This morning, as I looked out on Pipi’s Pasture, I was thinking about how gentle Pipi is. In fact, all of the cows in our little herd are tame. We need to be able to work them on foot or by four-wheelers, we need to walk out among them to vaccinate and ear-tag calves, and we need to check them at night during calving season.
However, this was not the case with our herd of cattle when I was a kid growing up on the ranch. In fact, during calving season, some of them were just plain bad-tempered. I remember the names of three of them: the Line-Backed Cow, Spot-on-the-Hip and the Red-Necked Cow, all named for their special markings.
As I remember, calving season started in February. Dad brought the cows up close to the house. He started out by choosing the cows that were closest to calving and took them to the corral. All of this was done on horseback.
There is a main barn in the corral and a springer barn. These buildings still are in use today by my brother Duane.
The main barn was used for milking, feeding our 4-H steers and, occasionally during bad weather, for calving. The long springer barn has six stalls, each with a gate, and two windows used for airing out the barn. I’m not sure how the springer barn got its name, but perhaps from the name “springer cows” — cows that are close to calving.
So each night during chore time, Dad saddled the horse, chose six cows that he thought were closest to calving, and “barned” them in the springer barn. Dad locked each cow in her own stall. Dad checked the cows at night to make sure there were no problems. In the morning, he let the cows out to feed and water, but if there were calves, he left them inside.
In the afternoon, perhaps at chore time, Dad let the cows back in the springer barn. He moved the cows with calves into the stalls closest to a back door. When Dad thought the calves were ready to be let out, he put them through the back springer barn door, into a little pasture with a calf shed where they would have shelter.
So when I went out to chore in the evenings, there were some cranky cows in the corral. Dad had to walk with me so I could get to the corral. My job was to feed my 4-H steers while Dad milked the cow. I had to retrieve the grain from a steel grain bin that was just over the corral fence. Even though it was close to the barn, I was pretty nervous about those cows, so I carried a tamping bar with me.
That bar still is up at the ranch. It’s about 5 feet tall and my brother Duane said it weighs about 20 pounds, but it seemed to me that it weighed 100 pounds. If I’d had to protect myself from a cow, there’s no way I could have lifted the bar, but it made me feel safe nonetheless. The cows never bothered me.
My sister Darlene remembers when Dad let us play with calves in the springer barn. He probably put us through a window in the barn, but I don’t remember for sure. The cows were outside, though, and we enjoyed playing with those pretty Hereford calves.
The cows never seemed to bother Dad much, but I remember one time Dad and I almost got plowed over by a cow. Dad was in the springer barn, working with a cow in a stall. I don’t remember the particulars, but I was outside the main door, and it was open. Suddenly I heard Dad yell for me to shut the door — quick! I glanced inside as I grabbed the door. Dad was up on the partition. The cow was headed my way. I swear I shut the door right in her face. I can recall that feeling today!
Remember that animals are animals, no matter how gentle they are. They are born with the potential for reacting instinctually, and there’s always the chance that they can be dangerous. And that’s another story.