Wednesday, September 9, 2020

What the hell is checking cows?

Every morning I go out and check cows. I frequently write and talk about checking cows. It's not uncommon for me to suddenly realize, in the middle of a conversation or in reading a comment, that my correspondent or conversationalist really doesn't understand what I'm talking about. And why would they? Not many people check cows, and only one people check cows on the EJE Ranch.

At a slight tangent to the thrust of the previous paragraph, I also sometimes realize, usually in spoken conversations, that the person I'm talking to is completely certain that they know not only what I'm talking about, but they know it far better and more completely than I ever will. They've never checked a single cow anywhere, mind, but they know, and they know better. They are a superior form of life. They're what Orwell described as "more equal" animals in Animal Farm. That's kind of a scary situation, because people who spend a lot of time in the realm of certainty and extra-equality are some scary motherfuckers. Butt I digress.

The obvious (at least to me!) question is in the title of this post. What the hell is checking cows?

Well, brace yourself. Because checking cows is a lot of things, and assessing the health and wellbeing of cattle is only a small part of the thing.

Nevertheless, let's start with that. What am I doing when I check an actual cow?

In one sense I'm doing the same thing I did when I was seeing human patients in sick call. I'm looking at the cow or bull or steer or calf to see if they look healthy. Is it upright and breathing? Is it moving around? Is it eating and or drinking? Does it look at me? How is it holding its head, how is it holding its ears? Is it calm and relaxed and doing normal cow stuff?

When I first started this actual ranch operations cow checking, I had to eyeball every single individual animal and look closely while checking off my "healthy animal" list. Over time I got to where I could take these things in at a glance, and later still, I began to be able to assess cow status by seeing patterns. "How does this pattern of cow distribution and behavior match up with previous patterns, with 'normal', and is there anything in this pattern that looks abnormal?"

Whenever the pattern is disrupted by anything abnormal or different, the different thing or things stand out like a flashing strobe. A single set of droopy ears or a single drooping head. A hitch in gait. a "ganted-up" or gaunt looking animal. When I see the different thing I can take a closer look and assess whether there's a problem, and if so, begin to put together a plan.

Sometimes the different thing is fun. When I see a group of cattle which appear to be looking at the same thing off in the distance, I follow their gaze. Sometimes I see coyotes, or dogs, or fluttering bits of paper. One morning I saw a bunch of frisky calves chasing a coyote, and the mama cows seemed to be watching with approval.

I look at a lot of other stuff when I check cows. I look at grass and water and fences and weather. I think I'll save those things for another day.


What's the opposite of a wedgie? De-pantsing? Eigdew?

I went for a short walk through town and as I was walking along my now too-loose underwear slid down. All the way down until they caught in the crotch of my jeans. They'd have come all the way off were it not for the jeans, which themselves are now two sizes too large and cinched tightly to my waist with a belt. A belt which has had five new notches added over the spring and summer.

I did it to myself.


Took Tommy and Nona out to check cows this morning. It was Tommy's first time. He was a little bit uncertain.

His first time seeing chickens too.

And a first opportunity to meet Red and Jake.

Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.


  1. What you describe as "Checking Cows" is 99% what I thought it was. I'd probably call it "Tending your herd" or something similar.

    I did pretty much the same thing in my career, but the things I checked were machines. You get to know the machines you watch over. Is that a new noise? Did it vibrate this much last week? Why is it low on oil? I just checked it two days ago. It must have developed a leak somewhere.

    I stopped at a customer's one day, and as I walked in the door, they were amazed. "We just called your company!". ALL of their machines were DOA. Turns out the carpet cleaning company they hired had moved all the machines to clean the carpets, and never plugged them back in!

    Had the customer back on-line in about 15 minutes, and got an "ATTABOY" from my boss and a nice letter from the site manager.

    1. It's pretty amazing what we ape-lizards can do. Pattern recognition, or being able to spot the "different" or "wrong" at a sub-cognitive level is a very good and fascinating skill. Then over time we learn what the "off" thing means and what to do about it. Pretty cool! Then in a situation like you describe, a bit of knowledge and experience over time allows us to do stuff that others see as near magic.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting drjim :-)

  2. Aside from a moral obligation to be responsible for animals in our care, there are significant dollars roaming around on four legs. Growing up in my teens milking cows and bucket feeding calves, I can appreciate your ability to see a change in patterns.

    1. Indeed, the dollar value of livestock is significant. In our system the cattle not only nurture the ecosystem by grazing and returning micronutrients to the soil, they convert plant biomass into fungible bovine biomass which we trade for cash. The skill if seeing patterns and noting changes is a very cool thing IMO.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting WSF:-)

  3. Sounds like it's time to break down and get some clothes that fit. Yeah, I hate spending money on clothes too, and don't much care about fashion, and ignore the wife's nagging about some of my sartorial splendor being decades out of fashion. But, at least they fit okay, no Michelen Man undersize or rodeo clown oversize stuff.
    Give Wally World a few bucks and show off your new physique like you're (quite justifiably) proud of it, not like you are trying to hid it. A pack of skivvies, couple pair of jeans (or bib overalls if that's your preference) and a couple of shirts and you're good to go. Oh, some socks- ALL the same color and style so you don't waste time looking to match them up. That'll be a full seabag for ya.

    Good to see Tommy out there, learning from the pros.
    John Blackshoe

    1. Yes, it is that time John. I bought new work shorts over the summer but summer has departed. I'm heading for the big city Monday to see the pain doc so perhaps i'll hit wally world. I might order from duluth trading, my previous supplier. Good solid clothes and easy to procure, but a bit pricey and mostly made by the chicoms. Wally World stuff is cheap, less hard wearing, and you can find non-chicom stuff. But man do I not like the crowds. What to do, what to do...

      Good tip on the socks btw...

      Yeah, Tommy is embarking on a good adventure. His next big adventure will be a trip to the vet for shots and nuts.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting:-)

  4. I was pretty sure it wasn't like checking in hockey.
    I have some web belts so I don't have to add new holes.
    Also I found that a nice set of braces (suspenders) is really comfortable.

    1. I've been hockey checked by cows but that's a story for another day.

      Web belts are an interesting idea. I have a few but they let me down when I load them up with nail pouch, pliers, and hammer loop/hammer. And in my line of work I do that most days. The metal and leather belt is just more secure.

      I've tried braces and agree they are comfortable, but, I haven't figured out how to get them into the daily ensemble yet. Plus I fear they would represent a tiny surrender in the battle to not be old...

      I'm a walkin' contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction, taking every wrong direction...

      Thanks Skip :-)

    2. Yeah, well I'm old enough that I realize that surrender means going over to the winning side.
      I do, however, pick my battles.

    3. Picking battles is condensed wisdom!

  5. After being pressed into service as a line handler, I found out that checking a mooring line has nothing to do with inspecting its condition.

    From "Mooring Line Commands."
    "-Check: hold the current tension on a line by either paying out or heaving in as appropriate"

    The real question is why snipes were doing anything involving seamanship!

    1. Reminds me of the sage adage, "right way, wrong way, Navy Way."

      Stop or prevent movement is one of the lesser used definitions of "check," but it's commonly used in the Navy!

      Snipes TAD to Deck? Now that's the Navy I remember!

      Thanks John :-)

    2. I remember how, in some evolutions, almost everyone became a deck ape.

    3. Uncle Skip. It was more like you said.
      My other involvement in deck ape stuff was when I was underway on the DD-714 and the Chief Engineer told me to leave the engineroom, go up to the bow and find out why it was taking so long to pull up the anchor.
      It thought it wasn't a good idea to poke my MM2 hole snipe nose into the business of a Bosun's Mate Chief, but I understood what a direct order was.
      I got to the bow and saw a group of frowning deck apes staring at the anchor capstan.
      I took a breath to ask, "Excuse me Chief, CHENG is asking for a heads up on what's going on?"
      At that instant the anchor chain moved a little, and made some mechanical noise.
      The BMC yelled, "RUN!" And just like that the bow was cleared of squids. I mean it was like transporting but without the sound effects and twinkles.
      A short time later I drifted forward with the rest of the group and I noticed that if you are wearing those pull over boots, or you have laced your boots loosely, you can literally run out of them and leave them behind.
      There were also some Navy pens and a couple of wheelbooks laying on the deck.
      I'll just stay in my quiet, cozy and safe machinery space. Thank you very much.
      I don't remember what I told the CHENG, other than telling him the basics and that I pretty nearly needed a change of skivvies.

  6. It's like being on patrol. After awhile, you know how things should look, and whether you should turn the squad around, for a closer look.
    You could get a tool belt with suspenders, they work quite well.

    1. That sounds very similar, Scott. Your senses -- sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch -- work together with your subconscious mind and let you know when there is something different or wrong. It's being tuned in to the environment, and that's one good definition of livin'.

      Tool belt with suspenders is a good idea. Hell, I wear LBE/plate carriers/vests for my dedicated patrol training slash exercise. I'll have to do some shopping.

      Thanks! :-)