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Irons in the Fire: Lessons from the bull pasture

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 31 May 2017

Although not as engulfed in pomp and ceremony as the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, no less treacherous and fraught with peril is the annual sorting of the bulls in the Basin, east of Oakley, Idaho. Similar ceremonies are no doubt held on ranches from Yakima to Yoakum.

This year’s sorting had an inauspicious commencement. All of the older bulls were in a 200-acre piece just a quarter-mile across and up the road from the corral, where we would load them and disburse them to the various bunches of cows with whom they were designated to spend the summer.

I needed to sort off five red bulls from the group of a dozen bulls in this particular pasture. As luck would have it, the red bulls had segregated themselves and were all in the southwest part of the pasture. The luck would continue, of course – but it quickly transformed to bad luck.

It was no surprise, really, when we got the old rascals gathered they figured the time was perfect for a fight. It never fails. Never mind they’d been together all winter and had seemed to live in relative peace and harmony. There must be an unwritten law in nature that when the humans want to move bulls, each bull is obliged to exhibit his masculine superiority over his peers.

When the battles ensue, moving a bunch of testosterone-influenced bulls is like pushing a limp rope. It’s pretty much impossible until one of them decides he’s whooped. And then it’s only slightly less difficult because the vanquished foe is none too eager to rejoin the party.

After being blasted by a pair of dueling bulls, my horse was not really keen on the idea of getting too close to the fray, and my dogs, who are little more than imbeciles on their good days, were rarely in the right spot at the right time.

Somehow, though, we were able to finally get the five right bulls out of the gate and onto the road. As they were, in a fashion, headed in the right direction, one of the older bulls whirled around from the front of the pack and, with a full head of steam, T-boned one of his brethren.

In the short-lived scrum that followed, they took out a corner brace and 20 yards of fence. Of course, the defeated bull high-tailed it through the brush for the far corner of the pasture.

Somehow, through divine intervention or dumb luck, or a little of both, we were able to get all five of the bulls into the pen where we could hopefully load them and deliver them to their awaiting harem. You knew, of course, it would not be that easy.

Since the petulant old buggers can’t get along with each other, they had to be sorted in pairs that may or may not want to kill each other and partitioned off in the trailers.

In my state of perhaps over-cautiousness, profanity-laced fury and my desire to keep a safe distance from the ongoing battles, I failed to fasten a gate, which of course got bumped by a retreating bull and led to his escape. He found his way to a herd of cows – and Grandpa, two lathered-up horses, a couple of idiot dogs and I managed to retrieve him with relative ease and return him to the corral.

Eventually, we got the bulls delivered to the cows: another 30-minute-turned-two-hour job in the books.

Throughout the whole episode, I constantly wondered, sometimes out loud and in language probably not suitable for church, why in the world these goofy, cantankerous critters couldn’t just get along. It’s not like they didn’t know the drill. It’s as though each one refused to cooperate until he decided whatever course of action was going to be taken was his idea.

It kind of reminded me of Congress, the state legislature, the United Nations, a water meeting, a 4-H council, a fair board or dinner with my sons. No doubt, leadership and individuality are often in short supply. Conformity without questioning is not necessarily the best path.

However, humility and common-sense leadership, it seems, are gems more precious and rare than the brightest light or the loudest voice. The world and my bull pasture could use a little of both. end mark

Paul Marchant
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