Heather Hamilton-Maude: Started in cows
February 16, 2018
Everyone in the cattle business has that memory of how their herd began. In my case, I was eight years old and purchased a commercial Hereford heifer from the family ranch to show in 4-H. I want to say the agreement was the heifer cost me $500, with the large majority of the balance due upon sale of her first calf, with interest free financing in the meantime.
My dad, uncle and I narrowed the field to a handful of options on a cold, wintery day in the Black Hills of northeastern Wyoming. When we made it to the final two, I recall my uncle taking the time to explain the merits of the first heifer, who looking back was really nice phenotypically. She was long, balanced, well-muscled, sound and flashy; everything someone would want in a future cow. For whatever reason, I also recall my uncle complimenting her lower quarter and how exceptional she was in that area. He knew what I needed to be competitive, and she was it.
Then there was the second heifer. She was small, plain and far from exceptional in her lower quarter. She was far from exceptional in any area, really. But, as my eight-year-old self doggedly explained, she had kind eyes in her large head. I liked her better, I was buying her, and I was a very stubborn kid. Heifer two it was.
I named her Sassy, and I loved her. I mean really loved her. By fair that summer, Sassy had grown into a small, plain, doe-eyed yearling heifer. She was the epitome of why people brag about the Hereford disposition. In addition to the usual taming, leading, hair and foot work, I could ride Sassy and do a variety of other tricks.
After that experience, there was no question I needed another heifer for the following year's 4-H project. My father and I headed west the winter I was nine to Paintrock Angus in Hyattville, Wyo., where my father had also purchased some of his show heifers.
Dick Mercer had a really nice set of registered Angus heifers sorted into a row of square, wooden pens for us to choose from. They were sorted by price, with EPDs and parentage on each one. As we looked them over, one jumped from the $1,200 pen into the $1,100 pen. We teasingly asked Dick if that meant her price just went down. He laughed and said no, which was alright as we decided she may not have the best show heifer temperament.
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After much, "cussing and discussing," as we call it, we decided on one in the $900 pen, loaded her up and took her back to eastern Wyoming with us. I dubbed her Lacy, after a friend, and she was everything Sassy wasn't. She grew into a long, rangy type heifer that tolerated being lead, setup and shown. I went through more than one show stick from whopping her on the nose in a mostly vain attempt to prevent being half drug everywhere we went. The day of the show at county fair, I took her on a big circle before the show with my dad along in hopes of preventing being drug around the ring. I don't recall a major wreck, so it must have worked.
Following their year in the limelight, both Sassy and Lacy went on to be great cows for me. Sassy remained a slow and steady girl that might have weighed 1,000 pounds mature. I'm guessing she did what good cows did in that day by weaning half her body weight most years. We fed our calves out a few times in her lifetime, and she would raise a 1,350-pound steer that kept up with its contemporaries. She was always up for a scratch and some handfed cake when we fed. She went through a nasty blizzard in the spring of 1996, and we assume lost a quarter of her bag. She never kicked her calf off on her sunburnt teats throughout that ordeal. To extend her senior years, she was given the cushy job of living with the weaned calves on the creek each fall and winter, teaching them where the water was, to come to the feed pickup and how to eat cake. When a school group toured our ranch when Sassy was around 12 years-old, we walked out in the middle of the pasture, put a halter on her, and led her over for all the kids to pet and feed while my little sister sat on her back. She was just that kind of cow.
Lacy was rarely touched after we took her halter off the last time. When we moved cows, she was always at the lead, and not necessarily going in the right direction. She could really travel. She was a bigger cow, and she raised a whopping steer calf every year. They all gained phenomenally, and when we had one butchered locally, the butcher called and asked about the animal as he said it was an exceptionally well marbled with minimal backfat. One the best carcasses he had ever seen. I recall nearly bursting with pride upon hearing the news. She was a steer raising cow through and through. A mover and a shaker that never needed any babysitting or assistance in life.
When the fall came that I decided to part with them both, two years after I probably should have, it was a tough day. Those two cows, so very different in nearly every way, were the beginning of a lot of things in my life. Some came to fruition during their tenure, and others are just beginning decades after I insisted on purchasing a little Hereford heifer.