This morning with the help of my ranch hand, Francisco, and my long suffering wife, Trudy, I loaded seven calves into the cattle trailer. They were big enough and ready to head off. I might have known something was awry, when the loading turned out to be easy, really too easy. It went without a single calf bolting or hitch in the procedure of any kind. It was almost as if the calves hurried into the trailer in order to take their morning ride.
On arriving at the auction barn in Fredericksburg, I immediately became suspicious when no line of trucks with trailers existed waiting to unload their stock. It was then that I spotted a small but all too informative sign posted in the window of the auction house- “No sales on July 2 or 3”.
Silly me, I had failed to remember the auction barn closes on holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. It had never occurred to me that it would close for sales during the week of the 4th of July. Isn’t anyone going to eat steaks, hamburgers, or beef ribs, I fumed. Regrettably I was forced to point the nose of “the Old Goat”, my gas guzzling V-10 1999 Dodge pickup, homeward for the return trip.
I don’t think “cow” very well, but I would like to believe the calves enjoyed their outing. I know the ride along dogs enjoyed it, as Bella and Jack gave me numerous wet and raspy licks both on the way into town and on the way back to the ranch. With my face thoroughly washed and abraded, I unloaded the calves into the front pasture. They trundled out, looked blankly around, then kicked up their heels, and ran straight in the direction of the herd. They appeared no worse for wear and had experienced a remarkably cool ride into town for a July morning in Texas.
My error today was certainly not my most painful as a rancher. For instance it does not compare to when I was pitched from a horse and broke my arm and jammed my neck, or in a second instance when i blew out a disc in my back trying to man-haul a stump out of the creek bed after a flood (in my defense, my tractor was broken and what else could I do?).
Now those two mistakes hurt! Mind you, I never in 30 years got injured swinging a reflex hammer at someone’s knee as a neurologist. Since retiring and becoming a rancher I have broken two bones, torn ligaments, blown out my back, and worst of all suffered numerous instances of major loss of face.
It’s also not the most foolish ranching mistake I have committed. Several candidates for this dishonor readily come to mind. Expanding my herd prior to the onset of a major drought might come in at most expensive. I never would have guessed that hay could get that expensive. Personally, I rather like the time when I determined to paint one of my pipe cattle guards red and black in honor of my undergraduate Alma Mater, Texas Tech University. I thought it would look nice and thought just maybe the cows would enjoy it too.
Trudy, despite otherwise having good sense and having utterly failed to talk me out of this folly, got down on her hands and knees and helped me complete the goofy project. I do recall her muttering under her breath most of the time it took to complete. Trudy, I think this would fall under the clause in the marriage contract, “For Better Or Worse”. You’ve got to admit, our marriage hasn’t been dull!
Looking back on it, I’ve made plenty of ranching mistakes. Perhaps it’s inevitable having been a “city boy” most of my life and having lived rural ranch life only for the last 12 years. But that’s the fun of it. I have learned more from my all too frequent mistakes than from the ranch books I have read or the Ranch Day Programs I have attended. It has been fun. Besides as Trudy and I say to one another if taking life too seriously, “No one is going to die from this.” In my previous life, I certainly could never say that.