It’s the Pitts 9-20-10
September 20, 2010
Some misinformed people think that anything that wears hair, horns or hooves is stupid. Hence the sayings, “he’s dumb as an ox,” or “silly as a filly.” Cows are thought of as being especially stupid. “Ain’t nothing dumber than a cow, except the man that owns them,” is an often heard expression. But I think cows are a lot smarter than people give them credit for, as the story of Stucky will illustrate.
Notice I said that cows weren’t stupid. That doesn’t mean they aren’t creatures of habit. Often they use the same place on a ranch for the same purpose year after year, such as a birthing spot or as a sort of nursery area for calves. Old timers called these places where the cows congregate at calving “cow stomps.” Our cow stomp is on the side of a hill that provides a sheltered and protected hiding place for newborn babies.
I had never thought of our nursery as a particularly dangerous place but that was before the “drought cracks” started opening. For seven long years the ground unfolded and left gaping holes as if the earth was trying to catch the rain that never fell. It was the drought without end. A very depressing time. These drought cracks were a couple feet deep and several yards long and they subdivided the nursery where the cows calved.
I don’t know what possessed me to check out the nursery that afternoon. After all, I had already ridden through the cows once that day on my wonder horse Gentleman. Perhaps it was the buzzards circling overhead. I figured either a cow had given birth, or died trying.
The nursery was on the side of the hill tucked away where I couldn’t see it from the road, so I got out of the truck and hiked down the steep hill to the cow stomp. Upon seeing me the rest of the cows gathered up their babies and headed for other hills. One solitary red cow stayed put. The grass had been ground into the dirt from her furious pacing and at first I could not see the problem. It was obvious she had calved but there was no sign of a little one. On closer inspection I saw four tiny feet sticking up out of a drought crack. The newborn baby was lying on its back in a crack and all its mother could do was bawl.
The calf was wedged so tight in the crack I had a hard time setting her free. I had no idea how long the calf had been lying there but she’d been licked off and had milk foam around her mouth so it couldn’t have been too long. I could just imagine the newborn getting up to suck on wobbly feet, losing her balance and rolling into the crevice.
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I have always been of the opinion that you never name something you might eat, but in this special case we decided to name the calf that almost became a drought victim. I wanted to name her Lucky but my wife suggested we call her Stucky.
Surprisingly, Stucky showed no signs of aberrant behavior … such as sleeping on her back. But the cows showed they were capable of rational thought. During the duration of the drought the cows never came back to the nursery as long as they were nursing their calves. Once the calves were weaned and shipped the cows would return to munch on the grass between the cracks. But, sensing the danger, they wouldn’t calve there. Finally, after seven long years the drought broke with 3 inches of rain in a single night. Miraculously, the earth went back together again.
That next autumn when it came time for the cows to calve they returned to the nursery as if they had never left. It was good to see the newborn calves frolic once more in the nursery without the worry of falling into a drought crack.
Oh, by the way, we don’t call it the “nursery” anymore. “Stucky’s Landing” seems much more appropriate, don’t you think?