Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cow Untipping

Cow untipping field
Last week on a morning run I saw my neighbor up ahead messing with the pump in his grain field. Another neighbor had pulled over in his diesel flatbed truck and the two farmers stood yakking over the fence. We called good-morning to each other as I trotted by with our border collies in tow.

A short ways down the road I caught sight of four stiff black legs sticking up out of a dry irrigation ditch. "Dang," I thought. "Heifer got stuck in the ditch and died, that's too bad." Then I saw a leg move.
Start of dry ditch

I trotted back up the hill to the two farmers and told them about the calf, thinking we ought to do something.. They seemed unimpressed. When they realized I meant the calf was still alive, they said, "Well, better go down there and see if we can get her out."

 They got in the truck and drove down the road and parked outside the fence near the calf. I told the dogs to lie down and stay in the neighbor's driveway while I took a short cut through the pasture.

The heifer was a big black baldy. After managing to up-end herself in the ditch, she had wallowed forward upside down wedging herself in good between the narrow uneven banks.

The younger farmer grabbed a hind leg and pulled this way and that. The old farmer pulled her tail and I grabbed her head pushing it uphill. I felt slightly ridiculous, down in the ditch in my running clothes. The heifer thrashed, we jumped back, she stayed stuck.

We tried variations of this maneuver several times to no avail.  I kept saying, "If only we had a rope for some leverage."  Finally the old farmer said to the young farmer, "You got a chain or anything in your truck."  "Oh yeah, I got everything in my truck," the young farmer said.

It was a long ways around by the road to the nearest gate. I looked down at the heifer, wondering how long she'd been like that, how much time she had left. Then I spotted the nylon pea-chord that I keep tied around my waist when I run with the dogs. It's only about two feet long, but in a pinch I can loop it through the dogs' collars and corral them if we're on the road and something tempting drives by, like a flatbed of barking dogs pulling a stock trailer.

"I do have this little piece of string," I said, untying it from my waist and holding it out in front of me. The farmers looked at the tiny piece of chord and then at me. It was not a favorable expression.

Before they could say anything, I made a loop in the chord and lassoed the heifers off-side front foot and pulled. They grabbed a leg and tail and pulled. The heifer moved. We pulled harder, letting go as she violently jerked against us and shifted slightly inside the ditch bank. She felt the change in position and struggled harder, getting a leg against the bank and finally pushing herself over.

As the heifer struggled to her feet and stumbled off, the three of us looked at each other. "Good thing you had your little piece of string,"  the old farmer said with a smile.
Black cows

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef