When you’re pulling a stock trailer loaded with six or eight full grown head of cattle, you have to take the corners a little wider on Texas County dirt and gravel back roads.

Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of helping a couple of friends of mine who are professional cattlemen move cows between two properties about seven miles apart in the southeastern portion of the Show-Me State’s largest county. In all, we moved about 120 head, including mothers, calves and steers shuttled from the westernmost tract to the easternmost, and “stockers” (calves old enough to be weaned from their mothers and ready for sale) from east to west. I drove one of the two rigs involved in the mission; it was “hard fun” and I learned a lot.

Not that I’ll be running 60 head on my own property any time soon, but making four round trips behind the wheel of a Ford F-250 towing a beef-laden stock trailer, and helping make sure the cows got in and out safely on either end, gave me much better insight as to what cattle ranchers experience on a daily basis. One of the men I worked with is carrying on a family tradition that goes back several generations, while the other is well educated and applies some of the latest, most natural techniques, so both are really good at what they do and I was blessed to be a novice riding their coattails.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

During my approximately eight-hour stint as a cattleman, I saw how differently individual cows behave and react (their personalities differ as much as that of dogs or humans), witnessed how fences, gates and pens work together to form a means of getting giant hoofed animals to move in formation through tight quarters, and took note of the way stern vocals and authoritative movements can blend with calm demeanor and concise action to help ease those animals’ anxieties. I reveled in the sounds and smells, relished the sights and surprises and was fascinated by the way problems spurred from-the-hip creativity and ingenious solutions.

I also came to realize (and accept) that poo is going to fly and at some point come into contact with your boots, pants and (ugh) arms.

Even before we began our task, the young man who manages the cows identified a few to be wary of, naming them by their ear-tag number and warning of their tendency to be gruff, unyielding or obstinate. He said we should pay particular attention to No. 3, a big mama who he was sure wouldn’t to take lightly being separated from her calf for a few hours.

And incidentally, watching the separation procedure was cool – it was almost like a game in which the cattlemen’s goal was to prevent anything smaller than such-and-such from advancing beyond a given mark inside a lengthy stretch of pen. Obviously, the object of the game was to deter small young cows from prematurely being made hamburger by their much larger elders within the walls of a stock trailer.

From the beginning, there wasn’t much doubt of the outcome, and while the opposition turned in a valiant effort, the final score was cattlemen 28, cows nil.

Anyway, when the moving was underway, ol’ 3 sure enough showed more than a bit of attitude. She boarded her designated trailer well enough and got out fine at the other property, but seemed offended and annoyed that her calf wasn’t with her.

She was part of the first run, while the calves were all moved on the fourth and final trip, and each time we came back with a couple of trailer loads of adults, Ms. 3 would be near this big tree staring glumly at us. It was almost like she was standing there with her hoofs on her hips, wondering what made us think we had the right to do what we were doing and saying, “well, did you bring him?”

When she realized no young ’uns were among the disembarking passengers, it was like she rolled her eyes and with that side-to-side head movement said, “OK cowboys, ya’ll best not have messed with my child. I demand to know where he is – now!”

When we finally made the last trip, the decision was made to transport 3’s calf in the pickup cab with the herd manager and me. It was a bit frail, and might not have done well weathering the calf storm going on in the trailer. I don’t think it fully appreciated how much it “had it made,” but it did lie calmly on the floor most of the way and only tried standing up a time or two.

When we arrived at the eastern tract for the last time, the reunion of mothers and children was a sight to behold. There was a huge amount of mooing and bellowing, and all the kids went right to their moms for some much-needed nursing.

As the cows collectively made their way up a small hill and away from the metallic mobile jail cells that had so disrupted their day, a major sense of relief was felt by all – including the men with the poo-stained pants. I would have enjoyed the whole operation regardless of the weather, but it didn’t hurt that it was absolutely perfect the entire time, with temperatures in the 70s and no detectable humidity.

Yep, just another day in Texas County, where if it’s not fish, it’s horses, if it’s not horses, it’s dogs, if it’s not dogs it’s cows, if it’s not cows – well, you get the idea.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Cattle move down a hill in formation.

Cattle move down a hill in formation.

No. 3, right, and several other cows jostle for position in a pen.

No. 3, right, and several other cows jostle for position in a pen.

Led by several calves, cattle move through a pen.

Led by several calves, cattle move through a pen.

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