John lives down the road from me. We have cattle across the fence from each other. He is good at a lot of things – carpentry, electronics, sports and hunting, but cows are not his strong suit. He runs a handful on 90 acres.
He called me one day askin’ if we had seen a cow of his. I told him we had cleared the pasture and had not seen her in with our bunch. I left town for a weekend and when I returned he had left a message to call. I did.
"I found her," he said.
"Good," I said, and then he tells me the story.
His pasture was pretty well grazed over, so John walked the fence line to see if he could see a break (yes, he did walk it in his hiker boots, backpack, baseball cap and scope). There was a handmade cattle guard on an abandoned Forest Service road. The rundown gate (WPA 1968) had been pushed over. John walked through to Federal property.
After a thorough scanning of the hillside, he saw a dark object next to a span of cross fence. He actually used his Swarovski spotting scope. He traversed an arroyo and some rough ground before he reached the dark object. It was his cow, alright. She had tried to jump or claw through the barbwire fence and got stuck!
Now, anybody who messes with cows has a story to tell about how tough cows are – how they’ve fallen out of trucks, been pulled out of the mud with horses and ropes, lifted with bucket loaders, hefted from wells by helicopter, rescued from flooded roof tops …. I’ve seen them crash into a post and wobble off, get hit by a car or fall over a ledge, then roll, jump up and keep runnin’! Of course, delivering a 120-pound calf is no "piece of cake," either!
John’s cow had straddled the wire fence. She was dehydrated and had some lesions from the barbs that were swollen and infected. Her whole weight seemed to be sagging on the wire. She’d been there at least three days.
It took John an hour to walk back to the shed to get a pair of fencing pliers and return.
"Wow!" I said. "How’s she doin’ today?"
"Up and at’um. I’ve given her penicillin. She’s in the corral. I’m feedin’ her. She’s actin’ like nothing happened."
"Them cows are sure tough," I said.
John had a habit of naming his cows, usually after something pertinent to their timing, personality or appearance. For example, he had a calf named Wednesday, a heifer named Rainy, a cow named Dolly Parton and an outlaw steer named Tiffany after his daffy sister-in-law.
"What did you name her?" I joked.
"Whataya think? Barbie!"
Baxter Black is a former large animal veterinarian who can be followed nationwide through this column, National Public Radio, public appearances, television and also through his books, cds, videos and website, www.baxterblack.com.