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I’ll sure miss the cows and the camaraderie

by Marie Johnson

Whether we keep ’em or sell ’em, we still need to take care of ’em. That is why I was feeding during this first hurricane of the season. Wind ripping down the mountain grabs the hay, force feeding it back to me as I fork it into the mangers. To tell you the truth, it’s days like these that make me giddy thinking about selling the cows.

What I will miss, though, when the cows go are stories cowboys and veterinarians swap as they work cattle. Randy, our large animal vet, came out last week to vaccinate our weaned heifer calves. If you know Randy, you’re probably already smiling remembering a yarn he’s told while doctoring cattle. If you don’t know him, you should buy yourselves a nice group of cows so you’ll get the chance to meet him. He’s a good vet who tells a good story.

On this particular vet visit, I unfortunately missed some of Randy’s tales because I had to go back up to the house for a bit to answer questions a man had about kitchen walls. Tony, a cowboy from another cattle operation working nearby, offered to help the fellas ’til I got back.

Now, remember, I am still in the middle of this house improvement odyssey. My new cook top didn’t fit in the counter top so we needed to cut a new counter top. New counter tops needed to have old back splash tiles taken out to fit. Taking out the old tiles ripped the wallpaper, punched holes in the drywall and chipped the paint. You see where this is going, so I’ll leave it alone and get back to running heifers up the chute for Randy. I think I must have missed a few good stories while at the house because the guys were all smiles when I got back to the corrals and I didn’t see anything funny going on.

Kent was catching cows in the head gate by pulling a rope that brings two 18-inch-wide, metal panels together alongside an animal’s neck, like a tall, stiff collar. Ideally, an animal cannot go forward or back until this head catch is released, keeping the animal still, allowing the vet to work. I got back to running the heifers up the alleyway, a wooden hallway- like passage meant to keep the animals in single file, heading to the chute or squeeze, as we call our head catch. Retaking my position allowed Tony a break to share information about some cattle on a ranch where he was from.

Tony started his tale with a vet coming to check and vaccinate about 200 head of Brangus cows. Tony had the cows lined up ready for the chute. Being the only man on the operation, he will send the animals down the alley, toward the chute, shut the side squeeze and then catch the animal’s head. Everything set, vet ready, Tony pushes the first cow in the alley.

For those who may not know, Brangus cattle are Brahma/Angus mix. Brahmas are bred to survive in harsh, hostile environments. They can defend themselves against alligators, crocodiles and lions; a man on two legs in a cowboy hat is not considered a real threat.

As Tony tells it, the first cow hit the head gate going 40 miles an hour and just kept going, taking the 4-foot-wide head squeeze along with her as a yoke. He said, “She headed straight for open pasture swinging her new headpiece all around. We couldn’t go after her; we couldn’t get near her with that thing around her neck banging into things. She seemed pretty upset to start with and that thing just kept making her madder. The vet standing there gathered up his stuff and left asking me to give him a call later.”

Laughter on a good day working cows is hard to beat. I wonder what that cow could do for my kitchen?

n Marie Johnson is a Fredericksburg, Calif., resident and is married to Kent Neddenriep. They have two sons, Kyle, 10, and Bradley, 7. Her column, “Fence lines,” appears once a month.