March 20, 2013



I enjoy reading. It’s one of the only things I do that does not cause me to huff and puff and run out of wind. It’s much easier than lacing up boots, pitching hay, or trying to bend a cow through the gate when running on frozen cow turds.
A book I read a few years ago was titled “Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy.” It is the second in a trilogy of books about ranching in British Columbia in the early 1900s. The saying has been around for some time and I often think of it.
Yesterday was one of those days. Today is another.
I went to check heifers at 3 a.m. and found a heifer that had popped a calf out in the cold Dakota wind and gotten her back downhill. Well, it wasn’t really a hill. It was kind of a nest where I had removed a bale feeder. The calf was freezing, but alive. The cow needed some assistance, but I was able to get her rolled around to where she struggled to her feet.
I took the calf in the house, Shirley tubed it with electrolytes, and it was fine. Till morning. That cow forgot she had calved and wasn’t about to let this strange little creature nurse. So as I’m working with this calf, getting it to suck my fingers, and trying to hold a teat in his mouth, my hands are freezing, my nose running, eyes watering, and back hurting, I’m thinking, “nothing too good for a cowboy.”
I’m just not as cowboy as I used to be. Or used to think I was.
But springtime calving always brings new problems to light. I don’t know how many years ago it was, but I recall this calving story. My mind doesn’t work real well backwards. Or forwards. I bought a horse at the spring sale in Dickinson. Good-looking sorrel gelding. Stood 15.3  hands 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 10- or 12-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 in 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 of 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 at 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 bellowing 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 10 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 20-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 50 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 20 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.”
I’ve got to go. Shirley is gone and I’ve got a heifer started. Wind chill -24. Nothing too good for a cowboy.