February 2007
On the Edge of Common Sense

Double Back Theory

by Baxter Black, DVM

Last fall I sorted the heavy end of my calves off to go to the sale. I saved back a few light calves, 300-pounders, to stay with their mamas.  One of the cows, whose calf I thought we’d shipped, kept bawling at a lone calf still in with the big bunch of cows.

Ya know how sometimes you just get confused?  "Maybe that big calf that we shipped that I thought was hers, wasn’t really! Maybe she was the mother of the lone calf she was bawling at."

"Okay," I said, making a quick management decision while counting big calves into the trailer, open cows into the shipping pen, filling out the brand papers and calculating the amount of pour-on I had left in the jug, "Turn her back in with the big bunch," I said.

A month later I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the lone calf, but the bawling cow was hanging around the corral with a tight bag walking the fence and mooing.  It almost made me wish I’d number tagged my cows and calves.  But a good cowman is supposed to remember that the black brockle-face cow is the mother of the solid black calf with the droopy left ear, right?  It’s a matter of pride.

I have been able to assimilate the miracle of dumping 250 fresh branded calves back in with their mamas and watching them reunite perfectly.  The same with new human mothers and their cribbed babies in the maternity ward.  I guess I’d believe it if someone swore that two and a half inch drywall screws mate with inch and a quarters.  Because that would explain why I have so many inch and five-eights always mixed in with’em.

But try though I might, I’ve never mastered the art of perfect pairings of cows and calves.  Questions like, "Doesn’t that red heifer calf go in with the high horned red cow?" or "Does she belong to that Hereford who got out across tracks that time?" always give me ventricular fibrillation.

Jeff was trying to educate me, "In Montana," he said, "we have the double-back theory.  When you’re driving a bunch of cows up the trail and the little calves get to feeling lost, they double back because that’s where they last remember their mama.  But if there’s one calf out in front, each mother cow thinks it hers and keeps pushing forward."  Thus, he explained, the source of the never-ending problem moving cows with little calves.

Which explains why the lone calf and the tight-bag cow have never found each other and possibly several other phenomena in my life, like why dogs, ex-wives and the hairs on my head keep disappearing, and I find myself walking the fence line howling at the moon!

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.