Column: Wiechmann: Murphy Was an Optimist
Ranchers, of all people, are perhaps the most well acquainted with Murphy’s Law. “If it can go wrong, it will go wrong” has all manner of opportunities to manifest in an occupation that is full of variables, depends on the whims of the weather and involves dealing with cattle, sheep, horses, dogs, children and a spouse who all have minds of their own, and machinery that sometimes seems to have a mind of its own.
A friend of mine once told me that he thought Murphy was an optimist. Sometimes things not only go wrong, but they pick the worst possible situation or time in which to do so.
Whether or not my friend was right, I do think that Murphy has a few favorites when it comes to the ranch. For instance, the likelihood that the cows will get out increases exponentially if you have plans to go anywhere. The likelihood that cattle will break a gate down or crawl a fence is directly proportionate to how close the appointed time of departure is. The less practical one’s outfit, the farther and faster they will gallivant. Cinderella trying to get herself home before midnight on one glass slipper had it comparatively easy. Have you ever tried chasing a bunch of yearling steers while wearing a hoop skirt?
Rain on windrows… If only we could cut hay down and make it rain, right? Murphy doesn’t want us to play his own cards against him, so we can’t count on it every time. Murphy or no Murphy, God sends the rain on the just and the unjust. Still, about the time windrows are dry enough to bale, it is most likely to rain. Even if you’re in the middle of the worst drought of the century.
Last summer I found myself on the other side of the river in the hayfield that can only be reached by counting gates and bouncing along a dirt track across the neighbors’ pastures, when a summer squall dumped an inch of rain on me and my windrows. There was nothing to do but go home, but I didn’t know if I could drive home or if I would have to walk. Getting down the hill to reach the river was interesting. Getting up the slick gumbo trail on the other side was a miracle!
The good ones (or the sold ones) are always the ones that get hurt. Unfortunately, this year has been one of many accidents in the colt department. A favorite old mare gave me one last beautiful filly, and the filly somehow managed to break her neck. Two fillies I had buyers lined up for injured themselves beyond repair. Another colt recently hurt his eye. A mare I sold to a friend managed to split her skin wide open within the first hundred miles on the trip to meet her new owner. Sometimes it seems like one thing after another, and Murphy is probably cackling in the background every time.
At the top of my list for Murphy’s favorite activities on our ranch is THE WELL. The likelihood that the well will quit is inversely proportionate to the air temperature. The lower the temperature, the more likely that the pump will quit. Three weeks ago, winter began in earnest and the thermometer plummeted. I did my chores and then started out to attend my son’s wrestling tournament. I got as far as Lemmon, and the girls called to say they had no water. I grabbed some fuses and headed home, only to blow two sets of 20 amp fuses in quick succession. At that point, knowing that any needed repairs were beyond my level of expertise, I headed for my neighbor’s to fill a few five gallon buckets of water. When the professionals showed up to check things out, sure enough, the pump had died. The previous time the pump quit was Christmas Eve, nearly ten years ago, when it was also well below zero.
Murphy must have had another chuckle, because although both of my sons work for a well driller, we had to call their competitor to pull the well. My oldest son was three states away at a wedding, my younger son was wrestling, and their boss was out of town for Christmas. Thankfully, not much more than twenty-four hours after the disaster, I had running water again.
So, all things considered, whether or not Murphy is an optimist, he’s definitely an opportunist when it comes to the weather, livestock, and water. Thankfully, ranchers tend to be a pretty optimistic and resourceful breed themselves, and always find a will and a way to rebound when Murphy comes calling.
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