January 29, 2008
There was a time in my life when I enjoyed springtime. It is a time when life begins, out on the ranch and in the wilderness areas. However, as age and this cold spell we have been having invade my body, I am not so sure about my feelings as a younger man. It just seems to be getting the best of me and I am thankful I don’t have to be out there calving, or delivering baby horses. Not that I don’t enjoy the memories now, of riding through snowstorms.
Like the time in Montana when it was 20 degrees below zero. After having fed the cattle it was time to saddle up and ride the willows looking for new born calves. That was when I developed a dislike for Magpie birds. They are scavengers, making a living the way they were intended, but when you ride up on a newborn calf with its eyes pecked out you get mad. They would attack the calf before it could get up and that got to me. I have never liked Magpie’s since.
Then finding a new born that was too week to get up, and mamma standing guard over the little critter … Ok, time to take action. It was not that I was thinking of the money the boss would lose if this one didn’t make it. It was a little life trying to get into this world, and it was up to me to do all I could to give the little guy a chance. If he/she could get to their feet and nurse on that first milk loaded with colostrum (first fluid, rich in protein, secreted by Mammary glands for several days just after birth) the calf would generally make it.
As calving time came around, the boss went to town, and purchased several bottles of cheep whisky to pass out to the cowboys. He said he bought the cheep stuff so we wouldn’t drink it ourselves. They were the size to fit in a saddle pocket and we carried them every day. I tried some just to see if it was good for newborns and I only tried it once because it set my mouth and stomach on fire.
So, I grabbed the bottle and led my horse to keep him between that mamma cow and me. I approached as fast as I could, knelt down, and lifted the calf’s head, with its mouth and nose closed, so it would swallow, I poured down a good slug of whiskey. I could tell I was running out of time because, out of the corner of my eye, I could see mamma coming around my horse.
There is a funny thing about motivation. When you work for an outfit that runs Hereford cows and doesn’t believe in dehorning (so the cows can defend their calves against wolves, coyotes and other predators) …You tend to get in a hurry. Therefore, I roughed up his/her neck to get blood flowing, then stood up to get my horse and got the heck out of there. Sure-enough the little bugger coughed sneezed and sputtered, then jumped to its feet and headed for the dinner bucket.
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It seems as though I have been teaching my whole life. I taught Agriculture for 13 years and never got it out of my blood. Years later my wife, who just started Vet-school needed some hands on experience in calving. Altenburg’s needed some one to watch the cowherd while at the Stock Show, so it was a good fit. There was a calf that needed to go into the barn, but the cow was a real “witch” and no one could get near the baby.
My plan was to have Ryan and I ride behind the tractor on a hay platform and have my wife drive and keep the tractor between the cow and us. Everything worked great until Ryan and I picked the calf up and headed for the platform. I could see the cow coming around the tractor and knew we’d have to hurry because I have seen a cow go into the cab of a pick-up after her calf before.
I yelled at Ryan and we began to run, but my wife decided to try to swing the tractor around to head off the cow. This made the platform swing away from us and the cow was gaining. We made two or three revolutions before I got tickled and started laughing. Finally, my wife stopped so we could throw the calf on, then she raised the platform. As I think back, she may have been trying to tell me something, because a few years later, she moved on to find someone with a little more class.
Roger Thompson is a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.