Sunday, March 5, 2017

Fear and loathing

"This is a firetrucking nightmare, man." Said Dr. Gonzo, in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

No, it's not really a nightmare. I'm just in the process of working through a patch of fear and as I sat down to write, intimidated by a blank screen and complete lack of inspiration, Sarge's Muse whispered the concept for this post and I heard it.

It had to be Sarge's Muse, because his is the only one I've ever been confident actually exists.

She's a darned fine Muse, methinks, if she can whisper in (or around) D.C. and I can hear it away out here at the nappy end of Nebrasky.

On a side note, we have a Thompsonesque dive bar in Kimball called Beer and Loathing. That trivial factoid popped into my head when the Muse whispered and I heard. The bar is said to be where all the cool people hang out, and I don't doubt that's so. Unfortunately I had the last of the coolness beat out of me at Texas Jacks in Palma back in '89, so I don't qualify. Also, I'm old and busted. Never been in the place. Butt I digress.

Anyway, fear and loathing.

We had a nice red white-face bull calf born yesterday. Good, solid little guy, up and nursing almost immediately. It was a nice day for it too, with warm sunshine and temps in the 60's. Very little wind. One of those really nice March days, the promise of which make the nasty March days bearable.

The calf's mom, also a red white-face and listed on the active roster as Y133, did a very good job at having the calf, having it quickly, and making sure it was behaving correctly and doing all the right newborn calf stuff. Which is good.

But she was aggressively protective of the calf, and gave me good reason to believe that she would mash me if I touched her baby. Which is bad. Aggressively protective against predators is good, against the rancher is bad.

As I might have mentioned above, I'm at the point in my life where "old and busted" is a good description. I just came off the DL. I'm not a spry as I once was. And while there was a time when I enjoyed the challenge of going a few rounds with an owly cow, that time has passed.

So this morning I have to go tag, band, and vaccinate the calf. And there's a possibility that I might get my ass kicked. In that sense, I fear getting hurt, and at the moment I loathe the cow as a potential bringer of pain.

Now it's not as bad as that sounds. I'm good at what I do and I'm adept at avoiding injury in these situations. As long as the cow isn't completely wound up, the worst she'll do is knock me down. There's potential for injury there, but I know how to take a knockdown without getting hurt.

Also, I have a reasoning brain. There is no cow that I cannot outfox, so long as I think about what I'm doing and formulate a plan that plays to my strengths and against the cows weaknesses.

There is a bit of a gray area though. In general, the cow will usually allow you to do what you must to her calf. She might snort and blow and shake her head, might even mock charge, but usually she will avoid actual physical contact. That being the general case, I often find myself in the position of holding and working on a calf with an agitated cow in close attendance, all the while not knowing whether the cow will physically intervene or not.

And that's the thing I really fear and loathe, the uncertainty. The fear that at any moment the cow will knock me arse over teakettle.

To minimize the risk in these tense situations I've learned to work quickly and with confidence, to croon calming (self calming?) words as I take care of biddness, to be deft and sure with my technique, and to avoid making sounds and motions that might be interpreted as predacious behavior.

It almost always works out well. When it doesn't, it's not the cow's fault. It's something I've done, some mistake I've made.

But I still fear and loathe those moments of uncertainty.

And so, to paraphrase General Lee, there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see Y133 and I would rather die a thousand deaths.


And now that the deed is done, I look back on my fear and loathing and worry and realize that I was making a mountain out of a molehill. Seems to be a feature of my OS, rather than a bug. Well, I've learned to live with it.

When I found Y133 she was with the rest of the herd, clustered along a fence line and peering at the horizon. The horizon from which the feeding truck appears, every other day like clockwork (more or less). The calf wasn't with the cow, so I went looking.

Ten minutes later I found the calf, laid up in some tall grass, snoozing in the early morning sunshine while his gut was busy digesting a belly full of rich milk.

It took me less than 30 seconds to tag, vaccinate, and band the calf, and he didn't seem to mind at all.

So once again I've met fear and loathing on the battlefield and emerged triumphant. I can relax now, and bask in the glorious light of victory.

Until the next calf is born.

Interesting how the mind works...


  1. Thanks for the post. My wife's family have a ranch in central Washington State, so I've had some exposure to cattle. Just enough to have a bit of understanding of your life.
    How do you get about on your spread? Four wheeler, truck, horse? Inquiring minds ( i.e.: busybodies ) want to know.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Thanks Paul. We mostly get around via pickup truck, though at times we use four wheelers. We used to do some things on horseback but haven't had horses for several years. In general it's easier, more comfortable, and more cost effective to do without horses -- at least on our ranch. Some of the romance is gone, but as I pointed out -- "old." :)

    2. Yes, four wheelers are the ride of choice at ranch. They have a few horses for pleasure and visitors who wish to ride. You are likely more spread out than they are.


    3. Sure could be. We are a bit spread out.

  2. I am pleased that things went well. Is the feed truck the white Chevy with the flatbed?

    1. Thanks Scott. And yes it is. Hell of a good feed truck.

  3. I had amazing good luck with my Chevy full size. I hope my Peterbilt works out as well.

  4. Just got back in town. Tired, cranky and it appears my Muse drank all my booze.

    It's gonna be a long week.

    But with these "Tales From the Ranch," I think I'll survive.

    1. I've heard the cost of muse maintenance can be shocking. Look at Thompson!

      Glad you're back safe and sound. Glad I can help in my little way.