Not a week seems to pass any more when there isn’t a new entry in the animal activity log at our remote Texas County outpost.
Already housing a friend’s bull, we took in a calf last weekend as a favor to another friend who was leaving the area for a few days. The little girl was orphaned a few months back by the sudden and somewhat mysterious death of her mother, and she’s still young enough that she needs to be bottle-fed an artificial substitute for what she’s not getting straight from the mom’s faucet, so to speak.
So, as is always the case when a visitor joins the four-legged crew at our place (which seems to happen about as often as coyotes howl and buzzards soar), there was some anticipation of just how the three equine old men and the big young bovine dude would react when Miss Polly (we don’t name ’em, we just board ’em) first set foot on their turf. Thankfully, it went about as smoothly as possible.
Being the boss of his territory, Big Sur (the XL-sized white-ish Arabian who’s been around since shortly after saltwater covered the central part of North America) paid the closest attention. But he seemed less impressed by the arrival of the puny cow than the previous week’s invasion of a ton of beef. After taking a good long look and throwing his head around to display his superiority and overall coolness, General Sur just shrugged and went back to his routine.
“Great. The recruits are getting scrawnier every day around here.”
Meanwhile, Lt. Bennie (the Tennessee Walker) and PFC Abe (the donkey) were fascinated, but more or less unfazed. Maybe not surprisingly, Pvt. Sherman (the bull) was fascinated and quite engaged. He approached the calf and appeared pleased to be closer to another member of his species than he had been in weeks.
So there we were, five guys and a fragile little baby wondering what was going on. We men looked at each other and I could tell there was a question being silently shared.
Little Polly is part of an east Texas County herd of Japanese Wagyu (wahg-you), a word used to describe several breeds that residents of the island nation usually refer to based on the region of the country they came from. Her presence gave an international feel to our pastures because Sherman is about two-thirds Simmental, a breed that originated in the Swiss Alps.
The burly European bull’s interest in the young Asian cow never subsided, and he took her under his wing not long after their initial meeting and spent hours hanging out with her in various locations of the property. He even more or less played with her, allowing her to prance around him and carry on like the kid she is.
At one point, as he was plodding from one side of the house to the other, Polly was bounding around like a hyper-active jackrabbit on a pogo stick, quickly moving from her massive partner’s front to rear as he steadily walked along. I could swear I heard him warn her about a potential consequence.
“Be careful there, missy. You get into those cockleburs and they’ll get tangled up in your little tail in a hurry. Take it from me, I know; it took me days to rub those things out of my man-perm.”
When Polly was hungry and ready for a giant bottle of calf formula, she’d blurt out a sound that fell a bit short of “moo.” It was more like “mmmuh.” Of course, men folk weren’t the only ones involved in keeping the kid occupied and happy, and when she’d “muh,” my wife would often head out and take the beating that goes with bottle-feeding a little cow.
Only someone who’s done it can relate, but man, calves can deliver a serious blow when they do that bump thing to the business end of a bottle. I can only imagine what momma cows put up with, but I admire their diligence and I figure complete weaning is a big relief.
Naturally, the calf wasn’t the only thing happening last weekend in our neck of the woods. Thanks to a major landscaping makeover (or overhaul) going on at the outpost, I felt like I had a shovel in my hands all day long for two days in a row.
But three times a day, Polly and her oversized bottle took center stage, and smiles always followed.
Even though she had only been there since Friday, we all quickly got used to having Polly around and when she left Monday, it seemed like something was missing. Sherman seemed sincerely saddened when the young whipper-snapper departed, and stood by the fence dejectedly watching as the truck and stock trailer rig carried her away.
Despite the short span of her stay, Polly’s memory will remain in the heads and hearts of the friends she made during her little adventure away from home. I’m sure she’s glad to be back on familiar ground and surrounded by familiar faces, but the baby left her mark on five men (and one woman).
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.