April 20, 2011



We don’t start calving until the tenth of April. To miss the bad, wet spring weather. So, we have been calving about a week. This morning there is heavy, wet snow. Twenty-five above with a wind chill of thirteen! So go the best laid plans of mice and men.
As soon as it is light, I jump on the four-wheeler, and make a quick swing through the cows. To see if anyone had trouble during the night, or if there is a chilled calf that should come home to a warm bath to take the chill away. We have a young man hired to drive in our hotshot business. He is twenty-one years old, and a darn good hand. And, he talks about the olden days. Many of his stories begin with “back in the day.” I get a kick out of that.
But then again, it is kind of a nice line. So, “back in the day,” I wouldn’t have jumped on a four-wheeler. I would have grained my horse in the barn, listened to him eat his bait of oats, then saddled up and headed out across Deep Creek. Oh, “back in the day”…
I guess maybe I’ve told you this story before. But it comes to mind every spring about this time. I start thinking of it when the cows get close to calving, and I start eyeballing my saddle-horse pen.
Now, we’ve got some awful nice young horses. Had them going good last fall. But they haven’t been touched since everyone wrapped up preg checking in November or so. And they’ve been fed awfully well. They’ve put on a couple of hundred pounds. And I haven’t done too bad myself. Oh, the cold weather held my gain back a little. But I’m looking pretty healthy.
But it’s time to nail shoes on a couple and get to using them colts. My plan right now is to tell Shirley that I rode them yesterday and they are ready for her. Sometimes she falls for it. Sometimes she doesn’t.
Back to the story. Took place about ten years ago or so. My mind doesn’t work real good backward. Or forward. I bought a horse at the spring sale in Dickinson. Good-looking sorrel gelding. Stood 15.3 and stout as could be. Name was “Spook.” Thinking back on it, that should have been a clue.
After Shirley got him warmed up a little, I decided I would make Spook my circle horse. You know, to ride down on the first quick circle in the morning and lope through the cows. It’s about a ten- or twelve-mile deal, and with Spook, I didn’t ever have to feel like I was using him too hard.
He was always looking for something to be scared of. A rock. A grouse. A calf. It didn’t make too much difference to him. If he couldn’t find anything to scare him, he would spook away from his tail. Spook wasn’t fussy.
One morning, I spotted a cow back east. Back east was tough to get to. On a horse. And impossible with anything but a horse. So I kicked Spook into a long trot and headed back there. The cow was on a side hill back in there a couple of miles. When I got there, I found the trouble. She had calved in the past couple days and a coyote had hamstrung her calf. I suppose when she was gone to water. And now she was gaunted up from not leaving and the calf was getting all her attention.
I looked the situation over, and decided I had to pack that calf out a couple of miles to where I could get him with the pickup.
Now Spook didn’t think this was going to be fun. I got off and picked the calf up and was trying to throw him on Spook. He was snorting and running sideways. The cow was bellering and the dogs were barking. It wasn’t a real smooth operation. I finally got the calf kind of slid over the saddle. And being a complete coward, I didn’t know what to do next. I know. I know. A real cowboy would have crawled on and rode Spook out of there. That doesn’t have anything to do with me.
So I did the next best thing. I tried to lead Spook, while holding the calf. That worked about as well as it sounds. Spook didn’t lead real good when you were in front of him. Let alone, when you were alongside of him holding a calf on his back.
So, I did the next best thing. I tied the calf on. This is where you say, “Don’t try this at home!” It went real well. For about ten yards. Then the cow started bellowing and the calf bellowed back and started to try to kick loose from my saddle strings. He succeeded. With his back legs. The front end was tied much better. So he’s bellowing and hanging on the side of Spook and kicking him in the belly. Spook is bucking on the end of my reins. The cow is chasing both of us, and the dogs are chasing the cow. I’ve got a good grip on the reins and am taking twenty-foot steps trying to keep a hold of Spook and ahead of the cow. The calf is flopping all over Spook, and he is bucking like he should be at Vegas. After about a quarter mile, or fifty yards, I’m pretty well winded. I’m praying that the last saddle strings will break, and free this calf from this wreck. And I don’t know if the Lord was listening to me, or to the calf, but He did take pity and let that last saddle string go. The calf must have gone twenty feet in the air.
And when he landed, he forgot he was crippled. He took off out of there with that hamstrung leg just a bouncing along. The old cow was on the trot. Spook was looking pretty proud of what he had done. The dogs were happy with the part they had played. I smoked a cigarette, and wondered when I had gotten so out of shape. But all in all, it worked out. I got the cow and calf out of there. And I learned a valuable lesson.
Don’t buy any horses named “Spook.”