Photo courtesy of The Old Cowboy Archives
The Mean Cow
Many years ago, Baby Jim did a stint of working for a cow outfit up in Yankee country. Worked there for about three years till the winter of 77 / 78 finally convinced him that God never intended for a good southern boy to spend that much time in the great frozen north. Now, Baby Jim was not all that far north, but it was danged sure far enough. In three years of living there, Baby Jim left the house every morning wearing a jacket. In the summer it came off pretty early, but every day started with one on.
Now we are not going to name the cow outfit or the location to protect the names of the innocent. It is a big outfit though, and if you have ever picked up a bull catalog and spent some time with it you have seen the name of the outfit. Quality operation from top to bottom. Had to be……After all our hero was working there.
Now Baby Jim was working in the capacity of the cow man on this farm. In this capacity Baby Jim was responsible for a sizeable cow herd of valuable cows and a small crew of men. It was up to Baby Jim and his crew to tend to the needs of that cowherd. Anything needed by a cow was Baby Jim’s responsibility. Now the upside of this was that about half the year, Baby Jim got to watch the sun rise sitting on a knoll somewhere astride of a cowhorse puffing on a Marlboro and waiting for enough light to see the cows. Got to ride about half a day everyday. Checking heat, gathering cows, riding fence lines, moving cows from pasture to pasture. All in all, a wonderful life.
The down side was the second season. The endless WINTER. Now this farm was pretty well set up for winter from a cow standpoint. It snowed a heap there every winter and so the idea was to just keep the cows up and have feed close at hand and try to keep it simple. There were big feedlots with silos and hay close by and a good sleeping barn for the cows to get out of the weather. They just went into the lots and hunkered down for the winter with about a hundred cows in each lot. The biggest chore for most of the winter was to make it through the day so you could do it all again the next day and hope the infernal snow didn’t completely bury everything again overnight.
The real fun started in February. That was when the calving started. Now Baby Jim doesn’t like to have calves in February in central Virginia. He sure as the devil didn’t think calving in February in 23 feet of snow was a good idea, but the boss reminded our hero that when he had his own cows he could calve them any time he wanted to, but til then he reckoned we would start in February. Now the rub is that you can’t just have baby calves in a lot where cows have been confined all winter. It would be a death sentence for a good many of them. The close up cows had to go to a maternity barn where there were proper amenities for such things. Heat lamps for thawing out frozen calves and frozen cowboys. Maternity pens to allow cows an opportunity to bond with their own baby rather than the other dozen just born. Sick pens for weak calves and most of all, a relatively clean environment.
The plan was that when the weather lightened up in March the early calves and their mamas could go right out to pasture and we could cleanup and run another bunch in. It all worked pretty well most years. Sometimes we had to have a dozer clean a path to walk a bunch of cows from the winter lot to a maternity barn, and a late spring could cause problems with cows and calves stacking up, but these are a part of life’s little management challenges.
Baby Jim and his guys lived with the cows during calving and breeding season. Breeding season was generally in warmer weather though, and the day was usually over by nine or ten PM. During calving, Baby Jim spent many a night sleeping in a calf hutch in the barn under a heat light, piled up with a half dozen calves while waiting for some other old cow to bring forth new life. Had to check em at midnight and 6 AM and there was always one fixing to go into labor, so sometimes it was just easier to snooze and cruise than to make the trek four or five miles back home. Told you, this was a big operation.
One winter there was unusual snow fall and that winter for some reason a bunch of the cows insisted on going outside to the far end of the lot to calve. Of course a cowboy had to be Johnny on the spot to get the calf into the barn or the poor critter would expire from the temperatures and exposure before it ever got up. To alleviate this the crew fenced off an even smaller area outside the barn, which allowed the cows to get to water but severely limited their ability to roam. Put up two strands of electric wire and made a lot about 100 feet by 200 feet.
One particular morning in late February the crew was in a hurry to get all the cows checked so they could move on to something else that was pressing. Everybody split up and went in different directions to check the various groups. Delmonte took the “Cow Truck” and went one way. Baby Jim grabbed another truck and went to check the far bunch. Everything had been pretty quiet out there the night before.
When Baby Jim arrived he heard a cow carrying on something terrible. She was bawling and bellowing and snorting and did not sound a bit happy. Baby Jim bulldozed his way through the new snow, pushed the new drifts away from the door and finally rolled it open. All quiet in the barn and that awful noise was coming from the lot out back. Baby Jim stepped out the back of the barn and there was a cow with a new calf and she was protecting it. To this day no one is sure just what she was protecting it from, but she was in protection overdrive. The calf was laying in the snow and every time it tried to stand she would knock it back down. Now it was well below zero and the wind was blowing and that calf didn’t have long or much will left.
Baby Jim started out there to get the baby and get it in the barn. Mama had other ideas and she met our hero about half way and hit him somewhere between the belt buckle and his heart. She knocked him down and pounced on him with the intent of pushing him through the snow and into the dirt. Oddly enough, probably the only thing that kept Baby Jim alive was the hated snow. It was slick enough that while the cow was stomping and mashing as she pushed down, Baby Jim just sort of skidded along in front of her.
Now he was a kicking and a flailing and slugging and grabbing and cussing and trying to figure out how to get out of this mess, and the cow never lightened up in her attempt at murdering the infidel transgressor who approached her baby. If this cow had horns there would have been a short and heartfelt funeral service a few days later. As it was, the cow mostly just stepped on Baby Jim’s toes a few hundred times, about up to mid thigh.
As they made the second lap around the lot, Baby Jim saw the barn coming at him. Couldn’t get caught against that wall. Then there was the door. Baby Jim saw his chance. He grabbed a handful of nose and an ear and twisted clockwise with all his strength. The Cows head turned a bit and he rolled in the door and behind the wall.
Without her new nemesis, the cow returned to her previous occupation of knocking her calf down every time it moved.
Baby Jim crawled through the barn and out the front. The other cows were not thrilled with that, but fortunately none took serious exception. Had to get a rope to get that calf in the barn. Damn. Delmonte had the truck with the rope in it. Baby Jim called him on the radio. No answer. Wait a little bit and call again. No answer. Wait a bit and call again. Still no Delmonte. He must be having problems too. Call again and this time Curly answered. Baby Jim told him that he needed a lariat bad, and that Delmonte had it in the cow truck. The Boss came on the radio. “Weellllll, why do you need a lariat?” Baby Jim related the situation. “I’ll be right out” the boss said curtly. Baby Jim said that would be fine just don’t forget the rope.
A few minutes later the boss pulled up and got out of his truck with a cow stick and …….no rope. By this time Baby Jim had regained his feet and was hobbling about. The boss said “Weellll, what seems to be the problem. Baby Jim pointed to the zealous mama and her new baby and the problem was apparent. Now the boss was a young and proud man, as well, and he liked to lead by example and he was going to show this southern boy how to do this. He started toward the cow and Baby Jim warned one more time, “ Now, she will get ya.” The boss made it a little closer than Baby Jim had, and he was prepared. She charged and he cocked his stick back and she hit him. She hit him a little lower than she got Baby Jim. She got under him and she threw him. She threw him pretty high. And she threw him about fifteen feet distant. The only thing that saved him is that she threw him onto the electric fence and he came down on it on his back. Baby Jim can still remember trying hard to stifle a laugh as the boss stiffened and yelled “Ah……You…..Ah…..old……Ah……bitty……Ah” every time that pulse hit him before he could roll off of it.
About that time Delmonte and Curly arrived with the lariat and Curly roped the calf and dragged it into the barn and all ended well. Those boys never could figure out why Baby Jim got this curious snicker every time anybody mentioned a mean cow. The boss’s dignity eventually grew back, but he wasn’t quite as eager to step up after that, if Baby Jim was stepping back.