Originally posted in the Miami News-Record, May 17, 2015
My Papa Leo was a dairy farmer, so I grew up around a farm. As a kid I watched my fair share of sheep shearing, cow milking, field plowing, and chicken scratching. I can still remember the smell of the milk barn – a mixture of wet concrete, feed, manure, and bovine. Even now, when I hear Waylon, Willie, and Dolly on the radio I am immediately transported back to that old barn where I’d sit on an overturned feed bucket in the corner and watch Papa with fascination. Some of my fondest, most vivid memories involve Papa’s farm. And while I’m a country girl, I am not a farm girl by any stretch.
My sister married a farmer a year and a half ago and because we’re a family that likes to do stuff together, we help them when they work cows. I didn’t really know what it meant to “work” a cow before she met Nick. I guess I had seen Papa work his when I was a kid, but I had never heard anyone call it that. To me if you say you’re going to “work” something, you are either going to put a hard hat on it or hand it a briefcase and send it to its job. I have since found out that cows aren’t keen to wear hard hats well and they certainly don’t carry briefcases.
Ever since my sister and I started having kids, I have been the designated babysitter. Everyone would get together to paint someone’s house or move someone and I was the one who volunteered to watch all the kids and cook for the folks who were working. The first time we worked cows it occurred to me that we only had teenagers and my childcare job had been made obsolete. I actually had to go work with the grownups for the first time in nearly two decades. And while I was a part of the farmhand crew, I did not come dressed for the job. I wore shorts and flip flops. Yeah, stop laughing at me. I really didn’t know what we were going to do. My sister who was five months pregnant at the time, was in her jeans and boots, wielding a cattle prod like a pro and yelling things like “GEHONOUTTAHEEYAH” and “HEY, BOSSY! GET GET GO ON!” (The first time she yelled “Bossy” I thought she was yelling at me.) So because of my inadequate attire, I got to stand behind my brother in law and hold a gun-looking contraption that he used to apply some goop to the cows’ backs. I got sunburned to a crisp. It was super fun.
The next time they worked cows I got my babysitting job back because I had a super squishy two-month-old nephew to love on in the house. But this go’round last weekend, my 16 year old niece took on the babysitting of her baby brother while I – in my tennis shoes this time – went to work with the other adults. My husband and son jumped in the corral with my Pops, sister, and brother-in-law while I just stood there shaking my head. That was not gonna happen. So Mom, bedecked with rubber gloves, handed me some syringes and some bottles of stuff and said, “I’ll get the ear tags ready, you fill syringes.” Whew. I was in a relatively poop-free zone and behind a table a good six feet from any large, scary bovine creature. Crisis averted.
I spent that day drawing up wormer, antibiotics, something for Black Leg (that sounds simply awful, glad there’s a shot for it), and even got to where I could predict how much wormer to draw up by the size of the cow in the chute. It was not altogether a bad experience. Well, at least, until the vet got there. Preg-checking and emasculating are not for the faint of heart. Holy cow.
Yeah, pun totally intended – those three soon-to-be-momma cows and that one very unfortunate steer deserve bovine sainthood. And a steak dinner. Oh wait. Nevermind.