For the second time in about a month, I had the pleasure last Saturday of helping a friend do some cattle work.
This time the goal was to weigh and load out 37 head that had recently been sold and were destined for a large operation in Atlantic, Iowa (a town of just under 7,000 people about 45 miles east of Omaha, Neb.). The cows were the same ones we had previously moved about 10 miles or so from one property to another east of Houston.
They were a wagyu-mix and the place they were headed for specializes in wagyu. For the record, wagyu is a Japanese word that literally means “Japanese cow” and is used to refer to four breeds: Japanese Brown, Polled and Shorthorn, and Akage Washu (I’ve had wagyu steak and ground beef, and let’s just say that Japanese cattle folks apparently haven’t been wasting their time in honing their craft over the centuries).
The group we were dealing with consisted mostly of individuals in the neighborhood of 18 months old who had spent their entire lives on a 100-percent pasture grass diet since being weaned from the mothers. But upon arriving in Iowa, they would spend the rest of their days (about another year or so) living and “fattening up” in a feedlot environment, primarily – if not exclusively – eating corn.
But regardless of where they had been or where they were going, our job was simply to move the cows into a multi-level 18-wheel big rig “hauler” so they could be transported to their new owner’s location in the Hawkeye State.
While I found the 5 ½-hour adventure to be educational, rewarding and downright fun, it was also really hard work and taxed my aging body to the point where I was exhausted and sore when it was over. It was also not without its trials and tribulations, as the two of us encountered a series of problematic situations that required some ingenuity and quick thinking (or phone calls to experienced acquaintances) to be solved.
Almost all along the way, we came to points where we had to stop and figure out how to make continuing possible. There was the scale being stuck (a couple of locking parts needed to be flipped), the mobile loading ramp (or “chute”) needing to be hooked up to the pickup without a hitch pin (a large bolt with a right-angle head worked great), a stock trailer load of about 10 cows that didn’t want to get into the big hauler (but ultimately succumbed to the desires of some very determined humans) and several more obstacles, most of which were related to equipment.
But one by one, we overcame the would-be roadblocks and every last “stocker” ended up in the back of that Iowa-bound rig.
Thankfully, the cows themselves were not at the center of many snafus, with the exception of the hesitance of that one bunch that didn’t want to get out of the trailer. To the contrary, they were for the most part surprisingly cooperative and at times seemed to almost know what they were supposed to do.
As small groups were separated from the main bunch and funneled through a well-designed set of tubular fences and metal walls in the corral toward the narrow opening of the scale contraption, individuals required little prodding to move forward and the line kept moving. I was on the documenting end of the line, and manned the scale’s entrance and exit doors and jotted down each cow’s weight next to its ear tag number on a form to be provided to the hauler driver.
When all was said and done, it turned out we had about 21,000 pounds of Japanese-style Ozarks beef on our hands. The largest member of the bunch weighed a little more than 800 pounds (pretty amazing considering its age), while the runt tipped the scale at a little over 300.
Once weighed, the cows patiently waited in a holding pen for the next move. The next move was to get them into a stock trailer and take them to the end of the dirt road where the hauler was parked (when he arrived, we took the driver by pickup on a tour of the remote back road leading to where the corral and the cows were, and he said there was no way his rig could successfully navigate some of the tighter corners, so out of necessity we had to take the extra step of basically loading them twice).
The mobile ramp, or chute, had been positioned at the back of the hauler, and we managed to get each load of cows to make the scary move from the smaller trailer to the bigger one. The big rig driver was a veteran of many similar loading situations, and was quite adept at using a couple of tools to make the bovine passengers step out of their comfort zone and into the big metal unknown.
Finally, the last cow was inside the hauler and we pulled the chute away from its door and handed the paperwork over to the driver.
When we began, the temperature was about 36 degrees and I wore a heavy coat and a knit cap. When we were done, it was about 65 and clear.
As we sat on the front porch and reflected on the ups and downs of our cowboy project, we gulped down large amounts of water and the sandwiches my wife Wendy had made for us went down nicely. The moment was satisfying and easy to enjoy.
At this rate, I’ll soon have enough knowledge to run my own big herd of cattle. Or maybe not.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.