Monday, April 26, 2010

The Infamous "Chicky"

Thousands of cattle have come in and out of my life. Most are just a number to me.  Some hold a special place in my heart. A few have become steaks in my freezer, and one or two have irritated me to the point of cussing.  But none have been as near and dear to me as "Chicky".

It was my Junior year of college.  I was living and working on a large ranch.  It was the tail end of calving season, and a first-calf heifer was paralyzed while giving birth to her calf.  After quite an ordeal with the vet, we had no other option but to put the mother down. Her calf, a stubborn little thing from the day she was born, flat out refused to be bottle-fed.  Because I had raised calves on a dairy for a number of years, and because the men I worked with were too chicken to tube feed her, the responsibility fell on me.  My boss told me I could have the calf if I could keep her alive. No big deal. Lots of dairy calves, especially Brown Swiss, would rather starve than take a bottle the first few days of their lives.  They just don't all possess that hybrid-vigor and instinctive drive to get up and nurse like beef cattle do.  Because I'd dealt with this scenario on a daily basis in my old job, I felt that I was getting a huge bargain.  Just a little work, and I'd have another heifer for my own growing herd. Twice a day, I'd go up to the corrals, and give milk to my new calf.  Her momma was a Hereford, and her daddy was a Charolais. She was yellow and looked a little like a banana, so naturally, I named her Chiquita Banana, but I called her "Chicky" for short. 
She was a pathetic little thing, all knobby kneed, and unloved.  She'd bawl to me whenever I passed by, and soon, I moved her to a pen near my house so she could get a little more attention.  After I weaned her, I gave her good hay and "Calf Manna" every day.  "Calf Manna" is similar to a pelleted form of milk replacer that smells a little like black liquorice.  She was really diggin' that stuff.   Soon she started to fill out and grow.  A few months later, I had to return to school to finish up my senior year, and I took her along with me.  She was too small to put out to pasture with my other heifers, so I had to find a place near the University to keep her.  I ended up feeding her in a make-shift pen at a roping arena near by.  She was the only bovine among lots of quarter- horses, and the threat of getting used for roping practice thoroughly irritated her.  But she was getting pleasantly plump on her diet of hay and all the mesquite beans she could find in her pen.

After I graduated, it was time to initiate her into the herd.  I was nervous.  She had lived a life of luxury and pampering up to this point, and I wasn't sure how she was going to fit in with the other girls.  Plus, having nothing but quarter horses to compare her to, I thought she looked a little on the small side.  WRONG.  The day we put her in with the herd, was the day I realized that Chicky was a little bit chunky.  I  blame the mesquite beans.  My husband blames me. Either way, it was evident that she was gonna hold her own just fine.  We put her out on lush thick pasture, and her little weight issue turned into a nightmare. She was quickly packing on pounds in the rump.  Frankly, she was fat.  And she was friendly.  This caused problems.  Whenever we'd enter the pasture to irrigate, fix fence, or check the cows, she'd come for a visit. Picture an 1800 pound (yes, you read that right) animal charging at full speed to come and greet you. Her friendliness scared away more than one innocent by-stander admiring the cows in the pasture.  She'd come full speed, and stop on a dime right in front of you. Then she'd head-butt you until you scratched her behind the ears.  This was all cute when she was a calf, but not so much when she was full grown.  It came time to breed the heifers, and I had the toughest time deciding what to do with her. The logical and business side of me said we shouldn't breed her because the narrow pelvis that caused her mom to have calving trouble, would most likely be passed down to her.  But the alternative was to sell her.  There's no free ride for our cattle. If they aren't producing babies, then they have to be sold.  Nothing eats grass for free.  I couldn't bear the thought of not having her around.  She wasn't like all the others. She was my pet.  I decided to breed her to a bull that sired small calves.  It was my only chance of keeping her.   By the end of her pregnancy, she was so huge that even the most experienced cattlemen took a second look.  "By God, if she doesn't have triplets in her, I don't know what to think!" they'd say. I'd chuckle nervously, and say, she's just a "big" girl.

It was the beginning of summer, and her calving date was looming now.  Anytime. I kept a close eye on her, knowing that she might need a little help. I checked her several times a day, and then the unthinkable happened.  Our whole community was evacuated for a horrible forest fire. I had no choice but to leave.  And wouldn't you know it, she chose to have that calf right in the middle of a natural disaster with ash and soot falling all around her.  She had a little trouble, and needed some assistance in calving, but mom and calf were doing well, all things considered. It was so typical of that stubborn cow.
After we weaned her first calf, we decided not to breed her anymore.  I told my husband that she had earned her keep, and deserved a retirement of lush grass. There was only one problem.  She just couldn't seem to control her weight.  She was quickly becoming a Large Marge, and she was developing quite an appetite for grass on the other side of the fence.  All the other cows were content with our grass, and had a healthy respect for fences. Not Chicky.  With her, fences were merely suggestions.  She used her bull- dozer body to gently plow over any fence she wanted to cross.  The dreaded calls started pouring in on a weekly basis. "Your cow's out". "Your cow's in the road".  "Your cow's eating my putting green."   No matter what we did to that cantankerous cow, she would not stay in her pasture.  She was ultra- friendly when she would go for a visit to the neighbor's, and always came right up to them for a little head scratch, but somehow they weren't amused by her charm.  The final straw came  with the putting green incident.  She broke through, walked through two fences, and a fancy white picket fence to snack on a retired guy's putting green in his back yard.  The phone call was not a pleasant one, and the damage was extensive.  Chicky had gone through one too many fences.  She was no longer manageable.  She loved people, and loved exotic grasses even more.  She had to go.  I cried.  We pulled the stock trailer up to the corrals, to load her.  She wouldn't budge.  Most cattle have a healthy fear of humans, and load right up when you put the pressure on them.  Not her.  She just looked at the opening, looked at us, and began to chew her cud. We poked her. We prodded her.We twisted her tail.  No luck. She was going to be stubborn to the very end.  Finally, I threw some hay in the trailer, and she walked right in.  It was a long ride to the sale barn. My heart was heavy. When we got there, she had to be preg-checked by the vet, but she was so fat that she couldn't fit into the squeeze chute.  So he gloved up and palpated her right there in the alley-way, and she didn't move an inch.  Then the jokes started flying among the pen riders.  I couldn't bear to watch her go through the sale ring, but my husband came outside laughing.  She weighed in at nearly a ton.  She was larger than any bull that went through the sale ring that day, and when she entered in, the auctioneer said, "Pull up some chairs boys, and we can play a round of cards on her back!" She was the talk of the sale barn that day, and the highest selling cow of the afternoon.

Chicky was a legendary cow.  We still talk about her from time to time, and remember her "larger than life" personality.  I've never loved a cow so much, and at the same time felt so much disdain for her behavior.  Her tender heart, and her sheer volume will both go down in the record books.  One thing's for certain, she really was a FAT cow!!!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, we will never forget chicky. That darn cow would make a cow lover out of anyone, she was so darn friendly. I'm still convinced she thought she was a dog. And, we'll never forget that she bore the new word of "shankles," big fat ankles. We'll never forget her. :)