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Irons in the fire: Arguing with a Holstein

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 01 March 2020

As weekly Tuesday auctions go, it was pretty typical. I arrived at about quarter after 1. I was there in search of a few yearlings to finish out a pen, but they were still going through the last of the killer cows and Holsteins.

I took my regular spot above the sale ring on the front row where I could stretch my legs and rest my feet on the cable that ringed the scales. A few waspy old cows off the desert ran through and brought a dollar or two more than I would have expected.

As I automatically and lethargically pondered the current market, I noticed a lull in the action. The gates were open, but there was no cow in the ring. The auctioneer hopped down from his spot on the block to investigate the delay. I craned my neck and peeked down the alley. There, 20 yards from the entrance, was a big old 1,600-pound Holstein cow, slowly meandering her way toward the ring with a hapless, scrawny, teenaged auction employee, his shoulder pressed up against her hip, shoving with all his might in a mostly futile effort to light a fire under the old girl. The yard manager was hollering at the old guy running the gates to go help push Bossy into the ring. After an eternally long 30-second wait, the indifferent old milk cow finally made her way through the gate. She brought about the average for Holstein cows that day, and they opened the exit gate.

As she traipsed out of the ring and into the exit alley, I could see Garland, part of the sale-day day-help crew trotting up toward her on his trusty red sorting horse. All of a sudden, the big black-and-white bovine found new life and a gear she hadn’t used since the first time she set foot in the milking parlor those many lactations ago.

She let out a bellar that sounded more like the battle cry of a Texas Panhandle tiger-stripe on the war path than a docile old milk cow. She hooked the unsuspecting pony right in the brisket and lifted him and Garland 2 feet off the ground. Garland was all arms and legs as he grabbed for any leather he could find while he gave the steel to Sorrely, who whirled around and headed back down the alley with the enraged Holstein in hot pursuit, her udder swinging like the purse of an 85-years-young Betty White fighting off a back-street New York mugger.

The cow followed Garland 30 yards down the alley and right into the holding pen, where a very amused helper slammed the gate shut as Garland and his horse slipped back out. Everyone who witnessed the Garland-and-Holstein circus that day agreed it was well worth the price of admission. And although I usually preferred to buy cattle out in the country, I was never happier to put together a load of auction barn calves. The entertainment that day was truly part of the value-added package.

I think about that cow and her outrage every once in a while – especially these days when there seems to be so much contempt at every turn in an instant-information society where indignation often precedes understanding.

The old Holstein cow was perfectly content as long as the circumstances and surroundings were semifamiliar and comfortable. She was well accustomed to humans on foot. But she’d never seen a horse before. The sudden appearance of a completely foreign and peculiar creature rocked her world, and her reaction was immediate and resolute. A step back, with a little thought and evaluation, was never an option for her.

It seems like that’s the same reaction we see from reactionaries on both ends of nearly every socio-political spectrum: Duke-Carolina, Auburn-Alabama, blue-red, Republican-Democrat, cowboy-vegan, agnostic-believer. You pick the category. The contemptuous rhetoric is nearly the same in every argument. I’ve often found myself hanging onto the knot in the end of a rope in many a battle that can see no victor.

Now I’m in no way suggesting we divest ourselves of our principles. That would be the worst thing to do. I like to hope, however, that there’s a better way to disagree. I don’t think hate ever effectively convinced anyone of anything good. As corny as it sounds, maybe an approach from the other end of that line might be worth a try.  end mark

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter or email Paul Marchant

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