Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I AM NOT a city kid (inflection noted)--a cowcast of sorts

Growing up as a farm kid, seems like cows were just a part of life. It wasn't until probably fifth or sixth grade when I realized that most of the other kids around me had no clue what I meant when I talked about branding and what the smell of burning flesh and hair was like. All they knew of the cowboy way of life was what they saw in the movies, if they'd even seen a cowboy movie.

Me, I've lived the life every kid wanted. Been riding since I was five, got my first horse at seven, and spent my childhood summers running wild round the neighborhood, kids causing mayhem on their horses.

I'd spend Saturdays in the spring with my dad down at the pasture, feeding and sorting, chasing down mothers who had gone off to calf, and, when I was really lucky, I got to be the one doing shots when it came time to brand and castrate.

Don't let the movies fool you about what branding is like. If we're really lucky, we get a day where the corral is somewhat dry, but usually, we're slogging through the mud and the muck, trying to get the brand to take on wet hide. There is the sound of pain that sizzles on the hot iron, the bellow of the calf is it realizes just what is happening.

It's my job to dart in between the men, syringe full of penicillin in hand, to inject to requisite amount intramuscularly. This isn't like giving a shot to a human or even a horse. You've got two men holding the calf down, one cutting, one branding, all while the calf is doing its best to get free, to escape the pain they are inflicting. Into that mass of confusion you run, hoping to hit muscle on the first try, praying to not feel the jarring shock of bone and the exclamations from the men as the calf tries to escape once again.

Even as the adrenaline pumps through your body, thanks to nearly injecting your dad, rather than the calf, there is something that further permeates the situation. And that is the smell.

I don't know if I'll ever find words to describe it. It's one of those things that burns itself into your memory the same way the brand burns into flesh. By thinking of that smell, I can go back to the pasture, the sounds, the feel of the mud on my feet, my hands, the cows and everything else. I can still hear the heifers bellowing as they are separated from their calves, the horses stamping at the rail, wanting to get in on the action, and the curt voices of the men at work, coming together in an incredibly vivid memory.

Thank you to Mike for starting the cowcasting trend. It's been fun.


  1. Wow... my life just got a little duller compared to that one! I better get cracking and adventure some more.

    What a moving picture. Action Vet amid the Cowboys... or something like that. Man, how old were you when you were jumping into the corral? How did the grownups decide to tell you, "OK, here's this needle--and here's what you do." ?

  2. I think I was nine? Maybe younger? I mainly got chosen because it was better than me sitting there being annoying because I wanted to be helping. :) It's not like it is tough to do!

  3. Nice story. Growing up with horses is pretty fantastic, huh? (I did, too.)

  4. It was the best thing ever. :) Learning to live without horses in my backyard when I head off to med school is going to be a major challenge. You get used to always having a friend to run out to when things get tough, or when you just need something to do.

  5. What, can't you use blow-guns? In the movies they would use blow-guns.

  6. Heh. My wordverif = "boode". heh heh.

  7. I didn't have the breath for that. 20 ccs is a lot of stuff to get out through an 18 gauge needle. And besides--we're cooler than the movies. ;)

  8. Wow, that was vivid...very nicely done! Wayyy outside of my realm of experience, fer sure. New England farms (what are left of them...sadly, most of those that were around us when I was growing up have shut down since) tend to be very small dairy farms. I've never seen open ranch land. And I've never seen a branded bovine, to my knowledge. Fascinating read!

    Word verif: twingith.

  9. Thanks LFP! Like I said, I'm lucky. We have 60 or so acres down the street that we keep our cattle on, and I've been part of a real life cattle drive with friends of ours. That was a neat thing... which I will post about in the future. :)

    And I'll be honest--brands are awesome. Yes, they are painful, but when you look into the history of brands and why they are the way they are and everything surrounding them, it is fascinating. I personally use our brand to sign all of my artwork. :)

  10. You should do a post on brands! Definitely.

    Word verif: gontento. Gontento the dog and cats' dinner now...

  11. I was planning on it. :) Just need to do a bit of research first...