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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.

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"

Baxter Black: Ol’ Buddy

Ernie's an artist. He's a rawhide man. He plaits California vaquero-style headstalls, romals, reins, reatas and other fancy stuff. When you ride with Ernie you always feel like yer in a parade.

But like any artist who is self-unemployed, he has plenty of time to kill. He told me he was settin' in the sale barn one mornin' visitin' with the geezers and watchin' Noah's Ark run through the ring. They ran the assorted single lambs, odd hogs, box of baby chicks and day-old Holstein calves through and had moved on to the beef cows and calves.

Ernie kept his eye on E.B., the local order buyer, to learn some tricks of the trade. E.B. sorted through the lots of killer cows, gummer pairs and shiny lookin' weaners. Ernie sat on his hands. E.B. noticed Ernie's lack of participation. In came a shaggy lookin' something-or-other cross. The digital scale read-out showed 205 counting the tags and mud ball on his tail. A leepie, obviously, with a big belly and a muzzle like a leaf rake. And to top it off he was swayback!

The auctioneer got him up to twenty cents a pound. E.B. acknowledged the bid but stated loud enough for the curious to hear, "I'm buying him for Ernie!" After the sale Ernie paid for the calf but cornered E.B., "Thanks, E.B., but what did you see in that steer, or what didn't you see that the rest of us missed!"

"Son," said E.B. "You bring him back through the sale this spring and see what he brings. He'll make you money." Ernie had respect for E.B.'s opinion and took "ol' Buddy" home.

Buddy ate like a span of Belgians. Although he didn't get much taller, he developed an impressive rumen capacity. Somewhere around four hundred pounds he prolapsed. Ernie replaced it. He prolapsed three more times until at last Ernie administered the humane 22 caliber pain killer. Buddy became rawhide. Ernie made several scarf slides from Buddy. Buttons he called them.

At the sale that spring he caught E.B. in the cafe and showed him what ol' Buddy had become. "You wanna buy one of these buttons?" he asked E.B.

"Sure. How much?"

"Ten bucks."

"Tell ya what," says E.B. "I'll give ya five bucks each and buy 'em all."

Ernie thought it over, dug six more buttons out of his pocket and said, "It's a deal."

"See there," said E.B., "I told ya he make you money when you brought him back!"

"Yup," said Ernie, "Yer sure right. If his tail had been just a little longer I'da broke even."

Baxter Black: OL’ BUDDY

Ernie's an artist. He's a rawhide man. He plaits California vaquero style headstalls, romals, reins, reatas and other fancy stuff. When you ride with Ernie you always feel like yer in a parade.

But like any artist who is self-unemployed, he has plenty of time to kill. He told me he was settin' in the sale barn one mornin' visitin' with the geezers and watchin' Noah's Ark run through the ring. They ran the assorted single lambs, odd hogs, box of baby chicks and day-old Holstein calves through and had moved on to the beef cows and calves.

Ernie kept his eye on E.B., the local order buyer, to learn some tricks of the trade. E.B. sorted through the lots of killer cows, gummer pairs and shiny lookin' weaners. Ernie sat on his hands. E.B. noticed Ernie's lack of participation. In came a shaggy lookin' something-or-other cross. The digital scale read-out showed 205 counting the tags and mud ball on his tail. A leepie, obviously, with a big belly and a muzzle like a leaf rake. And to top it off he was swayback!

The auctioneer got him up to twenty cents a pound. E.B. acknowledged the bid but stated loud enough for the curious to hear, "I'm buying him for Ernie!" After the sale Ernie paid for the calf but cornered E.B., "Thanks, E.B., but what did you see in that steer, or what didn't you see that the rest of us missed!"

"Son," said E.B. "You bring him back through the sale this spring and see what he brings. He'll make you money." Ernie had respect for E.B.'s opinion and took "ol' Buddy" home.

Buddy ate like a span of Belgians. Although he didn't get much taller, he developed an impressive rumen capacity. Somewhere around four hundred pounds he prolapsed. Ernie replaced it. He prolapsed three more times until at last Ernie administered the humane 22 caliber pain killer. Buddy became rawhide. Ernie made several scarf slides from Buddy. Buttons he called them.

At the sale that spring he caught E.B. in the cafe and showed him what ol' Buddy had become. "You wanna buy one of these buttons?" he asked E.B.

"Sure. How much?"

"Ten bucks."

"Tell ya what," says E.B. "I'll give ya five bucks each and buy 'em all."

Ernie thought it over, dug six more buttons out of his pocket and said, "It's a deal."

"See there," said E.B., "I told ya he make you money when you brought him back!"

"Yup," said Ernie, "Yer sure right. If his tail had been just a little longer I'da broke even."

Baxter Black: A pox on this column

A man in Wahoo, Nebraska said he ate all the eggs he could. He felt it was his contribution to beef sales; every egg he ate was one less chicken!

People take chickens personally. My brother Bob had a rooster named Oscar. They hated each other! Lots of kids like Big Bird on Sesame Street. The state birds of Rhode Island and Delaware are both chickens; one red, one blue. Oklahoma has two cities named after the humble poult: Chickkasha and Henryetta. Toledo had a minor league baseball team called the Mud Hens.

Some folks love chicken. But it's hard to find anybody who loves a chicken! Chickens don't make good pets. It is hard to housebreak a chicken. They don't respond well to training. Maybe that's why we don't see more chicken races, trained chicken acts or seeing-eye chickens.

Chickens come several ways: as hawks, peals, pox and coffee-flavored (chicory), BBQ's, fried, in past little lumps called McNuggets and with their tail between their legs! You can get them in a basket, in a bucket or in a coop with fries.

The poultry industry has done well in marketing its product. Beef is distinguished in its advertising by its unique flavor, i.e. "nothing satisfies like beef." Did you notice that everything tastes like chicken? When one doesn't know how to describe the taste of some edible tidbit they claim it tastes like chicken. Octopus tastes like chicken. Rabbit, squirrel, armadillo, alligator, frog legs and squid have a chicken-like flavor. Even rattlesnake meat tastes like chicken! Some may think this comparison is fowl play but I think it adds a little glamour to the pore ol' chicken. It adds pizzazz to the chicken to be associated with these exotic creatures.

Chickens have made at least two historical contributions to modern civilization that I can think of: The Pecking Order and the chicken-Fried Steak. But on the whole, the image of chickens is less than flattering, i.e., henpecked, bird-brain, egghead, chicken-hearted, chicanery, henchman, fowl-mouthed and Henry the Eighth!

In veterinary school we had to take an extensive 20-minute course in Poultry Surgery. I had trouble with the class. I kept calling the pectoral muscle white meat. I intended to get a Master's Degree in Poultry Medicine but Colonel Sanders was closed when I went to enroll!

Baxter Black: Lorraine

To supplement farm income, some get their wives jobs in town. Others expand their hobbies, i.e. making saddles, braiding horsehair or running for county commissioner. Some, in desperation, get a real estate license!

I chose the conservative, low risk venture of making a home video! After considering several subjects, "Documentary of the Brucellosis Eradication Program 1936-92", "The Hatch Act; a Review" and "Fasciola Hepatica; Peril of Fluke?" I decided to use some of my poems and invent Cowboy Poetry MTV! I would invite my cowboy friends and we would act out each poem.

Included in the video was "THE CULL", a poem in which a young vet and an experienced cowman argue the merits of keeping or culling a cow. The cow described in the poem was definitely beyond "one more year"!

I sent a copy to Hank at the sale barn in Willcox and asked him to find me this cow. I called three days before I had the big shooting scheduled. He said he had the cow. I reminded him that I'd encouraged him to buy two or three so I could cast just the right cow for the starring role. He said, "Don't worry, I've got the cow!"

He was right…she cost sixty bucks!

I got her home and ran her in the chute to examine her. I was lucky to have my old pardner, Jake, who had a supporting role, to help me. She was in fair condition and had only the lower corner incisors left. There was a healed lump at the angle of her jaw, her left horn curled back into the side of her head and the right horn swooped out gracefully to the northeast. She looked like she was directing traffic! But the reason she was at the sale barn, headed to the rendering plant, was her right eye. Cancer had enucleated it and the orbital area was the size of a small cantaloupe!

Jake and I cleaned, packed and dressed the eye. No Shut-Eye Patch would cover it. I thought a big cartoon X made of black duct tape might make the defect more presentable. Then Jake said, "I know what'll work…a bra!"

The next thing I knew we were in the lingerie section of Tractor Supply. "What size, you reckon?" I asked. He said, "Well, you've been washing it for two days. Hold out yer hand!"

We chose a 38D and took it home. My wife cut off and discarded the unneeded cup. Our purchase fit perfectly! The shoulder strap went over the longhorn and the back strap coursed above the good eye like a pirate patch underneath the jaw.

She played her part beyond expectations. I took her back to the sale barn, the Maidenform still stuck firmly in place. She went through the auction ring with a note thanking Hank for his cattle buying skill, recounting her new status as a star and charging the new owner to treat her with kindness. She goes by the name Lorraine.

She brought $25. So much for my cowsmetology.

Baxter Black: A pox on this column

A man in Wahoo, Nebraska said he ate all the eggs he could. He felt it was his contribution to beef sales; every egg he ate was one less chicken!

People take chickens personally. My brother Bob had a rooster named Oscar. They hated each other! Lots of kids like Big Bird on Sesame Street. The state birds of Rhode Island and Delaware are both chickens; one red, one blue. Oklahoma has two cities named after the humble poult: Chickkasha and Henryetta. Toledo had a minor league baseball team called the Mud Hens.

Some folks love chicken. But it's hard to find anybody who loves a chicken! Chickens don't make good pets. It is hard to housebreak a chicken. They don't respond well to training. Maybe that's why we don't see more chicken races, trained chicken acts or seeing-eye chickens.

Chickens come several ways: as hawks, peals, pox and coffee-flavored (chicory), BBQ's, fried, in past little lumps called McNuggets and with their tail between their legs! You can get them in a basket, in a bucket or in a coop with fries.

The poultry industry has done well in marketing its product. Beef is distinguished in its advertising by its unique flavor, i.e. "nothing satisfies like beef." Did you notice that everything tastes like chicken? When one doesn't know how to describe the taste of some edible tidbit they claim it tastes like chicken. Octopus tastes like chicken. Rabbit, squirrel, armadillo, alligator, frog legs and squid have a chicken-like flavor. Even rattlesnake meat tastes like chicken! Some may think this comparison is fowl play but I think it adds a little glamour to the pore ol' chicken. It adds pizzazz to the chicken to be associated with these exotic creatures.

Chickens have made at least two historical contributions to modern civilization that I can think of: The Pecking Order and the chicken-Fried Steak. But on the whole, the image of chickens is less than flattering, i.e., henpecked, bird-brain, egghead, chicken-hearted, chicanery, henchman, fowl-mouthed and Henry the Eighth!

In veterinary school we had to take an extensive 20-minute course in Poultry Surgery. I had trouble with the class. I kept calling the pectoral muscle white meat. I intended to get a Master's Degree in Poultry Medicine but Colonel Sanders was closed when I went to enroll!

Baxter Black: Jekyll and Hide Cattle Company

He's kind to his wife when the market goes up

His children think that he's neat.

The implement dealer sits by him in church

And his banker waves on the street.

Salesmen treat him like he was a king

The hired man asks for a raise.

The press is reporting exorbitant gains

But P.C.A's singin' his praise!

A genius, he humbly admits to himself,

Smart as a tree full of owls!

Twenty foot tall with a bulletproof brain

And a friend to all of his pals!

But something occurs when the market goes down.

His family feels it first.

The mother-in-law gives him plenty of room

And the dog gets reg'larly cursed!

He gets lots of mail from lawyers in town.

The gas man won't fill up the tank.

The feed company rep has forgotten his name!

He's a leper down at the bank!

His ulcer is worse. His accountant's in jail!

They repo'd the pickup he had.

His jeans don't fit. They bag in the rear

They've chewed on his tail so bad!

He might get discouraged, but down at the sale

His heart will rejuvenate.

A gambler in spirit whose living depends

On the fickle finger of fate!

So just like the story of Jekyll and Hyde

He's a wise man or a clown.

A hero or fool depending on whether

The market goes up … or goes down!

Baxter Black: Advice Column

As a fellow veterinarian, I am hoping you can help me. My wife Nancy has two cow dogs that will readily obey commands to sit and stay until they get near a cow. Then they chase the critter and can't hear a word we say. It's very obvious to me that they go deaf near livestock.

So, what's your diagnosis? I've considered cow dander allergies, pour on irritation and ear infections to name a few. If possible, send a note or RX.

Signed Anxious in Tie Siding, Dr. L.W.

Dear L.W.

I am pleased to inform you that your wife's two cow dogs are suffering from a malady that is common in Blue Heelers. It also occurs in species further down the food chain such as backyard horses, bird dogs and teenagers.

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Your suggested diagnosis associates their problems to the nearness of cattle. However, research at the NASA Cow Dog behavioral Institute in Homer City, PA indicated a relationship more closely related to the proximity of the dominant figure. i.e., the greater the distance between master and dog, the less your influence.

The technical name for the syndrome is called Progressive Dumb Dog Detachment Amnesia or PDA. There are some social scientists who believe PDA is a result of a broken home, a puppyhood trauma or sucking hind tit. Others, with only a Master's Degree prefer to think it is a biological defect like damaged chromosomes, lack of a braun or too much Co-op dog food.

Extensive studies have been done to discover a method to change the PDA dog's behavior such as necking him to a mule, using remote control pontoons, or letting him drag a hundred foot of log chain. Although these techniques can alter his direction, they often interfere with his mobility in the corral.

Probably the most state of the art information has come from a paper presented at the prestigious PDA Symposium and BBQ in Alcova, Wyoming by one, R. Guerricabeitia, sheepherder. It is his contention that there is nothing wrong with the dog's hearing, his breeding or his training. The PDA is evolving into a thinking being and has simply chosen to ignore you.

My advice: Live with it or leave him home.

Baxter Black: Heifer’s Hood Ornament

I read somewhere that the average "practice life span" of a large animal vet is eight years. After they quit L.A. practice they go into small animal practice, government work, industry, university, research or some other less hazardous profession.

Every L.A. veterinarian you know can tell "war stories" that curl your hair! Its not surprising when you realize whenever the vet is called out to look at a bull, a horse or a heifer, the critter is sick or hurting. And when it's not, the vet is gonna do something to it that will hurt or make it uncomfortable!

Stockmen the world over suffer from the same hazards. Anybody who has handled much livestock has been bit, stomped, kicked, stepped on, gored, butted, rammed, spit on, run over or humiliated! All of which brings me to my story.

I had been spending most of my nights in the calving barns, sleeping in a bedroll and getting up every hour or two to perform some miracle obstetrical procedure. I was tired to the bone and my eyes were sunk back in my head like a scourin' calf!

The weather was cold, clear and wet the mornin' I went out to get a newborn calf from the little pen where he'd spent the night with his mother. As Albert opened the gate to let me in he cautioned, "She's a little ringy, Doc." I stepped back and flattered myself against the neighboring pen so she could come out into the alley. She breached the gate, spied me and charged!

I had my right arm up on the gate. She caught me in the ribs as she picked up speed and off we went down the alley! I was somehow balanced on her head like a hood ornament on a Mack Truck! In flight I reached out with my right hand and grabbed a passing gate. I picked up enough splinters to pick Donald Trump's teeth and sunk an eight penny nail in my finger!

Three days later I was putting a heifer back in her little pen. She was a new mother and a little wobbly as I walked her up the alley. Juan, the new exchange student from Chihuahua, didn't get the gate closed in time. She came back out. I ran her back and forth several times but she wouldn't go in. Finally she decided she'd had enough of my foolishness and got on the fight. She came at me and I set out on a high lope down the alley. My five buckles were splashing through the mud puddles and I was high steppin' like a drum major! The heifer was right on my tail! I reached the gate at the end of the alley and flipped the latch, I turned back to look at the critter just in time to hear the latch fall back and lock. She hit me full speed in the same ribs and proceed to pound me into the wood.

This was Juan's first exposure to American veterinary medicine and he thought the whole thing was hilarious!

The ribs have healed up and I'm getting' to where I can see the humor in the situation. But, like a lot of you fellers, I notice as I get older some parts of my body wake up before others.