It was November. Bill was working cattle and hauling them to the ranch where they would spend the winter. I was still working full-time and not yet a Cattle-Working Apprentice. These were his instructions for the chore he asked me to do late one afternoon:
“I need to load out the cows and calves in Bobbie’s pasture first thing tomorrow morning, but I can’t load from Bobbie’s so they need to be moved over to John’s pasture. Take the little truck and go over to John’s pasture. Drive to his back fence and go through the little gate to Bobbie’s pasture and look for the cows and calves. They’re probably at the bale feeder by the pond. Rattle a bucket of range cubes to get their attention, and when they start to follow you, drive the truck back through the little gate. Once they’re all in John’s pasture, shut the gate and you’re done. Should take about twenty minutes max. Piece of cake!”
Then he added, “Oh, and take a five-gallon bucket of grain. When the first few cows go through the gate to John’s pasture, dump grain on the ground to keep them occupied so they won’t be tempted to go back through. Then grab the bucket of range cubes, walk back to Bobbie’s pasture and round up any stragglers.”
Twenty minutes, huh? I loaded the two buckets in the back, Cricket jumped in the cab to ride shotgun and off we went.
I’d been to these pastures previously with Bill to check cows and calves, but never on a solo mission. Plus, I’d never herded more than one or two cows by myself. Supposedly simple tasks were about to become monumental obstacles.
There were gates, three of them. Two were heavy tubular steel swing gates that I lugged open and shut to enter John’s pasture. The third gate that Bill referred to as the “little gate,” the one between the two pastures, was a bona fide antique: four strands of barbed wire strung between three small hedge posts. Here’s a picture of a similar gate in one of our pastures. This gate has fence stays instead of hedge posts to keep the barbed wire from sagging.
There were other obstacles: A deeply rutted area in my driving path that, if not navigated carefully and with four-wheel drive finesse, would result in getting high-centered. Four-wheel drive is useless if the tires don’t touch the ground. On one trip through this area, referred to in my book as the “Valley of the Shadow of Deep Ruts,” I dropped the front end of the truck into a hole. In attempting to engage four-wheel drive I pulled up on the emergency brake lever instead, then couldn’t figure out how to disengage it. Blaspheming ensued!
After I fought with the old gate and navigated through the “Valley of the Shadow of Deep Ruts,” the cows found the buckets of the left-over grain and range cubes in the truck bed and ransacked it, upsetting the buckets, rocking the truck and making me run a bovine gauntlet to get in and out of the cab.
That epic adventure, which started out as a “piece of cake” and quickly degenerated into a piece of…um…cow pie, was a defining moment—a two-hour moment—in my life as a farm wife.
Fast-forward to this year. Late the afternoon of the first day of working cattle, as Bill was leaving for the ranch with a trailer-load, he stopped and asked me, “Can you run over to John’s and Bobbie’s pastures and move the cows and calves so I can load them from John’s tomorrow morning?” Again, the instructions started with “All you have to do is…” and ended with “…Should be a piece of cake!” There it was: “From Piece of Cake to Piece of Cow Pie” déjà vu!
The instructions were mostly the same as before. But this year’s potential epic adventure rerun would be simpler. Bill had replaced the barbed wire gate with a hinged one made of tubular steel with a chain and clip fastener, similar to the one pictured below.
He also had bladed and smoothed the hazardous rutted area.
When I arrived at the new gate between the two pastures, the cows and calves were all near the fence. I shook the bucket of range cubes and they came running, including all the calves. No stragglers. As per instructions, I led them across John’s pasture to the catch pen, poured grain in the feed bunk and tossed flakes of hay on the ground. Bill would come over the next morning and call them back to the catch pen. Expecting to be fed, they would respond with great gusto!
This year’s “From Piece of Cake to Piece of Cow Pie” potential farm fiasco only took about thirty minutes: no “Valley of the Shadow of Deep Ruts,” no old barbed wire gate, no stragglers, no ransacking the bed of the truck to get to the grain and no blaspheming! Hallelujah!