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Irons in the fire: Trust the cow, trust hope

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 09 July 2021

Spring, or something that only slightly mimicked what I would truly consider spring, was not particularly kind to my country. It was cold. It was windy.

And for the most part, it was dry. That’s not really an ideal recipe to make grass. In my experience, the presence and availability of grass makes the cow business a much more enjoyable endeavor. Its absence obviously results in some anxiety-driven angst.

It was with this backdrop that I was moving a small bunch of 2-year-old heifers and their calves to a little corner pasture that barely qualified as a pasture. It was mostly some dried-up cheatgrass interspersed among some rabbitbrush and broom snakeweed. It wasn’t necessarily greener pastures, but at least it was a different pasture. We only had to trail the pairs about a mile-and-a-half, but we allotted ourselves three or four hours for the move. I intended to let the cows graze the relatively abundant feed on the side of the road and in the barrow pits before they reached their new temporary quarters. I figured such a maneuver may result in an extra day in the new digs, and any “extra” would be hard to come by this summer.

Sure enough, the cows were more than willing to put their heads down and ignore everything else in the world as they ravenously went after the green stuff at their feet – and since it was right out the gate, the calves didn’t really get a chance to get into full-on stupid mode, as they pretty much stayed with their mamas. The fences on either side of the road were decent, so we were able to, for the most part, leave the cows to their own devices, simply checking on them every 15 or 20 minutes as we took care of a few other chores.

After a couple of hours, the cows were beginning to get their fill and starting to wander and string out a bit. My sister and brother-in-law happened to be driving by, so I had them go up ahead and open the gate as I followed behind the little herd on my horse. The trickery worked. Since the cows had their bellies full, they didn’t seem to mind the fact that they were now going to have to work a little harder for their meals for the next several days.

The next morning, which happened to be a Sunday, I hopped on the four-wheeler and drove out to check on the heifers and their babies to make sure everything was mothered-up and content. And of course, since it’s my life and that’s how I roll, there was a problem. A tight-bagged heifer was pacing along the fence by the gate, her week-old calf nowhere in sight. I’d just driven the route from the previous day and had seen no calf, so I was slightly concerned and mildly annoyed. I opened the gate as the cow trotted out and headed back down the road in search of her baby.

I made a quick run around the pasture to make sure there were no other problems, then turned around to check on the progress of the lone cow’s Amber Alert search. I cussed under my breath (or maybe it was slightly more vocal) as I caught a glimpse of the cow as she climbed through a loose spot in the fence and trotted up the edge of a potato field, nowhere near where she had been the previous day. I was in no mood to put up with the nonsense of this stupid heifer. I shouldn’t have to do the work for her. I let her be and zipped on back to the original pasture, figuring the calf would surely go back there, where it had most likely last been in its mother’s company the day before. But to my dismay, I found no sign of the calf. I cussed again, and this time there was no attempt to keep my oath under my breath. I wondered why in the world she’d left her calf in the first place.

I headed back to where I had last seen the young cow in the potato field. As I came up on the gate, I could see the figure of the black cow at the far edge and, strangely enough, it looked as if she was standing there nursing a calf. As I got closer, my hopes were confirmed. Bless her heart, the new mother somehow knew right where her baby was and had brought him his breakfast. The story gets even better. I left her there, planning to return her back with the other cows later that day after church. But when I went back to retrieve her a couple hours later, I found that she’d taken her baby and slipped back in with the rest of her peers. I know that doesn’t speak well of my fences, but I was glad to see she’d returned to where she belonged, through no effort of my own.

That night, as I checked the water and watched that little group of heifers grazing on what little feed there was, I realized I’d again been taught a lesson I too often ignore. I don’t know how that heifer found her calf, but I’ve watched the same scene hundreds of times before in even more dire circumstances, and I’m always slow to trust that the cow will figure it out. Although I may think I know better, and in a panicky rush, try to force my way of thinking into my desired results, as often as not, if I’ll just calm down and leave things alone, it all works out.

Hope is like a savvy old cow. Even if you think you know better, she’ll rarely let you down. Just as I can’t always explain how a cow can find her lost calf in a sea of sagebrush, I’ve found quite often, amid life’s storms, that inexplicably it’s seldom error to simply be still for a while and trust hope. She’ll rescue you.  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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