One thing about cowboying for a living is that you never know what kind of circumstances youll be working under, especially if you are working in country where winter is tough, and the ranchers are tough enough (or dumb enough) to do their calving when winter
is at its hardest. Besides fighting the elements, mad cows, and half-broke horses, it seems like the majority of these outfits also like to run on a skeleton crew. Consequently, one may get less sleep in a week than the average person gets in a night. This unique combination of fighting the elements and unruly animals, coupled with the ancient Chinese torture of sleep deprivation, can result in things happening that normally wouldn’t . . . sometimes those things even string together.
It began when the time came for me to have a change in scenery, and I called my friend Floyd to see if he knew of any openings.
As it happened, he was looking for someone himself. He was running a little 900-cow outfit with no help, and calving season was fast approaching. Doubting my sanity by agreeing to be half the crew, I headed on down. Once I got there, Floyd let me know he had found a guy who would feed a few days a week to take some of the strain off of us. Since we would be splitting up the night shift, he said it wouldn’t be too bad.
Then, halfway through calving the heifers, the weather decided to take a change to the negative. Like negative thirty-five degrees
with fifty-mile-per-hour winds dropping the wind chill to somewhere around that of dry ice. This was also about the time the main cow herd was to start calving. Plan A was to calve them out in the hills. This shouldn’t have been a bad plan. There were plenty of places a cow could calve out of the wind, and calving commenced with no problems. Then we lost three cows from prolapsed uterus’s because they decided to see how much effort they could put into the calving process by pushing the calf out uphill. That caused Floyd to decide on plan B, which meant we would bring the cows in closer, cut out the springers, which are the cows ready to calve in the next week or two, and calve them in the pens, like a bunch of heifers.
Now the weather was giving us a little bit of a break. It had warmed up into the positive teens, and winds had died down to between 20 and 30 miles per hour. It was dang near tropical, other than the spitting snow. Adding to the relaxed and romantic atmosphere of the task at hand was the fact we hadn’t been getting much sleep because of the work/weather relationship. If Floyd and I had combined the total amount of sleep we had between us in the previous week, it might have amounted to as much as 18 hours, but just barely.
To make things a little easier on us we decided to let all of the pairs, cows and their calves, drop back since we would just be bringing them back into the same pasture. Floyds wife Wallaby loaded their infant son into the pickup and stayed on the road at the bottom of the pasture. Her job was to fill out ear tags for the newborn calves and let the tags dry on the defroster so that the ink would not freeze/fade and be totally unreadable at weaning time.
The first couple of calves went pretty easily. I was riding a colt, which was working well, and the mothers weren’t too protective. The third one went a little differently though. This mother hit a lope down to the road. As we neared the road, I brought up my rope, and hung the hondo on my spur. Bout a million to- one odds on that happening; I have never even heard of anyone doing that before. Of course the rope wouldn’t come off, and every time I tried to reach down to take it off the colt started shying way. So I pulled up and stepped off. I was riding a new custom-made saddle that fit me like a glove, except for the stirrup leathers.
Now I’ve been handed the moniker of No Legs a couple of times because my legs are so short, but the saddle maker musta figured Id
get drunk and ten feet tall because the leathers had enough extra that I could let the stirrups out enough to fit some NBA basketball
player. When I stepped off to remove the rope from my spur, my toe sorta hooked on the excess stirrup leather and pulled it into the
stirrup, hanging my foot up. So there I’m standing, my right spur in my rope and my left foot hung up in the stirrup when the calf ran
through the fence.
Luckily the colt stood still while I untangled myself. About the time I got free of my miscomBOBulation, the calf was trying to get
back through the fence. As I turned to see if I could beat the cow to its calf, I tripped on my reins and dropped my rope. Scrambling through the snow, I managed to tackle the calf just as it came through the fence.
With its mother pawin, bellerin and blowin snot in my face, I dragged the calf back to my colt, jerked down a piggin string and tied it down. Standing up to go give Wallaby the number, I tripped once again . . . this time as the belt on my chaps broke, and they fell to
my knees. Needless to say, Wallaby was parked right where she could witness the whole chain of events. It took her several minutes to collect herself enough to be able to fill out the ear tag without bursting out in laughter again. It should have been embarrassing, but how can you be embarrassed when you manage to get your job done while at the same time entertaining someone so much without killing yourself?