September 2006
Sage Grass & Cedars

Last Cow Standing

by Darrell Thompson

It is the stuff about which movies are made and books are written. It is the reason why most of us find ourselves rooting for the underdog to knock off the heavily favored team (unless our favorite team is the heavily favored one). It is a story that warms the heart to see an individual overcome impossible odds using a variety of unexpected circumstances to come out victorious. It is the "un-thought of" that becomes the "un-probable" and then, by circumstance, becomes the most logical and inevitable conclusion.

As a kid, I remember playing a game called "last man standing." The rules, if there were rules, are kind of vague now. The object of the game as I remember was to avoid being knocked down, pushed or slung out of a ring until you were the last person in the ring and thus the last man standing. Most of the time the winner was a person who used a combination of strength, cunning, quickness and even teamwork to be the winner. Only occasionally did a smaller, weaker or slower person survive to be the last man standing.

There is nothing intriguing in a story where a more powerful team or individual is victorious over an obviously weaker opponent. The story that makes the headlines is not where a team wins a game that they were supposed to win but wins the game that no one gave them a chance to win. That is the game that people talk about for years and that artists paint pictures of memorable moments.

This in not a story of an individual or team, but of a cow that was destined to be culled out of the herd and sold. A cattleman looks at a cow as an employee that needs to maintain a good attitude and productivity to stay in the herd. Cattlemen decide to cull cows for a variety of reasons such as age, declining health, demeanor, failure to have a calf, difficulty in calving or not producing enough milk to raise that calf economically or even situations caused by mismanagement of the cattleman. The list could go on and on. I once heard of a cattleman who was so demanding of his herd that it was jokingly said that he would cull a cow for not sleeping at night. It is sad but true that sometimes we people make the culling list for many of the same reasons that cows do, of course substituting reproductive ability for job performance.

The cow in this story was destined to be culled for a reason that probably very few employees, if any, are ever culled for. She put too much of herself into her job. She was dedicated to raising a calf and getting another one on the way. She was so dedicated that she nearly died from a depleted body condition with the last couple of calves that she raised. This was in spite of extra care in deworming and nutrition. But her calf was always one of the fastest growing calves in the pasture. It seemed inevitable that sooner or later she would not survive the calf raising experience. The plan was to cull her after weaning when she regained some weight, maybe just before another calf was due or just after another calf was born.

As a coincidence, this cow was the only cow that I had that was not born in our pasture. She came to our pasture through a trade with my cousin several years ago when he had this heifer and offered to trade her for a bull calf that I had. After a while she seemed to fit into the herd very well but there may have always been some animosity with the other cows. It may be that the other cows let the plan slip in the gossip around the hay feeder. Maybe the bull told her. I don’t know how the word got around but she found out.

There is an old saying that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. This cow was of the tough sort and sprang into action with a plan. As spring came, I determined that she was going to have a calf and decided that it would be best to sell her after she had the calf. I was checking the cows on the Sunday evening before Memorial Day and there she was with a calf. It was time to put my plan into action. There was another calf close by and I initially assumed that it was a calf that was born on Saturday to another cow. To my surprise the second calf got up and started nursing along side the first. The cow that had so much trouble surviving one calf now had twins!

As it turned out, Bev and I spent Memorial Day fixing a lot to keep the cow and twins in and rounding up the calves that were content to go their own way and hide in the tall grass, but not together of course. After a couple days of confusion and headaches keeping the calves in the electric fence lot, they came to realize that the three of them were a family and settled down.

A dry spring turned into a hot summer drought. Several conditions including drought, an already overstocked pasture, no hay and a dried up water pool forced a tough decision to liquidate the herd. The buyers came with their trailers and the cows and calves were rounded up and loaded to be hauled away. You had to look close to see it but there was a smug look on the culled cow’s face as she stood there with her twins and watched those trailers go out the gate. But, after all, she was the last cow standing.

Darrell Thompson is the Moulton store manager of Lawrence County Exchange.