Friday, October 30, 2015

Oh, I like this stuff

IMNSHO it's worth spending a bit of time and effort to check these folks out.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Squeeze sequelae

On Saturday my brothers and sister and I, accompanied by an indeterminate number of nieces, nephews, and dogs, girded our loins and worked cattle.

On a slight tangent, those of the professional victim/SJW persuasion who accidentally stumble across this missive will instantly see the aggressionism in that sentence. I'm not supposed attack innocent special snowflakes by even thinking about them in terms of gender or species. What can I say? I'm a monster. And obviously a rapist, too, if I recognize the concept of "loins."

As to the girding of loins...
Git yer gird on

Working cattle is the essence of girding your loins with funny animals

Our cattle working task was to conduct the second stage of our three-stage weaning process. Weaning is a stressful time for both cows and calves. Abrupt weaning is very stressful and is generally associated with increased rates of "shipping fever" (pneumonia) in the calves. Staged weaning is a gradual process and keeps the cows and calves together while they each become accustomed to the cessation of lactation/nursing. This reduces stress and nearly eliminates disease. Specifically, we would:
  • Treat the cows for parasites with a doramectin pour and brand the spring-purchased cows.
  • Weigh and pour the calves, give them final weaning vaccinations, and apply AND tags.

Before the AND tag
Anti Nursing Device (AND tag)
The AND prevents nursing...
But allows grazing
And so it was done. The process took several hours and involved a good bit of physical activity, but the day was sunshiny and autumn-warm, perfect for weaning.

It was really a delightful experience, except for me. I was in the early hours of developing a viral URI (upper respiratory infection) and was therefore not enjoying myself overmuch. Headache, runny nose, sore throat, cough. fever, fatigue. I could also tell, from the pressure and pain in my frontal and maxillary sinuses, that I was going to develop bacterial sinusitis. Crystal ball? Nope. Experience.

A long, long time ago I made the mistake of flying with a very slight head cold.

The rule was (and probably still is) that if you have symptoms of illness, particularly of a head cold, you see the flight surgeon for clearance to fly. In general, any bit of sniffles or congestion will result in the flight surgeon issuing a down chit, which takes you off the flight schedule until you're all better.

There are good reasons for this. Aviation is fraught with hazards, not the least of which is the composition of the very air in which aviation takes place. Air is a mixture of gases, mostly nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, and other trace elements. We spend most of our lives at the surface, where the atmosphere is at it's most dense.

Although we take it for granted and think of the atmosphere as insubstantial, air is made up of real physical matter. Gravity holds the air of the atmosphere in place, and because of the nature of gasses and the nature of gravity, the air becomes less dense the higher you go above sea level. Less density means less pressure, and according to Boyle's Law, where the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to the pressure exerted on it, gas volume expands going up and contracts going down.

So an incipient head cold, Boyle, and a two-cycle hop set the stage for sinus trouble. I should have fessed up, followed the rule and collected a down chit, bitched and moaned, and flown only when the cold was gone and the flight surgeon cleared me. But I didn't do it that way. I've got excuses, but no valid ones.

Physiologically, what happened was this. The air in my sinuses behaved according to Boyle's Law, expanding with increased altitude and contracting with the return to sea level. Unfortunately, the mucosa in my sinuses responded to the viral infection by swelling, and there was enough swelling in the starboard maxillary sinus to close off the air passages. The air trapped in that sinus remained at the lower pressure of altitude since the closed air passages prevented equalization with sea level air pressure. In that sense, there was a vacuum in the closed off sinus, and nature abhors a vacuum. This is the classic sinus squeeze, AKA barotrauma, AKA aerosinusitis.

The lower pressure in that sinus basically sucked a lot of fluid into the cavity, where it became the perfect medium for bacterial growth.
A good approximation. S

Loathe to fess up after the fact, I determined to suck it up and drive on through the sinusitis. How bad could it be?

Well, pretty bad as it turns out, requiring surgery to relieve the pressure and evacuate the pus, and a course of intravenous antibiotics to beat down the infection.

And when I say surgery, keep in mind that all of this took place on the carrier, in the middle of the briny. The "surgery" was effective, albeit rather field expedient.

At any rate, long story short, I eventually won back a medical up, having learned a valuable lesson along the way. And having gained a lifelong susceptibility to maxillary sinusitis as a result.

Thirty years after the fact, the lesson once again came home while I was trying to enjoy working cattle with my family.

Six days later, with lots of high-dollar antibiotics in my system, I'm beginning to feel human again.

The sun is shining and the cows and calves are contentedly grazing, unstressed, increasingly unconcerned about lactation and nursing.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

In the sweeet autumntime autumntime

As I am an older type youth of a certain age this tune is usually rattling around in my head whenever I think about sugar.

For some reason, so is this commercial featuring the artist never formerly known as Mrs. Bono.

So, sugar. Everyone knows it comes from Hawaiian pure cane, grown in the sun.

In the world of the professional victim (which seems to be the default setting for approximately damn-near-all first-world (I know, racist) humans) sugar is wrong-bad-evil. It's an actual living monster that forces its way into your life and your diet, making you obese and diseased.

In the real world, however, things are a little bit different. Sugar is the energy source that fuels all animal life. Aspartame is not. Whether we like it or not, carbohydrate sugar in the form of monosaccharide  glucose or dextrose is the only fuel animals burn at the cellular level. No sugar, no go. The dirt nap. The big sleep. Death.

Carbohydrates come, of course, from plants, where solar radiation powers the photosynthesis of carbon dioxide and water, yielding cellulose, sugars, and starches, all forms of complex carbohydrate. In consuming plants, herbivore animals cleverly metabolize glucose/dextrose from complex carbs. Carnivores run on sugar too, but their supply comes from the glycogen stored in the flesh and fats of their prey. In that sense, carnivores are one step removed from their energy source. Omnivores consume plants and animals, of course, metabolizing sugar from both meat and veg.

When we talk about sugar, we are usually mean white, crystallized table sugar. This is sucrose, a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose. I could go on and on about metabolic chemistry but there's no need. Our bodies (at times with the assistance of gut bacteria) metabolize carbohydrate into glucose, whether the original form is lettuce, rutabaga, grain, apples, high fructose corn syrup or a spoonful of table sugar.

Obviously we don't need table sugar to survive. We could derive perfectly good nutrition from roadkill and wild fruits and grains. We'd all be foragers then, with no time to waste on school or jobs or propaganda or reading blogs. It's an option.

In practice, we have a rather more varied diet, where sucrose features mostly as a sweetener. We like sweet stuff, and that's okay. Sweets and sucrose are nutritious. They should be consumed, like everything else in our diet, in moderation. Sucrose is concentrated energy and extremely easy to metabolize. So concentrated and so easy, in fact, that our body usually can't immediately use all the energy made available from gobbling down a candy bar or piece of carrot cake. Waste not, want not, so the body stores the extra energy in the form of glycogen and fat. This happens whenever we take in more nutrients than we use. Fat stores come in handy during those lean times when we require more energy than we consume. The stored fat is metabolized and fat energy keeps us going until we can refuel.

It's a great system. But (I read somewhere that you should never start a sentence with but. Sosoome. Rules are for guidance of the commander.) if we have more fat times than lean times, if we constantly take in more fuel than we use, the fat builds up, and too much fat can cause a host of problems. Sugar is easy to blame, and rightly so to some extent, because it is so concentrated and easy to metabolize and easy to convert to fat for storage.

But of course sugar isn't the culprit. This is where the never Mrs. Bono and the rest of the nattering nannies get it wrong. The culprit, I'm afraid, turns out to be the oh-so-special victim who over-consumes. That's right. I am the culprit. And so are you. If not today, then at some point in your life.

So sugar is good food. It's not bad food. We're fortunate to have it and even (perhaps especially) the nattering nannies would screech and howl and curse their fates should sugar disappear.

Which brings us, finally, to what I set out to write about.

Sugar. Sweetener. Sucrose. Crystallized table sugar. Where does it come from?

As referenced above, sugar comes from Hawaii and other tropical and subtropical climes. It's pure cane sugar, grown in the sun. Well, 80 percent anyway.

But (zounds!) a fifth of the world's production of white crystalline sucrose or table sugar comes from...

The sugarbeet!
Freshly harvested sugarbeets.

And (I think "and" is zu Beginn verboten as well)  as those of us who get our propaganda narrative news from the idjit box and other forms of really impotant, victim-centric media, edumacation, and entertainment, a fifth is a hell of a lot more, and a lot more important, than 80 percent.


Sugarbeets are produced in my neck of the woods (Nebraska Panhandle) and other regions of the globe featuring a temperate climate. Sugarbeets can't really be grown in tropical areas, and sugarcane can't be grown in temperate areas, which is rather a nice coincidence all in all.

Sugarbeets are a row crop, planted in the spring and harvested in the fall, usually after the first hard freeze.
Sugarbeet seeds
The seeds havfe an irregular pericarp, which can be difficult for mechanical planters to handle.
Today most sugarbeet seeds are coated with fertilizer and antimicrobials, then encapsulated. 
A field of irrigated sugarbeets ready for harvest.
The first step of harvest is mechanical defoliation.
Defoliation reveals the beets, with tops standing proud above the soil surface.
The sugarbeet picker or lifter plucks the beets from the ground and shakes off most of the accompanying soil.
When the picker hopper is full, beets are transferred on the go to trucks.
This beet grew outside the row and was neatly sectioned by the picker.
Sugarbeets at the receiving station.
Sugarbeets awaiting processing at the sugar factory.
There's a lot of information on sugarbeets here, and it's a surprisingly good overview, though the wikigandists don't seem to agree. Which is probably a good sign.

The history of sugarbeets in particular and sugar in general is fascinating. Imagine a world where the nannies and propagandists read the actual history instead of making it up. A few tidbits which I suspect would cause them to explode:

Scientists were busy genetically modifying sugarbeets way back in the 16th century, producing plants that yielded ever more sugar.

Those 16th century scientists did not work for Monsanto and the Koch brothers.

Sugarbeets were first cultivated in the U.S. by abolitionists as a method of producing sugar without the use of slave labor.

Sugarbeets were developed from fodder (livestock feed) beets.

Frederick William III provided the wherewithal to open and operate the first sugarbeet factory in Silesia in 1801.

Napoleon Bonaparte was perhaps the key driver in sugarbeet production. He willed it and France obeyed. From France, the cultivation of sugarbeet and production of beet sugar spread, eventually, to temperate climes around the globe.

But enough of history, on with the show!

Let me just apologize in advance. I lack certain fundamental videography and video editing skills. I'm working on it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Did ya ever wonder?

Did ya ever wonder why you take the endless warmth and long, languorous days of the season of easy living for granted?
The morning sun seems to feel good on their faces following a coolish night.
Well, maybe I shouldn’t make that assumption. I have no way of knowing whether you take those days for granted. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. I sure do.
"Hey," says Nona "put that thing away and let's herd us some cows!"
I call the April-October High Plains growing season “the season of easy living.” For some, the growing season means more work. That's not always the case for the farmer or rancher.

From my perspective, the April-October living is easy. Sure, there’s work. Physical work. It’s part of life, and there’s always plenty to do, winter, spring, summer or fah-all. Warm temperatures erase snow and ice and thaw the ground and allow plants to grow. When this happens, I don’t have to:

  • Don and doff coats, hats, boots, and gloves, dress in layers.
  • Warm up the pickup, scrape ice off the windshield.
  • Engage the four-wheel drive, risk getting stuck.
  • Get stuck, dig out, or slog out.
  • Plug in engine heaters, add fuel conditioner.
  • Chop tank ice, feed cattle.
  • Close up the house, fire up the furnace.
  • Plug in waterline heaters.
  • Buy fuel oil, pay higher electrical bills.
  • Slog through snow, slip on ice, stumble on frozen ground.
  • And so on and so forth.

When I don’t have to do those things, the living is easy.
I love all the seasons, and each one features upsides and downsides. But the hard physical work is simpler and easier during the season of easy living.

I always take it for granted. Until autumn arrives, anyway.
The shop doors can stay open in the easy livin' season.
When the days get shorter and the plants begin to senesce, when the green fades to brown and the shadows get more north and south, when the cattle and the dogs hair up and the leaves begin to turn and tumble, then I begin to embrace each easy, lingering day with the appreciation it deserves.
Annual sunflowers. Where has all the yellow gone?
Soon enough the frigid north winds will howl across the prairie, bringing arctic temperatures and driving before them stinging snow. The easy hard work will, once again, become difficult hard work, and that’s just the way it will be until spring.
These sunflower seeds will feed birds and small animals through the winter and provide new plants in the spring.
But these last days of the season of easy living are superb. Long and fat and sweet and golden.
The last stand of the curlycup gumweed.
I’m abundantly blessed to be what and where I am and to do what I do. I need no pumpkin spice to remind me of the seasonal change. I get to live it and breathe it, see and touch and taste and smell and hear nature as she goes about closing up shop for the year.
Autumnal light and shadow.
As I sit here writing in the waning afternoon the outdoor temperature is just touching 75 degrees. Outside my window the trees have changed their crowns from deep green to yellowish and orangish and brownish. It’s not New England color but it’s pretty. As I watch, leaves fall, a score or so at a time, and rustle as they tumble in the soft, sun-kissed breeze. I smell the aroma of the backside of late summer/early autumn. There are still hints of stinkgrass and gumweed but they’re faint and fading, overpowered by the smell of chlorophyll degrading and cellulose decomposing. Much of summer’s scent burden is going or gone; there’s precious little pollen left in the air, no volatile plant oils left to vaporize, and the cooling yet still warm soil wafts less and less organic matter into the atmosphere. With so many of those ubiquitous scents fading or gone, the air takes on a crisper, cleaner smell. In some sense, perhaps, an emptier smell.
Light, shadow, iron oxide.

I’m awash in the good fortune of living a life which allows me to actively mark the changing of the seasons. This has been, for me, a particularly sweet and delightful season of easy living. The rains came early and often, reassuring me by ensuring grass production. The season never got too hot or too dry or too windy. The cows and calves grew fat on nature’s bounty and her abundance was so great that the thought of taking too much never even entered the equation. All of nature’s non-domesticated life forms had a near-perfect season of easy living. Except for some of the rabbits, which ended up squished on the road. Still, the grasses and forbs and trees flourished, providing abundant food and habitat for fauna galore.
More autumn light. It feels Mediterranean to me. Did it feel this way before I sailed the seven seas?
And now we’re nearing mid-October and it seems that the season of easy living will linger yet awhile. There’s a sense of reprieve in this lingering season, almost a sense of reward. I’d hate to make the mistake of thinking that I somehow deserve this bonus time of ease and delight, but perhaps it’s okay to take especial pleasure from nature’s present largesse, having long since learned to savor and appreciate her harsher gifts. My Grandpa Wilbur used to say “endure the hard times and enjoy the good times.” I’ve endured drought and flood and hail and tornado and blizzard and crop loss and cattle death and financial shortfalls and reverses and all manner of hard times. S’cuse me while I enjoy the ebb and flow and fading of a wonderful year.
Light and sky and working iron.
The rest of this, I'm afraid, has turned into a bit of a rant. It's optional, of course, so feel free to skip it and linger in the fading glow of a glorious year.

Of late when I venture into town or otherwise too near a grouping of cold and timid souls I find myself in the midst of horror and terror and impending doom. This morning in the hardware store a pair of self-emmaculated local officials were pontificating on the looming end of the world as we know it. The environment is a shambles, the ecosystem failing, children are being poisoned by their food, antibiotic resistant disease is cutting people down in the prime of their lives. The government, according to those luminaries, represents our sole remaining chance to save the world. “Not us,” they hasten to add. “We’re just little officials in a little town. We’re not the real government.”

Ah, what do you do? Despite the fact that each official has sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitutions of Nebraska and of the United States, I’d be very surprised if either of them has ever read those documents or understands how or why governments are instituted among men. To be fair, these fellows didn’t just appoint themselves officials. They were elected.

A simple 20-minute stroll with eyes open and mouth closed would ease a lot of fears and reveal much. But even here in rural America where nature’s reality is impossible to miss, so, so many choose to hide, to cloister themselves behind walls and locked doors and drawn curtains, to cling to the thin sustenance flowing from a propagandizing idiot box. So many seem to believe that they are apart from nature, that they can control and customize reality to fit their desires. Or that the government can.

I feel an honest and abiding sorrow for these folks and what they’ve done to themselves. I also feel a little stab of guilt at my good fortune. Would I succumb to the same siren song if I lived a non-agrarian life? Could be. I’m certainly not a different or better form of human being. What I am, again, is blessed.

Some of you are old enough to remember Andy Rooney, who closed out a long career in journalism as the curmudgeonly old guy on 60 Minutes. His tag line was “Did ya ever wonder why?” That line was always followed by an exploration of some aspect of the silliness of modern human behavior.

I was never a big Andy Rooney fan, and even as a kid in the early 1970’s I instinctively loathed the 60 Minutes program. It’s never been anything more than modern day progressive yellow journalism.

But I remember Rooney’s tag line. Today when I watch so many of my friends and neighbors unquestioningly supping from the shallow and sensation-weighted news trough, I get the urge to use Rooney’s line.

Did ya ever wonder why?

Why there aren’t 20 billion human beings on the planet? In 1970 the media and demographers confidently and gleefully predicted that there would be at least 20 billion humans overcrowding the planet by 2020, stripping Earth of all resources, destroying the environment, and leading directly to the end of mankind. Today the same people (or their descendants) are still cheerfully predicting that the end of mankind due to overpopulation is nigh, even though they have to keep revising their numbers downward. Looking at the real numbers and data you have to wonder why on Earth anyone would believe this nonsense.

Why there are still people living in Great Britain? In the early 1990’s, when the BSE (mad cow) hysteria took off, the media and epidemiologists confidently and gleefully predicted that Great Britain would be depopulated by the disease. Because BSE was transmitted to humans who ate contaminated beef, and because all Britons had eaten contaminated beef, and because the incubation period was many years, it was inevitable that the entire -- or very nearly the entire -- population of Great Britain would succumb to the disease, which each Briton carried within their body as a horrible ticking time bomb. Today BSE is still claimed to be an existential threat to humanity, despite the fact that only about 30 people in total ever died from the disease, and despite the fact that the hypothesis linking Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy to human variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease has never been proven. Looking at the real numbers and data you have to wonder why on Earth anyone would believe this nonsense.

Why the doctor still treats you with antibiotics when they are needed, and why those antibiotics still work? Indeed, why you haven’t been killed yet by antibiotic-resistant disease? I’m sure you’ve noticed that the media and politicians and the CDC continue to confidently and gleefully predict that antibiotic resistant disease is a deadly threat to life as we know it. In the last year, state and federal legislative bodies have passed more and more rules and regulations to fight the deadly scourge, despite the fact that cases of antibiotic resistant disease have been falling for more than five years and continue to fall at an increasing pace. Looking at the real numbers and data you have to wonder why on Earth anyone would believe this nonsense.

Why there are still glaciers and polar ice caps and polar bears and small islands? Why there is still food in the stores and flowers growing and clouds in the sky and rain? The media and most politicians and nearly every government agency confidently and gleefully predict that global warming/climate change is anthropogenic (man-made, mostly by American Men) and is going to kill us all. My goodness, glaciers and ice caps and polar bears will all be gone by 2010! Guaranteed! Despite the fact that the planet’s climate has been doing exactly what it has always done for the last three billion plus years, and that there’s exactly zero evidence that it’s doing otherwise or that mankind has now or has ever had any significant effect whatsoever. Looking at the real numbers and data you have to wonder why on Earth anyone would believe this nonsense.

Why the media and politicians and bureaucrats never admit to exaggerating and distorting and sensationalizing, why they never acknowledge failed doom, why they only screech and howl about the approach of deeper peril?

Why on Earth so many believe such nonsense and look only to the doomsayers for succor?


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Weaning calves for fun and profit*

*But mostly for fun. Well, kinda.


I get a lot of questions about how and why we do things on the ranch. Branding is a big one. A common question is framed from an anthropomorphic perspective. "Why burn them with a hot iron and cause so much pain?" Similar questions are asked about castration and dehorning.

Answering the questions is always a challenge. The problem isn't so much that the concepts are hard to follow and understand. It's more that the questioner comes equipped with assumptions which don't match up very well with reality.

As it turns out, the aim of branding is not to "burn the animal" or "cause pain" or even to use "a hot iron." The point is to permanently mark the animal for identification.

Cattle need to be permanently marked for identification, because racism thieves. So long as there are humans, there are thieves. Particularly in this day in age, where a great many of our fellows believe that it's not really stealing if you take something that you want. "It's social justice, man! I got a right to your stuff because (fill in the blank)!"

But I digress? Branding is simple, easy, permanent. Yes, it's painful. Long experience shows that pain isn't lingering and the cattle seem to shrug it off within moments. We can't know for sure, of course, because we are not cattle. But evidence and experience seem to solidly prove the case.

The point about humans not being cattle is an important one, as is the corollary, that cattle are not people. Everyone "knows" this, of course, but most folks tend to humanize animals to an astonishing degree. It can be tough sledding when assumptions don't match up to reality.

So how does a rancher interested in sharing the realities of production agriculture with his customers do so? Well, it's a process.


Fasten your seatbelts and prepare to be learned. Today I'm going to present the EJE
Ranch Beef Cattle Production Professional Development Module, Number FW-O1A-S, Fall Weaning, Operation 1A, Solo.

I almost typed that with a straight face.

Now what in the wide, wide world of sports is weaning?

According to my big red Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, weaning is the process whereby a young mammal transitions (or is transitioned) from taking mothers milk to an exclusively mature diet.

But you knew that. Most adult-type people are familiar with the concept, having learned all about mammals, nursing and lactation in school, and furthermore having weaned (or witnessed/assisted in the process of weaning) children. Weaning calves on a ranch is conceptually not much different than weaning children. The aim is simply to make that nutritional transition.

Weaning isn't just about the calf though. In fact, you could argue that on a beef cattle ranch in this part of the country it's more about the cow. If you think about it, that makes sense. For the calf to consume milk, the cow has to produce milk. Lactation takes a lot of energy, which requires a lot of food. At the same time she's lactating, though, the cow is also coming back into heat, being bred, and starting the nine-month process of growing a brand new baby calf. She's also putting on flesh or "condition" while fresh grass is abundant and in preparation for winter's lean months. As the grass begins to go dormant in the autumn, it loses much of its nutritive value. If the cow continues to lactate in this environment she'll soon reach a place where the food she eats doesn't provide enough energy to meet all her requirements. When that happens her fat reserves will begin to be used to make milk and she will begin to lose condition.

Weaning, then, stops the cow's lactation and reduces her nutritional requirements.

On the EJE we do a bit of multitasking at weaning time, taking the opportunity to vaccinate the cows and calves and treat them for internal and external parasites -- gut worms and lice. This is a pretty common practice for most beef cattle operations.

Where we differ a bit from other operations is that we generally wait until autumn and weaning time to brand the calves. Traditionally, calves are branded, vaccinated, castrated and dehorned in the late spring or early summer when they are only a couple months old.

The system that works better for us, given the size of our operation, available labor, and the wonders of modern technology, is to vaccinate, ear tag, and castrate at birth (or within about 12 hours of birth), when the calf is easy to handle, and then wait until weaning time to brand and dehorn. The calves are big enough at weaning time to run them through the chute which means less labor and a bit less sweat and stress all around.

The task

So the task facing me last Wednesday was to "pre-wean" the calves by giving them the first doses of their weaning vaccinations. Two shots, one each of modified live vaccines designed to protect them from about eight common diseases. The final shots are given in three to six weeks.

With all the calves going through the chute for shots, it made sense to brand the 62 head that still needed it (I'd previously branded the 30-odd spring-purchased calves) and to take care of the horns that six of the calves were growing.

Oh, and since this was the  FW-O1A-S module, with the S standing for Solo, I'd be doing this operation, well, by myself.

Normally this operation is done with a crew of 5-12. A brander, a vaccinator, a dehorner, a pair of chute-side pushers, and then some tub and corral pushers.

This one is a little bloody and gruesome. It's not something that most folks ever see. I'd invite you to think about scale and context and assumptions.

Many hands make light work, right? Well, yes and no. With a crew of sharp, cattle-savvy assistants running 100 calves through the chute for this operation would take perhaps an hour. But those assistants simply don't exist. Becoming cattle-savvy takes a lot of time and experience, and even here in the heart of agricultural and cattle country, there are vanishingly few folks who've put in the time and gained the experience.

The usual crew that we put together is made up of family, and they do a great job, but they don't really have the day-in, day-out experience required for a flawless, smooth operation. That's okay though, because they do a very fine job and their assistance is always much appreciated. Inevitably, however, they reinvent the same freshman cattle-handling mistakes year after year. These aren't terrible mistakes, and we always get by, but a one-hour operation often stretches into three or four hours, and the cattle (and people!) end up being stressed considerably more than is ideal.

The world isn't perfect, though, and the upside of our usual crew is far larger than the downside. I'd never think about turning down their help in order to do it myself, just to "do it right." That would be foolish. It would take a lot of the fun out of it too. Regardless of the mistakes and mini-rodeos the crew (including myself, of course) always suffers, it's a great deal of fun working together and everyone enjoys (more or less) the experience. It's also an opportunity for family members whose jobs and lives have nothing to do with agriculture to have an annual hands-on experience with part of the reality of food production. This is a good thing.

One guy doing the job probably seems a daunting prospect, and there's no doubt that it's a lot of work -- and hard, physical work to boot. But it's really not that bad, for I am cattle-savvy and I do have a wealth of experience. What would be impossible for any of the "crew" to do solo is in reality pretty easy for me to do by myself. It just takes longer and requires me to take a lot more steps.

In general, here's how it goes. Cows and calves are moved through the corrals into a sorting pen, where the cows are sorted off and moved into a holding pen. The calves are then moved, a dozen or so at a time, into a round pen (tub) and alleyway leading to the working chute. Four calves at a time are fed into the alleyway which features a swinging gate which prevents them from backing out.

The calves then enter the working chute one at a time. The chute is a heavy rectangular box type device made of steel pipe and wooden panels. It features a head catch at the discharge end and a clever set of levers and cams that allow the sides to be moved in and out to squeeze and partially restrain the animal. The head catch is particularly clever. To the animal it looks like a way out of the chute, but the bars are only wide enough for the head to fit through. When the animal tries to pass through its shoulders push the bars into latching detents, neatly isolating the head on the outside of the chute while the rest of the animal remains inside.

Once the head is caught and the calf squeezed, it gets a pair of shots, followed by a brand, and if necessary, by dehorning. When those operations are finished the head catch is opened, allowing the calf to exit and move into a holding pen.

Rinse, lather, repeat 99 times and hey presto, that's a wrap.

As you can imagine, it's a reasonably good workout. At a guess there's something like 2 miles of walking back and forth and around the chute, and another two miles of walking involved in moving and sorting. There's a lot of pushing and pulling and levering, bending over and straightening up, etc. I started bringing the cattle in at about 8 a.m. and started working calves through the chute at about 11 a.m. I finished about 4:45 p.m. I could easily have trimmed an hour off the front and back but there was no reason to hurry, we weren't in a race or anything. I didn't take a lunch break but I did take a good number of water breaks; it was a lovely day and not too hot but I did work up a pretty good sweat and didn't want to get dehydrated. I slurped down a three-gallon cooler of water and didn't have to make a lot of potty breaks so my hydration schedule was about right.

Revenge of the calf

On a near final note, I'd like to give a nod and some credit to Murphy and his law. Even though I was in complete control (hah!) of the evolution, took my time and did all the right things the right way, I did experience one delightfully unexpected and completely avoidable incident. On about the fifth or sixth calf I forgot to latch the side bars after I finished the brand. Now, this is normally not a real problem because once the head gate is opened the calf should simply step ahead and out of the chute. Quite often, though, they back up and refuse to move forward until the operator steps back behind them. Perfectly normal bovine behavior. The open bars on the off side of the chute still wouldn't normally be a problem, because the opening is quite small and nearly three feet up the side of the chute.

In this case, however, Murphy decided to add his bit to the effort, and after the calf backed up he decided to exit via the open bars. It was a struggle, but he got it done. Then he ran into the barn and Murphy arranged things so he would get tangled up in the extension cord providing electricity to the branding iron. He managed to turn that neatly coiled cord into a snarled mess entangling his head and three of his four legs. In the course of getting him untangled he applied the fourth leg to my thigh, smartly.

By the time all was said and done I had collected a rather massive bruise. My whole leg eventually turned technicolor and some of the bruising even went up my side and around the hip. It was pretty sore for a few days but is well on the mend now, though it still feels as if there's a big, jagged rock buried in my thigh. Ah well. This is all part of the deal.

I was going to add an image of my massively bruised leg, but I got to thinking about the sad tale of that Tony Sausage fellow. So no below the belt selfie. Sorry 'bout that.

Now some folks might think, “good, the calf got his revenge.” That’s one way to look at it, I suppose, but it’s not the most reasoned approach. People, as we agreed earlier, aren’t cattle. Nor are cattle people. Cattle are herding prey animals, and as best we can tell, simply do not reason in the sense that we humans reason. They don’t appear to consider cause and effect. Their existence is quite simple really. They are comfortable where they are in a group and where there is abundant food and water. When their usual routine is interrupted by being “worked” in the process of weaning or a similar activity, they don’t spend any time being “afraid” or “wanting to escape.” They simply want to return to their comfort zone.

When this calf ran into the barn and got tangled up he was attempting to return to his comfort zone. When he got tangled he panicked, and when I began to manhandle him to unsnarl him from the cord, his panic (spell check is demanding that I change that to "Hispanic") increased. He lashed out in nature’s fight or flight response. He had no thought about getting even, and his brain had no way of even processing the situation as cause and effect. He wanted only to escape the immediate situation and return to his comfort zone.

Twenty seconds after kicking me he was back in the pen with his fellows, relaxed and at ease, chewing on a bit of hay.

I'll remember the experience and the bruise, and I'll fiddle around a bit with cause and effect. I'll learn a lesson and the next time a calf gets tangled up in an extension cord I'll be more cautious in addressing the situation and try very hard not to collect a massive bruise.

The calf won't remember the experience, at least not in the same way a human would.