Hopefully my earlier post established that, when it comes to encountering cattle while hiking or camping, it isn’t the bulls you need to worry about. It’s the cows. Specifically, half-wild cows with more horns than patience. And back in the old days on the ranch, when I was a kid, half-wild cows were something we had in abundance. This was largely due to the fact that we were on the underside of poor and the animals we could afford were of a low quality, somewhat rambunctious nature.
I remember one time when we were gathering the creek pasture. The idea was to drive all the cattle down into the creek and then downstream back to the house. Along the creek here and there were thickets of mesquite. Most of those thickets you couldn’t ride a horse through because they were too dense. The cows knew this and they liked to wade deep into them and then stop and hope you’d just go away and leave them alone.
As the youngest rider, I generally got the jump of rousting those cows out. I’d hand my reins to my older sister, Kim, and go in on foot. I’d get a stick and bang on the trees, maybe toss a couple rocks, and the cows would generally come pretty peacefully.
But this time it was different.
Deep in the thicket was this one bony old cow who apparently wasn’t interested in being pushed around anymore. I yelled and threw rocks at her but she wasn’t budging. Which annoyed me. I had a mesquite limb about as big around as my skinny little arm and I stomped over and smacked her with it. Right on her bony ass.
At that point she was supposed to run off like they always did.
Instead she bellowed, spun on her heel and charged me.
There was nowhere to go and she was way too close for anything fancy. So I did the only thing I could.
I hit her with that stick as hard as I could. Right between her eyes.
The stick snapped in half and she skidded to a halt, right in front of me. I could have patted her on the nose.
Then she snorted, turned and charged off in the other direction.
I still don’t know why she didn’t clobber me. There was no way that little love tap I gave her actually hurt her. Where I hit her cows have this bony ridge that is just about as hard as a rock. We slaughtered our own beef on the ranch sometimes and I’ve seen a bullet at close range skip right off that spot and not even daze the animal.
I guess I just got lucky.
Worst of all though, was if you got between one of those half-wild cows and her calf. The corrals could get pretty dangerous because we usually worked the cattle on foot and one of the tasks we were trying to accomplish was separating the cows from the calves so we could brand the calves. The cows didn’t like that much at all and we all got lots of practice running for the fence with a mad cow on our heels.
But they could even give you trouble on horseback. My sister had a horse named Dandy that I often rode. Dandy was a palomino, a tall, good looking horse and fast. When he wanted to be. Which wasn’t often because Dandy had another trait and that was laziness.
We were driving a herd of cattle back to the ranch house one time. I was riding in the drags, which is what you call the back end of the herd, where the slowest and the laziest cattle drag behind. There was this cow with a good set of horns and a bitty little calf, only a few days old. Cute little guy. But he was too young to understand that Dandy wasn’t his mama. He kept getting confused – from way down there all herbivore legs look the same I guess – and following my horse instead of his mama.
Well, I could see that mama cow was getting more and more upset by this. She was the skittish type, prone to snorting and rolling her eyes in a crazy fashion. She kept shaking her horns and making little charges at us. Every time she did, I’d pull on Dandy’s reins, jab him with my spurs and try to get him to move. Because I could see where this was going.
But we were on our way home and Dandy’s head was full of thoughts of the corral where he could lose the saddle and the annoying gnat on his back. So each time she came at us, he’d just kind of toss his head a little bit, maybe sidestep, but not much movement other than that. Why should he be afraid? She was only a cow and he was a horse.
Finally this old cow had had enough. She snorted and came at us for real. I tugged on the reins and kicked but, as usual, he didn’t really move except to kind of turn sideways.
I finally gave up trying to get Dandy to move and just lifted my leg, stirrup and all. Well, she gave him a good, solid thump right in the ribs and all of a sudden Dandy woke up. I don’t think it really hurt him, but it sure did surprise him.
For the rest of the ride all that cow had to do was turn her head and look at him and he’d start dancing sideways, just as anxious as he could be to get the heck out of there.
So watch those mama cows when you’re out there and if one snorts and rolls her eyes, find a high spot and quick.