Baxter Black: Keeping our priorities straight

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I’ve had occasion to rub shoulders with influential people in the cattle business at all levels.

I see them at state cattlemen’s meetings, or serving on the Beef Board, at bull sales, giving speeches, expounding on political, economic or international subjects AND people are listening to them!

They may be elected by their peers, sought after for fiscal contributions, knowledge or heritage, or honored for their service to the industry. Their opinion matters.

I have watched these influential men and women operate. They make decisions that ripple through our industry and affect many thousands of us. And yet, if they are cowmen, when they saddle a horse or climb on the four-wheeler, they revert to their basic calling.

Last week I called a friend. He’s one of those ranchers who sits on the bank’s board of directors, is in line for an industry association presidency, serves as deacon in his church, is on the school board in his district, and always furnishes the beef for the Chamber of Commerce Ag Day barbecue. He’s a busy man.

I casually asked him what he’d been doin’. He told me. He’d left the house at seven that morning a’ horseback with his teenage son to find a cow-calf pair that had been spotted the day before.

The calf didn’t look good, was the report. After an hour of riding they found the cow. She was limping and the calf was shrunk-up.

On closer inspection they could see a tangled piece of bob-wire that had snagged a hind leg and dug in. It had also blocked the calf’s access to the udder. It took another 30 minutes to head and heel the cow.

The wire interfered with a clean heel catch so it wasn’t easy. They finally managed to get a rope around one hind foot and put her down. They switched the head rope to the front feet and stretched her out.

It was getting hotter; both men had broke into a sweat. With deerskin gloves and fencing pliers from the saddlebag they cut the wire loose, a wrap at a time. The calf was weak enough they could catch him, but couldn’t get him to nurse from the trussed-up cow.

It took another hour to trail the cow back to the home place while father and son carried the calf over the pommel, trading occasionally.

Most good livestock people know how that feels. It’s work, it’s hard, and you have to know what you’re doing. But for a period of 2 to 3 hours, this man, who is in demand by kings and pawns alike, was completely absorbed in his responsibility as shepherd for one of his flock.

That speaks to the heart of those of us in his shoes. It also demonstrates the profound difference between us and the racecar driver who wrecks his car, a computer programmer whose power goes out, or a cook who drops the toast on the floor.

They can just walk away; get a new one; reboot, or wipe it off on their pant leg.

But that stranded cow, on that lucky day, belonged to a cowman who, regardless of all the burdens of success he bears, knows his priorities.

He carries them deep. They are part of his marrow.

As the poet once said, “you can’t just quit a cow, sometimes you’re all she’s got. No reinforcements in the hall, no 9-1-1 to hear her call, just you…nobody else, that’s all, to get her through the spot.”

That’s us.

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