Lee Pitts: Don’t underestimate the value of a well-placed feedbunk
April 11, 2016
We take a lot of things for granted in the cattle business, like a squeeze chute and a wife that both work, a dog that sleeps at your feet and a horse that doesn't. One of the biggest things we hardly ever appreciate is the lowly feedbunk. But not me, I haven't taken the feedbunk for granted ever since I had my first cowboy job out of college. In fact, I consider the feedbunk one of the greatest inventions of all time, right after the recliner and before long underwear.
I spent the better part of three years of my life, and all of my money, getting a BS degree in Animal Science only to get a job for $600 a month as a chore boy on an Angus outfit. One of my jobs was to feed the bulls, the majority of which were two and three year olds because no one wanted them as yearlings. The feed room was located in the middle of the bull pen and every morning and every late afternoon I'd carry 50-pound feed sacks out of the barn and into the pen to throw the feed into several large flat feeders. And when I say "throw" I mean "throw" because I was surrounded by a throng of belligerent bulls who wanted to eat my lunch.
I don't know what happened to the slave who worked there before me but I suspect he was killed trying to feed the bulls.
I was an Angus enthusiast as a kid and all my show steers and heifers were registered Angus. I mention this so that no Angus breeder will take offense when I say that some Angus cattle in the 1960s had what you might call an "attitude problem." I think most of that has been bred out of the Angus breed by now but the ranch where I worked was known far and wide as being THE top source for hot-headed Angus.
One of the reasons those bulls were hard to sell was they were short, wide and heavily muscled at a time when ranchers wanted long, tall and tasteless. (In hindsight, the cattle were more like what we should have been breeding.) There were about 35 leftover bulls in the pen and I sold a grand total of six during my tenure which left 29 cold-blooded assassins.
Although my ag teacher taught me to feed at the same time every day I would alter my times and go into stealth-feeding-mode hoping to catch the bulls off guard so I could deliver the feed without getting stomped to death. But it hardly ever worked. Once they saw me the only way I could save my life was to drop the bag and run for cover.
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I tried creating a distraction by having my lovely wife run through the pen with a flake of alfalfa but she only lasted one fun-run after she got stuck in the muck and only survived by ditching her boots. Next I tried getting on a horse with a sack of feed and riding into the pen but the horses on that ranch were all barely-broke youngsters and the minute the bulls started to attack those broncs came apart and dumped me faster than I could dump the pellets. I tried my best to hang-and-rattle but none of my associates back then ever called me Casey Tibbs. All they called was the ambulance.
I tried loading up the Jeep and having the wife drive next to the feeders while I dumped the feed but when one bull tried to jump in the driver's seat with her she hit the gas and I was thrown once again… by a Jeep. The ranch owner strongly requested that I no longer do that again because the bulls broke a headlight and dented a door. (Really.)
I toyed with the idea of asking the owner for some feedbunks so I could feed from outside the pen but although he had very deep pockets, he also had very short arms when it came to reaching for his wallet. Besides, I knew I'd be the one who would have to build them. Instead, I did what any intelligent person would do. I quit. Let the next guy worry about it. ❖