beatrice.
Clyde went through the routine of vaccinating, branding and ear-tagging once again. But this particular calf was a bull calf. One final task remained. As he worked, Clyde described how to pull the sack, clip the cords. The severed bits he dropped into a coffee can – half full of water – held by one of the male students.
“Oh, boy,” said the student. “Oysters!” (Must have been a ranch kid for sure).
“Yep,” twanged Clyde. “I’ll just add these to the ones we collected at last Saturday’s branding. The Mrs. is gonna serve ’em up fer you kids at dinner.”
Beatrice, mesmerized, had been unable to look away from the process. “You-you mean, you mean … uh, we’re supposed to eat those … those … things?!
“Well, shore,” said Clyde, “but we’ll cook ’em first.”