21 February 2013
The Final Calf
Well, I think it is about time that we sold the last calf from 2012. As you know, we have had issues with our ability to actually pen cows. This is a frustrating experience for me since that is one of the reasons that I wanted to move. Some of my fondest memories are of getting saddled up, loosing the dogs and going on long cow hunts with my Dad, Grandfather, and sometimes cousins. Back when I was a boy we had thousands of thicket acres leased. We’d go pen cows and it could take most of the day. I started doing this when I was 6. At times, we would be riding for so long, that I would doze off in the saddle until we heard the telltale baying of the cur dogs, calling us to the cows they had found. We’d make a run to where they were and try to drive them all back. As a boy, I rode drag, keeping them bunched up. As I got older, Dad put me on a flank, where a crazy cow might make a break for the thick woods and I would chase it down, get ahead of it and turn it back to the herd. This took a good woods horse that would keep your knees clear of trees and, of course you had to be careful not to let a mess of briars drag you off or not to get caught up in some vines. A good horse could tell whether you were tugging on the reins or if it was random branches and vines. Punching cows in the thicket, I lost many a hat, got cut many a time, and tore up many a shirt.
I won’t say we got the cows all the time, but it was better than even money that we would. It’s a type of cowboying that you won’t see in the movies, and frankly, we were pretty good at it. Flash forward to today. The cows are close up to the house. If we drive out into the pasture and shake a feed sack at them they will come a running. And yet, only about half the time can we pen them, if even that. With only one good horse and one dog, who despite good instincts doesn’t know what to do, we have to trap them in a small pasture and drive them in like that. I don’t think life will be like this forever, but the cows have really gotten weird. They just don’t seem to want to bunch up. Cows are herd animals and will normally bunch up for protection. This is why dogs are so important. They get in, bark around the cows and they automatically get in a herd. In fact, we used to just sit there and let them bark awhile, letting the glue dry on the herd before starting back to the house. Poor Dixie doesn’t know all this. She will bark in the middle of them half the time, scattering them. Dad or I can get around them easily on horseback, but without that herd consciousness, they just blow on by.
So, until we can get another good horse and one or more well-trained dogs, we are relegated to using the trap.
Heretofore this has involved feeding or watering the cows in the Lane or in the Calf Patch. There is a gate in the Northeast Corner of the Calf Patch that we could shut and then easily drive the cows into the Pens. There is an opening in the fence behind Tank 3 (Old Field Tank) that they use to get into the Lane. The problem recently has been sneaking past them down the Camp Road in order to get behind them. So, Anna suggested that we cut a gap in the Southwest corner of the Between the Tanks into the Lane and make a path through the old fence line behind Tank 2. This way, we can leave from the house, go to the West edge of the pasture and move south all the way to the lane. We have not yet made this path passable by Gator, but I can get through on a horse. On the 8th, we executed our plan. Anna went down the road with a bag of cubes, and led most of the cows into the calf patch. Ironically, this was the tough part. It is not easy carrying a 50 pound sack of cubes through a mud hole with hungry cows on your heels. I, however, got the fun part. Anna texted me when she was in place, and I did my end run around the northern and western edge of the Horse Pasture, through the Western Gap of the New Fence, behind Tank 2 (Horse Tank), and through our new gap into the Lane. The cows had no idea that I was there, until some of the spookier ones turned off the cubes that Anna was putting out and came down toward me.
I’m proud to say that the fence that Dad and I put into the Eastern end of the Tank prevented them from crossing Tank 3 into the Old Field. However, I just couldn’t keep from going past me on the Tank bank. These tanks were built back in the oil field days and they have about 3-5 foot banks. These are covered in trees and thicket and you have to have a man up on the bank as well as down on the flat in order to stop the cows. So, yes, we did get the calf that we wanted, and yes, the fence that Dad and I put into the tank held and turned the cows, but I couldn’t keep those others from passing me without help.
The next day went pretty smoothly. We separated the calf and his momma quickly and cut her out in the chute. I am confident that one day we will pen cows like we did in the old days. I think finishing off our trap so that it will hold cows for several days will be useful. Then, if they get by me, we can just go around and try again. We are working on getting another horse up and ready and I need to try Rebel again to see if his back is better. I would also like to extend our trap to include the Mineral Box Field. We have a lane there as well that will feed into the Tank Lane and Calf Patch. Frequent penning will help them drive better and will help Dixie figure out how to be a cow dog.
The underlying lesson in all this has been to commit all of the work of our hands to God. So many times in recent memory we have tried penning and couldn’t. We started praying that God’s purposes for the day would stand. I think this has helped. Not just with our actual success in the field, but with our attitudes as well. When we “fail” in our task it is now God’s responsibility and we do not have to take ownership of it. We still review what we could have done differently, but we just don’t sweat it as much.