A Bomb In a Cow Herd

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We had spent the summer and fall occasionally day working for a woman who had some registered Angus cows. The cows were spoiled, no-handling wretches that weighed about 1700-1800 lbs and weaned 400 lb calves. They aggravated us every time we had to handle them, but she paid well and her check was always good, so, we persisted. The woman herself was at least a half bubble off plumb too, so that added interest to the jobs. The cows were on winter pasture that she’d leased about four miles east of our place. It was on the irrigation project, and didn’t have the best fences in the world, but the pasture and fields were lush so that cows were content for a while. Then they weren’t.
On the day they decided to tour the neighborhood, to which the neighbors objected, she called me in a panic, from her home in the Hills, and insisted that I go get those cows and put them back. There were several problems with her idea. First, it was well below zero out with about a foot of snow on the level. Second, the area they were in was a swampy creek bottom with old wire and junk hidden in slough grass and weeds. Third, and bonus, was that there were simply no gates anywhere that could be utilized. So, any moving of these miserable cows would be by taking fence down and putting it back up, plus I’d need to find where they escaped from to begin with and fix it. Just my idea of fun on very cold day. The biggest problem was that I was sick to death of the cows and the crazy woman who owned them, and my enthusiasm for another round, this one afoot due to the area in question, and I didn’t want to. I told her it really wasn’t my problem.
She cried, begged, moaned, pleaded and finally offered to pay me a totally ridiculous amount of money, so I finally agreed to do it, mostly due to the cows being on an fine older neighbor’s ground. So, with her waiting in her warm house for word of my successful cow gather, I bundled up, loaded up the dogs and headed out. To say my mood was at a low ebb would be a vast understatement.
The dogs I took were Jessie and Frank, the Border Collies. Jessie was a highly tuned, well broke dog with good directions, and her buddy Frank was moral support who looked like he’d bite them. For insurance, I had Kit along, the totally looney head dog with the finesse of a bomb. Of course, old head dog Tootie, Kit’s mother, was also along just because it would break her heart to be left behind.
When I got down the road to where I could see the cows on the creek bottom, I parked the pickup as far off the edge as I dared and unloaded the dogs after putting a leash on Kit so I had some control over her. I got over the fence and started toward the cows. I sent Jessie and Frank wide around to the far side of them so they wouldn’t go the wrong way. They walked the cows up along the little creek toward me. I intended to turn them along the fenceline and across the creek where it had shallow banks and head them west and back toward where they belonged.
They’d come a little ways when the first of the black rips turned to run back and fight Jessie. Jessie had bite, so she pierced the cow’s nose and made her beller, which made the others decide that their cooperation had ended. They balled up, taking turns running at Jessie and Frank, who wouldn’t bite anyone. This rolling ball of cows finally sulled up in a little horseshoe bend of that creek and turned their hineys to the dogs and buried their heads in the bunch like sheep.
Jessie tried, but she couldn’t do anything but make them pack tighter. There was no place for me to get to that would break up the pile as the creek was on three sides of them, so we were at a standstill. Kit had been standing and quivering at the end of her leash wanting to help, and even knowing the disaster she would probably create, at least there would be a change take place, and just maybe it would be progress. So, I sat her down and unsnapped the leash. Fairly keening with anticipation, Kit sprang to
action the moment I told her she could go. I told her to “get ahold”.

Into that ball of cows she ran! The first cow she came to, she jumped and bit her just to the side of the tail, right on her big, black butt. That cow bellered and jumped, and Kit started down the lineup biting them high and hard. She was sure making them get their heads up! The one cow that was familiar to me for being a dog fighter, was next, and that cow was nearly 16 hands tall and long legged. Just as Kit grabbed her, that cow kicked her. Kit yelped and flew through the air.
All this time, dear old Tootie was standing by my leg watching. But, when she heard her baby girl yelp, she came to life like a mother grizzly and headed into the melee before I could grab her. Kit had landed rolling and came up insanely mad and lost any cool she had ever had and the bomb exploded. She was in full attack mode at that point and had gone stone deaf. She lit back into those cows just as Tootie arrived to save her. That same cow took her shot and hit Tootie on the side of her head and sent her
spinning through the air, landing about 20 feet away in the snow.
I’ll never forget the sight of old Toot flying through the air, or how she landed in a limp heap. I slogged through the snow to Tootie, who had never moved. I kneeled down to examine her and she had blood coming out her nose and ear, and her eyes were fixed and dilated. The old dog was clearly dead. Of course, my heart was broken and I was both crying and swearing at black cows and crazy owners. I picked her limp form up and carried her over by the fence.
Then the bellering and dog snarls reached me, and as I turned away from Tootie, I saw the cows finally break from their ball up and head east with Kit hanging on the side of a head. Jessie was biting everything that came by and Frank was enthusiastically encouraging her by barking insanely. The cows were running full out as they screeched through the stretch of bad fence and headed out across another neighbor’s pasture.
It was at that point that I realized that I had to get Kit recaptured and Jessie to hear me or those cows were going to be swimming the Missouri by dark. I ran after them. Not fast, seeing how I was wearing Carhartt bibs, a heavy coat and snow packs. But, my voice was still strong and I was trying my best to call the dogs off.
Out about a 300 yards from the fence, Jessie finally heard me and slowed down. Frank was by her side when they turned back reluctantly to me. I don’t remember what I said to Kit or how she ever heard me, but in another 150 yards, she finally let up and stopped. After much pleading, she finally headed back to me. I was gasping for breath and ready to collapse by this time, so was already bent over with my hands on my knees when the dogs got to me. I sat Jessie and Frank down and when Kit finally got there, quickly snapped her leash back on. Their tongues were hanging out about a foot, and it seemed mine was too. What a wreck. I was hoping those cows wouldn’t go clear through the next fence and end up on the county road on the other side.
My heart hurting for Tootie and my lungs burning, I turned back to start the long trek to the pickup. There, in the distance, staggering along in my tracks was Tootie! We hurried back to her and I knelt in the snow and just held her in my arms. Catching my breath, I picked her up and she let me carry her back to the pickup and put her in the cab.
The cows did stop in that pasture, and after a day to contemplate the evil of their ways, were trailed back on the road, with horses, and taken to a set of corrals and loaded out. The crazy woman had found a place to put them for the rest of the winter and they were no longer our problem.
Sweet old Tootie was never quite the same again. Whereas she was just arthritic and stiff before, ever after that kick she had a kink in her neck and she held her head a little canted. I don’t think she could hear out of her right ear either. The tough old dog lived another three or so years and was nearing 17 when she died.

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

About Jan Swan Wood

Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....

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