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).

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

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: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Houston Herald writer Doug Davison funnels cows toward a stock trailer Oct. 4 in Texas County. (Photo by Wendy Davison)

Houston Herald writer Doug Davison funnels cows toward a stock trailer Oct. 4 in Texas County. (Photo by Wendy Davison)

Houston Herald writer Doug Davison stands on a corral gate next to a stock trailer loaded with cattle destined for Atlantic, Iowa. (Photo by Wendy Davison)

Houston Herald writer Doug Davison stands on a corral gate next to a stock trailer loaded with cattle destined for Atlantic, Iowa. (Photo by Wendy Davison)

 

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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.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

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.

“What next?”

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: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Houston Herald writer Doug Davison bottle-feeds Polly.

Houston Herald writer Doug Davison bottle-feeds Polly.

Miss Polly, the Wagyu bottle calf.

Miss Polly, the Wagyu bottle calf.