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To read the cow

Mad Jack Hanks
Tales from the ONO Ranch, Wellington, Colo.

To read a cow, for you gentle readers that might not know, is to forecast what you believe she is about to do. She may do it to you or for you. Will this particular cow head to the brush when I release her or will she freight train me before I can get back on my horse. Most of the time you will have figured right if you have spent enough time around bovines.

As a young cowboy not raised on a ranch, I had to learn to read the cow by watching and closely listening to what experienced cowboys said and did while working cattle. Of course, cows are different just like we are. They can be docile or they can have a bit of a mean streak in them and it helps if you have read them correctly. Some lessons are not that hard to learn if you put your best foot forward and sort of lean into it. Now some folks, that should already know what to expect, don’t have a clue. For example: I had been contracted by a young man fresh out of college using his daddy’s money, to look after 100 heifers he had just purchased from the famous Waggoner Ranch there in north Texas. He had them hauled to the ranch he had leased that joined my place north of Amarillo. These fat, soggy, Hereford heifers were just off their momma’s and were wild like any freshly weaned calf would be. He had them unloaded in a trap in a one section pasture and as soon as they were off the truck and had a chance to find the water at the windmill, as if they cared, he wanted to turn them out. I had four guys, all experienced cowboys, there to help me try and keep them together when they were turned out. This young feller, being smarter than the rest of us, was sure there would be no problems. Um hummm, we all knew we were in for a wreck but couldn’t talk him out of throwing the gate open and lettin’ them take off like a scalded dog. Talk about a stampede! Holy smoke, those heifers scattered in 150 different directions at 400 miles an hour in a cloud of dust. We rode as hard as we could and were unable to get around them before they came to the first barbed wire fence a half mile away. It was a stout five wire fence stapled to cedar post and a half dozen went through it or over it when they hit. The rest took off down the fence line as fast as they could go. We had to cut the fence down, take our horses through, leave one man there to plug the hole while we roped and drug those six heifers back through the fence. Yep, it took a while and we were hot, sweaty, mad, frustrated and cussin’ that kid for all he was worth.

The long and the short of it was we repaired the fence, caught up with the remaining heifers as they followed the fence around the section line, and tried to put them back in the trap on water but they just passed it by and kept bawlin’ and trottin’ along while slobbering at the mouth. There just wasn’t a lot a feller could do. We watered our horses, my buddies wished me the best of luck and I thanked them for their help as they loaded up and pulled out. Those heifers walked that fence bawlin’ and squalin’ for three or four days. They would stop once in a while for water and to pick at the grass a little. There is another story behind this one about taking care of these cattle and dealing with this rich kid, but it’s for another time. He hopefully learned his first lesson about freshly weaned heifers. He left the pasture a little unsettled but for that matter, so did I.



Stay tuned, check yer cinch on occasion and if you can “read your wife, you can surely read cattle, I’ll c. y’all, all y’all.

As a postscript, I learned to read cattle pretty well in 40 something years, but never Little Miss Martha.




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