Editor’s note: The following is an updated version of a Farm and Ranch Life column that ran in October 2013.
Cows were the next livestock after sheep and goats to be domesticated by our farming ancestors some 9,000 years ago. Domestication of pigs followed thereafter.
Perhaps that’s because cattle won’t eat you if you have a misfortune, whereas pigs are happy to devour your carcass.
I don’t dislike pigs. My family raised them while I was growing up. I cleaned their farrowing pens, raised pigs as 4-H projects and helped Dad vaccinate and castrate weanlings. I also like good pork on the grill and in other cooked fashions.
I raised only one pig while farming. I found a stray animal as I was walking in my fields. I placed a “Lost and Found” advertisement in the local newspaper and questioned my neighbors, but nobody claimed the animal, so I kept it until it was at the age to turn into pork chops and sundry other edible cuts.
I am a fairly good judge of pigs and other farm animals like sheep, horses and dairy cows, as well as cattle. I was a member of the winning Shelby County 4-H livestock judging team at the 1964 Iowa State Fair.
I can’t tell anyone riding with me on the highway the make, model and year of most motorized vehicles we pass on the road, but if I spot a bovine a quarter mile away in a field, I can offer a reasonably accurate estimate of its breed, sex, weight, body condition score and — most important to me — its quality as a meat producer.
Please don’t tell my wife and children about this because I have been successfully faking for many years that I know something about cars and trucks.
I learned a lot about trust and mutual appreciation from a first-calf heifer that had never been previously roped or cinched. This young animal allowed me to perform an episiotomy to help deliver her calf and to suture her without being tied up in the 20x20-foot calving pen. I felt appreciated and understood as I realized that not only did I care about my cattle, they trusted me.
Other lessons have also been formative and beneficial in different ways. I learned to be a fairly good roper and could lasso a cow from a horse or from my ATV.
A number of years ago during a very wet April day, I needed to treat a 250-pound bull calf that had a navel infection. I strode in foot-deep mud and manure with my lariat in hand into a fenced area of the pasture and cornered the calf that needed a dose of antibiotics. The calf grew skittish as I moved ever closer.
It bolted when I got within 15 feet of it. As the animal sprung along the fence in front of me, I quickly threw a loop ahead of the desperately fleeing calf and lassoed it.
Throwing my feet ahead of me, I prepared for the rope to become taut, and it did as it settled on the neck of the calf racing past me. The animal had enough momentum to thrust me head over heels into the muck. I hung onto the rope, although I ate a lot of crap and was covered from head to toe with slop, but I prided myself with being able to capture the calf on a headlong run.
I gave the calf the antibiotic shot it needed. I thought I was a decent roper.
A few years later one of my registered Simmental calves developed pinkeye from the hordes of summer flies that usually hang around cows and calves. I rode my 4-wheeler to the pasture where the animal was kept, with my veterinary kit and a lariat.
The herd was standing on a hilltop to catch any flowing breeze on this hot day. After parking the ATV, I cautiously walked toward the herd and waited until the calf I wanted to treat was within roping distance, some 20 feet away.
As I flung the loop, it encircled a 1,200 lb. yearling heifer next to the calf I was seeking. I lassoed her perfectly! She ran and I couldn’t hold her.
Eventually I caught and treated the suffering calf, but for the next several days I tried without success to grab the rope trailing behind the now cautious heifer as she came to drink water or to eat grain from a bunk from which I tempted her and her herd-mates to get close to me.
A week passed before I was able to grab the rope the heifer was dragging as she approached the cattle waterer. I wrapped the lariat around a nearby post. Gradually I cinched the animal ever closer until I could unhook the clasp on the loop to free her. I was surely glad she did not have to drag the rope anymore.
And I reappraised my roping ability.
That’s how cattle are. They can teach us lessons we need.