Clever cows and brainy bovines

It’s the Pitts
Lee Pitts
Los Osos, Calif.

I admit I’ve never run cattle where it snows. If that makes me any less of a man in your eyes then so be it. But I have compensated for my deficiencies in extremely cold weather by ranching in places where it NEVER rained. Still, I was fascinated by a study I read about cows eating snow. Or do they drink it?

It seems Don Adams of the Range Research Station in Miles City, Mont., identified all the cows in his study with electronic identification so that their coming and going from the water trough could be recorded. Don found that 65% of the cows came to water daily, some came every second or third day, while some never drank out of the water trough at all during the four month study. Don assumed that some cows were eating snow thereby saving themselves the long daily trek to the trough. Clearly these were intellectually remarkable cows.

My friend Skinner once told me about a set of Nevada calves that were consigned to his auction in Famoso, Calif., home to some of the most clever and cunning cows in America. Skinner took pride in the fill he could get on cattle but this set of calves refused to drink. He had the yard crew splashing in the water trough and the dumb calves still didn’t get it. So Skinner got a backhoe and made an artificial river through the pen just so the calves wouldn’t die from dehydration before he could collect a commission. Yes, those were some stupid cattle. As the old cowboy vet Ben Green would say, “They didn’t have as much sense as a weak minded west Texas jackrabbit.”

It did not surprise me that the calves came from Nevada because it’s the home of the dumbest cows I’ve ever met in an alley. I don’t know why this is so because Nevada is home to some of the smartest people I know. Perhaps their cows merely lack socialization skills from living out in the boonies so far away from civilization.

While Nevada is home to the dumbest cows, the highest IQ cows call Arizona home. There are cows and steers there that have evaded capture for 20 years. I’ve been on an Arizona gather where we pushed cattle down off steep slopes all day only to find at the end of the day, when our dogs were lost and our horses exhausted, that all the cows we thought we kicked off the mountains into the valleys, were laughing at us from the mountain tops. Yes mam, those were some brainy bovines!

Now that I’ve made the cows of Nevada mad, let’s see if I can’t get under the skin of some breed associations. In my opinion, I’ve found Brahmans are the smartest breed. I owned five Brahman bulls once and they were smarter than I was, which I admit, isn’t saying much. I know it’s a small sample size but if all Brahmans are as smart as those five, the breed goes to the head of the class. I swear, they knew what I was going to do before I did. They were gentle too.

As for the dumbest breed I’d go with Holsteins. In my experience they are dumber than sheep and have mush for brains. Most of my fence posts had more brains than a set of half Holstein chucklehead cows I made the mistake of buying ones who didn’t even recognize their own offspring after they gave birth to it. I swear, they got an incredulous look on their face when they first saw their calf and then ran from it with their bag swinging to and fro. If it weren’t for the fact that they are unexcelled in producing two of the most glorious feedstuffs on earth, milk and veal, I’d say the only other things they’re good for is making cow pies, chewing their collective cud, and fantasizing about getting bred by a real bull at least once in their pathetic lives. Still, I feel for them for as John Wayne once said, “LIfe’s tough — it’s even tougher when you’re stupid.”

• Note to residents of Nevada and Holstein dairymen… please send your angry letters to MENSA for Cows, Bullpucky, Rhode Island. Please be advised, it’s a very small organization and you may not hear back from them. ❖

Lee Pitts