31 May 2011, 1122, Tuesday, Liberty Middle School
Praise God! The house closed and we are now the proud owners of one and only one house, that being the one in which we live. Good times. Of course, we still have a lot of the same issues we had before, but it is important to remember that God had rescued us from that burden and He will continue to show His faithfulness. It could get pretty lean during the summer, but I’m convinced that we will be fine.
Saturday was a big day also. Dad and Linda came out that morning and the Pflugerville Cousins came out in the afternoon. We were also joined by my cousin Blake. We needed every bit of help we could muster for the job I had lined out. In an effort to maximize our knowledge of the herd, we decided that we would ear tag the calves well before we sold them or decided to keep them. This way, we can match up calves to their cows during the year and when we sell the calves, we don’t have to guess at which calves belong to which cows. Each calf will have a recorded birthday, etc. in a cow-calf management software program. Oh, the glories of modern day agricultural technology are making their way into the Crow Ranch!
But not completely. We still pen cows with horses (and a little help from the Gator and a sack of range cubes). We still rope, we still throw calves by hand. In the fall, we will still brand our heifers. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We tagged fifteen calves and I have to hand it to those fifteen, they put up a fight. Nathan got knocked down about three times and I spent some time on the ground too. The rule about spending time on the ground is that you don’t do it; at least not if you can help it and not for very long. When dealing with livestock of any kind, being on the ground is where they get you. That’s how you get trampled, kicked, and hooked. It’s how you get hoofprints on the back of your neck. More on that later. The other reason you get up off the ground is that there are a bunch of your family and friends who probably saw you go down and want to know that you are okay.
For the unitiated, the process goes something like this. We have about 10-25 cows and calves in what we call the roping pen. This pen is worked by one man on horseback and one or two men on foot with ropes. One of these will rope a calf, then hand the rope up to the horseman if the rider wasn’t the one to catch the calf. The horseman takes a dally or two around the horn of his saddle, then drags the calf through the gate to the branding pen. The gateman opens the gate before him, which is important, because if the momma cow tries to follow, then the gateman can shut the gate right after the calf gets through. Once in the branding pen, the horseman will ride up to the snubbing post. A snubbing post is a deeply buried and solid round post about eight inches in diameter and about five and half feet tall. The rider will try to “split” the post with the rope. A roper will grab the rope quickly take a dally over the top of the post as the rider releases the rope. The rope man now has the calf. He will keep himself on the opposite side of the post and take up slack whenever he can to get the calf close to the post. The flanker (usually one of the ropers) will then work his way down the rope and stand on the calf’s left side, grab it by the loose skin around his neck and by his back leg. The flanker then smartly picks up the calf with his arms and right knee, rolling him up his leg and dropping him gently on the ground onto the calf’s left side. He quickly squats on the calf’s neck with his left leg and grabs the calf’s right foreleg with his left hand and puts his other fist into the calf’s flank. This prevents the calf from kicking with his back legs until the foot rope person comes up from the calf’s back and puts both back legs in a loop and a half hitch. The calf is then easily worked. The flanker slips the headrope off with his free hand, the legropeman releases the footrope and they coordinate the release of the calf with the gateman. The calf gets up and runs back to the roping pen.
A favorite military axiom is that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. It is also true that no cowboy plan survives contact with the cows. The plan would work almost exactly as described except the darn calves just won’t stay still. They also grow and some of them have gotten pretty big. When they get to a certain point, they don’t bounce around as much and are actually a little easier to handle in some ways. This middle size that we dealt with on Saturday can be kind of tough. Not only are the calves getting older, so are the cowboys. Our average age is 44. We are almost as quick and agile as we were 20 years ago, but not quite. When those calves start to jumping like a marlin on the end of a fishing line, they are hard to catch. When we finally get a hold of them, they don’t always go down that easily. We try to help each other. Nathan was flanking one that was particularly stubborn, so I grabbed its back end. Nathan starts to lift him up and I start dragging the calf down with all my might. I took Nathan with him, of course. Nathan went down and the calf rolled over him and just got right back up. Remembering what happens to cowboys who go to ground in the pens, we quickly jump back up ourselves.
Later, Nathan modeled the exception to the rule for me. He was working his way down the rope to a calf, got tripped up and fell to his knees. “Get up!” I’m thinking, but Nathan just paused on all fours for a half second as the rope passed over him, then jumped up. Pretty slick, and a lesson I would appreciate later when I tried to twist one down.
Bulldogging a calf is when you get behind its head, then twist the nose up into the air and just lay back. If done properly, this gets a calf down quick and easy, but leaves you in a bad position to get on the calf. We were having trouble with a big one, so I announce that I am going to twist him down and step in and grab his head. I bring his nose up beautifully and then I just slip off. I don’t know how it happened, but now I’m on the ground face up and I’m all alone down there. I here people yelling, “Get up!”, but I remember from watching Nathan that not getting up immediately can be a good thing to. I feel the calf coming toward me and I roll up to my hands and knees, tucking my head under as that calf used me like a welcome mat. I still have the hoofprint on my neck. A mark of how not to bulldog a calf.
All in all, we had a really fun day and plenty of bruises, cuts, and sore muscles to go along with it. There’s something about the combative nature of working calves in this way that helps release the aggressive male tension that builds up when working in an office. I suppose you get the same thing from playing sports. Guys need this. They need to work through some pain and fear and test themselves. They need to get knocked on their butts, shake their heads, laugh, and then go back in fighting.
I can’t wait for the next time we work calves. Well, I reckon I can wait long enough for the bruises to fade.