Who needs a bull anyway? Stampede


Not every client knows exactly what they should expect

I can remember looking down and seeing 8:02 on the digital clock in the pick-up as we pulled up to the ranch. I use the term "ranch" loosely because this gentleman only had 17 cows. We had a busy morning scheduled and with any luck, I would be back to the clinic by 9 and start getting caught up. After all, how long can it take to palpate 17 cows for pregnancy? At some of the ranches Dr. Smith and I go to, we can palpate 750 to 800 head in a day.

I had never met this fellow and was not surprised to see that he was old. His voice on the phone sounded like each breath could have been his last. I watched him mosey out of the front door of the stucco house that had not been painted or repaired in any way for the last 50 years. He must have been about six-foot, five inches tall and weighed about 125 pounds. He was so thin and wore such tight jeans that it looked as if his legs bent four or five times before they connected with his feet. He was wearing one of those western shirts with snaps for buttons and had a giant bandanna tied around his neck. His boots were straight out of a grade "B" western movie. They were so pointed that his toes just had to be setting one atop the other. The only piece of attire that did not fit the western motif was his hat. This hat looked like the one that the engineer on "Petty Coat Junction" wore. It was made out of striped mattress ticking material and had been worn so much that it had taken on a lean to the left side of his head.

He never spoke a word as he approached; he just pointed to a set of rundown sheds and a working pen about the size of a football field. I put the pickup back into drive and headed over. He ambled across the yard at a snail's pace and began to talk long before I could hear what he was saying.

I began to size up the situation: 17 cows of various sizes and shapes stood in the middle of a one-acre trap. In the center was the oldest squeeze chute I had ever seen. There were no alleys leading to the chute at all; it just sat alone like a centerpiece on a Thanksgiving table. In fact, there were no fences in the entire trap except the one that made up the parameter. It was obvious that he had coaxed the cattle in from a large pasture that was out at the south end. These cows did not look like they had been handled much. They were looking at me with wide nostrils and high heads.

He was still mumbling as he approached, but I wasn't concerned with what he was saying. I was concentrating on the logistics of an 80-year-old man and a 35-year-old veterinarian getting 17 "snorty" cows through a squeeze chute without alleys. I was beginning to think that this was going to put me a little behind on the tidy schedule booked for me this day.

When his rambling finally penetrated my wall of thoughts, it became apparent that one of the cows might be a little dangerous.

He called the red one a little bit "snakey." Having been around old cowboy dudes all my life, I knew what this meant ... look out. He was not kidding either; that rascal would leave the pack and charge anything that came into the pen.

When he finally got to the pickup, I asked how we were going to run the cattle into the chute. He said it was no big deal; we would just throw up a few panels, and then he pointed over to a barn about 100 yards away that had 20 or so pipe panels wired to it's west wall.

Here is the situation: Me and Pawpaw are going to carry 20 pipe panels that probably weigh about 300 pounds each from a barn 100 yards away to construct an alley leading to an antique squeeze chute, while ducking a "snakey" red cow. This guy took a full five minutes to walk across the yard. It was becoming clear that I was going to be more than a "little behind" when I got back to the clinic.

The red glowing letters on the dash of the pickup read 10:28 as I plopped in the seat for a drink of water. Just two and a half hours were required to "throw up those panels." My back was aching and my patience totally gone. The red cow liked the old man, it was me she wanted to charge. She would run back and forth around him, and he would never even change expressions. She must have blown two gallons of snot on me, and I must have kicked 2 tons of dirt at her. If those panels weighed 300 pounds a piece, I was carrying 285 pounds of it. And it took about five times longer than if I would have pulled each one by myself. Oh, but he insisted on helping to run up to the house to get some paperwork while I wondered how I was going to salvage the rest of the day. By now, most of the early appointments had probably left, and the later ones were pacing the floor and calling me names. My right index finger has been mashed in the mechanism of the squeeze chute. I would push the cattle up, catch the head, squeeze her, open the tailgate, put a pipe behind each one, palpate her, mark on her wit a paint stick and finally let her go. His contribution to the process was to give me a verbal history of every cow.

When he finally returned, I told him that because every cow was open, we really needed to test his bull.

To this he replied, "What bull? I ain't got no bull ... hadn't had one in more than a year."

I could feel my blood pressure rising. What in the world was this guy thinking? All morning I spent palpating cows that he said should have been having calves three months ago, only to find out he doesn't even have a bull. I was about to explode with some anger-inspired statement, when he interrupted my would-be tirade with a quote I will never forget:

"I don't need no bull, been feeding them there "breeder's cubes" for about a year now."

Yes, he thought those cubes would make his cows pregnant.

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