“Why don’t you come on over? It is something you have never seen…it’ll be interesting.”
This is Roger-code for: a cow has done something really stupid and you’re not going to believe it unless you see it. That is the innocent part of the message-the first part. It is the second part, the ‘it’ll be interesting’ part that is not so innocent. ‘It’ll be interesting’ decoded means: It is a real mess and I’m not sure how we are going to work it out but it would be nice if you were here to help me figure it out and get as dirty and frustrated as I am going to get. How do you say no to that?
It’s 7pm when I leave my house, the still part of the day when everything and everybody (except farmers) has gone home and only the songs of birds stir up the quiet. In the car I replay in my head Roger’s words describing the situation: “One of the heifers calves got out and got herself turned backward hung up over the hitching rail.”
“Hung up?” I ask bewildered.
“Yes, hung up.” He says with a mixture of pride and exasperation.
“On the hitching rail?”
“Yes, she is hung up on the hitching rail….the pipe we tie the cows to.
“You have a calf hung up over the hitching rail….backwards,’ I say still perplexed as comprehension is slow to make my acquaintance.
“Yes. We have a calf hung up over the hitching rail and she’s backward,” the change in pronouns not lost on me despite my lingering confusion.
“Her front end is in the stall with her feet in the trough and her back end is up over the hitching rail so that her feet are in the manger. The rail is running between her ribs and her hips so she can’t go anywhere. She didn’t seem like she was minding it much so I left her right there so she could think about things and went down and had supper. Why don’t you come on over? It’ll be interesting.”
Arriving at the barn I meet Roger as he walks up from his house. As we walk into the barn Roger grabs the scrapper to start to clean up the center aisle before milking and I walk down to take a look at the calf. I know Roger is watching me even though he is pretending to look busy. He wants me to jump and exclaim and celebrate the astonishing stupidity of this particular calf and all cows in general. He gets great satisfaction whenever he can have this primary bovine trait confirmed. It is a combination of ‘how big a fool can a cow be’ and ‘how big a fool must I be for depending on them to make my living.’
I come back scratching my head allowing him only partial satisfaction. The calf is hung up like an old pillow thrown over the back of a chair. “Maybe if I get in front of her I can push her back and she’ll be able to squirm her way over the pipe. I don’t want to get behind her and get in the way of those feet.”
“She’s hard stuck” Roger replies, “I don’t think this is a one-man job.”
This is Roger’s nice way of saying “Any fool can see it is at least a two man job but if you want to confirm this by giving it a go yourself, go right ahead.”
“Well, let me try and if I can’t get her off I’ll come back and we’ll think of something else.”
I walk back to the end of the barn and step between the two claves lying in their proper places. The circus cow stands above them, quietly, looking contently at me. I put my hands on her head to try to turn her or push her but she is having nothing of it. This is a big animal, perhaps 350 pounds and no photographer/writer that I know is ever going to move her when she is stuck as fast as she is now.
I give up the brawn approach immediately and start the brain approach when Roger arrives carrying an old 15 foot piece of rope with a loop on one end. I am perplexed but don’t be alarmed at this. I am perplexed or at least befuddled more times than not when I am in the barn. In fact, befuddlement is pretty much my normal state when on the farm. But I come by it honestly. I have no experience unhanging heifer calves. I was not taught this in school. I have read no books on the subject. It is not a popular topic for TV shows. You never see this on ESPN. It has never, ever come up in idle conversation and it is not something anyone I know has any experience with. Anyone, that is, except Roger.
Roger has 50 years in the barn and he has seen and had to deal with 50 years of idiot cows. He may not have dealt with this exact situation but I know he has dealt with situations that are similar enough to apply to this predicament. I am sure he has had cows hung up on fences, gates and downed tree limbs before and since I haven’t seen any skeletons draped over any of these things on my wanderings around the farm he must have been successful unsticking the stuck. Getting a calf off a hitching rail is just another opportunity to use those same old tricks.
Furthermore, this is exactly the kind of thing farmers do talk about. Listen in on a conversation between farmers and you will either hear complaints about the weather or stories of the things that didn’t go right- the tractor that broke down, the hay wagon that got stuck, the bull that was too lazy to do its job or the raccoons in the silo.
Even if you were to try hard and make up an absolutely ludicrous predicament a farmer would surly say “Yup, I remember on the old Smith farm a calf was flying around there once and had got herself stuck good up in the old birch. Old man Smith had a helluva time getting her down; used the old flying calf extraction rope his grandfather had used the last time they a had a flying calf stuck in that birch. I think it was in ’22, maybe ‘46, but I’ve had a flying calf rope ever since just in case.”
Roger didn’t wait for me to ponder on the calf very long. He was close to right behind me, rope in hand walking up the manger side to get to the calf’s back side.
“Best let these two calves go before all hell breaks loose. We don’t want them getting stepped on and adding to the confusion.”
I reach down and unclip the two properly placed calves and Roger waves his ball cap and with a yell and a prod we get the two calves up and out into the center aisle and away from trouble.
“Grab this rope and pull” Roger tells me, “I am going to get the legs.”
This is more Roger code. What he means by this is: ‘Grab the end of this rope and put it over the hitching rail and pull hard. I am going to loop it around her back legs and then try to lift them over the bar. When I lift her legs up keep pulling, we don’t want to lose any ground when she starts to fight us. Once we get the legs over the pipe she will tumble down into the stall and we can get her straightened out. Oh, and stay out of the way if you can. She’ll likely be out of balance and there’s no telling which way any of her parts might go. I’ll try not to get kicked myself. And don’t forget the gutter right behind you. You don’t want to step in that. How does that sound?’ Roger can say a lot with just a few words.
And so we do it. Roger lifting the back legs, struggling to lift the heavy end of an uncooperative calf high enough to get them over the 4 foot high railing and me pulling hard on the rope not letting any of the hard won height get lost between each lift. A minute latter over tumbles the calf, back I go stumbling, the loop is released and the calf is free of her ignominy. I manage to come away with only a few glancing kicks and Roger has pinched his hand but no blood is gushing on either of us and the calf is acting as if nothing has happened so the operation is a success. We all know though that this calf will never grow up to be the cow that jumped over the moon.