Calving Time Sprint

Posted in: Featured, Ranch Life

The share deal I had with a neighboring place was a nice situation for both them and me. They lived out of state but planned to move back to the place upon his retirement. They had me buy cows for them, then I took care of them. I spent their money frugally and had bought some cows out of Montana that were borderline feral, but really good cows that didn’t cost much. Those cows were scared of people and equipment but nice to handle with a horse. They were “ranchy” to put it mildly. Most of them wouldn’t take you if they didn’t have a baby calf, but a few would, so my son and I handled them horseback as much as possible. At calving time, most of them were very protective of their calves, as would be expected from cows from country with lots of coyotes and even some wolves. Plus, they only saw people about twice a year and those weren’t good days for them or their calves.
Late that winter, one of those cows had started losing condition badly, plus was about six feet wide, so I was sure she was carrying twins. I sorted her off and kept her in the corral with the heifer calves so life was easier for her. She settled down, but was still pretty watchy. I knew she was very aggressive with a new calf, having calved her the spring before. Because of her attitude, I had named her “Estwing”, like the brand of hammer, because she would definitely nail you.
My share partner’s name was Bob. He was a giant of a man, early 60s, a little heavy, and wore a dainty 13DD shoe. He wasn’t exactly light on his feet, plus had bad knees from playing high school and college football in his youth. I thought the world of Bob and sure didn’t want one of his cows to get him down, so when he was up for the weekend during calving, I kept warning him about the Montana cows. He’d been raised on a farm that ran some cows. His idea of a snuffy cow and mine were miles apart. He’d never met any cows quite like the Montana cows. I had.
I was there at daylight checking springers and Bob and I started doing the corral chores. In the northeast corner of the big lot where the heifers and dear old Estwing were, was a shed. It had one door in the southeast corner, no windows, and was about a 40′ x 60′ barn, running east and west. I had the gate open into it so that the cattle could bed down out of the mud. The heifer calves were waiting at the gate for their cake, but there was no sign of Estwing. I could hear her talking to a calf from outside so knew she’d calved. Bob was out in the corral with me and said he’d go look. I warned him to be careful of her as she would definitely come to meet him. He slogged through the mud in his overshoes and to the open doorway, peering in with just his head around the doorway. I was at the first trough with the heifers and a bucket when I heard a loud snort and beller from inside the barn and then saw Bob whirl around and take off at a run across the corral. I mean, he was pickin’ them up and puttin’ them down! Estwing had run out the door, but soon stopped, not wanting to leave her babies. Bob didn’t look back to see that. As I watched, that big, stove up man ran like an antelope across the pen, jumped the furthest north feed trough like a hurdler, and sprinted on across and to the gate on the southwest corner of the pen where he finally got himself stopped. Estwing had retreated to the inside of the shed, having thwarted the enemy’s attempt on her calves. As Bob caught his breath, we both started laughing. We nearly collapsed in the mud. I kept seeing Bob racing across the pen, jumping the trough, and then described it to him.


He hadn’t seen how many calves there were with his very brief look, so when we had finished caking the heifers, we went around into the hay corral and looked into the barn from outside the fence. Estwing was watching us from the far end, ready to come if we made a wrong move. On each side of her was a calf nursing, tails wagging, and doing just fine. Bob’s understanding of the Montana cows dispositions was cleared up that day and he had a deeper respect for their personal space. I had new respect for his Olympic level speed and agility and didn’t even tease him much. He sure never went for a closer look at Estwing’s calves again, that’s for sure.

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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