Saturday, November 19, 2016

Old Number 87

I guess the party must be over because the cows are coming home. Get it? We partied until the cows came home. I guess it is true, my family tells me that if I must explain a joke (and I often do) it is not all that funny (and most of the time they aren’t). Bad joke or not, we have started bringing the cows home and that included old number 87.

Last Saturday we hauled cows home from one of our rented pastures and old number 87 was one of those cows. She is legendary for being hard to catch but also a pretty good mama and has raised many nice calves, so we put up with her aloofness. Compound that with the fact that she had not been that hard to catch lately and maybe we were lulled to sleep.

The day was difficult from the start. The wind had picked up and the cows did not here Dad calling them to begin with and required Jennifer and I to get behind them. The cows were strung out farther than we would have liked, but more importantly, it tipped old number 87 off that something was up. We got the cows bunched up and it seemed to be going much better right up until we got to the catch pen.

That is when old number 87 and two of her protégées veered off and made a hard left. They proceeded to go down the outside of the wing on the catch pen and taunt the other cows. Fortunately for us their calves did not follow suit and willingly walked into the pen. The gate was shut and we decided to try to walk them into the pen. This was very hard because the pen was bursting at the seams with all the “good” cows.

Three different times we walked them right up to the gate only to have them separate at the last minute. Then they would turn and calmly walk between us stopping just a few yards away from the pen. We changed tactics and Dad got a flake of hay out and coaxed the cows in with the hay in his hand. Once again the cows got tantalizingly close only to split and walk away when Dad ran out of hay.

We decided to set up a new temporary catch pen on the other side of the pen. Dad once again lured the cows in with another flake of hay (at this point I was sure they were just holding out for more alfalfa). The “good” cows in the pen stared out jealously as the “outlaws” munched on the sweet rewards of civil disobedience. This time Dad got the two rookie cows in the pen only to have old number 87 turn at the last minute and flee to the open range. The gate was shut leaving only old number 87 on the lamb (I wonder if cows hate us using that term).

We decided to ignore her and haul a few loads home. During this time, she never went more than 100 yards away and always seemed interested in the pen. While Dad and I hauled a load in, Jennifer worked her up to the pen with the pickup. Twice old number 87 went into the pen easily only to turn and walk out at Jennifer tried to get out of the pickup and beat her to the gate. It was soon decided that when we caught her she would be next appearing at a McDonalds near you not as old number 87 but as a number 3 on the Extra Value Menu.

We hauled the next to last load and returned just in time to see Jennifer working old number 87 into the pen (old number 87 maybe stubborn but she had met her match in Jennifer). When I came to a stop I just happened to be near the gate and with surprising speed and stealth I blocked the hole before old number 87 knew what was happening (or more likely she gave herself up).

She was caught just in time to go out on the last load. Upon reflection, we realized this was the very thing she did every time. She never ran off, was never wild and always let herself get caught right before the last load. In other words, she did not stand in a crowded pen, got to move around and by the time we caught her, had eaten most of a bale of alfalfa. She did have a nice heifer calf, a good candidate for being a replacement (we have 3 of 4 of her daughters in the herd, none of which are hard to catch). There was the distinct possibility that she was smarter than the average cow (or rancher) and why cull her when her only crime was being brilliant. We were not going to need to catch her again until next spring.

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