I remember the exact moment when I lost my heart to bovines. I was following the Old Cowman along a lonely trail in and out of deep canyons, my whole attention focused on trying to keep up with his horse's expert pace without the disgrace of letting my pony break into a trot. Going down a brushy ridge, all at once he stopped beside a thickly spreading bush, got off, and parted the branches.
"Want to see somethin' purty?"
I rode up to see something pretty, surprised at his interest.
"Oh!" I exclaimed in quick delight, looking down into the uplifted face of a new baby calf curled up cozily beneath the leafy branches. He returned my gaze with the wide eyes of innocence and unflawed beauty. His mother had washed him clean and dry and left him hidden in what seemed to her a safe spot while she went for water. His nose and inner ears were pink. His small face was snowy white, with a baby softness, and so was the line down his back. According to the standards of that day, the line would detract from his value as a steer, but now all that white contrasted with the shine of his red coat to give him extra charm. He was lovely, and I loved him. And he was mine; the first new calf born to the little bunch of cows I had bought a few months before.
Many years have passed, but I still love baby calves and thrill to see each new arrival. Of course, all baby creatures have the attraction of miniature replicas. But little calves are special. With their pink noses, curly faces, big ears, and luminous trusting eyes, they are among the cutest baby creatures on earth. I often wonder how such dear little things can grow up into big old rough-often repulsive-looking-cows and bulls. But then, I wonder in the same vein about human infants.
Modern publications devoted to the interests of ranchers often print articles whose intent is to standardize the operation of cattle growing.
"We are in the beef business," said an authority. "We are not raising individuals."
That idea can be challenged.
Cattle are live creatures, procreating and nourishing their young by their own bodies. Like all mammals, including mankind, they live and die as individuals. As all mammals do, they come into, the world through the same dark pain-ridden tunnel; they leave it through the same door of death. They encounter earthly pleasures, joys, hazards, and torments from the moment of conception, even as we do. And like us, they meet those mundane trials as single identities and develop idiosyncrasies, each in a special way, from the day they are born.
The old trail-driving cowboys, who punched the herds of longhorns up the long, winding trails to Kansas and Wyoming and Montana in the early years of the American cattle industry, found that to be true. In day-by-day association, they learned that their critters not only did not look alike, they did not act alike. Some were handsomely gifted in coloring and conformation; others were ugly as "h'ants." Some were leaders, naturally taking charge of certain groups, large or small; breaking trail for them, setting the pace, seeking likely places for them to graze. Others were loners shunning the crowds, incessantly planning to make a getaway, taking every chance to dash for freedom. There were Fiery and Snuffy, easily spooked always looking for a chance to stampede the masses. There were man hating manosos, and incorrigible ranahans who would never yield and "throw up their tails." Also, there were placid, good-natured ones seeking to conform and keep the peace, usually too lazy to do anything but poke along with the drags. Some were easy keepers, fattening on the sketchy grazing they could pick up on the go; others "et so much it kep'm pore to pack it along." All were individuals.
No matter how much a ranch may be modernized and mechanized, cattle, as long as they live, can never be merely the end products of mass-production. Scientific feeding and selection and artificial insemination and automatic handling methods, yes; but in the most up-to-date livestock enterprise that can be found in a materialistic profit-making industry, it still takes a cow nine months to bring forth a calf, and another nine months or so to nourish him properly from her own flesh and blood.
Many people inexperienced in close association with bovines have the idea that producing the young comes easily and painlessly to a cow because "Nature takes care of everything." Not so. A great many cows, perhaps the majority, meet their delivery time as insecurely as women. I have no statistics, and must speak from experience and observation. My conclusion is that a surprising number of cows have serious trouble giving birth, especially young heifers with first calves. Many of them "sluff" their young before they are fully matured, and usually these "preemies" die. There are no incubators for them. You wrap them in gunny sacks and pour warm milk down them, but you can't save them.
Even grown cows, some quite experienced, endure hazardous suffering in their travail. And at times they, too, must die.
Two boys hunting up in the high country came upon a starving baby calf standing forlornly by his lifeless mother. In his extremity he tried to follow them after they had stopped to pet him. They couldn't leave him. They carried him down to their Jeep and brought him to me. It wasn't easy to save him. Making up a formula and getting the right amount at the right time down newborn calves that have not had their mother's first milk, is chancy. With the best intentions, you can kill them. There was the question, too, about my right to him. I went to the owner of the cattle in the area where the boys were hunt- ing and explained the dilemma of the orphan calf.
"Keep the thing," he said at once, "if you can raise it. I haven't got time to fool with a dogie."
I named the little bull Jerry-Fred, for his rescuers. When a few weeks had passed, I could entertain guests by walking into the corral with a big pop bottle of warm milk and letting them watch Jerry-Fred's antics. He would come at a gallop and latch onto the bottle, gulping noisily. When it was empty he would chase me across the corral, begging for more.
The same neighbor, while working his river cattle, found another dogie and brought him up to me. He was part Brahma, light in color, and so bony we called him Huilo (we-lo, meaning skinny). He soon developed so much strength, and skill with the bottle, that he could knock me off balance. I put him in the small calf pen and fed him though the bars of the gate. Sometimes I put both dogies in the little enclosure and stuck two bottles of milk through the fence. Huilo quickly chuga-lugged his and pushed Jerry-Fred aside to get his also.
Effie Jo, one of the pet cows I have now, was orphaned at birth. I went down to start the pump one day and stopped at the feed trough to put out booster cubes for the cows that water at the spring. I was shocked to see this midget-nothing but skin and bones-trying to get a sup of milk from every cow around her. When one pushed her off, she turned to try the next. Cows are gentle with these helpless babies. They don't want to hurt them, although as a rule, they won't let them have any milk. To get rid of them they raise a hind leg and shove the strange baby away. If shoving with a leg isn't enough, they nudge the little intruder away with lowered heads. Even wild cows are gentle with motherless little calves.
When I got the pump going I picked up the starved foundling, who was still persisting in trying to do what came naturally, and put her in the Jeep beside me to take her to the home corral. At first I started her on canned milk with a beaten egg, then for awhile graduated her to a fresh cow that gave more milk than her calf could take. When another cow giving more milk "came in" I again changed her foster mother. As she grew huskier and nudged harder, no cow would put up with her. I had to tie the cow to a snubbing post and bind her hind legs with a short rope to make her safe to approach. This was the healthiest dogie I ever tried to raise. Her sides would stick out like a balloon, but she would hang on for the last drop. No matter how much she overate-that spring there were several cows with surplus milk-she never "scoured." In fact, she has never had a sick day in her life. No matter how many cows needed milking out, as soon as one was tied up she was Nellie-on-the-Spot. Neighbor Pete called her the Milking Machine. Johnny, a small great-nephew visiting his grandmother (my sister Ruby) at the ranch was fascinated by this ravenous young dogie.
"What do you think we ought to name her?" I asked.
"Heifer Jo," he answered immediately.
That evolved into Effie Jo. Even when she was three years old and had a calf of her own, we dared not tie up a cow with a big bag while Effie was in the corral.
The day I found her, I went hunting for her mother and discovered her corpse up the canyon in a brushy place she had selected for her delivery room.
It is not unusual for a cow out on the range to die at giving birth. It happens on everybody's ranch. It is unusual for the little calf to live. If he doesn't freeze or starve to death, the varmints get him. Most of the time, cows die before the calf is delivered, so both are lost. Many of the young heifers I keep for replacements calve too young because my range is too small to offer them escape from early motherhood. They often have trouble. When I see one of the poor things "making a bag" I shut her up in the hospital corral and feed her alfalfa (for vitamin A) and watch her. Sometimes she must have human assistance.
Little Ice Cream was a case in point. That was during the Nephew's tenancy. He came to my door early one morning saying: "Ice Cream is down and about to die. The calf is only half-born, and it's already dead."
I got a move on, and we tried pulling it by hand. We couldn't. I saddled my pony and tied a rope to the little front feet, but that didn't work. The young cow was too near dead to help. As a last resort we put a rope around her chest and anchored it to the corral fence, then fastened another rope to the little forefeet and pulled the dead calf with the Jeep.
There was a cow's scream of terror and pain, and Ice Cream lay gasping for life. All we knew to do for her, was to wait and hope and offer her a few bottles of water. The dead calf was a beautiful bull, too well-developed for easy entrance through life's portal. In a little while, the heifer was sufficiently recovered to stagger to her feet and drink water from a bucket. She got well and has had no trouble with subsequent calves although the vet was shocked at what we had done. He explained in anatomical terms why such drastic measures would ruin the cow. However, by the therapy of ignorance, we saved her life,
The latest horror story in this line has to do with a nice young cow we call Redington, fully matured, who had already mothered two good calves. It was during the cholla-burning, so a week or two before her time I shut her up in the hospital corral and fed her hay. The Nephew had gone away to college. Jesús, my immigrant friend, was in tenure as cowboy. One busy morning he came to tell me that Redington was having her calf.
"She'll be all right," I said, and an hour later went down to greet the new arrival.
It was still unborn. The cow was in real distress; walking and walking, then lying down, then getting up, all the time in labor. Only one little foot was exposed. Why should this be? I didn't know what to do. After another hour (the cow in the same condition and growing weaker), Neighbor Pete came down and the three of us decided to take the calf "by instruments" (ropes and human strength).
The exhausted cow, in extreme anguish, made no resistance, but we went through the motions of tying her to a post. I rolled up my sleeves, soaped my hands and arms, and went for that other front foot. It was doubled back. I could get hold of it all right, but found that the head was doubled back also, so that the shoulder was presented and birth was impossible. The men insisted on trying. But why prolong the torture? I backed the pickup to the chute, we practically carried her up into it, and I started a rush journey over the rough road to the vet-sixty miles away.
For years I had been a patron of this animal doctor, one of the first, as far as I knew, to practice, with proper credentials, in this area. Many times he had gone beyond the call of ordinary duty for my suffering creatures. Now he had come to have a reputation for alcoholism. When I mentioned him, friends and neighbors shook their heads.
"But he's a doctor," I insisted, "a born doctor, and trained. He has what it takes."
Redington's case was proof of this. It was a terrible trip-the poor cow struggling to keep upright, I anxiously looking back, doing my best to make time. I had to go through a congested fringe of the city and pass a large school at fifteen mile an hour. Although most of the children were indoors, a few were scattered about outside. I regretted the shock it might give them to see a cow with a protruding calf's foreleg dangling.
It had been months since I had contacted the doctor. His wife told me that he had given up working on large animals. I insisted on seeing him.
"He'll have to help me!" I stated.
He came out, took a look at the cow, and told me to back up to the ramp. His eyes looked like the proverbial burnt holes in a blanket. It was apparent he had been ill. His hands trembled when he helped me open the rack and tie Redington's head to the front of it. But I was relieved. I had faith in him as a talented doctor with the nerve to try, and a gift for healing. I watched in admiration. There was no fumbling and experimenting. He knew what he was doing and wasted no time or words. His shirt was thrown aside. He lathered his hands and arms with the disinfectant suds in the large pan I held for him, and went in to put the fouled-up calf into its proper channel. The moaning cow got lower and lower, but her feet were wide apart, and he held her up with his shoulder, struggling to keep from falling himself. Twice he had to stop and get his breath, like a mountain climber who goes too fast. Suddenly he sat down. My heart sank. Had he quit? No. He looked up at me proudly and gasped: "I've got the nose out."
Sure enough, there was a little nose-ominously purple-resting on two front feet.
"It's dead," I said.
"It's not dead," he scolded, getting up. "Here, pull on this chain when I tell you to."
I pulled with all my might while he used his hands as instruments.
Out came the calf.
The cow screamed and fell to the floor of the truck, unable to get up or even move during the two-hour journey home. We put the wet, shaking calf up by her head for encouragement. She was too sick to care. I covered it with a gunny sack and drove as fast as I dared, not taking time to thank the doctor or ask his fee. (It was $6.00.)
Even when I backed up to her own corral and let the endgate down, Redington couldn't get up. Jesús helped me put a pile of hay and gunny sacks at the foot of the truck, and we yanked and tumbled her out and laid the calf by her side, hoping Nature would take over at last. Nature did. When Jesús brought Redington a bucket of water she sat up and drank eagerly, then began lowing to her calf and nuzzling it. I threw my hat in the air with joy. Next day mother and daughter were doing fine. We call the heifer Milagro (Miracle).
Bernice (my youngest sister) grew up in town. She does not have the feeling for country things that I have. But visiting the ranch one Christmas, down at the corral she broke into ecstasies when she saw a baby calf peeking at her through the bars.
"Look!" she cried. "Look at its big eyes and long eyelashes! It looks just like a Disney drawing. I know where he gets his models now. Do call this one Disney."
So we named the wee heifer Disney (soon corrupted to Dizzy) Riley, Riley being her family name.
When I came into control of a homestead and some leased land and hesitantly fell into the cattle business, the first bunch I bought contained fifty cows. One was solid brown, so she was Old Brownie. One had white stripes arranged on her back and shoulders in such a way that she became Old Dog Harness. Forty-eight were left to be named. What more natural than to call them after the states? These were so named, and they became the progenitors of the First Families of the GF Bar. The Cowboy took up with the idea at once. When he left, the Uncle finally caught on to the logic of it. I explained that it was simpler to say "Old Iowa" than "that old gauch-horned white-faced cow that waters at Dos Pilitas." He agreed, with reservations.
"If I kin jist recollect their flesh marks," he complained. It was hard for him to remember what each cow looked like.
The Old Vaquero, when he arrived on the scene, had trouble of a different kind. He knew cattle! When he laid eyes on a cow he could recognize her from then on. "I wish," he used to say (in Spanish, of course) "that I could know people as well as I do cows."
But there were very few of the forty-eight states he had ever heard of. And as a rule their pronunciation threw him. To tell the truth, I enjoyed his individual way of designating the GF Bar cows. He used a double name for them: La cabrona Nuevo Yorqui, la cabrona Nuevo Mejico, la cabrona Persivania, la cabrona Qui Anza (Kansas), la cabrona Masa Chusey. His favorite name was Ok-la-ho-ma, and he always insisted on having one by that name when we sold the original.
When I bought the hundred Mexico cows, we were hard pressed to find-all at once-enough names for them to enter on the ranch register. The Old Vaquero christened many of them: Concha, Comadre, Sonza, Cola Negra, Cucaracha, always putting his prefix to each moniker.
When the Uncle spoke of "that old high-horned bald-faced pale-red cow from the Tank that's wild as a snake," I said, "Why not call her Old Snake?" She became Old Rattlesnake and put the fear of death into anyone who came near when she had a baby calf.
My bulls are named for persons: sometimes the original owner, such as Old Harrison; or the speculator I bought him from, Rocky Solano; or the boys on the ranch at the time of purchase: Victor, Arturo, Rocky Donn. My best bull is named Felix-for my banker.
When I got the crossbred cows (fathered by Brahma bulls out of white-faced cows) I gave them Latin-American names. For a while we had most of South and Central America and some of the West Indies. We still have Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazilia, Santiago, Santo Domingo, and Buenos Aires.
Peru, by her behavior characteristics, came to be called Old "Brayma" Lion. She is a cow from Bitter Creek, right up at the Headwaters. We have more fun and more work with her than with any other cow ever on the ranch. She looks like a gargoyle; huge and square of stature, dark maroon-red except her face, which is dotted with freckles. Around her eyes are two oval dark spots edged with what looks like white lace. Her horns are turned grotesquely, one pointing up and one turned inward over her forehead, and her udder has long since sagged from overweight. Her behavior is actively unfriendly although she accepts me-and, for the time being, Neighbor Pete-as being tolerable as long as alfalfa and dairy feed are doled out to her when she has a little calf. We must never, however, let our guards down.
She holds an unmitigated grudge against strangers, particularly those wearing skirts. When a visitor appears around the corrals, even when Old Brayma is calfless and free, she hoists her head like an alerted stallion, then lowers it menacingly, steps forward with a baleful look, and slowly paws the ground with first one huge forefoot, then the other. It never fails to ensure her privacy.
She can roar in fine imitation of a wild African lion-hence her name-with little follow-up rumbles. And when she has a new calf she is as dangerous as I imagine an aroused lion to be. She never tames down, even when I have kept her, apparently docile, in the delivery corral eating alfalfa for a week or two before the calf is born. As soon as it arrives she is on the fight.
The first few days not even her keeper (me) is allowed in the corral with Old Brayma and her offspring. She has no conscience about putting up with the hand that feeds her. I throw a little hay close to the dividing fence, then reach over to get a stout rope around her head and anchor her to a fence post. After that I can enter, keeping my distance so she can't reach me with her head, tie up her hind legs, then get the baby and push him into place and teach him to eat naturally. It is a task requiring several days during which I have to milk the cow and feed him via a pop bottle. While I'm trying to help him, his mother, pretending to be absorbed in food but watching her chance, makes sudden jerks and thrusts and sometimes bumps me. Once she swung at Neighbor Pete and, unable to reach him with her head, swiped the glasses from his face with her long rough tongue.
One year I didn't find her in time and she developed mastitis so severely that one chamber went into gangrene and was lost. Old Brayma was so near death I almost despaired of saving her. It seemed hopeless, but I worked on in despair even when she was down. Shots of penicillin for eleven consecutive days, and daily local treatments with antibiotic tubes were not enough. I decided to treat her as if she were human and apply ice-packs. The medication had put her on her feet, but the chamber was swollen and turning black. The ice remedy was not easy to administer. I kept the snubbing post between her and me until I got the rope flipped over her head. As soon as she was caught she let me lead her close enough to tie her to the post. Even when tied, to uphold her honor she sometimes made snorty rushes at me, not really meaning anything serious. As soon as I hobbled her hind legs and tied down her lashing tail, she was in my hands. I made a very complicated harness of wide strips of gunny sacking to which I tied a thick cotton bag filled with chipped ice and covered with a doubled burlap bag to keep it clean and retain the cold longer. Every hour, I went down with more ice, or, when she was better, ice water to cool the bandage.
When it became necessary for me to make a trip to the city, Hoppy, one of the summer nephews, took over the ice-water routine. He had a story to tell when I returned. Alone at the ranch, he decided to get an over-all sun tan. When he appeared in the corral wearing only shoes and a man's bikini, Old Brayma put him out in a hurry. He returned to the house and put on a shirt and Levi's. Still he was refused admittance. On the third try he donned one of my old straw hats, and was able to pass inspection and go ahead with the treatment. Since that time, I have done a better job of watching her and she is healthy enough, although her surplus milk makes it necessary to pen her twice a day for milking until her calf is at least two or three months old.
Why don't I sell her? Sad will be the day when I shall have to. I admire her spirit and her ability to keep fat, good times or bad. She has a nice calf every year. Cub, her last, weighed 510 pounds when sold at the age of ten months. She always puts on a good show. That roar! Good old Brayma Lion. Time cannot change or custom stale her infinite variety.
There's heartbreak in caring for animals. Their lives are so short and it hurts to see them go. I was sick to tears the last time I took a cow to the auction pens. It was Old Pepper Sauce, long a pillar of the ranchito. Time came to save her heifer and sell her. She was never a wild cow, but she fought every inch of the way and broke the loading chute as the Neighbor and I shoved her into the truck. I had placed some good hay up front for her to nibble on while I changed clothes, and while I hunted for the inspector. She wouldn't touch it. She rode backwards, looking homeward all the way.
When Carlos and I unloaded her at the sales corrals and pushed her down the chute into the holding area-rather a large space-she turned and raised her head and stared at me as I closed the chute gates and made the truck ready to leave. I cannot forget that look. It brought tears. She was saying: "You can do this to me?"
With the exception of neurotics and outlaws, animals are easy to love. The better you know them, the more you cherish them. The cows I am more closely associated with are the milk cows that live near the corrals, so they are my favorites.
Our first at the homestead was a very old off-white Jersey of giant size. She was from a farm down on the river, and the Cowboy traded a horse and a range cow for her and brought her home through the cholla patches as a Christmas surprise. The chollas were a terrible surprise to her, and she arrived as full of stickers as a porcupine. We picked them out and fed her well and named her Vanilla. It wasn't long until she brought forth a big heifer calf-sired by a Hereford bull-dark seal-brown in color with a white face. We called her Chocolate. Old Vanilla gave so much milk we put a little red dogie on her. It became Strawberry. The owners had only parted with Vanilla because of her advanced age, and that was the reason we sold her when the calves were big enough to wean. We intended Chocolate to succeed her as ranch milk cow, but she didn't qualify and got turned out on the range. After several bull calves, she produced a heifer dull yellow in color-the neighbors had a fence-jumping half-Brahma bull-which we named Butterscotch. Her first heifer was named Vanilla. She has a string of daughters still here on the ranch: Pudding, Milk Shake, Ice Cream, all noted for having bull calves.
Our second milk cow was a beautiful little pure Guernsey that my sister Ruby gave us from her small dairy farm near Mesa. She was only a few days old when we brought her home in the back seat of the sedan. She had a white heart in the middle of her forehead so perfect it might have been a paper cutout, so we called her Sweetheart. She was a great help and comfort to us. When she graduated into production the Uncle took her over as his special pet. One day he gave her a big feed of first-cutting alfalfa and rode off to inspect the lower fence. When he returned several hours later, he found Sweetheart stretched out dead from bloat. (With money scarcer than hen's teeth, I had-paid for a bale of hay that killed our precious cow.) Coming home from school Friday evening, I passed a great excavation and mound of sand in the canyon bottom where the broken-hearted Uncle had tried to bury her as a member of the family. And like a member of the family, she left us a legacy: her nice little dark-colored, white-faced heifer Dolly, who eventually became the milk cow and reigned as queen of the ranch for many a day.
Finally I was confronted with the awful problem posed by all beloved pets: what to do with Dolly as she steadily grew too old to continue in the life we shared.
Science books (for school children) give the life span of a cow as twenty years. But that, surely, relates to some bovine Methuselah. Buyers call a cow old at eight. Certainly after ten they are in their "golden years."
What would the ranch be without good, faithful Dolly? But I could not see her suffer starvation when her teeth gave out. When she was thirteen, I weaned myself from her by taking her and her pretty bull calf to a nice green permanent pasture twenty miles down the river, with three other good old cows who had been her pals and my mortgage-lifters. After five months I had got used to the ranch without Dolly. She was fat as a butter ball, and so was her calf. I let her and her fat cronies be taken to the sale in the city. She weighed only twenty pounds under a thousand, according to the slips sent with the check. I could not bear to be present when she was sold.
It is a characteristic of milk cows to have bull calves. Dolly's were husky, mischievous corral inhabitants that the Uncle invariably called Meanness for their sassy habits of pushing past him into the hay barn, sticking their noses into his milk pail or chewing up his saddle straps when they got a chance. By a real stroke of luck Dolly finally had a heifer--her next-to-last calf. It wasn't long until my delight turned to dismay, for the sorry-looking little scrawny female didn't make a worthy stand-in for her mother. She was brindle--a non-pretty color--on her hips. She was red-necked, narrow-headed, spindle-legged, bony-hipped, and her eyes streamed water. Her nose, wet from mother's milk, was streaked with dust. We called her Dirty Face, and I fully intended to sell her when she got to be a yearling.
But that was the year of the Big Move to a rougher canyon. Rains were scarce. Feed was short. Poor little Dirty Face was too skinny to sell. There was good grass over here, so we turned her loose and forgot about her. Months later she showed up as a long-yearling; she was nice and fat, but extremely pregnant. We were stuck with her. And that, my cynical colleagues, was my biggest blessing in disguise.
Dirty Face is now my favorite favorite-cow. She has been worth her weight in so many things. How could I get along without her?
She won my sympathy and esteem when, too young to be a mother, she had her first calf, a big, fully-developed bull, and became my first subject in the practice of midwifery. It was a snowy day of low clouds and cold wind when the poor little heifer arrived at her time, thereby initiating me into a new catalogue of troubles but winning my heart in doing so. I was keeping her up and feeding her. Couldn't Nature handle the rest of the miserable job? It seemed logical to think so, but my uneasiness increased as the hours of labor dragged on. Was she going to die right before my helpless eyes?
Taking on the duties of obstetrician was something I didn't want. Why, I mused in bitterness, was Nature fool enough to start something she couldn't finish. Didn't she alone instigate the whole unsanitary, often disgusting, altogether undignified, apparently unsafe method of carrying on the species? Now it was up to me, an ignoramus with not even a What-To-Do Book, to improve on the situation, and save some lives. I kept watching and hoping until dark. To protect the tormented heifer and impending new life from the cold wind and spitting snow, I shut her up in the barn. By my warm fire, tempering anxiety with an interesting book, I waited-going down every half hour to check on how Dirty Face was doing. She wasn't doing any good.
When the futile labor had been going on for at least six hours, I lost hope. The Uncle, pushing eighty years, had gone to bed. I went in to wake him and tell him I was going across the Valley to Wallace, a former neighbor, and ask him to come help me.
"She is down broadside," I told him. "She can't have that calf."
"Sister," remonstrated the Uncle, "we can pull that calf. She'd be dead anyway time you got back."
He dressed and fired up his old kerosene lantern, picked up his walking stick, and went down to boss the job I dreaded and feared.
Dirty Face had kept sliding downhill until she was in a huddle by the door. We dragged her back into a cleared area, and I eagerly followed the Uncle's directions. When all was ready he stood at the head and pulled her tail while I, at her feet, pulled the rope. Eureka! There entered into this life another big fat "Meanness."
The little cow-as soon as a heifer has a calf she is counted a cow, even if she is no bigger than a peanut-got right up and began the silliest, happiest taking-on, lowing and mumbling, tickled to death over her first-born. We laughed at the ridiculous fuss she made over the messy little bull, licking him, practically singing him a lullaby, not trying to look out for herself although she trembled from weakness so that she could hardly stand.
"She thinks that's the only calf in the world," remarked the Uncle, as proud of the mother and baby as I was.
What a good little cow she was! What a good little cow she has been ever since-never losing that rapturous joy in motherhood although she has had more calves than any cow ever branded GF Bar.
She and I have a comedy routine that gives us both satisfaction. I come out into the early morning sunshine, headed for the corrals. As I walk along the path I stop to gaze toward the east where she ranges, and cry: "DIRRRRRTY FAAACE!"
From across two deep, rough-sided gullies comes the answer:
"You come on over here, that's what."
She is nowhere in sight. I call sharply: "YOU DIRTY FACE! "
I shade my eyes with my hand and see her emerge from behind a palo verde she has been nibbling on. "Come on, now. You hurry up."
She answers that she is coming directly, and in a few seconds she has stumbled over the rocks and around the cactus and is on the road. By the time I have fed the horses and put her rations into the manger, she is at the gate.
This little matutinal performance makes me glad. It helps to compensate for womanly joys and properties that I have missed, and the physical comforts I renounced when I took to the canyons. It lifts my vanity. I don't know anyone else who goes out in the morning and calls in a cow from the wide-open spaces. It's an archaic custom from two or three centuries back. There was the English poet who sang "Co-Boss, Co-Boss" till the cows came home.
In that day cows played an intimate and vital part in family life. Those I know who still milk their own usually have bells on their "bossies," and go out in the dawn to listen to the tinkling as they drive the laggards in. Only my Dirty Face answers when paged.
Although she answers only me, she knows her name any time. There may be several cows penned-up for feeding or doctoring. When I open the outside gate and call: "Dirty Face, you go out. Dirty Face!" she gives up licking her empty feed trough and marches out with queenly aplomb. In this respect she will heed anyone she knows-the Nephew, the Neighbor, even Jesús who says: "Dooty Fes."
She is not pretty, not well-bred. She looks like a little old corriente. But beauty isn't everything. She gives a gallon of milk from one chamber twice a day, leaving three gallons for her calf and whatever dogie may be in need. Her prime qualification is that she is, as we say on the range, a calf-haven. In ten years she has presented the outfit with twelve calves. If she has a calf in February, she's likely to have another in December of the same year. One year she had three calves: twins born in March, and another little bull in December, all of them good. She gets the production medal on my place.
Twins are rare among bovines. Dirty Face is the only cow I have owned that has had them. And I learned something because the twins were male and female. The heifer was the first Dirty Face had had, so I naturally planned to keep it to take her place some day. But when the twins were almost a year old, I read in a novel (the setting of which was a farm in Vermont) that in the case of twins of opposite sexes, the heifer would be barren. This was confirmed by the state veterinarian. It didn't seem logical and I kept hoping. But when the heifer was two years old the truth was obvious. She had no sign of feminine curves and her fat was not the soft plumpness of the mother type, but the solid weight of a barren cow. Sadly I brushed her off and sent the Nephew to take her as a donation to the crippled children's hospital in Tucson, where it was our turn to contribute a beef. Subsequently I had a-letter from the director thanking me, saying that the packer who butchered the heifer appraised her as being worth $150.
Strange to say, Dirty Face's last calves have been heifers. Now that she is heading down the last mile, I worry, and watch constantly for signs of cancer-eye or toothlessness-some dreaded infirmity that will force us to part. There is consolation in having her two daughters, Dolly and Lucy, to carry on in her memory in case I outlast my good little Dirty Face.
Some bovines are born gentle and dangerously-for their own good-friendly. Sweetie Pie is one. She was born in the corral, and immediately accepted human beings as a natural part of her world. Neighbor Pete had never seen a calf that would rub against his leg like a kitten until she began to slip up and nuzzle him as he was milking Dirty Face. At this time, she is a yearling and has been out on the range for months. But when you come upon her, she will let you walk right up and scratch her head as if she were a pet dog. This is something of a worry. Some fellow looking for free meat wouldn't have any trouble catching her.
Yes, a cow-and-calf outfit, if you get close to it, involves taking care of individuals, in sickness or in health, for better or for worse, until death do you part. The slogan "There's nothing to do with a cow but eat her" is a Madison-Avenue quip which has meaning if you live in an air-conditioned glass-and-concrete fully-applianced wholly-artificial environment that shields you from the dirt and sweat and heart strain and sweet satisfaction of living in the cow country. But hear me. Get down to earth and become acquainted with a good old cow, and if, in the end, somebody has to eat her, it ain't going to be you.
Given a chance, most old cowpunchers stay with the cattle beyond their capacities to endure the hardships involved. It isn't only that they love the freedom of the back country. They like cows. I met an ex-cowboy at the auction not long ago. "I come down here," he said, grinning self-consciously, "to pick up a few droppings. It's as close as I can come to an old cow any more."
Western lore will be forever popular because of the sweep of scenic wild country; the exciting power and rhythm of galloping horses; and the picturesque, strangely-touching beauty of the "thundering herds"-even if in real life they are gentle and you have to push them along. All the decor and landscaping money can buy cannot arouse the quick inspiriting delight of driving a bunch of your own cattle along the rugged trails of mountain and canyon country-especially if they are whitefaces and fat, and have their calves along to bawl at. It is fun to work cattle and to have cows to take care of.
Where the cows are, there is peace and quiet and room to ride in. Never mind wishing for physical comfort: not in the arid Southwest where cow people repeatedly bear terrific hardships for the sake of keeping their cattle alive and functioning. Or for the arrogant peace that means relief from financial worry. A special peace, a kind of happy restfulness, abides in the land of the cow. The naturalist John Burroughs said: "I had rather have the care of cattle than be the keeper of the great seal of the nation. Where the cow is, there is Arcadia; so far as her influence prevails, there is contentment, humility, and the sweet homely life."
I imagine that Mr. Burroughs had in mind the small lush meadows of a rain-favored country dotted here and there with "The-friendly-cow-all-red-and-white-I-love-with-all-my-heart;-She-gives-me-cream-with-all-her-might-To-eat-with-apple-tart." But even in the wilderness, to live close to cows is a special pleasure hard to renounce once you've had it. You have what City folks think they long for; room to relax in.
You are out in the cool promising dawn, sweet with honeysuckle fragrance. As far as the eye can see or the ear can hear, you are the only specimen of the worry-wart species. You can forget how you look and what people will say, and enjoy what is at hand. You turn the hose on the roses and wonder at their colors and texture. As the sun strikes the treetops, you see the brilliant shimmer of that wonderful green that is the plant's payment on the precious water you have advanced. A quail across the gullies calls to his gang that it is about time to rally for the raid on the chicken scratch that falls like manna shortly after daylight. From a high tree, a cardinal's whistle challenges you and your cats and the whole world. From over on the west ridge, bright with the yellow blossoms of the May palo verdes, a cow stops picking at the spiny cactus and cries out to her calf: "Come on, let's go over to the corral and see if the vieja will hand us out some green alfalfa hay."
Before the sun blazes forth in its glory from the empty sky, you stop to take an appraising look all around at the everlasting hills and stony ridges, and are immediately impressed by their determination to have a green covering (or a faded facsimile thereof )-a determination so inherently strong that only man's excavations and costly asphalt and cement can conquer it. In wonder, you sigh with pleasure at sight of the battalions of desert mesquite, most bountiful of all trees, that seem to be lined up in battle array against the famine that plagues the creatures of this Land of Little Rain as they defy the drying sun and the long drought by putting on green gowns sprigged with the golden plumes that will mature into nourishing pechitas for the hungry animals.
It is heartening to get out in the best hour of the day-it is the best hour for every kind of activity, even sleeping! - and glimpse the beauty and goodness of the wide space you occupy alone. Then you go around to fix up the clothes line the pesky horse has broken down. A sliver from an old pole slides in under your fingernail. While you're trying to work it out with your pocketknife, a gnat dives into your eye. Oh, well ......
Eighty years or so ago, the cow country was a far-off frontier to which prosperous eastern parents could send their problem sons as remittance men. Thirty or forty years ago, mother and father came west, too, sparking the heyday of the dude ranches. Now the whole family, ever more prosperous, has come out to buy the country and make it over. All kinds of people want a cattle ranch.
When I lived in Tucson as a primary teacher, it was a live-and-let-live cowtown, and a railroad division point where you could walk down the main street any Saturday afternoon and meet many of your friends and acquaintances. There was leisure and space, and if you needed a wilderness, it was close at hand. Now there is boom and industrialization-and a terrific longing for the wide open country. Most people you meet think they'd like to have a ranch. Actually, what they want is a home in the country with an income to keep it up. A modern home. In a safe country. They want the joys of the wilds, but know nothing of its terrors and hardships. They long for a good horse in the crisp dawn; a lowing herd in the sunbright noon; a fragrant garden in the quiet twilight- before they go indoors to their push-button gadgets.
I am pretty far out, but Progress will catch up some day. When I am bumbling around in a wheelchair, a sharp real estate salesman will drive up to offer to buy and sell my outfit. Not for cash, of course. Who would want to give an old woman cash? How about trading for peace and comfort in some nice clean house in town with a porch and a rocking chair?
"Young Lady," he'll say (that's what you get called when it no longer applies) "you can't make it here any longer. Your fences are down. Your corrals are falling to staves. Your pipeline has rusted away. Your trees are dying for lack of care. Your house is too much for you. You can not cope with a place so large. I'd like to see you resting easy. You could have a little house in town and be comfortable. No hard work to do. No insoluble worries. Let me have your little ranch for my client and you . . ."
"Just a minute," I'll interrupt. "This nice quiet home you want me to trade for. Is it located where I can hear a cow bawl?"
"Oh, no. It's near the doctors and the hospital and . . ."
That's the moment I'll lower my ear trumpet and sic the dogs on him.
Copyright © 1967. The Arizona Board of Regents.