When recently feeding out a steer (a Longhorn/Charolais cross), I decided to put his Longhorn grandmother, Bell, with him for company. This was to calm the calf that for the first time was separated from its mother and herd, and in addition to pamper Bell who was the first cow on our ranch and for whom I remain sentimental. She is now north of 25 years of age and in recent years has been becoming progressively skinny and competing poorly for food with the larger herd of Black Baldies.
Over the three months of fattening, like the calf, Bell gained weight and began to look much healthier. She relished the daily feedings of grain. When she would see me approach in the pickup, she would head straight away to the food trough with the steer following closely behind. When the calf was eventually fattened, loaded into the trailer, and taken to be processed, I opened the gate to reunite Bell with the herd.
But it seems Bell had developed an appetite for the finisher feed. Whenever I passed her for the next several days, she tended to track me hopefully with her plaintive brown eyes. I also observed her not feeding well on the still short Spring grass, nor could she compete successfully when I doled out supplemental protein cubes. In short, she was once again dwindling.
I tried to feed her extra, but proved unsuccessful due to the other stronger cows showing up and running her off. This morning this unfortunate scenario reoccurred. I felt bad that Bell was unable to obtain more than a mouthful of grain before being driven off by the other cows and the bull. After my unsuccessful attempt I went about my ranch chores but continued to ponder if there was another strategy to supplement Bell’s diet. I eventually headed back up the hill to where the herd resided.
But halfway up the hill, I found Bell standing alone. She seemingly had placed herself in this prominent position where I couldn’t miss seeing her but also located out of sight from the remainder of the herd. I stopped and gave her a large portion of grain. She ate with gusto and without being molested by the other pushy cows, calves, or bull.
By guile and experience, Bell has found a way to obtain her extra feeding. I must admit being older myself, that I gained satisfaction at seeing the old girl outsmart the rest of the herd. Animals sense when another is slipping and afford them little succor. This old Longhorn had always been the smartest cow in the herd and for many years, despite not being the largest cow, served as the Bell Cow. When she eventually had to give up her rank in the herd, her daughter, also a Longhorn, took over as the Bell Cow. The Longhorns being smarter always led the Black Baldies to where the grass was best and the water plentiful.
Watching Bell this morning reminded me of the old saying that experience and guile can beat out the enthusiasm and vigor of youth. Once again, Bell the aged Longhorn proved this aphorism to be true.