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Contemplating cattle sale is scary

by Marie Johnson

This story is scary, so I changed the names of the involved parties to “he” and “she” to shield them.

Irrigation stopped Oct. 1 on the West Fork of the Carson River. Since Aug. 1, the bulls have been away from the cows so they are feisty and are working at a few fences. Lame cows have had their foot rot trimmed. There is enough salt supplement in the old tire feeders to last out the fall. Feeding hay doesn’t start until after weaning and vaccinating calves at the end of the month, so for a couple weeks, times are slow, giving opportunity to rest and worry.

Every man or woman who works with cattle, either in ranching, dairying or farming, has during one tough time or another, in a fit of temper, sworn in the corral or milk barn that they are just going to sell all the dang blasted creatures, every single one.

“Stupidest things, don’t get anything for them, anyhow. All this trouble, may as well sell the whole bunch.”

When one witnesses this explosion with strong cuss words added for emphasis, rocks thrown and dirt kicked, it just lays on you like a fine layer of corral dust; it doesn’t mean much. You brush it off, and if a little gets in your teeth, you can always spit it out later. Bad day, too hot to work cattle, too cold, too much wind, animals are tired, you’re tired – all kinds of excuses are given to explain these outburst.

But when someone wakes you at three in the morning by questioning, “Hon, are you asleep?,” and from the tone, not at all romantic but more quiet and distressed, like the sound you hear when your child calls out in the night just before they get sick, you’re instantly alert and listening.

“Yeah, I’m awake,” she answers, wondering what time it is.

He says, “I’m thinking we should sell the cows this fall.”

She rolls on her back, looking at the dark ceiling, and asks, “All of them? Why?”

He answers, “We’ve got to use our heads. They’re taking too much time. I can’t do it any more. I’m so tired after working in town. It takes from the kids. The oldest has hayfever so badly, he can’t even go in the fields without his eyes swelling shut, and the younger one should do something else when he is older. I don’t know why, when we first got married, I just didn’t grab you and run from this place. The pressures, the physical and mental pain. I know you’ve tried hard, but we just aren’t keeping up with what needs to be done to maintain, much less get ahead. The money and time we need to invest to improve things would get better returns other places. We need to work smarter, not harder. My time is worth more to me now. And, well, the kids, I just want to spend more time showing them other things.”

She cannot contradict any of his points. She won’t miss falling off haystacks, hurting her back and shoulder. Won’t mind not feeding tons of hay in blowing blizzards and sticky slush. She thinks of actually sleeping at night during the months of February and March, not checking newborn calves by flashlight while freezing, half asleep. Time to do “things.”

She has been handling these animals since her youngest was born – learning how to raise cows and kids at the same time. Discovered how to pull a calf. How and when to turn a cow out of a herd. She’s learned about horses, water, hay, vaccines and which friends you can call when you’ve got an animal in trouble and need help right now! Why is it then, when she says, “All right,” she doesn’t feel all that right? She keeps staring at the dark ceiling as he rolls to his side and breathes deep of sleep.

She keeps staring at the ceiling, resting and worrying.

– Marie Johnson is a Fredericksburg, Calif., resident and is married to Kent Neddenriep. They have two sons, Kyle, 10, and Bradley, 6. Her column, “Fence lines,” appears once a month.