Saturday, April 11, 2009
The Rancher's Curse
Ranching is hard work. Ranching in winter can be downright hazardous. Ice and snow turn everyday chores into a battle with the elements. Wind chills inflict frostbite in minutes. A sudden whiteout can leave you driving in circles. But ask any cold climate rancher and they’ll agree on the most persistent threat to life and limb. The Frozen Cow Turd. Cows poop. A lot. Big piles, small piles, in between piles. Anything from the size of a baseball to mounds that defy the imagination. I know they’re big animals, but dang! That’s a lot of organic fertilizer. And then it freezes. Walking across a field of frozen cow turds is like picking your way along a river bank strewn with boulders. When the sun shines, the surface of the turd thaws. Then they’re greased boulders. You can be sure a cow turd will be strategically placed wherever you need to plant your foot, especially when that cow you’re trying to sort off makes a break for the gate. Then comes calving season, and someone has stroll through the pitch dark over the frozen turds once or twice a night, sometimes while packing a slimy, newborn calf with an irate mother snorting up his butt. I wonder how many orthopedic surgeons have asked, “So, Joe, how did you blow out your knee?” “Well, doc,” the rancher replies, “there was this cow turd…” Driving across frozen cow turds is like climbing into a cement mixer and turning it on. The chore pick-up doesn’t get a lot of maintenance. Shocks are a fond memory from younger, shinier days. Springs have long ago sprung. The old brown Ford lunges and lurches and slams from side to side, each tire bounding over a separate turd. It's a wonder we're not all suffering from whiplash by the end of December. I’ve even managed to get a pick-up stuck on a cow turd. Well, several cow turds, perfectly spaced so that one blocked each tire when I stopped to open the gate. There I sat, wheels spinning helplessly on bare, flat ground. Then there was the day I volunteered to feed the roping calves. My husband backed the feed truck into the corral and I hopped out. I reached into the back of the pick-up and latched onto a bale with my hay hook on one end, fingers under the twine on the other, and stepped back. My heel caught an especially large cow turd. I stumbled, tripped on a second turd, and thumped onto my butt, with the bale in my lap. The roping calves descended. I shoved on the bale, trying to free my legs. They shoved back, pinning me in place as they gnawed hay from under the strings. I dropped the hay hook so I could scoot myself loose. My hand squished into something soft and slippery on the ground beside me. Because of course, the only thing worse than a frozen cow turd…is one that’s not.