The Rewards of Cowboying - Part 1
I never considered myself to be a true cowboy, as a matter of fact I know I am not or ever was one. It takes a long time of full time dedication to that life to actually produce a REAL cowboy. But I did “cowboy” for a time, or at different times and learned all I could about it, because I like doing it, or at least trying to do it. Money has nothing to do with it, because there is no money in cowboying. But there are rewards, and to me the rewards are priceless, they cannot be bought, not for any amount of money. he rewards can only be experienced by full participation in the work, not by observing it or reading about it.
Cowboys are happiest when they’ve got a job to do and they’re in the middle of doing it, usually far away from civilization or observation. They are happiest when they are in big country, “cow country” where it’s just the land, the cattle, the horses and amazing Mother Nature. Where, as far as you can see, all you can see is those four things. You can add in a good cow dog or two if you can get them, and also a few good trust worthy men or women with the emphasis on the “FEW”. Not that cowboys don’t like people or even crowds, but it’s not that often that they actually choose those two things. Once in a while is good, and lots of fun, but most of the time they want to be doin’ their job out in the hills, with good horses they can depend on. That’s where it’s at for a good cowboy, taking care of the Boss’s cows, making sure they’re “took good care of”.
Taking good care of cows is one of the big rewards of cowboy life. It takes a lot of “cow savvy” to do that. There’s a lot to it. A lot to know, about what to do and how to do it, and when to do it. Cows can get into all kinds of trouble. They can acquire many different health problems, which if not treated can result in a profit loss for the boss. Only cowboys who ride out there in the “big lonesome” can help those cows. They’ve got to pack the medicine and the tools in their saddle bags, and on the saddles. “The rope is the cowboys’ tool,” as George Phippen put it. Cowboy’s need to be ready to “doctor” cows calves and bulls wherever and whenever the need arises, and it usually happens a long way from nowhere. Lots of times it happens when the cowboy is alone, no one else to help him, so he and his horse must get the job done, and as I said, getting it done and helping those animals, and seeing them get better is a big reward.
Pink eye, scours, abscess, infected punctures and lacerations, hoof rot, woody tongue, pneumonia, diphtheria, infected genitals, bullet wounds (yeh, people shoot at cows for the fun of it), skin infections, are just some of the health problems I learned about and “doctored” or helped doctor. Cows get literally “bogged down”. They get stuck in mud bogs or water holes and can’t get out. They will die there unless a cowboy on a good stout trustworthy horse can throw a loop around their horns (preferably, if they have horns) or around their neck and pull them out, and they don’t come out easy.
Cows that give birth on the range can “hip lock” or “breech” where the calf comes out backwards only part way, and gets stuck in the birth canal. A cowboy must be Jonny on the spot and pull the calf out with his lariat and horse or both the cow and calf will die.
A cow can prolapse after giving birth where the uterus comes out with the calf or shortly after and the cowboy must rope or tie the cow so she can’t escape and put the uterus back in and “sew” her up so it won’t come back out. He’ll need to have sulfa tablets he can stuff inside with the uterus so she won’t get infection (hopefully).
I learned a lot about this type of problem riding with an old Wyoming Buckaroo named Don from the Bear River Country when I was with him out on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.
There’s a lot I don’t know about “doctoring” cattle, a heap more than what I do know, but I know the satisfaction of helping cattle out on the range where and when they need the help, and seeing it work. It is a big reward of the cowboy’s life.
I learned about range adoption. That’s where a calf’s mother died leaving the calf an orphan. The mama may have been killed by a grizzy, black bear, or lion, or some other of many causes. The calf will soon die also if she can’t get adopted by another cow and get milk. This usually isn’t easy. A forced adoption is necessary many times in these situations, where a nursing cow is forced to suckle another calf besides her own for the time being, otherwise the little calf will grow weak and not be able to suckle and soon die. My cow boss, Max, up on the Quarters Circle J6 Range taught me about this. He told me to rope a big healthy nursing mama cow and drag her to a big aspen tree, where he roped her by one hind leg and tied that leg to the tree, high enough off the ground so the orphan calf could suckle from her. At least the calf would get a full tummy and the nourishment it so badly needed. Standing on only one hind leg with the other one tied off the ground, the cow was not able to kick the calf off or run away- so in affect she was forced to nurse a calf that was not her own, a forced adoption, for the time being.
Once this was accomplished and the calf was full, we released the cow with her own calf. Then we found a mama cow whose calf had died, and she was bursting with milk, and no calf to relieve her of her burden. We found the dead calf, skinned the calf, and took the skin and draped it over the live orphan calf and tied the skin on to the calf with baling twine, which we always carried in our saddle bags. Then we led the calf over to the “bursting” mama and let her smell the calf with her dad calf’s skin on it. She knew that smell, and adopted the little fellow, and so he now had a new momma and plenty to eat, and she got some relief from a bursting udder. This was just one of the many things I learned on the cow range of how to take care of the Boss’s cattle, which was satisfying and rewarding to me. It made me happy to see the cow have a baby again, as if she never lost it, and to see the little calf have a momma again also. Adoption can be a beautiful thing. After a few days the skin came off relieving the calf of his extra burden and the mama didn’t have to deal anymore with the pain of having too much milk.
More rewards of cowboying coming soon!