I don’t know about you, but I find most days life is nothing but a series of problems to be solved. Mostly little problems, like how do you keep the kid from eating a dozen cookies while you’re up at the arena roping? But the occasional big one tossed in for excitement, like the hefty bill from the dentist you thought your insurance paid a year ago.
Problems are a constant challenge to my creativity. Especially the dental bill. And over the years I have learned to be suspicious of the obvious solution. Obvious solutions have a way of turning little problems into major issues. Let me elaborate.
Remember that time you were halfway across the state and trying to get the back off of your kid’s handheld video game so you could change the batteries and save the sanity of everyone in the car, and there was this big screw, and it was stuck, and you didn’t have a screwdriver but your car key fit in there just right and…snap!
Which was when you remembered you left the spare key to the car in the desk at home. And the obvious solution became a HUGE problem.
Nowhere do obvious solutions taunt you more frequently than on a ranch. Especially because you often don’t have a whole lot of time to ponder your options. When you’ve got a horse, a rope and a calf that just dove through the barbed wire fence with the nearest gate half a mile away, you may do the obvious before taking a minute to contemplate the result. Which is, in case you wondered, a not very impressed horse on one side of the fence, a bawling, bucking calf on the other, a rope stretched in between, and the gate STILL a half mile away. And if you’re really lucky, a mama cow playing jump rope on your side of the fence and a couple of busted posts as a bonus.
Yeah. That was helpful.
About ten years ago, my dad had a few yellow cows he picked up somewhere, as part of a bigger bunch. They were some kind of cross between Charolais, Limousin and a wolverine. Except meaner.
We put numbered ear tags on all of our calves as soon as possible after they’re born so when a big blizzard blows through and separates momma and baby, we can match them up again. Most of our cows are pretty understanding about the process. Old ranch hands will tell you this is because a cow won’t maul you as long as you’ve got ahold of her calf. They failed, however, to tell the yellow cows.
One afternoon, my dad and I went out in the old brown Ford to tag new calves. Of course, one of them was a yellow cow. We pulled up by where she had stashed her baby in a clump of buck brush on the side of a hill. Dad opened the door a smidgeon. She blew snot through the crack, then took off the rearview mirror in case we didn’t get the hint.
The solution was obvious. We had a rope, and we had a pickup with a roll bar. How hard could it be for Dad to stand in the back of the pickup, rope the calf and drag it up and out of reach of mad momma?
Simple. Until the cow dragged junior out of the brush and started across the hillside, which was conveniently mined with badger holes and huge rocks. Little bugger could move for being only three hours old. I yelled at Dad to hang on then gunned it, bouncing around in front to slow her down while Dad clutched the roll bar and the rope and made like a water skier hitting some seriously choppy water. As I rolled up alongside he let loose with one hand to swing his rope.
Whomp! The front tired dropped into an old buffalo wallow and nearly ripped off the front axle. Not to mention Dad’s left arm, which was the only thing that kept him from flying out of the pickup and landing on the ground right under the yellow cow’s pawing hooves.
I made another pass. Similar and equally jarring result, with the addition of a fat lip from smacking Dad’s chin off the roll bar. Luckily, at this point the yellow cow adopted an obvious solution of her own. She took her calf down across the bog where we couldn’t follow.
We then went with the second most obvious solution. We decided her calf really didn’t need a tag all that bad.
Think about it. How many times have you seen a minor irritation turned into a major structural damage to human, vehicle or animal due to the obvious solution? And if you don’t believe me, ask Rex. He can explain in great detail why, no matter how bad that foot rot cow needs doctoring, you should never throw a leg over that saddle cinched to the top of the stock rack on the back of your pickup.
For those who aren't familiar, this a stock rack. In the old days they were made of wood slats. Don't see much of them anymore, now that stock trailers have become the preferred method of carting farm animals around. And no, the llamas aren't mine.