Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dancing With Cows

Working cattle is not for the faint of heart. Most of our cows weigh between 1200 and 1600 pounds. Joe, like most farmers around here has been kicked, trampled, gored and flattened by ornery cows. Occasionally, the air turns blue with cuss words when the cows are not cooperating but, more often, my husband makes working cattle look like a beautiful dance.

Yesterday, when I came home from school, he and Justin were moving some cattle. Justin was in the meadow on his four-wheeler. Gunning his engine he bounced across ditches and bumps as he rounded up stray cows. I held my breath every time he skidded onto three wheels. As he zoomed back and forth, Justin pushed the cattle into a tight group and funneled the herd, like a shape shifting amoeba, through the gate.

Then, working together, the three of us forced them into a fence corner. Another group of cows and calves watched curiously from the other side. Joe opened the gate between them creating a twelve foot gap. Then, my intrepid husband stepped between the two herds and commenced to sort them out. Both groups of cows pushed and shoved trying to move through the gate.

Swaying from left to right, Joe directed the cows. If a wily cow tried to sneak through, he side-stepped and turned her away. If one hung back, he lifted his stick, tapped her on the rump and steered her into the other field. With grace and precision, he selected cows from one herd and propelled them into the other. Within five minutes all the cows and calves were sorted into the right fields. It was like watching a rural Baryshnikov in a bovine ballet.

My youngest son, Scott is majoring in animal science at Virginia Tech. He called the other night to say his Intro to Ag class was learning how to move herds of cows. He laughed as he described the antics of his classmates chasing cattle around the pen. Scott, like his brother and father, has been dancing with cows since he was old enough to hold a stick. I guess something like that can be taught, but it takes a lifetime of exposure to develop it into a fine art. We may not have a lot of culture out here on the farm, but watching my husband and sons perform their bovine ballet more than makes up for it. The best seats in the house are free.

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