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Lee Pitts: How Sick Is She?

One of the things that a good cowman has to have, besides a good banker, is an early detection system for determining when an animal is sick. This is important so you can take corrective measures either with medicine or by fixing something that's mechanically wrong, like a broken appendage or a cow that's got a pomegranate stuck in her throat. (This was common when I used to feed grocery store produce waste.)

Being a cow mechanic is not like being an auto technician because you can't hook a cow up to a diagnostic computer. Nor can you ask it questions like an MD can. Being a cow diagnostician is one of the tasks I really enjoy and in all modesty, I'm quite good at it. For instance, it didn't take me but three sightings to determine that the reason a certain cow wasn't eating was because one of her horns was growing into the side of her face.

My secret to success is I developed my own five point scoring system to indicate just how sick an animal is.

#5- This is a cow that walks freely, chews her cud, has no cloudy eyes or snotty nose, runs to the feed truck, tries to kill your dog and charges your horse for no apparent reason. In the sorting alley she hunts you down like a heat seeking missile. Somebody's health is in danger here but it's not the cow's. The cow is so ornery even the bugs, viruses and bacteria can't stand her. In other words, she's a healthy, normal cow.

#4- This is what separates the real cow diagnosticians from the cow quacks. When you're out checking on cows she's the one off by herself, lying on her haunches and reluctant to move. When you feed she doesn't run to the truck and in your presence she'll act wheezy, cough and display audible bowel complaints. A novice cowman might think she's sick and take her to the sick pen and spend lots of money on drugs for her. But this cow is not sick. She's a bovine hypochondriac that enjoys being sick. The reason she doesn't run to the feed truck is she wants breakfast in bed and she knows you'll bring it to her. Remember back in grade school when you wanted to lay around all day instead of going to school so when your mom wasn't looking you took the thermometer she stuck in your mouth over an open flame on the stove so you'd have a high temperature? This is what a #4 hypochondriac cow does. Well, sort of.

#3- This cow comes to the feed truck but not enthusiastically and eats and chews her cud slower than her herdmates. By listening to her breathing you can tell her metabolism has slowed down. She may constantly swish her tail, kick her stomach or arch her back. The question is, is she puny because she's sick or because she's 15 years old and doesn't have any teeth?

#2- Now we're talking emergency room sick. The cow can barely move, her eyes are clouded over, she has dull hair, an emaciated appearance, droopy ears and she plays with her food instead of eating it. The sweat droplets on her muzzle indicate a high temperature. She's acting all crazy like, running all over the place and bumping into things like she may have gotten bit by a rabid skunk. You figure this is serious and she could be $500 worth of sick! Naturally, you attempt to guide her in the direction of the nearest squeeze chute but she resists and repeatedly tries to escape. Two hours later she and your bedraggled horse limp into the corral. It's a self-fulfilling diagnosis, if she wasn't sick before you startled jostling her around, she most certainly is now.

#1- The cow refuses to get up and hasn't pooped in five days. She pays you hardly any attention when you approach, her eyes are real cloudy, her ears are droopy, there's little sign of a response to external stimuli and she's hardly eaten a bite of the food you brought to her. She smells kinda funny too. You're thinking it might be time to call the vet as flies and buzzards circle her body but it's already too late because your cow is dead.

Lee Pitts: A rare bird

The closest town to mine is a well known bird sanctuary and once a year "birders" migrate to the big bird bash where they fill up the hotels, dine in local restaurants and put a smile on the face of the fine feathered folks at the local Chamber of Commerce. Believe it or not, 20 percent of Americans are proud to call themselves bird watchers and they annually spend in excess of 36 BILLION dollars to add to their "Life Lists" of birds they've seen.

There are thousands of rural towns in this country struggling right now and they could sure use the cash derived from such birdbrained activities. The problem is that most towns just don't have the birds for it. Oh sure, they might have their share of lemmings, pigeons and jail birds, but that's just the city council, and I really doubt rich people from the east would pay to see them. So I asked myself, what do rural towns have that are vanishing everywhere else that folks would flock to see?"

Cowboys, that's what!

There are many advantages of "cowboying" over "birding". Cowboys are more colorful, interesting and they don't bomb you from above, if you know what I mean? You don't need expensive binoculars, spotting scopes or cameras and unlike bird watching, you can watch for cowboys in the air conditioned comfort of a mall, bar or airport. Like birds, the cowboy species you'll see will vary by where they're from, and are identifiable by the shape of their hats, their saddle rigging and the sounds they produce. In Nevada you'll see the black booted buckaroo, in Texas it's the red-necked cow puncher, and in California you might catch a fleeting glance of a silver-saddled vaquero.

To watch cowboys all you do is find a bench on Main Street and start watching. You can do it anywhere, although cowboy watching might be a little slow in Santa Monica or New York City. Even if you did spot one wearing colorful plumage in their hat and silver tips on their boots, it's probably just a hair dresser.

Species of cowboys include dudes, rodeo and drugstore cowboys, along with the much rarer working varieties. Subspecies include team ropers, stove-up old cowboys who had to resort to sheepherding, corn farmers who would run from a uterine prolapse, Harley riders who look like they could bulldog a steer from their bike and politicians who wear boots in states like New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming where the cowboy vote can swing an election.

Spotting the genuine article is not as easy as spotting someone in a hat and boots and walking like their legs were wrapped around a barrel. It could be a Sheriff, lawyer, or line dancer. The drugstore species wears the right clothes and can be spotted watching rodeos but wouldn't know the difference between a Hereford and a heifer. They are not to be confused with the multimillionaire absentee owner who flies in once a year like a migrating goose, honking and generally making a mess of things.

Rodeo cowboys are easy to spot because they sleep in the same trailer they haul their horse in. If you see a cowboy walking into a jewelry store, bank or a Mercedes dealership, it's a cow buyer, not a buckaroo. Speaking of bankers and cow buyers, the dead giveaway they aren't cowboys is that real cowboys wouldn't be caught dead roosting in a vegetarian restaurant.

You'll know right away if you spot a working cowboy because he'll be driving a broken down pickup and have silver on his spurs. But his kids are barefoot. The working cowboy has small feet, is missing at least one digit, has a white forehead but the rest of his face is sunburnt and is as rough as rawhide. Skin cancer is a common blemish and there is usually a ring on the back pocket left by a can of Copenhagen. Speaking of rings… cowboys are usually monogamous mates but can often be see seen alone and without a band around their ring finger. All because their last wife wanted to live in a house with indoor plumbing and heat she didn't have to chop first. Imagine that.

So good luck. If you see one, congratulations! A real cowboy these days is a rare bird indeed.

Lee Pitts: Making The Change

It's come to my attention that lately there's been an influx of dairymen into the cattle business due to low milk prices. For many, making "The Change" has brought great joy because some dairymen felt there always was a cowboy or cowgirl hiding inside a dairyman's body. But for others, making "The Change" has been more difficult because it involves a complete makeover in the way they look, talk and walk. In some extremely difficult cases it may even involve hormone therapy or a shrink. This essay will serve as a cowboy's guide on how to make "The Change" without all the publicity that Bruce Jenner, or whatever his name is, created.

The first step to becoming a cattleman is an operation to amputate an appendage you will no longer need. Your ATV should be surgically removed from your butt and in its place a horse should be attached. This can be a difficult transition but remember, a horse is like a Holstein: it eats, sleeps, and will come when you rattle a bucket. Once you are attached to your horse remember, never get off. Other heavy equipment should also be removed from your former life including the skid loader, hay baler and feed truck. These have no place on a cattle ranch.

The biggest change will occur in your appearance. First, lose the footwear. Trade in your knee-high rubber boots for a good pair of sturdy cowboy boots. Toss the ball cap you got from the semen salesman and replace it with a cowboy hat. You should wear a long sleeve shirt that is tucked into your jeans at all times and no tee-shirts with stupid udder jokes on them.

Just as Bruce did when he made "The Change", you'll need a new name. Most dairymen actually go by the name on their birth certificate but we don't do that. Get yourself a nickname like Bowlegs, Buster, Wishbone, Gloomy, Leatherlip, Post Hole, Slim (must weigh at least 285), Horse Face, Bean Belly, Tex, Thunder Butt or One Thumb. You do know how to rope don't you?

In making "The Change" you simply must change the group of folks you have coffee with in the morning. Oh, I forgot, you've probably never gathered with your buddies at the cafe two hours before sunup because you were always busy yanking on udders. Say goodbye to the AI technician and the Farm Advisor and spend less time with the veterinarian. It's all right to see the vet once a year for preg checking, and if you simply must call one out for a C-section, but we don't see them everyday like you used to do. Real cattlemen hang out with order buyers, bull peddlers, supplement salesmen, cattle haulers, and auction market field men. So sell your gomer bull, get a real dog and find a banker who doesn't know how to count cows. Cattlewomen don't shop at Nordstroms or go to the hairdresser once a week either.

To make "The Change" you'll need to acquire an all new vocabulary. We don't talk about things like macro-economics, quotas or debt-to-income ratio. Sure, we know what EPDs are but we don't brag about it. Mostly we talk about two things: the state of your grass and how much rain you got in the last storm. That's about it.

Making "The Change" means you'll have an all new outlook on life and you're whole body will feel different. You'll start to feel more pessimistic, you'll grunt more and instead of buying the best hay money can buy you'll begin to consider alternatives like post-Halloween pumpkins, deformed carrots and cardboard. Your belly will start to bulge more and you're face will get sunburnt for the first time since college. (If you wanted to stay indoors you should have become a greenhouse grunt or hog barn janitor because real cowboys work outside.) Speaking of hogs, they have no place on a real cow ranch and neither do chickens. We eat beef and drink whiskey and do not, I repeat, DO NOT hand us the wine list.

So go ahead, tear down the milking parlor, sell the semen tank, say goodbye to milk checks and repeat after me: "I will no longer be associated with dimwitted dairy cows or be held a prisoner to lactation ever again."

Lee Pitts: The Cowboy Arts

I'm proud to say that I was a vocational student, even though the rest of my high school looked down on us and we were quarantined far from the regular campus. Teachers and school administrators weren't used to straight A students and the smartest kid in the class learning to weld and one even suggested to my mom that my smarts would be wasted by taking agriculture. He suggested I'd make a "wonderful lawyer." If there is such a thing.

I've always been a shop rat and taking ag class meant you got to take an hour of shop every day. I've always enjoyed fixing things in our home, for neighbors, antique dealers and even museums and to me a perfect day is spending all day and evening tinkering in my shop. I've collected thousands of tools used for carpentry, welding, soldering, carving, leatherworking, engraving, jewelry making, airbrushing, embossing, tinsmithing, upholstery, blacksmithing, and engine repair. I even have some dental and orthopedic surgery tools so if you need a tooth pulled or a bone set, I'm your guy. (If you don't mind anesthesia by one of my over 100 hammers.)

I've gone through phases of what I liked to do best. I started out by wielding wrenches back when cars came straight from the factory with a sick engine or cranky transmission. When they started putting computers in cars I lost interest and switched my allegiance to wood carving and woodwork. That phase lasted until I realized a guy that's overly medicated probably shouldn't be using a table saw. I'm lucky to have survived that phase with all my fingers intact. I've always loved to weld and one summer in the oilfields I was a pipeline welder's assistant. He discouraged my taking up the profession because he said all welders became cranky old men. I listened to his advice but became one anyway. A cranky old man, that is.

Then I found the perfect hobby: leatherworking. It satisfies two of my biggest urgings, I get to pound on things and it requires lots of tools. Some of them are wicked looking things like round knives and head knives and they took a long time to master, but here's my secret to surviving the learning phase: Super Glue. It's better than a bandaid for cuts.

I love working with leather because you can burn it, stamp it, dye it and airbrush it without all the sawdust of woodworking, and without burning your house down with a welding torch. I can make a belt in a day or two that a friend will wear for a lifetime. So far my best creations are a miniature saddle that sold for $50,000 at a charity auction for my friend Joan Hardy's Small Miracles Foundation, and a photo album I made for the Junior Hereford Association that sold at the Nuggett auction for $18,000 and ended up in my friend John Ascuaga's hands. So, thus far I'm averaging about $34,000 per item just in case you wanted me to make you something.

For years I was too embarrassed by my work to stamp my name on it and hopefully most of it found new life as doggy chew toys. My biggest problem is I live in California and the state has outlawed all the old dyes and finishes that look so good. I'm left with making Indian "teas" out of strong coffee and rusty nails. And wouldn't you know it, just as soon as I mastered the art of carving flowers, oak leaves and scrolls, fads changed and bling, geometric designs and roughout saddles are all the rage. I can non-tool a saddle as good as anyone.

I got so tired of buying silver conches to put on my leatherwork that I took up silversmithing and engraving next. The biggest problems with it are silver is costlier than leather or wood and it's real easy to slip and put a hole through your hand while engraving. My engraving is really unbelievable when you consider I'm legally blind.

I read recently that some schools can't offer shop class because there aren't enough qualified teachers. Kids are graduating without ever having used a hammer. If the boats ever stop arriving from China there may come a time in this country when we'll once again need folks who know how to make things and there won't be any left.

Lee Pitts: The Devil’s Hat Band

As far as I am concerned, Joseph Glidden was the most miserable SOB that ever breathed a breath. I curse his memory every October 27th because that's the day Joseph got the first ever patent for barbed wire.

Joseph Glidden is known as "The Father of Barb Wire" which to me is like being known as "The Father of Leukemia" or "The Father of Hitler." It is simply something that I would not aspire to be. But Glidden was quite proud of it, so much so that he kept on "improving" his invention. He started out innocently enough with a wire he called "Glidden's Barely Barbed" but he regressed quickly and towards the end of his miserable life he came up with "Glidden's Hog Wire with Rusty Extra Long Barbs."

The life of the common cowboy has been immortalized in song and the golden screen but the cowboy is always portrayed in a romantic light, breaking wild horses, turning a stampede, or serenading a herd going up the trail to Abilene. Hah! I am here to tell you that the average old cowboy living on Social Security in an old age home spent far more time stringing a piece of Devil's Hat Band whose sole purpose was to inflict pain and ruin shirts than he ever did singing under the stars to a bunch of steers. And any cowboy worth his spurs has the scars to prove it. Look at any sun burnt, crippled up old cowboy and amidst the wrinkled skin, pitted like a cratered moon, you will see the scars. The old wire cuts are worn proudly like a badge of honor.

There are something like 1,400 kinds of barb wire and some brain dead people are actually collecting it, as if it was art or something. (I only have 200 pieces in my collection.) I wrote a story one time about a rancher near Henrietta, Texas, who has three rolls of "Brinkerhoff Twisted" sitting in his shop and the poor old coot thinks he's wealthy. He's leaving the rusty wire to his grandkids and it says so in his will!

It's amazing to see some of the types of wire these demented inventors came up with. At a barb wire show I recently attended I saw one version that was nothing more than serrated steak knives welded together. The English on the other hand were much more humane, their version was simply smooth. Now it's the Japanese who are on the cutting edge of barb wire technology and if you want to put a little spark in your otherwise dreary marriage try stretching a mile or two of the Japanese version with your spouse. You'll be hauled into divorce court before you get a third wire stretched.

What my wife and I do is get a smooth digging bar and shove it through the middle of the roll. This allows us to unwind the roll of wire as we walk. The only problem is that my wife is afraid of having the roll of barbs slide too far to her side of the bar so she raises her end which of course means as the roll unwinds it takes the hide off my hand. And of course she is wearing the only decent pair of gloves.

When we approach the corner post to stretch the wire and tie it off my wife goes and hides in the pickup so she won't get hit when the wire whiplashes. The next step is to actually stretch the wire with another invention of Joseph Glidden's, the wire stretcher, which of course has not been improved upon since Glidden invented it over 100 years ago. When this doesn't work, the stretcher is thrown aside and the wire is passed through the claw of the hammer. Using the hammer as a prybar and my knee as a third hand I am then able to secure the wire to the post with another terrible Japanese invention: the slippery shooting staple.

I've called barbed wire many things in my life but the collectors use nicer terms like L.P Judson's Notched Ribbon, Window Wire, Corsicana Clip, and English Entanglement Wire. Normally I would find such names humorous except that at this very moment I am attempting to disengage my arm from a strand of the much dreaded Japanese Revenge.

The New Head Catch

It was a fairly nice day for Cut Bank in early April. A little breeze blowin' off the reservation, the sun about the color of skimmed milk and the creek startin' to show the runoff.

That afternoon Myron had spotted one of his cows with a calving problem. Only one foot was showing. He brought her up to his covered preg checkin' shed where he had installed a new head catch. Since his wife had gone to town he called his neighbor, Florence, for help. When she arrived, they eased the ol' cow into the crowding pen and started her down the long alley toward the head catch.

I think I should describe his head catch. Think of it as French doors with a gap down the center. Except the doors weigh over fifty pounds each and are made of steel and pipe. To set the head catch you open the doors inward, part way. Then when the cow's head starts through you swing the lever so that it closes in front of her shoulders. To release the beast you trip the latch and the doors swing open to the outside.

Halfway down the alley the cow stopped and went down. No amount of tail twistin' and bad language could unwedge her. At his request Florence brought Myron a bucket of water and the O.B. chains. He lathered up and slipped one end of the 32-inch chain over the protruding leg. On examination he found the other foot further back but already in the birth canal. Myron smiled with relief. But remember, God does have a sense of humor.

Myron deftly slipped the other end of the chain around his slippery wrist and dove back in. He grasped the recalcitrant foot with his hand and popped it into position. Miraculously, the cow sprang to her feet and started down the alley. Myron, of course, followed . . . approximately 32 inches behind! Florence was racing the cow and her attached obstetrician to the head gate. Florence swung the gate open. Too wide. Then she tried to close it. Too late. The cow shot through. Too fast. Followed by the tethered arm. Too bad.

Just as the head catch clanged shut, Myron hit it head-on and rang his bell! The procession screeched to a halt. Florence, in a panic, hit the latch and the head catch blew open. Myron was jerked forward and rear-ended the cow. Surprised, she kicked him smartly in the groin! He fell backwards. She laid rubber and whiplashed him into a belly flop! Across the corral she ran dragging Myron like a locked-on Sidewinder missile. Through the mud and muck he torpedoed. His waistband was scooping up the night soil and pounding it down his pants until his belt and pockets piled up around his ankles.

In spite of the slick sledding Myron was no longer aerodynamic. His drag coefficient was approaching that of a trawler with a net full of moldy hay. The cow idled momentarily and Myron slipped the chain off his wrist. He plopped in the flop and lay like a plow left in the furrow.

The cow jumped the fence and calved unaided fifteen minutes later.

Myron was treated for abrasions on his oil pan and now wears a 16 1/2, 34, 36 shirt.

Day Writing: What’s her deal?

Perhaps you work with one, perhaps you're married to one. Maybe you see her in the grocery store, sporting muddy shoes, dark circles under her eyes and a heaping cart continuously being reorganized by a toddler or two. She may have blown by you on the Interstate in her dusty pickup and trailer, or she might look back when you get the occasional second to glance in a mirror.

And, you may have wondered why she is so scatter brained/frazzled/irritable/down right grumpy. I mean, what is the deal with that woman?

Allow me to explain. She is the ranch mom at springtime. She has sick kids and sick calves. The feed store is out of scour boluses and colostrum. Her house looks like an episode of hoarders, but nothing will move easily because it is stuck down with mud, afterbirth and calf scours…maybe flu-induced kid scours as well.

Her trip to town is not the post-baby goal of, "getting self and baby out of the house," with a single stop at Target, the mall, or maybe the coffee shop. No, she has 10-plus stops to make in a pre-mapped route she calculated down the minute in order to get home as fast as possible with the necessary items to fix whatever broke that morning. Everything is timed to ensure she is at the stores with bathroom plug-ins at evenly spaced intervals so she can warm up bottles and change diapers.

She has a part or full-time job to provide cash flow she never sees, insurance for the dental appointment she is six months behind on scheduling and/or for her own peace of mind. On top of that job she is also her husband's hired man, which is a taller than normal order from a week before the first calf arrives until a week after it's weaned. She chauffers her children and operates a midnight maid service within her own home, just as soon as she finishes the secretary work for the week. She most likely isn't dumb, regardless of how she may come across from February through the second week in June.

She has a branding meal to plan for somewhere between 20 and 80 people, on a day that will either be 20 or 95 degrees. This year she thought she would be smart and order much of it online so it was delivered to her door. She has lost sleep wondering if someone was truly dumb enough to ship her potato chips and Gatorade together.

Her husband goes entire days muttering to himself. He's mentally taxed from overthinking the weather, the markets, the cost of diesel fuel and hay, the cow that won't take her calf, the new rattle in the feed pickup and why the battery in his impact wrench he is packing with him and unconsciously clicking on and off all day keeps going dead. He has had to do all the heifer checks this year, meaning he is up the same amount each night as she is with the baby. No one is very "cheery" in the mornings right now. Except the kids.

Ninety-five percent of her communication is done with little humans or cows, both of whom have a tendency to get right in her face yelling and slobbering. Her laundry pile outweighs you and she's had eight hours of sleep in the last week. Her husband has chewed her out for something she didn't do, and she's yelled at him for forgetting something she later recalled she was actually responsible for. She is still wondering if she needs to get more potato chips for branding.

When she gets ready for bed tonight she will realize her shirt was on backwards.

Here's another little secret about her, she loves her life, despite how it may look at moments. It's always "a little hectic" in the spring. But, that crazy woman running all over the place with her unstyled hair and nails; she lives the good life. She has a strong faith and is on a constant direct line with Jesus this time of year as she mutters prayers for man and beast. Her kids spend their days at home with her, where she takes them outside, lets them get dirty, teaches them her faith and countless other life skills, all while watching them become best friends and impressive help. She and her husband are building just the life they imagined, although occasionally they have to remind one another of that fact. Her money-focused city dwelling friends and family would be stunned at her net worth, and the fact that it's not for sale.

She watches the miracle of life unfold daily, sometimes saving it. She enjoys mud when it's outside. She's impressively ingenuitive when fixing water gaps, gathering cattle with the kids and driving a pickup without brakes or four-wheel drive.

When it finally slips into summer, the cow takes the calf and the whole works is out to grass, the mud turns into hay and the kids aren't cooped up inside every cold day, then she's going to pause, and breathe a sigh of relief while recalling fondly the season of spring.

Baxter Black: A Love Story

This is a love story.

In a small ranching community in the west there lived a man, his wife and four children. They were no different than their neighbors, they ran cows, built fence and did their part to keep their little town alive.

The children attended the local school. Students numbered less than a hundred. But the remoteness of the area instilled a strong interdependence among the ranchers, families and townies.

The man and his wife lived in his folks' old house on the ranch. They planned to remodel someday but the vagaries of the cattle business, the demand for routine ranch improvements and the appetite of four teenagers combined to prevent any real home improvements.

When the youngest son began high school, the man dared to dream of the future. One where his wife could quit her town job and he could spend more time with her. For even after twenty years he never tired of her company.

Cancer, the assassin, drew down and shot out the light of his life.

His grief was deep. The community put their arms around this proud man and his family. They did what neighbors do. As the months passed, they were always there. Watching after his children while loneliness ground away at his broken heart. And watched over him, as well.

The fall that his youngest began his senior year the man sold his cowherd. The market was good and his interest in the ranch had waned.

One day I got a phone call from him. He introduced himself and invited me to speak at his son's graduation. I didn't recognize the name of the town. He said there were six in the graduating class.

Arrangements were made. He sponsored a big BBQ that afternoon. Four hundred attended. He took a few moments before my introduction at commencement that evening to address the crowd. I was unaware of his tragedy. He spoke simply but expressed his appreciation to his friends and neighbors. He never mentioned his loss. It was unnecessary. In a community like this, everyone knew.

Afterward, some of us gathered in his living room for a nightcap. A few friends, his four kids, him and me. It was comfortable. The new graduate opened his gifts and spoke of his plans with the conviction and anxiety of youth. Nobody asked the man about his plans, but you could hear the page turning in his life.

I guess the hand lettered sign hangin' on his gate post out by the road said it all:

"YAHOO! The last one finally graduated!

Thanks friends.

RANCH FOR SALE"

Lee Pitts: Soymanella Poisoning

I don't know about you but I became a little irritated when I read that two of the three largest meat processors have made sizable investments in upstarts that produce fake meat. So, in addition to all the other things we have to worry about, now we have to be concerned that somebody might be slipping us a seaweed burger or a tofu steak. As a public service I've made a list of ways to tell if you are about to eat, or have eaten, fake meat.

• Right after dinner there is a run on mouthwash, Pepto Bismol and Tic Tacs.

• After your husband or child hid the fake meat in the bottom of the kitchen flower pot when you weren't looking, the plant's leaves turn brown and the flowers all fall on the floor.

• As with safe sex, when fake meat is suspected, everyone at the table starts practicing safe eating habits and using lots of condiments.

• When your spouse puts a "garden" or "farm burger" on the grill Aunt Jemima, Jenny Craig and Marie Callender all hold their noses.

• None of the food is the right color. The lettuce and bell peppers are red and the meat is a congealed green or nauseating yellow. (Sounds like two new potential Crayola® colors.)

• If the fake meat is put in the refrigerator instead of the garbage disposal where it belongs, the milk goes bad, the eggs turn rotten, the butter container decomposes and leaves a big grease spot behind, beer cans swell and pop their tops. While next door in the freezer compartment the ice cream becomes uneatable. (Something I thought impossible.)

• The dog no longer begs at the table and the cat left for good.

• A rat staggers from the kitchen and keels over dead.

• When the fake meat is taken out of the freezer to thaw both the smoke alarm and the carbon monoxide early detection warning device start screeching.

• At a family reunion barbecue a teenage vegetarian girl throws a "farm burger" on the grill and buzzards start circling overhead.

• The man of the house comes home from work, takes one sniff of what's cooking in the kitchen and insists on treating his wife by taking her out to dinner. (Henceforth, whenever the smart wife wants to go out to eat all she has to do is open a package of fake meat.)

• After eating a study diet of fake meat suddenly all your coworkers have opted out of your carpool. They cancel meetings with you and spray your cubicle with extra-strong cinnamon spice room deodorizer.

• The appliance repairman says it's the first time he's ever seen ulcers on a garbage disposal. Two days later the FDA quarantines your home because the ulcers have spread to your cookware.

• It's 30 degrees below outside but all the windows in the house are open for some fresh air.

• Someone from the Environmental Protection Agency knocks on your door and informs you that satellites have identified your kitchen as a hot spot that is causing global warming.

• A baby nursing on its vegetarian mother says its first words: "Please, lay off the fake meat. It's giving me gas."

• You go out to eat with friends at a new restaurant called The Skull and Bones and your server, Rainbow, informs you the special is bird's nest soup, sweet and sour garden enchiladas, baked pears in a Tofurkey gravy with broccoli milk shakes for dessert. Is it any wonder there are dead flies, termites and spiders everywhere you look? The next day the entire family suffers from "flu-like" symptoms.

• You're told fake meat will open up an all new world to you and sure enough, after eating some you get the Aztec two-step, the Delhi Belly and the Hong Kong Trotskies. And you haven't even left your house.

• The hog died.

• Prayers are offered AFTER the meal.

BeefTalk: Herd Vaccination Protocols are Critical

Prepping calves for market next fall starts now with a herd vaccination program for cows, bulls and calves.

An annual operational goal should be 100 percent healthy cattle. As producers working with the living, we know, on occasion, that not all will make it to the day's end; however, we do the best we can.

Good managerial principles and use of the right tools to keep cattle healthy are critical. In that regard, no one would want to return to the days when the medicine chest was empty. Today's medicine chest has good options to help with herd health.

One of those options is a good herd vaccination program that enhances the preventive aspects of herd health in all cattle throughout the year. Yes, calves need vigor to withstand the stressors of weaning, but why not take advantage of good immunity while the calf is at home as well?

Finding a calf dead on pasture with no real reason is certainly a downer. Finding the second calf dead certainly would raise some questions. Granted, no program can assure the living tomorrow, but producers can decrease the potential risks and increase the odds of survival, given a pending arrival of a bad pathogen.

At the Dickinson Research Extension Center, cows, bulls and calves are maintained on an annual vaccination program recommended by the local veterinarian. All cattle producers should have a working, professional relationship established with a veterinarian as well.

Pre-calving, pre-breeding, post-calving, pre-weaning and weaning are all periods that should involve the implementation of a well-thought-out vaccination schedule. The herd health protocols, in conjunction with appropriate managerial practices that maximize herd vigor and health, are key. Facilities and labor are needed to work the cattle, but they come with the cattle business.

A herd vaccination program is proactive and implements vaccination products recommended by the local veterinarian to ward off known viral and bacterial issues in the area. This is not to be confused with treatment protocols that are implemented to treat disease once a disease is present in the herd.

As a beef producer, proactive is the camp in which one wants to be.

What does vaccination do? From the onset, the process is very complicated, and years of research have opened only small pieces to our understanding, but those small pieces are critical. In fact, they save many lives. The decision to include or not include vaccination protocols in the herd is a producer choice, but not vaccinating limits proactive disease prevention and overall herd health management.

I wish we had a simple explanation, perhaps a chart or a few words that would explain the immune response to a vaccination adequately. The real answer is embedded in many layers of living cellular mechanisms. And even though the majority of the herd will respond to a vaccine with a strong immune response, some will not.

I can remember those long hours of molecular biochemistry that impressed upon me that, "There really is an immune response!" Think about it: If an immune response did not occur, the world population of living species would be much smaller or nonexistent.

One particular point always remained with me, and I called it the "J." This was something simple I could take home but also something significant to our lives. The J adds diversity to how living organisms respond to the many pathogens that perpetually want to destroy us or, in this case, our cattle.

Several pathogenic classes of organisms – call them biological invaders – are simply not our cattle's friends. The J represented the ability of individuals to respond to a diverse number of invaders.

The textbook "Biochemistry," by Lubert Stryer, reveals several functional proteins called antibodies, more appropriately called immunoglobulins. Antibodies are not easy to visualize, but in very simplistic terms, they may look like the letter Y. The Y contains regions called the J genes that offer cattle and other living things the ability to develop a defensive position against disease.

But enough of that. Let's just say the complexity of the herd's response to a vaccine or exposure to a real pathogen is mind-bending. We just know that vaccination protocols work and save lives.

Sorry if this is confusing, but the bottom line is still true. Vaccinate your cattle so they can respond defensively to the handful of commonly known pathogenic invaders and then manage your calves such that they will prepare themselves to produce a good antibody response against all those known invaders, as well as those that are not named.

The world is not a simple place, but calves will survive, especially when all the right tools are in the toolbox and properly implemented. Ask your herd health professional for the right tools.

May you find all your ear tags.