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Baxter Black: The Cow Committee

Once upon a time at the start of all creation

Angels sat upon a cloud. An odd conglomeration

Of buckaroos from near and far but not there from the city.

Their job; to build a brand new beast. They were the Cow Committee.

“Now me, I’d like some floppy ears,” suggested Texas Jake.

“Floppy ears would freeze plum off on the Powder or the Snake!”

“Up north we need some curly hair,” said Colorado Bill,

“Hide that’s tight and hair that’s thick to ward against the chill.”

“Hold yer horses, one and all,” said Omaha Eugene,

“Nebraska needs a fleshy cow; a real corn machine!”

“She’d waste away!” cried Tucson Bob, “What we need’s a hump.

One who’ll live on tumbleweeds and run from clump to clump.”

‘How ‘bout horns?” said Oakdale Pete. “Don’t need’em in Des Moines.”

“We’ll make some with and some without and some with tenderloins.”

“Some with sheaths that drag the grass and some so dadgum tall

To hear her calf down on the ground she’d have to place a call!”

“I’d like’m roan,” said Shorthorn Mike. “No, black,” said Angus Tink.

“White or red,” said Hereford Hank, “I’d even take’m pink!”

“Whatever suits you tickles me,” Said Juan from Mexico.

“I second that,” said Crossbred Jack, “Just make’m so they grow.”

They made some white. They made some blue. They made some orange and spotted.

They never made a green one but they made’m tall and squatted.

In every shape and every size but no one had decided

How to make the perfect cow; on that they were undivided.

This went on for days and days, in fact, it never ended.

Each time they reached some middle ground the project was amended.

They still meet from time to time and argue with their leaders.

The Cow Committee carries on…they’re now the purebred breeders.

Baxter Black: A Cowboy Parade

You gotta hand it to cowboys. They can turn a birthday cake into a four-alarm fire!

Many years ago the Napa Valley (California) County Fair and Rodeo wanted to do something to attract attention to their big PRCA rodeo. Now I’m not sure how the conversation went at the Fair Board meeting, but maybe something like this…

“Why not have a cattle drive down Main Street. Call it the Texas Longhorn Cattle Stampede.”

Detractors, stick-in-the-muds, spoil sports and accountants would have reacted with reasonable objections;

“Are you crazy! What if they got loose! You ought to be committed! What if somebody gets hurt! And where on God’s green earth could you get anybody who’d let you borrow thirty-three head of full grown longhorn steers to turn loose on Main Street!”

Into the spotlight stepped COTTON’S RENT-A-COW & BAIL BONDS. They assured the city officials that they had steers that were ‘street-wise and couldn’t be spooked and were absolutely controllable! (you can almost hear a cowboy sayin’ that, can’t you…!)

Well, friends, Texas Longhorn Cattle Stampede made the front page. Quotes from onlookers and police included;

“I almost got gored!”

“Not under complete control!”

“Surreal!”

“Unbelievable!”

“We ain’t doin’ this again!”

“People could have been injured!”

“Cattle riot!”

“Why don’t they just load ‘em on the truck before someone gets hurt?”

According to the Napa County Sheriff’s Posse and local cowboys, it did get a little western. Cattle bolting every which way, clattering against the front door of the Redwood Bank, running through the parking lot, scattering protesters, grazing on City Hall lawn, side mirrors snapping off parked cars and lots of screaming. To put the problem in a nutshell, you could say the steers followed the parade route just a little wider and a littler faster than everyone expected.

The Texas Longhorn Cattle Stampede did what the Fair Board wanted. It drummed up attention for the big rodeo that night. Lots of TV coverage, front page in the paper and a story that the citizens of Napa told for years.

That’s good. Although the Fair Board might have been a little embarrassed, it’s the kind of news story that lives on. And to top it off, it’s a cowboy story.

The Stampede did not become an annual event in Napa, but as one onlooker who’d seen the running of the bulls in Pamplona remarked, “Some people go all the way to Spain to see this sort of thing.”

Baxter Black: Training New Neighbors

In rural America, farmers and “rural lifestylers” are often neighbors. Seeking a place to better raise their children, to retire in peace, or to escape the continuing anxiety of the city, they move to the country and build a house on a 2-acre plot.

A wire fence separates them from a grass pasture or corn field. As the ‘stylers grow accustomed to the habits and chores around the neighboring farm, they sometimes can be helpful. But unfortunately, their efforts can sometimes turn awry!

Last spring Sofia and Brett (names have been changes to protect the stylers) noticed that one of Farmer Larry’s little two-day old calf’s umbilical cord was still attached! They were very concerned, knowing the calf wouldn’t survive without their help! Should they try to call Farmer Larry? Would the calf’s innards fall out? Would he bleed to death? Is this an emergency? They agreed it was!

They climbed under the fence and hurried into Larry’s pasture, picked the calf up, drug him under the fence and took him home to their garage for safe keeping until Larry could be notified.

They called the Sheriff’s office. Officer Johnny arrived and listened to the story. The calf looked pretty rough, like it had been chased, jumped on, dragged, scraffed under bob wire, banged on a concrete driveway and tangled in a 20-foot long orange electric cord that was attached to a tipped over table saw in the back of the garage.

Sofia and Brett were modestly proud…they had saved one of God’s little creatures. Maybe Farmer Larry will give them a reward? But they agreed with each other they would not accept it…heroes don’t charge for good deeds…”Love thy neighbor as thyself,” etc.

Officer Johnny was thinking whether he should arrest them now for cattle rustling, animal abuse, trespassing, bovine violence or calfnapping.

He called Larry and told him the story. Larry laughed and cussed and mused. “Officer Johnny,” he finally said, “Explain to them about calving and the navel and all, give’m my cell phone number, you can have the calf to bottle raise and if Sofia asks…just tell her I like blueberry pie.

Baxter Black: Foreign Language

A medical doctor friend of mine was recounting his experiences in Africa as a volunteer for a church missionary program. He said it was very satisfying for the soul but his biggest problem was communicating with the patients. He gave me an odd look and said it gave him a begrudging respect for veterinarians.

Several ago I made a trip to Australia. Grand folks, hospitable and definitely livestock people. However, it did take me several days to get used to the language. It’s like you’re talkin’ Spanish to Italians…they sound so much alike, you actually think you’re communicating!

The only thing I really learned to say in Australian was ketchup. But they call it T’maw-tow-sawz. It didn’t stop me from makin’ friends. I spent a week each with a couple of bush country veterinarians. On the day they planned to pass me from one to the other we made the trip from Barraba to Quirindi. The three of us found much in common, as three ol’ cow vets could. We spent the afternoon at an Angus field day.

That evening my hosts had planned a big formal supper. On our way home a call came over the two-way.

“Can you attend a kawving?” it squawked.

“A carving?” I asked.

“Yes, a kawving.”

It was getting dark as we climbed out of the car at a little farm. The wife said her husband was detained at the pub but the heifer was in the crush. Said heifer was smallish and pitiful lookin’. Sort of a magpie Angus cross. Two cold hooves stuck out behind her tail. It didn’t look good. My colleagues introduced me to the Missus and explained, to my surprise, that she would be pleased to see the American method.

The chute was covered and had a concrete floor. Unfortunately, the floor was wider than the tin roof so the afternoon shower had left two inches of standing muck right where we laid the heifer down.

Soon I was wallowing about on my side in the slimy pool, arm deep inside trying to correct the ‘head back’ malpresentation. My two friends carried on a nonstop commentary describing my procedures to the preoccupied farm wife. She stood, arms folded across her chest as I splashed and scrabbled for some leverage on the slick floor. They held the flashlight and occasionally lent a boot for me to brace against as I pedaled like a three leg-ged crab on glass.

We saved the heifer but lost the calf. I rode to the formal dinner in the backseat, my green underwear sticking to the upholstery. Needless to say, ‘The American Method’ was dinner conversation.

I was reminded of my Australian experiences while listening to the African M.D. Yes, I told him, I could relate. I, too, had been to a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language. But I was able to communicate with my patients. I guess it was because my language was universal. I speak cow.

It’s What I Do

A cowboy is the way he is because he works with stock.

He’s learned it’s best to ease along

To find the rhythm in their song

And not to fret if days are long

‘cause cows don’t punch a clock.

That separates him from the crowd that keeps a job in town

That stack the boxes all in rows

Or bolt the knobs on radios

But when the evening whistle blows

They lay the hammer down.

“A job ain’t done until it’s done,” that’s life down on the farm.

To gather those who tend to stray

To treat the sick on Christmas Day

And if she needs your help, to stay.

Until she’s safe from harm.

You see, you can’t just quit a cow. Sometimes yer all she’s got.

No reinforcements in the hall

No Nine-One-One to hear her call

Just you. Nobody else, that’s all,

to get her through the spot.

His calling is as old as time. It is, will be and was.

Through blizzards, bogs and bob wire fence

He stands against the pestilence

And though he feigns indifference,

he’s proud of what he does.

It’s done without a second thought by those who tend the flock

“It’s what I do,” you’ll hear them say

With no demand for higher pay

And I believe they are that way

because we work with stock.

Baxter Black: Three Wheel Roping

I’ve always sorta figgered the reason there is more cowboy poetry than there is farmer poetry has to do with horses. Most cowboy poetry is about wrecks. One person plus one cow equals a wreck now and then. One person plus one cow plus one horse equals a wreck every time! But then farmers discovered the three-wheeler! Honda invented the ATV! It was the farmer’s first real horse replacement, complete with speed, weight, maneuvering, swerving, rolling, flipping, crashing and getting bucked off! The bonus was…they became a great inspiration for Cowboy/Farmer poetry!

Kelly was workin’ for John, his brother and his dad. They were farmers who ran steers on wheat pasture in western Oklahoma. They didn’t use horses. They used three wheelers but they treated them like horses.

John had spotted a snotty nose so he picked up Kelly and they drove back out to find the critter. Kelly sat in the seat behind John as the three wheeler sailed over the sandy wheat field. John pointed to a brockle calf with a little ear. He was a tad wasty and looked to weigh about 600 pounds. “Rope him!” directed John as he goosed the tricycle and snapped Kelly’s neck. They flew across the field toward the fence. John followed the racing calf, swerving from side to side. “Rope him!” he screamed.

Kelly was standing, tears streaming from his eyes, sand stinging his face and trying to swing a loop over the top of Kingfishers county’s answer to Evil Knievel.

“Git on the other side,” hollered Kelly, swingin’ his left-hand loop at the steer on the wrong side.

“This is as close as it gits,” yelled John, “Throw it!”

Kelly fired a bullet of a loop. It looked like a monkey ropin’ a gnu off the back of a galloping triceratops. He caught the steer! Now what. Kelly was gatherin’ slack as John hazed the steer. John grabbed the tail of the rope and tried to dally to the handlebars.

The steer stumbled at the fence. Kelly bounced over the pilot, hit the dirt and managed to take a wrap on one of the creosote posts. When the steer hit the end of the slack the post broke off catapulting Kelly into the tangle. He clung to the post till the steer slowed to a crawl.

Over the horizon came John’s brother Steve and their dad. They were pullin’ the fishtailin’ stock trailer behind the careening pickup. Kelly was plowing a furrow and poundin’ his pockets full of sand when Steve leaped out.

He dropped the tailgate and, just like it was choreographed, the steer jumped toward the trailer.

“Let go of the post, you dummy!” shouted Steve, “You’ll get hurt.”

Kelly did. Like a slingshot, the post left his grip and whacked Steve square on the butt. His head hit the crossbar above the tailgate and he executed a complete backflip. John and his dad slammed the tailgate on the steer (and Steve who hung like a gutted white tail from the highest slats.)

Time has gone by and 4×4’s have replaced the three-wheeler. And it has its advantages, but neither three wheelers or four can beat a horse and cowboy with a rope in his hand for getin’ the job done and makin’ a good story.

Baxter Black: Three Wheel Roping

I’ve always sorta figgered the reason there is more cowboy poetry than there is farmer poetry has to do with horses. Most cowboy poetry is about wrecks. One person plus one cow equals a wreck now and then. One person plus one cow plus one horse equals a wreck every time! But then farmers discovered the three-wheeler! Honda invented the ATV! It was the farmer’s first real horse replacement, complete with speed, weight, maneuvering, swerving, rolling, flipping, crashing and getting bucked off! The bonus was…they became a great inspiration for Cowboy/Farmer poetry!

Kelly was workin’ for John, his brother and his dad. They were farmers who ran steers on wheat pasture in western Oklahoma. They didn’t use horses. They used three wheelers but they treated them like horses.

John had spotted a snotty nose so he picked up Kelly and they drove back out to find the critter. Kelly sat in the seat behind John as the three wheeler sailed over the sandy wheat field. John pointed to a brockle calf with a little ear. He was a tad wasty and looked to weigh about 600 pounds. “Rope him!” directed John as he goosed the tricycle and snapped Kelly’s neck. They flew across the field toward the fence. John followed the racing calf, swerving from side to side. “Rope him!” he screamed.

Kelly was standing, tears streaming from his eyes, sand stinging his face and trying to swing a loop over the top of Kingfishers county’s answer to Evil Knievel.

“Git on the other side,” hollered Kelly, swingin’ his left-hand loop at the steer on the wrong side.

“This is as close as it gits,” yelled John, “Throw it!”

Kelly fired a bullet of a loop. It looked like a monkey ropin’ a gnu off the back of a galloping triceratops. He caught the steer! Now what. Kelly was gatherin’ slack as John hazed the steer. John grabbed the tail of the rope and tried to dally to the handlebars.

The steer stumbled at the fence. Kelly bounced over the pilot, hit the dirt and managed to take a wrap on one of the creosote posts. When the steer hit the end of the slack the post broke off catapulting Kelly into the tangle. He clung to the post till the steer slowed to a crawl.

Over the horizon came John’s brother Steve and their dad. They were pullin’ the fishtailin’ stock trailer behind the careening pickup. Kelly was plowing a furrow and poundin’ his pockets full of sand when Steve leaped out.

He dropped the tailgate and, just like it was choreographed, the steer jumped toward the trailer.

“Let go of the post, you dummy!” shouted Steve, “You’ll get hurt.”

Kelly did. Like a slingshot, the post left his grip and whacked Steve square on the butt. His head hit the crossbar above the tailgate and he executed a complete backflip. John and his dad slammed the tailgate on the steer (and Steve who hung like a gutted white tail from the highest slats.)

Time has gone by and 4×4’s have replaced the three-wheeler. And it has its advantages, but neither three wheelers or four can beat a horse and cowboy with a rope in his hand for getin’ the job done and makin’ a good story.

Baxter Black: Inheriting the Family Farm

The latest statistics show that less then 2% of the population is directly involved in production agriculture. It is a function of an increasing overall population and a limited amount of farm ground. Technology is able to keep up, so that less bodies are required to produce an ever increasing cornucopia of food and fiber.

But on a personal level the story isn’t quite so simple.

Tom was raised on a dairy farm in the Great Lake region; 300 cows, 900 acres. His grandfather established the farm and passed it down to Tom’s father.

Tom’s childhood memories are of work. By the time his mother came in to wake him and his two brothers for school, she and dad had already finished the morning milking. By nine years of age he was already part of the family farm. Until he was old enough to milk he pushed cows to the barn, fed calves, forked silage and did whatever kids do, which was plenty.

High school activities like dances, meetings, sports and girls all hinged around milking time and chores. He didn’t need to work at McDonalds during summer vacation. If he wanted work there was plenty at home.

He went to college. His two brothers left to work elsewhere. Now Tom is 33, married with kids and has a good job at the local Coop. Dad has been using hired labor since the boys left, but Dad is getting older.

Tom makes his daily rounds, does his job and is active in the community. But hovering over everything he does is that niggling feeling that maybe he should go back to the farm.

Afterall, it is a showplace. The results of uncountable man hours and love and sweat poured into it by two generations preceding him. It made him the good man that he is. And he could run it well if he chose to. Guilt rides him like the winter fog off Lake Michigan.

In my opinion Tom need not feel guilty. Nor should his parents place that onus upon the shoulders of their inheritors. Each person had their own calling.

But I would suggest that there are many with no inheritance who would leap at the chance to own a farm. Immigrants, hired men, college grads, feed salesmen and pencil pushin’ farm boys whose dream is to work their own place.

It would be ideal if both the parents and their kids could cooperate to actively seek out those potential pardners and integrate them into the operation. With the idea they could eventually buy it out. It would be to everyone’s relief and good for the continuing productivity of the farm. In other words, take’m into the family.

To farm you must love the land. That’s the only reason I can think of that explains why farming is an occupation where labor is never counted as a business expense.

Baxter Black: Cow Polygamy

I was visiting with Lisa after their bull sale this spring. She remarked on the overabundance of bulls for sale around the country this year. Competition is stiff. She said she counted the number of bulls advertised on Superior Livestock video and figgered if they were placed end to end they would reach farther than you could point!

Her husband Lee, ever the deep thinker, pondered on the dilemma and came up with the perfect modern genetic answer; outlaw polygamy in cows!

By gosh, I thought, a solution that fits the times. One bull per cow. But then I began to think it through.

Would each cowyage (as opposed to marriage in horses) be intended for life? Or would we allow for divorce and recowyage (or dehorse and remarriage)?

Would calf-support payments then be required till the calves were of weaning age or shipping whichever came first? And would a heifer that calved out of cowlock be declined subsidy payments and hay stamps if she was still a yearlin’?

Would a cowyage pair be allowed to mingle with other cowyaged couples in the pasture? Could both the bull and the cow be trusted to ignore the lip curling, tail rubbing and perfume of others? Would they stoically pay no attention if sidled up to and mounted by a less disciplined member of their community?

Or would each couple be fenced in a small enclosure; loosely based on a suburban housing development? One where each morning the bull would be driven to an 8 to 5 field with other bulls to spend the day grazing and grumbling about the rancher, the bullfights in Mexico City and how alfalfa ain’t what it used to be?

Would the cows, likewise, drop their calf off at day care and go to their respective cow field where they’d eat grass, talk about their calves and share fantasies about bull pictures in the Artificial Insemination calendar?

Would cowyages be arranged or would courtship be allowed? Would chaperones be required at the weaning prom?

If a bull was caught posing as a molasses salesman and making unwanted advances at the housecow, would he be hamburger at sunrise?

After considerable rumination I have concluded that trying to work out the details of outlawing polygamy in cows might put an end to it before it began. Even if we passed the law, the plan would probably fail anyway. Cows have never felt guilty about practicing polygamy in the first place. And no amount of political correctness training or moral browbeating would make these now consenting polygamists consider asking that basic question. The one that separated cowkind from mankind…”I know you love me but will you respect me next estrus?”

Backwoods Wisdom

“Age-in’ a cow is ‘bout the thing I hate most. Seems like they can tell the instant you cross the line into the strike zone.”

We all nodded sympathetically with Jeff’s pronouncement. Each cowman in the circle of chairs could remember a blow to the ribs that ruined his day.

“Well your doin’ it all wrong,” spoke Gary, “Mouthin’em is easy. Just check ‘em after you feed in the evenin’. Timing is critical. Wait till the sun is setting low and drive along the west side of the fence or feedbunk. They’ll look up to check you out, all of ‘em chompin’ and chewin’ and curious. If you’ve planned it right the sun will light up their dentures like you had a spotlight!”

‘Such wisdom,’ I thought as I sat in this group of Missouri cowmen. It was like sittin’ in with the Supreme Court justices, Solomon on one side, Ginsburg on the other.

“How ‘bout preg checkin’,” I asked. Is there an easy way to do that?”

“Sure,” Gary continued, “When I get an arm inside first thing I do is sort according to how big the calf is.”

“You mean like 30 days along, 90 days along and so forth?” I said.

“No,” he answered, “Like squirrel, cat, beagle…”

I looked blank.

“Big as a squirrel, big as a cat, big as a beagle…like that. Lot simpler. And if it’s big as a coon dog you know she’s bred anyway ‘cause by then she’d be showin’ on the outside. On the other hand some just thump ‘em.”

I could see myself as a vet out at some cowman’s place saying, “I won’t be using a plastic sleeve today Mr. Henry. I’ll just be thumpin’em.”

I admit workin’ cows would be easier if you could age and preg check them without grabbin’ their head or plunging up to the armpit. Then Gary told me he could sex the calves before they were born. I realized my vet training had been sorely lacking. Did he sex ’em somehow by smelling the cow’s breath? By tailhead elevation? By bag development, or sonar?

“No,” he said, “Just a lot of feelin’ around. Under the tail, between the legs. ‘Course it helps if the calf is pretty far along.”

“How far along?” I asked like the student I was.

“Oh, say…big as a Miss’sippi channel cat.”