If you ever want to know what it’s like to run a non-profit organization, try raising cattle. There is nothing nowhere than can beat the cattle business, unless it’s anything else, anywhere. Next time you are possessed of the romantic urge to go punch cattle of your own, stop by and I’ll give you a dozen or so to practice on. BYOT (Bring your own trailer).
I have been gently urging my better half to let me sell off the herd. She will have none of it. Many of the cattle mixed in with ours were her mother’s. She is very sentimental about this. It evokes memories of her mom out in the pasture, directing her herd around with a white stick, as if conducting an orchestra, sunrise in the East, mists coming up from their pond, the smell of coffee and breakfast waiting back up at the house. My memories are slightly less romantic, memories like hotshotting myself in the kneecap while leaping a fence to keep from being stomped to death by a two-thousand-pound bull; then watching from ground level as he nimbly springs over the same fence and goes trotting off to the horizon. Ah, such sweet memories.
She did agree recently, after only three years of gently prodding, to sell some of the oldest of the herd and keep some of the younger. It wasn’t what I was after, but progress is progress.
Saturday last, I put cubes out in the corral. I had all the entries and exits closed. The plan was to select the cows for sale by restricting access to the corral as they came to eat. This was the plan. It was simple, the timing was right, the morning perfect, the trailer in place. What could go wrong?
The calves usually stand off from the others and come along behind. This morning, they came with the crowd and knocked around and managed to bump open a gate. Before I could turn around and get out of the way, every one of them were in and amongst one another in the corral, hopping and snorting and shoving and hollering for their share of the cubes. I sighed. It would take a while to sort them out now. Up at the house, Judy was on the back porch pulling on her stylish and fetching rubber boots, the ones with little blue and white flowers on them she wears when wrangling cattle. Stylishly clad, she meandered down to the scene of mayhem, white stick in hand. Frowning, she asked me why I let all the cows in at once instead of just the ones we were interested in. I smiled, but said nothing.
It took a little jostling and jockeying, but we soon had two of the older mama cows in the trailer. I pulled forward to collect my wits and make sure all doors were latched and gates closed and tires in good shape, etc. Judy got all sentimental and wondered if maybe we should keep one of the two. I smiled, but said nothing. Then she said I should make it a habit to check all the doors on the trailer, and the tires and lights and the gates in the corral.
I felt myself relax somewhat, happy that at least two of the herd were going to be off my hands, off my grass, off my mind, converted to cash. I wondered how much I was going to get for them as gravel crunched under the tires going up the entry lane. Each weighed about a thousand pounds, and prices were down, but they were worth at least four or five hundred dollars each. The truck and trailer rattled down the road as I picked up speed. I relaxed some more and figured I’d stop off at the donut shop after I dropped the cows off at the livestock barn. I was a cool Saturday morning in East Texas, sun coming up in the East, mists rising from the field and trees, WBAP on the radio. I casually glanced in the rearview mirror as I approached a bend in the dirt road past the end of our property.
Oddly, I observed two large black cows running the opposite direction, down the middle of the road, tails in the air, ears flopping. It took a moment to register that the back door of the trailer was wide open and they had bailed out like paratroopers over Normandy. Dyslexic I suppose, I had secured the latch exactly opposite, open instead of closed. I sat there in the middle of the dirt road and watched as they made a big sweeping right turn back through our front gate and went galloping and mooing towards house and herd. I put my head down on the steering wheel and sighed.
Michael Thomason is a regular contributor to the Palestine Herald-Press, a sister paper of the